Sunday, January 11, 2009


Although it's far from over, I'm already clear that one of my recommendations for the future of FOCS/STOC conferences is to start having co-chairs instead of a single chair.

The reasons for having co-chairs that I can see include:
1) Chairing involves a lot of administrative work, often bursts for short intervals. Being able to share that kind of work seems to have a huge upside.
2) Although I don't think it's come up for STOC yet, having a co-chair watch your back can help avoid silly mistakes.
3) Particularly for FOCS/STOC, having co-chairs from two different subareas (one from a more algorithmic side and one from the complexity side) would seem to offer better coverage.

Many conferences in other areas of comparable size to FOCS/STOC have co-chairs (e.g., NSDI, SIGCOMM that I know of) and in my experience as a PC member it's always gone well.

What are the possible downsides of co-chairs?
1) Whenever two people are co-in-charge, they have to work together well. I hope it wouldn't be too hard to find people who could capably co-chair for these conferences.
2) I imagine it can be hard finding people willing to chair; now you'd have to find 2! Although I actually think it might make it easier to get people to accept if they can co-chair -- it will seem like less work, and if one person is more experienced, you could have a somewhat less experienced person co-chair.


Anonymous said...

The power of two chairs ... ;-)

Michael Mitzenmacher said...

Ah! I wish I had thought of that (for the post title)!!!!

JeffE said...

SOCG had PC co-chairs for several years, first because we established a separate "applied" track (which was a disaster), and later, after the applied track disappeared, to have better expert coverage and split the workload (and out of inertia). The main reason we stopped is that we were burning through our potential PC chairs too quickly. Nobody has been SOCG PC chair more than once, and this is a tradition we very much want to maintain.

But yes, single chairs do make more silly mistakes.

Anonymous said...

Having served as program co-chair on a couple of conferences, I can say that it is MUCH easier than solo chairing. Not only do you split some of the administrative work, but working with a co-chair helps tremendously with bringing in different points of view and identifying good PC members from different parts of the community. Highly recommended.

David Andersen said...

This is a bit late, but I'm completely with you and Matt. Co-chairing is absolutely the way to go, as long as you have a big enough pool.