Tag Archives: conferences

what I learned from preparing for a semi-plenary talk

I recently blogged about a semi-plenary talk I gave at the German OR Society Conference. This post is about the process of preparing for that presentation.

First I thought about the story I wanted to tell. I’ve given a lot of research talks before. I understand the general plot of a research talk, but a semi-plenary was not a regular research talk. I wasn’t initially sure how to tell a story in a new way. I asked a wise colleague for advice, which was excellent:

  1. Think about your favorite plenary talks. Model your talk after that (including the amount of math to include in the talk).
  2. Think of the talk as a series of 30 second elevator talks. Let those messages structure your story.
  3. Your audience will want to feel that they’ve learned something. What are the takeaways?

I found that creating an initial set of slides wasn’t so bad once I decided in the story I wanted to tell. I have given so many talks before that I had a huge set of slides that I could pull from. I had too many slides and could not fit into the time slot, and editing and pruning my slides was pure torture.

A few months ago, I read a post by an academic blogger who had recently given a plenary talk. I can’t find the post now but I remember that it took about 40 hours to create a one hour talk. This reminded me of an earlier post on teaching MOOCs (How college is like choosing between going to the movies and Netflix), where an enormous amount of time goes into a single lecture.

Here is why it took so long. I noticed that every time I removed a slide or combined a few slides into a single slide, it affected the story narrative in a major way. In a regular research talk, I find it easy to pick a few details to leave out. Not the case this time. Rather than condense the story, I eventually left some topics out all together or turned the insights from a  paper into a couple of bullet points on a slide. Finding the right balance of detail and insight was a constant challenge.

I ended up having almost no math in my talk. I decided that insights were more important that going through technical details.

I recreated almost all of the visuals from my slides in previous talk. It’s not that my visuals were total crap, it’s just that there was just too much detail and notation in previous figures I made for research talks. I didn’t want confusing visuals getting in the way of the story. Sometimes I added a picture to illustrate an idea or insight that was technical in nature rather than launching into a long narrative to explain a simple point. Here is an example of a new visual explaining the concept of ambulance response times and coverage:

Example of a conceptual slide I used in my talk.

Example of a conceptual slide I used in my talk.

Other times i just needed to make a simpler version of a figure or table that allowed me to look at a single curve or to compare two things, instead of a busier figure that works in a regular research talk. At one point, I changed a figure with four subfigures into a single figure by omitting the other three subfigures. I make nearly all of my figures with Matlab and save my code so that I can easily recreate figures for presentations or paper revisions. Remaking figures wasn’t too taxing, but remaking a lot of figures took some time.

Finally, I learned so much about my research when giving this talk. The end my my talk answered two questions:

  1. Where is emergency medical service research in OR going?
  2. Where does emergency medical service research in OR need to go?

I think about high level issues all the time (after all, I frequently write proposals!). But this was different: I was talking about places where this entire line of research is going, not just mine. When I was answering the question “Where does emergency medical service research in OR need to go?” when making my slides, I learned that my research had already made progress in the right direction. Not all of my ideas are in line with the where this line of research needs to go, and it was worthwhile to realign my priorities.


Related posts:

  1. Do you have a 30 second elevator talk about your research?
  2. The most important 30 seconds of your dissertation defense


are you a student attending #Analytics2013, please consider the WORMS scholarship

A professional colloquium (the IPC)for OR grad students will be held in San Antonio on April 7, during the INFORMS Business Analytics and Operations Research Conference. This is a great opportunity for grad students interested in industry. If you are interested, please check out the IPC web site [Link] for the application process. The deadline is March 1.

The Analytics conference is pricey. Some financial aid is available. See the website for details.

I’m happy to say that WORMS will be sponsoring a student:

Women in OR/MS (WORMS) will sponsor a student to attend the Industry Professional Colloquium (IPC) at the INFORMS Business Analytics and Operations Research Conference in San Antonio April 7-9, 2013, geared at students interested in a career in industry.  This includes registration to the INFORMS Business Analytics and Operations Research Conference and a year membership to WORMS for a candidate selected for the WORMS Analytics Scholarship Award.  For details on submitting a nomination to attend the IPC and to be considered for the award, see     http://meetings2.informs.org/analytics2013/profcolloquium.html

land O links: #informs2012 edition

Here are a few miscellaneous links from the 2012 INFORMS Annual Meeting.

  • Mike Trick writes about Al  Roth and Lloyd Shapley, winners of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Economics. Both are well-known in OR/MS circles and have strong ties with INFORMS. Mike notes that this may be the closest we’ve gotten to an OR Nobel. Congrats Roth and Shapley!
  • INFORMS has a video channel that is full of short videos, some of which are from the conference. Here is one about the INFORMS members who received the Nobel Prize:

  • In case you missed it, I urged attendees to register for the communities that interest them when they register for INFORMS. If a community represents an area that is near and dear to your heart, the best way to support them is to be a member. Strength in numbers matters: larger communities carry more weight with INFORMS.
  • @ORNinja had the best tweet of the conference. Nathan Brixius elaborates on this tweet.
  • Tallys Yunes has nice posts about Monday and Tuesday at the conference
  • Tallys made a video about the Annual Meeting before the conference. If you haven’t seen it–or if it didn’t make sense prior to the conference–watch it below:

where Punk Rock OR will be at the INFORMS Annual Meeting

I am participating in several sessions and activities at the INFORMS Annual Meeting. I will have a busy conference. Here are the places I will be.


