By Torben Tvedebrink, Chair of local committee, useR! 2015
After useR! 2015 in Aalborg I had some time to reflect and think back on the phase leading up to the actual conference. The story of useR! 2015 began in 2013 when Søren Højsgaard, Head of Department of Mathematical Sciences, Aalborg University, popped the idea of hosting useR! 2015 or 2017 in Aalborg. He had made some informal enquiries to the R Foundation and R Core members about the possibility. With some positive indications we sat down and wrote the first draft for the bidding material. This included a description of Aalborg, the conference venue, our thoughts on the scientific and social programme together with our first budget. This five page document was sent to the R Foundation by the end of October 2013 and after some communication back and forth we received the final "go!" in January 2014.
The first thing we decided on was the form and location of the social events (i.e. the welcome reception and conference dinner). We decided that the participants should experience more of Aalborg than just the conference venue. Hence, the House of Music seemed like a natural choice. With the support of the municipality of Aalborg and our sponsors we had the opportunity of showing some of the best to our guests on the evening before the conference. Often conference dinners are held in big restaurants or settings where it is difficult to ensure good food and drinks. Hence, we wanted to focus on the place and theme rather than the food. The Robber's Banquet fitted nicely with this idea.
In the figure below I have plotted the number of useR! 2015 emails in my inbox over time (right: accumulated numbers are on log-scale. Total number of emails received: 3561). The number of received emails serves as a nice proxy for the amount of work put into the conference over time. As seen from the plot to the right, the number of emails grow exponentially over time. In the plot I have added some of the important dates, e.g. opening of registration, abstract deadline and registration deadlines.
We wanted to follow the example of useR! 2014 in Los Angeles and offer the tutorials free of charge to the participants. We applied some Danish foundations to support the initiative and had some positive feedback. In order to allocate the 16 tutorials into morning and afternoon tutorials we sent out a survey to the participants a month before the useR! conference. Based on the survey we ran through all possible permutations of the tutorials and minimised the number of individuals with both tutorial selections in the same session -- of course all done in R.
Initially we hoped that 300-400 participants would show up in Aalborg. This was based on some data, but primarily on a somewhat pessimistic prior, which fortunately did not hold true. In the figure below the number of registered participants are plotted over time. We opened the registration December 3rd 2014 and as expected only a few signed up the first months. However, as presenters received their notification and the early deadline approached we had already achieved our goal of 400 participants. In the months that followed another 260 useR!s signed up and we had a total of 660 participants when we ran the conference in July 2015 (128 females and 532 males). The industry/academia ratio was almost 50% with 284 from the industry, 262 academics and 113 students participating.
We had participants coming from more than 40 countries (see below), where the majority came from Denmark (129), USA (117) and Germany (92). For most countries the distribution between industry and academia was also close to 50% (right barplot).
In summary the useR! 2015 conference went well and we are happy for all the feedback we have received - positive as well as negative. These inputs are valuable to the R community in general and to us as local organisers in particular. We are happy to share any ideas and comments with future organisers of the useR! conference series.
The conference venue (Aalborg Congress and Culture Center, akkc.dk) had an ideal size for the turnout. With a plenary lecture hall suited for almost 800 people and four additional rooms (220 - 150 seats) for parallel sessions was adequate. The professional assistance from the staff during the planning was very helpful. We can only recommend involving experienced people in the planning and execution of the next useR! conferences. Similar thoughts go to the catering - with good, varied and suffucient food supply most people are happy!
The social events (welcome reception, poster session and conference dinner) all went as we hoped. For the poster session we had free drinks and food. This ment most people stayed until the end and poster presenters had many interesting discussions. We had intentionally encourage posters to be on display throughout the conference and to be located in the exhibitor's area. With this people had more time to visit both our many sponsors and look at the posters when they felt for it.
Once again we would like to thank all useR! 2015 participants for making the conference a memorable experience for the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Aalborg University. As special thanks goes to our many sponsors that made it possible to provide a high service level.
On behalf of the local organising committee,