Making the Cut

It’s that time of year again: Abstract Review. And now that abstract submissions have been closed, everyone that works on the North American committee has been given an allotment of abstracts to review. How does this happen? How do we determine which abstracts make the cut and which don’t?

While many of you may feel like it’s a subjective process involving a headless chicken and Twister™ game mat, I can assure you it’s not that random. It’s actually a pretty detailed, resolved and time consuming process that involves three (yes three!) rounds of reviews.

The first round of reviews happened before the holiday and new years break. Every abstract has at least two reviewers. We’re expected to give each abstract careful consideration and then rank the abstract along a series of yes, no maybe questions. We’re also expected to give each abstract some thoughtful comments and suggestions. For example, a proposed lecture might make a really good lab. Or a couple of similar proposals might make a meaningful roundtable with contributions from each of the proposed lecturers.

The second round of reviews are online and consist of four GoToMeetings sessions. Each session is slated for 90 minutes, but we typically need more time – closer to two hours. Each of the abstracts are reviewed by the entire committee taking into consideration the previous input from the two reviewers. I recon that around 75% of submissions still end up going in the maybe or yes pile. Very few end up getting cut at this stage.

The final round of reviews is on site at the selected event venue. At this point the maybe and yes pile might still contain more than three times the number of required sessions. So it’s up to everyone to debate the merits of each abstract and fit them into a program that contains labs, lectures and roundtables made up of multiple disciplines, roles and interest. We’ve done this entirely digitally in the past (on a pretty tricked out spreadsheet) but then last year Desi Mackey had the great idea to assign different session types to different Post It Note colors and actually put them on a wall!

It’s great having engineers on the committee.

In the end, every abstract that’s rejected should have some thoughtful comments to whoever made the submission, rather than a boilerplate, “We regret to inform you…”. And many that are selected are given suggestions for improvement along the lines of, “Hey – we like this abstract, but thought it might make a better lecture than a round-table.”

Is there any guaranteed way to get selected? Nope.

Is there any guaranteed way to get rejected? Probably. We put a lot of work into making RTC successful and a lot of attendees, sponsors and exhibitors do too. They expect the best of the best at RTC. So how to you practically guarantee that your abstract will be rejected?

That’s easy! Get selected, agree to speak at RTC and cancel at the last minute without a serious, meaningful reason. And being really, really busy doesn’t count. Or print your PowerPoint as a handout. Or show up ill-prepared, cavalier and then proceed to almost deliberately underwhelm your entire class of professionals. None of these scenarios happen very often, but when it does word travels fast and our memories are long.

RTC is meant to be a lot of fun. But it’s fun because we prepare relentlessly and we expect our presenters to do the same. We take this really seriously. So seriously in fact that when one speaker told us he couldn’t present because of an impending court date, Wes wrote the judge and had the court date moved. :)

So good luck to everyone who submitted abstracts. About a month from now we’ll let you all know who’s made the cut and who hasn’t. If you don’t make the cut, remember that odds were not in your favor. And if you are fortunate enough to be selected, feel free to crow a little bit – we recon you’re the best of the best – but don’t crow too much. There’s a lot of work ahead. And remember, there’s a crowd of delegates nipping at your heels to make the cut next year!

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