Thursday, July 20, 2006

Mike Paterson's Secrets for Success

During the award ceremonies at ICALP 2006 in Venice, Mike Paterson, the recipient of the EATCS distinguished award for 2006, delivered a very witty talk in which he told the attendees his "secrets for success." Here is the short story for those amongst you who could not be in Venice to listen to Mike in person. (I apologize for any misrepresentation of Mike's message, and for being unable to match the wit and warmth in his presentation using this medium---or any other for what matters.)

Mike summarized the ingredients of his "success" as follows:
  1. Start early!
  2. Get lucky!
  3. Hang out with smart people!
  4. Enjoy what you do!
The first of these pieces of advice is probably the hardest to follow for many of us. What Mike meant was that at the beginning of a research field there are, I quote, "a lot of cherries ready for picking." These are problems whose solution is deemed to be important for the early development of the field and is not technically very hard. As a field matures, the open questions tend to get harder and harder, and the techniques that are brought to bear to their solutions are more and more sophisticated. Moreover, at the beginning of a research field, one can even try and steer the interests of the research community towards the problems one can actually solve.

The second point is that it does help to be in the "right place at the right time." A chat with the right person may open a lot of doors, and so can working with the right people and on a topic that is deemed to be hot at a given time. Mike gave some personal reminescences related to how he ended up working at MIT, and sharing an office, actually two offices, with Michael Fischer. Having said that, "Luck favours the prepared mind" (Pasteur), and so one should make one's own luck.

Having good collaborators is one of the most important factors in a research career. A look at our research landscape quickly reveals that more and more papers are multi-authored and are the result of a collaboration. I would recommend "hanging out with smart people" to any young researcher, no matter how smart he/she might be. There is so much to be learned in working with others!

Regarding the last point, Lance Fortnow wrote in this post that you must "Be sure to have fun doing your research because if you are not having fun you won't be successful and you can likely make more money doing something else that isn't fun." Judging from his presentations at ICALP, Mike Paterson is still having a lot of fun doing his research! Look at his recent work on the "overhang" problem with Uri Zwick to understand why. Uri Zwick is one of the "smart people" Mike likes to hang out with.

Mike's latest project is the Centre for Discrete Mathematics and its Applications. Check it out.

Thanks to Mike for setting such a good example for all of us to try and follow.

Monday, July 17, 2006

ICALP 2008

Last Tuesday, the EATCS general assembly held at ICALP 2006 in Venice has accepted the bid presented by Magnús M. Halldórssón on behalf of ICE-TCS to hold ICALP 2008 in Reykjavík. Anna, Magnús and I look forward to seeing you in Iceland in July 2008.

I'll try to report on a couple of interesting events at ICALP 2006 over the next few days. For the moment, I'll just say that Manindra Agrawal received the Gödel Prize 2006, and that Mike Paterson received the EATCS distinguished award. Mike's entertaining talk let us in on his "secrets for success." His presentation will need a separate post, even though I am pretty sure that you are already wondering what his secrets are :-)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

ICALP Report

So Italy brought the Fifa World Cup 2006 home after 24 years. I am biased on this issue, so I won't comment on Italy's win. For an independent opinion, you might wish to check out this article from the Guardian. (Allow me to say, however, that, not surprisingly, I am glad Italy won the championship :-))

I am now at ICALP 2006, and will be attending the General Assembly in about 45 minutes. For the moment, I can give you a couple of possibly interesting news regarding the EATCS. First of all, the new president of the EATCS is going to be Giorgio Ausiello. Mogens Nielsen (the former president) and Paul Spirakis will act as vice-presidents. There are going to be some interesting developments in the role that the EATCS will play for the development of Theoretical Computer Science as a whole. A small, but I believe very important, first step is the free access experiment for the Bulletin of the EATCS, which will begin asap. This will make the Bulletin a more widely read, and I believe better quality, publication.

I'll keep you posted on other developments related to publications and EATCS prizes in due course. News regarding the location of ICALP 2008 will follow soon.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Off to ICALP in Venice

I am off to ICALP 2006 in Venice tomorrow, and hope to get to Venice in time to watch all of the World Cup final---even though watching the match will make me suffer as I always do when Italy are playing.

On Monday I'll attend the EATCS Council meeting, where I expect interesting discussions on whether the Bulletin should be freely available to all on the web, and the issue of EATCS prizes. My opinion, and one that I'll argue for at the meeting, is that the Bulletin should be freely available on the web in its entirety, just like the Notices of the AMS---whose electronic publication is supported by the members' dues. This will help us reach a wider audience, and further increase the visibility of TCS.

On Tuesday afternoon, during the EATCS general assembly, Magnus Halldorsson, Anna Ingolfsdottir and I will present a bid on behalf of ICE-TCS to host ICALP 2008 in Reykjavik, Iceland. If you are in Venice, make sure you attend the assembly and vote for us :-)

I'll try to report on these meetings and on the conference at a later time.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

How We Should Not Behave

I encourage all of you to take a deep breath and read the comments to this post by Lance Fortnow. Reading also the comments to this one won't hurt. Then draw your own conclusions.

I'll refrain from further comments, but thanks to Boaz Barak and Luca Trevisan for their thoughtful contributions.