The AIM-style workshop

AIM has developed a particular approach to mathematics research workshops. This has been developed by trial-and-error over the course of more than 100 workshops. The approach is intended as an alternative, not a replacement, to the organization of workshops held at other centers.

The daily schedule: There are two talks each day: both are in the morning, with a long break in between. The lunch break is for two hours, beginning whenever the second talk ends. The presentations are intended to be informal, with lots of questions and answers during the talks. Moreover, the talks tend to be introductory or expository, serving as preparation for the afternoon activities; they usually are not about "my latest big theorem."

No talks are scheduled for the afternoons. Afternoons are devoted to organized group activities. This could involve a large group discussion or breaking into smaller discussion groups. Typically, Monday afternoon discussions involve the entire group discussing possible activities for the week, or preparing a problem list, or making a list of basic notions which will help people from different areas to better communicate.

The participants typically break into 4 or 5 groups to work on specific topics of interest. Example topics include: understanding the details of a difficult proof or construction, discussing possible approaches to a problem, an "ask the expert" session, or beginning work on a problem which will continue long after the workshop ends. Each group gives a brief report to the entire workshop at the beginning of the next afternoon. Some group topics are repeated multiple times during the week, while others convene only once.

The AIM staff works with the organizers to determine an appropriate mechanism for selecting topics so that everyone has a group which interests them, but with a minimum of overlap so that people don't miss out on a topic of particular interest. In some cases the organizers prepare a list of topics, and in others the entire group has a long discussion leading to a selection of group topics.

The weekly schedule: Workshops run Monday-Friday, 9:00am to 5:00pm each day, with a 1 1/2-hour lunch break. Breakfast is served every day at 8:30 (coffee is available earlier) and the days end with "happy hour." There are no afternoons off.

The planning: Only the first 5 or 6 talks are determined in advance, and that decision is made about a month before the workshop. No other scheduling decisions are made prior to the workshop. The afternoon activities are determined in the late morning or during lunch each day, and the speakers on Wednesday - Friday are only decided one or two days in advance. Because of its fluid nature, each day's schedule is first announced during the previous afternoon.

The facility: The current AIM site has a large central room with library, food, and sitting areas; the main lecture space is at one end. Offices and seminar rooms come directly off the main room. The lecture area has two large whiteboards, overhead projectors, and a computer projector. There is wireless Internet throughout the facility, and a small number of public computers, copiers, and printers. The main room and the seminar rooms can accommodate up to 6 simultaneous working groups of various sizes.

The logistics: The AIM staff works with the organizers on all aspects of the workshop planning and preparation. This includes the development of the participant list, preparation of lead-in materials, and planning the workshop activities. Many organizers have little previous experience with this style of workshop (particularly the fact that the schedule is not pre-determined, but developed as the workshop unfolds), so the AIM staff works closely with the organizers both before and during the workshop. The administrative logistics, such as sending invitations, keeping track of who has accepted or declined, etc., are handled by the AIM staff.