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ICLR 2021 Area Chair Guide

Area Chairs play a critical role in curating the technical programme for ICLR. Use this as a resource for any questions related to your role as an Area Chair. You will also find useful information in Metareview Guide, Reviewer GuideCode of Ethics, and Code of Conduct. Please contact the Program Chairs via email ( with any questions or comments. Thank you for your contribution!

Timeline for ICLR 2020

  • Abstract Deadline: Mon, Sept 28, 2020, 8 am PDT (5 pm in Vienna, Austria)
  • Submission Deadline: Fri, Oct 2, 2020, 8 am PDT (5 pm in Vienna, Austria)
  • AC Bidding: Tues, Sept 29 to Fri, Oct 2
  • Check Assignments & Recommend Reviewers: Tues, Oct 6 to Thurs, Oct 8
  • Check Reviewer Fit: Mon, Oct 12 to Thur, Oct 16
  • Review Period: Mon, Oct 12 to Wed, Oct 28
  • Substitute Reviewing Period: Thurs, Oct 29 - Mon, Nov 9 
  • Review Release: Tues, Nov 10
  • Discussion Stage 1:  Tues, Nov 10 - Tues, Nov 17
    • Discussions among Reviewers/Authors/Public.
    • Anyone may post comments, but they must be logged in, and their names will be shown. Reviewers remain anonymous (R1, R2, etc.).
  • Discussion Stage 2 - Tues, Nov 17 - Tues, Nov 24
    • Discussions among authors, reviewers and AC.
    • Comments are all anonymous.
    • ACs encourage reviewers to acknowledge and respond to author responses. 
  • Discussion Stage 3 - Tues, Nov 24 - Mon, Nov 30
    • Discussions among reviewers and AC. 
    • Comments are all anonymous and not visible to authors.
  • Meta-review Period: Mon, Nov 30 - Fri, Dec 11 
    • No public comments allowed.
  • PC/AC Calibration Period: Fri, Dec 11 - Fri, Dec 18
  • Decision Notification: Thurs, Jan 14, 2021
  • Best Paper Selections: Subset of ACs will be asked to form a committee to select the best papers and mentions during January and February, 2021
  • Conference: May 4-8, 2021

Abstract Submission

This year, we added an abstract submission deadline. Having the abstracts a few days earlier will allow ACs to bid on the abstracts, recommend appropriate reviewers, and check the reviewer fit early in the reviewing period.

Code of Ethics 

This year, ICLR is adopting the new Code of Ethics which needs to be acknowledged and adhered to by all participants including authors and reviewers. If any submission, review, or discussion comments raise ethical concerns, please flag the problematic content and contact the Program Chairs. 

Multi-Stage Discussion

Similar to last year, the review process is designed to maximize discussions while clearly distinguishing the different stages of discussion. After the initial review period, during which each assigned reviewer is required to submit a formal review, there will be three stages of discussion. 

  • In the first stage (Public Discussion), anyone can post a comment on a submission. Authors may post any clarification anonymously, and the assigned reviewers and AC may post further comments. Public commentators can also participate and leave comments, but cannot do so anonymously, of which the decision was made to avoid any potential adverse behavior. 

  • In the second stage (Author/Reviewer/AC Discussion), the authors, assigned reviewers and AC are allowed to post their comments, while posts from the public will be blinded (they will eventually appear after the decision notifications are sent.) 

  • During the final review stage (Reviewer/AC Discussion) only the assigned reviewers and ACs discuss the merits of each submission. Discussions in this final stage remain private to the assigned reviewers and ACs, as well as the Program Chairs. 

This design of the three-stage discussion addresses the concerns that were raised during past iterations of ICLR. First, it clearly designates a fixed period over which authors are expected to respond to the reviewers', ACs’ and public’s comments, thereby removing the burden of non-stop commitment of several months on the authors. Second, by gradually reducing the size of participants toward a core set of decision makers (assigned reviewers and ACs), we facilitate the convergence of discussion toward the final decision. Lastly, each comment on a submission is marked with the stage in which it was made. This is expected to help ACs and PCs easily identify the maturity/stage of each comment, which in turn gives us a better ability to judge the merit and significance of these comments when making the final decision.

Additional Paper Assignments

We have substantially more Area Chairs for ICLR 2021 compared to previous years, which means your initial set of assignments is likely smaller. This is good news for all of us, as you can devote more of your time and efforts to the assigned submissions. However, we expect some conflicts and unforeseen circumstances that require us to re-assign some of the papers during the reviewing process. You can expect an additional small batch of papers to handle for discussions and metareviews starting from mid-October to mid-December. The later the re-assignment, the less time we expect you to devote to those submissions. We will, of course, ask you before these re-assignments are made.

