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Monday, July 27, 2009

Why go to conferences?

  1. To find out about papers that might spark my interest and lead to the following:
    1. Papers. I saw Moser's paper in STOC 2009 and I already have a paper in preparation based on it. By contrast I saw Chandra-Furst-Lipton paper on Multiparty Communication Complexity at STOC83 and wrote a paper based on it in 2005 (its in MFCS-2005).
    2. Surveys. I saw a talk on PIR's at STOC 2000 which lead to my interest in them, my survey, and my website on them.
    3. Topics that I want to read up on. In CCC09 the paper on pointer-jumping pointed me to material I want to read up on.
    4. Ideas for Projects for students, ides for homeworks.
  2. To find out random stuff in the hallways. At CCC2009 Scott Aaronson told me about a quantum proof that PP is closed under intersection.
  3. To ask about stuff in the hallways. E.g., At CCC2009 I had some questions on derandomization that I asked around about.
  4. During talks I don't understand I sometimes get other work done.
  5. During talks where its too warm I get to take a nice nap.
  6. I do not log on when I am at conferences. Really! I'm always curious how many emails I will get. This time I was gone for 12 days and came back to 289 emails. Why so few? Because lots of email is in resopnse to email that you send out, so the less you send out the less you get. Of the 289 about 20 were stll relevent. I did miss a chance to get $1,000,000,000 from some British Bank. Oh well.
Some say that you learn MORE from the hallways than the talks. And it is true that you can just read the talk later. But there is still something about seeing someone give a good inspiring talk that makes you want to follow up and give the paper a more careful read. The key is to maintain this feeling once you are home.

4 comments:

  1. But there is still something about seeing someone give a good inspiring talk that makes you want to follow up and give the paper a more careful read.

    Yes, make sure that it is the topic itself that interests and inspires you, and not the charisma /comedy talent of the speaker.

    http://scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=414

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  2. I saw Moser's paper in STOC 2009 and I already have a paper in preparation based on it.


    Not to sound cruel, but this comment by itself is probably relevant to the other thread under intense discussion (i.e. the one with 90+ comments about the publication habits of TCS).

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  3. It's nice to see this piece joining a growing chorus questioning the way we conflate the distinct concerns of disseminating knowledge, establishing professional reputation, and building community. This problem is not unique to computer science, but we are certainly in a position to lead by example in addressing it.

    In age where distribution is nearly free, I agree that we should move the filtering role from content publishers to content consumers. There's no economic reason today why scholarship (or purported scholarship) shouldn't be published online. Of course, the ability to publish digital content for free (or close to free) does not imply anyone will (or should) read what you write. The blogosphere offers an instructive example: the overwhelming majority of blogs attract few (if any) readers. I suspect that the same holds true for arXiv.org. Of course, peer-reviewed content may not fare that much better, particularly given the proliferation of peer-reviewed venues. Regardless, it makes no sense for publishers to act as filters in an age of nearly-free digital distribution.

    That brings us to the question of how researchers should establish their professional reputation--and, in the case of academics, obtain tenure and promotion. Today, they have to publish in peer-reviewed journals and conferences. Even if we accept the weaknesses of the current peer-review regime, we should be able to separate content assessment from distribution. The peer-review process (and review processes in general) should serve to endorse content--and ideally even to improve it--rather than to filter it.

    Finally, conferences should primarily serve to build community. I find the main value of conferences and workshops to be face-to-face interaction, and I've heard many people express similar sentiments. Part of the problem is that so few presenters at conferences invest in (or have the skills for) delivering strong presentations. But more fundamentally it's not even clear that the presentations are the point of a conference--after all, an author's main motive for submitting an article to a conference seems to be getting it into the proceedings.

    Here are some questions I'd like to suggest we consider as a community:

    What if presentation at a conference were optional, and an author's decision to present had no effect on inclusion in the proceedings? Would there be significantly fewer presentations? Would those fewer presentation be of higher quality?

    What if the process of peer-reviewing conference submissions required the submission of presentation materials rather than (or in addition to) a paper? Would the accepted presentations be of higher quality? Would researchers invest more in presentation skills? What would happen to strong researchers without such skills?

    Can we update the traditional conference format to foster more productive interaction among researchers? For example, should we have more poster sessions and fewer paper presentations?

    I'd love to see the computer science community take the lead in evolving what increasingly feel like dated procedures for disseminating knowledge, establishing professional reputation, and building community. I've tried to do my small part, co-organizing workshops on Human-Computer Interaction and Information Retrieval (HCIR) that emphasize face-to-face interaction and organizing the SIGIR 2009 Industry Track as a series of invited talks and panels from strong presenters. But I'm encouraged to see "establishment" types like Moshe and Lance leading the charge to question the status quo.

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  4. "What if the process of peer-reviewing conference submissions required the submission of presentation materials rather than (or in addition to) a paper? Would the accepted presentations be of higher quality? Would researchers invest more in presentation skills? What would happen to strong researchers without such skills?"

    No. I at least cannot plan a good talk eight months in advance. In some cases, I do have talks prepared which I could submit. Often if a paper is recently finished, then I will only have prepared blackboard talks. Even if I have a presentation completely ready, I feel the need to change things around a day or two before the talk. It gives the talk a little more life and novelty for me and, I think, for the audience.

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