The only constant, as the saying goes, is change. Since adopting the American Nuclear Society Change Plan 2020 at the ANS Winter Meeting in 2019, the Society has been in a state of seemingly constant change. Many important improvements have been implemented under the Change Plan—including to this magazine and our news site, ans.org/news—with an eye toward making ANS a more modern and adaptable organization. Some changes also have better enabled ANS to quickly respond to events that were out of our control and forced us to take on new endeavors (thanks, COVID‑19)—a prime example being the 2020 ANS Virtual Annual Meeting and subsequent virtual meetings that followed.
The next in-person meeting will be different from the last in-person meeting back in November 2019—and not solely because life after COVID-19 will be different. Throughout 2020, ANS staff worked with member leaders from the National Program Committee (NPC) and the ANS Board of Directors to implement a new executive track, create guidelines for session planning, condense the national meetings schedule, and update the paper submission and review process and schedule. These changes are not a consequence of COVID-19 but instead refer back to priorities from the Change Plan, and they have been put in place for the 2021 ANS Virtual Annual Meeting.
We believe these changes will benefit the national meetings, but we are open to feedback and encourage attendees—members and nonmembers alike—to please provide input to ANS staff. The changes are meant to improve the services we offer, and we intend to keep updating and improving in order to better serve the nuclear community. So please be patient with these new ideas and let us know what is working and what is not—email email@example.com with your comments.
The new executive track
This new track is designed to provide nuclear professionals with a broader look at developments in nuclear science and technology and the impact of those developments on policy and markets. The track will feature high-level panel discussions about timely topics facing the community. The 2021 ANS Virtual Annual Meeting will be the first meeting to host these new sessions; the panels are not all confirmed yet, but here are a few that are currently being planned:
per Nuclear Ad Astra—an interactive panel discussion with space nuclear technology leaders from industry, NASA, and the Department of Energy
Polar Vortex 2021: Lessons from Texas and the Central U.S.
Crisis Communications During Emergencies in the Social Media Era
Planning for the Future: Demonstrating Next-Generation Nuclear Capabilities with Non-Power Technologies
Near Term Action on Nuclear Waste
Operationalizing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Statements within the Nuclear Field
Blind Spots to Implementing Lessons Learned for New Nuclear Construction
Updates to the session guidelines and meeting manual
The NPC has committed to updating the national meeting program manual to provide updated information for session chairs and session organizers. The session chairs and organizers play an integral role in developing the technical content presented at the ANS national meetings and, therefore, in the overall technical quality of the meeting.
The NPC worked with the Diversity and Inclusion in ANS (DIA) Committee to create a “CliffsNotes”--style guidance document for panel session chairs. DIA Committee member Leah Parks spearheaded the creation of the documentation and worked with ANS staff and members of the NPC in 2020 to update the guidelines. ANS staff then adapted the updated panel session chair guidelines to create guidelines for regular paper sessions.
The update to the guidelines for session organizers and chairs puts the focus on diversity and inclusion, because ANS is committed to ensuring that all of our events feature experts with diverse backgrounds in order to provide a complete picture of the nuclear community. Parks said the guidance documents “would be useful whether it is your first time chairing a session or whether you are a seasoned professional who desires to update your approach to be more inclusive.” She added that “these guidelines are practically useful in understanding the timelines associated with planning and organizing for the Winter and Annual meetings, as well as introducing policies that support creating diverse representation and recommended etiquette.”
Condensed meeting schedule
Starting with the 2021 ANS Virtual Annual Meeting, all national meetings will run from Monday through Wednesday; technical sessions will no longer be held on Thursday. Too often the sessions on Thursday have been sparsely attended, sometimes including just the chair and speakers. That is not fair to the speakers who happened to be scheduled on the final day of the meeting. Topical meetings (including embedded topicals) can continue to schedule sessions from Monday through Thursday, however.
Among the changes to ANS national meetings, the condensed schedule will have the biggest impact, especially for the technical program chair (TPC) and the division program chairs (DPCs), who are responsible for organizing, planning, and scheduling each division’s sessions. This is where these important leaders can really influence the meeting’s technical quality. These roles are filled by ANS volunteer members who take on the vital task of ensuring reviews are completed for all of the technical content presented at the meeting. It can be a thankless job, but the ANS staff greatly appreciate the time and effort the DPCs and TPCs put into organizing the technical content for ANS’s meetings. Now with a condensed meeting schedule, the chairs have the challenge and opportunity of making sure their sessions include the highest--quality technical content.
