Monday, July 8, 2013

Deadline Extensions: the Truth

Researchers, academics and graduate student regularly receive emails such as:

"We have received a number of excellent submissions for the International Wizardry Conference in Hogwarts (31-33 Nov 2013). However, due to a large number of requests to extend the deadline to allow for a greater number of submissions, the deadline has been extended to July 24th. "

Okay, we don't receive much (if any :-p) mail from Hogwarts. But we do receive emails about deadline extensions. Almost all of them cite "a large number of requests" as the reason for extension. Is this true? What are the other reasons for deadline extensions? 

I have worked in a few conference organizing committees, including ACM Multimedia 2012. So far, I haven't encountered a "large number of requests", unless 2 (yes, two) is a large number :-p. 

Here are some of the actual reasons that I know by my experience:

1. A request by someone "big":
Many things in research depend on positions and connections. Professors who are regular members of conference organizing committees can easily get a deadline extension from most conferences and workshops. Some conference chairs used to accept such late submissions "underhand", but this can cause trouble if found. So, they prefer to extend the deadline for everybody.

2. Lack of submissions:
Nowadays, there are many (too many?) conferences in almost any research field. Some small conferences and workshops find it harder to attract papers than others. I and a fellow researcher once tried to start a workshop on a new topic in multimedia. There were around 20 workshops co-located with ours, with more general topics. We ended up receiving only two submissions. In our case, we decided to divert the papers to another, related workshop. But some others might extend the deadline and wait. Some might extend the deadline well before the deadline is reached, because they know by experience how the numbers change.

3. Need to reduce acceptance rate:
This might sound strange to those who don't know much about how conferences are run, but it's true. A conference needs to show that it is good. One way to show this is to prove that it is hard to publish in the conference. The sponsors of some conferences threaten to discontinue their support if the acceptance rate goes above a certain number (ask your prof, to get an example for your research area). 

Two years ago, I was a technical program committee member of a workshop. A day before the submission deadline, the workshop chair sent an email that said:
"We need an acceptance rate of XX% for the workshop to continue, so please encourage your colleagues and friends to submit manuscripts."

Another professor invited me to a conference he organized. He also said "Please submit two papers so that we can accept one; we need to get these numbers right, so that the conference continues."

Some special sessions in technological conferences, especially art-related tracks, are "curated". These tracks accept both invited and reviewed submissions. The details on the proportions of acceptance are not very transparent; but when you attend the session, you see that a collections of friends dominate the session with a few outside submissions thrown in. If this kind of a session extends a deadline, that usually means you are asked to provide papers for them to reject :-p

4. Chance to "catch" papers
If a major conference announces its acceptance decisions on a given date, most small conferences will have a submission deadline later than that. This allows them to get submissions of papers rejected by the major conference. If the date of notification gets delayed beyond the submission deadline, the same thing will happen to the submission deadlines.

So, think wisely before submitting to a conference or workshop that has an extended deadline. Your supervisor might know which of the above reasons are true. But most of the time, he won't tell you (all of them are in the same boat). But he/she will hint you whether you should submit or not. If you have been a grad student for a couple of years, you should be able to look at the history of the conference and guess the correct reasons.

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