Frequently Asked Questions
- About BIRS
- Information for Organizers
- Workshop Information
- Information for Observers
- Town of Banff Information
- Automated Video Recording and Streaming
What is BIRS?
The Banff International Research Station for Mathematical Innovation and Discovery (BIRS) is a joint Canada-US-Mexico initiative that seeks to bring together people from a wide range of mathematical, scientific and industry backgrounds and to create a forum for the exchange of knowledge and methods between these specialists.
For information relating to the history, mandate, governance, and program descriptions of BIRS, feel free to explore our website at: http://www.birs.ca/about.
For how long can I stay at the station?
Participants in 5-day workshops can check into the Banff Centre on Sunday after 4pm and typically remain until the Friday of the same week, at which point they are required to check out by noon.
If you plan to arrive before Sunday or intend to remain in Banff beyond Friday, please note that you will be expected to book your own accommodation, either at the Banff Centre or in the town of Banff. For more information on the options available to you should you wish to extend your stay, see “Can I extend my stay in Banff?”.
Can I extend my stay in Banff?
Please note if you are arriving before your workshop begins or staying after it ends, you will have to arrange and pay for your own accommodation for all nights outside of the workshop dates. You will need to book and pay for your own accommodation for all additional nights in another building at the Banff Centre or at another hotel in the town of Banff. You may, however, request to stay at the BIRS facility for additional nights (strictly for scientific and/or logistic reasons and subject to room availability). Such a request, along with your reason for request, needs to be made directly to the BIRS Scientific Director [email protected] and must be requested at least 2 weeks prior to the start of your workshop. Participants who are approved to extend their stays are asked to consider making a contribution towards supporting the Station’s infrastructure.
In order to book accommodation outside of BIRS for any extra nights, you may contact the Banff Centre reservations office: call 1-800-884-7574 or email [email protected]. You can let the Banff Centre know that you are a BIRS participant, and you will get a specially negotiated BIRS rate on your room. Additional accommodation information for the town of Banff can be found at www.discoverbanff.com/WheretoStay.
All meals before Sunday dinner and after Friday lunch will be billed to your room and must be paid to the Banff Centre upon check-out.
How do I make a contribution to BIRS for extra nights?
Contributions can be made using a personal cheque in Canadian or US funds, by Canadian cash, or by making a secure online credit card payment.
Credit card payments can be made online at: https://www.birs.ca/secure/
Personal cheques can either be given on site to the BIRS Station Manager, or sent by regular mail to:
Attn: BIRS Administrator
University of British Columbia
4176 – 2207 Main Mall
Vancouver BC V6T 1Z4
Needless to say, such contributions are very important for the long-term future of the Station and will be greatly appreciated.
Do I need to stay in BIRS accommodation?
Accommodation in BIRS Corbett Hall is automatically granted to all workshop participants. If, however, you do not feel that such accommodation is right for you, a number of alternatives are available. There is a wide range of accommodation types in the town of Banff, ranging from cozy bed-and-breakfasts to five-star resorts. Please note that BIRS cannot provide financial reimbursements for such arrangements. Information on alternative accommodation can be found online. The following sites can be a good place to start:
The following is a helpful map showing the location of the Banff Centre and some of the main hotels, restaurants, and attractions in town. It could be useful in planning your stay.
In order to book accommodation outside of BIRS, you may contact the Banff Centre reservations office: call 1-800-884-7574 or email [email protected]. You can let the Banff Centre know that you are a BIRS participant, and you will get a specially negotiated BIRS rate on your own.
Please note that even though you are not staying in Corbett Hall, your meals (Sunday dinner to Friday lunch) are still covered by BIRS for 5-day participants; meals for any accompanying persons will be at their own expense.
In order to receive these meals, you will need to give individual meal tickets to the supervisor in the main dining room which Brenda Williams, Station Manager, will leave for you in the BIRS 2nd floor lounge (room 5210), Corbett Hall. You can collect these, together with you nametag, when you arrive at BIRS.
Will I have to share a room during my stay in BIRS accommodation?
Participants of BIRS workshops are housed in BIRS residential building Corbett Hall. The accommodation is a single separated room that contains one queen size bed so participants are not required to share a room; most rooms do, however, have a shared bathroom with one other participant and every effort is made to ensure that bathroom pairings are female/female or male/male.
