How to invite a keynote … or Visiting Fellow

I might be interested in digital media but I am the first to admit talking in person to others is always preferable. I was invited by a Dutch and a European-North African collective a week or two ago myself, but both were hoping I’d be able to fund and organize my way without too much clarity (from my end at least) as to research/publication outputs or funding assistance. I have since cleared this up but it occurred to me that the following steps may help.

Inviting an overseas academic is a tried and true way of not just sharing ideas but also focusing them. Sadly, despite it being a practice at universities for decades if not for centuries, the process is often ill-defined and vague.
So with all the experience of – not very much really apart from organizing a visiting fellowship as a past dean and winning 5 visiting scholar grants at my current university – here are my views for what they are worth on making the process go a little easier.

  • Be clear with how definite your event will be. If it relies on funding I think most academics would prefer being asked anyway with the proviso that they are also informed as to the certainty, key dates, or whether the event depends on them turning up.
  • As for money be clear on funding, for what, and how definite it is and by the second email do advise them if there are tax implications or visa or university visitor requirements.
  • If the event will have a published outcome, tell them! And give details. Perhaps the speaker can suggest publication outlets if you don’t have any. In many universities (well, at least in Australia and New Zealand), a publication will be an added drawcard for both the academic and the head of department or Dean who is typically the person who must agree to sign off on their leave from the University.
  • While the speaker is at your university, you can increase the effectiveness of their visit by asking them to critique or talk to or listen to postgraduates or departmental seminars. You do need to ask them first though as they may need time to recover from a gruelling trip (often plane trips are at the end of the day so it is not just the plane hours that can be taxing. And I have also found that trips with more stops can actually add to stress and tiredness).
  • Listen to their travel requests or suggestions, they are often more experienced about travel from their country to yours than you are, and possibly even your travel agent. On the other hand they won’t know any unique travel requirements and limitations on travel your University travel provider has.
  • If inviting someone from the Southern Hemisphere please remember they probably have a TOTALLY different teaching semester system. In Australia academics typically find it easier to get away mid November to end of February (summer holidays), Easter(4 days around the 3rd week of March), the 2nd and 3rd week of April (mid-semester 1 break) the first two weeks of July (our semester break), the last week of September and the first week of October (mid-semester 2 break).
  • It is vital the invited speaker be informed of any restrictions on their trip especially if they book their own trip! I once nearly got into serious trouble for visiting a conference as part of a semi-funded talk in Germany. The department had funding requirements that the entire trip had to be direct and only for x days. I gave my talk and then was handed the repayment form with this sheet of conditions! It was probably my fault but the whole problem took something like 6-8 months to resolve.

If you are inviting a Visiting Fellow

  • Schedule their visit to the campus so they don’t arrive and there is no one to meet them!
  • They will need to have a clear map and a list of useful names or names of people they will meet is extra helpful.
  • Ensure you know if they require office space, chargers, PC or library access. Always useful to know what sort of computer they are bringing, Mac Air laptop users often forget their connecting gadgets/dongles!
  • If there is a third party co-organising make sure someone is taking responsibly for the above!
  • Let your colleagues know they are visiting, and their research interests/latest projects and publications.
  • If they are a Visiting Fellow ask them for constructive feedback on their invitation and visit so you can improve the process for the next visitor.
  • Take the opportunity to advertise the scheme online and via social media as it is a good way of communicating the research interests of your department or centre and people will keep you in mind when they book their academic leave or etc.
  • Consider, for a Visiting Fellowship, to schedule it near a conference or annual event so they can attend and present at both..

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