SQuInTy Thoughts

Attending Conferences and Making them Useful



This month I attended the 2015 Southwestern Quantum Information and Technology (SQuInT) workshop in Berkeley, California. Each year I go to this workshop, I learn something new, not just about the research being done in quantum information, but in how academic collaborations and relationships are formed. As a graduate student, these are skills which need to be learned to help advance scientific careers.

Attending Talks

The backbone of any conference is the talks. Over the course of three days, I heard many speakers present their work. (Of course, I did not always understand what they were talking about, but that’s OK!) Talks were either 30 or 45 minutes, depending on the speaker. Several talks stand out in my mind as being informative and relevant to my work - Christopher Monroe on work with trapped ion qubits, CQuIC’s own Amir Kalev on compressed sensing, Nathan Wiebe on quantum Hamiltonian learning, and Mohan Sarovar on model reduction techniques.

One very nice aspect of SQuInT is the emphasis on having students participate. My colleague Jonathan Gross gave a talk on the usefulness of “weak measurements” for tomography - turns out they’re not useful at all!

Giving a Poster

The poster I presented at the workshop was my first. Having spent a couple of weeks working on writing content, setting up a layout, and eventually getting the poster printed, I enjoyed having the opportunity to meet other researchers and describe my work. The interesting thing about posters is that you really have the chance to take people through your work in an interactive way. They can look at figures, go back to previous text or ideas, or jump ahead to the end. Unlike talks, I think audiences can feel more engaged with a well thought out and pleasantly designed poster.

Like all first time attempts, there are things I would change if I had to make the poster over again. I found myself pointing at certain graphics most often, skipping whole sections of text, and noticing when people were squinting at the labels on my graphs. Perhaps one of the great challenges of poster design is knowing exactly what you will need to have in front of your audience so you can talk about your work, while simultaneously knowing how much extra stuff you need to explain those things when you are not present. (This year, the posters were up for an entire day after the poster session. Whether anyone actually stopped by…well, that’s a good point.)

Meeting People

Another important component of attending a conference is meeting new people. I was pleasantly surprised to discover someone I met last year was attending; it was nice to chat and catch up. A contingent of students from the University of California, San Diego was in attendance; over lunch, we discussed some of the work we were doing. I was also able to chat with researchers from Microsoft Research to help me understand what it is like to do academic-type work in a corporate setting.

Perhaps unsurprisingly in retrospect, I am to realize that it is the informal discussions with people - over coffee, tea, or whatnot - which form the basis for academic collaborations. It is useful to recognize the social aspect of science. We like working with people we get along well with, and for others to work with you, you need to be the kind of person people want to work with.