How not to build an abstract submission webpage

It is that time of year: all palaeontologists in the English-speaking world try to predict the future, and know now what brand-new and interesting research results they will have found by late fall. That’s for submitting an abstract for the Annual Meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology – a gargantuan meeting made much worse than it needs be by deliberate choices made by the Society. Like the choice of usually running parallel sessions of massively overlapping topics, like “tetrapod locomotion” and a “dinosaur” session that has nearly only biomechanics talks. Or by how the abstract submission page is set up.

First stupid decision is that you can’t log in with your SVP member login data. Doesn’t say so, though – you need to guess that when your login attempts fail. Luckily, the guy running the SVP member page help is a very nice person and replied to my exasperated email quickly.

Then, you need to add your authors for the talk, and one of them must be a member of SVP. OK, I joined the society over 5 hours ago (time stamp of email confirming my membership), so I should be able to submit as the sole author, right?

WRONG!

I am, according to the system, not a member. Searching for my email, last name, member number doesn’t help: I am officially NOT an SVP member.

Now, I’ve been frustrated by often complicated and badly run SVP websites before, for example a WYSIWYG site a few years ago that pretended to show you what your name tag would look like – only to find that once I got there the name of the museum was suddenly mis-spelled with an u instead of an ü. If that had been shown correctly, I could have replaced the u with an ue instead of an ü, which would have been a correct spelling. Minor stuff, to be sure, but that’s the kind of “we pretend to try but then just don’t do it” stuff that annoys me. Or offering an option called “talk only”, as opposed to “talk, or poster if talk not possible”, then turning my “talk only” submission into a poster. WTF?

But this really takes the cake: that it takes more than 5 hours to update the database, so that someone who just forked over $125 can submit an abstract.

I emailed the admins, let’s see if and when this gets fixed.

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About Heinrich Mallison

I'm a dinosaur biomech guy working at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin.
This entry was posted in rants, SVP 2013. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to How not to build an abstract submission webpage

  1. protohedgehog says:

    Oh, it wasn’t just me then! Had exactly the same issue with authorship here, but yeah a quick email sorted it. Had another silly problem too – withdrew my abstract to make a modification, and the resubmission took about 3 days to reset itself, which was tense as it was a Colbert submission and the deadline was looming! Hope it all works out for you 🙂

  2. One of the reasons that I try to avoid these huge conferences: horrid web sites, awful hotels, totally untransparent procedures and lethal schedule conflicts. I do appreciate that in the paleo world it’s difficult to bypass SVP, though.

    But what really irks me is the standard response you get when you approach the organizers of some of these events about such problems. It’s basically “butt out, you don’t know what you’re talking about, it’s a big conference”. As soon as someone refuses to talk specifics, I get suspicious.

  3. emanuel says:

    i had another problem still… trying to submit with google chrome (which is among the most used browsers nowadays), the abstract resulted as too short… presumably because I didn’t reach the maximum (!) length limit. Is it so difficult to use a system that works on different browsers??

    Anyway, make sure you use firefox or internet explorer…

  4. 220mya says:

    I think you’re being incredibly unfair. To be sure, there are things that can always be improved with SVP, but I think you need to take a moment to recognize that the organization of the abstracts and the technical program (i.e., the sessions) is done by a group of volunteers who are society members – they’re not employees who get paid like at other larger conferences (such as GSA, AGU, EGU, etc). These folks (your colleagues by the way, so why antagonize them?) devote a huge proportion of their summer to the task of reviewing and editing abstracts, and organizing them into sessions. They spend literally hundreds of hours doing this, and to be honest, they get very little thanks. People tend to only contact the program committee members when they want to complain about something. No doubt, mistakes sometimes get made, but this is a volunteer-run society that is dealing with over 800 abstract submissions per meeting. Cut them some slack. If you think things can be improved, put up or shut up – volunteer your services!

    Its also worth noting that SVP recently switched management teams (and I assure you, very much for the better), so there are certainly going to be some teething problems as the back end systems are transitioned.

    Ilja – have you been to an SVP meeting? I don’t think it fits your stereotype at all, and I have always found SVP staff and member volunteers to be quite responsive regarding issues related to the conference. Also, SVP is hardly a “big conference” – we’re talking 1000-1200 attendees. Other geosciences meetings such as GSA, AGU, and EGU are orders of magnitudes larger. AGU last fall was over 20,000 attendees, and EGU this spring was over 11,000 participants. Now those are big conferences…

    • You have a point – the volunteers have a difficult and very demanding job, and a huge one at that. And I am very grateful for their effort.

      However, I am NOT criticising the individual volunteers. The problems I had and have with SVP persist from year to year, thus it would be very unfair to blame the ever changing volunteers. Also, a lot of the problems have nothing to to with abstract selection and session scheduling.

      What I am doing is complaining about SVP as an organisation, which includes their choice of service providers (also for their journal). New providers that retain the old problems – sorry, I am very unhappy that things I complained about almost a decade ago(!) still persist, and I will say so loudly.

  5. @220mya: I did attend SVP, although it is some way in the past (1998/1999). And while I believe there are conferences many times its size, personally I find this already way too big. To me, a conference of up to about a hundred people is ideal, both as a science and as a social event.

    As to the rest of your comment, I think you’re missing Heinrich’s point. Everyone will happily accept that SVP is being run by selfless volunteers, and yes, we should be grateful to them. But that does not automatically mean that it is run well (I’m not making a judgment here), nor does their selflessness mean that no one should be able to voice criticisms.

    The final thing about conferences (and yes, I’ve organized a few in my time): once you have shifted through the abstracts and created coherent sessions, it’s not that difficult. A lot of work, perhaps, but that challenging conceptually. Last year I visited a biggish (SVP-sized) conference in another field, and I was amazed that they still created the conference schedule by hand. We have software for that nowadays – and good software, that will allow you to preclude certain combinations. The only reason these people hadn’t thought of that was because they’d ALWAYS done things this way. That’s exactly the reason why criticism such as Heinrich’s (you might argue about the tone, granted) is important.

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