I’ve long been meaning to remark on my experiences of being on the SODA and ALENEX program committees this past year and fellow bloggers recent reflections on PC membership encourages me to finally post what little I have to say.
I went into the SODA PC expecting a lot of work. I (mostly) cleared out a full month to do the reviews, which was not much less than the time allotted to finish the reviews. Of the 48 papers  I had to review, I had approximately half sub-reviewed. My sub-reviewers were amazing (timely, thorough, etc). What I didn’t expect was the amount of time that went into discussing the papers. With the virtual committee-meeting spanning roughly 3 weeks, I spent a lot of time going over those subreviewed papers, reading other PC member comments and adjusting or defending my opinion. Since I didn’t plan for this, I didn’t have a lot of time to spend on it. There was great potential to learn from the papers submitted and committee decisions, but the overwhelming amount of work didn’t leave time to synthesize conclusions at a higher level. And then classes started up. While it was a worthy experience, it doesn’t quite rise to the bar Claire experienced with her first SODA committee.
I think a physical PC meeting would have added the benefits that Bill highlights by developing a relationship with those members I didn’t previously know (which is many of them). I still had the benefit of getting to know Dana Randall, who, although I have nothing to compare it to, did an amazing job and provided wonderful guidance along the way.
The ALENEX PC was much lower key. 13 papers to review. And though getting subreviewers proved mostly futile (I think I managed to get 3 subreviewers – most of my emails for ALENEX were left unresponded to or turned down), the papers were slightly easier to review and I came out of the experience with a much better idea of what an experimental paper should look like.
I know our community has discussed the possibility of a tiered PC for STOFOSODA. While I don’t know what the implications really would be, I can say that a less daunting experience (such as in a lower tier) would be preferable for a first-time PC experience. I suppose one could emulate this by starting with workshop and smaller conference committees, but I think it is great that STOFOSODA has a history of including junior researchers on their PCs and one should hardly pick-and-choose when they are offered the chance to serve on their favourite conference’s committee.
 Yes, 48, oh ye in other fields with hierarchical committees.