Looking around furtively

November 15, 2012

I mentioned submitting conference proposals a few posts ago. Did I mention that I’m chairing a track? Ah, yes, well, that started today. It has been the most educational twenty minutes I’ve had in the last six months.

As track chair, I admit, I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing. I’ll get instructions tomorrow or Monday.  To check my ID, I logged into the review portal where I can see all the submissions waiting for my blessing. I’m to give them 1-5 stars and write a comment about the proposal. Easy-peasy.

One submitter helpfully used my track to submit a test proposal (where he copied in the information that was supposed to be filled in, that is under Submitter Comments, he wrote, Comments – 800 characters max). This should make it startlingly easy for me to put this proposal in my “review complete” list.

However, looking at the other ones, I’m struck by the information here. The session about something that sounds super nifty, exactly what I would want to see myself. The session by people who are clearly just looking for a really long commercial. The session by these strange people who want to have a chat in front of alive audience (oh, heck, I’m on that proposal, I’ll have to ask what to do with scoring myself).

More than that, I’m struck by the amount of work that went into some proposals. But not others.

Shifting topics for a second, whenever I participate in science fair judging, I talk to friends who are parents and gush about how they really, really need to sign up to judge if they ever want their child to win. It isn’t about gaming the system but about understanding what is happening on the other side of the curtain. What do the science fair judges look for, how can they look at two hundred projects in two hours and get to an award, and what pieces matter (and what pieces don’t)?

Back to the conference proposals. I suddenly get it. I understand why last year I got a very odd phone call about the session I wanted to put on because it didn’t fit the mold of the rest of the proposals (moldiness in some cases).

I’ve played chess with myself (heck, I learned the undefeatable tic-tac-toe strategy by playing against myself, it was for, um, kindergarten research, yeah, not because I didn’t have any friends, um, yeah). I strongly encourage new interviewees to practice interviewing each other so they can see what the other side of the table sees.

But I’ve never applied it to conference proposals. Duh. I am happy to be able to see what others are doing, to understand the rules. Usually, I look around furtively, trying to figure out if I’m doing this right by following along and hoping I’m blending so no one notices if I’m out of step.


Let me see if I can sum up my findings… remember this is the twenty minute education:

  • There are a lot of proposals. Title really counts. Funny is great. Funny and informative will get you two stars all by itself.
  • Scatter your submissions around the conference tracks. There are four proposals by one guy. When I dug in and read his bio, he’s just a guy. He’s not going to get all four sessions because I want some variety in my track.
  • You aren’t being judged alone, you are being judged against other people. It isn’t a good or bad call, it is a better or worse judgement. That can work in your favor but it also means you shouldn’t take it personally if your proposal gets axed.
  • More information isn’t necessarily better. At this point, a commercial for your session is more important than a dissertation. I’m happy to see you have a dissertation because it means you thought about it. But I don’t want to have to read it before figuring out if you are in the correct track.
  • Realize the proposal is going to someone, a human who is tired and busy and doing this between other activities. You’ve been there, write your proposal for the Friday-afternoon you. Don’t assume too much knowledge and write something nice in the comments, even if it is “Thanks for your consideration, I hope you enjoy this proposal. If not, please let me know what you’d like for next year.”

Well, I’ve got things to read. I should get back to that. I suspect it will be even more educational over the next week or so.