ECSC:Eastern Colleges Science Conference

Recommended Guidelines for Hosting the Eastern Colleges Science Conference

June 27, 2019


The main purpose of the Eastern Colleges Science Conference (ECSC) is to provide a forum for exchange of scientific ideas among undergraduate students. The conference allows students to present their research findings in the three presentation modes used by scientists world wide: prepared papers, oral platform presentations, and poster presentations. Students also have an opportunity to field questions from conference participants from different institutions. In communicating their own research findings in the context of a scientific meeting, the students complete the final step of the scientific process. The experience also better prepares them for scientific endeavors after graduation, including graduate programs and professional positions.

Since the first conference in 1947, many institutions have hosted ECSC. Geographically, conference locations have encompassed a large area, ranging from Niagara, New York in the north to Raleigh, North Carolina in the south; from Providence, Rhode Island in the east to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the west. Hosting institutions have included small liberal arts colleges, state universities, and the United States military academies in Annapolis and West Point. The opportunity to experience a variety of different locales and institutional types has enhanced the ECSC experience for all participants.

The ECSC officers have put together this document to provide useful guidelines for any institution that is hosting. Except for identified actions that have been formally approved by the ECSC Board of Trustees, most of these guidelines are suggestions—not strict rules—learned from past experiences.

Being selected to host the conference

Before submitting an official request to host an ECSC conference, an institutional representative will want to consider what would be involved. While these hosting guidelines are particularly informative, you may wish to contact the ECSC board chair or an ECSC officer for clarification and assurance regarding various aspects of hosting the conference.

For an institution that wishes to host an ECSC conference, a high-level administrator typically sends an official request by email or snail mail (or both) to the ECSC board chair, usually 14-16 months before the anticipated hosting date. The letter should specifically request to host the conference and should include a particular hosting date if possible (usually a Saturday in April that does not conflict with a major holiday weekend or a major event on the campus of the prospective host institution). The ECSC chair will consider the request, confer with other ECSC officers, and, if the request is approved, respond with a formal letter of acceptance addressed to the requesting administrator.

Assembling an ECSC host committee

For a successful conference, it is important to assemble an ECSC host committee, the members of which should share the workload involved in hosting the event. As you read these guidelines, please choose carefully those people on your campus who can reliably serve in key roles. There should be a host committee chair (or two co-chairs) who will be in communication with ECSC officers and who can be reliably contacted by ECSC participants and responded to in a timely manner, as issues arise.

Preparing for the conference

Maintaining a list of ECSC campus coordinators with contact information
Life is easier for an ECSC host committee when each participating institution has an ECSC campus coordinator. The ECSC campus coordinator coordinates the registration, abstract submission, payment, travel and lodging arrangements for everyone representing the coordinator’s institution. Each campus coordinator should be able to send the ECSC host committee a single list of registered participants from their campus and also send a single payment covering their costs. Questions from ECSC participants can be filtered first through the appropriate ECSC campus coordinator instead of going directly to the host committee. As the registration and payment processes take place, the host committee may need to contact the appropriate ECSC campus coordinator quickly to address any issues that arise. The ECSC campus coordinator is thus an important communication link connecting the host committee and the individual registrants, which allows for problem solving in a time-effective manner.

During the fall preceding the spring conference, the ECSC board chair usually sends an email to all board members, reminding them of the date and place of the spring conference, and requesting that each participating institution identify an ECSC campus coordinator and send that person’s name and contact information to the ECSC host committee. Some institutions respond, others do not. We recommend that the ECSC host committee compile a list of ECSC campus coordinators and their contact information as they are received and send reminders to those ECSC board members from institutions that have not yet sent that information. (The complete list of ECSC board members is posted on the ECSC web page.) Getting as complete a list as possible well before the abstract submission deadline will save the host committee a lot of avoidable effort afterwards.

Reserving rooms and alerting key personnel:
Please reserve your institution’s ECSC rooms as far in advance as possible. Alert the various moving parts in your system (e.g., information technology, food services) regarding the conference, its date, and the general requests your host committee will likely be making to ensure a successful conference.

