Some personal stories about co-organizing PERC 2012

posted by Chandra Turpen, University of Maryland on

Curious on how an organizer got involved? Here's the origin story of how Chandra Turpen became a PERC 2012 co-organizer and the lasting impact the 2012's team work has had.

If you are interested in organizing PERC 2021, go to this post for all the details.

I would like to share my own personal experiences with co-organizing a PERC conference (back in 2012) as an example of what that process can look like, partially in hopes of demystifying the process a bit and encouraging others to take on such roles in the future.

When my colleagues and I proposed to organize PERC, I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. As a PER graduate student, I only had experience organizing a couple of PERC parallel sessions, but never something of this scale. In putting a proposal for PERC together, I was ~1 year out from having finished my PhD, had relocated to the Washington D.C. area, but was not yet employed at Univ. of Maryland (UMD). I had started coming to UMD one day a week to informally collaborate with folks there and joined a small but vibrant scholarly community which we called, “Affect gang” (see photo below). As a group, we had been reading articles and analyzing pieces of data together about the role of emotions and identity within physics/science learning experiences. We found fascinating areas of scholarship and brilliant scholars from areas outside of PER that we felt could enhance our work. We felt a sense of urgency around bringing some of these important ideas to the forefront within our community. Through affect gang, I made a few friends that I enjoyed spending time with and that were willing to collaborate with me on such an endeavor. This was part of the collective momentum that launched me into co-organizing PERC 2012 on “Cultural perspectives on learners' performance & identity in physics” in Philadelphia. In the end, I would be 8-months pregnant with my first child when PERC actually happened. 

A subset of "Affect Gang" at PERC 2012 in Philadelphia, PA: Brian Danielak, Ayush Gupta, Jennifer Richards, Vashti Sawtelle, Jessica Watkins, Chandra Turpen, Lama Jaber, and Luke Conlin (left to right)

A subset of "Affect Gang" at PERC 2012 in Philadelphia, PA: Brian Danielak, Ayush Gupta, Jennifer Richards, Vashti Sawtelle, Jessica Watkins, Chandra Turpen, Lama Jaber, and Luke Conlin (left to right)

So, what did organizing PERC entail? 

We started by making a long list of potential plenary speakers. We read and discussed some of their notable papers, and decided on plenary speakers. We sent out invitations and coordinated some of their travel arrangements with them and AAPT. In collaboration with Lyle Barbato, we (a) solicited, reviewed, and selected proposals for parallel sessions, (b) reviewed PERC poster submissions and (c) developed a conference schedule and conference program.  We coordinated with Cerena Cantrell at AAPT regarding conference room arrangements, AV requirements, and internet needs. We mapped out creative solutions for accommodating the unexpected multitude of contributed posters (more than 200) that were submitted that year.

What went wrong along the way? 

Of course, organizing was quite a bit more work than I expected, but we had a strong team of organizers (Ayush Gupta, Eleanor Sayre, Jessica Watkins, and myself) all pitching in. We encountered unpredictable issues with one plenary speaker becoming ill, and weather preventing other plenary speaker from arriving when expected. This caused some panic at the time, but also created new opportunities for improvising and innovating new forms of community engagement within large plenary sessions.   

What makes it seem like a worthwhile thing to have done? 

It brought me great joy to be a part of the plenary sessions and some of the powerful community-generated parallel sessions that occurred at PERC 2012. Plenary speaker, Dr. Megan Bang, gave one of the first land acknowledgement statements recognizing indigenous communities at PERC. I experienced some community-generated parallel sessions with such deep emotional salience (such as the talk symposium organized by Apriel Hodari, “Finding a Home for All of Myself: Intersectionality in Identity Formation for Women of Color in Physics”) that I still remember them today.

Co-organizing PERC helped me to build stronger relationships and collaborations with my co-organizers (knowing that there are people in the PER community that I can rely on as partners in doing meaningful/authentic work). It was inspiring to see the great interest that this conference theme elicited within the PER community and adjacent science education/DBER communities (there were 345 registered attendees at PERC that year, whereas the 5 year average before that was about 218 per year). In the following years, I’ve gotten occasional positive feedback from PER community members -- some appreciating the interactive plenary session that we improvised the night before, and others sharing that this was one of the first PERCs they attended and that it made them want to make this their professional “home.” It has been rewarding for me to see the generativity of organizing such community events, and seeing traces of the plenary speakers’ scholarship get taken up in subsequent PER projects and publications. 


I look forward to learning with and from others in our community as they step forward to take on this important role in our community. Trust me, this is a thing that you too, can do.

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