Birds of a Feather Sessions at ESEC/FSE

Have you a particular subject you want to discuss? Perhaps there’s a new area you’d like to learn about and you’re wondering how to start?  Or maybe it’s just that there’s a time when none of the sessions are in the slightest bit relevant to you, and you want something interesting to fill the gap?

Then why not organize a Birds of a Feather session? A ‘BoF’ is an event you run yourself: you decide the topic, invite people to come, and arrange the format. We, the conference organizers, provide room space, encouragement, and help publicising it.

It’s easy – anyone can do it! Whether you’re a senior professor or a new grad student, we encourage you to go ahead and create a BoF. All you need to do is:

  • Decide a topic
  • Write a short description of the session to encourage people to attend
  • Fix a time and location (you can book rooms here),
  • Tell people about it by Tweeting and emailing the BoF Coordinator
  • Turn up, arrange the furniture, and run the discussion
Picture Credits: Sebastiann ter Burg, Utrecht, The Netherlands

The easiest way to run a session is to choose a well-known format. We give three later on this page – Goldfish Bowl, Lean Coffee and Presenter-discussion – which are all very successful ways to run impromptu sessions. It’s worth thinking a bit about timing; you want to choose a time when as many of the people you want will come, so it would be good to avoid the time of a plenary or a paper session on the same subject!

You can put your short BoF description on your own website, or put it on the Google Document here.

To book a room, fill in the entry in the spreadsheet here.

There’s at least one BoF already set up on the sheet – take a look. And why not cajole a couple of colleagues to come along, to be sure of a discussion!

We’d encourage you to produce a very short summary of the session and what you learned. If you post it as a blog, public Facebook or LinkedIn post, then do share it to the conference as well – using Twitter with tag #esecfse

If you have questions, or want some support, drop a line or speak to Charles, the BoF Coordinator .

Session Formats

Here are three suggested formats for sessions. They’re here to help you: use one, or a combination, or do something else altogether, as you prefer.

Format: Goldfish Bowl

This is a structured discussion; it works very well as a way to find out about a new topic. Arrange the chairs with a large outer circle facing inwards, and a smaller inner circle of four or five chairs inside, facing each other. Everyone sits on the outer chairs. There are two rules for the session:

  • Only people on the inner chairs may speak
  • One of the inner chairs is always empty (so if someone new takes that chair, one of the others must go back to their seat in the outer circle)

To start the session, have a couple of people with something to say sit on an inner chair and start a conversation. When someone wants to contribute, they have to move to the inner circle; when they’ve no more to say (or others want to speak) they’ll move back out again.

We recommend keeping brief notes of what’s said, perhaps on a flipchart or an ipad.

Format: Lean Coffee

This is a good format for discussion on different topics set by the participants.

Set out tables and chairs so that participants can all see and talk to each other. To start the session, each participant writes down on a post-it note or scrap of paper something they’d like to discuss – related to the session topic, of course. The organiser collects up all the notes, reads them out (or puts them on a board), and then invites a show of hands for who’s interested in each one. The group then discusses the most popular topic. After about five minutes, the organizer asks if people want to continue discussing, and the participants give a ‘thumbs up’, ‘thumbs down’, or ‘shrug’ response; if a majority want to continue, the discussion goes on for another five minutes. Then the organizer takes the next most popular topic, and so on. Everyone learns, and the process ensures the topic is always fresh.

There’s a whole ‘Lean Coffee’ culture in some places. Take a look here.

Format: Presentation with Discussion

This is useful when you have a few people with some ideas and perhaps even papers that haven’t yet been peer accepted.

You have three or four ‘presenters’. Each gives a brief (perhaps 7 minutes) talk to the group about their topic or paper.  

Then each presenter goes to a different corner of the room, and the other participants chose which topic interests them most, and goes to join the appropriate presenter to discuss their topic. The result is four (or so) different conversations based on a presentation, which can lead to some interesting findings.