Confessions of a researchaholic

August 10, 2017

Leaving Hong Kong

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 3:32 pm

[Time for me to write this after the course/RPG requests start to flood in prior to the beginning of the next semester.]

I am joining a top research lab to maximize the practical impacts of my research and minimize the unnecessary amounts of jet-lag I have to deal with.

I will remain affiliated with HKU for a bit while. I am not taking new PhD/MS/MPhil candidates or teaching classes, but will continue to help students through my open mentor program and internships with the lab I am joining (more about this later).

I would like to thank my family, friends, colleagues, collaborators, and students who have given me such a wonderful experience in Hong Kong. I will continue to explore this interesting world.

PS: To whomever plans to teach COMP-3314 the Machine Learning class in the future – similar to the Defense against the Dark Arts class in Hogwarts, it has the tendency to dispel the teacher after the semester. 😀

September 19, 2016

Contact for job applications

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 7:25 pm

Having a middleman who knows well both the job applicant and the hiring manager can help a lot, compared to submitting and examining job applications in the dark.

However, if I were the hiring manager, I would prefer the candidate to contact me directly (and cc/mention the reference in the email). This is more direct and sincere; the job is between the candidate and me, not the reference. And I can ask the reference for more information if I need.

Background: After sending out a job inquiry email on behalf of a candidate, I realized this is probably not ideal as I recalled my corporate days.

March 27, 2016

Equality versus fairness

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 11:05 am
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A CEO gets paid 100 times the average employee salary. It is definitely not equal. But is it fair? The answer depends on whether the CEO has contributed 100 times than the average employees.

It is not always easy to tell fairness from equality, but it is important not to confuse the two.

Fairness should be maintained, but it is unfair and counter-productive to enforce equality.

Algorithmic species

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 11:04 am
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Algorithms can already devise algorithms and write programs.

It is just a matter of time before they can do that in a scale massive enough to displace many, if not most, programming jobs, just like what robots have already done to the manufacturing jobs.

January 29, 2016

Research opening

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 12:53 pm
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February 22 2016 update: I managed to spend all the expiring grant money already.

I have several opening research positions. Please contact me if interested, and help spread the information.

You pick whatever topic you like to do as long as (1) it can be published in a top graphics or HCI venue (e.g. SIGGRAPH, SIGGRAPH Asia, ToG, UIST, CHI), and (2) I have enough interests and expertise to help you.

Send me a brief description of your research plans along with the usual information, like your resume. Tell me why you want to work with me and how I can help you.

The first period will begin anytime from now and end on April 14 2016.
I can extend your contract if your performance is good enough.

These will be HKU positions, but other than school requirements you can work anywhere you like.

If you like to continue involve your current advisers or collaborators, just let me know. I usually like to know and collaborate with different people.

I have an expiring research grant that needs to be consumed prior to April 14 2016, and the remaining can be used only for hiring staff.

March 16, 2015

PhD student recruiting

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 2:15 pm
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On behalf of the HKU CS department, I would like to invite top students all over the world to apply our PhD program for academic year 2016-17.

HKU is a top ranked university conducting world class research and teaching. It is located at the heart of Hong Kong Island, aka the downtown area.
Hong Kong’s diverse culture, liberal policy, and vibrant economy offer unique life styles and career opportunities.

September 23, 2013


Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 7:33 pm
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I agree that there is enough inefficiency in the world that can allow really smart people to make a lot of money while having a lot of fun by moving things around.

But we all know the field is already quite crowded. Why do you want to just move things if you can create things? There is only a finite amount/variety of things to move, but infinite amount/variety to create.

To me, creating things is just more fun, even without the money factor. And you can make even more money if you can create the right things.

[Background: Most of the headhunter inquiries I have received since 2001 are about moving things instead of creating things, even though I have been spending my entire career in the latter. They said “my profile might fit”, but I never see why.]

March 15, 2013


Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 4:22 pm
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A recent PhD graduate whom I know well, who has been doing quite well in graphics research, just took a non-research job in a non-graphics position, among several postdoc offers from top research institutions.

The reasons he cited are numerous, but the 2 main ones are:

. He likes graphics research, but he is getting bored and tired of the SIGGRAPH game, including deadline crunch and dealing with reviewers.