Making local lodging arrangements:
Please check with a couple of local hotels to see if you can hold some rooms at a discounted price for a designated window of time, for ECSC participants. (Please check with previous ECSC host committees for an estimate of the number of rooms you may be needing.) Please do not wait until the last minute for these arrangements, as there may be something else planned during the conference weekend that may cause local hotels to fill.

Making arrangements for the keynote speaker:
Seriously consider who your keynote speaker will be, bearing in mind that the participants will be largely from the natural sciences (especially biology and chemistry) and social sciences (particularly psychology). A presentation that is scientific, general, and audience-relevant captures the attention of more of the participants than a presentation that is narrowly focused on a single research topic that is not perceived by many participants as particularly relevant. During ECSC 2000, the keynote speaker was a science journalist who had recently published a provocative book that challenged the budding scientists in the room by presenting the hypothesis that all the greatest scientific discoveries had already been made. (That made people think.) In 2009, the host institution did not have a room large enough that could be darkened for the keynote presentation, so arrangements were made for three presentations simultaneously occurring in three smaller rooms—one directed towards psychology students, one for those with environmental interests, and one for premeds and others pursuing health-related careers. ECSC participants could choose which presentation they preferred to hear. Clearly, there are lots of ways to deal with this, and whatever you choose to do will be fine with ECSC. If you have not done so yet, please agree on the speaker and reach out to him/her, to see if the individual is available and willing. You would like the potential speaker to commit and reserve the date before their calendar fills and makes that impossible.

Timing for the conference components:
Please see earlier conference programs as general guides regarding conference components. Poster sessions lasting 1.5 hours allow sufficient time for participants to see all posters of interest and for judges to fairly evaluate all posters they are assigned. The ECSC Board meeting seems to work well as a working lunch lasting 1.5 hours. As a time-saving measure, consider asking each institution to bring an already-prepared poster representing their school, for the group photos at the awards banquet.

Key items and deadlines to post:
Regarding conference items to post, please feel free to contact prior ECSC hosts. Please make sure that all posted information needed to meet a deadline for the conference is accurate and posted at least one month before that deadline. (If a posted error is found, please make sure that the correction is made quickly. Try very hard to avoid posting incorrect deadlines that have to be corrected later. That leads to confusion.) Include a name and contact information for inquiries. Please respond in a timely fashion to conference-related inquiries, even if it is just to say that you received the communication and will respond soon. (Especially with a deadline looming on the horizon, people worry if they think their questions will not be answered. A timely response basically reassures them.) Please plan ahead for a likely spike in such inquiries shortly before/during each deadline. Time each deadline to allow for the possibility of granting an extension without causing major headaches later as the date of the conference approaches.

Hotel room reservations

The deadline for this item depends on the negotiated window of time during which the accommodating hotel(s) will hold the rooms for ECSC participants at the discounted rate.

Manuscript submissions

The instructions for manuscript submissions are already posted on the ECSC web page (, Judging, Full-Length Paper Instructions). Given the six weeks required for the ECSC Board chair to locate willing evaluators, send out the manuscripts, receive feedback from everyone, then arrange for plaques to be made for excellence awards, we recommend that the deadline for manuscript submissions be six weeks before the conference and co-occur with the abstract submission deadline, since students submitting manuscripts must also submit abstracts for either platform or poster presentations.

Abstract submissions

The abstract submission process should be similar to what has been done in the past. The body of each abstract should not exceed 200 words (per ECSC board action). Please remember to include the following statement on the posted abstract submission form: “All students will receive evaluation feedback. Do you want your presentation to be considered for an award? Yes___ No___.” Those students who check “No” will still be evaluated and receive their judging reports. However, they will not be considered for an award. (Note: On the judging report forms given to the evaluators in their folders, those presentations that decline consideration for an award should be identified; otherwise, the evaluators will not necessarily know.)

