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Organize a Special Session at an AMS Sectional Meeting

These instructions are mainly about organizing a special session at an AMS Sectional Meeting.

The first step in organizing a special session is for you to submit a proposal through the new online proposal submission portal. The deadline for special session proposals is typically about seven months before the meeting. You will be asked to provide:

  • the title of the special session
  • the primary MSC# of the topic of the session
  • the names, affiliations, and email addresses of the organizers (with one designated as "contact organizer")
  • a brief description of the special session's purpose
  • a list of potential speakers.

The speakers need not have agreed to speak, nor should they even have been contacted by you before your session is approved.

The second step is for me to approve the proposal. Normally this is pretty routine. But if I receive two independent proposals on closely related topics, I might suggest that both sets of organizers combine to collaborate on a single session. Also, the number of special sessions is constrained by the number of rooms available at the particular meeting site.

Once the special session is approved, you're free to invite people to speak in it. Note that special sessions can have a total of 24 talks maximum. (So you should never have more than 24 invitations out at any one time.) At a Sectional Meeting, you will have four half-day sessions averaging 3 hours each, for a total of 12 hours. Most special session talks are 20 minutes followed by 10 minute breaks. You may also schedule 45-minute talks followed by 15 minute breaks; of course, doing so will reduce the maximum number of speakers you can schedule. These are the only two options.

Most of the speakers at special sessions are by invitation, but you should leave some space for people who may submit talks on their own (which you are free to use your judgment in accepting or rejecting). You needn't feel compelled to fill all the slots—it's quality we're after, not quantity. Also, while almost all slots are normally occupied by speakers, AMS welcomes other ideas for how to use them—perhaps an open problem session, for example. Creative ideas, especially those aimed at younger mathematicians, are encouraged. An individual may speak at most once in a given special session, though multiple talks (on different papers!) in different sessions are fine. Organizers are free to speak in their own sessions.

Your special session will be announced in the Notices (there is a 3-month production lead-time) and on the AMS website (very quickly), and there will be firm deadlines for speakers to submit (required) abstracts. All organizers will be emailed a link to a "live" webpage which updates whenever new abstracts come in. Once the abstract submission deadline has passed, you will have a few days to create a proposed schedule for your special session, via another online portal. AMS rules require all talk start times to be syncrhonized—usually on the hour or half-hour—to allow attendees to easily move from one special session to another. Normally I will simply accept your schedule, but in special cases I may ask you to modify it—for instance, if an individual has a conflict (speaking within ½ hour in two different special sessions).

Note that AMS does not pay expenses for speakers at special sessions, nor for expenses incidental to running special sessions. Also, all participants at meetings, including special session speakers and organizers, must register for the meeting and pay the registration fee.

However, the AMS Travel Grants for Graduate Students Program provides travel grants for students to attend sectional meetings, with the expectation of awarding 25 grants per meeting. Details (including the application procedure and deadline) are at the link provided.

You can read the AMS Manual for Special Session Organizers for many more details.

[Thanks to Steve Weintraub, from whom the above material was adapted.]