Monday, May 18, 2015

STOC 2017 as a theory festival

Over on Windows on Theory, there's a solid discussion going on about possible changes to the format for STOC 2017 to make it more of a 'theory festival'. As Michael Mitzenmacher exhorts, please do go and comment there: this is a great chance to influence the form of our major conferences, and you can't make a change (or complain about the lack of change) if you're not willing to chime in.

I posted my two comment there, and you should go and read number one  and number two. Two things that I wanted to pull out and post here are in the form of a 'meta-suggestion':
1. Promise to persist with the change for a few years. Any kind of change takes time to get used to, and every change feels weird and crazy till you get used to it, after which point it’s quite natural. 
Case in point: STOC experimented one year with a two-tier committee, but there was no commitment to stick to the change for a few years, and I’m not sure what we learned at all from one data point (insert joke about theorists not knowing how to run experiments). 
Another case in point: I’m really happy about the continued persistence with workshops/tutorials. It’s slowly becoming a standard part of STOC/FOCS, and that’s great. 
2. Make a concerted effort to collect data about the changes. Generate surveys, and get people to answer them (not as hard as one might think). Collect data over a few years, and then put it all together to see how the community feels. In any discussion (including this one right here), there are always a few people with strong opinions who speak up, and the vast silent majority doesn’t really chip in. But surveys will reach a larger crowd, especially people who might be uncomfortable engaging in public.

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