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Communications of the ACM


Heidelberg Laureate Forum: Meet Your Role Models

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The logo of the Heidelberg Laureate Forum.

The Heidelberg Laureate Forum allowed 200 researchers from all over the world to meet and interact with laureates of the most prestigious awards in computer science and mathematics.

Credit: HLFF

Okay, I must admit, I was nervous introducing myself to people who have made enormous contributions to the fields of Computer Science and Mathematics. However, the Heidelberg Laureate Forum provides the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be in the right place at the right time.

Monday (9/23/2013), during our first coffee break I met with another PhD student, Irene Rae. We agreed that we both wanted to meet Vinton Gray Cerf. In addition to being a "Father of the Internet," he is connected to a field I am passionate about: Accessibility. In fact, he wrote a thought provoking piece on "Why is Accessibility So Hard?"Coincidentally, we found him joining the coffee break and took the initiative to introduce ourselves. We convened at a table outside with other young researchers and were able to discuss our research interests, while having to chance to hear what he is passionate about including making technology more accessible and describing the potential of Google Glass.

Schwetzingen's mayor Rene Pöltl talking in front of the Schwetzingen Castle. Photo taken by Kim-Thomas Rehmann, another young researcher.

Later in the evening, we had the privilege of dining at Schwetzingen Castle (photo above). While enjoying refreshments and hors d'oeuvres in the garden, Tigran Atoyan and I introduced ourselves to Charles P. Thacker and his wife, Karen Thacker. I was able to join them, Kim-Thomas Rehmann, and a table of young researchers for dinner where we discussed interesting topics spanning from the need for change in internet routing as we continue to expand the cloud, to how people detect the relative position of a sound they hear.

Today, I learned something new. In addition to protein folding, and a comprehensive study of who invented the computer, I realized we are not just meeting our role models, we were meeting genuine people. All of the Laureates have something in common: they have passion. They have passion about making an impact, the future of their field, and the future of the young researchers. They want to meet us, learn about our interests, and as a result, provide useful advice. One piece of advice that was given to us, the young researchers who are PhD students,  was to finish the PhDs which we are seeking.

I feel honored and thankful for Dr. h. c. Dr. Ing-E. Klaus E. Tschira, Beate Speigel, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Dr. h. c. Andreas Reuter, the organizers, partner organizations, and collaborating institutions for giving the first attendees of the Heidelberg Laureate Forum this experience. Thank goodness we have four more days.

Kyle Rector is a Ph.D. student in Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington


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