Running a symposium (Emily Foley)

Image from Marc Wathieu |

With 2021 well and truly upon us, many researchers are wanting to plan the year ahead. 

For most of us, this includes scheduling and planning the academic events we would like to organise, participate in, or attend. 

Personally, I have found pencilling in symposiums or conferences quite difficult with what feels to me like the weekly opening and closing of borders within Australia, combined with the extremely unlikely possibility of being able to travel overseas for work. With this in mind, I thought I would share some tips and suggestions for hosting an online academic event, in case you would like to do the same!

As a loud and proud extravert, I came up with the idea to host a symposium while I was feeling lonely and disconnected from other migration researchers in the midst of lockdown number one in Melbourne. 

One night, I came across an email inviting graduate researchers to submit an application to receive funding through the Intellectual Climate Fund. I thought the scheme could provide a good opportunity to re-connect with migration researchers from across La Trobe and I used my initial application to propose the creation of an online, inter-disciplinary migration reading group that would come together for an in-person symposium once restrictions had eased. My initial application sought funding to cover many of the operational costs of a regular pre-COVID symposium such as catering for morning tea and lunch. 

Then came lockdown 2.0.

By this point, my application had been accepted and the LTU migration reading group had begun our monthly Zoom meetings with some really interesting papers and discussion. Despite most of us still not having met in person, our 1-day virtual symposium Borders, Categories and Mobilities at the end of November 2020 was held to great success (in my humble opinion).

Here are some of my tips for running an online event: 

Reach out to the resources (both human and material) made available to you

Throughout the whole process of organising the symposium, the RED team were an enormous support. Having never run an online conference-style event, I had many questions and the RED team were always there to answer them and introduce me to interactive online platforms like Padlet, as well as sharing Eventbrite expertise for setting up our registration.

Think outside the box

After getting over my initial disappointment of not being able to run an in-person symposium, we decided to use the allocated funds in a way that was important to us. We were able to fund an amazing keynote presentation by Dr Jordana Silverstein and the ICF scheme allowed us to financially compensate ECRs in this way. We used online platforms to connect and recorded the sessions to send to presenters for their own academic purposes. Another positive aspect of running our online symposium is that we were able to accept papers from all around the world. We had papers from Melbourne and Sydney migration scholars, as well as presenters from England, Mexico, and Nigeria.

Collaboration is key

I wouldn’t have been able to run the symposium if I didn’t rely on the amazing support and advice given to me by my fellow graduate researcher and ECR reading group buddies. Remember to find keen and interested peers to share the workload and ideas with. This is also particularly important for an online event where you will require lots of assistance navigating the different technologies you are using.

Don’t be disheartened

Events that are held online, and in particular free ones, can often be met with limited attendance by the time the event comes. Try and keep the communication regular and consistent in the lead up to the event and don’t forget to celebrate afterwards! We certainly did.


Emily Foley is a PhD candidate and sessional academic in the Department of Politics, Media and Philosophy at La Trobe University. 

Her research is focused on Australian politics and migration studies. She is also the overseeing coordinator of the SAIL program and is a co-convener of Melbourne Free University. 

She is learning how to tweet at