A decade of SICSA PhD Conferences

by Dr Jeremy Singer, SGA Director
17 July 2018

Last month, I attended the tenth SICSA PhD conference at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. This is the northern-most location for our annual conference so far, and I was impressed by the beautiful setting and ideal facilities at this modern university campus.

Paul Hagan from RGU opened the conference; in his speech he complimented SICSA as a ‘great model for Scotland-wide subject-specific collaboration.’ Since he was one of the architects of the SFC research pooling initiative, this is high praise indeed.

Many of the 150 student delegates brought a poster along with them, describing their research projects. As I wandered round the poster display, I encountered an amazing breadth of topics. Highlights include apps to help people with Autism, using comic strips to understand complex data, and simulating the structure of stars with parallel computing.

At an evening banquet in the Trinity Hall, we did a ‘back of the napkin challenge’ where everyone had to depict their research by scribbling on a paper napkin. There were plenty of intriguing drawings – check out #sicsanapkinchallenge on twitter for some examples.

Throughout the two days of the conference, there was a great selection of talks and workshops. Since they happened in parallel, I wasn’t able to attend everything. However, I particularly enjoyed Diane R. Pennington’s deeply personal and highly motivational workshop on student wellbeing and mental health. I appreciate that a significant proportion of PhD students experience mental health difficulties during their studies, and it’s good to see this is being addressed by institutions at last.

I also attended Michael Smyth’s cinematographically inspired presentation on how to complete your thesis. He gave us plenty of pragmatic tips on writing up, while introducing us to tenuously related films from the 1950s.

As I near the end of my term as director of the SICSA Graduate Academy, I reflect that the SICSA PhD conference encapsulates what makes SICSA so uniquely compelling. We have a vibrant, friendly community clustered around a diverse range of world-leading research teams.

Here’s to the next decade of adventure, discovery and collaboration at SICSA PhD conferences!

SICSA DVF Garbriel Murray

by Gabriel Murray
9 July 2018

Gabriel Murray is visiting Scotland on a SICSA Distinguished Visiting Fellowship, and will be giving talks at Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Heriot-Watt Universities. The talk abstract, schedule, and Dr. Murray’s biography are below.

Talk Abstract:

The dynamics of small group interactions are an area of study for many disciplines ranging from social psychology to organizational behaviour and communication. There has been a surprisingly small amount of research on using natural language processing for understanding and predicting small group phenomena. This talk will present a variety of tasks and experimental results demonstrating that NLP can be useful for predicting aspects of group interaction, such as predicting group performance on a task, detecting hidden sentiment of group participants, and learning about unobserved group behaviours through meeting artifacts. It will also be argued that language-based predictive models are very valuable when we need to provide interpretable models or actionable feedback to a group — two scenarios where nonverbal models on their own may be insufficient.

Schedule:
University of Edinburgh, July 6, 11 AM
University of Glasgow, July 9, 12:30 PM
Heriot-Watt University, July 11, 2:00 PM

Bio:

Gabriel Murray is an Associate Professor in Computer Information Systems at University of the Fraser Valley, and an Affiliate Professor in Computer Science at University of British Columbia (Canada). His research primarily focuses on the intersection of speech and language processing and small group interaction. He teaches a variety of courses related to artificial intelligence, including machine learning and natural language processing. He received his PhD in Informatics from the University of Edinburgh, under the supervision of Drs. Steve Renals and Johanna Moore.

Manycore Summer School

by Dr Jeremy Singer, SGA Director
22 May 2018

Glasgow in summer … what a great experience! If you are enthusiastic about manycore processors, systems and parallel applications, please sign up for the Manycore summer school, running 16-20 July at the School of Computing Science, University of Glasgow.

The manycore revolution is fundamentally changing multiple levels of the execution stack from processor architecture, through systems software, to end-user applications. Moore’s law is now tracking the number of cores in a chip – such as the latest Intel Core i9 and AMD Epyc processors.

Thanks to generous sponsorship from SICSA and EPSRC, registration and one week en-suite accommodation at the Manycore summer school are provided for free to PhD students and postdocs based at UK universities.

