Q5: Medium Conferences

From Health of Conferences Committee

Question 5: CATCH-ALL.

Are there other approaches your community has tried or abandoned that the rest of us can learn from?


Not that I can think of.


We have shepherding for papers that make a valuable technical contribution but cannot be accepted as is. With shepherding a program committee member works with the authors to fix a problem (or problems) with the paper. Usually these problems are more an issue of presentation or writing, since there is not enough time to get new results (and the significance of new results cannot be known in advance). If the authors do not make the changes requested by the reviewers, then the shepherd can recommend rejection of the paper before the final camera-ready copy date. In order to be effective, the threat of rejection has to be real (I ultimately rejected a paper with uncooperative authors once.) Usually, about 10% of the accepted papers are conditionally accepted with shepherding. :Although some people do not like shepherding, I am a strong believer in it. Given that the ISCA proceedings is more selective than many journals, I think it makes sense to have the more active editorship that shepherding can provide. It is also a way of accepting newer and bigger ideas when the language or presentation may have otherwise not initially been up to the standards of the conference.




I think the distinguishing feature of the IR community is the extremely broad base of volunteers that it draws upon. Junior people get into the system quickly, via reviewing. If they're any good, they get tapped to do other things, e.g., organize workshops, chair the review process for workshops or tutorials or posters, manage the SIGIR web site, etc. This gets them into the system and gives them visibility, which eventually helps them move on to positions of higher responsibility. When we run elections, we are able to offer 3 strong candidates for each of the 4 elected positions. We then appoint several additional representatives to the EC to cover regions that didn't win any seats via the election. The net effect is that we have reasonably good turnover in positions of responsibility (Executive Committee, Area Coordinators, Program Chairs, General Chairs) without a real dip in quality. We don't have strict rules about turnover, but it's part of the culture of the community that there be some, to make room for others.
We also plan conferences further in advance than most SIGs, e.g., right now we are doing site selection for Summer 2009. This allows a long cycle for mentoring General Chairs, and it allows us to insert the Program Chairs for year N+1 as Areas Chairs for year N. This provides continuity, and gives them a chance to see what worked well and what didn't the year before.
Like many SIGs, our Past Chair is an unofficial member of the Executive Committee. She (in this case) sees all of the email, but tends to reserve her comments for the current Chair, essentially serving as a mentor for the current Chair's full term. Again, this provides continuity while allowing turnover.


Paper submission software
SIGPLAN provides "supported" conference management software for our major conferences (although the PC chair is free to use other software if they desire). As someone who has seen some of the homegrown systems fail in various ways (e.g., the conference submission software lost submitted papers, the software was not configured properly to block PC submitters of papers the reviews of their paper resulting in the use of an "honor" system was used, etc.), I think such software is critical to the smooth running of a conference.
Improved latex template for conference papers.
To provide a more uniform look to our conference proceedings and to relieve authors the burden of struggling with a poorly designed paper template, SIGPLAN commissioned the design of a new Latex template. The template has been very well received by the SIGPLAN community. I believe that it has been used by conferences not directly affiliated with SIGPLAN.


We've struggled somewhat with our efforts to reach the larger international community. We've tried a few things, including regional workshops (first in Latin America, then in Asia) and regional travel grants (to junior faculty in Latin America), with some success but by no means a slam dunk. We're trying harder to rotate our main conferences outside our usual geographies (e.g., SIGCOMM'07 will be in Kyoto, Japan -- our first time outside of North America and Europe).


We have 2-minute poster session previews, which seem to work very well.
KDD Cup has also been very successful
"I don't know what we have also tried but I do know what other communities do. I'm also involved in the Operation Research (OR) community. The KDD and Machine Learning have highly competitive refereed conferences. The number of these is proliferating and the review burden is ever increasing. In OR they have big conferences where almost anyone can participate with minimal or no refereeing. The quality is more of a function of who is organizing the sub-tracks and thus quality can be spotty but it is also somewhat predictable. So perhaps there is room for more of such conferences in computer science. That way we can have more novel ideas more rapidly without increasing the amount of reviewing.


We have an on-going debate on whether we should go to double-track on our larger conferences (MobiCom and MobiHoc). These have (almost) always been single-track. Some people are strongly in favor of this, but some argue that we must accept more papers, and this may be the only way to fit more.