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Monday, October 31, 2005

Making Yourself Known

An assistant professor asks
How do I get on program committees and editorial boards?
PC chairs and editors-in-chief usually have several excellent candidates to choose from so you really have to make yourself stand above the crowd. How do you do this?

Prove. Easy said than done, but no better way to make yourself known than by proving great theorems. Quality counts more than quantity. Be sure to make your results public, by submitting them to sites like ECCC as well as putting them on your own homepage.

Talk. When you give a talk, take the time to prepare, sell your work, make the talk understandable and audience-appropriate. Someone told me recently they treated every talk like a job talk. Not bad advice.

Meet. Go to workshops and conferences not for the talks but to meet people. Don't just hang out with people from your own university. Skip some sessions, hang out in the hallways and talk to whomever is around. Reconnect with your old colleagues from graduate school and make an effort to meet new people. Have lunch and dinner with people you don't know.

Write. Write up your research well so people enjoy rather than suffer when reading your papers. Put some effort into your introductions and really sell the importance of your work. In addition write a survey paper, write a book, write a weblog. Get others to view you as an expert in the field.

Organize. Organize a workshop, do local arrangements for a conference or other service to the community. I don't recommend this route for assistant professors as it takes considerable time and won't help your tenure case much.

Wait. Be patient. Your time will come.

18 comments:

  1. Tell a good story: Make your research consistent around a few central themes, so that people recognize you as a leading authority on this topic(s).

    But in the end, waiting is the most important thing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Publish in the conference/journal in question. Sometimes PCs look at regular participants and attendants for members of the PC.

    Referee papers. This way your name is familiar to PC members and Editorial boards.

    Alex Lopez-Ortiz

    ReplyDelete
  3. Be a woman. The male equivalents of myself don't get asked half as often as I am :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Lance, I don't know if this person is a theory CS professor, but David Johnson maintains a detailed list of committee memberships, as well as a never-served list, and always looks for new additions to the never-served list that he can pass on to SODA PC chairs.

    In my view, the idea of focusing on a set of key areas in ones research is very important for getting onto committees (and for tenure, no doubt). Committees, especially for the bigger conferences, are formed by area balkanization, so it helps to be "the one" in some area of choice.

    ReplyDelete
  5. These are all good general points about how to raise one's profile in TCS, but they may not be immediately effective at getting onto PCs etc. So (perhaps tongue in cheek):

    Have a good advisor -- they can send such invitations in your direction.

    Work with or get to know busy people -- people who are inundated with invitations often have to turn them down, and usually feel obliged to nominate a replacement. If you are know and trusted by them, then they will pass on good invitations (and filter out bad ones).

    Start at the bottom and work up As Alex suggests, before you get on a PC, people have to trust you as a reviewer. So, early on in your career, accept every refereeing job you get given. Some places (IEEE Manuscript central?) may even allow you to log on and set up a profile with particular reviewing interests, though I've never tried this.

    I'm sure that many more senior readers will have the opposite question: how to reduce the number of PC and editorial invitations!

    Graham Cormode

    ReplyDelete
  6. Becoming well-known starts even earlier than the assistant professor stage. Finding recommenders for graduate school and fellowships requires being "well-known" enough to find three people willing to write in depth about your abilities. Most (all?) of us in grad school or beyond cleared that hurdle somehow. I wonder how many of us were following advice similar to this, and how many of us just kind of got lucky? :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Forgive my youthful ignorance, but what is the benefit of serving on PCs/editorial boards? I'm assuming its not for extra pay (but do you get any stipend?). Is this sort of thing necessary for getting tenure/advancement at Universities? Or is it simply a way of becoming "known" in the community? What if one doesn't want "fame"?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Interestingly, one of your comments is
    "write a weblog". Given the recent
    events (related to tenure) that you
    had posted about on your blog, I'm
    sure people will be more careful about
    writing blogs, and that the trend will
    fall among grad students and untenured
    faculty members.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Forgive my youthful ignorance, but what is the benefit of serving on PCs/editorial boards? I'm assuming its not for extra pay (but do you get any stipend?).

    None or just a symbolic one.

    Is this sort of thing necessary for getting tenure/advancement at Universities?

    At the good ones, yes.

    Or is it simply a way of becoming "known" in the community?

    As well.


    What if one doesn't want "fame"?

    Then you need to correct this misperception. Being well known is not the same as fame, and saying "I don't want fame" is a cop-out.

