I sat down with Emese Petrik Lanie in a quiet café to discuss her experiences as the main organizer of the biggest psychological event in Hungary. Every year a different person is in charge of this position, and Lanie coordinated the 16th annual Pszinapszis in 2012, which as a tradition has been organized solely with the help of about 80 student volunteers.
Can you explain in a few words what is this event and who is it for? Does it have a main target audience?
“This is not only an event for psychologists, but for anyone who is interested or works in a field that has is somehow connected to psychology. (?) There is no age group, and we find it extremely important to reach out to high school students who receive no psychological education but are about to choose a University, to widen their knowledge about the field of psychology. What Pszinapszis offers during the three days it lasts, is a wide range of lectures, workshops, discussions, and cultural programs which go way beyond the typical psychological material that is presented at Universities.”
How can you satisfy the needs of curious youngsters and a practicing experts at the same time?
“Psychology is a dynamically changing academic field, so I think that we can always show something new even to those more experienced, by proposing them to try new methods, inviting lecturers with a cutting edge point of view, or showing new applications such as space-psychology, prison-psychology and many other things that might be new for a lot of visitors. The program is very diverse, as we have young researchers and well-known experts to conduct lectures and workshops. Pszinapszis has also a special eased atmosphere which is encouraging conversation between visitors and presenters.”
As a non-profit organization how did you manage to get the needed subsidy, support, and assistance to make Pszinapszis happen?
“A lot of work, of course… From a human resources perspective, it was a delight, because I worked with approximately 80 volunteer students for more than 9 month to make it work. We have five different working groups, and students can get in these groups through selecting by interviews. The main organizer also gets to decide who he or she wants to be working with, concerning the leaders of these working groups. These people, who are mainly psychology students from Budapest, are enthusiastic and motivated enough, not by money but by the event itself. Technically, Pszinapszis profits from the relatively cheap entrance fee of the 3000-4000 visitors, and from supporting companies and partner organizations. Many times they keep us up not by money, but by providing food, furniture, projectors or anything that the event can make a use of. These co-operations are mainly based on trust, nothing else. We are glad that despite of the financial crisis and the limited amount of resources these partners remained firm supporters, because they see the need for this event and the enthusiasm that surrounds it.”
How did you become chief coordinator? Were you chosen?
“I was a part of the PR working group. That year we wanted to invite complete high school classes to take part in Psznapszis, and we put a lot of work into it. They were very open, but finally they didn’t come. Then, I put a lot of work into substitute this group by a whole school coming, and I got a lot of credit for solving this critical situation; and that was the point when they noticed how much energy I can put into this event. I wasn’t plan A for chief organizer, not even plan B, but I’m glad that I was plan ‘some other part of the alphabet’. Firstly I wanted to take my time considering it, because I felt like I wasn’t experienced because I never was a working group leader, which usually comes before becoming chief organizer. But with a very hard-working and eager team behind me, I glad I got the opportunity to do it.”
Did you face some serious obstacles during organizing? If so, which was the most challenging one, and how did you get through it or solve it?
“Well, we had a few… One of the major problems will become a legend in the history of the Pszinapszis. The thing is that we had more than 2000 information books printed, amongst others containing the program and the abstract of lectures and workshops. There was a change in the last minutes but they insisted that we indicate who’s idea is the basis of the lecture, besides the actual lecturer. As for the solution for this problem, try to imagine about 20 organizers the day before the conference sitting in a room, cutting little pieces of sticky paper and gluing them into the information books one by one. Looking back it is kind of funny…”
Were there any novelties you introduced? Did you leave your “footprint” on this 15 year old tradition?
“What was surprising for me was that there were only a few organizers from the Pszinapszis two years ago staying for organizing the 16th Pszinapszis. As many of the organizers had no experience with the event I think my role was to show them how great this event already is, and how gret it will be with our joint and combined work. I didn’t look at it as my work or my event, I wanted to make everyone believe that it is our event, and were in this equally. Considering the feedback I got, I can say I succeeded in this aspect. Some people in this mechanism have the right to make more decisions or take more responsibility, but in the end everybody’s role is important and Pszinapszis is our mutual and shared event. As for the novelties, every Pszinapszis has a slogan, and this year’s was ‘Souldrops’, so the decoration was connected to water and sea life. I think a lot of people will remember me for my unique, sea-themed dresses, and the photos of the organizers, which were used to be standard, but this year we took them underwater.”
You worked on this for more than nine months. It occupied most of your thoughts, made you anxious, you even dreamt about it. And finally, what it felt like to be there to watch the fruit of your work, those three days in April when the conference took place?
“It was great. I was only angry two times during that nine months, because I had such great people to work with. On the sport, I felt a crazy calmness… I didn’t really sleep, there, it was extremely hectic, and you have to give your best 24/7 because you can get all kinds of problems and questions anytime, and these are need to be solved immediately. During the 5 days I was there, I only had 20 minutes to relax and not care about anything; I switched off my phone and my walkie-talkie. What was amazing that everything came out right because I could always count on other people’s selfless support, and not just the organizers’. It was like magic…”
by Csontos Anna-Zsófia