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Meetup in practice: An interview with Seán O’Donoghue

Seán O’Donoghue convened the inaugural Sydney Computational Biologists' Meetup last Thusday. Last Friday, I met up with Seán to find out how it went...

ABN: So Seán, how many folks “met up” last night?

SO: We had 46 come to the talk by Jason Swedlow at Google HQ in Sydney.

ABN: That’s a reasonable chunk of Sydney’s bioinformatics community judging by the fact that there are over 130 registrations for the upcoming Sydney Bioinformatics Symposium. Tell us about how you set things up via Meetup

SO: It worked really well for us. Meetup is set up to enable people to get offline, to enable people to meet face to face, and the whole design of the website makes that process easier. It’s very easy to set up a meeting, to set up a group, and then that group has effectively its own site hosted by Meetup…even down to little details like automatically notifying everyone in the group about upcoming meetings with regular reminders. There’s a reminder set automatically the day before the meeting to say ‘Hey, you’ve registered for the meeting. By the way, it’s happening tomorrow’.

Or if you’re a part of the group and you haven’t registered for a meeting in a while, you’ll get a reminder every now and again. This helps encourage the community and make sure people are aware of what’s going on.

There are other details. As a meeting organiser you can make a PDF that has everything that you need to make badges for everyone—this was handy at Google where they wanted everyone to have a badge for identity purposes.

And after the meeting Meetup allows you to have discussions and support so you can find out which speakers you should have next.

ABN: So, say someone in Perth gets enthusiastic about getting a Meetup site initiated. What should they do?

SO: In terms of Meetup registration, that’s really straightforward. There’s a standard kind of log in, creating an account, create a name for your group. Then you pay your money—that’s about $36 for six months. Then you’ve got to raise awareness through your networks, like we did through the ABN.

The mail we sent out to people for the Sydney Computational Biologists Meetup went through various hops, various degrees of separation, quite quickly. We got 50 people signing up for the Group in less than a week, so it seems likely that after we advertise the Meetup group at the Sydney Bioinformatics Symposium in a couple of week, we’ll have over a hundred.  And from then on when a new speaker comes to town, or you want to make an event, it’s very easy to streamline the communication to get the message out. It’s really well designed for precisely this kind of physical meet up.

ABN: That’s excellent. Can you think of anything else worth highlighting?

SO: It’s a lot of fun. I think it’s important to emphasise the social activities. Our idea was that, we have these great people coming through Sydney—like Professor Swedlow—and while I could host him to speak at our institute, other bioinformaticians around Sydney wouldn’t get to participate. Why not find a central location that anyone around Sydney could get to, then have a meeting in the early evening just after work hours so that people can get there?

Also, you’ve got to find a venue in the city. So we went to a company—Google—and they’re not using their meeting rooms after 5.30pm. So if you can make a deal with them, based on their positive attitude to supporting research, then things can work out well all round

One last thing to say is that, every one of us is working in an institute, where there are formal seminars, invited speakers and such. What we’re talking about here is something informal as a contrast to all that, and of course, cross-institutional by nature. Folks have a good time and it’s a natural progress to go to a pub or restaurant afterwards, and that facilitates the social side of things as well.

ABN: I think that’s the essence of building well-connected networks. So thanks for making that happen!

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