Today should be such an exciting day, the day the speakers are announced for the 2015 PASS Summit. But as someone who has been involved with the process for the last 6 Summits, it’s a day that I usually turn my Twitter feed off because there’s always those one or two people who don’t get selected or who don’t like the selections that were made and throw a very public tantrum. Then the insults and accusations start flying.
There has been a long history of criticism of the abstract review process for the PASS Summit. Speakers complain that they don’t get feedback or the feedback they get is not helpful and that the process takes too long. Community members complain that certain topics weren’t included, that the process is a black box or there is a “white” and/or “black” list of who gets to present and who doesn’t.
When I started working on the Program Committee six years ago as an abstract review team member, it was a lot of work but very rewarding. When I was asked to step up my game two years ago and become a team lead, it was more work, but even more rewarding. Being part of the process that builds the program for the Summit is a great honor and a tremendous responsibility. So when I was asked to be a Program Manager this year, I had to consider what it would mean. It would mean even more work but I wasn’t sure if it would be more rewarding. But I decided I was up for the challenge and accepted the role.
In years past I was only responsible for a very small piece of the pie. I had my track that I had to think about and that was it. As a review team member, you read the abstracts for the track that you are assigned, you rate them and then you provided the team lead with your rankings. That was it. The rest of the process was really a black box to me.
As a team lead there are a few more pieces of the pie that you get to sample. Not only do you get to read all the abstracts in your track, but you also get to wrangle reviewers (someone akin to herding cats) and make tough decisions based on input from your team members. You have to take into account things like topic distribution, session level and speaker distribution (speakers are limited to only two general sessions). Being a team lead is a very time consuming role. Last year in an effort to provide better feedback to submitters a report was introduced that allowed team leads to see the comments reviewers had made. This gave us the opportunity to have a bit more of an insight into what the team members were thinking when they scored an abstract. The flow of the data wasn’t perfect, but it was tremendously helpful to me as a team lead.
As a Program Manager you have to look at the whole pie. You have to do all the things that a team lead does, but now you have to do it for ALL the tracks, not just the one that you were assigned to review. Then you have to set out to “build the program”. Building the program is like a super-mega-charged game of Jenga. You move one piece and it can cause such a ripple effect, you might spend thirty minutes trying to “fill the gap” you just created. I have a whole new appreciation for the process after being a Program Manager.
Whether you are a speaker getting an email, or you are a community member looking over the sessions that were selected, remember that feedback is a GIFT. Everyone loves gifts, so think twice before you speak/blog/tweet about the process. That was a giant pie we just made and we are very proud of it.