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I've read the following in a description of a workshop:

We have about 15 participants and seek an “Oberwolfach style” with a relatively low density of talks.

I couldn't find anything about this style in Internet. But I found out that there is The Mathematical Research Institute of Oberwolfach, and according to Wikipedia

It organizes weekly workshops on diverse topics where mathematicians and scientists from all over the world come to do collaborative research.

But the sense of this “Oberwolfach style” is still vague to me.

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I've heard that in certain (mathematics) Oberwolfach meetings, there is no schedule of talks set up before the participants arrive. A schedule is essentially made up on the spot, and people just talk about what they're working on at the moment. (But I am but a grad student and this is just something I heard once, I have never been to Oberwolfach; it sounds pretty fun though!) –  Aru Ray Feb 6 at 19:48
    
@AruRay - I heard that only the speakers of the first day know that they will have to give a talk, while the other speakers are told a day in advance. –  Ana Feb 6 at 19:54
    
My advisor once told me that on the evening the participants arrived at Oberwolfach, the organizers asked for volunteers to speak on the following day (my advisor volunteered). Perhaps this varies from meeting to meeting? –  Aru Ray Feb 6 at 20:04
    
I also just remembered that apparently there is randomized assigned seating at meals (or maybe just dinners). –  Aru Ray Feb 6 at 20:04
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A blog post about the Oberwolfach experience: recursed.blogspot.com/2010/08/oberwolfach.html –  Joel Reyes Noche Feb 12 at 1:25

2 Answers 2

up vote 26 down vote accepted

This is indeed a reference to the Mathematisches Forschungsinstitut Oberwolfach (Oberwolfach Mathematics Research Institute), a conference center in the small German town of Oberwolfach.

The Institute has developed a rather idiosyncratic style of meetings. The most common events are weeklong workshops on specific topics, whose participants are invited by the organizers. Speakers are chosen from among the participants on just one or two days' notice. The talks are indeed relatively "low density", perhaps 4 or 5 x 45-minute talks per day, so not all participants will give talks. Long periods are left unscheduled to encourage informal discussion and collaboration.

The conference center is isolated and so most people don't leave the campus during the week. Participants are housed and fed onsite and meals are communal. As Aru says, there are also measures to "encourage" a more social atmosphere: seating is assigned and changes from meal to meal, and Internet access is not available in the guest rooms until 10pm or so.

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I should point out that this is also the "Dagstuhl" style and possibly even the "Bertinoro" style. It's certainly the "Barbados" style, and eventually might become the "Shonan" style. Yes these are all places that run this style of event. –  Suresh Feb 7 at 0:24
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I've been to Dagstuhl a few years ago. It is a nice secluded venue in the woods, focusing on computer science workshops; from what I remembered, socialization is encouraged, dinner seats are assigned randomly, but the seminar style is less extreme than what is described here. We did have a schedule. –  Federico Poloni Feb 7 at 7:33
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@Suresh I've been to Dagstuhl a few times (but not Oberwolfach). The meals, "isolation" and are similar at Dagstuhl to what has been described at Oberwolfach but, at the meetings I've been to, the talk schedule has been planned in advance and a little denser than described here, though still much less dense than a typical conference. Wifi is available all the time at Dagstuhl; frankly, I can't understand why anyone would want it blocked: these days, the internet is so important to research that blocking it is like forbidding writing at certain times of the day. –  David Richerby Feb 7 at 15:46
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@DavidRicherby: At Oberwolfach, wifi is always available in the common areas. It's blocked until 10pm only in the bedrooms, to discourage people from antisocially holing up in their rooms. –  Nate Eldredge Feb 7 at 16:02
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@DavidRicherby Nate Eldredge is only repeating the Oberwolfach point of view; he was not being sarcastic, or negative in any way. Oberwolfach's common area has some very open tables which are clearly meant by people who want to socialize and collaborate, but there are other areas (such as the library or the common areas in the library building) that are more isolated and still have wifi. Each institute is entitled to their views and opinions, and Oberwolfach is very successful, albeit different. –  user45756 Feb 8 at 15:37

I have been to Oberwolfach several times. Oberwolfach's schedule is something like two or three talks in the morning, followed by lunch and free time until around 3 or 4 (I don't remember exactly). Then they serve you cake, and you go to a couple of more talks before dinner.

As there is no wi-fi in your rooms (until 10pm or so -- new addition!) you are expected to socialize and discuss mathematics with your colleagues during the free time, which often leads to fruitful collaborations.

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