SIAM News Blog

SIAM Conference Formats Continue to Innovate

By Richard Moore

At the end of each calendar year, I take the opportunity to reflect on SIAM conferences — how they’ve fared in the recent past and where they’re headed in the near future. Luckily for me, SIAM Vice President for Programs Jim Nagy and SIAM President Sven Leyffer have already summarized and reflected upon previous conference configurations in their September SIAM News article. I will therefore focus on the year ahead.

As Jim and Sven explained, post-conference survey responses from SIAM members have made two facts abundantly clear. First, virtual and hybrid formats are important avenues that increase the accessibility of SIAM conferences for those who cannot travel to a meeting site due to a variety of circumstances, ranging from illness to visa restrictions and budgetary considerations (both financial and carbon). Second, these formats do not yet provide a comparable experience to the energy and sense of community of an in-person SIAM conference. Moreover, hybrid components can sometimes detract from the in-person setting when, for example, the audience at a remote plenary lecture feels disengaged from the speaker. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wane, we have observed diminishing remote participation in hybrid conferences: from 41 percent at the inaugural SIAM Conference on Mathematics of Data Science in October 2022 to just four percent at the ACM-SIAM Symposium on Discrete Algorithms in January 2023 and seven percent at the SIAM Conference on Applied Algebraic Geometry in July 2023. Meanwhile, the SIAM Conference on Computational Science and Engineering in February-March 2023, which took place strictly in person in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, attracted a total of 2,054 attendees — the highest-ever number of registrants at an in-person SIAM meeting.

Richard Moore, SIAM’s Director of Programs and Services, enjoys the Upside Down Amsterdam—the largest social media museum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands—after the 2023 SIAM Conference on Computational Science and Engineering earlier this year. Here he poses in the Mondriaan Room, which honors the work of Dutch painter Piet Mondriaan. Photo courtesy of the Upside Down Amsterdam.
So, what is the right balance between the accessibility of virtual and hybrid formats versus the unique experience of physically attending a SIAM conference? We don’t claim to have the answer but remain committed to building on all that we have learned over the past few years.

SIAM’s next experiment with virtual formatting will occur at the 2024 SIAM Annual Meeting (AN24), which will take place in July. AN24 will consist of two parts: an in-person event from July 8-12 at the Spokane Convention Center in Spokane, Wash., and an online component from July 18-20. Each of the three online days will begin and end at different times to better accommodate SIAM’s three largest membership bases in North America, Europe, and Asia. The online event will include the following elements:

  • Timed streaming of recorded plenary and prize talks from the previous week’s in-person meeting
  • A live question-and-answer session with the speaker and moderator (depending on their availability) after each streamed plenary or prize talk; the talks and recorded discussions will then be available on demand
  • Strictly online-only minisymposia and contributed sessions that will be recorded and made available on demand after the sessions conclude; speakers may be asked to send recordings of their talks in advance, but they will be present in the online forum to chat about their work with other attendees
  • Roundtable discussions that online participants can organize themselves
  • Casual networking events.

Everyone who submits their work to AN24 will choose whether they wish to present online or in Spokane. Contributed speakers and organizers of online minisymposia must provide their time zones so that talks can be scheduled at a reasonable local hour. Once a speaker is slated to present virtually or in person, they will not be permitted to change their assigned format. All accepted speakers need to register by the early registration deadline or risk removal from the conference program.

The 2024 SIAM Conference on Applied Mathematics Education (ED24) and the 2024 SIAM Conference on Discrete Mathematics (DM24) will be co-located with AN24. Both of these meetings will operate strictly in person, as they have done historically. We regard the exploration of new formats as an experiment and intend to learn more about the relevant challenges and concerns before recommending changes to the SIAM Activity Groups (SIAGs) regarding their affiliated conferences. However, a speaker from any SIAG community who wishes to present remotely can submit to the online component of AN24, as the SIAM Annual Meeting welcomes contributions from all SIAGs.

Rather than implement a complicated fee structure like we did for hybrid conferences in 2022, SIAM now favors a single registration fee for each category (student/nonstudent, member/nonmember, etc.). A single registration will provide access to in-person attendance at AN24, ED24, and DM24, as well as online attendance at AN24; the sole exception to this rule is a one-day registration that will only grant in-person access for the selected day. This model allows participants as much flexibility as possible and ensures that online attendees can still benefit from the conference without the burden of travel expenses. If a speaker is invited to present at an online-only minisymposium due to constraints of the session organizer, that individual can still choose to attend the in-person component in Spokane. Importantly, SIAM will continue to offer the outreach member rate that we implemented for hybrid conferences in 2022; outreach member registrants are now able to attend and present in person for a substantially reduced rate.

To conclude, I would like to thank the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Energy for their generous support of SIAM conferences, and briefly mention some exciting new conference features for 2024. Onsite badge printing will make its debut at AN24 to help mitigate long registration lines. Also forthcoming is the implementation of pre-conference minicourses, the first of which is expected to take place in Atlanta, Ga., on October 20 — the day before the start of the 2024 SIAM Conference on Mathematics of Data Science. In addition, attendees will once again be able to take advantage of the convenient “nonmember + join” option that bundles nonmember conference registration with a regular SIAM membership at all 2024 meetings. And we will continue to provide travel support for SIAM conference attendees via our Student Travel Awards and Early Career Travel Awards, which rely on funds from grants, donors, and SIAM’s operational budget. Finally, don’t forget to stop by the membership desk at the next SIAM conference to grab a new SIAM sticker for your laptop and chat with our friendly membership staff!

As always, I am truly indebted to the conference team at SIAM—led by Conference Director Lisa Dyson—for their professionalism and commitment to excellence in delivering world-class conferences month after month. Also, the SIAM News article by Jim Nagy and Sven Leyffer that I previously referenced fails to mention the countless meetings, consultations, and decisions that confronted Jim when COVID-19 struck two months into his first term as Vice President for Programs. His farsighted vision—as well as support from the SIAM Board of Trustees, SIAM President Sven Leyffer, and Past Presidents Susanne Brenner and Lisa Fauci—have allowed SIAM conferences to weather the storm of the pandemic and emerge with renewed vigor and resilience. We look forward to seeing you, either in person or online, at an upcoming SIAM conference!

  Richard Moore is the Director of Programs and Services at SIAM. 
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