How to organize a research hackathon

How to organize a research hackathon

Organizing a hackathon can bring a unique and exciting energy to people interested in AI safety research! This post summarizes how you can organize a successful hackathon.

May 20, 2024

A hackathon location is a local in-person event for the Apart hackathons. It allows your local community of researchers, engineers, and students to connect while investigating the most impactful questions of our time! We deal with all the tough parts of hosting a hackathon and you just connect the people and set up a location.

Some of the things we provide are:

  • The topic for the weekend
  • Material for people to get up to speed on said topic
  • Keynote speaker and live streamed talks
  • An online submission platform with signups and information emailed for each day
  • An expert judging panel to look through your teams' projects and provide feedback
  • Great graphics for you to share your event
  • Q&As and expert help online on our Discord platform
  • Most often, we also have prizes available, all the way up to multiple thousand dollars for a winning team
  • Afterwards, some of your local participants might be selected to join the Apart Lab program where they're helped along to become publishing AI safety researchers!

Please send any feedback and suggestions for this page to hello@apartresearch.com.

It's really simple to sign up! You just go to the hackathon page, such as this one, and click on the "Locations" tab, where you can now insert all relevant information for your location. You can get inspiration for how to host from some of these previous organizers:

Minimum requirements: We have had locations with 5 to 100 participants and if you are just a few friends hosting a hackathon location together, that's more than enough to meet the requirements! For larger locations, please reach out to hello@apartresearch.com so we can help you get set up and answer any questions. As long as you are open to others joining, please just register your hackathon location for people to join. If yo

Marketing material: Most often, we share marketing material for the specific hackathon under the "Locations" tab where you also sign up. See e.g. for the Multi-Agent Security Hackathon where you have both cover images, social media images, and even social media text to copy+paste. You can find specific media files for the Apart logos and guidelines here in case you need it for printing merchandise, stickers, or any other creative outlets you want to share with your participants!

An example of media material from the Multi-Agent Security hackathon

Hackathon schedule: The research sprints usually last from Friday to Sunday all over the world, meaning we start late Friday UTC and end early Monday morning UTC. Please subscribe to the calendar here to stay up-to-date on the next events. In general, it kicks off with a keynote from an established researchers in addition to logistical information and a team match-making session, then a few Q&A sessions over the weekend plus a couple of technical talks during Saturday, and end with the submission deadline for Sunday evening. See an example for the Multi-Agent Security Hackathon from February 2024 under the "Schedule" tab here.

Uniquely, we also host an online project presentations session with the top projects during the following week, after the judges have reviewed the projects. This will mark the grand finale of the event where we'll also announce the winners!

The schedule for the multi-agent security hackathon (in PST)

How to submit: The submission will usually happen online and follow a template set out both after the keynote and clearly on the website. For example, for the Multi-Agent Safety Hackathon, submitting participants followed the one-pager template presented under the Submission tab.

What is the organizer commitment: You should expect that it takes at least a few hours. If you are organizing a larger event, you'll probably need to be there to open the doors and make sure everyone has what they need to be productive! This can be anywhere from 2-40 hours, depending on your level of ambition.

Suggestions to host a successful hackathon location

When organizing a hackathon, it's essential to set the stage for a productive and engaging event. You'll always be surprised at how much can get done in a weekend, and even if you don't have many submissions, the hackathon will surely help everyone get to know each other better!

Here are some valuable tips inspired by previous organizers to ensure your hackathon runs smoothly:

  • Secure a Suitable Venue: Book a room in advance with amenities like whiteboards and a projector for effective collaboration.
  • Prioritize Rest: Get ample sleep before the event to be mentally sharp and energized throughout.
  • Fuel Participants: Offer snacks like Soylent, Larabars, protein bars, and fresh fruits to keep participants nourished.
  • Create an Inspiring Environment: Bring alignment books, print Alignment Forum posts for decoration, and foster a conducive atmosphere for creativity.
  • Flexible Start Time: Consider different start times to accommodate participants' schedules and maximize attendance.
  • Provide Meals: Offer lunches and dinners during the hackathon to keep participants fueled and engaged.
  • Encourage Rest: Let participants know it's okay to take naps if needed to boost productivity.
  • Facilitate Communication: Set up a dedicated channel on Slack/Discord for hackathon communication and add some humor with memes.
  • Prepare Thoroughly: Have detailed documentation on logistics, schedules, and contact information readily available for all participants.
  • Kickoff Activities: Begin with introductions, individual brainstorming sessions, idea submissions, group formation, and project organization.
  • Recruit Early: Reach out to potential participants well in advance through platforms like LinkedIn to build interest and engagement.
  • Start Small: Target specific communities interested in alignment and interpretability to ensure focused participation.
  • Simplicity is Key: Keep the event straightforward, target relevant communities, plan meticulously, and provide continuous support to teams.
  • Build the Right Team: Surround yourself with individuals who can assist with organization, research, coding, and overall event management.
  • Embrace the Experience: Dive in, enjoy the process, and make the most of the collaborative and innovative spirit of the hackathon.

By following these guidelines and incorporating your unique touch, you can host a successful hackathon that inspires creativity, collaboration, and impactful outcomes. Remember to advertise early to attract the right participants and create a buzz around your event.