Allerton 2010 : the sessions’ (lack of) timing

Warning: small rant below. I’m probably not as ticked off as this makes me sound.

One thing that seemed significantly off this year from previous times I’ve been to Allerton is that around 3/4 of the talks I attended went over the alloted time. Why does this happen?

For one thing, more than half of the sessions at Allerton are invited. This means that some speakers know what they are going to talk about in general, but haven’t necessarily pinned down the whole story. This is amplified by the fact that the camera-ready paper is due on the last day of the conference (the deadline was pushed back to Monday this year). For invited talks, many people have not even started writing the paper until they get on the plane, adding uncertainty as to what they can or should present. Little lemmas are proved hours before the deadline. It’s not unusual to make slides on the plane to the conference, but if the actual results are in flux, what are you going to put on the slides? Why, the entire kitchen sink, of course!

The actual session brings up other issues. Because people are editing their slides until the last minute, they insist on using their own laptop, causing delays as the laptops are switched, the correct display is found, and the presentation remote is set up. This is a gigantic waste of time. Almost all laptops provided by conference organizers are PCs, which can display PDF (generated by LaTeX or Keynote) and PowerPoint. Why must you use your own laptop? So the slide transitions will be oh-so pretty?

Finally, many session chairs don’t give warnings early enough and don’t enforce time constraints. Once a habit of talks running over is established, it becomes unfair to cut off one speaker if you didn’t cut off another. Naturally, speakers feel upset if someone got more time to present than they did.

What we should ask ourselves is this : is the talk for the benefit of the speaker or for the benefit of the audience?

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