A post from the INFORMS computing society conference: are application-oriented conferences too specialized?

I am attending the INFORMS Computing Society (ICS) Conference this week.  This is my first ICS Conference.  In addition to the focus on computing, the conference selected homeland security for its theme, with a secondary theme of energy security.  I initially found it unusual for an already-specialized  conference to have an application area focus.

On second thought, many conferences have application area focuses, such as transportation, health, risk analysis.  The application-focused conferences tend to attract people with a broad range of interests who use a variety of tools.  I suppose that the dual focus on computing would not be too limiting, but homeland security seems more focused than, say, health applications.

As a homeland security researcher, I have to say that I was eventually won over.  The talks were all pretty interesting to me, and there was a strong theme to the talks in nearly every session.  Best of all, conference was populated with other homeland security enthusiasts, so the questions asked during the talks were really insightful.  The audience questions quite often gave me even more to think about than the talks.

Since I am interested in both computation and homeland security, nearly all of the talks appealed to me.  Despite having a mere five tracks, I often had to make some tough choices between talks scheduled at the same time and missed more than a few talks that I wanted to see.

The five concurrent sessions were a nice contrast with the 75 concurrent sessions at at the INFORMS Annual Meeting.  Walking between buildings to session hop is not ideal.  When I started attending the INFORMS Annual Meeting, there were about 50 concurrent sessions, and all sessions fit within one convention center.  I have been hoping for the number tracks to be cut back, but they seem to grow every year.  But this tangent should really be its own post, so I’ll stop reflecting for now and come back to this theme later.

I would like to know if those who are less interested in homeland security enjoyed the ICS theme of homeland security as much as I did.  Given that many homeland security applications are ultimately aimed at managing risk, they have broad applicability beyond homeland security and even extreme events.  So I am not sure if the application was really all that limiting.

I hope not too many were deterred by the application focus.  Did you attend ICS?  If so, what did you think of the homeland security focus?

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