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April 2016

First Quarter: Lesson in Success (It's the Little Things)

This is going to seem like a minor post, but the matter is important nonetheless because it affects how you are perceived and the post gains weight toward the end. I swear it does. But first, the minor part. All together now: It's the little things. If you are sending an email to someone, don't reply to the latest email they sent you (the one that has a totally different title and subject than the one you're writing about). Create a new email, with a title that matches what you're writing about (so that they know if they're busy whether they should click on it now or not, and how they should file it, and they will have a much easier time finding it later when they scroll through all your emails). Just replying to the first email of that person that you can find even if the topic is wildly different just makes you look sloppy.

Also, while we're on the subject of little things, if you're given instructions on how to submit, such as "the title of your project report should be titled Report_YourFirstName_YourLastName.docx", and you upload "Report.docx", then the recipient may not make a comment but won't think more highly of you because you made that person's task more difficult in actually finding your report next time she looks for it. So now she has to rename it for you the way she wanted it. Always put yourself in the shoes of the person you're communicating with. 

This actually also crossed my mind at the wonderful Alpha Omega Epsilon panel discussion a few weeks ago. One of the AOE ladies asked about work-life balance, and three of the panelists started expounding at great lengths, with minor variations, on their awesome husband who cooks and helps with child care. Well... my guess is that the AOE ladies ranged in age from 18 to 22. While it is wonderful to hear about happy marriages with shared responsibilities, it would perhaps have been more helpful to answer from the perspective of a 21-year-old. If you want to talk about relationships, then I guess something along the lines of "be careful not to get into a pattern of doing all the chores at home for your boyfriend in addition to trying to succeed at your job" might have been more suitable for that audience. Then one person started praising organization, but in the context of child care and her husband picking up the kids when she has a faculty meeting. Which is a very valid and important point for that person, and perhaps not something the audience could implement right away.

I'm the one who threw a wrench into the whole pretty picture by saying something along the lines of "you know, work-life balance is always going to be tough, and of course it matters to be organized because if you aren't you will struggle mightily for sure, but it's a matter of picking your fights because you won't be able to do all the things you want to do." And then I said more, but there needs to be an advantage to being a AOE sister and taking part to the actual panel discussion, so I won't share everything here. Plus, the AOE ladies sent me a wonderful thank you card signed by all the sisters, which I put right away in my Box Of Important Things (this is how free-spirit me manages my organization.) All this to say, it is hard for everybody to put herself in other people's shoes, even long past college age. I also do it sometime. It is a tough skill to master but if you do, you will be ahead of the game!  

I also would have wanted to turn the question around and asked the AOE sisters how they thought professors perceived their work-life balance. One point I made was that I wished we professors knew more when students had a lot of school commitments because it is hard to know otherwise whether people are spending their time surfing the web or trying to finish the assignment for another class. Some other panelists seemed to be of the opinion that students would be on Facebook or

I am of the opinion (being a goody-two-shoes at heart, of the kind who believes that most people start nice and then become mean and bitter when life disappoints them, although someone argued convincingly the other day that some people are just mean at heart and show their meanness when they get power, even when they're not old yet, but more on that some other day) that students try to enjoy college and also do well in school and when they're in class they might try to finish other assignments or projects or email about an event they're organizing as extra-curricular activity, in addition to answering their texts on their phone.

Of course, part of the reason I think that is that if students actually use in-class time to surf Facebook or buy stuff on Amazon, I wouldn't think very highly of their self-discipline, and the Stanford Marshmallow Project has shown that such students don't do very well in life later on (although admittedly the SMP studied the consequences into adulthood of self-discipline for four-year-olds). 

This is all about thinking about the image you want to project and seeing yourself from the perspective of the other person to evaluate whether s/he perceives you the way you want. 

Best presentation at the #Analytics16 conference...

