Taking Control of Your Future: How to Organize a Successful Science and Career Fair, Part 5

If the plans for your career fair are progressing, you've probably generated a schedule, invited the speakers and panelists that suit your needs, and recruited several companies to send representatives to the event. Here, Brad Sturgeon and Brian Vande Berg tell you how to publicize your event, create a registration process, and use registration information to generate a program booklet for your career fair.


Before beginning the registration process, it is best to identify your target audience. For instance, if your career fair is going to include graduate students, then your task is relatively simple: You target academic departments at your institution or at surrounding universities. Try to establish contacts in each or key departments--it is a good way to delegate the responsibility of publicity. Marketing your fair to postdocs outside your institution will be a bigger job, because postdocs can be found in academic, industrial, and government institutions. The job of the publicity committee will be to identify key contacts in institutions with postdocs. Don't be surprised to find that some institutions do not keep track of their postdocs or keep up-to-date information about these "temporary" workers. The assistance of postdoctoral organizations and offices at area institutions will make the publicity more effective.

E-mail is obviously the preferred method for circulating registration information; department chairs, administrative staff, department contacts, and key postdoc and grad student contacts can support such an effort. Keep in mind that just because you sent an e-mail does not mean that the recipient read your e-mail. For this reason, e-mail publicity should be complemented by a posted flyer with all the details.

Online Registration

From our experience, it is vastly preferable to establish a Web-based registration process for fair attendees. In contrast to a paper/FAX or e-mail registration process, a Web site can be configured so that consistent information about each registrant can be gathered. If much of your publicity is carried out via e-mail, registration is quick and painless--just include a link to the registration site in the e-mail message.

The details of using a Web-based registration involves the use of "forms." This technology requires the support of your institution's computer/technology services group. The general idea behind forms is that a Web page will have a set of fields (boxes to enter information) for which the registrant can enter data requested by you. Upon completing all of the required fields, a "submit" link (button) extracts the information entered into the fields, places them into a text document, and then e-mails the text document to a predetermined e-mail address. A Web-based registration also allows you to track the number of registrants and to close the site when you've reached your registration ceiling. It is beneficial if someone on your registration "team" has some experience with Web design.

So what do you need on your Web site registration form? Here are several fields that you will want to consider including:

  • Name--Use separate fields for first and last names so that you can sort by last name.

  • Institution--This field may be used on a name badge.

  • Department--This field may also be used on a name badge.

  • Institution mailing address--If you are planning to use U.S. mail service, use separate fields for street, city, state, zip code. A full mailing address can be generated by combining name fields with this address information.

  • Undergraduate/Graduate/Postdoctoral/Other status--At NIEHS, we used a pull-down menu to limit choices.

  • Phone number

  • E-mail address

  • Research subject or category--If possible, use a pull-down menu to limit the choices; this will be very helpful if you categorize your abstracts.

  • If your fair includes a poster session, Abstract or Title--This field will only be completed if the attendee is presenting. Keep in mind that including abstracts can significantly increase the program booklet size.

  • Other information--For example, how did you hear about the event? Are you interested in helping with the planning of next year's meeting?

Pulling It All Together

Using a Web-based/electronic registration system allows you to import registration information into a database like FileMaker Pro. Using a database allows you to pull together statistical information about your registrants (e.g., graduate students vs. postdocs). In addition, a database also allows you to generate an e-mail list or mailing address list to communicate with your registrants (such as directions to the fair, scheduling changes, etc.). In the event that your career fair includes a poster session, the database will allow you to sort the abstracts by topic and to assign poster numbers.

Corporate/Speaker Registration

If you expect to have a large corporate turnout, you may wish to consider registering all company representatives through a separate Web-based system. (For additional information on recruiting companies, see Part 3 in this series, Recruiting Companies for the Fair ). As with participant registration, all corporate information may be transferred to a database and collated in any way you see fit. This process is especially helpful if you ask for company descriptions or biographies as a part of the registration process--it will save you from having to type the information yourself. If you wish to have your speakers and/or panelists submit a description of their professional activities, these can also be submitted online. A side benefit of using a corporate/speaker Web-based registration is that you will minimize the likelihood of forgetting to print a name badge for these people. In addition, this is an excellent place for the organizers to register special guests (speakers and VIPs) at your event.

Program Booklet

After the registration process is complete, the database you've generated will allow you to pull together various pieces of information to create a program booklet for your career fair. In putting together the booklet, remember that you are creating a reference source for the participant. In past fairs, our booklet has included the following:

  • Organizers' names and affiliations

  • The most updated schedule of events

  • A listing of sponsors

  • A welcome letter from the director of the sponsoring institution

  • Company descriptions

  • Biographies of all invited speakers

  • Poster abstracts

  • An attendee/presenter index

  • A map of the facility hosting the event

Be sure to consider adding any information that you think is relevant to your audience.

Check-In at the Fair

If you've done all your homework, the process of check-in should go smoothly. In addition to the program booklet, we used the database to print a nametag for each participant. The nametag included the participant's affiliation and, if presenting, a poster number. The nametag allows the participants to enter each session and use our facilities without a formal identification badge.

As with any check-in process, prepare for the majority of participants to arrive at the last minute. Have plenty of volunteers on hand to help you out! There will likely be people who show up without having registered. Have a sign-in sheet, blank nametags, and extra programs on hand for these attendees. As there will be approximately 10% to 15% "no-shows" of preregistered participants, you can probably accommodate these additional postdocs or students.

Remember to prepare for the unexpected. And good luck!

Brad Sturgeon is currently a chemistry instructor at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, a residential, public, magnet school for junior and senior high school students. Brad is the 2000 Chair of the North Carolina Section of the American Chemical Society, holds a special volunteer position at NIEHS, and is a proud husband and father of two children. Brad received his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of California, Davis, and has held postdoctoral positions at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and NIEHS.

Brian Vande Berg currently serves as assistant chair for the NIEHS Trainees Assembly. After earning his Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in 1997, he started a postdoctoral fellowship at NIEHS. Brian served on the publicity and registration subcommittees for the 2000 Science and Career Fair.

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