I have a paper selected in a very prestigious conference in our field. Is it appropriate if I ask the contact person that I am interested in chairing any conference session? Note that I am a Ph.D. student as of now and not a faculty member or qualified Ph.D. doctor.

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    Why do you want to chair a session? – David Ketcheson Oct 18 '18 at 6:07
  • (i) I believe it will look good on my CV later in the future, (ii) It will give me the confidence to stand among good researchers in the room. – Sjaffry Oct 18 '18 at 6:08
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    I think you've been misled. I have never seen anyone list "chaired a session at conference X" on their CV, and I would literally laugh out loud if I did. Your reason (ii) could make sense. – David Ketcheson Oct 18 '18 at 6:10
  • @DavidKetcheson This most likely will vary among institutions, but at a PhD student level such an entry in a CV might be beneficial in some circumstances (e.g., internal rankings, faculty scholarships/awards etc.). In later stages of career rather not, I agree. – user68958 Oct 18 '18 at 11:13

Yes, it's okay to volunteer to chair a session, but there is not a lot of benefit to it and you might be turned down. People may see it as unusual, since it's not a prestigious job (certainly nothing to list on your CV).

It's important to have a chair who can keep the session running on time, provide appropriate introductions, and sometimes ask a question if there are no questions forthcoming from the audience. These are fairly easy tasks, but if I was organizing the conference and I didn't know you, I probably wouldn't agree to let you chair since I don't know how capable you are in these regards.

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    Also, I can't remember ever seeing a PhD student chair a conference session. Usually, you want someone with at least some degree of seniority (at least a postdoc). – Roland Oct 18 '18 at 6:58
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    In those (computer science) conferences I know, the PC chairs typically ask members of the program committee to volunteer as session chairs. If there are not enough PC members present during the conference, the PC chairs will ask other participants whom they assume to be sufficiently familiar with the topics of the session. They will certainly not ask a random PhD student whom they don't know. – Uwe Oct 18 '18 at 12:28
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    For a very junior person, chairing a session could be significant service item to put on their CV, actually. But conversely, somebody who is only a student is very unlikely to get to serve as a session chair. – Buzz Oct 19 '18 at 1:35

You need to be able to stand up and stop big shots from talking if they exceed their time. I have seen chairs turning the mic off for people overrunning their time. Do you want to be the one shutting up some big guy?

Plus, you should think of questions to ask for every talk in your session, to avoid silent embarrassment after the talk if nobody else asks questions. There are cool talks where this is easy, but for some tedious ones this can be like squeezing blood from a stone.

I should say, it's a bit like in the army: if you are asked to chair, do it without making a fuss, but don't volunteer...

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    +1 to "Do you want to be the one shutting up some big guy?" For someone still in their early-stage career, this can be really really bad. Good point! – Pioneer83 Oct 19 '18 at 1:54

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