Can I request a specific participant with whom to share a bathroom?
You may request a specific participant to share a bathroom with, if you so desire.
Can I request a quiet room in BIRS accommodation?
BIRS exists to provide a comfortable and secluded environment in which scientists can operate to the very best of their abilities. As such, all of our rooms in Corbett Hall should be found to be quiet and inviting of minimal disruption. We can however bear in mind your particular concern if you write with a special request for a quiet room to the BIRS program coordinator ([email protected]), and try to assign you a room on the top floor or away from the lounge.
What sorts of amenities are available in my room?
Each room has a queen-sized bed (with linens), towels, soap, a hair drier, a clock-radio, a coffee-maker, an iron and ironing board, a telephone, a desk, and an ethernet port for personal computers.
Does Corbett Hall (BIRS accommodation) have any common rooms?
There are two common rooms in Corbett Hall, as well as the foyer of the TransCanada PipeLines Pavilion.
The BIRS Lounge on the 2nd floor (room 5210) has an electronic door code sent to participants prior to arrival so it is accessible 24 hours a day. The lounge has a sofa, a fireplace, a few tables and chairs, some board games, a television, and a fridge containing snacks and beverages available on a cash-honor basis.
The Reading Room (room 5310) is a good place for quiet study. The room has two computers, a scanner, a network printer, several ethernet ports, wireless Internet, and a whiteboard. Recent publications of the American Mathematical Society the CRM and the Fields Institute are available for perusal.
What is available in the BIRS Main Office?
The Main Office is located in Room 103, lower level of TCPL and this is where the BIRS Station Manager is based. The Station Manager can be consulted there should you have any station-related concerns.
Is there a way for me to get my laundry done while I’m at BIRS?
There are coin-operated washing machines and a tumble drier located on the first floor of Corbett Hall.
Are non-allergenic pillows and bedding available at BIRS?
Synthetic pillows are used in all bedrooms. Unfortunately the Banff Centre does not use any bedding explicitly deemed “non-allergenic”; however, if given notification, they can wash the bedding intended for your room in clear water (i.e. without detergent) before and during your stay. Please contact the workshop organizers if your have any concerns regarding this matter and they will do their best to accommodate your needs.
Is there a telephone line through which I can be reached during my stay with BIRS?
Yes, you can be contacted through the Banff Centre switchboard, which is open 24 hours per day. The number is +1 403 762 6100. The operator will connect the call through to your room.
What services are available to BIRS guests through the Banff Centre?
The Banff Centre boasts a swimming pool, a running track, a workout room, a climbing wall, and an arts/music library containing a vast selection of sheet music, recorded music and video material.
As a centre gearing largely to the performing arts, BIRS guests are encouraged to visit their website to see what sorts of events are going on in the Banff Centre performance halls during their stay, at: http://www.banffcentre.ca.
Where and how do I get my meals?
Meals are served in the newly-renovated Sally Borden building, not more than 150 metres from Corbett Hall and the TransCanada Pipeline Pavillion, where the majority of BIRS activities are held.
Upon checking into your workshop, BIRS administrators will give you a pre-programmed meal card. You need only scan this card at the entrance to the Sally Borden building in order to gain access to the buffet.
What are the mealtimes at BIRS?
Breakfast (buffet): 7.00-9.30
Lunch (buffet): 11.30-13.30
Dinner (buffet): 17.30-19.30
If you are hungry outside of these times, you will find snacks and beverages available on a cash-honor basis inside the BIRS Lounge, on the 2nd floor of Corbett Hall (5210). There are also a couple of food and beverage outlets available on the campus such as Le Cafe and the MacLab Bistro.
What are the meal costs for guests?
If your guest wishes to join you for meals at the Banff Centre (Sally Borden building) he/she should be able to do so by paying whatever rates the Banff Centre charges. The rates per guest are (sometimes subject to variation):
Can I request special meals at BIRS if I have dietary restrictions?
All meals served at the Sally Borden building (where BIRS participants take their meals) are buffet-style. As such, participants rarely have difficulty finding food that meets their needs.
If you would like to bring any of your own food items, you are welcome to label them and store them in one of the refrigerators in the Corbett Hall (BIRS accommodation) lounge.