Highlights of the Manycore summer school programme include:

  • seven world-leading academics presenting latest research topics
  • hands-on labs with FPGAs and cluster programming exercises
  • poster competition with expert feedback and prize awards
  • social events including a cruise on Loch Lomond and a traditional Ceilidh night

Check out the website for full details, including the summer school registration form.

SICSA CDT Bid Writing Workshop Update

by Dr Jeremy Singer
19 February 2018

IMG_6070Only a few weeks till the deadline for outline applications to the EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training call! SICSA organized a workshop in Glasgow last week, to bring together Scottish computer scientists who are intending to submit CDT proposals. Around 25 academics attended the event, representing a majority of the 14 SICSA institutions.

Kevin Hammond and Jeremy Singer started by emphasizing SICSA’s commitment to increasing CDT success in Scotland – in terms of both the quantity and the geographical spread.

Alison Gray from Skillfluence was the workshop facilitator. She highlighted the main points from the EPSRC call documents, and encouraged participants to answer key questions like:

  • How will you evidence a need for a CDT in your chosen topic?
  • How can you establish and maintain a cohort effect?

Dee Heddon from SGSAH provided further insight, through a range of ‘war stories’ drawn from her experience with the Scottish AHRC CDT. Coping with inter-institution rivalry and tension seems to require remarkable patience and diplomacy – she has 17 university partners to appease.

In the afternoon session, participants engaged in writing or planning for their outline applications. Different groups were at different stages – some had brought along draft proposals for feedback – other groups only began to assemble at the workshop, particularly around themes like e-Health and AI.

Darran Gardner from The Data Lab described an industrial perspective on doctoral training, and provided hints on how to foster helpful relationships with industry partners.

All in all, it was a useful day. At SICSA, we are determined to do all we can to strengthen Scottish-based CDT bids. If you are submitting an outline proposal, please get in touch with us to see how we can support your application.

 

SICSA can help with your CDT outline proposal

by Dr Jeremy Singer. SGA Director
2 February 2018

SICSA aims to maximise the success of EPSRC CDT applications from our member institutions. To this end, we want to support CDT outline bids as far as possible. SICSA has committed to providing a £75K package of in-kind support to each CDT bid. This comprises reserved places at our annual PhD conference, pre-allocated booths at our DemoFest industry-facing event, and priority access to our industrial internship funding programme.

At this outline proposal stage, we intend to get as many Scottish ICT CDT bids through to the next round. We are running a CDT Outline Writing workshop in Glasgow on 13 Feb – please sign up and come along! A professional research trainer will help us to shape outline proposal ideas, provide in-person confidential feedback on draft documents, and give focused advice on how to present balanced research and training programme proposals.

The SICSA research community represents the best of Scottish academic collaboration. In the first iteration of SICSA, cross-site PhD student supervision and supervisor partnering were defining features. This round of CDT funding is a golden opportunity to reinvigorate such cooperative initiative in postgraduate research.

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PECE visit to USC/ISI – Los Angeles, US

by Dr Rosa Filgueira
22 January 2018

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My exchange involved visiting Ewa Deelman and Yolanda Gil, both located in the same University (USC) and Institute (Information Science Institute – ISI), from 30th September to 10th December 2017. This visit gave me the great opportunity to work with two World-leading authority on the research and development of advanced information processing technologies and intelligent systems to support extracting knowledge from data and scientific discovery.

Before my arrival, I performed several teleconferences with both, Ewa and Yolanda, so we narrowed the aim and the scope of the visit beforehand. I think that going there with already two pre-defined research-lines in mind helped me a lot to have a successful exchange.

For more than 15 years, Ewa has been conducting and leading the research in scientific workflows. After a couple of meetings, we decided to work together in a new scalable and tolerant monitoring data-streaming framework, which allows us to collect, pre-process, store and visualize data in real-time. This framework is aligned with the Panorama project (https://panorama360.github.io/), an approach to performance modelling and diagnosis of extreme-scale workflows, where Ewa is the Principal Investigator.

Currently, this framework is being evaluated at the British Geological Survey (BGS), as a possible architecture for monitoring real-time sensor data and creating an alert system for interpreting sensors at the field (http://www.bgs.ac.uk/ukgeoenergyobs/).

