My first ML Conference
My experience attending ICML 2022
I’m excited to attend ICML 2022! Unfortunately I’m not presenting this year (hopefully in the future), but since Baltimore is just 3 hours away from New York I thought I’d give it a shot. The student registration fees this year was $400, but I took advantage of the student volunteer programme which reimburses the registration fees if you agree to volunteer during the conference. I think it’s a great deal to save on some costs!
The first day of ICML 2022 was an expo day. This is when industry professionals talk about their projects and showcase their demos. This year, for example, there was a demo by Apple about customizing hand gestures on the Apple Watch. You could try the demo yourself, and ask any questions that you have in mind. You should also take this day to get a hang of the venue and form a mental map of all the rooms.
The first day is also the best time to interact with industry professionals. You can visit their booths and talk about a plethora of things. Ask about what they do, the work that they’re presenting at the conference, any cool demos that they might have, or if you’re out of ideas, just talk about the recruitment process. Some companies hire specially through these conferences, so you have more visibility if you register for recruitment.
If you get to talk to engineering managers, that’s great. If not, you can always speak to a recruiter. Also make sure to ask about any parties (officially called ’networking events’) that these companies might be hosting. They are a great way to interact with people from the industry in a more casual setting. Finally, don’t forget to exchange contacts and ask for any free goodies that the booths might have to offer!
The next day of the conference was dedicated to tutorials. Nothing that you can’t watch online, but it’s always best to go up to the speaker to ask quesitons and have them answered right away. I felt like this was the best way to learn about new research about the area that you’re interested in, primarily because of the format. The tutorial sessions involve a long talk by the speakers, and they often take this opportunity to talk about multiple related papers while connecting the dots. This lets you have a bird’s eye view of the research area, while also getting a high level overview of the papers involved. Often research is about pushing the boundaries ever so slightly, so it’s easy to forget about the big picture. Tutorials are a great way to stay on track.
The next three days were dedicated to the main conference. Each day used to start with an invited talk of around 1 hour, followed by three sessions of 1.5 hours each. There were around 10 sessions in parallel with each session being a mix of spotlight and oral presentations. There were 10-15 spotlight presentations of 5 minutes each, and 1-2 oral presentations of 20 minutes each. Yes, that is way too much to digest.
For this reason I’d say it’s best to come prepared beforehand. Look at the list of papers and skim through any important ones. This way you’ll know what to look for. The day wrapped up by a 2 hour poster session in the evening, which is a great opportunity to interact with the authors and ask any questions that you might have since the spotlight talks don’t allow for Q&A due to time constraints.
The last two days of the conference were dedicated to workshops. Here again, there can be 15-20 workshops in parallel, so you really need to plan beforehand. Each session was a mix of invited talks and poster sessions. Unlike the poster sessions of the main conference which were located in a common hall for a mere 2 hours, the workshops were held in separate rooms where you had a more relaxed space to interact with the authors and speakers for as long as you like. Some workshops also included panel discussions.
As someone who’s attending the conference for the first time, the sheer scale of the event can be a bit daunting. There are distinguished people from all over the world, and it’s very easy to feel out of place. I did not know what to look out for. However, now that I did attend ICML, here are the main takeaways:
The conference is primarily a venue to network. The sessions are recorded and you can revisit them anytime, but the one opportunity to speak with your potential advisor, manager, or collaborator and have spontaneous conversations can be a turning point in your career.
Every day there will be multiple sessions going on in parallel so I would highly recommend to plan beforehand. Go through the schedule and mark any important sessions that you don’t want to miss.
If you’re looking for industry opportunities, try getting an invite to the networking events. Passes are limited so it’s imperative to act quick, preferrably on the first day of the conference.
If you’re looking for collaborators, go through the schedule to know when and where to find them.
Poster sessions are arguably the best way to talk to the authors so make sure you don’t miss them. Workshops are also a good way to interact with speakers in a more intimate setting.
If you are yet to attend an ML conference, I hope you got some insights about navigating through your first conference. If you’ve already attended one, I would love to hear your thoughts. Cheers!