Lunch and dinner always have a warm vegetarian option in addition to a salad and fruit bar. If ever you are in doubt about the ingredients in a dish, please ask the hostess/server and they will be happy to assist you. If you find that the vegetarian items available at that particular meal do not meet the restrictions of your diet, then please let a server know and a meal can be specially prepared for you.
Gluten-free, vegan etc.
If you require a gluten-free or vegan diet, please signal this to the BIRS workshop organizers. They will make a request to the Banff Centre kitchen and you can receive special meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner by identifying yourself to the Maitre D’.
Many BIRS participants in the past have felt that sticking to the vegetarian options always available at the restaurant buffet met their dietary restrictions. Should any participant not feel comfortable with this option, BIRS has a refrigerator and microwave in its common room in Corbett Hall, which it suggests can be used to store and prepare any meals brought from home. Solutions can always be found!
Are there any computers available for use in BIRS accommodation?
Can I access the Internet from my laptop while at BIRS?
Yes. Each bedroom at BIRS has an ethernet port that allows for a reasonably fast wired connection. Ethernet ports are also available in most meeting areas of Corbett Hall. Configuration for network access is done automatically via DHCP. The wireless network (802.11b/g) is available from all areas of BIRS, and has no password.
Can I print from my laptop while at BIRS?
Yes. Information on how to print from your laptop is here: http://www.birs.ca/printers.
Do I need a visa in order to come to BIRS?
You may need a visa from the Canadian government in order to enter the country as a visitor to BIRS. For details, refer to the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/index.asp
New entry requirement now in effect
Visa-exempt foreign nationals need an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) to fly to or transit through Canada. Exceptions include U.S. citizens and travellers with a valid Canadian visa. Canadian citizens, including dual citizens, and Canadian permanent residents cannot apply for an eTA.
Be prepared: Apply for an eTA before you book your flight to Canada. Most applicants get approved within minutes. However, some applications can take several days to process so don’t wait until the last minute.
BIRS can provide visa letters to workshop participants upon request.
Where can I find information for travel funding?
Although BIRS provides meals and accommodation to workshop participants free of cost, it unfortunately cannot subsidize travel costs to and from the Banff Centre.
Information about travel funding from MSRI for USA citizens/permanent residents who are postdoctoral scholars or tenure(-track) faculty at MSRI academic sponsor institutions can be found by contacting Jennifer Sacramento, [email protected]. Organizers should note that limited travel funding from MSRI, uniquely for participants from the US, is available for at most three participants per BIRS workshop.
What are my transportation options for getting to BIRS?
The nearest international airport to the town of Banff, Alberta is Calgary International (YYC) in the city of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. From the airport, you can take a shuttle, bus, or taxi directly to The Banff Centre, where BIRS is located. The trip takes approximately 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on which service you choose. Please note that transportation options are somewhat limited so please check the shuttle timings prior to booking your flight.
Banff Airporter shuttle:
The Banff Airporter Shuttle offers a 15% discount to all BIRS participants. To get the discount, enter the promo code "birs" at the payment screen.
Tel: 1-888-HIWAY-01 (1-888-449-2901) in the US and Canada. Mention BIRS discount, or reserve online at http://www.banffairporter.com.
The Banff Centre reception desk is open 24 hours and is located in the Professional Development Centre (PDC) building of the Banff Centre. The shuttle bus will drop you off at PDC and the front desk staff will direct you to BIRS' residence Corbett Hall once you have completed your check-in. Please note that transportation to Banff is somewhat limited. Please check the shuttle timings prior to booking your flight.
Brewster Sightseeing Excursion Shuttles also offers a limited number of shuttle trips, which include pick-up and drop-off at hotels in Banff and at major hotels in downtown Calgary. For more information, call 1-800-760-6934 or visit: http://www.sightseeingtourscanada.ca/airporter.aspx..
The regularly scheduled airport shuttles between Banff and Calgary do not pick up passengers in downtown Calgary; they only stop at the Calgary Airport just outside town. If you are staying at a hotel in downtown Calgary, then the hotel may have their own airport shuttle service, which you can use to return to the airport to find the Banff shuttle.
A private taxi from Calgary to Banff would cost approximately $200 Canadian. You can call (403) 762-4444 to inquire further.