SB08 and SC08: Doing Good with Good OR competition panels

SD03: I will give a presentation in a session on decision analytic models in healthcare.

SD45: I’ll have to miss this panel discussion on advice on promotion from associate to full. Take notes for me if you go.

Sunday at 6pm: The IOL Reception.

Sunday at 7:30. If I haven’t collapsed yet, I’ll attend the Welcome Reception.


MB29: The social networking session with Paul Rubin, Mike Trick, Tim Hopper, Mary Leszczynski, and Bjarni Kristjansson.

Monday at 12:30: SPPSN lunch

Monday at 6:15pm: The WORMS business meeting.


TA08: Emergency medical services

TB45: Panel discussion on time management

Tuesday at 12:30: WORMS lunch.

TC45: Panel discussion on women in OR/MS: Publishing, Recruitment, and Retention.

TD29: Another session on emergency medical services

Tuesday evening: The General Reception!


I will be flying back on Wednesday. In spirit, I will be with my student who is presenting work in WB29.

A post from the INFORMS computing society conference: are application-oriented conferences too specialized?

I am attending the INFORMS Computing Society (ICS) Conference this week.  This is my first ICS Conference.  In addition to the focus on computing, the conference selected homeland security for its theme, with a secondary theme of energy security.  I initially found it unusual for an already-specialized  conference to have an application area focus.

On second thought, many conferences have application area focuses, such as transportation, health, risk analysis.  The application-focused conferences tend to attract people with a broad range of interests who use a variety of tools.  I suppose that the dual focus on computing would not be too limiting, but homeland security seems more focused than, say, health applications.

As a homeland security researcher, I have to say that I was eventually won over.  The talks were all pretty interesting to me, and there was a strong theme to the talks in nearly every session.  Best of all, conference was populated with other homeland security enthusiasts, so the questions asked during the talks were really insightful.  The audience questions quite often gave me even more to think about than the talks.

Since I am interested in both computation and homeland security, nearly all of the talks appealed to me.  Despite having a mere five tracks, I often had to make some tough choices between talks scheduled at the same time and missed more than a few talks that I wanted to see.

The five concurrent sessions were a nice contrast with the 75 concurrent sessions at at the INFORMS Annual Meeting.  Walking between buildings to session hop is not ideal.  When I started attending the INFORMS Annual Meeting, there were about 50 concurrent sessions, and all sessions fit within one convention center.  I have been hoping for the number tracks to be cut back, but they seem to grow every year.  But this tangent should really be its own post, so I’ll stop reflecting for now and come back to this theme later.

I would like to know if those who are less interested in homeland security enjoyed the ICS theme of homeland security as much as I did.  Given that many homeland security applications are ultimately aimed at managing risk, they have broad applicability beyond homeland security and even extreme events.  So I am not sure if the application was really all that limiting.

I hope not too many were deterred by the application focus.  Did you attend ICS?  If so, what did you think of the homeland security focus?

more men attended the work-life balance session than women attended the social networking session

I am not an expert on the status of men and women in OR/MS, but I have two observations to offer.

1.  I was surprised to see that no women attended the social networking session at INFORMS (three women were on the panel).

2.  I was surprised to see that several men attended the work-life balance session at INFORMS.  Better yet, they even asked questions.

One step backward and one step forward. Certainly, there are gender disparities in blog readership (more men read blogs, particularly technical blogs), blog commenting (I’d wager than men are more likely to leave comments), twitter participation (more women tweet).  This might translate into disparities of who feels comfortable attending a social networking panel. (Note: by disparities, I literally mean differences, with no judgment attached).  I wonder about disparities because quite a few women asked me about the session during the conference (I received more inquiries from women than men) so I know that they were interested but didn’t show up. I don’t have a way to draw conclusions from my small sample of observations.

I’ll stop there before I put my foot in my mouth.  What do you think?

Related posts:

External links:

The social networking panelists at INFORMS

The social networking panelists at INFORMS courtesy of Anna Nagurney


I am getting ready for the INFORMS Annual Meeting.  Stop by and say hi if you see me there.  I will be blogging about the conference during and after the conference.  As the WORMS VP of meetings, I must publicize the WORMS events, most of which occur on Tuesday:

  • Sunday @6:15 Business meeting in the Hilton
  • Tuesday @8am Panel Discussion:  Challenges and Opportunities for Women in Academia
  • Tuesday @11 Keynote address by Margaret Brandeau
  • Tuesday @12:30 Luncheon (buy tickets in advance).  This is always my favorite INFORMS event.
  • Tuesday @2:45 Panel Discussion: What I Wish I Had Known: Ph.D. Years and Beyond

FYI, you can follow the conference twitter feed.