Do It Yourself Theoryfestival Design – Guest Post By Sanjeev Arora

Sanjeev suggesting an interesting exercise, in our series on the design of a Theory Festival as part of STOC 2017:


Throughout our conference design process  we often observe big shifts in people’s opinions as they engage with the issues and the mathematical constraints. So if you have strong opinions about the theory festival, I highly recommend spending half an hour trying to come up with your own design.

Before and during your design, answer the following questions to yourself about the event you are planning:

  • How is the event appealing to theorists who currently don’t come?
  • How is the event creating more interaction opportunities?
  • Part of the target audience wants more signal from the PC (= more power), and part of the target audience wants to give less power to the PC because they disagree with its past decisions and general preferences. Which direction does your plan go in?

Keep in mind also the general equilibrium view:

(i) People worry about the effect of any change in the conferences on hiring/promotion/grant applications. The general equilibrium view says that if you double or halve the total number of STOC papers (“the money supply”) its only effect will be to double/halve the number of publications required to get the job or the grant. So what should determine the total number of accepts in your design?
(ii) The net attention of attendees is unchanged.  X-minute talks in 4 parallel sessions use up the same amount as X/2-minute talks in 2 parallel sessions. Which do you prefer —as author and as attendee—and why?

Of course you could argue that you can change the equilibrium by causing more jobs/grants to be created, or by increasing the number of attendees. In that case, please state your assumptions.

Have a go at it, and if you come up with interesting designs, please sketch them in your comments!



Currently: 90 accepts; 20 min talks in 2 parallel sessions (about 16-17 hrs)
Essentially no plenary. 1 separate day of workshops.

Our designs assume at least 12 plenary hrs, 2 hrs of tutorial, 1 day of workshops (all distributed over 5 days).  Plus, two hours for lunch and an evening poster session.

Remember to allow for  changeover time between speakers.

8 thoughts on “Do It Yourself Theoryfestival Design – Guest Post By Sanjeev Arora

  1. Did I miss something? STOC/FOCS are supposed to be the forums for the best work in TCS, not hiring committee facilitators.

    Since when saving a division by two for hiring committees (which is a questionable assumption all of its own) became a prime directive for the conferences? Have we really lost our way this much as a scientific community?

    1. Agreed. Maybe it isn’t clear from the post that what I am trying to say is that the tenure/hiring issues should not be of concern in this discussion. At last night’s business meeting people were trying to bring it in.

  2. After attending FCRC and the STOC business meeting and talking to multiple people I’ve convinced myself that Sanjeev’s proposal (as expressed here: is the best among others I have heard so I would like to endorse it here. It would be great to have it tried in practice and have the data collected (via a survey) to see if it catches on. Just as Lance said at the business meeting, there is no way anything can kill STOC if we try it once. My only personal suggestion (almost but not quite orthogonal to the overall discussion) is to increase the amount of colocation with conferences which might serve as a source of new interesting problems for the theory community (ICML, COLT, VLDB, SPAA, SIGMOD, PODS, PODC, EC, CCC etc.) that happen around the same time of the year.

  3. There are many ways to work this out. This is just one example to illustrate. Many other combinations are possible:

    – 3 talks of 40 minutes on each of three days 8:30-9:50am 10:15-10:55am
    – 4 parallel sessions with talks of 20 minutes + 5 questions 11:00am-12:15pm 1:45-3:25 3:50-5:55

    This allows for a total 155 talks over three days.

    1. Alex (and others who send plans)

      Pls write a summary of your plan. In this case, the summary would be

      9 hrs of plenary (12 talks of 40 min) and about 140 talks of 20 min in 4 parallel sessions.
      Fits in 3 days; leaving 2 days for workshops and other activities. (Can be interleaved as needed.) Alex, pls correct this if I misunderstood.

  4. I’m more in line with Omer’s proposal and quite flexible in most details. Boaz said that we can roughly have 6.5 hours of talks per day, amounting to roughly 32.5 hours of talks over 5 days. Rough plan:

    1) 17 hours of conference talks (this fits ~ 82 25 min talks in 2 parallel sessions; can also split more for 3 parallel sessions or multi-tier)
    2) 5 hours of four workshops in parallel (on the second or third day of the conference)
    3) 7 hours of plenary talks (7 1hr talks or 9 45 min talks; could be tutorials/surveys as well)
    4) 3 hours of tutorials (spread over different days)
    5) 30 mins of STOC/FOCS Follies 🙂

    Few high level points:
    1) I hope the 6.5 hrs per day is not too taxing. We should use the extra day to ease up the schedule to create more space/time for interaction.
    2) Mix the workshops with the rest of the conference – for example, by not having the workshops on the first day of the conference as is currently done. This will immediately have more variety on a daily basis and the workshops will be better attended. Also, when possible, effort must be made to have the workshop speakers be people who don’t come to STOC/FOCS usually.
    3) Schedule some late night less-formal tutorials (like at STOC 2008 – which I really liked).
    4) If having a poster session without a multi-tier structure, posters should be recommended for *all* accepted papers. One way to implement this is to have the call of papers say that the authors of all accepted papers will be expected to present the paper as well as have a poster.

    1. Thanks for your plan.

      Having 7 hrs of plenary does give a lot more options, but feels not too different from the old conferences with 3 one hour invited talks, and a few award talks. Also doesn’t showcase the pan-theory selected talks we had in mind. That’s why we had 12 hrs. (Omer’s plan assumes even more plenary hrs.)

      Should I assume you don’t find the pan-theory talks of interest? (Just checking whether you forgot about them.)

  5. I like the idea of pan-theory selected talks too. The balance between the 7 hrs for allotted for plenary and 3 hrs for tutorials was somewhat arbitrary and could very well be 10 hrs (or more if done right …) of plenary talks.

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