PL Seminar, Jr.

The PL Seminar, Jr. is a seminar where junior Ph.D. students, M.S. students, and others new to the area can discuss the study of programming languages. This seminar is not intended to replace the main PL Seminar, but we hope that it can augment that by providing a place where junior students can discuss topics and ask questions at a pace better suited to our level of knowledge.

Visit the wiki page to view the current schedule.

The subject matter for this seminar is much the same as with the main seminar. Topics include the following:

  • Design and analysis of programming languages: syntax, semantics, and pragmatics (i.e., how do you use a language feature in real programs?)
  • Implementation of programming languages
  • Program development, both large and small
  • Programming pedagogy
  • Programming tools and environments
  • and anything else that catches our interest.

However, we will not restrict ourselves to current research. Indeed, we intend to focus, at least initially, on older papers, textbook chapters, and surveys.

Mailing list

There is a low-traffic mailing list for this seminar at To subscribe or see more details about the list, visit the list's main page.

The list is primarily for announcements about the seminar, although it is also available for discussion of topics covered in presentations and suggestions for future topics.

Why PL Seminar, Jr.?

In many ways, the existing PL Seminar doesn't serve junior students well. For us, it is intended to provide an environment where we can go to listen to current research. While nobody expects us to understand the entire presentation, or even most of it, we would ideally be able to say, “I didn't understand that, but it sounded really neat.” By and large, that hasn't happened, for a number of reasons:

  • For many of us, once our level of comprehension drops below a certain threshold, we tend to get frustrated and tune out. It's very difficult to say that something sounds interesting when you don't even feel like you understand the language.
  • The discussion environment isn't really helpful to junior students. The questions from the audience are typically research-oriented; often, a great deal of background knowledge is required to follow the ensuing discussions.
  • To overuse a metaphor, the bandwidth available for discussion tends to be filled by a relatively small number of people; it's often difficult for a junior student to get a word in edgewise.

Seminar Culture

For this seminar to be as useful as possible to junior PL students, it is important that we establish the right sort of “seminar culture.” This is, of course, something that is hard to describe exactly, and it will shift and evolve constantly anyway. However, there are some guidelines that we feel are critical for what we are trying to accomplish:

  • People should come to this seminar who are willing to learn and to help others learn. They should not come in order to demonstrate how much smarter they are than everyone else just because they know so much more about a specific topic.

    In short, egos and condescension are not welcome.

  • Active listening is encouraged. Ask questions! In particular, while research questions are of course welcome, basic comprehension questions are especially encouraged. If you don't understand something, or if you don't believe a step in a proof, please ask!
  • An important corollary: no question is too stupid to ask. This places an obligation on other members of the seminar: rather than express frustration at the basic nature of a question, look at it as an opportunity to practice your skills in explaining things to other people.
  • Of course, while active listening is a good thing, we want to avoid having a few people fill the communications channel. So, please be considerate of the other people present and allow them to ask questions and join the discussions as well.

Anyone who attends the seminar may propose a topic; we'll solicit volunteers to present a paper or a survey of the area. If someone present is familiar with the subject, we'll likely ask them to do the presentation, or at least suggest good papers on the area. Prof. Wand has offered his support in suggesting papers if no one present is familiar with the topic; I'm sure the other PL faculty would be willing to help out as well. We expect that most of the presenters will be junior PL students, although outside presentations are welcome.

Contact Information

For more information, contact Vincent St-Amour at "stamourv at ccs dot neu dot edu".

Last updated: Jan 13, 2010