Yolanda’s research focuses on intelligent interfaces for knowledge capture, which involves topics such as semantic annotation tools or community-wide development of knowledge bases. Yolanda has recently started a new project called MINT: Model Integration through Knowledge-Rich Data and Process Composition (http://mint-project.info/), which I was invited to participate as an external collaborator. Together we developed a new intelligent catalog for hydrological knowledge capture. The new catalog acts as a semantic data hub for choosing which countries to work with in this project (e.g. countries for which we have more datasets available). The next steps will be to link the catalog and mount it in public repository to make queries against it.

During my visit, I also had the opportunity to meet other researchers and groups, through several face-to-face meetings and by giving a seminar at the end of the exchange https://www.isi.edu/events/calendar/11376. Presentation available at https://github.com/rosafilgueira/datastreaminghub/blob/master/Presentation_ISI_17_RF.pdf

These collaborations haven’t finished after my visit, since I am still in touch with both hosts, and we have several ideas for continuing collaborating together (e.g. a draft of a paper for eScience conference or future bids and grants).

The research conducted during this visit at USC/ISI is not only very valuable for me, in terms of my career, as well for the institution where I work as a data scientist. At BGS, I participate in several national and international funded projects (such as EPOS, UKGEOS or Envriplus), where new data-streaming architectures as well intelligent catalogs are needed to improve the interoperability and accessibility of models and data. Therefore, the work conducted at USC/ISI and the new skills learnt would have a positive impact in the projects that I am currently working on.

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Deelman and her team at ISI. (L-R) Back row: Tu Mai Anh Do, Mats Rynge, Karan Vahi, George Papadimitriou. Front row: Rosa Filgueira, Ewa Deelman, Rajiv Mayani

I really encourage early career researchers to take advantage of the SICSA PECE grant. It will have a high impact in your future steps as a researcher and it will allow you to increase your network of contacts, and skills while you are working full-time (for a period of time) in an area of your interest.

My PECE visit to the Arizona State University

By Dr Areti Manataki, Senior Researcher in The University of Edinburgh
22nd October 2017

In summer 2017 I visited the Department of Biomedical Informatics in the Arizona State University as part of a SICSA-funded Postdoctoral and Early Career Researcher Exchange (PECE). To say that this research visit has been successful would be an understatement. It has allowed me not only to achieve the aims I set out when planning the visit, but also to connect, learn, grow and explore new research directions in ways I hadn’t anticipated.

During my visit, I was able to work closely with my host, Dr Adela Grando, with other academic faculty and students in the University, as well as with clinical experts from the Mayo Clinic. This rich collaboration gave me a practical perspective on the importance of and challenges in biomedical technologies.

From the first day of my visit, I engaged with research in electronic health record workflow discovery and analysis. In particular, I employed process mining techniques to discover and analyse pre-operative electronic health record workflow in the Jacksonville Mayo Clinic. By combining this analysis with observational data collected by other team members in the Arizona State University and the Mayo Clinic, we were able to tell a comprehensive story about electronic health record workflow, which we described in a paper submitted to the AMIA 2018 Informatics Summit. This work is also going to be presented on Monday 30th October in the University of Edinburgh (for more information see here).

This hands-on experience in clinical process mining has been an eye-opener for me. Before this research exchange I knew very little about process mining. I now understand the opportunities and challenges in this area, which I plan to continue exploring in the future. In fact, I am still collaborating with the Arizona State University team, and we are extending the previous study to consider additional Mayo Clinic sites.

As a concluding remark, I can’t stress enough how important I think such opportunities are for early career researchers like myself. The SICSA-funded visit has allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and experiment with a new research approach, while building close relationships with world-leading experts. Like a breath of fresh air, it has reminded me why I love doing research and why it is worth doing it.

So if you are an early career researcher and are thinking about doing a research visit, do not hesitate. Choose the host institution that you find most intriguing, apply for some SICSA PECE funding and get ready for a life-changing experience.

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SICSAConf2017: Discovering great things in Dundee!

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I have discovered so many new things over the past two days at the SICSA PhD conference in Dundee.

First I learned a new word – smirry – which described the Dundonian weather – grey and a bit wet (I think).

Then I was inspired by our two PhD Conference keynote speakers. Chris van der Kuyl gave us tremendous insight about tech entrepreneurship. He asserted confidently that Scotland is the best place in the world, in terms of tech startups and adventurous Computer Science. Music to SICSA’s ears!

