Student volunteers have become an essential part in the organization of CHI. They play a major role in executing structural tasks – especially during the conference. Among other things: we stuff your conference bags; hand out and check badges; show you where to find a paper session, restaurant, bathroom, your lost water bottle, etc; help set up nets for drones, build sculptures out of coke bottles and other exciting demos; also help figure out where is that missing paper presenter and why, oh why, isn’t the microphone working anymore? Along with many others, the student volunteers put A LOT of effort into helping CHI run smoothly.
SVs are also HCI researchers. Quite a few SVs already publish their research at CHI and have been attending conferences for a while. For others, CHI is a whole new experience, allowing them to see how research results are distributed and how the community interacts. In both cases, being an SV is an incredible opportunity to network with possible mentors, collaborators, and peers.
And here is the tricky bit: SVs are students! We are not trained event managers or AV technicians. We are volunteers and conference attendees. All SVs agree to an informal contract: in exchange for 20 hours of their time (many put in much more), the conference waives their registration fees and provides daily lunch and breakfast (a lot of tasks start as early as 6:30am, some go well through lunch, and others end as late as 8pm). SVs still have to pay for their own housing and transportation. Workshops and courses are not covered either.
In the scope of their 20 hours, SVs engage in plenty of tasks some of which are simple, while others require certain expertise or training. For this reason we need some people who have done the job before and can teach the job to the next generation of SVs. This is the basic concept: returning SVs show incoming SVs how tasks work, new students come up with new ideas on how to improve them.
And who are the SV chairs?
SV chairs are two senior SVs who have seen the process through multiple years of serving as SVs. The SV chair position is a two year commitment (one junior chair and one senior chair). This is because the CHI SV program is a beast. With 175 SVs each year, coordination with many conference chairs, multiple stakeholders with different needs, serving as SV chair for CHI requires SV experience and training in the role. The first year the junior SV chair observes, learns, and helps with organizational tasks. They learn how to operate chisv.org, how to address different types of requests, and how to manage an operation the size of a small startup.
Future SV chairs are selected based on their experience as SVs, their graduation timeline, and the specific needs of the conference that year. The current SV chairs consider several candidates and make a recommendation to the General Chairs of someone they are confident will do a good job in organizing the SV program for the coming years. Sometimes, when there are special needs the General Chairs of future CHIs are brought in earlier in this decision process, to ensure that the “rollover” SV Chair will be able to attend to those needs (e.g. locations where English is not as widely spoken or where cultural norms are significantly different).
As SV chairs, we invest more than 100 pre-conference hours planning SV tasks and ensuring the conference is adequately supported by the SV program. During the conference we spend the majority the conference managing and addressing incoming requests. If you would like to be a future SV chair, make sure you are a SV at CHI (and other conferences as well), have higher responsibilities tasks (volunteer for them!), and that you let us know that you are interested. Every year we go through the process of picking a new junior chair and that person can be you!