Friday, January 30, 2009

STOC PC Meeting : Part I

Over the next week, I'll present some thoughts related to the STOC PC meeting, which wrapped up earlier today. (Please don't send mail to ask about your paper(s). Messages will be sent out sometime next week.)

Today's post will be about basic logistics, which you wouldn't normally think about, unless you suddenly found yourself running the meeting. We started with roughly 150-160 papers left to consider. At 5 minutes on average per paper, you're already at about 13 hours. And if you slip to 6 minutes on average per paper, well, now you're at 15 to 16 hours, which when you consider overhead time (computer setup, lunch, the occasional rest break), you see the difference between that 5 and 6 sharply when you know people have flights to catch at the end of day 2. I think the hardest part of the meeting, from my end, was simply time management.

We started at 9 am on day 1, with plans to break at 6. It became clear that we were falling behind schedule, so we changed the dinner reservation and kept going until 7. We still seemed behind -- and with most of the easier accept and reject decisions behind us -- so we agreed to meet at 8:30 am on day 2. The mumblings and rumblings over dinner of "We're never going to finish on time" were worrisome, and I stayed up late looking over and organizing the remaining papers, so we could go through a bunch very quickly on day 2. I was definitely aided in this goal by the rest of the committee, who had clearly also done additional prepping post-dinner and were ready when they came in the door. In the first hour we made up our deficit in the schedule, and finished our decisions around 2:30, actually leaving us a comfortable amount of time to talk about other organizing issues before people started heading to the airport for their flights around 3.

While it all ended up OK, perhaps I could have done better day 1.

Also, the lesson for future PC members -- be ready to talk when your papers come up, and be prepared to make your points quickly. The seconds add up! I thank the committee for both putting in the extra long hours and for being well prepared, so we could finish on time. And everyone who submitted papers should be thanking them as well.

Another piece of "chair advice" I was told that I can't over-emphasize enough -- have someone whose job it is take notes and record the status of papers as you go. During the meeting I vaguely asked one of the PC members to keep track of things. At the end of the first night, trying to prepare for day 2, I would have been lost without his guide as to where everything stood. As chair (particularly as a single chair -- we should have co-chairs...) I found it difficult to keep things running, enter things into the system, and track things so I could go back and really see where everything was; the notetaker essentially did the tracking job for me, making the whole meeting run much more smoothly, and allowing me to get some sleep before the second day.

And speaking of sleep, I'm very tired, and need at least a day without thinking of anything related to STOC.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences. What is the reason why the decisions are not sent out at this point? Merge requests? Finalizing the reports? General tiredness? Not wanting to ruin people's weekend with the bad news? :)

Michael Mitzenmacher said...

All of the above.