Archive for ISBA

On the Savage Award, advices to Ph.D. candidates [guest post]

Posted in Kids, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , on January 22, 2015 by xi'an

This blog post was contributed by my friend Julien Cornebise, as a reprint of a column he wrote for the latest ISBA Bulletin.

This article is an occasion to pay forward ever so slightly, by encouraging current Ph.D. candidates on their path, the support ISBA gave me. Four years ago, I was honored and humbled to receive the ISBA 2010 Savage Award, category Theory and Methods, for my Ph.D. dissertation defended in 2009. Looking back, I can now testify how much this brought to me both inside and outside of Academia.

Inside Academia: confirming and mitigating the widely-shared post-graduate’s impostor syndrome

Upon hearing of the great news, a brilliant multi-awarded senior researcher in my lab very kindly wrote to me that such awards meant never having to prove one’s worth again. Although genuinely touched by her congratulations, being far less accomplished and more junior than her, I felt all the more responsible to prove myself worth of this show of confidence from ISBA. It would be rather awkward to receive such an award only to fail miserably shortly after.

This resonated deeply with the shared secret of recent PhDs, discovered during my year at SAMSI, a vibrant institution where half a dozen new postdocs arrive each year: each and every one of us, fresh Ph.D.s from some of the best institutions (Cambridge, Duke, Waterloo, Paris…) secretly suffered the very same impostor syndrome. We were looking at each other’s CV/website and thinking “jeez! this guy/girl across the door is an expert of his/her field, look at all he/she has done, whereas I just barely scrape by on my own research!” – all the while putting up a convincing façade of self-assurance in front of audiences and whiteboards, to the point of apparent cockiness. Only after candid exchanges in SAMSI’s very open environment did we all discover being in the very same mindset.

In hindsight the explanation is simple: each young researcher in his/her own domain has the very expertise to measure how much he/she still does not know and has yet to learn, while he/she hears other young researchers, experts in their own other field, present results not as familiar to him/her, thus sounding so much more advanced. This take-away from SAMSI was perfectly confirmed by the Savage Award: yes, maybe indeed, I, just like my other colleagues, might actually know something relatively valuable, and my scraping by might just be not so bad – as is also the case of so many of my young colleagues.

Of course, impostor syndrome is a clingy beast and, healthily, I hope to never get entirely over it – merely overcoming it enough to say “Do not worry, thee young candidate, thy doubts pave a path well trodden”.

A similar message is also part of the little-known yet gem of a guide “How to do Research at MIT AI Lab – Emotional Factors, relevant far beyond its original lab. I recommend it to any Ph.D. student; the feedback from readers is unanimous.

Outside Academia: incredibly increased readability

After two post-docs, and curious to see what was out there in atypical paths, I took a turn out of purely academic research, first as an independent consultant, then recruited out of the blue by a start-up’s recruiter, and eventually doing my small share to help convince investors. I discovered there another facet of ISBA’s Savage Award: tremendous readability.

In Academia, the dominating metric of quality is the length of the publication list – a debate for another day.  Outside of Academia, however, not all interlocutors know how remarkable is a JRSSB Read Paper, or an oral presentation at NIPS, or a publication in Nature.

This is where international learned societies, like ISBA, come into play: the awards they bestow can serve as headline-grabbing material in a biography, easily spotted. The interlocutors do not need to be familiar with the subtleties of Bayesian Analysis. All they see is a stamp of approval from an official association of this researcher’s peers. That, in itself, is enough of a quality metric to pass the first round of contact, raise interest, and get the chance to further the conversation.

First concrete example: the recruiter who contacted me for the start-up I joined in 2011 was tasked to find profiles for an Applied position. The Savage Award on the CV grabbed his attention, even though he had no inkling what Adaptive Sequential Monte Carlo Methods were, nor if they were immediately relevant to the start-up. Passing it to the start-up’s managers, they immediately changed focus and interviewed me for their Research track instead: a profile that was not what they were looking for originally, yet stood out enough to interest them for a position they had not thought of filling via a recruiter – and indeed a unique position that I would never have thought to find this way either!

