While many theory CS people will be spending the week at ICALP (and
adjacent workshops and such), the information theory people will be
spending the week at ISIT. No wonder these communities don't get
together as much as they should -- conferences are cross-scheduled!
CS theory will be well represented at ISIT, however, as Avi Wigderson
is one of the plenary speakers.
ISIT is bigger than, well, any theory CS conference I know, because it
is the major IT conference each year. CS theory has nothing
like it, with more, smaller conferences throughout the year, and (it
seems to me) many more specialized conferences and workshops. So here are some things I think worth observing for theory CS people, just to think about how we do things, and if we'd want to change:
1) ISIT goes for a week. One day of tutorials, 5 days of talks, with
4 parallel sessions, and a plenary each day. So naturally, most everyone
comes. (Um, no, I'm not going this year. That new baby thing...)
2) There's specific time for the Board of Governors of the IEEE
Information Society to meet and do their business. A benefit of a
conference where most everyone comes is that having "business meetings" like this seems easy to set up. Similarly, there's a large Awards Luncheon, and most people are there to pick up their awards, and see/hear the award-winners.
3) There are several activities especially for students. Roundtable
discussions, a panel led by the student committee, and a panel on
balancing career and personal life (see here and here for recent related posts on Sorelle's blog on that theme). Generally these are done over lunch, and lunch is provided for the students. (Never underestimate how well students respond to free food.)
4) Part of the tradeoff in establishing a large conference is that a higher
percentage of papers are accepted. And there's an understanding that individuals are not supposed to submit large numbers of papers, as large-scale participation is one of the goals. (This used to be explicit in the call -- something about multiple papers from an author being subject to more scrutiny -- but I don't see it in this year's call.)
As a relative outsider, I enjoy the ISIT setup. There's one
conference I know I can send my IT papers too; when I go, there's a
chance to see everyone, though there is sometimes the challenge of
tracking them down and scheduling a meet. There's a clear and strong
sense of community at the conference, despite the size.
I'm not trying to say that CS theory doesn't have a community-feeling.
But it does feel like the CS communities tend to partition themselves
more into loosely overlapping subcommunities. There's no universal
conference, although perhaps SODA (moreso than FOCS/STOC, based on sheer size) comes closest. I wonder, sometimes, what we as a community lose from this.