La paella de Windmill
The receding Covid-19 pandemic is letting us catch a breath of fresh air, and the WindMill project members didn’t want to miss this opportunity to fill the lungs with the salty air of Catalonia. In fact, in the first week of March, the WindMill fellows met in the stunning city of Barcelona — the perfect setting for an unforgettable ITN training event. As you may know, the ITN training events are a blend of technical talks given by renowned researchers with a soft-skill training component, everything topped off with fun social events. The training event in Barcelona resembled a very well cooked paella — the typical dish from Spain made with rice, saffron, vegetables, chicken or seafood, and served in one large pan (paella). In this blog post I will give a taste of the training event in Barcelona.
The foundation of a good paella is the rice (arroz in Spanish), which has to be of the “bomba” type. A good rice is the first step towards a good paella, and for the same reason a good set of technical talks is the most important ingredient for an ITN training event. Our technical program, a.k.a. arroz bomba, was on-point. It started with a dense lecture on Deep Gaussian Processes and Bayesian Optimization by Daniel Hernandez Lobato. The following day, Xavier Giró and Laia Tarred taught ESRs how to train deep learning models from unlabeled data using semi-supervised learning techniques. We then switched gear and entered the area of wireless communication, Marco di Renzo taken us by the hand and guided us through the realm of Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces. On the last last day, Geoffrey Li gave us a glimpse of the futuristic Semantic Communications.
Inside our the fuming rice, we can find various vegetables, such as pepper, tomatoes and onions. These are the non-technical lectures. Even if not all ESRs like vegetables, they are very healthy for young researchers like us. Our portion of veggies gave ESRs all the necessary nutrients to nail the job interviews and to write impactful resume (thanks to Carles Anton). Furthermore, Ignasi Garcia-Milà Vida and Carolina Pinart taught the ESRs how to move from Research to Innovation and how to implement AI ethically.
The saffron are the interactive parts that give a distinctive flavor to our rice. During the Barcelona training event, ESRs presented their latest research work during a poster session, and received constructive feedback from their colleagues. It followed a one minute pitch contest, during which each ESRs had to convince a potential investor in financing his idea. All ESRs had very convincing arguments and Pedro was the winner!
Finally, the toppings of our paella, which is either seafood or meat (never mixed!), are the social events. These are the most enjoyable and fun parts of the ITN training events. In Barcelona, other than visiting the city attractions, the ESRs had the chance to prove their cooking skill in a paella cooking contest. On Thursday night, after an hour long session of carefully preparing ingredients and patiently cooking them using the traditional pan, the WindMill contestant had to peer review the different paella dishes they had prepared and to declare the paella king/queen. Typical comments were “This paella is certainly tasty but it is not novel enough” , “The prawns are on point, but the related work section lacks of references” or “Empirically the rice is well cooked, but the system model is too simplistic.” Despite these contrasting opinions, we all agreed that the ITN event in Barcelona was a wonderful experience thanks to a perfect mix of ingredients.