Wednesday, October 05, 2005


A conversation with a graduate student today.
  • Student: Why doesn't FOCS have a best paper award this year?
  • Me: They often don't announce the winners until the conference begins.
  • Student: Traditionally the best paper get longer talks and there are none scheduled.
  • Me: There's no such thing as tradition at STOC and FOCS. Rest assured (though I have no prior knowledge) there will be a best paper award given.
I've heard that by tradition FOCS has had single sessions and STOC has had parallel sessions. Not long ago both had parallel sessions and before that FOCS had the parallel sessions (the first time with a two volume proceedings) and STOC had single sessions, and before that both had single sessions. STOC/FOCS used to be Monday-Wednesday, now they are Saturday-Tuesday and sometimes not. STOC/FOCS were always in North American and then they weren't. FOCS once had the only best student paper award and then had the only best student paper award named after somebody. Now they both do. We've had invited speakers. We've not had invited speakers. We've had tutorials. We've not had tutorials. One day one of the conferences will have electronic proceedings and the other won't and that will be tradition.

The decisions of how STOC and FOCS are run are up to the program committee with constraints on schedule and the local arrangements site. Two or three years of the same in a row becomes a "tradition" and hard to change. But we shouldn't let these "traditions" prevent us from running the best possible conferences and nor should you count on them to continue as is. Traditions keep us in the past, change pushes us to the future.


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    As someone who did local arrangements twice for FOCS -- quite poorly, I understand, and with any luck never again -- I would like to reiterate that issues of scheduling, parallel vs. single session, whether or not to have tutorials, and so on are deeply tied to local arrangments.
    (What days to hold the conference? When is the cheap hotel available. Single vs. double? Does the hotel have facilities for parallel sessions. Extra day for tutorials? Decide that before the hotel contract is signed!) A problem with planning conferences year to year (instead of holding a conference in the same place every year) is that local arrangements are an annual total nightmare. This is made worse as our community has a tendency to do things at the last minute.

    So please, be understanding when things don't go entirely to tradition, or plan, for conferences...

  2. A shorter answer: I believe that at least the Khot-Vishnoi paper disproving the Goemans-Linial conjecture has won best paper. That doesn't preclude others.

  3. It is odd that a paper that disproves a conjecture on the basis of another conjecture gets the best paper award. If the unique games conjecture is eventually disproved then ...