conference babble

there was a workshop which was crying out to be organized. And it looks like it’ll happen! Provided I get my act together and write an actual proposal, that is. Project3Leader is willing to cooperate and organize. It’s not entirely his field, but at least he’s willing to throw his weight in. Partially this is because he also wants Company to gain more recognition in the research field, partially because he also wants to gain more knowledge.

One of the requirements of the conference organization is that the proposed workshop organizing committee cannot all work at the same institution. There was one interested person to help organizing a methods and techniques oriented workshop, but he’s more into designing for accessability so I’m not entirely sure that we can maintain the same focus. So this weekend I should read up on the course I’m giving next semester, write a workshop proposal and visit my parents and several friends.

People tell me I have good organizing skills, but maybe some extra practice shouldn’t go amiss. Especially since, after talking to Project3Leader, it is pretty clear that he really needs somebody to work on the user-system interaction, interaction design, field-tests and let’s not forget about the businness models either, please. Neither of those tasks can be executed by me, but supervising students doing this should be an option. Next question: am I ready to juggle 3 students, my Phd, teaching load, some semblance of social life and stay somewhat sane and patient? Sounds like a cliffhanger to me…


This week I was away for a conference – strictly speaking I’m still away, since I only fly back home on sunday. The conference itself was full of relevant presentations, and for once there were nearly no boring presenters either so it’s been very enjoyable. My presentation also went quite well (although I forgot half of the things I wanted to tell, but that was probably a good thing since I only had 10 minutes), and I got interesting questions.

Everything I heard though, on the first day, started me thinking about organizing a workshop. I’ve been thinking about the topic and the possibility to organize a workshop since the previous conference I visited, but hadn’t found the right venue.

A topic that’s very dear to me is research methods. Which research methods to use when, how to make sure they’re valid and reliable, and how can you incorporate research methods from other fields? It’s definitely a topic that lives, but might not be equally interesting for everybody. There’s a European project that’s looking into this as well. It also includes the possibility for industrial people to have more and easier guidance of their research choices through a framework generated by researchers with a more academic background. And all this without compromising reliability and any kind of validity, of course.

So what better way to discuss this than in a workshop? Preferably one where people have at least some experience, so we could just do one kind of overview presentation on the papers everybody sent in (although I don’t exactly know yet what kind of papers to ask for) and then dive straight into the discussion.

One of the upcoming conferences has their workshop deadline coming up, and it would be thrilling if I could submit something there. I’ve talked to the conference chair, and the workshop chair, and they are interested in the topic. After asking around the community a bit it seems more people would be interested so a small-scale workshop would be very do-able. But what kind of output to predict? A poster might not be the right format. Another person suggested short video clips, which does sound rather exciting because you could run that on a television throughout the rest of the conference and easily post it online as part of the wrap-up.

However, after putting my feet back on earth, the best thing to do would be to check my CompanySupervisor to see what she thinks (especially given the situation with CompanyManager). But it would be so exciting if I could actually pull this off!

Last monday I attended a tutorial on research methods. Tutorials really work best when there’s an atmosphere of trust, when you can ask those questions that have sat in the back of your brain for a while and you would like somebody else to come and play too. One of my questions was answered without me realizing that it had been a question. For a while I’ve been reading a book about making ideas stick, but I didn’t make it very far in.

Now, one of the tutorial givers was quoting from the book and sort of reviewing at the same time, which was rather interesting! Considering everything he said, it will definitely spur my reading the entire book, to keep the ideas fresh in my mind. Actually, the most interesting part for me wasn’t so much the research methods in themselves, but how you write about them. One of the most important things mentioned was: nibble away at your writing. If you don’t write every day, how do you expect to become a good writer? Becoming good is about making mistakes, about writing bent sentences and reviewing and critiquing your writing. This reflected very much my reasons for starting up this blog in the first place, except that I only publish something every friday.

That doesn’t mean that I only write on friday, merely that I like to edit and re-edit and think twice before commiting myself to publish here. Ironically, attending conferences tends to compel me to write and think so hard that it can get difficult to write something coherent. Some more ideas and impression will find their way to the forefront, including lessons learned on organizing poster sessions for symposia.

Usually, when coming back from a conference, my head feels incredibly full and yet, at the same time, like a stack of umbrellas opened up in my head. Straight, upside down, left, right, on top of eachother, through eachother… it’s an image taken from Dianna Wynne Jones, but very useful, because ideas and questions are just going any which way and it’s hard to capture them on time, or even verbalize them in a way that might later on make sense.

It’s one of the reasons that I always make copious notes at conferences, because when I read them over later on, the feeling might come back and ideas could be verbalized. One of the things the last conference made me realize is that the world is small. There was a PhD student who works with measuring behaviour in severly physical and mental handicapped people. It isn’t my field at all, at least not the people who are her target group, but how awesome would it be to be able to measure whether somebody is comfortable or not without having to ask them constantly? Not to mention, my mother actually works with multiple handicapped people, and I’m fairly certain she’d be interested in the follow-up. I’m actually bursting to tell her, and ask her whether she would like to cooperate with the PhD student!

Another exciting thing of the last conference: there were so many women! I’d almost forgotten there could be conferences where women are almost half the participants (and then I’m not counting the salesgirls). It was extraordinary to just look around and not feel so … isolated. I admit, that’s a very good feeling, and one that encourages me to keep believing in my own possibilities and capacities. Hopefully, that way other people (women) can take strength from me in return.

About half a year ago, there was a message that one of the conferences has a SpinOff Conference. Nice news, since SpinOff Conference is very much in my field. Plus, soon they published that at least one of the KnownPeople would give a keynote talk, which was another reason to contribute a paper. The long paper deadline came closer, but not enough data had been gathered yet to write something worthwhile. Luckily, the short paper deadline was doable, so a short paper was submitted.

Thursday the verdict was in: Accepted!!! I bounced around the whole day, certainly after seeing the awesome reviews! This means that I’ll be in the San Francisco Bay Area again in october… where I will see KnownPerson speak (for the first time, too), present my own work, probably get some new fresh insights and lots of new energy. I can hardly wait…