Archive for Julien Cornebise

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

 

Biostat/Pharma is coming to ISBA [guest post]

Posted in Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , on June 19, 2012 by xi'an

This post is written by Julien Cornebise :

Along with Telba Irony, Peter Mueller, and Gary Rosner, I have the pleasure to be co-founding a dedicated Biostat/Pharma section of ISBA.

Its aim is to help network and federate under a common well-known “brand” the many initiatives to spread Bayesian methods and ideas in Biostats and Pharmacological stats: for example workshops, short courses, continuing education, sessions within larger conferences, etc.

We also want to help bridge academic and industry in this regard: there are plenty of people on both sides with excellent ideas and stimulating problems, and we think that such an ISBA’s section could help connecting them.

You can already sign the opening petition: we aim to have this section open by the end of the summer. Besides, I will be in ISBA 2012 in Kyoto next week: if you have questions, suggestions, or existing initiatives that could benefit from this branding, I will be glad to meet with yoi!

Post-scriptum: to sign the opening petition, you need to already be or become an ISBA member (50 USD, much worth it!)

Bayes on drugs (guest post)

Posted in Books, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , on May 21, 2012 by xi'an

This post is written by Julien Cornebise.

Last week in Aachen was the 3rd Edition of the Bayes(Pharma) workshop. Its specificity: half-and-half industry/academic participants and speakers, all in Pharmaceutical statistics, with a great care to welcome newcomers to Bayes, so as to spread as much as possible the love where it will actually be used. First things first: all the slides are available online, thanks to the speakers for sharing those. Full disclaimer: being part of the scientific committee of the workshop, I had a strong subjective prior.

3 days, 70 participants, we were fully booked, and even regretfully had to refuse inscriptions due to lack of room-space (!! German regulations are quite… enforced). Time to size it up for next year, maybe?

My most vivid impression overall: I was struck by the interactivity of the questions/answers after each talk. Rarely fewer than 5 questions per talk (come on, we’ve all attended sessions where the chairman is forced to ask the lone question — no such thing here!), on all points of each talk, with cross-references from one question to the other, even from one *talk* to the other! Seeing so much interaction and discussion in spite of (or, probably, thanks to ?) the diversity of the audience was a real treat: not only did the questions bring up additional details about the talk, they were, more importantly, bringing very precious highlight on the questioners’ mindsets, their practical concerns and needs. Both academics and industrials were learning on all counts — and, for having sometimes seen failed marriages of the kind in the past (either a French round-table degenerating in nasty polemic on “research-induced tax credit”, or just plain mismatch of interests), I was quite impressed that we were purely and simply all interested in multiple facets of the very same thing: the interface between pharma and stats.

As is now a tradition, the first day was a short course, this time by Pr. Emmanuel Lessaffre: based on his upcoming book on Bayesian Biostatistics (Xian, maybe a review someday?), it was meant to be introductory for newcomers to Bayes, but was still packed with enough “tricks of the trades” that even seasoned Bayesians could get something out of it. I very much appreciated the pedagogy in the “live” examples, with clear convergence caveats based on traceplots of common software (WinBUGS). The most vivid memory: his strong spotlight on INLA as “the future of Bayesian computation”. Although my research is mostly on MCMC/SMC, I’m now damn curious to give it a serious try — this was further reinforced by late evening discussions with Gianluca BaioM, who revealed that all his results that were all obtained in seconds of INLA computing.

Day 2 and half-day 3 were invited and contributed talks, all motivated by top-level applications. No convergence theorems here, but practical issues, with constraints that theoreticians (including myself!) would hardly guess exist: very small sample sizes, regulatory issues, concurrence with legacy methodology with only seconds-long runtime (impossible to run 1 million MCMC steps!), and sometimes even imposed software due to validation processes! Again, as stated above, the number and quality of questions is really what I will keep from those 2 days.

