Mark D. Hill and
David A. Wood
Computer Sciences Department
University of Wisconsin-Madison
This page gives advice on how to behave at conferences to maximize
what you learn, improve your professional prospects, and represent
your institution (your actions can actually affect your colleagues
and friends!). The authors are fully to blame for what is said here. Our
comments are based on fifteen years of experience attending professional
computer conferences, such as:
- ACM International Conference on Architectural
Support for Programming Languages and Operating Systems (ASPLOS),
- ACM/IEEE International Symposium on Computer Architecture (ISCA), IEEE
- Symposium on High-Performance Computer Architecture (HPCA),
- ACM SIGMETRICS
Conference on Measurement and Modeling of Computer Systems (SIGMETRICS),
- ACM Symposium on Operating System Principles (SOSP).
- Spend all your time reading the conference proceedings.
When else can you expect to find time to do it?
- Never skip a talk that is outside your area of interest.
After all, what else would you do with the time? Waste it chit-chatting
with others in the hall?
- Hang out only with people from your institution
These are your friends and, after all, a conference is just a holiday.
Who wants to meet new collaborators anyway?
Hallways and Receptions
- Never talk to people from other institutions in hallways.
This sort of chit-chat wastes time (when you could be reading the
- If you do talk to others, spend all your time bragging about your
Don't stick to the facts and let them judge.
Draw conclusions for them, so that they will be impressed.
- Never try to draw others out about their work or experiences.
This could confuse you with new information!
- Always wait for people to walk up to you.
All will naturally be drawn to you, particularly it you stand
against a wall.
- Ask many public questions at the end of talks.
If each of 250 people asked one question at the end of one of 25 talks,
that would make 10 questions per talk. Make sure that you get way more
than your fair share, so people remember you fondly.
- Never consider another person's feelings except when targeting
questions to embarrass them.
A great question for this is: This work adds nothing to the work I
did three years ago. The speaker will become a friend for life and
people will remember you fondly as a zealous truth seeker.
- Make your questions long and rambling.
After all, everyone has paid their conference registration fees, so give
them their money's worth.
- Never ask questions that end with a question mark.
This indicates to others that you already know the answer.
- Ask multipart questions and follow up with several additional
People will be impressed with your attention to detail and perseverence
to learn the truth.
- At international meetings, ask question of speakers from your own
By your ignorance, you will impress people that you are so diligent
in your work that you have no time to talk to your colleagues.
- Never wait until after the talk to discuss subtle points or
fundamental disagreements "off-line".
Others have a right to hear these important details.
- BONUS (when questions are allowed during talks):
Ask questions which make the speaker defend their work as soon
as they put up their outline slide.
Everyone in the audience already
understands their work and will appreciate you getting straight to
and Craig Zilles
for their useful comments.
The current on-line version of this document appears at URL