The Neophyte's Guide to Technical Symposia
So, you haven't been to a technical symposium yet? You don't know
what goes on, or how to behave? Never fear; just study this handy guide
to technical symposia, and you can develop the necessary "attitude" in
the privacy of your own cubicle. Then, when you finally attend the symposium
of your choice, you'll look like you've been doing it all your life.
Every society in human history sooner or later divides
into arisotcrats and peasants. The job of the arisotcrats is (1) to convince
themselves that they're something special, and (2) to persecute the peasants.
The job of the peasants is to rise up in rebellion and behead as many of
the aristocrats as they can. This is called democracy. Occasionally,
however, a society is unable, for various reasons, to create the critical
mass of aristocrats necessary for a revolution, and instead succeeds in
creating only a few beings who view themselves as socially, morally or
(in our case) intellectually superior. None of these characters are quite
worth a good revolution, but something still must be done with them. What?
The usual solution is to force them to suffer
in public. The more elaborately and ostentatiously this is done, the better.
In technological societies this group of pseudoaristocrats is, of course,
technologists, and the vehicle for their public humiliation is the technical
symposium. In a technical symposium, an organization called a technical
program committee painstakingly selects group of technologists and
places them before a large audience, where they proceed to make fools of
themselves. If they are unable, others are given the opportunity. Then
the modern-day peasants in the audience are allowed to throw intellectual
rotton vegetables (in the form of questions) at the aristocrats in the
stocks. To complete their humiliation, a summary of their foolishness is
published in a large book called a symposium digest.
Strangely enough, many technologists seem to enjoy
this bizarre experience so much that the number of technical symposia
is actually increasing. Not satisfied with being humiliated at someone
else's symposium, all good technologists (especially the academic ones,
who are most easily humiliated) want their own symposia, where they can
be the stars of the show. Pitiful, isn't it?
Reasons for Going To a Symposium
There are lots of good reasons for going to a symposium:
maintaining technical currency, renewing contacts with distant colleagues,
and lots of free beer. None of these will get you to a symposium, however,
because they don't address the interests of the people who have the power
to keep you home. So, here are the reasons you will have to use:
Reasons to give your boss:
The benighted morons on the technical committee actually
accepted my paper. It probably would be more of an embarrassment to the
company if I stayed home than if I showed up and presented it.
It won't cost much. Air Burundi has cut its fares
It's great publicity for the company (as long as
I can keep from making a fool of myself).
I'll make you a coauthor.
Reasons to give your wife (OK, or husband or "significant
I get a week on the exotic shores of Zamboni, in
a good hotel, at the company's expense...
...and I'll take you with me.
How to Find The Right Symposium To Attend
Click here and
look for a symposium that you can talk the boss into sending you to (see
below). Above all, make sure it's in a part of the world you want to visit.
Throwing intellectual garbage at presenters gets old fast; you're gonna
need a nice, warm beach and a chilled margarita before the week's out.
How to Get to a Symposium
The most sure-fire way to get to a symposium is to
write a paper, submit it to the symposium's technical committee, and get
it accepted. Then your boss has to send you, especially if you've
had the foresight to include him as a coauthor and he was able to get his
boss to send him. Many people will tell you that it's unethical
to include a coauthor who has contributed nothing to the paper, and of
course they're right. Still, it can be a lot of fun: the morning of the
paper, call the boss at his hotel room and tell him you're sick. Now, he
has to present the paper, and he doesn't know diddlysquat about it!
He then has to stand up in front of an audience of 600 experts and make
a fool of himself. (After all, he's the aristocrat, right?) Meanwhile,
you sneak into the back of the auditorium and laugh your socks off at his
pitiable efforts. Finally, after the session is over, go up front and say
hi to him. When he shows astonishment at your good health, say,
"Oh, it was just jet lag. An aspirin and a leisurely breakfast fixed me
up just fine."
What to Do at a Symposium
With all that free beer, you need to ask?
How to Present a Symposium Paper
Eventually, you'll discover that the only reliable
way to get to a symposium is to submit a paper. Now that your paper has
been accepted, what do you do? Obviously, assemble your viewgraphs
or slides and put together a nice, slick show. But that isn't enough. You
need to know what to say. So, here's your...
Guide to Saying the Right Thing at Your First Symposium Paper
|I didn't measure the noise figure because I was afraid
that it might be pretty bad.
||I plan to use the amplifier in an application where noise
figure is not critical.
|We don't worry about measurement accuracy because the test instruments
take care of that.
||1. To increase the clarity of the graphs, error bars have been omitted.
2. A full error analysis will be presented in our journal paper, which
we hope to publish next year.
|The results are inconclusive because we ran out of money.
||Further investigations were outside the scope of this research.
|How the hell do you work this laser pointer?
||Mr. Chairman, I believe this device is defective.
|Uh, where are the controls for the slide projector?
||Will the projectionist please show the next slide.
|We figured out how to add one plus one the hard way.
||We have developed a new methodology for describing the combinatorial
dynamics of elementary mathematical structures.
|I know that the theory is pretty trivial, but it's the best
we could do.
||The analysis has been simplified because there aren't enough letters
in the Greek alphabet for a full treatment.
|Toward the end of the research project, we finally figured
out what the hell we were doing.
||False starts and blind alleys are to be expected in any high-tech research
effort. However, we eventually prevailed.
|Great slides, huh? I used PowerPoint!
||1. Technical symposium: [Just don't make this idiotic remark!]
2. Business symposium: Great slides, huh? I used PowerPoint! [Smile
broadly and wait for the applause.]
|[In response to a question:] What do you mean by a stability circle?
||Stability, of course, is important in many systems, and we plan to
investigate this as part of the next phase of the research.
How to Handle Questions
After you present your paper, the peasants in the audience will have an
opportunity for revenge: questions. The people who ask questions at a symposium
usually have the IQ of a truckload of gravel, and dealing with them is
about as much fun as a bladder infection. Educating these people is like
trying to teach a hippopotamus to pole vault. However, the way you handle
their questions affects your professional reputation, so you're in deep
trouble now, dude.
Generally, you will be asked only one type of question: stupid. To deal
with these, adopt a tolerant, patronizing expression--the same kind you'd
use with a three-year-old child--and give an answer that is completely
incomprehensible and has nothing whatsoever to do with the question. This
will shut up the guy who asks the question and intimidate everyone else.
What Else Happens at a
Lots of things, but the most interesting ones don't occur at the symposium.
They occur at the social events that go with the symposium. Maybe we should
just leave it at that.