Xaviera Steele

As one could expect, attending my first academic conference was an enlightening experience. I can categorize my new learning into 3 areas: how academia works, how innovation sometimes proceeds within theoretical computer science, and how little I currently know about the field. After conversing with a range of postdocs and PhD students, I have a much more robust understanding of what it’s like to work in academia than I’d managed to get from reading forums and discussing with my professors. I’m glad I got to hear about how my seniors chose their areas of research, the paths they took to their current positions, their thoughts on the pressure to publish, the various other conferences they regularly attend, the teaching positions they’ve held, and many other topics. Additionally, attending other people’s talks gave me ideas for structuring my slides, what level of technical detail is appropriate depending on subject area, and how to deal with displaying code or mathematical figures in slides. Next time I need to create an academic presentation, it will be greatly improved thanks to this experience. More specifically to theoretical CS, I observed the patterns of how frameworks are developed and extended by the research community; how academic programming languages evolve; and how at first there are many different approaches to address a certain question or problem, which will likely eventually be pruned to just a couple of the most successful. To a varying extent I grasped the gist of each talk, but invariably there were central terms or concepts that I was not familiar with, which I took notes on (for example, the behavior and difference between different types of logics, or a basic understanding of Isabelle, Hol, and Coq). I already expected that many of the talks would go over my head, but now I have more concrete view of what areas I’ll study more if I want to be able to follow current research. I think this information will be particularly relevant when considering grad school programs.