PLMW @ ICFP 2021

Aug 6, 2021

This year, Lindsey Kuper and I are co-chairing the Programming Languages Mentoring Workshop (PLMW) at ICFP 2021. The deadline to apply is August 8th, right around the corner.

If you’re someone that is curious about a career in a Programming Language-related field (whether that takes the form of attending graduate school, working in an industrial research lab, working on compilers/dev tools, or working in academia) I’d like to make a case for you to attend PLMW.

Many have made plenty of compelling cases before: Lindsey has a great post regarding last year’s event and many of those same points apply to this year’s iteration.

My case is slightly different than many of the discussions I’ve seen online, but before I get to it, I should state that my premise is based on the idea that research is a social process and activity. If you disagree with this premise, then I doubt you’ll be convinced by this post.

Good Research is Good Communication

Many of us pursue research ideas because we find them interesting or important or both (when the planets align). While it’s becoming more and more rare, it’s possible that a work of research is carried out alone by an individual and written up by that same individual. Once that paper is submitted though, the work leaves the realm of the individual and gets thrust into the sometimes arcane set of social processes, norms, and conventions of peer review. You are no longer a lone researcher exploring the wilderness of ideas, you have made your journey and now you must communicate what you’ve seen. This is hard.

Communicating ideas, particularly new ideas, is made more difficult when we don’t know who we are communicating with. By ‘who’ I don’t mean their identity, necessarily, but their general context and mental map of the world. As such, it’s important for researchers to attain a good working model of how their peers go about their work, what their peers find interesting, and what problems their peers are facing.

In programming languages we do this in several ways, but in my opinion the main two methods are:

  1. Reading Papers written by our peers
  2. Talking with our peers, directly

Conferences (or workshops, etc.) are great for the latter, especially if you already have a good mental map of who works on what and what the current techniques are. But if you’re trying to build that mental map, conferences can be quite intimidating!

PLMW as Map Making

In my view, PLMW is an on-ramp for making these mental maps of the community. No workshop will be able to just provide you with a fully up-to-date social graph of the community – everyone’s would be different anyway – but PLMW is designed to be a way for incipient researchers (and those curious about the field) to

All of these topics involve social processes in some way, most do so directly.

We will also have small-group mentoring meetings so that you can ask more senior community members questions about doing work in the field, they are there to help you build your own map, so asking questions like “I’m interested in X, are there people/groups/etc. that look into X?”, or “I tried reading a paper on Y but I couldn’t understand it, what should look into in order to get the most out of that paper?” is the whole point!

PLMW may not be necessary for you, I won’t claim it’s necessary to attend PLMW, but everyone is welcome.


  1. I personally know very little about Metatheory, so I’m very excited to learn from Brigitte on this topic!