a pseudo-photoblog

CS conferences & fun, inspiration, point or the lack of it

Say “Conference”
I think…

  • Paper presentations – mostly boring
  • Coffee – with stupid non-dairy creamer if the conference is abroad
  • Looking for that precious seat which hides you when you nod off from the poor speaker on the stage
  • Someone beating you to that seat & you ending up in the first row, struggling to keep eyes open
  • Sometimes, very rarely, catching up with a dear friend, gossiping, giggling, having fun while folks around are busy talking power, performance and defects
  • Keynotes speeches – may or may not awaken you
  • Boring lunches if you have no one to talk to
  • A registration kit – a bag, some small souvenir, a notepad, a pen, and..  a CD of the proceedings of the conference that you are never even pop into a CD drive
  • Travel, exploration, experience of a new place – the best part of it
  • In case of out of country travel, applying for travel grants & getting reimbursement  -Arrrrgh, the most irritating part of it!
  • Sleepy, tired, bored people around who have the same thought as you – “When would this end? When can I get some fresh air or some sleep or both?”

Well, it should have been, and I’d have preferred it to have been..

  • Idea or Findings presentations – kicking off new ideas
  • Keynote speeches – the inspiring ones of the kind that leave you with a sincere, silly grin and  ideas to contemplate
  • Meeting interesting people who are infectiously enthusiastic about stuff being discussed
  • Lunch and Coffee breaks turning into impromptu brain-storming sessions
  • That proceedings CD which you’d want to look up for details of interesting ideas/findings that you’ve just heard of
  • Panel discussions, open debates, mass brainstorming sessions
  • Travel, exploration, experience of a new place – an added bonus
  • Inspiration, mental refreshment & enthusiasm to take back home
  • The want to attend the conference the next year and every year that follows

Now, why the hell doesn’t that happen?

When a V.S.Ramachandran can make neuroscience so engaging and connect with a non-scientific audience, why can’t a CS researcher connect with a CS research audience? Forget about other speakers, why can’t even the so called keynote speakers make an impact? Why are you subjected to keynotes where the speaker doesn’t even recognize what’s there on the next slide and asks his colleague to help him with it?

When as the researcher, I find the work in my paper exciting, when the Program Committee has found it valuable enough, why can’t I hold audience’s attention for a few minutes and share the excitement?

Is it that CS is too bland, boring a subject to inspire? Is it too intimate a field of research to be able to spread the joy in the community?

I guess it’s just that we have been taking conferences too lightly .. We have been taking them as an alternative to journals – fast turn-around time, fewer pages to write, less rigour needed and voila, you can take a few days off on the pretext of attending!

I guess it’s just that there has come about this unwritten rule that “It does not really matter if your talk is as insipid as mud, you’ve got a paper published. Chill out!”.

I guess it’s just that no one really cares any longer if they enjoy the technical part of the conference. It’s about networking – be seen at the right places, be seen among the right people, be seen often, people should recall you as that guy from that institute whom we met in that conference, that conference and the other conference.

I guess it’s just that hosting a conference has become an issue of pride and has got nothing to do with how much purpose the whole drama of organizing it over months – involving a couple 100 people, a hall full of people from the world over travelling to the your place, all the food, money & effort – serves!

And as long as speakers treat conference presentations as summarizing their papers – abstract, objective, literature survey, idea, result…. As long as the audience treats presentations as a replacement to reading the papers. .  As long as people attend conferences just because their  accepted paper would get published only if they do. . As long as CS folks stick to rigour, completeness and formal language even in presentations. . things are not going to change.

Sadly!

And why do I write this now?

Because I just realized that the only long lasting thing that I have gained from the last conference I attended (in China) is a taste for jasmine tea!!

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4 responses

  1. I think it is mainly bcoz of prejudice.People tend to attend these conferences with a weird mind set.Remember how “terrible” we used feel when once in a blue moon we were pulled to attend a conference???

    February 21, 2011 at 11:18 am

    • Wasn’t that precisely because of how we “enjoyed” the conferences before that? Prejudice gets created by experience na..

      February 21, 2011 at 11:34 pm

  2. mamta

    Why don’t all young people initiate change, not by asking just by doing…. you can always initiate brain storming sessions during tea time, you can give an exciting and full of ideas presentations… As many young people ll appreciate your effort …. Next time they ll do similarly…

    February 22, 2011 at 11:17 pm

    • Totally agree. But I also have a feeling it’s easily said than done. For one thing, even the “young people” are so soaked in the “old views” to appreciate even the questions asked.. And when presentations are filled with overwhelming details & u eventually miss even the central idea of the talk, brain storming sessions don’t really happen. . Though yes, when you let alone that “central idea”, hit off your own ideas & debate on it, that makes for an exciting session. And this happens. But shouldn’t the brainstorming be happening on the contents of the conference first? What’s the point of attending a talk if not?

      February 22, 2011 at 11:25 pm

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