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Adapting in Difficult Times

Vincent Chan

Vincent W.S. Chan



These are difficult times with the Coronavirus affecting many critical and trivial aspects of our lives. It is difficult for parents and families, emotionally, practically, financially and logistically. Many of us are teachers, engineers and managers, etc., and in the past weeks we have been scrambling to schedule remote virtual meetings and work, trying to find sensible paths to work around, and most of all reassure those around us we are in this together and eventually we can overcome this crisis. I urge all of you to think of creative ways to help each other at a distance as the coming months bring new and unpredictable issues. Our volunteers and staff are working very hard to assess the situation and determine the best course of actions forward. The most impacted are conferences. We had to delay a few (e.g. INFOCOM in China) that are coming up in April and trying to find alternative ways to deal with later ones. We are working closely with IEEE to determine the best course of actions. Please monitor our website closely for updates and announcements of alternative arrangements. These actions may range from delaying some of the conferences, going virtual for some and/or providing a hybrid format. In all cases we expect the papers to be published in Xplore as planned. Our VP, Directors and staff of Conferences will have frequent updates in our website and also with direct transmissions to authors regularly. We are also suspending all Distinguished Lecturer and Distinguished Industry Speaker talks and events at least through the end of May to minimize travel and avoid large gatherings. I would like to extend our heartiest thanks to the conference and IT staff and volunteers who are dealing with this crisis for the society.

It is ironic that the medium we all helped to develop, electronic communication and networks, is the primary mode we use to communicate with in recent days. Surely, the number of IEEE related emails has gone up easily by a factor of ten for me. I tried to answer them diligently as soon as possible. However, I want to mention a few emails that are special. I actually received quite a number of emails that simply ask how I and my family are doing. It might be cabin fever being confined to my home or just simply deprivation of human interactions, I particularly find these emails comforting and uplifting. Perhaps we all should do more to reach out by Internet or phone. Here I will simply wish all of you good health and keep safe.

The many emails, video conferences and discussions of virtual conferences remind me of the first strategic thrust of ComSoc to enrich our portfolio on networking from the Physical Layer to the Application Layer1. My experiences over the past few weeks clearly indicate virtual meetings have yet to be perfected; good news for ComSoc researchers! Virtual conferences and board meetings are even more complicated. The conference and IT staff and the conference volunteers are exploring several different options, none perfect. I will not bore you with the details but suffice to say they are working very hard. So stay tune for announcements. I was once asked by the senior VP of Research of AT&T: what is the proper metric for serious video conferencing as in business negotiations (he really wants to know how much data rate is sufficient)? I told him when we can play serious poker via video conferencing then the app is ready for business meetings. I did not just state the data rate but the whole network stack has to work seamlessly, from delays, multi-media displays, running a meeting under parliamentary rules as in recognizing the sequence of participants raising their hands, secret ballot voting etc. and archiving and recording.

We don’t know what to do with ICC 2020 yet (we will soon make a decision on moving back or turning virtual) but we have been planning some new looks and initiatives for the conference. First, finally we have excellent diversity representation for keynote speeches with four women presenters. We have not had many women keynote speakers in the past and this year we simply looked (see the third thrust of the strategic plan) and lo and behold there were many excellent women available. Four was not the goal but happened naturally. We also had Irwin Jacobs, the founder of Qualcomm, and Bob Kahn, one of the fathers of the Internet, giving keynotes and also participating in a fire side chat with our young professionals. To support diversity professionals with young children we have enriched our efforts to provide travel grants to members with accompanying children, childcare support (both at conferences and for members that need to cover extra expenses at home while traveling) on top of mentoring and other events. We are also planning a synergy panel that features panelists from the Irish funding and industry development agencies, industry and academia (the second thrust in the strategic plan). We are especially excited to be able to hear about the excellent collaborations between the government, industry and academia in Ireland. As an experiment we are piloting a fast-tracked, open-access and interactive “Machine Learning for Communication Workshop” at ICC 2020 to see if we can create a new dimension/reason to attend ComSoc conferences. We will see whether we can pull these exciting components for ICC through. Please watch the ComSoc website and other electronic transmissions for further development.

Meanwhile, I hope all of us can face the current situation of great uncertainties with wisdom, courage and kindness. Our thanks and respects to those who are dealing with this crisis at the front line. Don’t forget to reach out to a few friends and ask them how they are. Like many of you, for me nothing can substitute in-person human interactions. I am looking forward to the days when we can meet at conferences and other IEEE events again.

1 The main thrusts of the current ComSoc strategic plan are (details posted on the ComSoc web page):

  1. Reshape technical balance of and expand portfolio from Physical to Application Layers involving computing and services/applications.
  2. Re-engage the industry and recruit new members working towards academic and industry balance in ALL portfolio.
  3. Promote diversity in gender, geography and discipline in leadership positions and nurture new blood in the pipeline.