...(at least among the ones I've seen) was by Dr. Tim Niznik of American Airlines who gave an outstanding talk on hub disruption management. He had the last time slot on Tuesday, which is always a difficult time slot since so many people are leaving to catch an evening flight, but his talk was extremely well attended. His presentation was very engaging with a mix of visuals about weather maps and tools such as the diversion tracker and the gate demand chart. The goal is to figure out how to strategically delay some flights in order to minimize excess gate demand, minimize operations beyond airport closure time, minimize system-wide passenger impact and minimize delay introduced without violating crew/curfew rules. This talk was so good I hope Dr. Niznik can be one of the plenary or semi-plenary speakers at an INFORMS conference very soon. The high quality of his team's work deserves the visibility and dissemination to as large an audience as possible (and I don't even fly American). If you're a conference attendee, you can see his slides by logging into INFORMS Connect, clicking on My Communities and entering the Analytics 2016 community and browsing through the latest shared slides on the bottom left - he was part of the Tuesday Decision and Risk Analysis track.

The Analytics16 conference was one of the very best conferences I attended in recent memory and I'd like to thank Elea Feit for doing such an amazing job chairing the organizing committee (I know because I was part of the committee), as well as all my colleagues who helped put together such a remarkable event. The bar is set high for next year. The conference will be held in Las Vegas, NV, April 2-4, 2017. Mark your calendars!

Innovative Applications in Analytics Finalist: Detecting Preclinical Cognitive Change

This morning I attended a great talk as part of the "Innovative Applications in Analytics Finalist" track: Detecting preclinical cognitive change by Dr. Randall Davis and Dr. Cynthia Rudin of MIT. With the increased prevalence of dementia and Alzheimer's among the elderly, the associated health care expenses and the heart-wrenching situation of relatives who, when the disease is in an advanced stage, are no longer recognized by a dear parent, it is critical to diagnose cognitive decline as soon as one can so that early action can be taken and people can enjoy as much time as they can with a dementia-afflicted relative while this person is still himself or herself. Over 5m people have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's in the U.S. and the healthcare costs could soon be in the billions of dollars. The aging of the population also means that early diagnosis of dementia has emerged as one of the most pressing healthcare issues of our time. (The approach is applicable to other conditions such as sleep apnea.)

The talk showed how the classical Clock-Drawing test can be leveraged using new tools and technology to gain more information on a patient's cognitive state. There are in fact two clocks: the command clock (the patient is ordered to draw a clock showing a time of ten past eleven) and the copy clock (the patient is shown an image of a clock showing a time of ten past eleven and has to reproduce it). The key is to analyze the process of drawing the clock and not just the final result. The team of Dr. Davis, Dr. Rudin and their coauthors has been able to do that using a specially designed pen (equipped with a camera) and a special paper (which lets the pen know where it is on the piece of paper.) They call their test the digital clock drawing test. This allows them to measure key metrics such as the time it takes for the patient to draw the first hand of the clock after he or she has drawn the clock face and placed the numbers. It turns out that the pre-first hand latency - the time it takes for the patient to figure out where to draw that first hand of the clock - can help distinguish Alzheimer's from depression. Total Thinking Time is also an important metric, as was the "disappearing hooklet" on the first 1 of "11" in the numbers. (Basically when you are done drawing the first 1, you already think about drawing the second 1 starting from top to bottom so there should be a small hook at the bottom of the first 1, pointing toward the top of the second 1. A disappearing hooklet is one of the first signs of cognitive decline.)

