That a paper co-authored with two undergraduates from a small, public, undergraduate liberal arts institution like the University of Minnesota, Morris, could win an award like this at an international science conference is just too damn cool. Well done to both Brian and Tyler!
In the hectic melee of the conference, most folks don’t have time to do anything more than skim the nominated papers, and usually not even that. This makes the talks a crucial part of an award like this, as much of the voting is based on them. Tyler (pictured above at Castel dell’Ovo in Naples) was a huge help in that regard. He flew over to the UK several days early so we could work on our talk, giving us the time we needed to revise and practice. He also produced a super cool little six page comic with a nifty introduction to our work that the audience could follow along with. We did a joint presentation, each covering about half the paper. Our talk was well received, and Tyler’s comic was incredibly (and deservedly) popular, and there’s no doubt that his participation was a huge help.
(And all this is on top of Brian and Tyler’s hard work and contributions on the paper itself. Obviously without that content we never would have had the paper accepted or nominated in the first place. So they both deserve huge kudos for that as well.)
Friday morning our paper was voted Best Paper by the conference attendees, and we were presented with a certificate, a box of Italian lemon cookies, and a box of Irish chocolates. All the Best Paper winners from the various EvoStar conferences and workshops also got to choose a free book from the Springer table. Tyler got a really cool book enitled Leonardo’s Lost Robots, and I got The forgotten revolution: How science was born in 300 BC and why it had to be reborn. (It was all terribly liberal arts of us – pretty much everyone else took evolutionary computation/artificial intelligence books of one form or another.)
Tyler upheld a fine tradition of our students making UMM look really good at conferences like this. From his deportment and grasp of the material, most people assumed he was a graduate student, despite the fact that the looks like he’s about 16 :-). He’s currently doing contract work as a web developer and designer, but is seriously interested in going to graduate school in the near future, and he definitely impressed the folks at the conference. I’ve been really lucky to work (and co-publish) with a string of great UMM students, and am looking forward to continue that with a very sharp student named Sara Lahr when we get back.
The trick for me (sometimes) is remembering just how good our students can be. The room we spoke in was this grand space of inlaid wood and marble that was quite a surprise in several ways. This was made worse by the fact that we were in the first session, so we had very little time to adjust and adapt. I was worried about running long (we had a lot of material to cover), and started to lose my nerve about having Tyler wandering around the room at the beginning handing out the comic. Tyler was really calm and collected about it, though, talked me down, and everything did in fact go really smoothly. The moral? Handouts are Good, really cool comics handous are Even Better, and I need to remember to listen to my students :-).
Thanks a ton to Brian and Tyler and all the people and offices at UMM that supported our work, and everyone who voted for our paper at EuroGP! Special thanks also to Riccardo Poli for hosting me on this sabbatical at the University of Essex. I’ve gotten a ton of cool work done here with Riccardo, including “A linear estimation of distribution GP system” at EuroGP, which was also nominated for Best Paper (and which I suspect was also strongly in the running).
I’ve dumped all the photos Tyler and I took in Naples onto my events account on Flickr. I’ll try to clean up a few to post to my main Flickr account in the next week or so.