Lessons Learned

The role of PC chair is interesting in many ways. It provides a perhaps unparalleled opportunity to influence the way in which research is approached and presented in our field. For COLING 2018, we have been taking this responsibility very seriously and working hard, through both decisions for the review process and the publicization of those ideas in this blog, the push the field in directions that we believe will be fruitful, including stronger interdisciplinarity and more reproducibility.

On the flip side, the role of PC chair comes with some serious downsides. One is the heart rending process of deciding on and then informing authors of desk rejects. We did our utmost to do this as fairly as humanly possible, starting with publicizing our desk reject policy. We hoped that that move would reduce the number of desk rejects, and it may have, but there were still a handful of papers rejected without review under the policy.

The most common reason for a desk reject by a long way was the paper’s length (ie. documents were submitted with more than 9 content pages). Papers in the completely incorrect template were also desk rejected, as were those with squashed line spacing, reduced font size, removed author boxes, and so on. Other reasons for desk rejection were bad anonymisation; some papers, for example, linked to the author’s private github repository. This is the sort of thing that can really wait until camera ready. All papers sent in other templates were desk rejected (we saw e.g. NAACL, ACL, NIPS formats). One paper was rejected for breaking the arXiv embargo period, having been published there fewer than 30 days before the COLING deadline. No edits were allowed after the deadline had passed. This was a very unpleasant process overall and we can only make a plea to authors to follow the guidelines so that work gets the attention it needs, instead of rejection without feedback. That way there don’t have to be any desk rejects at all. They are often desperately unpleasant to send, and probably even worse to receive.

In this blog post, we wanted to briefly reflect on what we have learned about the kind of practices that put people in the corners that lead to the kind of mistakes that result in desk rejects. In general, we see that there is a culture of last-minutism in our field. Deadlines can inspire people to get things done that otherwise seem impossible, but doing things in a rush also has downsides. Here are some DOs and DON’Ts of paper submission that we hope will spare people some pain in the future:

  • Do access the submission system early, so you know what awaits.
  • Do read the CFP carefully. Such documents can be intimidating, especially for first-time submitters, but the information there all has a purpose, and it’s easier to make use of if you get it early.
  • Don’t leave submitting your final paper until the absolute last minute. If something goes wrong (e.g. submitting the wrong pdf, losing your internet connection), you’ll have missed the deadline. This happens regularly and is wasteful. Sometimes you might not find out it was the wrong PDF until after the deadline, or might be so rushed that the paper spills over the page limit unnoticed. This means the hard work has to wait for another conference.

And finally a couple of thoughts on interacting with PC chairs, especially in large conferences:

  • Please don’t ask the PC chairs to upload a PDF for you after the deadline. The deadline is a deadline. Asking for it to be bent is asking the PC chairs to not apply policies evenly and fairly.
  • Do be aware that the PC chairs in a conference this size are communicating with ~1000 authors and ~1000 reviewers, and keep that in mind as you make requests.

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