Theory seminars

Welcome aboard the Theory Seminar organising team! This guide should cover everything you need to know in order to make the seminar run smoothly.

To do list


Task Time
Get a account Immediately


Task Time
Establish the seminar slot Start of term
Book the rooms Start of term
Solicit speaker suggestions Start of term
Advertise functionality Start of term

Per seminar

Task Time
Negotiate with the host After speaker has been suggested
Make contact with the speaker After host has confirmed slot
Negotiate with the speaker After speaker has replied
Add speaker to When speaker is confirmed
Upgrade seminar to departmental series (optional) When speaker is confirmed
Book the speaker a hotel (where appropriate) When speaker is confirmed
Get title and abstract Week before seminar
Announce the talk Week of seminar
Set up seminar room Ten minutes before seminar
Reimburse speaker Week after seminar

General tasks

Get a account

The seminars are listed and advertised on Users can sign up to email announcements for emails, or subscribe to .ics calendars for series they are interested in. Formerly, talks were hosted on talks@bham, but this was deprecated in 2024 because it was unmaintained and not compliant with university data and security policies. Allegedly people in EPS are looking at making a better version; it's up to you how invested you get in this saga.

If you haven't already got an account, you can sign up using the Request an account page. To be able to moderate the seminar page you'll need to be endorsed by an already endorsed user; the previous seminar organiser should be able to do this. If they are otherwise incapacitated, you can email the research seminars endorsement Google group or in the worst case ask me to do it.

Once you have an account, check everything works by logging in.

The talk list we're interested in is the University of Birmingham theoretical computer science seminar. Once you have an account, the previous organiser(s) can add you as an admin to this list so you can add and modify talks.

You should also make sure you can access the Seminar spreadsheet.

Establish the seminar slot

The first thing to do when setting up the seminars for a term is to establish the slot. Ideally, this would be the same slot as the previous term, but teaching commitments may affect this. The timetable should be confirmed a few weeks before term starts; if you are not in the loop with the procedure you could ask the head of education or other members of the theory group.

If the slot isn't available, a new one needs to be found! It was decided in the theory group meeting in January 2023 that the theory seminar has highest priority after teaching for taking a time slot. This means that, providing you poll the rest of the group early enough, people should make an effort to accommodate the seminar! Even if the slot does have to be moved, the first preference is to keep the seminar on Fridays.

If the slot changes, you should update the Time slot field in the Manage seminar series page, and should also let whoever manages the school calendar know, so they can update it on there.

Book the rooms

Once the slot is confirmed, you need to book the rooms. Before you go ahead and start booking every single Friday in the term, remember to leave a space for at least the theory group meeting. The date of this should have been decided at the end of the previous theory group meeting, but if you don't know when it is you can ask other members of the group and hopefully someone will know.

Room bookings within the CS building are done via Clearooms, which hopefully you should be familiar with. If for some reason you have not used Clearooms before, you can login at the Single sign on page. Barring special cases, the seminar should be held in LG23 in Computer Science, which lives in the Zone D - Lower Ground Floor category. I tend to make the bookings for ten minutes before the seminar starts to ten minutes after the scheduled end time. For example, if the talk is 11:00 - 11:50 then the room booking should be made for 10:50 - 12:00.

Clearooms does not at the time of writing have capability for making recurring bookings, so you will need to make them one by one. Have fun!

When LG23 isn't available

Sometimes you may be asked to move a room booking because the school wants to have interviews in LG23, or perhaps someone was even more on the ball than you and the room is already booked! After grumbling about this for a bit you can instead turn to the Central university room booking portal to book a room on campus; a room with 30+ capacity should be fine. The Old Gym is a tried-and-tested theory favourite, and the Murray Learning Centre is close by but the rooms aren't as nice. Usually central rooms will only be bookable for hour slots, but since you will mostly be working around lectures, the previous occupants should be done at around ten minutes before the hour anyway.

Only staff members can use the room booking site, but if you are a PhD student who also TAs you can use your staff account. If you can't login to the system you can always ask someone more familiar with it!

(I currently can't provide any guidance on how to use it because I myself can't access it. However, I'll get a staff account soon so I can add some pictures.)

Solicit speaker suggestions

Send out an email to the Theory mailing list and put a message on the Discord asking for people to suggest speakers. As these drip in, you can add them to the Speaker suggestions sheet of the seminar spreadsheet, which may already contain overflow speakers from previous terms.

Who we should invite

Ideally, any potential speaker should be 'relatively' local: they should be able to get to Birmingham by train in a few hours. This is because we can definitely reimburse train travel in the UK.

If someone is from further away (e.g. Scotland) then they are likely to require a hotel overnight. This is possible and we have done it several times before, but be sure to check this with the Theory Theme Lead first before you invite anyone.

If a host has the funding to host someone from further afield for a couple of days, they are of course welcome to do so!

Advertise functionality

It is good to periodically advertise the functionality offers for keeping up to date with the seminars. Users can select 'favourite seminars' and add the list to their calendar.

Arranging specific seminar slots

Now it is time to fill the individual seminar slots! Of course, you can go about this however you like but I find the following procedure works quite nicely.

Negotiate with the host

When you have some speaker suggestions, send some emails to the prospective hosts offering them one slot from the schedule, preferably starting with thei earliest available. If they can't do this one, keep offering until you are both satisfied. This prevents the deadlock of having all the slots 'pending' with nobody replying to you!

Make sure the host is aware of their responsibilities to not only host the speaker but also to chair the talk. It is also the responsibility of the speaker to organise a social event for the speaker if one is desired, unless they ask you very nicely and you are feeling benevolent.

