Beki Grinter

Program Chair: Reasons to Say Yes…

In academia, academic management, discipline, research on January 27, 2013 at 4:14 pm

I’ve chaired the papers track of a couple conferences now. I could write about the process itself, but instead I want to write about the learning experience of doing this. The first conference I ever co-Papers Chaired was CHI 2006 (with Tom Rodden). I owe Tom a huge thank you because he taught me several useful management strategies that I used during both processes, but also have found useful in my day-to-day activities.

And that is a good reason to volunteer to chair a conference. One of the reasons you’ll hear most often for agreeing to do this kind of service is that it’s good for the community. And you do give your time, as you do as a reviewer, member of the program committee and so forth. Another is because it looks good on the vita. I was told, for example, that serving for CHI meant that the community trusted me with the products of their academic research. I’ll add another one into the mix. For anyone who has ever complained about the way a conference is run, or what happened to their paper, nothing beats seeing what the processes are by which the conference is put together. Actually, I think it should be mandatory that anyone who complains, especially more than once, have to get involved with the organization of the conference.

And today I want to offer another reason, what you learn in doing this. Papers Chairing throws up a myriad of management situations. Each one requires a thoughtful response, many require subtle negotiation to balance needs of the various parties. As a program chair, you are responsible for ensuring that everyone who is giving their time to review etc. gets a fair shake and feels that you support them in their service. I like doing that. I feel its a great way to say thank you. Sometimes it’s harder though, as you have to work something out as best you can. Sometimes there are difficult messages to write, and the practice in getting tone as well as content right is invaluable.

  1. Good point, you do learn a lot. My most valuable lesson in three stints as conference or program chair is that it isn’t rocket science but it rewards steady work done well ahead of deadlines. Also, responding personally as soon as possible to every single message that comes in, bar none, is time consuming, but it smooths things out wonderfully. 99% of the people you work with are manageable, I didn’t really learn how to deal with the other 1%.

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