Second concrete example, years later, hard at work in this start-up’s amazing team: investors were coming for a round of technical due diligence. Venture capitals sent their best scientists-in-residence to dive deeply into the technical details of our research. Of course what matters in the end is, and forever will be, the work that is done and presented. Yet, the Savage Award was mentioned in the first line of the biography that was sent ahead of time, as a salient point to give a strong first impression of our research team.

Advices to Ph.D. Candidates: apply, you are the world best expert on your topic

That may sound trivial, but the first advice: apply. Discuss with your advisor the possibility to put your dissertation up for consideration. This might sound obvious to North-American students, whose educative system is rife with awards for high-performing students. Not so much in France, where those would be at odds with the sometimes over-present culture of égalité in the younger-age public education system. As a cultural consequence, few French Ph.D. students, even the most brilliant, would consider putting up their dissertation for consideration. I have been very lucky in that regard to benefit from the advice of a long-term Bayesian, who offered to send it for me – thanks again Xi’an! Not all students, regardless how brilliant their work, are made aware of this possibility.

The second advice, closely linked: do not underestimate the quality of your work. You are the foremost expert in the entire world on your Ph.D. topic. As discussed above, it is all too easy to see how advanced are the maths wielded by your office-mate, yet oversee the as-much-advanced maths you are juggling on a day-to-day basis, more familiar to you, and whose limitations you know better than anyone else. Actually, knowing these very limitations is what proves you are an expert.

A word of thanks and final advice

Finally, a word of thanks. I have been incredibly lucky, throughout my career so far, to meet great people. My dissertation already had four pages of acknowledgements: I doubt the Bulletin’s editor would appreciate me renewing (and extending!) them here. They are just as heartfelt today as they were then. I must, of course, add ISBA and the Savage Award committee for their support, as well as all those who, by their generous donations, allow the Savage Fund to stay alive throughout the years.

Of interest to Ph.D. candidates, though, one special mention of a dual tutelage system, that I have seen successfully at work many times. The most senior, a professor with the deep knowledge necessary to steer the project brings his endless fonts of knowledge collected over decades, wrapped in hardened tough-love. The youngest, a postdoc or fresh assistant professor, brings virtuosity, emulation and day-to-day patience. In my case they were Pr. Éric Moulines and Dr. Jimmy Olsson. That might be the final advice to a student: if you ever stumble, as many do, as I most surely did, because Ph.D. studies can be a hell of a roller-coaster to go through, reach out to the people around you and the joint set of skills they want to offer you. In combination, they can be amazing, and help you open doors that, in retrospect, can be worth all the efforts.

Julien Cornebise, Ph.D.
www.cornebise.com/julien

 

off to Montréal [NIPS workshops]

Posted in Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , on December 9, 2014 by xi'an

On Thursday, I will travel to Montréal for the two days of NIPS workshop there. On Friday, there is the ABC in Montréal workshop that I cannot but attend! (First occurrence of an “ABC in…” in North America! Sponsored by ISBA as well.) And on Saturday, there is the 3rd NIPS Workshop on Probabilistic Programming where I am invited to give a talk on… ABC! And maybe will manage to get a sneak at the nearby workshop on Advances in variational inference… (0n a very personal side, I wonder if the weather will remain warm enough to go running in the early morning.)

my ISBA tee-shirt designs

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , on October 15, 2014 by xi'an

Here are my tee-shirt design proposals for the official ISBA tee-shirt competition! (I used the facilities of CustomInk.com as I could not easily find a free software around. Except for the last one where I recycled my vistaprint mug design…)

meetherevtmeetherevbklifeisjokebklifeisjokesignaturesignaturebkwerewolves

While I do not have any expectation of seeing one of these the winner (!), what is your favourite one?!

an ISBA tee-shirt?!

