Lessons from PODS or 5 tips to organise a 5-star workshop

The oceanographers selected to attend the PODS program.

by Alice Barthel

Every two years in October, the Physical Oceanography Dissertation Symposium (PODS) aims to gather 25 physical oceanographers that have recently graduated (or will soon graduate) from their PhD. This event provides early career scientists with an opportunity to share the science achieved during their doctorate and to develop collaborations with their peers.

This year, Ryan Holmes (UNSW) and myself had the privilege of attending. Here are some highlights of our time there, and five lessons learnt on how to organize a highly successful workshop.


Pick an enticing location.

If you wish to attract scientists from all around the globe, what better place to hold a symposium than on a tropical island, like Hawaii? A mere 10-hour flight from Australia, Hawaii offers Kona coffee, tropical fruits and poke bowls with ocean views. Any scientist is happy to bust their brain discussing sub-mesoscale dynamics if you allow them a morning jog on the beach!


Restrict the number of participants.

This symposium was such an exciting time I wish everyone could attend. Unfortunately, the great strength of this event lies in the limited number of participants. It must be tough on any organiser to select 25 participants (and reject just about as many!), but this gave us the invaluable opportunity to meet every single one of the attendees. Three full days of talks and group activity barely scratched the surface but enough was shared to build connections and foster future collaborations.


Fund it.

Everyone loves abundant funding. Nevertheless, providing adequate funding is essential in targeting PhD students and early career scientists. Funding a trip overseas is particularly problematic in transition periods. Some participants were wrapping up their PhD (and out of funding), others were not-yet-employed, or had just started a new position. It is also easier to ask your boss for time off if your trip is fully funded.


Prioritize peer-to-peer interactions.

A highlight of this trip was the peer-to-peer connections. At large conferences, I tend to gravitate towards people already established in the field, the names who review your papers, whose papers you cite, or who might give you a job. The absence of such people meant our time was spent discussing with peers recent advances in the field, frustrating gaps in our knowledge and improbable career paths. How refreshing.


Victory was sweet for the physical oceanographers when they won the PODS trophy.

Include social activities (and a healthy touch of competition?).

Planned breaks are essential to preserve the energy levels and enthusiasm of the cohort. These activities included ‘group discussions’ at the beach, evening receptions and the highly anticipated volleyball competition. This year, the physical oceanographers steam-rolled the chemical oceanographers, winning back the precious PODS trophy. Nothing like a common opponent to build team spirit!

To all PhD students in physical oceanography, I strongly encourage you to apply for PODS 2018 (more information on the PODS website). There is a twin meeting for chemical oceanography (DISCO) if that suits your field better.

My thanks go to NSF, NOAA, NASA for funding this meeting. It was an exciting experience, providing a much-needed breather in my last stretch to completion.                 


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