Confessions of a researchaholic

March 31, 2013

How I bring up students

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 11:50 pm
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Stage 1: I will train your basic skills through a series of pet projects (e.g. building a mini software system or reproducing a paper). You are supposed to complete all these entirely on your own.

Stage 2: I will then directly take you to a real project aiming for the best venue of your field. I will work very closely with you on everything.


I only have time for the best projects with the best students. The above 2-stage process is designed as a consequence.

I understand this is not an ordinary methodology. But experiences indicate that it is very effective in helping all students. In particular, the good ones can learn and publish as quickly as possible, while the not-so-good ones can realize as early as possible that they should explore other career options.

I disagree with the usual process of gradual bring-up by submitting to lower tier venues. This can spoil your mentality and motivation, as you will not work as hard as you should and grow as fast as you could. And even if you need non-top publications, it is faster to have those as failed attempts for top venues than direct submissions to lower venues.

For those of you who are not my internal or primary students, your primary adviser should have the final say about your study plan. Just come to me when you are ready for stage-2.

March 26, 2013

About resubmission

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 7:21 pm
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Unfortunately, your paper was rejected by your favorite venue.
Now what? The decision for the next step depends on review opinions and your preferences.

It is not hard science: reviews are stochastic and humans are irrational.
(See earlier posts about rejections, and how to deal with them.)

So, the first thing is to figure out how much you should trust the reviews and your gut feelings.
Sometimes the reviews are right; maybe your paper is really not suitable for that venue (e.g. off topic, not enough contribution) and it is better to choose another venue.
But sometimes they are not; I have at least one submission that was summarized as “not having enough contribution” and I just went ahead with resubmission and the paper got in.

It also depends on whether you will enjoy continuing the work, and whether you think you can make significant improvements. If both conditions hold, it is probably a good idea to ignore the reviews.

Finally, consider opportunity cost. Given the same amount of time and efforts, you can either (1) resubmit the paper to your most favorite venue or (2) submit it to a lower tier and start a new work. Which one (you think) will make you happier and more productive?

PS: see my collaboration policy.

March 25, 2013


Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 7:18 pm
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People tend to work on things which they have prior experiences with.

This is good for coherence; few have the talents to jump between completely unrelated things. But it can also be bad for creativity; we tend to lose the prospective after sticking around something for too long. Achieving the right balance is not easy, at least for me.

But it can become a bit easier with the presence of stern warning signs. It is time for me to move on, before it kills me.

Self: time to code the next new thing. Do not slack off. People are watching.

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.

March 3, 2013


Filed under: Imaginary,Real — liyiwei @ 6:46 pm
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A really beautiful woman can shine without makeup or enhancement12.
A truly capable man can function without job title or institution13.

1Replace man and woman above with unisex nouns if you like. I do not mean to be a sexist; the sentences just flow better.

2To sense whether that someone is for you, see her true self; wake up early on a Sunday morning, sneak beside her bed, and watch her sleep.

3I spent my early childhood listening to my grandparents’ stories on how they survived WW2 and how untrustworthy governments can be. I became one of the few in my (and younger) generation with this innate distrust of institutions. (Self psycho-analysis indicated this is a main source of my inclination towards individualism + self-reliance and my philosophical difficulty working in a company.) If you have no idea what I am talking about, try “Wealth, War and Wisdom” by Barton Biggs. (The book succeeded in conveying the sense of institutional distrust, even though I do not agree with all the points.)

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