In the last few months, the conferences I’ve attended have been on the extremes in terms of sizes. A few small targeted workshops (like NEGT, which I blogged about), and a few massive conferences (CDC & INFORMS). The contrast made me realize that I get very different things out of these two types of venues.
In particular, for me, there is a clear relationship between the number of talks I go to and the size of the conference.
There is a clear peak in the number of talks I attend around the size of a smallish single or double track conference… When there are 30-40 talks and 100-200 people, it seems that I end up spending most of my time actually in the talks, whereas in these massive mega-conferences like CDC and INFORMS, where there are 50+ parallel tracks, I end up spending almost no time in talks, and instead end up spending all of my time in the halls chatting/working with people. CDC this year was an extreme case for me — I ended up scheduling meetings with collaborators and prospective students/postdocs nearly all day every day, so I only managed to make it to ~1 talk per day! (Hence the lack of a “Report from CDC” blog post.)