. He would like to learn something new and try a different life style.

In a nutshell, I think he is burned out. I hope I have done my best to help him achieve work-life balance (I did that quite well myself, even when I was a grad student), but I guess it is just too hard for normal people to be much disciplined.

Then I realized that I probably also had some kind of burnout around my graduation. I took a non-research position as the first job, even though it was in a graphics company (NVIDIA). I also wanted to try learning new things (hardware architecture) and living a different style (engineer).

So I guess it is probably OK. People are not meant to be doing the same thing all the time. This is also why I like to try different job sectors and geographical locations.

There are two things to watch out, though, all based on my personal experiences: passion, and rust.


I have a very simple rule to choose jobs: do what you really like, and be very good at it.

Sometimes, when people get burned out, they might temporarily settle for something that they neither really like nor really be good at. But eventually, you will know if the job is not for you. I did not realize how much I like doing research until after I was not been able to spend enough time on it for about 3.5 years after my graduation.

The important thing is to get out there as quickly as possible. Otherwise, you will eventually become one of these people who are not really happy or good at their jobs but also cannot quit.


People tend to get rusty for skills that they have not practiced for a while. This is particularly so for advanced skills, like research.

So, make sure you do whatever you can to be active in research during your non-research job. Otherwise, you might not be able to come back, even if you want.

I have been trying my best to be engaged in research during my NVIDIA days. I even managed to publish a single authored graphics hardware paper. But it still took me about 2 to 3 years to get back in shape for SIGGRAPH after joining MSR. The difference between SIGGRAPH and other graphics venue is like the difference between playing professional sports and working out in a gym.
I guess SIGGRAPH is probably an extreme case, but I hope you get what I mean.

March 7, 2013

Being a prof in HK versus US

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 7:47 pm
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During my faculty job hunting I have interviewed with and got offers from schools in both US and Hong Kong. Below are my personal opinions about the tradeoffs.

Disclaimer: I have not worked as a professor in a US school. My opinions below are based on experiences as a Stanford grad student who has seen how top profs operate, a MSR researcher with frequent university collaborations, and a faculty candidate who has heard a lot during the interview trips.
People who have worked in both places could likely provide more accurate opinions. (Feel free to comment if you are one of these people.)

Q: How to choose between a top school in HK and a top school in the US

By default most people will pick the latter. But it is not that simple.

If you prefer to spend a lot of time getting money while having smart students doing most of the research, go to a top US school.
If you prefer to spend time doing hands-on research1 instead of writing grant proposals and you do not mind slightly less talented students2, go to a top HK school.

1I enjoy deep involvement in every project and student, and (sometimes) publishing single authored papers. I do not really find grant proposals very interesting.

2Most top students still want to go to the US, but there are always those who prefer to stay in Asia due to personal reasons. And they usually come to HK as it is the most westernized place in Asia with the best schools.

Q: How to choose between a top school in HK and a non-top school in the US?

Only go to a top university in a local maximum sense. This is how you attract the best of everything (funding, students, prestige, etc.). Due to financial issues (e.g. funding and student loan) and technology shifts (e.g. all these MOOC), I predict non-top US schools will have a much harder time in the future.
Contrast this with the rising Asia, and the fact that that they treat education very seriously.

March 5, 2013

How to position yourself to get the jobs you want

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 8:00 pm
Tags: ,

Good programmers and computer scientists are in high demand. So if you have enough qualifications, you should have no problem finding a job in your desired sector and geographic location.

The key is your qualifications. Being who I am, I have never failed to help anyone who can shine regardless of the constraints (e.g. where you come from, the visa issue of your destination, etc.). If you cannot, there is little I can do. And to be brutally honest, I am not interested in helping mediocre people.

My answer is as simple as this. There are no more tricks or hints, at least for the top jobs I know of.

Thus, if you are a student working with me, you are already halfway into the door. The other half depends on your productivity. For example:

. If you are looking for research/academic slots, you need high quality publications to demonstrate your research skills. Do not be a graphics/HCI PhD student who cannot get any SIGGRAPH/CHI/UIST papers before graduation.

. If you are looking for industry jobs, you need good projects to demonstrate your coding and teamwork abilities. Do not be an undergrad student who cannot perform well in my project classes.

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