This article is the ultimate guide for all information regarding symposiums.
We'll be discovering what they are and the different types of symposiums found in the academic world.
So without further ado, let us delve into the world of symposiums.
In the academic conference sphere, and for the time being, we will disregard a symposium as being interchangeable with a conference (we will cover that later); a symposium could be loosely explained as a mini-conference within a conference.
They are sometimes also known as panels, workshops, sessions or roundtables.
Along with workshops and breakout rooms, symposia or symposiums usually occur within a conference but can be a standalone event.
Essentially, they are a form of discussion within a small group of people that have come together to discuss a specific topic or the latest developments within their specified field.
They are typically a one-off event but can also be annual. The emphasis is on the event being smaller, intimate and focused on a more specific or singular topic of discussion.
If a topic or research piece requires an "in-depth" discussion and exchange of ideas from experts within the field and a few attendees, then a symposium would be better suited for this occasion.
It’s the Ancient Greeks we have to thank for creating symposiums.
Back in the 7th century BC the Greeks would host parties within their homes which did include food, drink and singing very similar to parties of the 21st century.
However, the main purpose was for the men (typically the highest class of Greek society) to come together and discuss various topics which included politics, philosophy, the latest news and poetry; et voila symposiums were born.
Often the homes that hosted these Greek symposiums would have a dedicated room for the event, with plush sofas arranged purposefully around the room so each person could see one another while in discussion. Typically, a chair was nominated by the attendees.
Often scenes from symposia would be depicted on the traditional black and red pottery.
The purpose of a symposium is to typically allow experts in a given field to meet, discuss papers/topics in question, and examine the issues and trends associated with the topic.
From these discussions, solutions and recommendations can develop for the next step to be actioned
The findings from a symposium can be used to help others within the field of research and can endure testing if applicable. Alternatively, this exchange can stimulate others to seek new knowledge and findings within their sector.
Essentially the purpose is to facilitate the free exchange of information.
There are a couple of different formats a symposium can take.
A symposium usually has a Chair (often the symposium submitter) and a discussant. The discussant's role is to read the papers and use their expertise to explore how they advance and further the symposium's topic.
Often symposia gets confused as being different to that of a symposium as if it is another form of this type of event. But this is far from true.
In actual fact, symposia is simply the plural of symposium.
So we have discussed what a typical symposium entails - a presenter and a panel discuss research work or a topic within their specialised field.
However, there are other ways they can work.For example, a symposium can be organised to solely peer-review submissions.
In this instance, a submission group (a group of researchers) have worked on a project together and collectively submitted their work to be reviewed by their peers in a symposium.
In this setting, the reviewers can discuss the findings, suggest ways to improve and advise what the next step in their work surrounding their project should be.
In a conference setting, peer reviews typically happen internally beforehand by the conference organisers to decide who is successful at being awarded a session for presenting.
On the surface, they can appear very similar, but in essence, they are very different.
Conferences tend to be:
- On a larger scale
- With many speakers and exhibitors
- It can be an annual event
Their speakers can range from:
- Academics to celebrities
- Career researchers
- Specialist guests invited to speak
Conferences often last over a few days to a week in length, as much information is being broadcasted.
They typically follow a "sessions" format, with various types of sessions presented across the entire event.
These sessions can include (as stated earlier):
- Poster sessions
- Discussions and panels
Due to the size of these events, the sessions will be timetabled and run alongside one another. Allowing for more than one session to be in progress at any time.
Otherwise, a conference would go on for weeks, and that is before the number of attendees is accounted for.
As we have already discussed, symposiums are on a much smaller scale than a conference.
They can be:
- Hosted within a conference or on their own
- Their formats are more of a precise and slender focus on one topic and are usually discussed by a panel.
Their duration is much shorter than that of a conference, lasting from a couple of hours to a day, compared to week-long conferences.
A symposium's intention is slightly different to that of a conference. They are designed to facilitate the discussion of the latest research or abstracts that have been submitted.
Attendees can then go away and further research the findings or adapt the findings or research methods into their work.
To have your work spoken about at a symposium, you'll need to submit your research, for example, as part of a group of researchers. If chosen, your findings will be discussed by the presenter and panel hosting the symposium.
Alternatively, symposiums could involve you:
- Submitting your work
- You becoming the presenter of the symposium (if your work is chosen)
- Present your findings and discuss them with other professionals within your industry that are on the panel
The presenters and the panel of a symposium will be experts within their field and come from various institutions and a range of backgrounds. Thus, allowing for a broad but detailed discussion with opinions from across the specialised field.
In contrast, at a conference, you get a mixture of speakers from guest speakers and industry thought leaders or "celebrities".
The papers submitted to the symposia are gathered under a specific submission theme, whereas a conference plays host to various topics within a sector. Meaning more ideas are covered in a conference, but there are more detailed discussions within a symposium.
So remember, a symposium is excellent for discussing research with your peers and being able to implement your findings into further research etc., and a conference is a great way to tell/show your findings from your research to the world.
So, what's your next challenge? A symposium or speaking at a conference?
If you're new to speaking at a conference, we have a guide with eight great tips to help prepare for and present at a conference. You can find it here.