My preprint on surgical debridement and robot calibration was accepted to the 2018 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA). It’s in Brisbane, Australia, which means I’ll be going to Australia for the second time in less than a year — last August, I went to Sydney for UAI 2017.

I’m excited about this opportunity and look forward to traveling to Brisbane in May. (That is, assuming Berkeley’s Disabled Students’ Program isn’t as slow as they were in August, but never mind.) I have already booked my travel reservations and registered for the conference.

Everyone knows that long-haul international travel is expensive, but what might not be clear to those outside academia is that conference registration fees can be just as high as those airfare fees. For ICRA, the cost of my registration came to be 1,171.36 AUD before taxes, and 1,275.00 AUD with taxes. That corresponds to 1,033.94 in US dollars. Ouch.

Fortunately, I’m going to get reimbursed, since Berkeley professors are not short on money, but I still wish that costs could be lower. The breakdown was: 31.36 AUD for a hotel deposit (I’ll pay the full hotel fees when I arrive in May), 600 AUD for the early-bird IEEE student membership registration, 100 AUD for the workshops/tutorials, and 440 AUD for the two extra page charge.

Wait, what was the last one?

Ah, I should clarify. The policy of ICRA, and for many IEEE conferences at that (hence the title of this blog post), is the following:

Papers to ICRA can be submitted through two channels:

  1. To ICRA. Six pages in standard ICRA format and a maximum of two additional pages can be purchased.
  2. To the IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters (RA-L) journal, and tick the option for presentation at ICRA. Six pages in standard ICRA format are allowed for each paper, including figures and references, but a maximum of two additional pages can be purchased. Details are provided on the RA-L webpage and FAQ.

All papers are submitted in PDF format and the page count is inclusive of figures and references. We strongly encourage authors to submit a video clip to complement the submission. Papers hosted on arXiv may be submitted to ICRA.

So, in short, we can have six pages, and can purchase two extra pages if needed.

This makes no sense.

Is it because of printing costs associated with the proceedings? It shouldn’t be. The proceedings, as far as I know, are those enormous books that concatenate all the papers from a conference.

They are also worthless and should never be printed outside of maybe one or two historical copies for IEEE’s book archives. No one should read directly from them. Who has the time? Academics are judged based on the papers they produce, not the papers they consume. This year, ICRA alone accepted 1030 papers (!!). Yes, over a thousand. It makes no sense to browse proceedings to search for a paper; just type in a search query on Google Scholar. If you think you might be missing a gem somewhere in the proceedings, I wouldn’t worry. Good papers will make themselves known eventually through word of mouth. They also tend to be widely accessible to all, such as being available on arXiv rather than being stuck behind an IEEE paywall. Most universities have IEEE subscriptions so it’s not generally a problem to download IEEE papers for free, but it’s still a bit of an unnecessary nuisance.

Speaking of arXiv, perhaps IEEE doesn’t follow a similar model due to hosting costs? That doesn’t seem like a good rationale, and in particular it doesn’t justify the steep jump in price from 6 to 8 pages. Why not have pages 1 through 6 charged accordingly? Or simply make the charge based on file size instead of page size, while obviously keeping a hard page limit to alleviate the load on reviewers. There seem to be way more rational price structures than the 220 AUD each for pages 7 and 8.

It seems like ICRA organizers would prefer to see 6 page papers, yet the problem is that everyone knows that if you allow 8 pages, then that becomes the effective lower bound on paper length. An 8-page paper has a better chance of being accepted to ICRA than a 7-page paper, which in turn has odds over a 6-page paper. And so on. Indeed, if you look at ICRA papers nowadays, the vast majority hit the 8 page limit, many with barely a line to spare (such as my paper!). The trend is possibly even more pronounced with ICML, NIPS, and other AI conferences, from my anecdotal experience reading those papers.

Such a cost structure might needlessly disadvantage students and authors from schools without the money to easily pay the over-length fees. This is further exacerbated by ICRA’s single-blind policy, where reviewers can see the names of authors and thus be influenced by research fame and school institution name.

In short, I’m not a fan of the two-page extra charge, and I would suggest that ICRA (and similar IEEE-based conferences) switch to a simple, hard, 8-page limit for papers. In addition, I would also like to see all accepted papers freely available for download in an arXiv-style format. If hosting costs are a burden, a more rational price structure would be to slightly increase the conference registration fees, or encourage authors to upload their papers on arXiv in lieu of being hosted by ICRA.

To be clear, I’m still extremely excited about attending ICRA, and I’m grateful to IEEE for organizing what I’ve heard is the preeminent conference on robotics. I just wish that they were a little bit clearer on why they have this two-page extra charge policy.