MTT Questions and Answers



Where does the symposium's funding come from?

    From you, geekoid!

    Virtually all the symposium's income is from (1) registration and (2) the trade show. After all, there isn't much else. The trade show has a separate organizer, with its own slew of subcontractors, and it's a big money-maker for them, as well. Companies that wish to exhibit their wares contract with that organizer, not the MTT, and the organizer deals with the convention center to put the show together. The whole thing is a formidable task; the steering committee could not do all this alone. 
    The combination of this huge, commercial venture with the technical one presents a real possibility of a conflict of interest: that the exhibitors might exert undue influence on the symposium. The symposium steering committee avoid this problem pretty well, however, and (with one exception, the first Hawaii symposium), the vendors have shown enough class not to try anything improper. Every year the trade show and the technical meetings are kept quite separate, both physically and organizationally. Except for the vendors' clear preference for certain locations, you'd have a hard time seeing any influence on the symposium from them.

What is the income from the symposium used for?

The symposium invariably runs a "surplus." (The MTT Society is nonprofit, so words like profit are no-nos.) The net income is the largest component of the MTT's annual revenues, so it's no surprise that the head of the Steering Committee is under a lot of pressure to control costs. Invariably, the symposium is budgeted for a modest surplus, but when the figures finally are in, it runs a huge surplus. As a result, the MTT is one of the richest societies in the IEEE. 

Does this have any subtle consequences?

No. Bizarre is a better word. Because it depends so strongly on symposium income, and keeps society dues very low, the MTT society actually loses money on every new member. The symposium subsidizes MTT  journals and other membership costs. Because of the emphasis on symposium income, the vendors at the trade show have an indirect influence on the choice of symposium location. All of this should disturb MTT members, especially the Adcom, but it doesn't seem to. 

Since the society is funded by the symposium, the people who pay registration fees also effectively subsidize the MTT. Employers fund the cost of membership for their competitors' employees. Consultants and independent practitioners fund the cost of their (perfectly affluent) colleagues' memberships. And so on. Is this unfair? Of course. Will it change? Never.

Why do people who organize functions like workshops have to pay to attend their own function?

The MTT establishment, if not the membership, have always prided themselves in being a fully volunteer organization. That means that the MTT Society doesn't pay for anything it can avoid, instead choosing to stick the nearest suckers with the bill and banking the income from their efforts.

In the past, even invited speakers had to pay their own registration fees, not to mention travel costs. In recent years, however, some speakers have been quietly supported, at least to some degree. The Steering Committee, for example, gets a number of free hotel rooms as part of the symposium's housing deal, and these are often offered to VIP attendees. I've never heard of airfare being provided, but I suspect it is done on occasion. Occasionally, Steering Committee members receive free registration in return for their hundreds of hours of work, but that doesn't always happen and when it does, it occasionally has been met with grumbling from the Adcom establishment.

Anyone trying to change this situation is hit immediately with the "gradualism argument": once you set a precedent by (openly) sponsoring, say, one invited speaker, everyone will expect it, and suddenly the Society will be forced to pay for every speaker at the symposium, will be run into the poorhouse, and general chaos and oblivion will result. This is, of course, complete nonsense, as the symposium already has a formal policy for determining who gets invited to dinners and receptions, who gets the good gifts, and so on. The hierarchy is already in place; it just needs to be extended in a reasonable manner to registration and travel support. 

Although it's difficult to justify charging workshop organizers to attend their own workshops, it seems legitimate to charge registration for paper presenters in workshops and regular technical sessions. There are two schools of thought on this: one states that such presenters are contributing the essential material of the symposium, and should not be charged to do it. The contrasting point states that the symposium is a venue for technical interchange, participants benefit by presenting a paper as much as by listening to one, and, after all, they attend other people's paper presentations. thus, all such participants should bear the costs. I agree with the latter point. Even so, in most years, workshop presenters have received free registration at their workshops, as long as they meet all deadlines. 


Making it

Who organizes the symposium?

The IMS Steering Committee, which consists of about 50 volunteers in the city where the symposium is held, does most of the work. The rest is done by paid contractors, but many of these must be hired annually by the committee members. A new committee is formed every year. The Steering Committee starts meeting several years ahead of the symposium date. It's a lot of time-consuming work, often made more difficult by political turmoil. Many people who have served on a steering committee swear that they will never do it again. 

But this is an IEEE Symposium! Doesn't the IEEE take part in organizing it? 

Depends what you mean by the IEEE. If you mean the IEEE headquarters staff, not really. If you mean the crew of volunteers, most (but not all!) of whom are IEEE members, then perhaps "The IEEE" does participate, in that sense. This point is frequently lost on ignorant clods who have a bad time at an IEEE symposium and complain about "bad organization by the IEEE." The IEEE does, however, have a conference management service, which provides some services to the steering committee. The idea is that the IEEE organization can negotiate better deals for things that all conferences use (hotels, bus transportation and such) than individual societies. (It's not clear, from the official MTT hotel rates, that it really works that way in practice.) But there's a big difference between organizing and providing specific services to the organizers. 

Who are the main contractors? 

