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I have received an e-mail inviting me to join the program committee (PC) of a well-established and renowned conference in computer science. The e-mail looks genuine, based on the sender address and the links provided to accept the invitation.

However, I do not directly know the guy writing to me (though he seems to be a respectable researcher, after I googled his name), and the e-mail is not tailored at all on my profile: it looks automatically generated, and does not specify at all why they chose me.

Is that normal, or should that ring some bells?

Thanks in advance.

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    They may have heard your name at a conference, saw you presenting, read one of your paper, know your co-author… This seems pretty normal to me (they just entered your email in the conference management system), but you can always write back to ask for clarifications. I don't think the invitations ever say why you are being picked (not to my knowledge, in any case).
    – Clément
    Jan 9, 2020 at 17:17
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    @Clément: thank you for your useful comment. Which looks more like an answer, btw :)
    – anon
    Jan 9, 2020 at 17:18
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    Sounds perfectly normal to me, assuming the conference is something related to your own area of expertise (something in which you have published or you might reasonably want to publish). Jan 9, 2020 at 17:31
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    That's really normal. Regarding the question why they selected you, also check if there's any other program (co-)chair involved, or if you know someone on the steering committee personally. Jan 9, 2020 at 17:36
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    Another possibility: Your advisor or another mentor declined their invitation and recommended to invite you instead. Jan 9, 2020 at 17:43

2 Answers 2

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If your alarm bells are ringing, but the offered position is attractive, then there are ways to check it out without causing problems.

Example: The person who's name is on this invite will have contact information outside this particular email. A phone number or email that you don't get from this email, for example, but from their institution or some such. That way, if the email is not legit you are not going through the channel it has provided. Contact that person using that independent contact info. The approach could be something like so:

Hello well-known-person-running-a-conference. I have received this email inviting me to join the PC for well-known-conference. What would be involved? How much time and effort is expected to be required? What other requirements are there?

Then if the person responds with ready information you can simply decide if the amount of work is acceptable. If they respond with "who are you and how did you get my name?" then possibly the original email is not so legit.

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    I'd replace What would be involved? How much time and effort is expected to be required? What other requirements are there? with How many papers would I be expected to review?, perhaps keeping What other requirements are there? (The OP should know the first answer and no one can answer the second, so I wouldn't ask them.)
    – user2768
    Jan 10, 2020 at 9:48
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    I take the comment as friendly and gave it thumbs-up. But, it's not necessarily the case that somebody on the PC reviews papers. They might do. But there are lots of things that people on the PC might be doing. The PC for such a convention have a wide range of tasks they must accomplish. As to time expectations, there better be some basic estimates of this, or joining up is a blank check.
    – puppetsock
    Jan 10, 2020 at 14:33
  • I've never encountered a PC that didn't require reviewing. The non-reviewing roles I've encountered are given a different title. I'm surprised to learn disciplines vary in this way! Thanks for your comment.
    – user2768
    Jan 10, 2020 at 16:12
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Is that normal, or should that ring some bells?

It is normal to have

received an e-mail inviting me to join the program committee 

even better that it is for

a well-established and renowned conference

and that it

looks genuine

Personally, I would have already accepted the invitation.

However, I do not directly know the guy writing to me

That's normal, you can't know everyone directly. Given that the conference is well-established and renowned, you should expect to find he seems to be a respectable researcher, after I googled his name.

[T]he e-mail is not tailored at all on my profile [and] does not specify at all why they chose me

I'm not surprised, it most likely was automatically generated. Hand-crafting individual PC invitations is time-consuming and not really necessary, IMO.

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    This is no good advice nowadays. The looks and content of an email can be misleading. I get so many invitations to conferences and offers to join program committees or similar, so yes, it is very common. But I am very sure that most of it is fake or phishing. Some emails look very good though, and a successful phishing attempt can cause a lot of trouble. I therefore would follow @puppetsock's more distrustful advice and check by some way independent of the invitation email that the message is genuine. It does not even cause more work. Jan 10, 2020 at 9:35
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    @Alexander I've never fallen for a fake or phishing, they are largely obvious. puppetsock's approach is time-consuming, for multiple parties, and seems unnecessary. The OP mentions links were provided to accept - these are typically easily verifiable
    – user2768
    Jan 10, 2020 at 9:46
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    Agreed: if the URL of the link is actually on either the conference domain or a well-known provider (CMT, EasyChair, ...), you should be fine, and there's not enough risk that it's phishing to waste people's time by verifying out of band imo.
    – Danica
    Jan 10, 2020 at 17:23

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