    Becoming well known is useful to establish collaborations, get access to good sabbatical destinations, and generally have people pay attention to your outlandish ideas. Say, if Joe Blow comes to me with a suggestion about how to solve P=NP I'm likely to devote just a few minutes to it. If Lance Fortnow does the same, I'll sure give his idea at least a couple of weeks of my time to see if it goes anywhere.

    Alex Lopez-Ortiz

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  10. To add to Lance's list: regularly attend and publish at the small conferences whose theme is your central area of research (computational {complexity, geometry, learning}, database theory, etc.). These smaller conferences are excellent (and easier) places to make yourself well-known, and the chances of your being invited to be on the PC for one of these conferences is higher than for STOC/FOCS type conferences. If I am not mistaken, almost everyone has served on one of these "feeder" committees before their time came for STOC/FOCS.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Forgive my youthful ignorance, but what is the benefit of serving on PCs/editorial boards?

    There is also the benefit of seeing papers early (and perhaps getting some sort of "jump" on others); it's also a good way to force yourself to read a lot of papers.

    There is an additional benefit if you want your papers published (since you claim you don't want fame, I'm not sure if you care about this either): being on the "other side" of the process you learn what committee members are looking for in a paper and also learn what topic areas are "hot" and which are more "passe".

    ReplyDelete
  12. If you're on a PC, you get to set the agenda for the field. You define what the important problems are, and which kind of research you want to support.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I don't think a good PC member thinks of himself/herself as setting an agenda. You are there as a service to the participants and readers to select the submissions you think are most worthy of their limited time. That's it.

    ReplyDelete
  14. The last post brought to my
    mind the current discussion
    regarding Supereme court
    justices. There are some
    who believe in setting an
    agenda perhaps sub-consciously
    and others who are strict
    "interpreters". Either way
    you inevitably make judgements
    that do affect the agenda.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I don't think a good PC member thinks of himself/herself as setting an agenda. You are there as a service to the participants and readers to select the submissions you think are most worthy of their limited time. That's it.

    This comment seems utterly naive. What does "most worthy" mean? Please enlighten us about this universal objective measure of which you speak. We are not "justices" deciding whether a paper meets the criteria set forth in some TCS "constitution."

    The PC routinely decides, to the best of their ability one hopes, which papers are important enough to appear in the "elite" forums of our field. Especially for conferences, things like correctness of the results are only of secondary concern.

    ReplyDelete
  16. A PC member can maybe kill a few papers that they really hate (assuming they read the paper carefully enough to convince the rest of the PC that they are right even if some of the PC members like it [especially if the PC member persists in their oposition]), They might be able to push 1-2 papers in, if the end of the discussion they stand up and say "I think this paper must be accepted because...". And thats about it. The rest is more or less service to the community. There is much less freedom in PC decisions than one might think from the outside. Extreme views (like "this subfield is crap just because I dont like it" or "this is a wonderful paper altough I dont know anything about this field") are usually canceled out by the committee. I would say that PCs work much better than one might expect from the outside, and their decisions are pretty stable (i.e., I think there is at most 20% of the papers that might be rejected by a different committee [all such estimates should be taken with a big grain of sodium chloride]).

    ReplyDelete
  17. PC's do not come in 'one-size-fits-all' format. Some conferences have somewhat distributed PC's whose members don't see each other except at the conference. Others have a face-to-face PC meeting.

    From the point of view of trying to establish oneself, the former will help your CV and may give you some feedback about the judgements of the other PC members by comparing their views with yours on specific papers. However, typically one's view of the whole set of conference submissions is fairly limited.

    Being on a PC with a face-to-face meeting is vastly more valuable: You get to participate in and observe full debates on all aspects of the conference; you get insight into the thought processes of top researchers in the field; you learn which techniques you ought to realize are standard; and you get to see what these other top researchers view as the most important directions in the field. With a distributed PC much of this debate is hidden from each PC member and all that value is lost.

    ReplyDelete
  18. PC's do not come in 'one-size-fits-all' format. Some conferences have somewhat distributed PC's whose members don't see each other except at the conference. Others have a face-to-face PC meeting.

    From the point of view of trying to establish oneself, the former will help your CV and may give you some feedback about the judgements of the other PC members by comparing their views with yours on specific papers. However, typically one's view of the whole set of conference submissions is fairly limited.

    Being on a PC with a face-to-face meeting is vastly more valuable: You get to participate in and observe full debates on all aspects of the conference; you get insight into the thought processes of top researchers in the field; you learn which techniques you ought to realize are standard; and you get to see what these other top researchers view as the most important directions in the field. With a distributed PC much of this debate is hidden from each PC member and all that value is lost.

    ReplyDelete