Please, no posters!

I got back from SIAM CSE 2013 last Friday.  I was there for three days and there were around 20 parallel mini-symposium, each with 4 talks, three times a day.  Eek!  This stream of consciousness post is meant to lay out a few thoughts in a disjointed fashion. Notes in italics are my own reflection.

In total over the five days, there were 274 mini symposia, or 1096 talks.  If we assume that each only had 3.5 talks due to last minute cancellations, that’s still 959 talks. There were 12 contributed talk sessions, each with 6 talks = 72 talks.

The speaker index had 3435 entries (counting repetitions). There were 195 speaker entries for the poster session, 173 entries for contributed talks, 592 organizer entries, and 1560 co-author entries. Of the co-authors, 124 were for posters. There were 178 cancellations on it. This means a very rough estimate of the number of folks speaking was:

3435 – 178 – 592 – 1560 = 1106

Which seems about right as the previous estimate was 959 talks + 72 contributed + (195 – 124) posters = 1102 “things”

That’s a big meeting!

I heard a rumor the attendance was around 1200. Twitter now says 1300! (As of 9:11am EST 2013-03-05, Twitter now says 1400!)  If true, should that be worrisome?
attendance = c*speakers
for some small c ~ 1 means that almost everyone is coming to speak!

Is this a good thing? At least it’s something to keep in mind. This brings me to my next point.

I heard that the organizers realize that having 20 parallel sessions is a problem. Supposedly, this was discussed at the business meeting, which I didn’t attend because it conflicted with the dinner Paul and I organized with our mini-symposia. I understand that increasing posters is one of the possible solutions. Now, I’ve mentioned this privately to a few folks, but let me mention on record how much I dislike posters.

I dislike preparing them, I dislike giving them, and I dislike attending the sessions.

Why?

  1. Posters never fit all the info I want. Maybe that’s okay, slides don’t either.
  2. I can’t layer a story into a poster and keep any technical info (or it’s just too time consuming to do this …); and no one else seems to do any better.
  3. Whenever I walk around a poster session, the good ones are always crowded and because of (2), it’s impossible to follow a poster unless the author is walking you through it.  
  4. Too many people just print out slides and make them a poster.
  5. Posters are hard to travel with. At KDD2012, the conference printed the poster for us! That was nice. Also, the format was standardized so all the posters looked the same.

I could go on. The advantage everyone always gives for posters is that they let you interact with the author. This is an advantage! However, I find it so hard to learn about areas I don’t already understand via posters that I’m not sure it’s as helpful as claimed. Why aren’t people studying this? Seems like the NSF ought to be funding research on science research presentation given how much they fund science! Do they already?

Let me get back to SIAM conference for a second and discuss a major difference between mini-symposia and posters. This has to do with endorsement and topicality.

When I organize a mini-symposium, I try and vet the work in some sense. Thus, I’m endorsing the talks at my mini. Now, I don’t have a senior reputation in the field yet, but I’ve gone to watch entire mini-symposia just because of who organized them, even if I wasn’t entirely interested in the topic. If the goal is to move away from mini-symposia, then it seems like this is a critical feature to retain!

The second is topicality. It’s nice to attend a mini because all the people who work in the same area tend to be there too. This also means it’s a good place to meet students interested in the area.

Neither of these are present in a standard poster session. But they could be!

On a more positive note! I’ll outline some thoughts on what a modern poster session should look like soon.

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4 Responses to Please, no posters!

  1. Focused, smaller poster sessions…. I like it!

  2. Nick Higham says:

    Good points. Look forward to your suggestions!

  3. Pingback: SIAM Conference on Computational Science and Engineering 2013 | Nick Higham

  4. Pingback: More thoughts on posters | David Gleich: a notebook

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