Tuesday, August 11, 2009

change of scenery and reviewing conference submissions

So you may not have heard yet, but last month, I left Google Atlanta, packed up my cats and my computers, and headed to Indiana University. Lindsey Kuper helped quite a bit, both in motivation to do this and in the actual moving process. So I'm a PhD student now, very exciting! I'll be working on natural language processing and machine learning -- something I'd wanted to focus on for quite a while.

But in my last two weeks at the Goog, I had this really interesting opportunity, presented by my colleague Katharina Probst. She's a reviewer for the Conference on Information and Knowledge Management (is this the same as being on the program committee?), and asked if I wanted to help. It seemed like good practice for my upcoming stint as an academic.

So we (I, with her guidance and sanity-checking) had this pile of eight papers to get through. Some were fairly mundane, like learning classifiers to determine if a message is a flame, or summarizing a group of documents; one was particularly targeted at finding references to rabbinic literature in other rabbinic literature (they don't use ACM-style citations, typically). And so on. A few were written very clearly and had well-motivated discussions on why the problem is interesting and important, and others... not so much. This is why we have peer review.

But it was an interesting experience, and I'm glad I took it. My tech lead, Miguel, graciously let me use my "20%" time to Advance Science and just review papers for a day. I wanted to do a good job of reviewing, so I read the papers really closely, took a lot of notes, and wrote a few paragraphs in response for each one. Katharina at least seemed to think that it was good feedback, so that was reassuring. (although I would have liked more feedback on my feedback).

Once the other reviewer's ratings came in, I was fairly pleased to see that my ratings weren't far off from the other reviews. If I missed some amazing gem of wisdom, then at least it was apparently hard to find -- the papers I liked the best were accepted. I was more concerned, honestly, that I would mistake some stale old idea as a clever new one. But again, that's why we have many eyes on these things.

Alright! So now I just have to produce some stuff for other people to review. To the lab!

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