Tag Archives: conferences

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.

a few thoughts on work-life balance, academia, and Kim Clijsters

Kim Clijsters - tennis star and mother

Kim Clijsters - tennis star and mother

I was really jazzed when new mother Kim Clijsters won the US Open this weekend, the first mother to win a Grand Slam since 1980.  The Guardian posted an article about work-life balance for tennis stars.  They write the following:

Clijsters is far from the first sportswoman to excel after having a child – Paula Radcliffe won the New York marathon in 2007 10 months after having a child, the Kenyan runner Catherine Ndereba broke the world records at 5k and 15k in 1998 a year after giving birth, and last month, the golfer Catriona Matthew won the British Open when her second daughter was just 10 weeks old.

But success in tennis has broadly eluded mothers, a comparative paucity perhaps explained by the punishing tournament schedule that requires players to travel the globe amassing points to qualify for the major championships. [Boldface added]

This issue resonates with me.  Perhaps tenure has broadly eluded mothers in academia because of conferences  and networking that require academics to travel the globe in order to amass a national research reputation?  Not that I am likening myself to an international tennis star, of course.  I enjoy going to conferences, discussing my research, and getting new research ideas.  However, I am anxious about the upcoming INFORMS Annual Meeting, since I will be away from my family for six days (four days of conference plus a day of travel on either end, since I am presenting talks in the first and last sessions of the conference and have to travel 3000 miles each way).

I’ve found that the downside to academic freedom is that it’s hard to hand off my work when I need time off.  When I had my first child as a graduate student, my advisor took over while I was on unofficial leave.  When I had my second child, I found it essentially impossible to hand off work (such as handling paper revisions, advising graduate students, and organizing sessions for conferences), despite receiving an excellent maternity leave.  I was caught off guard by this, and in retrospect, I should have put a better system in place before baby arrived.  I try not to dwell on these issues too much, because motherhood is challenging for everyone, and somehow we all manage.  The little ones make the challenges worthwhile.

Link:  watch an interview with Clijsters on work-life balance here.

Other athlete mothers that inspire me include Lindsey Davenport and Candace Parker (whose appearance on the cover of ESPN Magazine while pregnant resulted in a huge buzz among working mothers).

This isn’t entirely an issue for women.  Last month, I read an interesting article in the Washington Post that indicates that work-life balance issues for high school football coaches ultimately keep many from taking college coaching jobs that are necessary to make the leap to the pros.

“I’ve had opportunities in the past to go to college and the main reason why I decided to stay was, years ago when I did have the opportunity, my children were young and I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to make the jump or didn’t want to make the jump,” said longtime DeMatha Coach Bill McGregor, who has compiled a 259-36-3 record during his 27 years as head coach at the Hyattsville school. “It sounds glamorous and looks glamorous and it’s better pay, but you don’t have an awful lot of security. . . . I know a lot of assistant [college] coaches right now and they’ve been at five, six, seven, eight schools. That’s a lot of uprooting and moving. I think it’s a tough life.”

What challenges do working parents in the field of operations research face?

What working parents inspire you?

OR Practice Blog and Edelman Winner

I am missing the INFORMS Practice Conference, but I am enjoying the conference blog. Check it out.

At the conference, the Edelman Award was also awarded to HP. Yeah for good OR! Link.

Update on 4/30

There is also a conference twitter feed.