Project on "Interactive Metaheuristics" funded by the DFG

The DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) has approved the funding of my research project on interactive optimization. The project will be conducted at the Institute of Computer Science of the University of Osnabrück for a period of two years. This project involves several collaborators in different countries: Dr. David Meignan (Principal investigator, University of Osnabrück, Germany), Pr. Sigrid Knust, Pr. Joachim Hertzberg, and Dipl.-Systemwiss. Florian Bruns (University of Osnabrück, Germany), Dr. Jean-Marc Frayret, and Pr. Gilles Pesant (Polytechnique Montréal, Canada), Pr. Abderrafiâa Koukam, and Pr. Vincent Hilaire (University of Technology of Belfort-Montbéliard, France).

The project funded by the DFG is the continuation of an initial study conducted since April 2012 by Dr. David Meignan and Pr. Sigrid Knust. This work on interactive optimization has been awarded by a grant from Google within the “Google Focused Grant Program on Mathematical Optimization and Combinatorial Optimization” in 2012.

Interactive optimization is the combination of combinatorial optimization methods with expertize of a human operator or user. Over the years, Operation Research has produced numbers of successful computational approaches and software tools for solving hard combinatorial optimization problems of practical significance. However, in several application domains there is still a large gap between research and application of advanced optimization methods, in particular for decision support tools. Interactive optimization is an active and promising paradigm to fill this gap between research and application.

The objectives of this project entitled “Interactive metaheuristics for optimization-based decision support systems” is to develop efficient and practical models, algorithms and software tools for the design of interactive optimisation methods for decision support systems. Two optimization problems have been identified for evaluating the proposed approach. The first one is a staff scheduling problem, whose objective is to determine satisfactory schedules for employees according to workload, legal constraints and staff preferences. The second optimization problem concerns the planning of operation in intermodal transportation.

More information on the project website.
The project description is also available in the GEPRIS database in English as well as in German.


“Social networks for researchers” in question

Some “Social networks” for researchers use terms and conditions that are in contradiction with the will of sharing and organizing knowledge in a “libre and open-access way”. Although these platforms are potential means of communication in research communities, researchers must be aware of terms of use of these websites. In addition, researchers and institutions must ensure that their research-publication policies are in accordance with these platforms.

Few years ago, a new type of social network appears on the web, “Social networks for researchers/scientists”. For Instance, ResearchGate, Academia and BiomedExperts are originally designed as social portals. Other websites such as Mendeley have progressively introduced social services in their platforms. Utility of these websites have been questioned in diverse blog-posts, Forbes, Blogs.Nature, Presans, MyScienceWork to cite a few.

Personally, I don’t consider that the means of communication provided by these platforms are very useful. I spent very little time on these “social networks”, and prefer to explore collaborative tools for smaller networks (colleagues, collaborators, university, and communities on my research topics).

Beside the potential utility of such platforms, I would like to address in this post potential issues related to terms and conditions of these websites. In my opinion, terms of use of these websites are in contradiction with the will of sharing and organizing knowledge in a “libre and open-access way”, which is not a surprising fact. More important, is the potential conflict between terms of use of these websites and data-handling/publication/copyright policies of research institutions, when such a policy exists.

I illustrate this point with two examples of websites that were recommended to me by colleagues. Note that I do not criticize these platforms for researchers (they present some interesting innovations), but I point out some important aspects for appropriately using them.

First, the content you post on these websites is subject to a licence agreement. For instance, on Academia.edu, the content you post on the website (including abstract, papers or data) is subject to the following licence agreement (in Terms of use):
“By making available any Member Content on or through the Site or Services, you hereby grant to Academia.edu a worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license, with the right to sublicense, to use, view, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, license, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, stream, broadcast and otherwise exploit such Member Content only on, through or by means of the Site or Services. Academia.edu does not claim any ownership rights in any Member Content and nothing in these Terms will be deemed to restrict any rights that you may have to use and exploit any Member Content.” (source: Academia.edu, Terms of Use)
These aspects of content rights have to be carefully considered for publishing some research results on websites.

Second, the majority of these platforms restricts or blocks the access of content to non-registered user. These restrictions apply on your list of publications, abstracts, posts or full-texts. For instance, below is a notification for the access of full-texts on ResearchGate.

Clearly, the majority of these “social networks” for researchers are not Libre or open-access platforms, they just monetize research material. Again, researchers have to consider these aspects when they provide content and spend time on these websites. More important, researchers and research institutions must ensure that their data-handling/publication/copyright policies are in accordance with these websites. It is high time for researchers to consider content rights for their research results, and for Universities and funding institutions to provide clear guidelines on research communications and data-handling.


GECCO 2013, is it worth it to submit?

Submission deadline for the next GECCO conference is approaching (January 31st). Is it worth it to submit a paper to GECCO 2013? Of course, my answer is yes (if you have a paper and the budget). But, it is an opportunity to explain what makes for me a good conference, from a participant point of view. I identified different reasons or criteria to participate to a conference.

Meeting the community: It is one of the main reasons to attend a conference. Listening to presentations and conversing with other researchers is part of a researcher’s work. In addition to learn on your research topic you can also learn about research practices, establish contacts for collaborations, and exchange views on research policies. The fact that some sessions and organizers/session chairs/keynote speakers are focused on your research topic is an important criterion.

Publishing an article: Of course, having an accepted paper to a conference is a way to disseminate your research. Publication and referencing of the proceedings, as well as the opportunity to extend the paper for journals’ special issues, are important aspects. For instance, GECCO will include the proceedings in the ACM Digital Library. Checking the referencing of previous conference editions is a good indicator.

Obtaining feedback on research: This is not as easy as it seems, however the reviews of your paper, the questions and the possible discussions about your presentation are generally valuable. A good review process, an adequate time for the presentation and good conditions for meeting and discussing with other researchers are essential.

Taking one’s mind off things: Yes! And personally I am more productive after this kind of event.

On this topic I found some interesting tips (more particularly for PhD students) by Michael Ernst, "Attending an academic conference". He compiled a list of interesting advice "Advice for researchers and students".