If I had to state one regret, maybe, it would be this unsatisfactory feeling that, for many newcomers, MCMC = WinBUGS — with its obvious restrictions. The lesson I learned: all the great methodological advances of the last 10 years, especially in Adaptive MCMC, have not yet reached most practitioners yet, since they need *tools* they can use. It may be a sign that, as methodological researchers, we should maybe put a stronger emphasis on bringing software packages forward (for R, of course, but also for JAGS or OpenBUGS!); not only a zip-file with our article’s codes, but a full-fledged package, with ongoing support, maintenance, and forum. That’s a tough balance to find, since the time maintaining a package does not count in the holy-bibliometry… but doesn’t it have more actual impact? Besides, more packages = less papers but also = more citations of the corresponding paper. Some do take this road (Robert Gramacy’s packages were cited last week as examples of great support, and Andy Gelman and Matt Hoffman are working on the much-expected STAN, and I mentioned above Havard Rue’s R-INLA), but I don’t think it is yet considered “best practices”.

As a conclusion, this Bayes-Pharma 2012 workshop reminded me a lot of the SAMSI 2010 Summer Program: while Bayes-Pharma aims to be much more introductory, they had in common this same success in blending pharma-industry and academy. Could it be a specificity of pharma? In which case, I’m looking very much forward opening ISBA’s Specialized Section on Biostat/Pharmastat that a few colleagues and I are currently working on (more on this here soon). With such a crowd on both sides of the Atlantic, and a looming Bayes 2013 in the Netherlands, that will be exciting.

Posts of the year

Posted in Books, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , on August 31, 2011 by xi'an

Like last year, here are the most popular posts since last August:

  1. Home page 92,982
  2. In{s}a(ne)!! 6,803
  3. “simply start over and build something better” 5,834
  4. Julien on R shortcomings 2,373
  5. Parallel processing of independent Metropolis-Hastings algorithms 1,455
  6. Do we need an integrated Bayesian/likelihood inference? 1,361
  7. Coincidence in lotteries 1,256
  8. #2 blog for the statistics geek?! 863
  9. ABC model choice not to be trusted 814
  10. Sudoku via simulated annealing 706
  11. Bayes on the Beach 2010 [2] 704
  12. News about speeding R up 688
  13. Solution manual for Introducing Monte Carlo Methods with R 688
  14. R exam 617
  15. Bayesian p-values 607
  16. Monte Carlo Statistical Methods third edition 577
  17. Le Monde puzzle [49] 499
  18. The foundations of Statistics: a simulation-based approach 493
  19.  The mistborn trilogy 492
  20. Lack of confidence in ABC model choice 487
  21. Solution manual to Bayesian Core on-line 481
  22. Bayes’ Theorem 459
  23. Julian Besag 1945-2010 452
  24. Millenium 1 [movie] 448
  25. ABC lectures [finale] 436

No major surprise in this ranking: R related blogs keep the upper part, partly thanks to being syndicated on R-bloggers, partly thanks to the tribunes contributed by Ross Ihaka and Julien Cornebise, even though I am surprised a rather low-key Le Monde puzzle made it to the list (maybe because it became part of my latest R exam?). Controversial books reviews are great traffic generators, even though the review of The foundations of Statistics: a simulation-based approach was posted less than a month ago. At last, it is comforting to see two of our major research papers for the 2010-2011 period on the list: the Parallel processing of independent Metropolis-Hastings algorithms with Pierre and Murray, and the more controversial Lack of confidence in ABC model choice with Jean-Michel and Natesh (twice). The outlier in the list is undoubtedly Bayes on the Beach 2010 [2] which got undeserved traffic for pointing out to Surfers Paradise , a highly popular entry! On my side unscientific entries, Saunderson’s Mistborn and Larson’s Millenium, McCarthy’s Border trilogy missing the top list by three entries…

Two local recipients for the Savage award!

Posted in Statistics, University life with tags , , , , on April 4, 2011 by xi'an

Two Paris statisticians are recipients of the Savage award this year: Julien Cornebise (PhD from Telecom-Paristech with Eric Moulines, now at UCL in Mark Girolami’s group) is nominated for the Theory award and Robin Ryder (PhD in Oxford with Geoff Nicholls, now at CREST) is nominated for the Applied methodology award. Congratulations to both (and to the other two recipients) for well-deserved rewards! (Past local recipients were Billy Amzal in 2005 and Nicolas Chopin in 2002.)

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