Mandy Chessell gave us a reflective talk on information management, with knowledge gleaned over decades of experience at IBM. My take-home message was that we should support collaborative open source endeavour, and learn from the past.

The PhD students attending the conference came from all of Scotland’s universities – from UHI in the north to UWS in the south-west. The engaging poster presentations and demos were fantastic. I spent so much time chatting with students over posters that I missed lunch today! We have four worthy winners for the poster/demo competition:

  • Sofiat Olaosebikan (Glasgow)
  • Xue Li (Edinburgh)
  • Andrei Boiko (Abertay)
  • Blessing Mbipom (Robert Gordon)

There were plenty of training sessions too – with topics like IBM Bluemix, Ethics, Teaching, Thesis Statements, Viva Survival, and Command-Line Hacking all under the spotlight. Students chose workshops that appealed to them – and all workshops were well-attended over the two days.

Finally, I enjoyed the local cuisine. In our jute conference bag, we each received a pot of Dundee Marmalade. I also ventured to the Tay Fry Inn for some delicious deep fried pizza and haggis. All in all, another brilliant SICSA PhD conference. Thanks to the SICSA staff, Rachel Menzies, Dundee Uni, and the student organizing committee for such a great time!

 

 

 

SICSA CDT Info Day – 31 March 2017

by Dr Jeremy Singer, SICSA Graduate Academy Director
22 March 2017

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PhD research is a vital component of every university academic activity. Over the past decade, the UK funding model has shifted from individual PhD scholarships towards centres for doctoral training (CDTs). These are large cohorts of students located in centres of excellence devoted to specific research topics. In the ICT sector there are only three CDTs in Scotland at present – Data Science, Pervasive Parallelism, and Robotics – all located in the city of Edinburgh.

Scotland faces a particular problem with CDTs – our CompSci departments are generally small and geographically distant. This is precisely what SFC research pooling aims to address. The question now becomes: can we take advantage of pooling to set up virtual centres of excellence that would form the basis for new CDTs? This requires combining smaller research groups in novel ways- which we have already done to some extent via SICSA research themes.  Now can we achieve closer integration and collaboration to build CDT sites?

We have organised a meeting in Edinburgh on Friday 31 March, to prepare for the next CDT funding call from EPSRC, probably due within the next year or so. We will have briefings from EPSRC and current CDT award holders, as well as interactive sessions aimed at fostering collaboration. Please register for this workshop on eventbrite, and let other colleagues know about it

SICSA Summer Schools

by Dr Jeremy Singer, SICSA Graduate Academy Director

Summer SchoolA summer school is a fantastic experience for a research student. Learning is much more effective when learners are having fun. And what could be more enjoyable than a residential holiday, mixing with PhD students and subject experts, focusing on a hot topic in Computer Science?

SICSA sponsors PhD summer schools hosted in Scotland. Check the details of the scheme here [https://www.sicsa.ac.uk/funding/academics-postdoctoral-researchers/event-sponsorship/summer-school-sponsorship/ ]. In short, we pay a block grant to cover attendance for a number of PhD students at Scottish Universities. Organizers can then advertise for RUK or overseas students to attend and pay a registration fee. In the past few years, we have funded a diverse range of summer schools, from Type Theory [https://eb.host.cs.st-andrews.ac.uk/TPL/], through Big Data [http://sachi.cs.st-andrews.ac.uk/activities/summer-schools/big-data-info-vis/ ] to Interactive Systems [ http://www.dcs.gla.ac.uk/~jhw/computational_interaction/ ].

PhD research can be a lonely, isolating experience for a student. A summer school is a tremendous opportunity to meet peers and mentors in the same research area, for study and social activities. Personal links forged at summer schools can last for a lifetime.

Organizing a summer school, whether as a PhD student or an academic staff member, has great benefits too. CV points, prestige for you and your institution, a boost to your research area… A summer school can turn a niche area into a hot topic – with or without the help of the Scottish summer sunshine!

Please get in touch with us [https://www.sicsa.ac.uk/contact/ ] if you want to apply for funding to run a summer school in Scotland.

2017-02-14