Last month I attended the Women In Machine Learning (WiML) workshop and the Neural Information Processing Symposium (NIPS) for the second time. For a second year, the conference was located in South Lake Tahoe, NV.

The WiML workshop was started as a co-located workshop to the Grace Hopper Conference and moved to be co-located with NIPS, a premiere machine learning conference, after a couple years.  The workshop was started by a group of women in the field after noticing how few women were at NIPS each year.   In the workshop, women researchers and students give presentations, we have a poster session, and close the day out with a panel on career paths.   At breakfast and lunch we get to network wither each other and senior women in the field.  The organizers also connect attendees into mentoring groups based on career stage and research interests.   This year was nice that I got to reconnect with a lot of the women I met last year.

The main conference is a great learning experience, but also a testament to how excited about the work we do people in this field are.  It’s a single track conference, so one can attend all of the talks, but the most evident part is that it runs from 9am-midnight.  There are coffee breaks, a lunch break, and  a short dinner break, but it’s really an all day affair, all technical.  The primary conference activity is the evening poster sessions, from 7pm-midnight each night.  People actively discuss their work that whole time.  Last year, as a second year graduate student the poster sessions were very overwhelming, but this year, they helped me realize how much I have actually learned in the past year.  It was nice to understand a lot more and be able to engage in more meaningful conversation with the authors than last year.

A personal highlight for me was to reconnect with the people I met at the Summer School this fall.  We saw each other throughout the conference, I was room-mates with one, so I got to split the hotel costs.  Several also had papers so they were friendly faces in the poster sessions.  We also met for a dinner with about 20 of us.

After the main conference there were two days of workshops.  These were a little less intense, schedule-wise, but they’re an opportunity for a smaller community to engage in more recent work.  I attended a workshop on machine learning in neural imaging.   I’ve been involved with a psychology collaboration, with a group who uses fMRI to study affect and the workshop provided useful context of related work.