Friday, June 01, 2012

Extracurricular events at STOC

I didn't do any STOC blogging this time, but I do want to say something about the extracurricular events.

For a while now, people (including me) have been clamoring for an expansion of the traditional three-days-of-talks format at theory conferences, and now STOC and FOCS (and SoCG soon!) are doing workshops, tutorials and poster sessions on a regular basis. Chandra Chekuri, Sergei Vassilvitskii and I organized the poster session at STOC this year, and Avrim Blum and Muthu (Muthu!) were in charge of workshops.

Workshops

How did they go ? The workshops, the day before the conference, looked extremely successful. Michael Kearns' morning tutorial on computational finance was standing room only in a large auditorium - I don't know the exact numbers but there were easily more than 150 people in the room. The workshops went pretty well as well: I spent much of my time at the distributed streaming workshop, and that was also standing room only, with probably at least 60 people in the room at all times.

I'm really glad that we had these events, and even happier that FOCS 2012 plans to continue the event. Speaking of which, Avrim is looking for workshop proposals for FOCS 2012, and specifically asked me to suggest that geometry folks suggest a workshop. The deadline is June 20, and all you need is a 2-page proposal and 2-3 people who'd organize it.

Posters

I'm of course biased about the poster session, but I do think it went off quite well, fueled by Howard Karloff's brilliant idea to provide ice cream sandwiches as refreshments during the event. There were 30 posters in all, and a ton of discussion. It was really nice to walk around looking at the posters and seeing the level of engagement. I polled a number of presenters and attendees, and they all seemed to enjoy the session.

The only complaint was that the poster session was too short, and that we should have left the posters up for people to browse while taking breaks. I think this is an excellent idea that the next posters committee (at FOCS 2012) should take into account.

The business meeting

We had an incredibly long business meeting - even our most rambunctious SODA meetings haven't gone on this long (almost 3 hours). For those not yet in the know, STOC 2012 is going to a two-tier format. Joan Feigenbaum is the chair, and the "must-not-be-called-senior"-PC will have 9 people on it. Their primary role will be managing the review process with the "certainly-not-junior"-PC consisting of 70-80 people who will review no more than 10 papers each, AND will be allowed to submit papers.

This is a major change for a theory conference, albeit one that was brought up for discussion at SODA 2012. I'm particularly curious to see how the whole "letting PC members submit papers" goes. Before everyone starts freaking out, it's worth pointing out that all this is effectively doing is bringing the unofficial reviewers into the fold, thereby giving them a chance to do reviews in context of the entire pool, rather than making isolated decisions. Since the unofficial reviewers were mostly drawn from the author pool, this is not too different from how it's always been. I'm hoping that the reduced load per reviewer will bring in better reviews and more consistency in decisions. 

All in all, a time of experimentation - workshops, posters, tutorials, two-tier PCs - the theory community moves slowly, but when it does move, things happen quickly :)
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