Organizing a conference in corona times requires patience, CognAC and Thalia found out

23 Nov 2021

It’s not easy to organize an event during corona. Six artificial intelligence and computer science students know all about that. Their conference was supposed to take place in November of last year. Tonight, it’s finally taking place. ‘Really cool.’

It feels like an eternity ago for artificial intelligence student Pepijn van Manen (21). In April 2019 he was already elected chairman of the committee that organizes the National Computer Science Conference for students every year (see box). He never imagined it would take two and a half years for him to attend the convention. Whether the convention would finally take place, was uncertain until the very last moment, until the last corona press conference on 12 November. ‘That’s when we knew it was going to work.’

Tonight, the student convention is finally taking place, one year after the originally planned date – but, with a couple of small changes. Doors close at six o’clock, people need to be seated when eating or drinking and dinner and the accompanying drinks afterwards are not possible. ‘We’re lucky our official schedule is done exactly at six’, says Van Manen. ‘That way, all presentations can take place and we don’t need to cancel any speakers.’

The fact the event was postponed a whole year, didn’t mean the commission had time to sit around, Van Manen emphasizes. For example, it was a difficult task to keep enough sponsors on board. ‘There was little loyalty when we announced the convention would be moved to a new date next year.’ Luckily, other companies were happy to help. ‘Our theme, the computer science of mobility, is interesting for many organizations like the ANWB (Dutch motorways and car organization, ed.) and NS (Dutch railway company, ed.). They wanted to help us.’

Taken its toll

The postponement and mental damage left by corona took their toll among committee members, Van Manen explains. ‘Sometimes, we had no strength to go on anymore. We had to put the organization on pause several times.’ The online meetings were especially difficult for the committee. ‘We’ve had over fifty Zoom meetings.’

Van Manen is proud that they have persevered despite all the setbacks. ‘In the end, we all decided to go for it.’ The reason for this was the shared fascination for the theme of mobility. If the event were cancelled, the topic would end up in the trash and the next committee would work on something completely different.

What is he most looking forward to? Van Manen is quick to choose: his opening speech, in front of hundreds of people. ‘That’s really cool. Although I’ve only just realized it’s all finally happening.’ He could shout the latter from the rooftops. ‘I think I’m going to stand at the entrance to scan tickets. Then I can say: remember when we talked about this event 2.5 years ago? Now it’s finally here. We did it!’

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