Image by Jon Tyson (via Unsplash).

In case you were wondering: no, it’s not that comfy to be an actual area chair, though you might get to enjoy a lot of reading!

What is an area chair?

Area chairs (AC) are volunteer service positions at academic conferences (or large workshops) that are tasked with overseeing a small part of the peer review process. These positions are typically associated with an area of expertise for the chairperson, thus the name.

Despite the word “chair” in the name, in large academic conferences today there are often a large number of area chairs to share the responsibility of making sure thousands of papers are properly reviewed in time. Some conferences have introduced the role of senior area chairs in recent years, which are usually filled by seasoned researchers, to provide better uniformity in review outcome by aggregating information from area chairs. At the very top, a conference is usually run by a few program chairs and general chairs that are responsible for steering the conference and making sure every aspect of it happens as smoothly as possible (see Jason Eisner’s post for more details about what a program chair does – spoiler alert: it involves great power and great responsibility).

In short, program chairs and general chairs oversee the entire review process via senior area chairs among other conference logistics; senior ACs gather information from ACs, who in turn are responsible for direct interactions with reviewers on individual papers.

To the best of my knowledge, none of the chairpersons actually receives a piece of comfortable furniture for doing what they do.

What does an area chair do?

In short, everything that directly interacts with authors, papers, and reviewers in the review proccess.

If you search for “what does an area chair do”, the first few results will typically contain the following responsibilities, which vary slightly from event to event (sources: WIFS 2017, CVPR 2013, NeurIPS 2018):

In a typical conference, an AC will oversee 10-20 submissions, and most of the work is concentrated within a small window of a few weeks, when they are expected to be highly responsive.

What does an area chair actually do?

If you are still reading to this point, you are probably like my wide-eyed self a few months back, wondering what life will be like after you’ve earned the degree you have worked years towards, especially what “growing in seniority” in the academic world looks like.

The list of responsibilities give you a rough sense of what is going to happen, and turns out to be quite accurate. However, I find it insufficient in preparing aspiring ACs for how to best do their job, and what to expect in the process, which is usually expected to be picked up on the job.

In the interest of transparency and to save future ACs and SACs the last-minute scramble, I’d like to share some of my personal experience about what things look like in terms of actual work done.


Seeing that the post is already growing a lot longer than I had anticipated, I thought I would end with some short but concrete takeaways for future reviewers, ACs, SACs, and program chairs to consider.

Overall, I am excited to have had the opportunity to serve as an area chair, and to be able to share my experience that hopefully helps others. I am also encouraged that the field is actively taking measures to improve the review process (shout out to ACLRollingReview). Can’t wait to see how we can collectively improve the reviewing/publishing process in the next few months/years!