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Communications of the ACM


Helping Conference Attendees Better Understand Research Presentations

Helping Conference Attendees Better Understand Research Presentations, illustrative photo

Credit: Andrij Borys Associates / Shutterstock

For over 20 years, ACM SIGCOMM has supported activities to make its conferences more accessible to an ever-wider range of attendees, with activities such as travel grants, student events, and mentoring programs. During the mentoring program at ACM SIGCOMM 2014, one of the coauthors of this Viewpoint—Ethan Katz-Bassett—found that students lacked enough background in the topics of many of the research papers, causing them to struggle to understand the presentations or to engage other attendees in conversations. That led us to put together a program of short lectures at ACM SIGCOMM 2015, designed to prepare attendees to better understand the presentations at subsequent technical sessions.

The lectures were extraordinarily successful. We overfilled the lecture rooms and, unfortunately, still had to turn some attendees away. A questionnaire circulated after the conference showed 88% of the lecture attendees felt the previews helped them get more from the technical talks. Although our initial intention was to provide a session to help students understand the conference material, to our surprise many attendees were established researchers seeking to understand a new area.


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