The abstract submission instructions should state that the research must have been conducted by an undergraduate and must be empirical, drawing conclusions from observed and/or measured phenomena, involving hypothesis testing or discovery-based research that searches for patterns in nature. While empirical evidence is often quantitative (e.g., measurements, surveys), it can also be qualitative (e.g., evidence taken from interviews), as long as the results are used to test a hypothesis or address a research question. (Note: While mining data banks and using informatics in search of meaningful patterns can be a form of discovery-based, empirical research, a presentation that provides only a review of a topic or is entirely theoretical with no new information addressing a question is not considered empirical.)

Students whose research is not yet ready for consideration for an award are encouraged to submit abstracts anyway, perhaps requesting on the form (where indicated) that they do not wish to be considered for an award. These students will still receive helpful feedback through the evaluation process. This conference may be an opportunity for a student to present preliminary results of a work in progress or introduce an experimental design for useful discussion.

Please make it clear in the instructions that only one abstract is to be submitted for each presentation. When there are multiple presenters for a single presentation, still only one abstract is to be submitted (logically from the first author).

In most cases, a presentation is given by a single presenter, who is the first author of the abstract. However, there is sometimes a presentation given by more than one presenter. For evaluation purposes, it is important that the abstract submission form include a place where the name(s) of the actual presenter(s) are listed, in addition to a place where the name(s) of all authors are listed, since not all the authors on an abstract are presenting. We recommend that the abstract submission instructions include a way to distinguish the presenters and the mentors for multi-authored abstracts. Presentation evaluators will need to know the actual number of presenters per presentation, since presentations with more than three presenters are ineligible for excellence awards. Also, evaluators for poster presentations will need to know if there are multiple presenters for a given presentation, not just the first author. In the past, there has been the occasional evaluator who, thinking that the poster presentation was being presented by the first author only, would not allow the co-presenter to speak. The abstract submission form should be designed to make sure there is no confusion here.

The abstract submission form should require selection of a research area (from a provided list that includes “Other” with a place to key in that discipline). This selection will allow you to group the platform presentations into disciplinary sessions and the poster presentations into approximately six-poster groups by research area. We recommend several research areas, so that the presenters can be as selective as possible. (You can later pool together similar research areas if need be to form adequately sized groups.) The following research areas are shown as examples:

Anthropology, Archeology, Astronomy, Behavior, Biochemistry, Botany, Chemistry, Computer Science, Ecology, Economics, Education, Engineering, Environmental Science, Genetics, Geosciences, Health Sciences, Mathematics, Microbiology, Molecular Biology, Physics, Physiology, Psychology, Sociology, Zoology, Other.

As mentioned earlier, because each student who is submitting a manuscript for evaluation must also give either a platform or a poster presentation and must therefore submit an abstract as well, we recommend that the abstract submission deadline coincide with the manuscript submission deadline, to avoid possible confusion. Given the six weeks required to have the manuscripts evaluated and the plaques made for those deemed excellent, we recommend that the deadline for abstract submissions (and manuscript submissions) be six weeks before the conference.

Each person who submits an abstract should receive rapid, automatic confirmation that the abstract was received with a note that the abstract should be considered accepted for presentation unless the student hears, in a separate email, that the abstract was not accepted (with reasons provided). (Note: Such a rapid electronic response system is a free product of Google Forms. Please work with your institution’s information technology department to help implement this process.)

Photos of Participants

Photos of ECSC participants are posted each year on the ECSC web page to show the enthusiasm and interest of the conference to the world. Before Lance Evans takes a photo during the awards banquet or at other times, he tells the subject(s) that the photo may be posted on the ECSC web page, so anyone who does not wish to have their photo posted should step out of the camera frame. More recent ECSC conferences have given students the option, on the abstract submission form, of declining photography during their presentations. For each student who declined to be photographed during his/her presentation, an icon appeared next to their abstract and their presentation in the program. As mentioned earlier, as a time-saving measure, consider asking each institution to bring an already-prepared poster representing their school, for the group photos at the awards banquet.