Make contact with the speaker

Once you are set on a slot, give the host the go-ahead to invite their speaker, ideally with you in cc. Speakers are more likely to respond to their friends and collaborators! Make sure the host lets the speaker know we can reimburse their train travel, meals on the day, and a hotel if appropriate, and that the seminar is 50 minutes plus questions.

Once this email has been sent, put the potential speaker on the spreadsheet with the 'Offered' tag.

A row of the theory seminar spreadsheet, filled in with 'George Kaye', 'University of Birmingham', '', 'George' and 'Offered' highlighted in yellow

Negotiate with the speaker

If all goes well, the potential speaker will reply quickly, and will be free for their allocated slot! If not, deallocate the current slot and choose another currently free one, making sure both host and speaker can make it. Eventually, you should find a slot that works. Once everyone is happy, change the tag in the spreadsheet to the 'Confirmed' tag.

A row of the theory seminar spreadsheet, filled in with 'George Kaye', 'University of Birmingham', '', 'George' and 'Confirmed' highlighted in green

By default, the seminar should be delivered using slides, as this is the easiest way to keep the seminar hybrid. If the speaker would like to do a whiteboard, it is crucial that you, the organisers, are informed as soon as possible so that you can make alternative arrangements. At the time of writing LG23 does not have very good whiteboard capture; in the past we have remedied this by booking out a room in the University with whiteboard capture so this can be streamed online. The School also has an Owl camera which may come in useful; ask someone in Operations about this if you want to use it.

Add speaker to

At this point you should add the speaker's details to the seminar schedule. This can be done by clicking the 'Manage' tab at the top of the site, and clicking schedule in the relevant seminar row.

The manage tab of the interface, showing the theory seminar row with the 'schedule' link in it

It is then straightforward to put the details in the right slot.

A list of seminars, with the details for George Kaye in the top one

Upgrade the talk to the departmental series (optional)

The CS department has a departmental seminar series, aptly named the Computer Science Seminar Series; some of these talks are even toted as 'Distinguished Seminars'. These seminars are usually followed by refreshments or a buffet lunch in the atrium.

If a host feels that their speaker will appeal to a wider audience than just the theory seminar, they can get in touch with the organisers to 'upgrade' the talk. To do they can email Research Support at, ideally with you in cc to coordinate. If the CS series organisers agree to host the seminar, responsibility of organising the seminar transfers to them unless otherwise specified. Make sure this is well-established!

I have previously received communication from the CS seminar organising committee because they have become overwhelmed by requests for speakers in their series, so they can't afford all the refreshments needed. So make sure you ask politely :)

Book the speaker a hotel (where appropriate)

If the speaker will be staying overnight, it is cordial to book them a hotel room so that they aren't as much out of pocket. Since January 2024, the Theory Group are responsible for managing their own budget, so you should get in touch with the Theme Lead to okay the request. Once they've given it the thumbs up, you can get the hotel booked by sending an email to Research Support at Research Support will contact the speaker to confirm their details and the hotel room will be booked.

Get title and abstract

The start of the week before the talk, you should make contact with the speaker again for their title and abstract. I also like to request the speaker sends across their slides, making it less stressful to set up in advance, and to remind them that the seminar is 50 minutes plus questions. This can also flag up any miscommunication in which the speaker thinks they are giving a whiteboard talk and they or the host haven't told you.

You should cc in the host into this email and let the speaker know that the host will be greeting and entertaining them once they arrive. You can also subtly remind the host to bring the speaker to the room ten minutes before the talk begins!

Announce the talk

The week of the talk, you should announce the talk both on the theory mailing list and on Discord. In the email you should include the title, abstract and Zoom details; in the Discord message I tend just to link to the talk page to avoid cluttering the channel.

If you're interested, I have a script to generate the emails and the Discord messages.

Set up seminar room

On the day of the seminar, your only job is to set up the room!


These days it's good to set up at least 25 seats since we're a large group now! Depending on how the room is when you arrive it might be preferable for some of the rows to also have tables, but that's up to you.


You need to set up the computer in the room and join the theory seminar zoom call. I already have a guide on how to set up LG23 which you might find useful since LG23 is a bit non-standard. Other rooms in the university are a bit more straightforward.

Make sure the online participants (if there are any) can hear you!


You will also need to get the slides up on the screen. Once they are, ensure that the speaker can actually change slides by flicking through them a little.


Once you are ready to go, the host can begin their chairing duties. Even though you are now relinquished of responsibility, I find it's often good to be sitting somewhere you can get to the front fairly easily in case there's technical issues.

Reimburse speaker

After the seminar, the last thing to do is to contact the speaker with details on how to claim their expenses. If they are being funded by another member of the group, you of course do not need to worry about this.

The speaker will need to fill out the intimidating-looking non-staff expenses form. Their expenses need to go in the top half of the form, i.e. not the section labelled 'For project use only'. The appropriate codes can be found in the seminar spreadsheet. It is nice to pre-fill out a row to show the speaker how it is done; I've put some dummy codes in below just in case someone tries to spend all the Theory budget on a night at Snobs.

The first claims section of the non-staff expenses form, filled out with 'Trains - Cambridge to Birmingham' and 'Lunch at Staff House' along with some dummy values for 'Company', 'Analysis', 'Cost Centre', 'Activity', 'Source of Funds' and 'Amount'

Once the speaker has filled out the form, they should send it to the Theory Theme Lead with you and in cc. With any luck, the claim will be processed quickly and the speaker will get their money back in a few weeks. (At the time of writing, Research Support are very efficient; this may have changed by the time you are reading this!)

Note that payments are usually made on Fridays.