With that in mind, we are implementing a few changes to make sure the new, condensed schedule contains enough technical content to meet the needs of the community. One of the most significant changes is that presentation times will be shortened from 20 minutes to 15 minutes, still with five additional minutes for questions and answers. Another significant change is hosting two plenary sessions instead of three, which will allow Wednesday to host just technical sessions.
The new schedule outline shown in the table above provides 10 time slots for technical sessions, using 15 (plus five) minutes for each presentation, and shows the two plenary times on Monday and Tuesday. A few other key updates should be noted. The first is that we have lengthened the break times between sessions from 15 minutes to 20 minutes and have increased the time for lunch, which varies every day based on the sessions (the shortest lunch is on Wednesday and is 70 minutes). The second change is to the session times and allotted number of papers; the longest technical session is 105 minutes and allows for five papers, and the two late--afternoon session times on Monday are 85 minutes and have room for four papers each. Session organizers and chairs will have to plan accordingly to make sure that their sessions end on time. Finally, the updated schedule lists 10 meeting rooms, which is intentional because ANS usually can guarantee 10 meeting rooms for national meetings but cannot always guarantee more than that for technical sessions.
Updates to the submission and review process and schedule
This category of updates includes a broad set of changes, most of which are not evident to the average member or meeting attendee but are very important to make sure the workflow and planning processes are efficient and maximize the efforts of the member volunteers and ANS staff. The changes include tweaking the submission and review schedule, updating the program scheduling process, and modernizing how the program is presented and hosted for attendees.
For our members, the most important change to the submission and review schedule is that we have only one deadline. Common past practice has been to set an early deadline with the expectation of issuing weekly extensions until some later, final deadline. Instead, going forward, we are setting the paper submission deadline later and will no longer issue extensions. For example, the initial deadline for the 2020 Annual Meeting was January 6, but the final deadline was set as the first Wednesday in February. By contrast, for the 2021 Annual Meeting we set a deadline of February 5 without issuing a deadline extension. Now, if an author approached and requested a few more days to allow for internal review and approval to submit to the review system, we almost always granted the extra days. However, going forward, there is a chance that any late submissions will be automatically moved to a poster session or some other variation of a poster session, if we have more submissions than times available in the condensed schedule.
A few other noticeable changes to the publication schedule are shown below—namely, we have eliminated steps to review and finalize the meeting program. That’s because of the online meeting platform ANS built last year to meet the needs of the 2020 virtual conferences. This platform is a great product going beyond the virtual meeting, though, and has replaced the need to spend weeks developing, reviewing, and revising a PDF program. Instead, everything is discoverable on the meeting platform—and since the program is now web based, the program can be posted within days of the TPC and DPCs having finalized the schedule (e.g., around April 2 as shown in the sidebar for the 2021 Annual Meeting). The online program is then continuously updated, rather than ANS periodically releasing new versions of a PDF program.
We have additional updates to the platform in the works to better serve attendees, like a search bar that will allow attendees to search by keyword, title, author, or affiliation. Also, for the 2021 Annual Meeting, a new full--program view is being developed to allow attendees to see the entire list of sessions and papers. The at--a--glance view will still be there, as will the ability to create an itinerary. We received a lot of feedback about wanting to see the full list of papers at the meeting without clicking on each session, and we are happy to add this functionality. Please feel free to suggest updates to the meeting platform and our other new processes—by email to -firstname.lastname@example.org, or by filling out the meeting attendee survey sent at the end of each meeting.
A few things not discussed in this article are on our radar, such as trying to incorporate elements of our virtual meetings within our in--person meetings, hosting lightning talks in the meeting, and using poster sessions to deal with any overflow papers that cannot fit into the time allotted in the program. We also have plans to update the online submission system for our meetings, but that is a goal for 2022.
All of these changes are meant to better serve the nuclear community and provide a stronger technical program at ANS national meetings. There is no guarantee that all of the changes we implement will stick, but we are eager to work with our members to continue to improve our meeting program. We want to hear from you, our members, about these changes and other ideas we can look into to improve the quality of your meeting experience.
John Fabian is director of the Publications Department at ANS. Paula Cappelletti, COO and director of the Meetings Department at ANS, and Janet Davis, ANS meeting program specialist, also contributed to this article.