The Greyhound Bus, the countrywide public transportation, has a downtown terminal and makes a trip through Banff a few times per day. Greyhound will drop off only at the Greyhound terminal in Banff and you would then need to take a taxi from the terminal to The Banff Centre. You can call 1-800-661-TRIP (8747) or visit their website at: www.greyhound.ca for more information.
Rental cars available at Banff and Calgary International Airport:
What is a “park pass” and do I need one?
If you are arriving at BIRS by car you need a park pass. A park pass is required by anyone using the Banff National Park and costs approximately $50 for 1 adult for 5 days. Revenues from park passes fund Banff National Park's daily operations. Passes can be purchased at the gate when entering the national park by car or at the Parks Canada Information Centre in downtown Banff. Please contact Parks Canada at (403) 762-1550 for the most current National Park pass information or visit their website at: http://www.pc.gc.ca/apps/tarifs-fees/tarif-fee_E.asp?Park=1.
Can you give me driving directions to Banff from the Calgary International Airport?
There has been a lot of construction on the Calgary to Banff route in recent years, and directions can change rather frequently. One can usually find the most up-to-date information using Google Maps. We recommend that you download directions from there before setting out. We provide a number of maps and directions on our Location of BIRS page.
Important: Winter driving conditions in the mountains can be dangerous. Before you decide to drive, please consult the AMA Road Report.
From the Calgary International Airport:
Click here for detailed directions
The Banff Centre's main reception desk is in the Professional Development Centre. When you check in, please request assistance with your luggage and for directions to Corbett Hall.
You should be aware that in order to enter Banff National Park (in which BIRS is located) you need to pay a daily user fee. For more on this, you may go to Parks Canada website: http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/ab/banff/visit/tarifs-fees_e.asp?park=1
Long-term parking is available in the parking lot close to Front Desk or at the parkade on the north end of the campus.
Can you give me driving directions to Banff from Vancouver?
There has been a lot of construction around Banff in recent years, and directions can change rather frequently. One can usually find the most up-to-date information using Google Maps. We recommend that you download directions from there before setting out.
Where do I check in?
Check-in takes place at the Banff Centre reception desk, which is open twenty-four hours per day. It is located in the Professional Development Centre (PDC). Any shuttle bus that drives as far as the Banff Centre is likely to drop you off right in front of it. If not, the building is clearly sign-posted.
Once you have checked into the Banff Centre, you will be directed to the BIRS residence at Corbett Hall, no more than 300 metres away.
Information for Organizers
If I want to organize a workshop at BIRS, what should I do?
All potential organizers must submit an application and proposal to the BIRS Scientific Advisory Board. Information on this process is found on the BIRS website, as well as updated calls for proposals and deadlines. Please consult our “For Applicants” section at: http://www.birs.ca/applicants/guidelines/
What is the “organizer interface”?
The organizer interface is an online program that allows all organizers to manage the various events that they are planning. Through the interface, organizers can access lists of invitees, see breakdowns of who is attending workshops (or not) etc.
It is very important that organizers check their interface accounts regularly, particularly in the early stages of the invitation process, as invitations cannot be sent out to potential participants until all of the invitees’ relevant information (names, email addresses and so on) has been entered into the interface by the organizer him/herself and the draft list of invitees has been confirmed by him/her. Please always send the BIRS program coordinator ([email protected]) a note when new invitee information has been entered into the interface so that we know when and how to proceed.
How do I create an account on the organizer interface?
Go to https://www.birs.ca/orgs/ and click on “Create Account”. Set up a username and password, which you can use to log into the interface every subsequent time. Be sure to use the same email address in logging into the interface as you used in registering for the workshop. This will allow the system to identify you as an organizer.
How do I send out invitations to participants?
Organizers are tasked with making initial invitee lists and entering all potential invitee information (names, email addresses etc) into the organizer interface. All invitees must be initially classified as either “participants” (maximum 42 in most cases, but check the event details beforehand, because sometimes the maximum number of participants allowed is smaller) or as “back-up participants”. When this has been completed, send the BIRS program coordinator ([email protected]) a quick note. We will send you back a confirmation before we send out official invitations from our central database. Through your interface account you can track the number of people who accept or decline invitations. After a time, we may prompt you to choose some of the people from your “back-up participants” list to become formal, invited potential participants. We will then send out a second round of invitations on your behalf.
