The BayesComp MCMski V [or MCMskv for short] has now its official website, once again maintained by Merrill Lietchy from Drexel University, Philadelphia, and registration is even open! The call for contributed sessions is now over, while the call for posters remains open until the very end. The novelty from the previous post is that there will be a “Breaking news” [in-between the Late news sessions at JSM and the crash poster talks at machine-learning conferences] session to highlight major advances among poster submissions. And that there will be an opening talk by Steve [the Bayesian] Scott on the 4th, about the frightening prospect of MCMC death!, followed by a round-table and a welcome reception, sponsored by the Swiss Supercomputing Centre. Hence the change in dates. Which still allows for arrivals in Zürich on the January 4th [be with you].
Archive for ISBA
Things are starting to get in place for the next ISBA 2016 World meeting, in Forte Village Resort Convention Center, Sardinia, Italy. June 13-17, 2016. And not only the logo inspired from the nuraghe below. I am sure the program will be terrific and make this new occurrence of a “Valencia meeting” worth attending. Just like the previous occurrences, e.g. Cancún last summer and Kyoto in 2012.
However, and not for the first time, I wonder at the sustainability of such meetings when faced with always increasing—or more accurately sky-rocketing!—registration fees… We have now reached €500 per participant for the sole (early reg.) fees, excluding lodging, food or transportation. If we bet on 500 participants, this means simply renting the convention centre would cost €250,000 for the four or five days of the meeting. This sounds enormous, even accounting for the processing costs of the congress organiser. (By comparison, renting the convention centre MCMSki in Chamonix for three days was less than €20,000.) Given the likely high costs of staying at the resort, it is very unlikely I will be able to support my PhD students As I know very well of the difficulty to find dedicated volunteers willing to offer a large fraction of their time towards the success of behemoth meetings, this comment is by no means aimed at my friends from Cagliari who kindly accepted to organise this meeting. But rather at the general state of academic meetings which costs makes them out of reach for a large part of the scientific community.
Thus, this makes me wonder anew whether we should move to a novel conference model given that the fantastic growth of the Bayesian community makes the ideal of gathering together in a single beach hotel for a week of discussions, talks, posters, and more discussions unattainable. If truly physical meetings are to perdure—and this notion is as debatable as the one about the survival of paper versions of the journals—, a new approach would be to find a few universities or sponsors able to provide one or several amphitheatres around the World and to connect all those places by teleconference. Reducing the audience size at each location would greatly the pressure to find a few huge and pricey convention centres, while dispersing the units all around would diminish travel costs as well. There could be more parallel sessions and ways could be found to share virtual poster sessions, e.g. by having avatars presenting some else’s poster. Time could be reserved for local discussions of presented papers, to be summarised later to the other locations. And so on… Obviously, something would be lost of the old camaraderie, sharing research questions and side stories, as well as gossips and wine, with friends from all over the World. And discovering new parts of the World. But the cost of meetings is already preventing some of those friends to show up. I thus think it is time we reinvent the Valencia meetings into the next generation. And move to the Valenci-e-meetings.
Following the highly successful [authorised opinion!, from objective sources] MCMski IV, in Chamonix last year, the BayesComp section of ISBA has decided in favour of a two-year period, which means the great item of news that next year we will meet again for MCMski V [or MCMskv for short], this time on the snowy slopes of the Swiss town of Lenzerheide, south of Zürich. The committees are headed by the indefatigable Antonietta Mira and Mark Girolami. The plenary speakers have already been contacted and Steve Scott (Google), Steve Fienberg (CMU), David Dunson (Duke), Krys Latuszynski (Warwick), and Tony Lelièvre (Mines, Paris), have agreed to talk. Similarly, the nine invited sessions have been selected and will include Hamiltonian Monte Carlo, Algorithms for Intractable Problems (ABC included!), Theory of (Ultra)High-Dimensional Bayesian Computation, Bayesian NonParametrics, Bayesian Econometrics, Quasi Monte Carlo, Statistics of Deep Learning, Uncertainty Quantification in Mathematical Models, and Biostatistics. There will be afternoon tutorials, including a practical session from the Stan team, tutorials for which call is open, poster sessions, a conference dinner at which we will be entertained by the unstoppable Imposteriors. The Richard Tweedie ski race is back as well, with a pair of Blossom skis for the winner!
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.
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.)
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…)
While I do not have any expectation of seeing one of these the winner (!), what is your favourite one?!