Profession and academia

The PhD Grind (2012) by Philip Guo is a must read if you want to do a PhD in Computer Science. Even if you're already doing one, I definitively recommend it. It's a first-person account of how it was for the author to complete a six-year PhD at Stanford. Basically all of the obstacles that the author had to overcome during his PhD, are things that either happen to all of us, or that I've heard many times from PhD students. Read this. It's a very short free book that articulates well some of the common negative experiences of PhD students -- and what you can learn from those experiences.

If you are already doing your PhD, specially if you're in your last years, read A PhD Is Not Enough (2nd ed, 2011) by Peter J. Feibelman. Again, it's a short book, that focuses on the transition from PhD student to tenure-track professor to tenure. It has tons of great concrete advise and tips.

Finally, a very comprehensive book is The Professor Is In (2015) by Karen Kelsky, which is really a career guide for academics. The author, a former tenured professor and department head, maintains a popular blog on the subject, and professional career counseling/coaching services. Her approach, as she admits openly, has neoliberal tones: this is a competition that you want to win, however, the author also gives a very reasonable justification as to why this is a good mindset to approach some key career steps. The book is a really detailed guide that covers basically every aspect of an academic career, starting with choosing a PhD advisor but going well into valuable tips for those holding a more advanced or tenured, position.

My advise: read all three, starting with the first one which is shorter.

Bonus: slides by José L. Balcázar on doing research, publishing, writing, defending, and applying for grants.

I am currently looking for students interested in pursuing a PhD in Information and Communications Technology at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, under my supervision, starting October 1st, 2017. My topics of interest are social computing, crisis informatics, news, and social media, plus all kinds of computing applications that address issues of social significance.

General information links:

You can apply using the above links. Your application has a higher chance of succeeding if accompanied by a recommendation letter from a potential advisor for your PhD thesis.

If you would like me to be your advisor, please fill this Expression of Interest (by August 4th, 2017) -- DEADLINE PASSED, FOLLOW ON LINKEDIN OR TWITTER FOR THE NEXT ONE.

The Data Transparency Lab has awarded our project "FA*IR: A tool for fair rankings in search" one of their grants for the year 2017. The grant will enable the development of an open source API implementing fair ranking methods within a widely-used search engine (Apache SOLR).

People search engines are increasingly common for job recruiting, for finding a freelancer, and even for finding companionship or friendship. As in similar cases, a top-k ranking algorithm is used to find the most suitable way of shortlisting and ordering the items (persons, in this case), considering that if the number of candidates matching a query is large, most users will not scan the entire list. Conventionally, these lists are ranked in descending order of some measure of the relative quality of items (e.g. years of experience or education, up-votes, or inferred attractiveness). Unsurprisingly, the results of these ranking and search algorithms potentially have an impact on the people who are ranked, and contribute to shaping the experience of everybody online and offline. Due to its high importance and impact, our aim is to develop the first fair open source search API. This fair ranking tool will enforce ranked group fairness, ensuring that all prefixes of the ranking have a fair share of items across the groups of interest, and ranked individual fairness, reducing the number of cases in which a less qualified or lower scoring item is placed above a more qualified or higher scoring item. We will create this fair search API by extending a popular, well-tested open source search engine: Apache Solr. We will develop this search API considering both the specific use case of people search, as well as considering a general-purpose search engine with fairness criteria. Taking a long-term view, we believe the use of this tool will be an important step towards achieving diversity and reducing inequality and discrimination in the online world, and consequently in society as a whole.

The DTL grant was awarded to Meike Zehlike (Technische Universität Berlin), Francesco Bonchi (ISI Foundation and Eurecat), Carlos Castillo (Eurecat), Sara Haijan (Eurecat), and Odej Kao (Technische Universität Berlin). Together with Ricardo Baeza-Yates (NTENT) and Mohammed Megahed (Technische Universität Berlin), we have been doing joint research on fair top-k ranking. Some of our results can be found on arXiv pre-print 1706.06368.

More details: DTL Grantees 2017 announced.

Good news is I got my accreditation as advanced researcher, which is the requirement to become a full professor in Catalonia. This is awarded by the AQU (Agency for the Quality of the University system).

More information: http://www.aqu.cat/professorat/catedratic/index_en.html

TL;DR: Create a folder named "2016" in your "Desktop" or "Documents" (wherever you keep your work files). Move everything there. If you need anything again, take it back out.

* * *

There are many ways of organizing your folders in a directory structure. None of them will ever be complete satisfactory, because we use multiple dimensions to find our stuff. Sometimes we would like to look for a particular typology of project, or by the name of a collaborator, or by date.

Of all the dimensions by which you could organize a directory structure, what I do is to organize them by aspects of life (for most that will be "Work" and "Personal") and inside each area, by year.

Organizing your folders by year is not by itself better than other criteria of organizing things, but has two distinct advantages: it makes it easy to tidy up things, moving unused stuff out of the way, and it is backup-friendly.

A simple method, though not the one I follow which I explain below, is to keep only what you're currently using in the top level, and move stuff from previous years into one folder per year:

  1. Create a folder with the name of the year that passed.
  2. Move everything into that folder.
  3. If you need any of that again, move it out of the folder and back to the top-level of your "Desktop" or "Documents."

* * *

The method I use is the following. I keep top-level folders "inv" for research, and "pers" for personal (in the past, "inv" was "research," which was too long; even before, it was "work," which didn't feel right to me).

Inside each of these top-level folders, I keep one folder per project, like this:

  1. 2016_bigcrisisdata/
  2. 2016_swdm/
  3. 2016_digital_health/
  4. 2016_petitions_modeling/
  5. 2016_bureaucracy/
  6. 2016_reviews/
  7. 2016_recommendations/
  8. Archive/

If I continue adding or modifying files in a folder, because I continue active on that project, I rename the folder, e.g., "2016_digital_health -> 2017_digital_health."

If I continue using some files as reference in a read-only manner, I keep those files with the year they have in the top-level folder.

If I stop using a folder, I move it to the “Archive.” From there, I copy or move stuff to an external backup when it gets several months old.

I keep no files in the top level, only folders. If I need to start anything, I create a top-level folder, and then move to the “Archive/” if it goes nowhere. Alternatively, I use some one of the generic folders: “{Year}_bureaucracy/”, “{Year}_reviews/”, “{Year}_recommendations/” are the generic ones I use now.

* * *

I backup continuously and automatically my working directory, as I try to keep there only the active projects and the recently archived ones. If I need to answer a question about something I did years ago (which doesn't happen often, but it happens), I go to to the external backup.

Over the years, I have found this way of organizing things makes things easy for me. In general, having a simple method for organizing your stuff can save you a lot of time and effort. Just choose a way and follow it, and make exceptions when necessary, in whatever way works best for you.

Happy New Year!

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