I would like to participate in a workshop. Can I register somewhere?
Workshop participation is by invitation only. Individual workshop organizers are responsible for drafting lists of potential invitees, not BIRS directly; however, if you are interested in participating in a particular workshop you can email a BIRS administrator, who will forward your statement of interest to one of the organizers involved. If you are a student we recommend sending a letter of recommendation from your supervisor along with your initial email.
Could BIRS send me my invitations and information packages by regular post?
BIRS is unfortunately unable to do this, for a number of reasons, particularly due to the sheer volume of information that we require from all participants, compatibility with our online database, and the occasional need for very prompt replies. We periodically also send out information to participants on weather conditions, Calgary Airport updates and workshop changes.
If a participant is really unable to be reached by email on a regular basis, he/she should contact his/her workshop contact organizer to make alternate arrangements.
How do I change my registration details?
You can email the BIRS Program Coordinator at: [email protected]
I have been invited to attend a workshop, but I won’t know if I will be able to commit to it until after the RSVP deadline. What should I do?
It is important for BIRS administrators to know who is attending any given workshop well in advance of the workshop itself. This allows us not only to think about room allocation and meal plans, but also to potentially invite more people to join the workshop, if definite places remain. As such, we would ask that you respond to all of our emails as promptly as possible; however, we understand that it can be difficult for some people to commit to certain workshops so early on, especially if traveling from abroad. We would ask that if you are unable to give us a definite answer before the deadline, you write to us to tell us so, stating your reason for delay and when you are likely to know by. This will greatly facilitate our planning! We will forward your email to the appropriate organizers.
I was contacted by BIRS a while ago, but haven’t received any invitations or updates since then. Why is that?
If you think you haven’t received information from BIRS that you ought to have, we recommend first checking your spam folder. The anti-spam protection on your institution’s server may be a bit overly exuberant.
Feel free to contact us for any missing information should that have failed and we will do our best to reconnect with you.
Can I see the detailed schedule and abstracts for my workshop in advance?
BIRS administrators post detailed schedules and abstracts for workshops to the website as soon as they are made available to us. These can be found by going to http://www.birs.ca/events/2011. Select the year of the event you will be attending, and the type (5-day workshop or FRG etc) in the scroll-down menus at the top of the page. By clicking on the code next to the title (ex: 10w5555) you will be brought to the workshop-specific homepage. There you will find any schedules or abstracts that have been posted.
If you wish to see a program before it is finalized and published online, contact your workshop organizers and they may be able to give you details.
As a presenter, will I be able to publish workshop lecture slides to the web?
Yes. The following instructions explain how to publish files related to your workshop on the workshop web page: http://www.birs.ca/organizers/publishing-slides.
I need to write a workshop report. Are there any guidelines or templates available?
You can find old workshop reports online at: http://www.birs.ca/reports/.
You can bear in mind while writing that your audience is scientists.
What is the purpose of the testimonials that participants and organizers are asked to volunteer to write after workshops?
The benefits of testimonials are three-fold.
For participants, they provide an opportunity to think back on the past few days and to recall and organize one’s thoughts on what was learned throughout their time at BIRS.
For the workshop community at large, they enable people to see what stood out to their colleagues in each workshop; their colleagues may perhaps emphasize important aspects of the week they hadn’t before considered to be of note.
For BIRS itself, feedback helps us to see our strengths and our weaknesses. Positive testimonials also enable us to show our sponsors that the funds they have granted us are being put to good use. Testimonials are invaluable to us in the funding renewal process and participants’ taking the time to write one is thus very much appreciated!
How do I write a testimonial?
You may be contacted directly by email by our Scientific Director, requesting you to give us your input. If so, a link should be included in the email, and you need only follow the steps as they appear.
If this is not the case, you can access a simple testimonial-writing page via our website at http://www.birs.ca/feedback/.
What sorts of remarks should I make in a testimonial?
The content of a testimonial is largely up to you. Some people choose to write long paragraphs, while other people simply jot down a sentence or two. You can reflect upon the organization of the workshop, the setting and facilities in Banff, the mathematical and scientific aspects of your specific workshop, or whatever else you deem to be appropriate. There are some guidelines on what to include as potential “scientific content” on our online testimonial-writing page at: http://www.birs.ca/feedback/.