Your Roles and Action Items

Reviewing Process Manager 

Your first role is to help the Program Chairs manage the reviewing process for the thousands of submissions we expect to receive. When you are assigned a batch of papers to handle based on your bids on the abstracts, please recommend a set of appropriate reviewers (you may skip this, and the reviewers will be assigned based on their bids only), and when some of those reviewers are delinquent or not responsive, please help us assign alternate reviewers in a timely manner so that every submission gets a chance to be judged fairly and expertly.

  • Bid on abstracts
  • Recommend reviewers
  • Identify delinquent reviews and assign alternate reviewers

Decision Maker

From the moment all papers are submitted, perhaps the most important role as AC is making decisions for the ICLR program. For every submission that goes through the reviewing process, please recommend whether it should be accepted or rejected. The recommendation should be accompanied by a metareview summarizing the reviews and the three stages of discussion, optionally adding your own view of the merits and limitations of the paper. The Program Chairs will actively engage in this decision making and help with the metareviews, so please do not hesitate to contact us if you find the need to discuss any submission assigned to you.

  • Flag papers for desk reject
  • Watch out for reviewers’ flags for Code of Ethics violations. For all papers flagged, collect information, make an informed recommendation, and provide any evidence obtained (e.g., from the paper, discussion with author and/or reviewers). Please note the AC recommendation will be non-binding, and any of the flagged papers may be passed to the Ethics board for further review
  • Write metareviews with recommendations for accept/reject

Discussion Moderator

Each submission is considered a forum on its own, and you as an AC has full responsibility in encouraging and moderating active discussions. When a submission does not receive enough attention that it deserves or requires, you should actively engage with the assigned reviewers as well as the authors and ask for clarification or argument. You should also “moderate” discussion by discouraging the participation in any discussion that is irrelevant to scientific claims and merits of a submission.

  • Encourage reviewers to respond to author rebuttals
  • Moderate the discussions so that they are not toxic and focus on the scientific merits, limitations, and clarifications
  • Identify any violations of Code of Ethics during the discussion phase

Discussion Participant

We have invited you to serve as an AC because of your expertise and reputation. In other words, your assessment of a submission is a critical factor behind the entire decision-making process, and we ask you to actively participate in discussions not only as a moderator but also as a scientific expert. You are encouraged to ask authors (as well as any other commentator of the submission including assigned reviewers) for clarification. In other words, please be an active participant in discussion.

  • Participate in discussions with your own view of the paper
  • Ask authors for clarifications when needed to understand and judge the contributions fairly

FAQ for ICLR 2021 Area Chairs

Q: How do the reviewers and ACs deal with the revisions of the paper during the discussion period?

A: The authors may revise their submission during the first two stages of discussion (Public Discussion Period and Author/Reviewer/AC Discussion Period,) but you reserve the right to ignore this revision if it is substantially different from the original version.

Q: When do we seek emergency/additional reviewers?

A: In two cases: 

  1. Assigned reviewers are unresponsive and are close to missing the deadline. 

  2. Additional reviews could improve the confidence in your recommendation. This is an important part of your responsibility, as we strive to provide timely feedback to the authors so that they can appropriately and fairly respond to these feedback. Especially if a review had not been submitted by the review deadline, immediately start looking for and recruiting an emergency reviewer. 

Q: How do we assign emergency/additional reviewers? 

A: When you find an emergency reviewer, you will be able to assign them to the paper using the links in   your AC console. If you struggle to find an emergency reviewer, please get in touch with us ( as soon as possible.

Q: How do we identify and respond to potential breaches of the Code of Ethics

A: All authors, reviewers, and Area Chairs must adhere to the Code of Ethics. If reviewers flag submissions, or if authors raise issues with reviewers/commenters, first carefully consider the facts of the situation, and if you find it is indeed problematic, please contact the Program Chairs.

Q: Are authors expected to cite and compare with very recent work? What about non peer-reviewed (e.g., ArXiv) papers?

A: We consider papers contemporaneous if they are published within the last two months. That means, since our full paper deadline is Oct 2, if a paper was published on or after Aug 2, 2020, authors are not required to compare their own work to that paper. Authors are encouraged to cite and discuss all relevant papers, but they may be excused for not knowing about papers not published in peer-reviewed conference proceedings or journals.