Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Who Gives the Talk?

In theoretical computer science we view all authors as having contributed equally, thus the listing of authors alphabetically. So when a paper gets accepted for presentation at a conference, who gives the talk?

In general the authors of the paper can choose among themselves who should give the talk, but having a few simple rules can help save an awkward discussion and hurt feelings.

By default I like to have the youngest author give the talk, youngest by academic age (years since Ph.D). Academic age is both negative and estimated for grad students but the rule still applies. Young people can use the talk practice and the exposure and giving the talk forces them to attend the conference where they can interact with a broader community.

If the youngest author cannot attend the conference (and it should be a very good reason) then move up the chain. If none of the authors can attend the conference, which should only happen in emergency situations, then the authors need to find someone else to give the talk. Authors should not submit to a conference unless one of them is willing to present the paper if it is accepted.

Some exceptions: An author looking for a job gets priority. If an author is already giving a different talk at the same conference then best to spread the wealth around. Sometimes it just makes sense for a specific author to give that talk based on the role they played in the paper.

Of course following these rules mean I haven't given a regular STOC/FOCS talk since 1992 but that's life.

12 comments:

  1. I use a similar rule of thumb, except I change it to "oldest author who has not given a talk before" (or sometimes the more vague "has not given a talk of similar magnitude before"). So, if student A is -4 and B is -3, but B has never given a talk at a major conference before, B gets priority.

    Another exception is that I think if two graduate students are working together on more than one paper, they can alternate who gives talks on their joint papers (even if one of them is older).

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  2. This philosophy helps to explain why the quality of theory talks is so low.

    The rule of thumbs here serve the interest of the authors. The interest of the audience, however, is conflicting with this. The audience would like to have the best speaker give the talk, which is often not the youngest one.

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  3. The quality of talks in theory conferences has improved quite a bit. Young students are giving amazing talks these days. And I am
    not that old myself to see the changes.

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  4. Not the youngest coauthor, but the least experienced coauthor. A new PhD who has never spoken at a theory conference, because she normally works in a different area, would have priority over a 3rd-year PhD student who's already given two or three SODA/STOC/SOCG talks.

    Otherwise, I agree with Lance.

    The rule of thumbs here serve the interest of the authors.I disagree, Paul. They serve the long-term health of the whole community. The only way to learn to give good talks is to give talks! (And I agree with Anonymous 2:17; student conference talks are getting better, not worse!)

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  5. I would like to (strongly) second Jeffe.

    First, how is one to learn how to give talks without giving them ?(!)

    Second, it is far easier for a younger person (e.g. a student) to find the many long hours of toil needed to produce a great talk, than it is for someone older (e.g. an advisor).

    Thus, as long as the more experienced authors take the time to give feedback to the younger ones, the rule-of-thumb ensures that both authors and the audience benefit.

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  6. (prev. anon)
    - Ranjit "clicked-the-button-too-soon" Jhala.

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  7. Some exceptions:

    - most inexperienced coauthor does not work in the field and wouldn't benefit from the exposure.

    - a coauthor is currently on the job market and would particularly benefit from the exposure.

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  8. Old Anonymous Guy8:44 AM, April 22, 2009

    "First, how is one to learn how to give talks without giving them ?(!)"

    give practice talks
    give local talks
    attend many talks to see what works and what doesn't
    give big talks when they are more prepared and more proven



    "Second, it is far easier for a younger person (e.g. a student) to find the many long hours of toil needed to produce a great talk, than it is for someone older (e.g. an advisor)."

    nice and highly inaccurate ageism you've got going there



    "Thus, as long as the more experienced authors take the time to give feedback to the younger ones, the rule-of-thumb ensures that both authors and the audience benefit."

    it is good to know that you think old people are still able to stay awake long enough to listen to practice talk after practice talk to provide feedback to the young 'uns
    it is also good to see that your logic is so shoddy that you don't see the problems with what you wrote

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  9. what about advisors who are 1) coming up for tenure, or 2) like the location of the conference (e.g., it's in their home country)
    Do you think either one of htese reasons should give the advisor priority over the student?

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  10. To "Old Anon Guy"

    "give practice talks ...etc."

    this goes without saying. however, there is a difference between giving a practice talk (to oneself, one's colleagues within a university/lab) and "performing live" in front of a large audience at a major conference.

    "nice and highly inaccurate ageism you've got going there"

    I apologize for the inaccurate choice
    of words. My point has nothing to do with age -- younger and older were just shorthands for stage-in-the-academic-lifecycle.

    Instead I have found, to my dismay, (and btw, I am just a few years older than my students) that once one is advising several students and teaching classes and writing grants and going to diverse committee meetings etc etc etc (sigh :)) that it becomes very difficult to find the large chunks of time needed to produce a good talk.

    -Ranjit.

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  11. Ranjit, at least you still have the time to comment on blogs!

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  12. Luca, do you know of any other way to get through those committee meetings ? :)

    -Ranjit.

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