You can see examples of testimonials by following the link on the BIRS homepage, where we publish excerpts of testimonials for the various workshops held in our facilities. http://www.birs.ca/testimonials.
We endeavor to preserve the integrity of each testimonial, although we reserve the right to occasionally edit for grammar, clarity or anonymity, where appropriate.
Information for Observers
What is a workshop “observer"?
Due to the nature of its research facilities, BIRS cannot usually accommodate more than the 42 people accepted to attend any given workshop; however, in exceptional cases where attendance is high and demand for places still exists, a person can be named an “observer” to a workshop rather than a “participant”. This is done at the discretion of the Scientific Director and strictly on a case-by-case basis. All initial observer requests are made by the workshop organizers based on their pre-existing lists. Applications cannot be made independently.
Observers are responsible for their own meals and accommodation, but are otherwise welcome to attend all workshop events. Note that only one or two observers can ever be accepted per workshop.
Can observers stay in the normal BIRS residence at Corbett Hall?
No, observers are entirely responsible for finding their own accommodation. That having been said, they can still find accommodation very nearby to that of everyone else involved in their workshop: the Banff Centre has a great number of rooms available at most times of the year, and involvement in a BIRS workshop makes anyone automatically qualify for a discounted rate in Banff Centre hotels. To get the Banff Centre booking code relevant to the time of your workshop, simply contact a BIRS administrator stating your status as a BIRS observer, and your request.
Is there any way for me to be upgraded to a full participant in a workshop?
An observer can be upgraded to participant status only if an existing participant decides to withdraw from a workshop. Should this occur, you will be notified and you can revise your food and accommodation plans (food and accommodation are provided free to all participants). Please note that this is a fairly rare occurrence. All observers are expected make concrete plans for independent accommodation before their arrival in Banff.
Town of Banff Information
What are the climate conditions in Banff?
The weather and temperatures in Banff vary tremendously according to the seasons. For recent updates on current and predicted climate conditions, consult the reports here.
What should I pack to wear in Banff?
It is always advisable to wear multiple layers – even in the summer the evenings can be quite cool. Boots or shoes with deep treads are recommended for the winter, especially if you intend to walk beyond the Banff Centre limits.
What are some good places to visit in Banff and surroundings?
The Town of Banff official website is a good starting place for any trip-planning, be it for a full-day hike or just for a lunch out. This can be found here.
For information about Banff National Park click here.
For information about the wider Banff-Lake Louise area, see: www.banfflakelouise.com.
What are the electrical systems and plug types used in Banff?
Canada uses 110-volt electrical systems at 60 hertz – identical to the systems used in the United States. You will need a voltage transformer/adaptor for your electrical appliances if they operate on a different voltage. Mains wall sockets and plugs for 110 volts are two parallel, flat blades. If those sockets are different from the ones you used in your country then you will need a socket adaptor.
Where can I exchange currencies?
It is well worth going to your personal bank in the country where you are based, because they often exchange currencies without charging a commission fee. Barring that, there are currency exchange desks in most major airports, so you can convert your money to Canadian dollars en-route to the workshop.
Automated Video Recording and Streaming
Will the lectures be recorded?
BIRS participants may choose to record and broadcast their talk by pressing a button beside the chalkboards at the time of their talk. It is fully automated, end-to-end. Whether to record and broadcast is up to individual speakers at the time of their talk. A schedule of upcoming talks is published here.
How do I watch live video of the lectures?Live video will be broadcast at: http://www.birs.ca/live, and the recording will be published on the BIRS home page about 10 minutes after the talk. Recordings will be permanently accessible on the workshop's web page.
How does the automated video work?
The automated video recording system is described here: http://www.birs.ca/facilities/automated-video.
How do I use the live video stream?
The live video stream, and how to use it, is described here: http://www.birs.ca/live/about.
Is it possible to have a videoconference in the BIRS Lecture Room?
No, the lecture room is not yet equipped for video conferencing. However, portable videoconferencing units can be rented from the Banff Centre at your own expense. Note that availability is not guaranteed. The further in advance you book it, the better. Information on the Banff Centre's audio-visual services, including pricing, can be found here: http://www.banffcentre.ca/conferences/services/audio_video.asp