The Road to VIS 2024 - The Program Committee

Happy New Year! It’s 2024 and we, the Overall Papers Chairs for IEEE VIS 2024, are back with another update in our blog series on “The Road to VIS 2024.” This time we are discussing the program committee (PC): its composition, its relation to the six areas and their APCs (area paper chairs), and how you actually get on the PC in the first place. Read on for more!

Papers submitted to the IEEE VIS conference are reviewed by two program committee (PC) members—the primary and the secondary reviewer—as well as one (new for 2024, it used to be two) external reviewer that is recruited by the secondary from the greater scientific community. All reviewers, both the PC members and the externals, are selected to be trustworthy, reliable, and knowledgeable in the topic of the papers they are reviewing. In addition, everyone who participates in the IEEE VIS review process has agreed to adhere to the basic responsibilities of ethical peer review: promptness, impartiality, professionalism, constructive feedback, integrity, and confidentiality.

In 2023, the IEEE VIS program committee consisted of a total of 214 members—a big number! These people were primarily chosen from among the relatively senior members of the reviewer pool to provide expertise across the entire spectrum of visualization research. Expertise is vital because a program committee cannot perform its primary function—reviewing papers—if it does not have the necessary knowledge to do so. However, members are also selected to balance a variety of additional factors, including seniority, geographic location, academia vs. industry, demographics (gender, race, etc), quantitative vs. qualitative methods, etc. Diversity is a strength in PC composition: people of different backgrounds bring different perspectives, skills, and prior knowledge to the table, providing a more well-rounded view of submissions than if all PC members are the same. As a case in point, senior researchers provide long experience and a broad perspective of the field, whereas more junior researchers typically have more available time to devote to a review and sometimes more hands-on knowledge on current technologies.

When submitting to IEEE VIS, authors have to choose the area most relevant for their paper. Just like in 2023, VIS 2024 will have six areas, each headed by two area papers chairs (APCs); see this page for a list of the APCs. However, the program committee itself isn’t actually split into areas. Instead, APCs can choose freely among PC members when allocating submissions to individual primary and secondary reviewers. However, the APCs do nominate 5-10 potential new PC members to invite each year with the goal of covering the necessary expertise their area requires.

This brings us to the somewhat fraught topic of who gets on the program committee. First of all, not everyone who wants to be on the committee is invited—serving on the PC is a privilege—and not everyone who is invited accepts. People decline for many reasons: other significant service commitments, general reviewer fatigue, or various personal and family reasons. In 2023, a total of 263 people were invited, with 214 accepting; a yield of approximately 80%. This year, with our plan to increase the load from 6 to 8 papers per PC member, the PC will shrink even if we anticipate a growth in submissions: we will invite around 180 people, which—if we hope for the same yield as last year—will yield us around 150 members in the final PC.

The vast majority—two thirds—of who gets invited to the PC are those that stay on from last year. The term to serve on the VIS PC is three years followed by a break of at least one year, and most people will serve this entire term unless they (a) voluntarily withdraw, (b) take on significant service commitments (such as being asked to serve as APC or OPC), or (c) are removed from the PC because they do not perform well (such as not completing reviews in a timely manner, not following instructions, writing short or inappropriate reviews, etc). Assuming an approximately even distribution of PC member terms, this means that, on average, a third of the committee will be honorably rotating off each year and will have to be replaced with new members. This year, of course, the replenishment will be slightly smaller because of the shrinking PC size, but there are still approximately 30 positions up for grabs (around 150 out of 214 people are continuing from last year).

Why would you want to serve on the PC in the first place? The answers are many and vary from person to person. It can be exciting to “move up” in the hierarchy of scientific service to get more responsibility and insight into the paper review process. In fact, many recruitment and promotion processes reward service to your own community at a level consistent with your career stage. Some people are simply altruistic and want to pay back the service they have benefited from during their career. The experience can also help you become a better researcher by better knowing what reviewers tend to like and dislike in a paper. And there is also an element of shared governance here: if you are a regular contributor to the field, you should also have some part in shaping its future.

All PC members are selected from the overall reviewer pool based on being active and knowledgeable in the field (by regularly publishing papers at the conference), demonstrating their promptness and reliability (either as an external reviewer or by serving on earlier VIS PCs or other conference PCs), and conducting themselves with integrity (maintaining confidentiality and writing fair and balanced reviews in a timely manner). To serve on the VIS PC you are require to have completed your Ph.D. For an early-career researcher (ECR) with no prior PC experience, it can be somewhat daunting to fulfill all of these requirements and be selected out of what may seem like a sea of ECRs, but one of the jobs of the OPCs and APCs is to keep an eye on all potential new PC members and invite them to the committee when they are ready. Our goal is that everyone who contributes regularly to the conference sooner or later be given the chance to serve on the PC; in fact, you could almost see it as an obligation that you have towards the conference for all of the work that has gone into reviewing your own past submissions.

If “sooner” is quickly becoming “later” for you, there are a couple of things that you can do. One way is to put forward your name in the annual call for volunteers. This year’s call expired already on January 5, 2024, so the window is closed for VIS 2024, but keep an eye out for the call next year sometime around December. Another way to get noticed is to volunteer as an external reviewer for the conference itself; instructions here. Volunteer to review a couple of papers, and if you get an invitation, do your best to write a high-quality, fair, and balanced review in a timely manner. Good service always begets more service.

At the time of writing (mid January 2024), our APCs are mulling over their nominations to the PC, after which we will be forming the final committee and sending out invitations. If you get invited for the first time, congratulations! And if you’re re-invited after serving in the past, welcome back!