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SPER Processes

SPER Processes

The present document describes the processes by which the SPER Annual Meeting is planned, including how symposia, oral abstract presentations (plenaries), and poster presentations are invited and chosen by the Society. It also describes how individuals are nominated and selected for SPER leadership. Finally, it describes how nominations for awards are solicited and how award winners are determined.

Annual Meeting Planning

(1) Symposia

SPER sends an email in the fall with a call for symposium proposals. In recent years, the deadline for symposia has been in December of the calendar year prior to the Annual Meeting. The number of symposia included in the Annual Meeting can vary from year to year, and depends on how many submissions there are.

Proposals are reviewed and ranked by SPER program committee (which includes the SPER President, at least one member of Equity Advisory Board, and any other members who volunteered for the committee). For example, there were 22 members of the 2021 annual meeting program committee. The program committee submitted their votes based on review criteria and they were asked to provide written comments on each proposal. The committee then met via conference call to decide on the final selections. The committee tries to keep a balance of topics and institutional representation. Review criteria include:

Primary consideration:

  1. Session topic (significance, innovation, impact, appropriateness for SPER audience);

Other considerations:

  1. Expertise and appropriateness of the moderator;
  2. Indication of whether speakers have committed to participating in symposium;
  3. Whether prospective moderator has served previously (an effort is made to give other members a chance);
  4. Career stage of the moderator (in some circumstances, an effort is made to pair junior and senior epidemiologists as chairs in a single session);

2018-2019 was the first year that symposia were invited, and SPER received one proposal, which was accepted. 2018-2019 was the first year when we held concurrent sessions.

In 2019-2020, SPER received 14 proposals and all were accepted either as symposia (N=6) at the in-person meeting or webinars (N=8) prior to the meeting. Of the 6 accepted symposia, 4 symposia were included in the rescheduled virtual Annual Meeting. Those not originally accepted were invited to present as part of the SPER webinar series.

Starting in 2020, there will be a maximum of 1 podium presentation allowed per SPER member. The rationale for the cap is to provide opportunities for more SPER members to plan and participate in the annual meeting and to encourage a broader range of topics being presented (at both the symposium and oral abstract sessions). Individuals who are selected to be a presenter in a symposium and an oral abstract session will be asked to find someone else from their team to give one of the presentations.

(2) Oral Abstract Presentations and Poster Sessions

SPER announces abstract submission system is open in late Fall. The deadline for submitting abstracts is usually in late January or early February.

Process by which volunteer reviewers are identified: at the time of membership registration every year, members have the option to check if they are interested in serving as an abstract reviewer. Volunteers are also asked to identify their areas of expertise to review (no limit on number of areas). A reviewer sign-up link is also included on the website, which current members can access. In 2019-2020, membership at any time in the last two years was the only requirement to serve as a reviewer.

An email is sent out in February regarding a call for abstract reviewers (to both current and recent members), which includes a link for volunteering to review abstracts. Abstracts are peer-reviewed by all SPER members who volunteer. Each reviewer is asked to review about 20 abstracts on average. Those who have a conflict of interest on a particular abstract are asked to opt out. SPER defines a conflict of interest as co-authorship on an abstract or having published with an abstract author within the last two years.

All abstracts, regardless of their score, are reviewed by the SPER Program Committee. The content and number of oral abstract selections vary each year and depends on space constraints at meeting site. Criteria for selection involve: significance, innovation, impact, and appropriateness for SPER audience. SPER Executive Committee and the Equity Advisory Board are working on a more objective scoring system with specific evaluation criteria. SPER typically has at least two oral abstract sessions (plenary sessions) at every Annual Meeting. Each year, sessions are a mix of symposia and plenaries. The Program Committee can decide whether to 1) invite a specific individual to chair or moderate a session and pick abstracts for that session, or 2) select a set of abstracts in advance and then reach out to a set of possible chairs/moderators after selection of abstracts.

SPER executive board members may submit their nominations for session chairs/moderators in a “blinded” fashion to the Program Committee. Starting in 2020, SPER made an effort to have co-moderators for each oral abstract session (see #3 below). The nominations are then compiled and summarized, and the final selection of session moderators is made by the SPER president with input from the Program Committee based on the following criteria:

  1. Expertise and appropriateness of the moderator to lead on topical area;
  2. Whether prospective moderator has served as session moderator previously (an effort is made to give other members a chance);
  3. Career stage of the session moderators (in many circumstances, an effort is made to pair junior and senior epidemiologists in a single session);
  4. Session topic (enough abstracts need to be submitted on a topic for an oral abstract session);

Session chairs/moderators are invited to participate by email by the SPER President. If they cannot participate, the President chooses the next person on the list.

