IEEE VisWeek 2008 – Panels overview
As part of Visweek, there were a few Panels which I have consistently enjoyed through all these years. The first panel was on
Grand Challenges for Information Visualization
Tamara Munzner gave an interesting talk which resonated with that I believe is necessary for our field. She emphasized on the fact that we “need open software for open data.” On numerous occasions, we see wonderful visualization techniques at conferences and in the IEEE TVCG journal, but rarely do we see the source code with some sample datasets being made available. I particularly applaud efforts such as Many eyes, VisTrails and some other visualization toolkits (which I cant think of right now) that allow not only visualization but also some information regarding how the visualization was created. Vistrails goes much farther and even provides detailed information regarding the steps taken by a user to reach a certain point.
Tamara also proposed a common framework which seems inspired by the field of security and software engineering. It was an interesting way to deal with providing visualization solutions to real world application domain problems. Here slides can be found at www.cs.ubc.ca/~tmm/talks/vis08/vis08.pdf
I think that some of the ideas that they discussed in the panel are crucial to our field of visualization (not just infovis). We need to make sure that we have something more than a long list of papers (textbooks/introductory 1-day workshops at conferences for first time attendees) for new students and practitioners. I am glad to see such enthusiasm and fervor as was palpable at the panel and hope to see many more such events that make us think as a community. I wasnt able to attend the entire panel and so if any of you have any comments on the same, please feel free to add them here.
Building a Research Group in Visualization
Panelists: Hamish Carr, Sheelagh Carpendale, Thomas Ertl, Helwig Hauser, Chris Johnson, Min Chen, Stephen North
This panel was hosted by Hamish Carr, who is at the University College Dublin. The panel started out with each of the esteemed panelists discussing what worked and how things worked out for them as a researcher as well as a research group.
Sheelagh Carpendale spoke first and basically said that she had identified five components to ‘success’ as regards forming a creative, productive research group. The five components are (i) Collaboration – Where multiple students collaborate and get more done by helping each other out. (ii) Competition – where students or sub-groups within the lab compete in a healthy manner towards evaluating techniques, developing software modules etc. (iii) Mentoring – Each new student is paired up with a senior member in the lab to help with adjusting to the lab as well as getting up to speed with research in the field. (iv) Individualism – It is critical to identify individual pieces for students so that they can claim ownership of a part of the project. She mentioned that its also important to encourage students to think on their own. (v) Scaffolding – Last but not the least, scaffolding is the glue that provides a productive environment to the students and researchers in the lab. Providing students with sufficient, high quality resources helps them achieve their goals as well as helps the faculty member achieve their goals.
Min Chen focused on challenges of leading a smallish research group. He spoke about how the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) process helped and shaped his research group as well as the department’s growth at Swansea University, UK. Particularly, he spoke about how he read books on managing groups such as ‘Handbook of Small Group Research‘ by A. Paul Hare, which apparently is out of circulation. The amusing part of his talk was that the book had examined criminal gangs and figured out some of the rules and ideas about what works and doesnt work from observing gang leaders and the gang as a whole. He also spoke on how their group outings are mostly research focused and that has helped them grow as well as form connections with other faculty in the department.
Thomas Ertl spoke next on how his experience in astrophysics as well as industry helped him immensely. He said that having started his own company before becoming a faculty member, convinced him of the need of selling. By selling he meant selling an idea, a concept and so on. He said that writing skills can definitely be improved and there is no excuse to poor communication skills. One needs to be able to convince the reader/person sitting in front of you of the viability of your idea/algorithm/system. He said that “Success is a combination of individual performance and how others perceive you.” He said that in his lab he has always encouraged collaboration as opposed to competition.
Helwig Hauser spoke about the balance between demands (financial, research, departmental) as a professor versus own choices as regards research, research topic etc. He said that one should always keep an eye on the practical assets when conducting research. He defined them as software, algorithms and tools. He also spoke about the need to balance reactive vs proactive approaches to research. In some cases, one needs to work on a project to fund the research that one is more interested in.
Chris Johnson discussed how his small research lab of one student grew to a small research group and that grew into a large research group which in turn grew into a centre and now its a huge institute (Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute). He said that only through collaborations and having a big group of smart people around you, can you do more interesting science than just by working by yourself. He spoke abut how its always challenging to manage large groups but he said that they are very careful when hiring new faculty/researchers since one disgruntled person can make the environment unproductive.
Stephen North from AT&T Research labs gave the industry perspective to managing research groups. He said that the funding is more or less stable but its very important to have executive support from within the company. He said that long term goals and views are important for a research group, but also said that its not always possible to meet all the long term goals.
This was followed by an excellent discussion where attendees asked panelists some insightful questions. Instead of trying to summarize the interaction, I would like to direct you to Carlos Scheidegger’s excellent summarization of the Q&A session that followed.
Unfortunately, I could not make it to the Visual Analytics panel. Please let me know if any of you attended that session.