Improving Conferences with Abstracts

Wayne’s comment on my Keeping in Time post prompted another thought that merits its own post. The SMH should try to post abstracts of the papers before hand, online. This would be helpful since most of the panels are segregated by time period (and to a lesser extent country), but abstracts are better at highlighting themes that might encourage cross-fertilization. Posting them in advance might also stir additional interest in attending the conference, and would certainly make it easier for attendees to choose which panels to attend – it’s a bit of a crapshoot with the current model. It would also allow presenters an online presence that might lead to further inquiries about their work.

At the PoP 2013 conference, for example, their printed program also included short bios of the speakers and abstracts of the papers (note that this could also eliminate the time the chairs need to read the speaker bios). I realize printing them all might be too expensive for a big conference like the SMH, but an online PDF version with that info would be really useful – those hip kids with their tablets and smartphones could certainly make use of it during the conference itself.

This might also minimize attender’s remorse. On numerous occasions I’ve chosen one panel based on the titles, only to discover that not only did the paper(s) not match my expectation of what would be covered, but that another panel had a paper with a more opaque (to me) title that was actually something I was far more interested in. Heck, if I’d had more info about the content of one of the early morning panels at this last SMH, I would’ve actually woken up early to attend. And have the authors add some keywords too while you’re at it (so I don’t have to).

There are probably issues involved: what if the presenter doesn’t want their abstract posted? what if the presenter changes their paper at the last minute? I’d think these could be managed however: maybe let the presenters sign off on whether to include their initial proposal, or submit a revised one, or not include any?

But wait, there’s more! I’m even scanning in some of the interesting abstracts from the PoP conference into my database, just so I will be reminded of their topics – perhaps I’ll be reminded of the talk when I’m doing a future search and then check to see if it was ever published anywhere. As another example, such a listing would also provide a repository of model proposals for grad students and young scholars.

Sounds like a good idea to me.

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