Session chairs are sent detailed instructions about how to choose from peer-reviewed, scored abstracts (if a set of abstracts has not yet been chosen). They are provided with the complete abstracts and the average reviewer scores for each abstract. They are encouraged to select at least one trainee abstract for presentation in their session.

There is a maximum of 1 podium presentation (either symposium or oral abstract presentation) per member. In most years, there is no limit on the number of poster presentations per SPER member. However, this is contingent on space allocation at the hotel in the current year. During years when there is limited physical space for poster presentations, high-scoring abstracts from individuals with multiple accepted abstracts may be placed in an online abstract program book.

Those who submit abstracts to both SPER and SER will still be eligible to have their abstracts selected for oral presentation at SPER, even if their abstract is selected for oral presentation at SER.

Starting in June 2021, all presenters of oral abstracts at the annual meeting will be asked to comment on how their work addresses health equity. For an example of an oral abstract session that implemented this new format, please visit the SPER website under “2020 Virtual Annual Meeting” and click on the session entitled “Fecundity and Fertility” (moderators: Gaskins and Pollack).

In 2019-2020, 333 regular abstracts were submitted. 26 were accepted for oral presentation for June meeting, 302 were accepted as posters for the June meeting, and 5 were rejected. Ultimately, 22 abstracts were presented at the virtual meeting (5 of the 26 accepted were withdrawn and 1 was added to the program), and 205 abstracts will be published in a special issue of Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology (PPE). Please note that 2019-2020 was different from previous years in that in lieu of having posters presented at the annual meeting, abstracts were published in PPE. We do not typically publish abstracts in PPE. The executive board required that those who wanted their abstracts published to be current SPER members.

Other Processes

(3) Nomination and Selection of SPER Leadership – Executive board elections

SPER solicits self-nominations and nominations of individuals by SPER members. SPER values leadership that represents diverse fields of expertise, experience, involvement with SPER, and social and demographic factors (e.g., career stage, race/ethnicity, gender identity, country of residence, disability status, work sector: academia, government, industry).  The society-wide vote for SPER Executive Board members takes place in April before the annual meeting (the term for each newly-elected executive board member officially starts the day after the annual meeting in June, even if the meeting is postponed). This information is in the SPER by-laws. An email is sent out in early January of the year of the annual meeting to current SPER members, past SPER members (within 5 years), and those who had attended the most recent annual meeting with a link to a website where the members can cast their vote in favor of different candidates, with each candidate providing a written statement. Nominees typically describe their background, experience, and what they would bring to SPER as an executive board member. The candidate who receives the most votes wins.

Committee Chairs

Those elected to serve on the SPER executive board as Members-at-Large also serve as chairs of the standing SPER committees and Working Groups (Communications, Digital Engagement, Outreach (including the Equity Advisory Board), Student, Trainee, Post-Doc). Though not required, most committee co-chairs are selected by committee members on the committee. Involvement in the committee plays an important role in co-chair nominations as well as diversity, as stated above.

Committee Members

Committee members are solicited through the membership registration form where members are asked to indicate on which committees they are interested in serving. During the Spring of each year, committee chairs receive a list of individuals who have indicated interest in serving on a committee. The committee chairs review the current committee structure, committee needs, and put forth recommendations for new committee members through the SPER Executive Director.

Members are able to indicate interest in participating on more than one committee. The SPER Executive Director (Suzanne Bevan) reviews the requested list to verify membership status and overlap with other committees. Once finalized, committee chairs receive the approved list of new committee members and begin inviting individuals to serve. Again, diversity is an important factor for the selection process of committee members.

(4) Awards

Information about eligibility and review criteria for SPER Awards may be found on our website ( Current SPER awards include: Student prize paper, mentoring award, rising star, Heinz Berendes Travel Award, President’s award. In 2020, we added a Travel Award to Promote Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion but we were not able to offer this award due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, in 2021, we granted two Travel Awards to Promote Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Typically, an email is sent to all current and past members of SPER soliciting nominations for these awards in late Fall of the year prior to the annual meeting. The deadline for submitting nominations is typically in February or March before the annual meeting. In Fall 2021, the SPER executive committee will work closely with the Equity Advisory Board to generate new processes for: 1) who can serve as judges on the award review committees, 2) how many referees will be asked to serve as judges on each review committees, and 3) what criteria form the basis for final decisions about award winners. Currently, at least one member of the Equity Advisory Board is invited to be on each of the review committees.