The main contractor is the organizer of the trade show and registration. Since 2009, the organizer has been MP Associates. Many of the other tasks (for example, digest creation) have been done by the same companies for many years.

Many contractors must be hired anew every year: sign printing; tour company for the guest program, bus-transportation company, photographers, graphics for the logos, publicity, and so on. The members of the steering committee must arrange for these services. 

Why isn't the MTT "International" Microwave Symposium ever held outside the US?

It has been. In 1978, it was held in Ottawa. But in those days, the symposium fit into a couple of hotel conference rooms and had no trade show beyond a couple vendor booths in the lobby. It was a different era. In 2012, it was held in Montreal. This was a bit radical for the conservative MTT society, but it went well. The real question, however, is whether it will ever by held in Europe or Asia.

Today, it seems unlikely. A couple of reasons. First, the MTT Society, which is mostly US-based, would find it difficult to manage such a huge symposium overseas. An offshore symposium would also present great difficulties for the subcontractors who help to organize it and might create sticky legal issues. The second reason is money. The MTT society depends strongly on income from the symposium, which requires lots of attendees and, especially, a huge trade show. Depending on the location, the economics might be very different from the US, so obtaining the usual hefty surplus might be less certain. The greatest fear, almost certainly valid, is that the trade show or attendance would not be as large anywhere else. Finally, a non-US committe would have to propose a city and deal with all the problems involved. That has never happened and probably never will.

Moving the trade show to another country involves much more than just the logistics. Many of the booths are designed for US electricity and probably would have to be modified to meet fire and safety standards in many parts of Europe or Asia. Similarly, the convention centers in other countries have different rules for maximum booth heights, fire safety, and similar details. Many booths designed for the US would not meet these requirements without expensive modifications. 

It is true that some IEEE societies regularly hold their symposia outside the US. These conferences, however are much smaller and simpler. Few of these have any kind of a trade show, and often the whole conference fits easily into a couple hotel conference rooms. They're nothing like the IMS. 

The 2007 symposium was in Hawaii, the 50th symposium and the first time it was held outside the continental US. The decision on that location caused a near insurrection by a number of vendors. The unwashed masses with their torches and pitchforks were turned back by the palace guards on that occasion, but a similar insurrection could again be mounted. The next rebellion could have occurred in 2012, when symposium was held in Montreal (that's like, Canada!), but it seems that all went smoothly. Regardless of whether you consider Canada a foreign country, it really is one (trust me on this), and thus it qualifies as our first non-US location in recent years. The IMS will be held in Honolulu again in 2017, a testament to the 2007 success. 

How is the location chosen?

Every year, someone complains about the IMS location and asks why "The MTT" couldn't locate the IMS somewhere else. The answer, simply, is that it's not up to the MTT Adcom. 

Several years in advance, local MTT chapters submit proposals to hold the symposium in their cities. There are usually two or three proposals every year. At one of the Adcom meetings, the proposals are presented (usually with lots of support from the Chambers of Commerce in those cities!), and a location is selected by vote. The process is scrupulously fair; the proposers are not allowed to hear their competitors' presentations, and discussion and voting, by secret ballot, is held in the absence of the proposers. Although there are frequent complaints about the decision, there has never been a complaint, to my knowledge, about the process itself. The vendors and trade-show organizers do not participate directly in the decision process, but their preferences are well known and are certainly taken seriously by the Adcom members.

There are some unofficial rules for the location. Most importantly, the local committee must convince the Adcom that they are large and reliable enough to do the job. Another is that the symposium should alternate between the east and west coasts, with an occasional stop in the middle of the country. (Yes, in the past decade, that "rule" was pretty well shot to hell, but this is a consequence of few or inadequate proposals from other cities.) In the past, the symposium was frequently located in small cities like Albuquerque and St. Louis, which had little microwave industry. However, since the MTT Society depends so strongly on income from the symposium, the preferences of the vendors at the trade show are a major consideration. For this reason, the location is likely, in the future, to alternate between a few east-coast cities and a couple in the west, cities with substantial microwave industry. 

The most interesting development was the symposium in Hawaii in 2007. The Honolulu MTT chapter had to propose this a couple of times before it was accepted, and it represented a real experiment for the MTT Society. Apparently, it worked out well: a good, well organized, well attended symposium, with a decent "surplus," although with a little less attendance at the trade show. Could've done a lot worse, and, in fact, we have. After all, we're returning in 2017.

    Locations of Past and Future MTT Symposia

    Rating system for MTT cities:

         Good location; you'll have fun 
             Bring a good book and extra beer money 
                 Bring your wife, and she won't complain again when you want to go alone. 
              Need we say more? 

Some of these cities' ratings have changed since the last time the IMS was held there. We're not sure if that's from some change in the cities or some change in the rater. Deal with it. 

    2013: Seattle, Washington  
    2014: Tampa, Florida  
    2015: Phoenix, Arizona  

    2016: San Francisco, California  
    2017: Honolulu, Hawaii  
    2018: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania  
    : Boston, Massachusetts  
    2020: Los Angeles, California  
    2021: Atlanta, Georgia