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Navigating an INFORMS Meeting

Well, the INFORMS Pittsburgh Meeting is about to begin. The weather looks like it will be fine (no hurricanes like in Miami a few years back!). It is cool tonight (Saturday) but should get a bit warmer for most of the meeting.

At the Doctoral Colloquium tonight, INFORMS President Mark Daskin made some good points about navigating an INFORMS Meeting. One point that may not be obvious to first-time attendees is that you are very welcome to leave a session in between talks (it is a bit ruder to leave in the middle of a talk, but that is certainly not uncommon). So if you like presentation 1 of a session, and presentations 2 and 3 of a session three doors down, feel free to leave after the first presentation (typically as presenter 2 fiddles with the technology) and change rooms. It is something everyone knows after a few conferences, but even first-time attendees should do this. A second point is that many people attend tutorials of areas they specialize in. The best use of tutorials is to learn something of an area that is not known to you. I admit I check out tutorials in my area (to make sure they refer to me in appropriately reverential tones), but I am really wasting my time: I should either be attending something new or partaking in social capital activities (like having a drink at the bar with friends old and new). My own talk at the colloquium was on social capital and OR, similar to my EURO talk.
For those attending, enjoy the conference! For those not attending, shame on you, and plan for Seattle next year!

Update November 5

Mark has kindly provided his full

Mark’s Two-Page Guide to Navigating the


With a focus on first-time attendees

(Mark Daskin’g Two Page Guide to Navigating the INFORMS Meeting)

Let’s face it. For some of you, this may be your first INFORMS meeting and it may be your first professional meeting of any society. When I went to my first such meeting, I was a bit (OK, very) intimidated and scared. The purpose of this two-page guide is to reduce your anxiety, first by letting you know that you are not alone in feeling anxious.

This will be the largest INFORMS meeting ever, with 3,200 presentations and around 3,500 folks attending the meeting. Think positively. What that means is that there will be a lot of people there to ask questions of and who can help you.

There are lots of things to do at INFORMS. Here is my list:

  • Attend sessions – go to sessions related to your research. This is a great opportunity to find out what others are doing, to meet colleagues with similar interests and to discuss your own work. Typically sessions with common interest (e.g., combinatorial optimization) will have the same number throughout the meeting. The location sessions, for example, are number 40 – SA-40, SB-40 (first session on Sunday, second session on Sunday, and so on). Also consider going to a session or two on a subject that is far from your field. This is a good way to learn about a new topic. Often the best ideas come from disparate fields. Feel free to hop between sessions in the same time slot. Wait until a paper is done and then you can politely slip out of the room to go to a session with another presentation you want to hear. Many people do this and it is not viewed as being rude to the next speaker. After all, some new people may be coming into the room to hear him or her! . Do not feel like you have to attend a session all the time to have a productive meeting. In fact, doing so will certainly mean you are not doing other valuable things, like just talking to new friends and colleagues.
  • Attend tutorials – there are about a dozen tutorials planned for the conference. These are special sessions at which a small group (maybe one person) speak about a topic as an overview of the field. There is also a book of the tutorial papers as well as a CD that you can purchase. I found the papers from last year to be excellent and used several in one of my advanced graduate classes. Each tutorial will have a reference list of about 100 papers. Worth the price just for that!
  • Attend a plenary talk – there are about half a dozen plenary talks planned for the conference. These are talks at which there is only one speaker and no scheduled competing presentations. This year’s lineup includes Paul O’Neill (former Secretary of the Treasury), Marshall Fisher, Pat Harker, Margaret Brandeau, William Pullyblank, a session on dealing with the media, and a reprise of the Edelman competition by last year’s winning team from the Warner Air Logistics Center.
  • Attend the new member breakfast on Sunday morning – this is for new members and first-time attendees and is on Sunday at 7:00 a.m. (ugh!!). A number of people will speak and give you their pointers on how to get around the conference.
  • Attend the receptions on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings – there is lots of food and there will also be lots of people. On Monday evening, we will be having the Awards reception. That too should be fun. It will be in conjunction with the evening reception and will be followed by a dessert buffet.
  • Go to a subdivision meeting (or two or three) – On Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday evenings, various subdivisions will hold their “business” meetings. These vary in format, but almost all will have wine and cheese (or some sort of food). This is a great opportunity to meet people in your field. These meetings are open to anyone, whether you are technically a member of the subdivision or not.
  • Stop by the exhibit area – this will be a large room filled with about 30 or so exhibitors (typically book and software vendors). Many have freebees to give away. You can also buy books and software through the vendors.
  • Be friendly, show interest in others, and don’t be afraid to ask – for example, if you are attending a talk, feel free to ask the speaker a question or two about the research after the session in a one-on-one way. Even the most experienced INFORMS meeting attendees are going to be flattered that you are interested in their work. More generally, find time to just relax with old or new friends. As indicated above, a common mistake that first-time attendees (particularly students) make is to think that they need to be attending a session during every slot of the day. Don’t feel that way. There are a lot of other important things to do, including getting to know new people and talking informally with them. If you are a student, remember, that the person you befriend at the Pittsburgh INFORMS meeting could be the person who offers you your first job a year or two from now! Also, if you are feeling lost at some point in time, there will be lots of people with various ribbons hanging from their badges (session chairs, cluster chairs, award winners, INFORMS staff, etc.) They can usually get you back on track, if you ask the right question (e.g., where is the general reception?)
  • Ask other faculty and students who have been there before for their advice – this is just my take on the meeting. Many others have been there before and may have different opinions on what you should do.
  • Enjoy the coffee breaks between sessions – another great time to meet people and talk to them. (Are you detecting a trend/theme here?)
  • HAVE FUN!!