Posted in Kids, pictures, University life with tags , , , , , on September 19, 2014 by xi'an

 Sonia Petrone announced today at BAYSM’14 that a competition was open for the design of an official ISBA tee-shirt! The deadline is October 15 and the designs are to be sent to Clara Grazian, currently at CEREMADE, Université Dauphine [that should be enough to guess her email!]. I will most certainly submit my mug design. And maybe find enough free time to design a fake eleven Paris with moustache tee-shirt. With Bayes’ [presumed] portrait of course…

ISBA@NIPS

Posted in Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 2, 2014 by xi'an

[An announcement from ISBA about sponsoring young researchers at NIPS that links with my earlier post that our ABC in Montréal proposal for a workshop had been accepted and a more global feeling that we (as a society) should do more to reach towards machine-learning.]

The International Society for Bayesian Analysis (ISBA) is pleased to announce its new initiative *ISBA@NIPS*, an initiative aimed at highlighting the importance and impact of Bayesian methods in the new era of data science.

Among the first actions of this initiative, ISBA is endorsing a number of *Bayesian satellite workshops* at the Neural Information Processing Systems (NIPS) Conference, that will be held in Montréal, Québec, Canada, December 8-13, 2014.

Furthermore, a special ISBA@NIPS Travel Award will be granted to the best Bayesian invited and contributed paper(s) among all the ISBA endorsed workshops.

ISBA endorsed workshops at NIPS

  1. ABC in Montréal. This workshop will include topics on: Applications of ABC to machine learning, e.g., computer vision, other inverse problems (RL); ABC Reinforcement Learning (other inverse problems); Machine learning models of simulations, e.g., NN models of simulation responses, GPs etc.; Selection of sufficient statistics and massive dimension reduction methods; Online and post-hoc error; ABC with very expensive simulations and acceleration methods (surrogate modelling, choice of design/simulation points).
  2.  Networks: From Graphs to Rich Data. This workshop aims to bring together a diverse and cross-disciplinary set of researchers to discuss recent advances and future directions for developing new network methods in statistics and machine learning.
  3. Advances in Variational Inference. This workshop aims at highlighting recent advancements in variational methods, including new methods for scalability using stochastic gradient methods, , extensions to the streaming variational setting, improved local variational methods, inference in non-linear dynamical systems, principled regularisation in deep neural networks, and inference-based decision making in reinforcement learning, amongst others.
  4. Women in Machine Learning (WiML 2014). This is a day-long workshop that gives female faculty, research scientists, and graduate students in the machine learning community an opportunity to meet, exchange ideas and learn from each other. Under-represented minorities and undergraduates interested in machine learning research are encouraged to attend.

Continue reading

To Susie [by Kerrie Mengersen]

Posted in pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , on August 21, 2014 by xi'an

[Here is a poem written by my friend Kerrie for the last ISBA cabaret in Cancun, to Susie who could not make it to a Valencia meeting for the first time… Along with a picture of Susie, Alicia and Jennifer taking part in another ISBA cabaret in Knossos, Crete, in 2000.]

This is a parody of a classic Australian bush poem, ‘The Man from Snowy River’, that talks of an amazing horseman in the rugged mountain bush of Australia, who out-performed the ‘cracks’ and became a legend. That’s how I think of Susie, so this very bad poem comes with a big thanks for being such an inspiration, a great colleague and a good friend.

There was movement in the stats world as the emails caught alight
For the cult from Reverend Bayes had got away
And had joined the ‘ISBA’ forces, and were calling for a fight
So all the cracks had gathered to the fray.

All the noted statisticians from the countries near and far
Had flown into Cancun overnight
For the Bayesians love their meetings where the sandy beaches are
And the Fishers snuffed the battle with delight.

There were Jim and Ed and Robert, who were ‘fathers of the Bayes’
They were known as the whiskey drinking crowd
But they’d invented all the theory in those Valencia days
Yes, they were smart, but oh boy were they loud!