In addition, the final result to characterize the patient-drawn clocks has traditionally been scored by physicians in widely different ways based on the distortion of the clock face, incorrect placement of the hands of the clock, and so on. The talk's authors showed convincingly how cutting-edge machine learning algorithms such as Supersparse Linear Integer Models (SLIMs) and Bayesian Rule Lists (BRLs) could be implemented to create decision rules that resembled the operational guidelines of physician-created scoring rules. This is important because it increases transparency and makes it more likely that physicians will implement those new methods because they are close to models they know. Physician-generated scoring systems achieved AUC (area under receiver operating characteristics curve) in the range of 0.66 to 0.79 where 0.5 is random and 1.0 is perfectly predicted. Machine-learning with all features achieved an AUC of 0.93 but is not as intuitive as the traditional physician-generated scoring systems. Machine-learning models based on SLIMs or BRLs achieve a tradeoff between those extremes with AUC of the order of 0.8, improving traditional physician-driven models but retaining high interpretability. As such, they are "Centaurs", or human-machine combinations that are better than either, applied to solving one of the greatest healthcare challenges of our time.

Digital Cognition Technologies, Inc. is marketing the technology, now pending FDA approval.

Read more about this research here (news release), here (papers of the MIT CSAIL Multimodal Understanding Group) and here (Dr. Rudin's papers). Specifically, you can read the paper that accompanies the Innovations in Analytics Award entry here: "Learning Classification Models of Cognitive Conditions from Subtle Behaviors in the Digital Clock Drawing Test." Fascinating stuff!

Monday's poster session

Analyticsposter2016I was very impressed by the poster session at Analytics16 yesterday, both in terms of the quality of the posters and the number of people who stopped by to ask me questions about my work. I was presenting my and Dr. Ruken Duzgun's research on multi-range robust optimization, with a focus on a case study we did comparing two-range robust optimization (2R-RO) with stochastic programming (SP). While traditional RO of the Bertsimas & Sim variety ends up only considering the nominal and worst-case value of each coefficient at optimality, multi-range RO can incorporate more than 2 scenarios (2R-RO can have up to 4 scenarios, for instance) and thus offers a bridge between traditional RO and SP. Our approach solves within seconds while SP hits the time limit of 1 day. You can read our papers here and here. Thanks to Sudharshana Srinivasan for taking my picture!

Richard E. Rosenthal Early Career Connection Program

The Richard E. Rosenthal Early Career Connection (RER ECC) on Sunday was a great success! RER ECC participants mingled with conference attendees selected for their shared expertise and record of contributions to INFORMS. I particularly want to thank Elea Feit, Mike Trick and Robin Lougee for taking the time to share their insights with the RER ECC participants (with apologies to anyone I forget). The program targets young professionals only a few years into the workforce. I was very impressed by the record of accomplishments of this year's cohort and their ability to potentially implement large-scale analytics at companies like General Motors or Air Liquide. All of them were extremely articulate in addition to exceptionally talented and I am sure we will hear from them in the future for their operations research accomplishments. I am including the slide my co-chairperson Tarun Mohan Lal of Mayo Clinic prepared for the introduction of the RER ECC participants during one of the Analytics16 keynote addresses, which contains their name and picture (make sure to congratulate them on their selection to RER ECC if you see them) and a picture of the reception taken by RER ECC ' 15 alumna Sudharshana Srinivasan, who was instrumental this year in helping Tarun and me deliver a high-quality Richard E. Rosenthal Early Career Connection program.


Alpha Omega Epsilon event #Lehigh

The Lehigh chapter of the engineering and technical science sorority, Alpha Omega Epsilon, organized a great event this afternoon where six women professors in engineering and science - including myself - took part in a one-hour panel discussion with girls from the sorority, followed by a "reception" where we mingled over cheese and crackers. The ladies asked great questions about our career paths, favorite/least favorite thing about teaching, one regret we have about college, work-life balance, industry vs academia, and more.

I always enjoy the faculty-student socials that some of the fraternities/sororities host on the Hill at the end of each semester, but the AOE event was my favorite because, at the traditional dinners/socials, we faculty tend to only chat with the students who invited us, while the panel discussion helped foster conversations with students of all majors afterward. Hopefully the ladies got some useful information out of it. Interestingly enough, four women students who had been in my course last semester (out of about ten female students enrolled in my course) turned out to be AOE sisters. It looks like AOE is the sorority to be in!