Confessions of a researchaholic

July 29, 2014

Teaching assistant

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 10:40 am
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TA is a great training for presentation, communication, management, and personal skills. You have to be able to describe course materials in a way that the students can understand, and you have to balance their learning and happiness. Naturally, students want to minimize workloads while maximizing grades. Dealing with a large class (hundreds of undergrad students) is not unlike managing a mob.

It is great if one can focus exclusively on research. That is what I prefer then as a grad student and now as a prof. But without sufficient communication and personal skills, one cannot succeed even with great research skills.
To start with, a great idea is of no value if it cannot be understood and appreciated by people.

Thus, I do not consider TA a waste of time. Quite on the contrary, it is an indispensable part of research training.

July 25, 2014

Stephen King on how to write

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 11:00 am
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It is striking how much the advice on fiction writing applies to technical writing and conducting research in general, despite some important differences, e.g. scientific writings should be precise instead of leaving rooms for imagination.

May 20, 2014

The seven year itch

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 1:53 am
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Around year 2007 I collaborated with some guys on a project. After a while due to lack of progress, the project was shelved.

Earlier this year, the same group of guys contacted me about joining the project again. They found a way to rejuvenate the project just days before. It was less than 48 hours until the submission deadline, so I did not think I will be able to make enough contributions to be a co-author.

Today I am thrilled to find out that the paper has been accepted (by a top venue). This is the longest wait period among all projects I have been involved with.

Patience pays off. Good ideas often need time to mature, and might look like craps in the beginning. Store them in your mental jewel box, and they might shine in the future with the right circumstances. Avoid the temptation to publish the idea too early just because it might get scooped. An ill prepared idea, like an ill dressed person, will not get the deserved recognition and impact. And ideas easily discovered probably are not all that novel anyway.

Never give up until it is absolutely dead. Whatever considered impossible by ordinary people may be overcome by those who want to be extraordinary.

March 7, 2014

Double-edged sword

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 5:32 pm
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I found Bobby Fischer against the World a fascinating documentary about a particular kind of talent (chess) of a unique individual (Bobby Fischer, widely considered as the greatest chess player of all time who later self-destructed into an outcast) at a particular era (cold war, with chess being one of the competitions to showcase US/Soviet supremacy).

One interesting point pursued in the movie is about the specific type of brain that enables superior chess play may also cause certain psychological issues.
One can make a more general point in that unusual brains, as double-edged swords, can produce special talents as well as abnormal behaviors, as have been seen in geniuses across different disciplines such as musicians, artists, scientists, and mathematicians.

December 23, 2013

Dear Asian students

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 6:10 pm
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Not having to observe Western holidays is your competitive advantage. Don’t squander it.

November 8, 2013

How to do CHI rebuttal

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 6:23 pm
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I think the basic points are the same as with any rebuttal. The main difference between CHI/UIST and most other venues (e.g. SIGGRAPH) is the addition of meta reviews which might provide helpful summaries for rebuttal.

More tips can be found via twitter, such as this and that.

November 4, 2013

Plan what you do

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 9:46 pm
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While focusing on rushing a project it can be difficult to stop and think about the overall picture, but without that you could end up wasting a lot of time in the wrong stuff.

Spend a few minutes writing down the plan, rationale, and whatever thoughts you have at the beginning of each day before the crunch begins. This little initial investment can greatly enhance the eventual efficiency and happiness.

If you are my collaborator I can vet your sanity through your write ups. I am not looking for a PhD thesis; just a few sentences will be enough.

October 17, 2013

Automation

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 6:23 pm
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A capital crime for computer science is manual repetition of uninteresting tasks. You will be happier and more productive by proper automation, which, coincidentally, is a main job for computer scientists.

For example, instead of sitting up all night tuning parameters of an experiment, you can write a script to try over a million settings over night while you go home sleep or have a fun time in Lan Kwai Fong.

October 14, 2013

Brainstorming

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 1:48 pm
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I stumbled upon this article about group brainstorming today.

It echoed well with my own personal experiences and my general take that meetings are almost always completely useless for research/creative works.
I do meetings only when absolutely necessary, such as resolving major confusions or conflicts among multiple team members, evaluating live demonstrations of a UI design, and interviewing (i.e. reading) people.

Some managers and administrators like meetings. Fight them with all your power. Do not let less intelligent people waste your time or reduce your effectiveness.

August 5, 2013

Thesis and oral defense

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 5:44 pm
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Schedule

My PhD adviser once told me that the most difficult part for graduation is scheduling the oral defense.

I thought he was joking, but realized he really meant it after doing it myself. It is basically a NP-hard, if not non-computable, problem.

I consider this as part of the ritual for graduation, so I will let the candidate schedule his/her own oral defense. People who cannot even get this done do not deserve to graduate.

Format

I never understand the rationale for hundreds-page thesis or hours-long oral defenses (PhD or other research degrees); it is probably residue from some ancient practices. But I think it is a big waste of time to write or read (or print, for heaven’s sake).

Here is my proposed thesis format:
Part 1: a concise summary of what the thesis is about, and why people should care about it.
Part 2: simply staple (via Latex, not physical papers) the relevant publications together to explain how it is done.

And here is the corresponding format for oral defense:
Part 1: a (sub) 5 minute elevator pitch telling people what the thesis is about and why they should care about it. There is a short break after this stage. The candidate fails if (s)he cannot convince the audience why they should continue to listen.
Part 2: a (sub) 25 minute presentation of more details, which can simply be a re-compilation of past conference talks. What follows is a usual break for committee discussion.

If the candidate does not have solid publications, (s)he should not be able to graduate.
If (s)he does, it should probably take at most a day to prepare the thesis and oral defense, on top of the existing materials.
The committee members can just spend as much time reading the published conference/journal papers instead of bloated mumbo jumbo in hundreds of pages.

If the candidate knows what (s)he has been doing, (s)he should be able to articulate a clear elevator pitch.
Otherwise, (s)he does not, and probably should come back to think and work more.
The committee members can quick see the quality of the research work instead of having to sit through hours-long slug about some technical details.

I plan to implement these for my internal students. And please, just send me the pdf file of your thesis. Spare the trees.

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