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Organizing a workshop

Today, I have finally submitted the foreword and table of contents documents for one of the workshops that I co-organized to be published in the ACM Digital Library. If the ACM accepts our submission without any changes, it means that my job as a workshop co-organizer is officially over. Thus, now is a good time to reflect on the issues pertaining to organizing a workshop.

Although I helped organize other workshops in the past, for this one I was the primary organizer. I want to share some of my experiences of organizing a workshop in the hope of helping others decide whether they want to get involved with organizing a workshop in the future.

I will list the organizational activities that I enjoyed and those that I found not as satisfying. For each activity, I explain why I felt this way and also, where appropriate, recommend the practices I found effective.

The positives:
+Collaborating with my co-organizer
I was lucky to have a great co-organizer with whom I shared a perfect rapport. We collaborated effectively and were able to find creative solutions to some difficult problems. I also feel that in the process I have learned valuable knowledge and skills from my co-organizer.
Recommendation: Choose a co-organizer whom you respect as a researcher, as you are likely to share an understanding about the important issues, which will simplify the organization process.

+Choosing the Program Committee
I found the experience of choosing the PC and inviting fellow researchers to serve on it quite enjoyable. Discussing the potential PC members with my co-organizer helped me understand better the international landscape of my research area. Because we needed to cover a broad spectrum of research areas, we had to carefully consider our entire research community, also taking the issues of academia/industry, geographic, and gender diversity into consideration.
Recommendation: No guts, no glory. There is no harm in asking any researcher to serve on the PC. I was surprised that we were able to assemble such a high quality PC, all comprised of stellar researchers. We received very few rejections.

+Managing the reviewing process
Because we had a sufficiently large PC, we could focus exclusively on organizing the reviewing process. I enjoyed tackling the intellectual challenge of assigning the submissions to the reviewers, trying to find a perfect expertise match. Trying to reconcile divergent opinions was challenging, but quite rewarding in the end when reasonable compromises were found. Even making the final decisions regarding which submissions should be accepted was a great example of teamwork. I felt fortunate that I did not have to make these decisions alone, and was impressed with my co-organizer’s insights throughout the process. Overall, I felt that overall the reviewing process was a great learning experience.
Recommendation: Put a lot of thinking into reviewing assignments, trying to match the submission with the reviewers’ expertise and research interests; this initial investment will make the reviewing process smoother

+Inviting keynote speakers
Deciding who should be asked to give keynote presentations was a positive experience. We have managed to invite two highly respected researchers whose work we admired and who really helped us kick off the workshop with their fascinating presentations.

+Scheduling the workshop
Planning and scheduling the workshop activities was an interesting challenge, when we had to squeeze in numerous events into a very tight time frame. What helped is that we had a competent Webmaster who was able to promptly update the Website with any scheduling changes.
Recommendation: Make sure to choose a competent Webmaster who can promptly update the Website, making sure it reflects up-to-date information. A professionally looking Website can even help attract submissions and boost general participation.

+Running the worskhop
Running the workshop was definitely the highlight of the entire experience. Seeing how our plans ended up working out as we had hoped was quite satisfying indeed.

+Working with the workshops’ coordinator
We were fortunate to have a very competent workshop coordinator at our umbrella conference who did an excellent job handling all the administrative issues.

The negatives:
-Advertising the workshop and soliciting submissions
Because our submission date was in the summer, we had to overcome some hurdles trying to get enough submissions. We ended up postponing the deadline to receive enough submissions.
Recommendation: Try to schedule your workshop (it is not always possible), so that the submission deadline would not coincide with popular vacation periods.

-Publishing workshop papers
This experience proved to be somewhat tedious, and it took us three months after the end of the workshop to submit all the papers to the publisher. This stage involved obtaining the required information from the publisher and making sure that the authors follow the necessary steps, including copyright submission and paper formatting. I am not sure whether anything can be done to streamline the process, as coordinating multiple parties is always difficult. One just needs to be prepared for this and have a lot of patience.

Overall, I felt that co-organizing a workshop was a great learning experience. It must be noticed that we co-organized this particular workshop for the first time, and I suspect that established workshops may be easier to organize.

Would I recommend a junior faculty to organize a workshop? Probably not in the first three years of their tenure clock. It is probably easier to put together PCs when more fellow researchers have known you as a faculty member.

Would I be involved in organizing another workshop again in the near future? That remains to be seen.

Categories: academic enterprise
  1. February 8, 2011 at 1:44 am


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