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March 07, 2006

Running a conference (redux)

Once again, for the past eight months or so, I've been heavily involved in running a small conference. The second annual Computer Science UNM Student Conference (CSUSC) happened this past Friday and was, in every sense of the word, a resounding success. Originally, this little shindig was conceived as a way for students to show off their research to each other, to the faculty, and to folks at Sandia National Labs. As such, this year's forum was just as strong as last year's inaugural session, having ten well-done research talks and more than a dozen poster presentations. Our keynote address was delivered by the friendly and soft-spoken David Brooks (no, not that one) from Harvard University, on power efficiency in computing. (Naturally, power density has been an important constraint on computing for a long time.)

Having organized this conference twice now, I have a very healthy respect for how much time is involved in making such an event a success. Although most of one's time is spent making sure all the gears are turning at the proper speeds (which includes, metaphorically, keeping the wheels greased and free of obstructions) so that each part completes in time to hand-off to the next, I'm also happy with how much of a learning experience its seems to have been for everyone involved (including me). This year's success was largely due to the excellent and tireless work of the Executive Committee, while, I'm confident saying that, all of the little hiccoughs we encountered were oversights on my part. Perhaps next year, those things will be done better by my successor.

But, the future success of the CSUSC is far from guaranteed: the probability of a fatal dip in the inertia of student interest in organizing it is non-trivial. This is a risk, I believe, that every small venue faces, since there are only ever a handful of students interested in taking time away from their usual menu of research and course work to try their hand at professional service. I wonder, What fraction of researchers are ever involved in organizing a conference? Reviewing papers is a standard professional duty, but the level of commitment required to run a conference is significantly larger - it takes a special degree of willingness (masochism?) and is yet another of the many parts of academic life that you have to learn in the trenches. For the CSUSC, I simply hope that the goodness that we've created so far continues on for a few more years, and am personally just glad we had such a good run over the past two.

With this out of the way, my conference calendar isn't quite empty, and is already rapidly refilling. Concurrent to my duties to the CSUSC, I've also been serving on the Program Committee for the 5th International Workshop on Experimental Algorithms (WEA), a medium-sized conference on the design, analysis and implementation of algorithms. An interesting experience, in itself, in part for broadening my perspective on the kind of research being done in algorithms. In May, always my busiest month for conferences, I'll be attending two events on network science. The first is CAIDA's Workshop on Internet Topology (WIT) in San Diego, while the second is the NetSci 2006 in Bloomington, Indiana.

posted March 7, 2006 04:37 AM in Simply Academic | permalink