Friday, February 05, 2010

Guest Post: Giorgos Zervas from WSDM

Since I couldn't get myself to New York for WSDM, I asked my student Giorgos Zervas to report. This is his report from Thursday.


Greetings from Brooklyn.

I am here attending WSDM 2010 where on Saturday I will be presenting the work we did with John & Michael on Adaptive Weighing Designs for Keyword Value Computation. Michael asked for my grad-student perspective on the conference and I happily obliged as he offered me a decent revenue-share deal on any book sales resulting from this post.

On a more serious note, while being here, my primary concern is presenting our work in the best possible light and hopefully getting some people to read the actual paper. A secondary, but equally important concern, is that of networking. My impression is that for most conference participants time is a very scarce resource. Of course this is not limited to WSDM. The sight of a speaker surrounded after his or her talk by a bunch of people - just like myself - intimidates me and makes me feel that by adding myself to the pool, I am becoming an additional burden to someone who might have better things to do than listen to my 30 second blurb (even though personally I'd be flattered, so please surround me after my talk!). Ideally, I'd prefer interaction to be more organic and there are certainly some good opportunities for that. My question to you is: do you prefer some ways of being approached over others? How do you respond to cold introductions? Any advice on how grad-students should network at conferences? And if you are student: what do you find works for you in terms of introducing yourself to others?

On a different note, an interesting feature of WSDM has been the live Twitter feed projected behind the speaker, next to the actual presentation slides. Even though some of the tweets are insightful and they make for great conversation starters over lunch, I find the projection rather distracting. I reckon that, for 20 minutes, focus should be on the speaker and the tweets are almost impossible to ignore. Some of them are also quite repetitive ( anyone?) Those wishing to follow the Twitter stream could always do so from their laptops and phones. What are you thoughts? Do you think this backchannel adds to the discourse? (I should point out that the WSDM community definitely seems mature enough to avoid mishaps like this.)

Finally, on the research front, and even though we are still on the first day of the conference, I've had the opportunity to attend some great talks. In particular Soumen Chakrabarti gave this morning's keynote and I found his vision of extracting structure from the unstructured web fascinating. A few papers that have grabbed my attention (in no particular order) are "Automatic Generation of Bid Phrases for Online Advertising" (Ravi et al.), "SBotMiner: Large Scale Search Bot Detection" (Yu et al.) and "Evolution of Two-Sided Markets" (Kumar et al.); I am looking forward to these and the rest of the presentations. What have been your personal favorites?


Mark Reitblatt said...

I haven't yet mastered the subtle art of conference networking, but I have figured out a few things that work. In particular, other students are much more approachable, so start up with them and they can introduce you to their advisors. Although personally I think other students are as good if not a better resource than professors...

More low hanging fruit: foreigners. That academic who flew in from Belgium and is now wandering around the coffee room with a lost look? Give them a smile and invite them to your table. Do this enough and you can start up your own crowd around you which will then organically attract others.

Not much, I know, but this is what I've been able to figure out at the half-dozen or so conferences I've been to. Smaller conferences are easier; if it weren't for serendipity, I would've spent OOPSLA '08 without making a single contact. As it happen, a recent CMU PhD left his laptop charger and noticed that I had the same laptop. Grateful for my help he introduced me to all of his student buddies and completely changed the course of the conference for me (for the better).

Giorgos Zervas said...


I totally agree about the value of interacting with students, ie, future colleagues.

Off to find some Belgians and people with missing chargers:)