Friday, 7 November 2008

Moving toward PhD title: Conferences - participation

Any conference is not just a crowd of abstract individuals with mad eyes talking randomly. It is a well-organized event with own, internal rules and practices. Here we describe the conference participation process using ICEIS'08 conference as an example.

Any conference starts for you from a registration desk, which is usually opened from an evening before the conference first day and until the conference last minute. Registration is held in the conference main location, which is either a hotel/conference center or a university. As the desk is constantly open some authors will prefer to appear in the very last minute before the talk (and sometimes it means just the last day of the conference).

The registration process is designed to
1. Inform organisers that you are here (arrived) so
- they will know how many papers are likely to be presented / missed in each session in advance
- the participant can declare that his/her mandatory participation in the conference is fulfilled.

2. Distribute to participants the proceeding (that is the most important book for students as proceedings should be presented to the committee before defending PhD thesis to prove that you fulfilled the published articles requirement) and other conference materials including schedule of sessions, an invoice (which should be presented to the organization funding the visit after you are back). As a rule of thumbs the package includes a pen(cil), a notes book and a bag to make all those gadgets portable.

Usually the entire information on the conference - schedules, changes in it, sessions time and place including names of authors presenting papers in each is located somewhere on the wall in the conference hall or close to the registration desk. The most valuable information is when and where talks are held. It is advisable to check in prior whether your talk is scheduled, does it scheduled to the time you expect it to be in and how you can find the room. Follow the plan or signs and check that you know for sure where your room is located, check it (size, equipment etc) – all that can affect how you organise your talk, where you will have to stand during it etc.

Additionally you will find in halls a set of portable walls (stands) where posters are presented. Notice that they can are also scheduled - for a certain period of time. Authors should post them on the wall no earlier that the start time and organisers will collect them from walls after the finish time, so other posters can be made available.

All talks are divided into plenary talks and ordinal. Plenary talks are given in big rooms by starts or super-stars in computer science (or particular topic of it).

All other talks are clustered into sessions – each hosts 4-6 individuals presentations of 15-30 minutes each, including 5-10 minutes for questions and answers. Sessions are normally organised in parallel in smaller rooms all over the building. Each small room is equipped with a projector, laptop and a big screen. Normally there is a rule that presenters should appear at least 15 minutes before the session starts in order to load their presentation into the conference laptop or ensure that their laptop can be used and is compatible with the projector, and report to the session chair that they are here. Notice that although conference laptops always have either MS Power Point (or some other software used to present the work accordingly to information organisers post on the conference page), sometimes it is not compatible with your version and so organisers will allow you to use your own with a version you know exactly will play slides correctly.
Besides it is always advisable to spent some seconds before the presentation standing on the presenter place (position) to get used the role, check what you can or cannot do (for example how you should walk during the presentation in order to avoid crossing the projecting picture). Btw: one professor told me once that you should stay on the right side from the screen (on the left side from the auditorium perspective).

Traditionally the conference fee includes lunches, so attendees could save time and communicate to each other behind one table instead of loosing the time looking for a good place to eat close to the conference location. If you have no friends or colleges participating in the conference then such lunches will be a perfect way to find contacts or improve relations. That is why quite big tables are normally used instead of small ones. Such lunches are offering very different kind of food, so each standard requirement is satisfied. Besides, those lunches can be a perfect way to try and test the local food.

Finally there are coffee breaks each 4-5 hours (i.e. 2-3 times a day), so between sessions you can recharge. Traditionally tea, coffee or some sort of juice is offered, with cakes or sweets. It can be a standard cake or something specific for this region (I have even seen conferences serving beer – you can imagine it was somewhere in Germany).

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