Chanakya was finally accepted at NeurIPS 2023! This meant preparation for the poster, the video recording, and most importantly, travel to my first big conference! Attending the conference was exciting and life-changing in unexpected ways.
NeurIPS (Neural Information Processing Systems), is one of the top conferences in AI and among the top 3 in the world based on Google Scholar's report. It was held in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA this year for 6 days from 10-16th December. I was at the conference for three days. The agenda was simple - a) attend my advisor's tutorial presentation on the 11th, b) co-present our poster on the 13th and c) meet everyone whose work I've long admired and respected to get some of their opinions and perspectives on the problems they're currently working on. Well, I think I did all of that successfully!
The experience of NeurIPS was very overwhelming! The people, booths, and events all made it a worthwhile trip.
Venue: Nothing like I ever expected
The convention center is located right at the bank of the canal. I was lucky enough to grab lunch with some amazing people who were at the tutorial with this as our view.
I never expected to see that many number of people attending the conference. The first indication of the number of people was the fellow passengers on my flight from Fort Worth to New Orleans. The flight was filled with people going to NeurIPS and all were easily identifiable by the poster tubes they were carrying. The bus from the airport to downtown New Orleans was filled with people carrying posters. The true spectacle was the number of people at the session where the awards were being presented and it looked like at least ten thousand people were attending it. I kept referring to the annual exhibition that takes place in Hyderabad called Numaish to people who knew about Hyderabad to give a visual guide of what it meant to attend the conference.
Whova was the "official app" that you could use to socialize with people attending the conference. I was pleasantly surprised by how many people were active on it and I met quite a few people through it. It is always exciting to meet so many people with different backgrounds which makes for interesting conversations. There were also some parties/dinners hosted by companies like Weights and Biases, Microsoft, Google, etc. (although the events hosted by the big companies were exclusive). I had a lot of fun attending some of these and met peers who turned out to have a lot of common things with me than I expected (if you don't already sense it, socializing is not my forte - I've been very shy and this is something I'm trying to improve upon)
One major highlight - I met Yann LeCun and Chris Bishop at the Meta and Microsoft booths respectively! Although it was quite brief, I thoroughly enjoyed my interaction with them.
A major takeaway of mine was to plan every day and schedule a calendar event with people you want to meet with. I did the same for the last two days of my conference it was great. It helps that most researchers are really helpful and they do tweet out that they're interested in meeting students. I reached out to everyone whose work I've been reading and caught up with them at the conference. If you're reading this and happen to be one of them, thank you so much for your time!
One word: amazing! We had so many people visit our poster and it was not as tiring as I estimated (maybe it will be once I'm through with a couple of them, but I hope it doesn't fade my enthusiasm). It was a 2-hour poster session from 5-7 PM. Luckily we were able to wrap our presentation by 7, but I did see many people still presenting their posters at 7:30 PM, something to be appreciated in my opinion! The most asked question that I did not anticipate was "What is Chanakya and why was the paper named after that?"
I will admit unashamedly that I dedicated two hours to grab some of the best swag offered. My favorite ones were the beanie from IBM, a wireless charger from Determined.AI, and a mug from Intel AI with a printed photo generated by some diffusion model they were demoing on their hardware which you were allowed to customize (it was a cute samoyed for me if you were wondering). The hydro flask from DE Shaw (the timing was great, I was in the market for a flask :) ) We were given quite a lot of T-shirts too, and I was left with no space by the end of this trip.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this! Academically, I'm not sure how useful it is to conduct poster sessions that run this long and there are so many good papers that there just isn't enough time to attend them all. That said, I'd highly recommend in-person NeurIPS if you ever get a chance.