British-French-German Conference on Optimisation 2015

8th July 2015


Presenting at the British-French-German Conference on Optimisation in London came about by surprise. I first heard about the conference when my supervisor asked me and a colleague in a group meeting whether we would like to attend. There was an invitation for a member of our group to attend, so it seemed like a good idea participate in the conference. I was more than happy to attend this conference, which I hoped would give me more of an insight to the optimisation research being performed in the UK. This was not my first time in the UK, as my wife now lives in Exeter (see my blog on the two-body problem), but my first time in London. The conference was a lot of fun and I was able to meet many new and interesting people.

The BFG

I have to start this with something that dominated my thoughts in the lead up to this conference. This conference could have been much more interesting if it were actually inspired by Roald Dahl. The acronym for the conference was BFG, which is appropriate for the countries it represented. However, BFG also stands for "Big Friendly Giant", which is the subject of a children's book by Roald Dahl. Having grown up with many Roald Dahl books, it did make me laugh at the thought of attending a Big Friendly Giant Conference on Optimisation.

Trip to Exeter

Because this conference was being held in London, it seemed like a great opportunity for me to take a trip to Exeter. There were two benefits of taking this trip. First, I took the chance of me being in Exeter to meet with other researchers working in similar fields with the hope of starting a collaboration. Also, I was able to spend a little more time with my wife (working on the two-body problem).

My work meeting was very productive. I met with Ed Keedwell at the University of Exeter to discuss optimisation work related to gene expression and amino acid sequence analysis. I discovered Ed while looking through the University of Exeter's website and identified that we had similar research interests. The work that I have recently completed on HIV amino acid sequence analysis (The unrooted set covering connected subgraph problem differentiating between HIV envelope sequences) has some similarities with work that Ed has performed on analysing gene expression. While we employ different solution approaches, there is a common interest in the applications that we have worked with. The meeting with Ed worked out very well and I am looking forward to discussing some more work with him when I return in August.

The optimisation conference

One nice thing about travelling to England for an "optimisation conference" is that it is spelt correctly. I did enjoy flicking through the conference program and seeing s's in place of z's. It was good to see British English being used again (something that I miss in Germany).

Onto the conference. It was a good three days of talk on optimisation at Imperial College. We were treated to two plenary talks a day with the choice of one semi plenary just after lunch. The plenary talks were really interesting and thought provoking. Of the plenary and semi plenary talks I have to mention Martin Skutella with a talk on network routing, Michael Ferris presenting us a Farm game while discussing MOPEC, Dimitris Bertsimas discussing the use of optimisation in statistics and Karthik Natarajan with a great talk on traffic applications.

This conference covered a wide range of topics that were of interest to me. Since I have fairly broad research interests, this conference allowed me to engage with many different areas. I started by attending numerous talks on Integer Programming, which is very relevant to my current position. There were some nice topics, but unfortunately I did not discover many things that would be useful for implementation in SCIP. There were also a number of interesting application areas, namely employing optimisation in making policy decisions for pharmaceutical companies and governments and optimisation in supply chain management. I also found some great talks in the Robust Optimisation sessions. I did not attend all of the Robust Optimisation sessions, which was a shame because the ones that I did attend were very interesting. Overall, the conference provided a great number of topics that were relevant to my interests and current work.

My talk

This was my first opportunity to give a talk on my current work related to the dual simplex method. It was a lot of fun to present this work at a conference. However, this is new work so I had to invest a lot of time in preparing my presentation.

I spent a good part of a week preparing for this conference. The preparation was mostly related to collating results from computational experiments and making "nice" figures for the presentation. I prefer to give a presentation with pictures instead of words. While this approach takes much more preparation time, I believe that the end results is more enjoyable for the audience. I did not manage to put everything that I wanted into figures, so many words still remained. However, I do feel that I prepared a nice presentation.

I surprised myself when delivering this presentation. I did not feel too nervous and I felt like the work was presented well. Since it was my first time presenting this work, I did ramble on a little too much. That is a common problem of mine when I am not 100% comfortable with the work I am presenting. It is very new work, so I second guessed myself a few times. This is something that I am aware of and will definitely improve over time. All in all, it was a fun presentation.

The wrap up

A short conference with an extra trip to Exeter. It was a lot of fun and it re-energised me to get back into my work. I was able to get some nice comments about my work, but more importantly I was able to think about it from a different point of view. Having to present the work made me review all concepts and ideas that I am working with. I have a much clearer picture of the decomposition approach for the dual simplex method compared to before this conference.

As a nice end to the conference, my PhD supervisor, Gary Froyland, happened to be visiting Imperial College while I was there. I was able to meet up with Gary briefly prior to departing to catch my flight back to Berlin. It was great to have a quick catch up with him.

As I write this I am preparing to attend the next conference. I will be departing to Pittsburgh for the ISMP conference in a couple of days. The summer has really come, no rest for the wicked.

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