Confessions of a researchaholic

July 9, 2024

Bad reviews during a rebuttal are like bad calls during a game

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 4:51 pm
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By “bad” reviews, I meant those that are short or unclear/uninformative, which is different/orthogonal from “negative” reviews which criticize or reject the work.

If a review is bad because it is too short, it wouldn’t bother me at all. I can write a correspondingly short portion of my rebuttal addressing that review, or even ignore it altogether.

If a review is bad because it is unclear, I can ask for clarification in the rebuttal, and make a few educated guesses about the exact questions or criticisms followed by my answers.

The last thing I would do is to complain about the bad reviews in the rebuttal, or (worse) contact the paper chairs/committee. These are like complaining about bad calls during a game. What would you expect the paper chairs/committee to do? Ask for an additional review or the bad reviewer to submit a better review? That would take time, and even if you receive an updated review, it might be too late for you to address it before the end of the rebuttal period.

March 27, 2024

Hands on – quick short abstract

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 5:44 pm
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An intern collaborator thanked me for a quick editing of the abstract of an upcoming paper submission, which reminded me of the the following story reflecting how our PhD advisers (or senior collaborators) could influence our work styles:

A few days before the SIGGRAPH 2002 paper deadline, while trying to submit the abstract from a paper draft, I received an error message saying that it was over the length limit (maximum 600 words, if I remember correctly). I could do a quick trim of the abstract but worried that I might not be able to preserve the content in such a short form, and thus sent a message to the paper advisory board asking whether I can have a longer abstract in the paper file.

Several minutes later, my PhD adviser emailed me a shortened version of the abstract, with perfect content and length.
I thanked him for his (astonishing) quality and speed, and wondered if he could read my mind (or, more likely, network traffic). He said that he happened to be on the advisory board and thus saw my message.

A few hours later, I received a reply from the paper chair clarifying that the abstract for the submission form was mainly for the paper sorting process and can differ from the abstract in the submitted paper file.

October 25, 2023

How to deal with “failed” experiments

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 9:30 am
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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.

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