Thursday, July 22, 2010

Conference Summary Committees

At every professional conference, hundreds of papers are presented. This can quickly become quite overwhelming. For people in attendance, the game plan seems to be to scan the list of titles in the conference schedule to see which posters and talks seem most interesting and/or most applicable to the individuals research objectives. To be sure, a major goal of conference going is to network and make new contacts. However, there should be another major goal which is often talked about but overlooked for the most part. That goal is keeping current with ideas and discoveries in fields related but not exactly in your research area. This is nearly impossible by simply walking around and looking at posters.

Enter the solution. At each conference, a panel should either be appointed or elected. This panel should consist of leading experts in many or most of the sub-fields represented at the conference. These experts should have a discussion at the end of the conference to decide what the serious contributions were at this conference. It is no big secret that the majority of papers submitted to a conference are incremental improvements on existing methods with mildly better results. However it is quite tough to pick out these "serious" papers without a solid background in the sub-field that they came from. Therefore, it should be up to this proposed panel to construct a short document (<5 pages or so) "summarizing" the contributions of the conference. This would allow not only conference attendees to receive the "take home messages" at the end of the conference, but also for people who were not able to attend the conference to have the big picture idea of what they missed. Handing a colleague a DVD with 400 abstract and papers and saying "here are the proceedings" is almost certain to invoke the same exercise of scanning titles and reading only papers relevant to his current research. If, instead, one could hand a colleague a 5 page document and say "this is what happened at the conference", the entire field would stay much more informed and up to date.


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