Guidelines for presentations

On the web page that includes the other conference information, please post the specific instructions for poster and oral presentations. For oral/platform presentations, some items include time allotted for the presentation and follow-up questions, and instructions regarding uploading of presentations (when? how?). For poster presentations, some items include poster dimensions, formatting guidelines, items that will be supplied on site to help with the poster display, and any items that the presenter should bring. These guidelines should include the name and contact information of someone who is reachable and who can field inquiries regarding presentations. Please state on the conference web site that instructions regarding manuscript submissions can be found by going to the web page (under Judging, Full-Length Paper Instructions), or provide a link that takes interested students to those instructions. In the past, the instructions for poster and oral presentations have been posted with the abstract submission guidelines and are no longer accessible after the abstract submission deadline has passed. As a result, many presenters could not retrieve those instructions as the conference date approached. To address that issue, presentation instructions should remain posted after the abstract submission deadline and remain posted until the conference.

Registration and payment process for all registration and banquet fees

Whether or not the ECSC participant is giving a presentation, each person attending the conference must register, and his/her registration fee (and possible banquet fee) must be covered. The registration fee covers the cost of registration materials and lunch. While the posted per capita registration fee is $35, the actual cost may be as much as $40, since ECSC is supplementing the per capita cost by up to $5 for costs exceeding $35. While the posted per capita banquet fee cannot exceed $45, it can be less (depends on what you are able to negotiate). Do not assume that the posted banquet fee must be $45. If the actual per capita banquet cost exceeds $45, ECSC can supplement the additional cost up to $7, for a total per capita banquet cost of $52. Each spring, during the ECSC board meeting, the board decides whether to include an institutional fee for the next conference. For the past several years, the ECSC Board has decided to not include an institutional fee. For clarification regarding costs as you prepare for your conference, please check the posted ECSC board minutes for the spring before the conference that you are planning to host, or contact an ECSC officer.

We recommend making the following two options available for payment of registration and banquet fees
(1) a single payment (check with “ECSC” and the year written on it, or payment by credit card) from an institution covering costs for that institution’s participants, once all costs are tallied for that institution and processed through the ECSC campus coordinator;
(2) individual payments by those registrants whose costs are not covered by an institution.
(Note: There may be a few people who decide at the last minute to attend the conference without presenting, but who did not register earlier. Since the registration fee covers the lunch, these nonregistrants would not have been included in the lunch count. This has not been a large issue in the past, but please be aware of it.)
For institutional payments, the ECSC campus coordinator should receive a receipt from the host institution.
For individual payments, each individual should likewise receive a receipt from the host institution. That way, all payments are confirmed as received.

While presenters who have submitted abstracts six weeks before the conference could/should also register that early, the registration deadline can be considerably later than the abstract submission deadline.

Some key internal (unposted) deadlines

Preparing the conference program:
You can begin compiling the conference program in earnest shortly after the abstract submission deadline. Please look at some past programs (e.g., ECSC 2018 hosted by Ithaca College) as a guide, or contact the ECSC board chair, Dr. Lance Evans (

email Dr. Lance Evans

The program should include an index in the back, one that cites each participating institution alphabetically and lists, for each institution, the names of the participants, with presenters identified by their presentation number. When assigning the presentation numbers, please remember to group the poster presentations by research area.

Lining up and preparing the campus assistants:
Since there are many other ECSC issues that must be addressed during the final week before the conference, we strongly recommend that lining up your assistants and preparing them regarding their specific ECSC responsibilities should be done before the final week. At the very least, you will need assistance at the registration desk, during the making and positioning of easily seen ECSC directional signs, during the setup of each ECSC room, during platform presentations (session moderators), and during the collection and organization of the presentation evaluations and perhaps preparation of the award certificates of excellence for distribution during the evening banquet. We recommend that your assistants be easily identified (perhaps wearing the same sort of T-shirt) and that all be prepared to answer queries from ECSC participants.

Posting the completed ECSC program:
The deadline for electronically posting the completed ECSC program and sending it off to be printed should be approximately a week before the conference.

Informing the evaluators of their assigned presentations:
The deadline for emailing the evaluators the letter of instructions and letting them know which presentations they will be evaluating can be as early as when the completed ECSC program is posted. Below is an example of a letter of instructions:

ECSC Template Letter of Instructions for Evaluators

Evaluation of manuscripts

Evaluation of manuscripts will be coordinated by Don Stearns.
Shortly after the manuscript submission deadline, Don can send you a list of manuscripts submitted for evaluation, to be included in the ECSC program. However, he will need several weeks to locate willing evaluators, send out the manuscripts and receive feedback, then have the plaques made for those papers that are deemed deserving of excellence awards. If the manuscript submission deadline happens to coincide with the abstract submission deadline for all presentations, so much the better.

