How to Get the Most Out of Your First Joint Statistical Meetings

Christopher Bilder is an associate professor in the department of statistics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He earned his PhD in statistics from Kansas State University and now focuses on developing new statistical methodology to help assay large quantities of clinical specimens through the use of group testing.

The largest congregation of statisticians in the world happens every August during the Joint Statistical Meetings (JSM). More than 5,000 people attend these meetings, which are sponsored by seven statistical societies, including the American Statistical Association. The meetings offer a variety of activities such as attending research presentations, interviewing for jobs, taking Continuing Education courses, and browsing the exhibition hall. With so many opportunities, new attendees can be easily overwhelmed by their first JSM experience.

Based on my experience attending meetings for the last 12 years and the experiences of student groups I have led, I am going to tell you how to get the most out of JSM. If you would like to share your own recommendations, I encourage you to submit a comment below.

Before JSM

Prepare before you leave. First, you should decide whether you want to give a presentation. For new attendees who choose to present, most give a contributed presentation, which is either an orally presented paper or poster. The deadline to submit a corresponding abstract is usually February 1, and all are accepted. Additional proof of progress (e.g., drafts of a paper) for the presentation must be submitted by mid-May.

A preliminary program listing the presentation schedule is available online in April. Because there may be more than 40 concurrent presentations at any time, it is best to arrive at JSM with an idea of which to attend. This can be done by examining the session titles and performing keyword searches in the online program prior to JSM.

Presentations are separated into invited, topic-contributed, and contributed sessions, each lasting 1 hour and 50 minutes. Invited and topic-contributed sessions include groups of related presentations that were submitted together and selected by JSM Program Committee members. Oral presentations each last for 25 or more minutes for invited and 20 minutes for topic-contributed. Contributed paper sessions include groups of 15-minute oral presentations.

Unlike invited and topic-contributed sessions, contributed presentations are submitted individually and then grouped by JSM Program Committee members. Poster presentations (most are within contributed sessions) involve speakers being available for questions next to their displayed poster during the entire session.

Important Links
Below are a number of web links corresponding to the topics described in this article:

JSM 2012

Program

Job seekers

Continuing education courses and monitors

Student paper competitions

Online registration for JSM begins around May 1. For members of a sponsoring statistical society, the cost is $380 in 2012 during the early registration period. The cost increases to $460 if you register at JSM. Registration for student members is only $85 in 2012, and this rate is available at any time. Also starting around May 1, you can reserve a hotel room through the JSM website. A number of hotels near the convention center are designated as official conference hotels, and they discount their normal rates. However, even with a discount, you can expect to pay $200 or more per night for a room. Most meetings also offer a less-expensive lodging option for students, usually housing at a nearby university or hostel.

Attending JSM can be expensive. Students have several options to reduce the cost burden. First, ask your adviser or department for funding. Many departments offer financial support for students who present their research at JSM. Students also may qualify for funding from the student activities office on their campus. For example, when I was a student, my department’s statistics club received funding this way, which paid for most of my first JSM expenses.

In addition to school-based resources, many ASA sections sponsor student paper competitions that provide travel support to award winners. For example, the Biometrics Section of the ASA sponsors the David P. Byar Young Investigators Award, with $1,500 awarded to a chosen student. Most competitions require a completed paper to be submitted prior to JSM.

At JSM

JSM begins on a Sunday afternoon in late July or early August. Business casual clothing is the most prevalent attire, but some attendees wear suits and others wear T-shirts and shorts. When you arrive at JSM, go to the registration counter at the convention center to obtain your name tag and conference program book. The program book will contain a map of the convention center that can be useful for finding session rooms.

To welcome and orient new attendees, the JSM first-time attendee orientation and reception is scheduled for early Sunday afternoon. Also, the opening mixer on Sunday evening provides drinks, hors d’oeuvres, and the opportunity to meet other attendees.

The main sessions start on Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Many of the research presentations are difficult to understand completely. My goal for a session is to have 1–2 presentations in which I learn something relevant to my teaching or research interests. This may seem rather low, but these items add up after attending many sessions.

For attendees who teach introductory courses, the sessions sponsored by the ASA Section on Statistical Education are often the easiest to understand. Many of these sessions share innovative ideas about how to teach particular topics.

Introductory overview lectures are another type of session that has easier-to-understand topics. Recent lectures have included introductions to missing data, spatial analysis, and multiple testing. There are also many continuing education courses available for an additional fee. However, you can attend a course for free by volunteering prior to JSM to be a monitor. Monitors perform duties such as distributing and picking up materials during the course. As an added benefit, monitors can attend one additional course for free without any duties.

Keynote addresses at JSM are usually scheduled for late afternoon on Monday through Wednesday. On Tuesday evening, the ASA presidential address is given, along with a number of awards and introductions of the new ASA fellows. The fellows introduction is especially interesting because approximately 50 ASA members (<0.33% of all members) are recognized for their contributions to the statistics profession.

In addition to presentations, the JSM EXPO features more than 50 companies and organizations exhibiting their products and services. Many exhibitors give away free items (e.g., candy, pens, etc.). All of the major statistics textbook publishers and software companies are there. Textbook publishers offer a sizable discount on their books during JSM, and this discount is usually available for a limited time after JSM. Software companies sometimes give away free trial editions of their programs.

The JSM Career Placement Service provides a way for job seekers and employers to meet. This service offers an excellent way to interview with many companies during a short time period. Pre-registration is required, and the fee is discounted if you register before mid-July. The service works by providing an online message center for job seekers and employers to indicate their interest in each other. Once a common interest is established, an interview can be arranged during the meetings.

Other activities at JSM include the following:

  • Shopping at the ASA Marketplace to purchase a statistics-themed T-shirt or mug
  • Attending an organized roundtable discussion during breakfast or lunch about a topic of interest (pre-registration is required)
  • Using the free Internet access at the Cyber Center
  • Taking a little time off from JSM to go sightseeing

After JSM

JSM ends in the early afternoon on a Thursday. Don’t let what happens at JSM stay at JSM, though. The first thing I do after the meetings is prepare a short review of my activities. Using notes I took during sessions, I summarize items from presentations I want to examine further. I also summarize meetings I had with individuals about research or other important topics. Much of this review process starts at the airport while waiting for my return flight.

If you give a presentation at JSM, you may submit a corresponding paper to be published in the conference proceedings. Papers are not peer-reviewed in the same manner as for journals, but authors are encouraged to have others examine their paper before submission. The proceedings are published online around November. Authors retain the right to publish their research later in a peer-reviewed journal.

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