Confessions of a researchaholic

October 25, 2023

How to deal with “failed” experiments

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 9:30 am

If you feel frustrated with experiments that did not turn out as expected, you are not alone.
History is full of innovators going through repetitive failures before major breakthroughs.

The notion of failure is relative; each experiment likely contains some sort of success or lessons that can be learned.
Documenting these (in your paper draft or experiment log) can add a sense of what you have achieved so far, and how to plan future tasks.
If you are really exhausted, switch to do something else (e.g., another project) or just take a break, and see if that could bring a fresh perspective into your work.

June 12, 2023

How to invite reviewers

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 10:46 am
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Are you a paper committee paper or journal associate editor (AE) who want to increase the likelihood of reviewers responding positively to your invitations?
Here are some tips based on my own experience:

Instead of a machine-generated generic email, craft a custom message telling the candidate reviewer why you think they are a good fit for the paper, such as their background respect to the topic or specific components of the paper.
You should have this information already when deciding to invite that particular reviewer.

Add some personal greetings such as if the reviewer has a recent job change or life event, a new paper, or someone you both know, which could be found on their social media or personal website.
Do so particularly if you know the reviewer (or someone close to them like their collaborator/advisor) personally.

If you already read the paper, provide some estimation of the time commitment required for reviewing the paper, e.g., “I think it will take you about 2 hours to review this paper”.

If you have accepted review requests from that reviewer in the past, mention this as well as a hint of reciprocity.
This is another reason to accept review requests if you have the bandwidth.

April 23, 2023

PhD student recruiting philosophy

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 10:58 am
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Throughout my research career I have been very conservative in recruiting PhD students, especially for those whom I would be the (de facto) advisor.
(I am a bit more relaxed for hiring interns as the collaborations are shorter term and thus the risks are lower.)
I prefer to have deep involvement for each student and project, and the cost of having a student not suitable for independent research is higher than the risk of occasionally passing on a top candidate.

However, there are other professors/researchers out there who have been very successful in managing large groups.
So definitely go for that if your style is like a VC incubating startups, you have enough funding, and your projects require teamwork (e.g., one student probably is not going to build a new operating system or programming language).

April 6, 2023

Benefits of reviewing papers

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 2:44 pm
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Reviewing papers can take a lot of time, but also has the following benefits:

It is a good way to build reputation and relationship with the research community, especially if you can do a good job and write a good review on time and participate in the discussion phase to help reach the final decision if that is part of the review process.
If you submit to a venue, it is only fair to review for that venue, especially if you have complained that your submissions have not received good/fair reviews due to lack of expertise or efforts from the reviewers.

It is a good way to learn about the latest research in the field, especially if you are assigned to review papers outside your main research areas.
Writing a good review (see above) requires deep enough understanding of the paper beyond the usually more cursory catching up of published papers.

It is a good way to learn how to get your own submissions accepted in the future by looking at how decisions are made and what the reviewers are looking for.

Accept only reviews that you think you have the time and expertise to do a decent job, and do not feel bad about declining reviews otherwise, preferably within a few days of receiving the request with suggestions for alternative reviewers so that the organizers can find replacements in time.
Other things being equal, prioritize review requests from higher-quality venues for which your reviews would tend to make a relatively bigger impact.

November 16, 2022

Why you should write your own paper, at least the first draft

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 10:38 am
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Writing is an important skill for not only publishing and communication but also other career tasks. If you cannot do it for whatever reason (language, habit, psychology, etc.) it is better to learn as soon as possible.

Nobody else knows your ideas and thoughts better than yourself. Writing by someone else is not very likely to accurately reflect what you have in mind.

If you find it difficult to express your thoughts, it can be a sign that the thinking is not clear enough and writing can help refine it.

Do whatever to come up with a first draft. Do not worry about nitty gritty details like grammar as long as your collaborators can understand what you are trying to say. We can iterate the paper draft together to improve the not only the writing but also our thinking and execution of the project.

November 8, 2022

How to choose project team members

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 12:19 pm
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More people do not imply more productivity, sometimes it could be the opposite.

Every member should have a clearly defined role that fits their interests and expertise, so that the total union can cover the entire project with just enough redundancy for robustness (e.g., unforseen demands for certain types of knowledge or tasks, or unvailability for some members during certain stages of the project).

Everyone should have the personality to harmonize with others on the team. We don’t need to love each other, but if some members don’t get along the project will be in trouble.

For longer term projects or building your own teams, consider the growth potential of people in addition to who they currently are (e.g., 3 to 5 years down the road versus right now).

July 17, 2022

Moving around at work

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 8:58 pm
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After my turn of presentation in a recent intern seminar about how to write research papers, I took a break mandated by the eye-break program installed in my computer. Instead of moving around elsewhere as I would usually do, I stayed in front of my computer to attend the next presentation, but moved a bit to avoid staring directly into the display. Later I got a message from the meeting host reminding me that everyone can see me stretch in the virtual meeting, which I replied that everyone should do that during a long meeting!

A related thread from Cornell about the importance of moving around during work instead of just standing or sitting (or remaining in any other stationary poses).
I think knowing how to take care of our body is more important than knowing how to write papers.

March 24, 2022

Burnout from a thousand little tasks

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 4:05 pm
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A task might not seem to take much time or efforts to complete, but if we take on all of these coming our way, we will run out or bandwidth before too late.
Better judge each task as part of the whole (work-life) optimization.

March 19, 2022


Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 9:30 am
Tags: ,

At the beginning of a movie I was watching there was a scene of someone who received a surprise layoff and, after being escorted outside the office building, did not seem to have any idea what to do.
(I don’t know what happened to that character at this moment of writing as I have yet to continue with the movie.)

Which prompted me to ponder: when at last we leave our jobs, what has to be left behind and what we can bring with us? Thinking ahead of this eventuality can clarify our priority about what is really important: titles and positions we hold, colleagues/collaborators we interacted with, experiences we learned, products we built, achievements we accomplished, etc.

Now, replace job with life, and think again.

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