Grouping the platform and poster presentations

Each abstract submission comes with a selected subject category. After receiving the abstracts, platform presentations should be grouped into sessions by general discipline. The poster presentations should also be grouped by general research area. This way, a viewer does not have to run around looking for the posters that focus on his/her research interest. (Also, since each evaluator will be assigned a group of approximately six posters to evaluate, all within a particular discipline for which an award can be determined, it is easier for the evaluator if the assigned posters are physically close together.) Where possible, please try to place students from different institutions in the same judging group.

The evaluation process for platform and poster presentations

The judging guidelines are posted on the web page (under Judging). Each evaluator should receive a folder that includes a letter of instructions (see above example), first thanking the person for agreeing to serve as an evaluator, then briefly describing the process. Also included in the folder should be a judging report form for each presentation assigned to the evaluator, as well as hard copies of the ECSC judging guidelines and the judging rubrics. (The template for the judging report form and the judging rubrics are also posted on the web page, under Judging.)

Judging Guidelines for Platform and Poster Presentations

Full-Length Paper Instructions

Eastern Colleges Science Conference Judging Rubric

Eastern Colleges Science Conference Judging Report

The host committee should make sure that each judging report form in the folder has already identified the specific presentation and the presenter(s), so the evaluator will not have to fill in that information. For any presentation that includes more than one presenter, all presenters will have already been identified on a single judging report form. For a single presentation given by multiple presenters, the evaluator will be judging the presentation as a whole. For this reason, there will be only one judging report for each presentation, regardless of the number of presenters.

While all presentations will be evaluated for feedback purposes, any presentation that includes more than three presenters is not eligible for an excellence award. The evaluator should be able to know that by counting the names of the presenters on the judging report form. Also, there may be presenters who have indicated with their abstract submissions that they do not wish to be considered for an excellence award. Such requests should already be noted on the appropriate judging report forms by the host committee.

Using the ECSC judging rubrics included in the folder, the evaluator should complete the also-enclosed ECSC judging report form for each of the evaluated presentations.

The evaluator should be made aware that each completed judging report will be returned to the presenter(s) for feedback purposes. Most student presenters appear to pay more attention to the evaluators’ comments than to the scores. The evaluator should therefore do what s/he can to include thoughtful, useful feedback in the comments section of the judging report. A relatively quiet location where evaluators can go, sit down, and complete their judging reports (preferably near the poster presentations) should be indicated in the letter of instructions or made clear at the beginning of the conference.

For award-eligible platform presentations, the evaluator will select the best presentation of that session for an award, unless the evaluator determines that none of the presentations is worthy of an award. The evaluator should make his/her selection clear at the top of the presenter’s judging report.

For poster presentations, each evaluator will be assigned a group of approximately six posters to evaluate, all within a particular discipline for which an award can be determined. (Related disciplines with smaller numbers of posters may be combined into a group of about six.) For award-eligible poster presentations, the evaluator will select the best presentation of his/her group of posters, unless the evaluator determines that none of the presentations is worthy of an award.  No more than one award should be recommended by the evaluator per about six posters evaluated within the same group, unless the evaluator strongly feels another award is warranted. As in the case of the platform presentations, the poster presentation evaluator should make his/her selection clear at the top of the appropriate judging report.

The location and deadline for collection of all judging reports should be indicated in the letter of instructions or made clear at the beginning of the conference. If the evaluator is directed to turn in the completed judging reports to wandering assistants instead of a specific location, those assistants must be available and easily identified as evaluation collectors.

One-two weeks before the conference

We refer you to the key deadlines mentioned earlier. Selected conference assistants must know what to do before conference day. The conference program must be finalized and posted, emails with instructions and lists of assigned presentations must be sent to evaluators, and folders for the presentation evaluators must be prepared. Please walk around your campus to identify locations for directional signs for the conference, then make sure that clearly seen signs are prepared and deployed the morning of the conference, before people begin arriving. Please have the audiovisuals checked before the day of the conference.

