Running a two week summer workshop - how much time, effort, and money does it take?

Every year since 2010, I've been the primary organizer for a summer workshop on Analyzing Next Generation Sequencing Data. In 2010 and 2011, I was funded internally by the Gene Expression in Disease and Development group at MSU; since 2012, I've had a $50,000/yr grant from the NIH NHGRI (R25HG006243) to support the course. The course involved about 25 students and about 15 lecturers, instructors, and TAs.

This blog post is meant to answer the question, "How much does such a course cost to run, in time & effort as well as in cold hard cash?"

In the two most recent years, we collected approximately $250 per student. This can go to offset various costs below, of course.

Costs

$4,000 - Supplies and non-catered food

$5,000 - assessment contract (max allowed by funding agency)

$7,500 - honoraria and checks for 5 instructors and 5 TAs

$7,500 - room and board for 15 lecturers, instructors and TAs for two weeks

$7,500 - travel for 15 lecturers, instructors, and TAs

$10,000 - salary for course director & go-fer

$41,500 - total

Bear in mind that facility costs at Kellogg Biological Station were very low (nearly nonexistent) for us when I was a faculty member at MSU, and that KBS is extremely inexpensive for students attending courses ($250/wk for room and board, approximately).

Basic organizational TODOs

For all of the below, estimate 5 hrs/wk for the 10 weeks around the course, or ~50 hrs (this includes random bits and bobs months before and after). The real problem is that this is a constant drumbeat - EVERY WEEK you have to do some stuff, with a few peaks of activity.

(Ideally you would be able to get an extra 10% of an admin assistant's time, but they would need to be technically savvy, communicative and organizationally excellent, as well as invested - this is rather hard to guarantee.)

Also note that this assumes that you're not preparing any of the coures materials yourself. That's all extra time :)

Electronica:

  • build an application form on Google Docs.
  • put together an announcement.
  • announce course.
  • fork the ANGUS/documentation Web site and update readthedocs;
  • set up mailing lists for the students and TAs;
  • update the Amazon Web Services screenshots to represent whatever Amazon has done to their interface this week;
  • talk to the Amazon Web Services people about getting Amazon credits;
  • post the Code of Conduct and update contact information;
  • pre-order any books you want to have around;
  • order a bunch of other stuff on Amazon, hope it arrives on time;

Personnel:

  • hire and recruit a driver and a "cruise director"/course manager;
  • invite the instructors and TAs;

Scheduling:

  • outline the schedule of evening events and meals;
  • outline the schedule of lectures;
  • revamp and revise the schedule as instructors shift around;
  • inform students about the opportunity for five minute presentations;
  • schedule the pre- and post-assessment visits;

Travel and paperwork, aka "the bane of my existence":

  • inform those instructors and TAs who accept of how to book travel;
  • reserve rooms for instructors and TAs;
  • admit students;
  • send travel details to students;
  • collect deposits/housing information; chase down students who insist they're going to come until they turn out not to be;
  • collect student arrival information and departure information; politely accomodate those students who completely ignored your travel suggestions;
  • collect emergency contact information;
  • reserve driver vehicle;
  • spend four months dealing with reimbursements that roll in at unexpected intervals and require days to weeks of administrative signoff because "why the heck did you order so much coffee? how is it possible that you drank that much coffee?"

Ordering and shopping ("physical objects" division):

  • arrange for continual updates of snacks and materials/supplies - a list of about 50 items that needs to be around and available, including pens and snacks and coffee cups;

Intangibles:

  • worry constantly about how you're responsible for bringing approximately 40 people out to the mid-west of Michigan and how some of them may do foolish things and how you're ultimately responsible for any harm they do themselves or others when doing those foolish things. How many times must I repeat NO NIGHT SWIMMING ALONE?

Note: SUBTRACT 2 years from course director's life expectancy for each summer of running the course.


So, that's basically what it takes/costs.

--titus

p.s. Happy to take questions on details!

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