And Jose M Bernardo came down to lend a hand
A finer Bayesian never wrote a prior
And Mike West, Duke of Bayesians, also joined the band
And brought down all the graduates he could hire

Sonia and Maria strapped their laptops to the cause
And Anto, Chris and Peter ran – in thongs!
Sirs Adrian and David came with armour and a horse
While Brad and Gareth murdered battle songs

And one was there, a Spaniard, blonde and fierce and proud
With a passion for statistics and for fun
She’d been there with the founders of the nouveau Bayesian crowd
And kept those Fisher stats folk on the run

But Jim’s subjective prior made him doubt her power to fight
Mike Goldstein said, ‘That girl will never do,
In the heat of battle, deary, you just don’t have the might
This stoush will be too rough for such as you.’

 But Berger and Bernardo came to Susie’s side
We think we ought to let her in, they said
For we warrant she’ll be with us when the blood has fairly dried
For Susie is Valencia born and bred.

She did her Bayesian training in the classic Spanish way
Where the stats is twice as hard and twice as rough
And she knows nonparametrics, which is useful in a fray
She’s soft outside, but inside, man she’s tough!

She went. They found those Fisher stats folk sunning on the beach
And as they grabbed their laptops from the sand
Jim Berger muttered fiercely, ‘right, twist any head you reach
We cannot let those Fish get out of hand.’

Alicia, grab a Dirichlet and break them with a stick
Chris, it’s easy, just like ABC
And Sylvia, a mixture model ought to do the trick
But just you leave that Ronnie up to me.

Jose battled them with inference and curdled Neyman’s blood
And Ed told jokes that made them shake their head
And posteriors lined like beaches like sandbags for a flood
And Jim threw whiskey bottles as they fled.

And when the Bayesians and the Fishers were washed up on the sand
The fight was almost judged to be a tie
But it was Susie who kept going, who led the final charge
For she didn’t want objective Bayes to die

She sent the beach on fire as she galloped through the fray
Hurling P and F tests through the foam
‘til the Fishers raised surrender and called the fight a day
And shut their laptops down and sailed for home.

And now at ISBA meetings where the Bayesians spend their days
To laugh and learn and share a drink or two
A glass is always toasted: to Susie, Queen of Bayes
And the cheering echoes loudly round the crew.

She will be remembered for setting Bayesian stats on fire
For her contributions to the field are long
And her passion and her laughter will continue to inspire
The Bayesian from Valencia lives on!

hasta luego, Susie!

Posted in Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2014 by xi'an

I just heard that our dear, dear friend Susie Bayarri passed away early this morning, on August 19, in Valencià, Spain… I had known Susie for many, many years, our first meeting being in Purdue in 1987, and we shared many, many great times during simultaneous visits to Purdue University and Cornell University in the 1990’s. During a workshop in Cornell organised by George Casella (to become the unforgettable Camp Casella!), we shared a flat together and our common breakfasts led her to make fun of my abnormal consumption of cereals  forever after, a recurrent joke each time we met! Another time, we were coming from the movie theatre in Lafayette in Susie’ s car when we got stopped for going through a red light. Although she tried very hard, her humour and Spanish verve were for once insufficient to convince her interlocutor.

Susie was a great Bayesian, contributing to the foundations of Bayesian testing in her numerous papers and through the direction of deep PhD theses in Valencia. As well as to queuing systems and computer models. She was also incredibly active in ISBA, from the very start of the Bayesian society, and was one of the first ISBA presidents. She also definitely contributed to the Objective Bayes section of ISBA, especially in the construction of the O’Bayes meetings. She gave a great tutorial on Bayes factors at the last O’Bayes conference in Duke last December, full of jokes and passion, despite being already weak from her cancer…

So, hasta luego, Susie!, from all your friends. I know we shared the same attitude about our Catholic education and our first names heavily laden with religious meaning, but I’d still like to believe that your rich and contagious laugh now resonates throughout the cosmos. So, hasta luego, Susie, and un abrazo to all of us missing her.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 777 other followers