At the start of the conference

sPlease make sure a hard copy of the ECSC program is given to each registrant. Depending on budget, you may wish to include an item that has your college’s logo and/or ECSC on it. If it is not cost prohibitive and fits within the registration-fee budget, this may be a cost-effective way to remember the ECSC conference and the host institution.

Please make sure each evaluator arrives and receives his/her evaluation folder with the letter of instructions.

During the conference

Processing the completed presentation evaluations:
As the presentation evaluations are collected throughout the day, one or two people should be grouping them by institution (for return to the presenters via the appropriate ECSC campus coordinator) and identifying those presentations deemed award worthy, then immediately preparing the award certificates that will be announced at the banquet. For any award-winning presentation that includes more than one presenter, there should be only one award certificate, since the award was for the presentation itself. The names of all presenters should be included on the certificate. (Note: We see no harm in preparing the same certificate for each presenter of that presentation, if time allows.) If you are looking around for electronic templates for award certificates and need some guidance, please contact Don Stearns (

During the platform presentation sessions:
Each platform session should have a dedicated moderator who announces and times each presentation. That person should have immediate access to IT people (who should be nearby and immediately available), in case there is a technical issue that must be resolved quickly. Arrangements should be made ahead of time and clarified with presenters regarding the loading of their presentations, so that program scheduling is maintained. The session moderators should be coached before the conference, to make sure they know what to do. (Do not assume.)

Consider having each presenter announce his/her own presentation, instead of the session moderator. The moderator would be responsible for making sure the PowerPoints are lined up as they should be, for introducing and explaining the time restrictions and any other rules at the beginning of the session, for alerting each presenter when it is his/her turn to present, and timing the presentations. If each presenter announces his/her own presentation, it is more likely that the presenter would pronounce his/her name and the presentation title correctly. Since this is a bit unconventional, this self-introduction approach should be included in the posted guidelines for platform presentations, so the presenters will be prepared to introduce themselves and their presentations. Some traditionalists may complain, but it may be useful to try self-introduction, to see if it improves the conference. (Regardless of which approach is taken here, it would be wise to have a couple of extra session moderators available and walking the halls during platform presentations, in case a substitute moderator is needed at the last minute.)

During the poster presentation sessions:
Please do what you can to prevent having the posters in a room that is so crowded that it is difficult to hear individual student presentations. Also, please group the posters according to general discipline as indicated with the abstract submissions.

ECSC board meeting:
If you can, please allow 1.5 hours for the mid-day board meeting, to allow sufficient time to deal appropriately with agenda items. Please be prepared to report the number of ECSC participants, the number of institutions represented, and the approximate costs (perhaps have a brief discussion with Lance Evans [ECSC treasurer] prior to the board meeting, so that he is prepared to speak regarding the ECSC budget). Also, please be ready to report the number of students who indicated on their abstract submission forms that they did not want to be considered for an award, as well as the total number of abstract submissions.

During the awards banquet

Presentation of awards:
We recommend that the first speaker at the evening awards banquet be the host committee chair, to welcome everyone and let them know how we will proceed. During the banquet, group photos may be taken with each institution’s identifying poster. During the dessert phase of the banquet, awards will be presented for best platform and poster presentations, as well as manuscripts evaluated as deserving of excellence recognition. The host committee chair and/or an ECSC officer could pose for individual photos with the award winners as they are announced. After the student awards have been given, the ECSC board chair should have an opportunity to commend members of the ECSC host committee for their efforts in organizing the conference and present a plaque of appreciation to them.

During the presentation of awards, the announcer should not read, word for word, the title of each award-winning presentation. It takes time and greatly increases the likelihood of mispronouncing words. The student’s name, institution, and general research area are sufficient.

Return of judging reports

Please make sure that each ECSC campus coordinator receives the judging reports for his/her institution either during the awards banquet (if possible) or shortly after the conference ends.