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A thought about conferences

If you were running your own academic conference, and you received dozens more really good paper abstracts than you were expecting in response to your call for papers, what would you do to deal with all of them?

Reject most of them.
Run lots of parallel session.
Make each day of the conference extra-long.
Add extra days to the length of the conference.


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 6th, 2004 11:55 pm (UTC)
honestly, it would depend what my goal for the conference was.
I would either do 1 or 2.. depending, but most likely I would reject (as nicely as possible) most of them.. unless you got a ton of earth shattering in your field papers :)
Aug. 7th, 2004 05:17 am (UTC)
Just because the conference abstracts sound good, doesn't mean they're earth-shattering by any stretch of the imagination. 1 and 2 are done most frequently, and for very good reasons: one enforces quality, the other gives audience members both a choice and a chance to walk around between rooms on a regular basis.

Fortunately, I'm not actually involved in organizing a conference right now, just at one.
Aug. 7th, 2004 07:10 am (UTC)
Parallel sessions: this is okay if one can session-hop into different strands, but less good if one is stuck in the same place simply because there was one must-hear paper.
I am not sure what the relationship between initial abstract and paper is (or whether one could work this out, in terms of relative quality), but in my experience, the final paper doesn't always bear much resemblance to the initial proposal!
Aug. 7th, 2004 08:12 pm (UTC)
Most conferences I go to don't even provide abstracts of papers at the actual conference. Whether this is laziness or knowing how many people will change their papers, I don't know. This weekend's conference did provide the abstracts. While I never had time to read them, and chose my sessions based on titles, themes, and authors, I did talk to several people who recognized my talk subject from having read the abstract.

To make up a statistic, I would say that one out of every seven conference papers I've attended at history conference has changed scope, title, or even topic is some significant way since the abstract was submitted months earlier.

I've heard of small conferences where all papers are circulated in advance, or at least, at the conference. It would make papers easier to follow; on the other hand, so much of a paper is in the presentation, in the way the plot is structured, that I would think it would ruin most of the punchlines and plot twists along the way.
Aug. 8th, 2004 05:06 am (UTC)
What has worked very well with relatively small, dedicated, workshop-style conferences, is to precirculate the papers, have each person speak very briefly about their paper (hitting the main headings, or whatever) and then open discussion. But this does have an upper limit on size. It also depends rather heavily on the participants getting their papers to the organiser in sufficient time for them to be circulated!
Aug. 8th, 2004 06:41 am (UTC)
I like the sound of a conference organized that way. It makes much more sense than precirculating and then reading the entire paper out loud, which, apparently, was how the Popular Science conference last weekend was run. The attendee I talked to was very enthusiastic about this approach, but it seems somewhat redundant to me. Precirculating would allow for more in-depth and thus more satisfying feedback for a paper.
Aug. 7th, 2004 07:06 am (UTC)
Extra long days are so not good, and really unfair to the people in the first and last sessions. Lots of parallel sessions can be maddening as well - especially for the panel that ends up with the proverbial 2 people and a dog in the audience. But extending the days of the conference... I don't know. Depends a bit what stage the planning is at and if people will have already checked the conference off in their diaries as X to Y date and done their travel arrangements/made other plans for the days around. It really depends what type of conference it is, how big, how formal... Sorry, not much help. I did once manage to pitch an edited collection as a 2 book deal (and even then we had to leave some of the offerings out) because we had so much good stuff in a niche area: but that's a rather different process.
Aug. 7th, 2004 08:14 pm (UTC)
After the first day, I gave up on the plenary sessions of this conference. I would rather be wide awake for three sessions than half-asleep for four of them. Including the plenaries, but not including evening activities, the schedule ran from 8:30 am - 6 pm, too many hours in a day for me to be able to listen attentively.
Aug. 8th, 2004 05:08 am (UTC)
The Berlin conference I was at in March ran 8.30 am to 6.30 pm, all panel sessions: and as co-organiser of a flourishing strand I had to go to all of them!
Aug. 8th, 2004 06:42 am (UTC)
I hope the time blocks weren't too large at least. Part of my problem with starting at 8:30 in the morning was that it was a two and a half hour session, a little too long and early all together.
Aug. 8th, 2004 08:51 am (UTC)
Two and half hours really is too long: at Berlin they were two, which was reasonable for a +/- 3 speaker session with commentator and allowing plenty of time for discussion.
Aug. 7th, 2004 10:51 am (UTC)
I voted to reject most of them, but for strategic pruposes. If your conference becomes known for having a low acceptance rate then people will compete to get in there as a mark of prestige - hence you continue to get good papers sent to you each year.

Mind you, I think you guys may do it a little differently. We review the whole paper rather than the abstract so this makes it easier to decide which ones to reject. The whole paper is then resubmitted (with any changes due to reviewers comments) for publication.
Did I read that you guys could change the paper up until the conference? That must be difficult for the organisers...
Aug. 7th, 2004 02:39 pm (UTC)
What happens is that abstract proposals are called for well before the date of the actual conference (in some cases, over a year). As the paper may not be written at that stage, it does happen that a somewhat different paper (though on a similar theme) may be what actually gets given. (People have been known to submit proposals for papers which would not, in the event, fit a 20-minute panel session.)
Aug. 7th, 2004 08:15 pm (UTC)
Yes, we can change our papers right up to the end. We can even improvise them on the fly if we like. The downside is that you sound like you have the certainty of knowing there will be published proceedings. Any publication to come out of one of these conferences is an extra-treat, and might be years in the making. There's no certainty it'll ever happen, and in most cases, it doesn't.
Aug. 8th, 2004 05:11 am (UTC)
Publication for conference papers is always an uncertain extra. And, boy, can it take ages to happen - I think the longest gap between conference and publication I've experienced was 7 years.
Aug. 10th, 2004 09:22 am (UTC)
My $.02...
Having done something like this about six months ago, I would reject the ones that are porrly written and/or completely off-topic, or have no equivalent in amongst the good ones. Then, take the remaining ones and see if they can't be clustered by theme unity into a couple of parallel sessions and so forth. However, that may be just me. ^-^;;
Aug. 16th, 2004 03:35 pm (UTC)
Re: My $.02...
I think that's the usual way to set up a good, medium-small conference and it's worked quite well for me as an attendee at the ones I've been to. As long as you don't cram too many sessions into one day, I think it's rather civilized.

I have heard a fair amount of dispute over the virtues of parallel sessions or no parallel sessions: is it better to "force" everyone to hear everything (after all, you can't necessarily tell from the title if a paper will be relevant to your work)? Or accidentally place the two papers that an attendee is attending for in direct conflict with each other?
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )