Informatics Newsletter August 2022
Issue 59 of our School newsletter for students and staff.
A Message from the Head of School
As the summer is drawing to a close, the new academic year is ramping up, and it is natural to think about our personal and institutional objectives. Just as it is traditional to make New Year’s Resolutions at the start of the calendar year, it also makes sense to pause at the start of the new academic year and consider our goals for the year to come. For me, just like our final year students, this is a year of transition. My term as Head of School will end next summer. I will have mixed feelings when I reach the end of my term, but at the moment it still seems quite a long way off. But just like the final year students, I have an increased sense of the limited time available to me and the importance of doing the best I can in the year to come.
These days a lot is said, especially in government documents, about the role of Universities as engines of change and transformation. As custodians and creators of knowledge, Universities have always been viewed as important in improving the human condition and solving societal problems. This was especially part of the goal for civic universities like Edinburgh, which were not founded by religious orders, but by the city as a key city institution. This “contract” with the city remains to this day, and is central to the Edinburgh and South East Regional City Deal (generally known as “The City Deal”) and the Data-Driven Innovation (DDI) programme, which aims to increase the engagement of local companies and local individuals with data and digital technologies. The Bayes Centre has been the first fully operational DDI hub but in the coming year we will see further hubs opening their doors, such as the Edinburgh Futures Institute on Lauriston Place and the Robotarium at Heriot-Watt.
But just as much as this large scale transformation, I am interested in the small scale transformations that the University and School achieve. It is over 30 years since I joined the University and it transformed my life completely. Although most of them will stay for a much shorter time than I have, I hope that all the students who will join us in the coming month will have a similar positive transformational experience. And for those of us for which this is the start of a new year rather than the start of a new journey, I hope that we look back at the past year with a sense of accomplishment and look forward to the year to come with hope as well as resolution.
With best wishes,
- Tongije Wang started as Junior Research Associate in LFCS on 1 August 2022.
- Simran Chopra started as Research Associate in ILCC on 1 August 2022.
- Yihe Lu started as Research Associate in IPAB on 1 August 2022.
- Vishvajeet Nagaroje started as Research Associate in LFCS on 1 August 2022.
- Osmar Cedron Huarcaya started as Research Assistant in IPAB on 10 August 2022.
- Susan Lechelt started as Lecturer in Design Informatics on 1 August 2022.
- Marc Juarez Miro started as Lecturer in Cyber Security and Privacy on 1 August 2022.
- Edoardo Ponti started as Lecturer in NLP on 1 August 2022.
- Amir Vaxman started as Reader in Graphics, Simulation and Visual Computing on 1 August 2022.
- Aneta Bos started as Finance Business Support Manager on 1 August 2022.
- Kirstin Unwin started as Head of Research Services on 8 August 2022.
- Helen Tweedale started as Teaching Organisation Officer on 8 August 2022.
To view current job opportunities within the School of Informatics, please click on the link below.
Promotions in Informatics
Congratulations to the following staff members who have been promoted this month. New titles took effect from 1st August.
- Jacques Fleuriot, previously a Reader, has been promoted to Personal Chair of Artificial Intelligence.
- Sohan Seth has been promoted to Lead Data Scientist.
- Peggy Series, previously a Reader, has been promoted to Personal Chair of Computational Psychiatry.
- James Cheney, previously a Reader, has been promoted to Personal Chair of Programming Languages and Systems.
- Ivan Titov, previously a Reader, has been promoted to Personal Chair of Natural Language Processing.
- Kia Nazarpour, previously a Reader, has been promoted to Personal Chair of Digital Health.
- Vijay Nagarajan, previously a Reader, has been promoted to Personal Chair of Parallel Computer Architecture.
- Tiejun Ma, previously a Reader, has been promoted to Personal Chair of Financial Computing (Risk Modelling).
- He Sun, previously a Senior Lecturer, has been promoted to a Reader.
- Chris Lucas, previously a Lecturer, has been promoted to a Reader.
- Benjamin Bach, previously a Lecturer, has been promoted to a Reader.
- Vaishak Belle, previously a Lecturer, has been promoted to a Reader.
- Hakan Bilen, previously a Lecturer, has been promoted to a Reader.
- Heng Guo, previously a Lecturer, has been promoted to a Reader.
- David Sterratt, previously a University Teacher, has been promoted to a Lecturer.
- Heather Yorston, previously a University Teacher, has been promoted to a Lecturer.
- Kwabena Nuamah, previously a Research Associate, has been promoted to a Research Fellow.
- Serena Lambley, previously a Projects Coordinator, has been promoted to a Projects Manager.
Reception for Jane Hillston FRS - happening today at 3pm!
Today, Thursday 25 August 2022, 15:00, Informatics Forum
As you will have heard, Jane Hillston has recently been elected to the fellowship of the Royal Society. This is an outstanding achievement, which the School is celebrating with a reception.
You are invited to come and mark the occasion with drinks and finger food today in the atrium of the Informatics Forum.
Reminder: Get involved with the Science Festival!
Deadline for submitting proposals is tomorrow, Friday 26 August 2022
Calling all Informatics thinkers - we need your ideas! 2023 is the 60th Anniversary of Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science research at the University. Let’s have a strong Informatics presence at the next science festival.
For those who know the drill
Please use the form below please submit your ideas by 26th August
Do you have an idea for a session that explains, entertains, excites children and/or the public about the work you do in Informatics? If you do, even if it’s just a glint in your mind’s eye, submit a proposal
What’s in it for you? The opportunity to delight, amaze and amuse children and adults! And to be considered for the Tam Dalyell Prize for Excellence in Engaging the Public with Science. Past winners from Informatics: Jon Oberlander, Sethu Vijayakumer and Chris Bishop.
Examples of sought-after activities
- Run an interactive family workshop or event at the National Museum of Scotland
- Be part of the University’s interactive science activity space at the National Museum of Scotland
- Deliver an evening event for adults at the Bayes Centre
- Deliver a self-guided walking tour using ArcGIS Storymaps
- Run an outdoor activity
The 2023 Science Festival will run from 1st -16th April 2023. The 2023 theme is Let’s Experiment
The National Museum of Scotland for children and family events; and the Bayes Centre for grownups
The internal deadline for ideas supported by the University is August 26th 2022
For more information, to complete the one-page proposal form, and to explore upcoming training and support sessions please visit ERO Science Festival Sharepoint.
For informal advice and chat about your idea, please drop an e-mail to Kasia Kokowska.
You can also respond to the general Science festival call - scroll down for more details. They have a longer deadline (11th September).
New Finance and Procurement system
The finance and procurement modules of the People & Money system (P&M) is due to be launched on 31 August 2022. This new system, and associated updated University policies, impact many areas that staff and PGR students interact with as outlined below.
When the system is launched, professional services staff will have a period of time when we need to learn the new system, as we gain access the same time as everyone else and we will need to test the new functionality and prepare guidance for impacted staff and students.
We therefore ask for your patience in the week following launch of the system on 31 August. We will prepare online guidance information and will provide online briefing sessions for impacted staff.
The changes we are expecting include:
- Research grant financial management – all grant financials will be managed in P&M. Data for awarded grants will migrate from Worktribe so each grant will have a project set up in P&M. The system design assumes that the PI will approve all purchases and expenses against their grant, but can delegate some of these responsibilities.
- Ordering goods and services – all purchases of goods and services need to be submitted via P&M and the Purchase Order will be prepared/issued by a new University Procurement Operations team. There will be no significant change for staff and students in the way they request purchases within the School, apart from more restrictive use of school credit cards and a firm University rule that if a Purchase Order is not raised then an invoice will not be paid. The significant change will be for professional services staff using P&M and Procurement Operations.
- Expense claims – all staff will use P&M to submit expense claims and the system design assumes that line managers will approve these. P&M does not provide functionality for PGR students to submit expense claims directly into P&M; you will need to submit these offline to the School for processing. We are preparing guidance and processes for line managers and for PGR students on these new processes.
- Approval of financial transactions – the system is designed to direct all financial transaction approvals to the originator’s line manager – regardless of the budget to which the expenditure is being charged. We will be testing options when the system is available that we believe may reduce the workload implications on academic staff and line managers, and will provide guidance as soon as we can.
- Stipends – stipends will be paid via P&M.
- Chart of Accounts – all budget codes are changing; guidelines on the new codes will be available shortly.
- The following systems will be replaced by P&M: Webfirst, eExpenses, eStores, Sci-Quest, eFinancials, Santander and FPM.
This is a significant change that impacts a large number of staff and PGR students, and we ask for your patience when the new system launches on 31 August while professional services staff learn the system so we can best support you.
Please look out for emails sent about the new People & Money system in the next few weeks, which will provide you with links to guidance information.
Appleton Tower staffing update
With the introduction of the new student support model being launched in September 2022, the School has recruited a number of new Student Advisers to help deliver this new way of working who will be based on level 6 of Appleton Tower alongside the new wellbeing adviser and the currently under recruitment student engagement manager.
As a result of this staff expansion, the ITO staff that had been based on level 6 who support the delivery of courses and exams have moved up to level 8.
Staff email and phone numbers all remain the same, and all Informatics staff can access level 8 however you do need your card for entry, whereas for level 6 it remains accessible without a card.
Students will continue to be directed to level 6 reception for anything they need with the front office being open as normal.
Update to managing bookable spaces in the Forum and Appleton Tower
As of Monday 22nd August, the School will switch to using the University Central Resource Booker to manage the bookable space in both the Forum and Appleton tower. Informatics' own in-house Room Booking System, (RBS) currently in use, will be decommissioned and no longer available for staff.
A large number of existing bookings from RBS will be transferred across to the new platform. This includes all existing bookings between 22nd August and 31st October and those which fall within the criteria outlined below.
Once your booking has been transferred to the new platform you will receive an email confirming this, so long as your details have been provided in the existing RBS booking.
- Single meeting occurrences between 22nd August and 31st October.
- Recurring series of meetings limited to 10 occurrences (or 10 weeks) between 22nd August to 31st October.
- Student/Institute Seminar Series and Staff Committee Meetings.
- All Events finalised with the events team regardless of the timeline.
Note: Recurring series longer than 10 occurrences/weeks have not been migrated. This is because we strongly ask you to re-evaluate the need for a booking longer than 10 occurrences. We have provided updated guidance on booking recurring meetings on SharePoint (link provided below).
If you know you have a booking and it does not meet the criteria above, then we kindly ask that you re-key your future booking into the Central Resource Booker. Please contact your support admin team if you have any concerns.
Important: Please do not attempt to rebook or enter new bookings in the new platform until Monday 22nd August.
We have created a new SharePoint site that houses further details on room bookings and building Information. Please review the site for guidance on making bookings.
You will find further details on the SharePoint pages about who can book, the types of bookings, and the restrictions to booking. We encourage you to explore the pages before reaching out to support staff for guidance.
Though we urge self-service booking for those who wish to book quickly and without extra email correspondance, you are still able to have bookings made on your behalf. This can be done by contacting your normal professional services staff member. Please note, all bookings will not connect through Outlook automatically, but there is away function you can activate through the application within your personal settings. Review Timetabling webpages for guidance.
Many of you may already be aware of the Resource Booker through your MyEd account, some might have never heard of the system before. For those curious on how to make a booking through the Central Resource Booker, please visit this website for further information:
- Guidance on creating and editing bookings through Resource Booker.
- You can find the 'Resource Booker' in your MyEd Portal via Staff/Student Resources > Campus Facilities > Room Booking.
We appreciate your patience with this system change and hope the new ability for self-service booking will make your work life easier.
Chancellor’s Awards - nominations now open
Nominations are open for the Chancellor’s Awards. All staff can nominate colleagues.
Please see the Staff News article for more information and how to nominate.
Free cycle training for staff and students
The Transport Office has just announced 'Cycling Confident', a new cycle training programme with free courses for riders of all abilities - from absolute beginners, to experienced commuters.
These courses are open to all staff and students at the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University, Heriot-Watt University, Queen Margaret University, and Edinburgh College.
The first course starts in two weeks’ time so we would appreciate if you could share on your relevant channels:
Learn to Ride (open to staff and students)
This free course is suitable for beginners learning to ride for the first time, or people who have not cycled since childhood. It covers the absolute basics of bike control, balance, and pedalling.
This course takes place at Peffermill Playing Fields from 10th August, 5:30 - 7:30pm. It runs the following three Wednesdays at the same time.
Use passcode EUL2R1
Other courses in August include Essential Cycling Skills, Bike Maintenance Skills and Cycle Ride Leader. The Transport website will be updated throughout 2022/23 when more training courses are planned.
Professional services changes roundup - new blog post
In recent months Informatics Professional Services teams have undergone some changes. Check the blog below for a roundup of the changes, and organisational charts to help you navigate the new structure.
Health and Safety Update
Accessing first aid
In a slight change to the procedure for accessing first aid, if you need a first aider your first action should be to contact Forum reception on (6)51 5661, stating your location, and a first aider will be sent to you. If you prefer to contact someone yourself, you’ll find their contact info on signage throughout the buildings or by clicking on the link below. First aid kits are located in kitchens and coffee areas so you can access these if you need them.
Reporting an accident at work
If you ever have an accident at work, or a near-miss incident (where you weren’t hurt but could have been), please report this via the Accident and Incident Reporting (AIR) system. Doing this is really important, as it allows the Health and Safety team to try to fix things so they don’t cause accidents again, and it also gives us a good understanding of the hazards we have in Informatics.
Irene Winther presents at CogSci2022 symposium on Bilingual Sentence Processing
Irene Winther, a PhD student in UKRI CDT in Natural Language Processing gave a talk on word frequency effects in bilingual language models at the CogSci2022 symposium Bilingual Sentence Processing: when Models Meet Experiments. A paper from the symposium is now published in the Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.
Ronnie Smith wins the IET Postgraduate Prize
Ronnie Smith, a PhD student at the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Robotics & Autonomous Systems was awarded the Institution of Engineering and Technology Postgraduate Prize. Ronnie’s research focuses on enabling pro-active robotic assistance for people who need support during activities of daily life at home. It brings together several topics to bring humans ‘in-the-loop’ and give them ownership over their own assistive technology. This includes applying active learning to activity recognition, using a novel conversational interface. This reduces the need for supervised learning and helps to deal with long-term changes in user behaviour or environment. Currently, Ronnie is focusing on using the conversational agent to allow the user to ask the robot for help during activities, in order to intelligently provide pro-active assistance when that activity is detected in the future.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology is a multidisciplinary professional engineering institution. The IET was formed in 2006 from two separate institutions: the Institution of Electrical Engineers, dating back to 1871, and the Institution of Incorporated Engineers dating back to 1884.
Nadin Kökciyan presented a paper on agent-based privacy assistants at the 2022 International Joint Conference on AI in Vienna
Privacy on the Web is typically managed by giving consent to individual websites for various aspects of data usage. This paradigm requires too much human effort therefore is impractical for Internet of Things (IoT) applications where humans interact with many new devices on a daily basis. Ideally, software privacy assistants can help by making privacy decisions in different situations on behalf of the users. In their paper, researchers showed that humans can collaborate with AI to preserve their privacy better in IoT. They proposed a novel agent-based privacy assistant (PAS) to handle interactions with IoT devices. By modeling trust in multiple contexts, PAS makes a sharing decision on behalf of the user when it is confident; it also identifies ambiguous cases correctly to delegate the decision to the user. The paper presents the applicability of our approach using a real-life dataset.
The acceptance rate for papers with a long oral presentation was 3.75% IJCAI-ECAI 2022.
ANYmal Bull robot featured on IEEE Spectrums 'Video Friday'
A video from the Statistical Learning and Motor Control has made it into one of the most prominent roundups of robot videos: IEEE Spectrum’s Video Friday.
The video shows uninterrupted operation of ANYmal Bull. The robot performs the following tasks: turning a wheel, pulling a lever, pushing a gate, and pulling a rope to lift a bucket. The robot walks around and up the ramp teleoperated via a remote controller. However, the robot solves each of the manipulation tasks autonomously.
Recent research from the Statistical Learning and Motor Control group has allowed the ANYmal Bull to become more robust in dealing with strong disturbances.
Informatics researchers held a workshop on ad hoc teamwork as part of IJCAI 2022
Ignacio Carlucho, Muhammad Arrasy Rahman and Elliot Fosong with colleagues from the University of Austin at Texas, Bar Ilan University, and Microsoft Research organised a workshop in ad hoc teamwork. The workshop was held as part of 31st International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI). The speakers invited to the workshop include Kalesha Bullard from Google DeepMind, Patrick MacAlpine from Sony AI and Matthew Taylor from the University of Alberta.
Research on ad hoc teamwork has been around for at least 15 years, but it was first introduced as a formal challenge by Stone et al. in 2010. The challenge discussed in that paper is to create an autonomous agent that is able to efficiently and robustly collaborate with previously unknown teammates on tasks to which they are all individually capable of contributing as team members.
The aim of the workshop was to build a united, supportive research community for ad hoc teamwork and related problems. It will facilitate discussions between different research labs in academia and industry, identify the main attributes that can vary between ad hoc teamwork tasks, and discuss the progress that has been made in this field so far, while identifying the next immediate open problems the community should address.
During this workshop the participants played hanabi, a cooperative card game, which is used in research for developing algorithm in multi agent research. The participants had an opportunity to play with Nicolas Bard from Deepmind, the author of the hanabi challenge paper.
The Turing Lectures: Where next for self-driving vehicles?
Tuesday 27 Sep 2022, 19:00 - 20:30
Professor Sethu Vijayakumar will host the next Turing Lecture, in which Professor Sarah Sharples (Chief Scientific Adviser for the Department for Transport) will discuss the interface between policy and science for self-driving vehicles and highlight some of the challenges and opportunities that we face in this area.
ELLIS Doctoral Symposium 2022
19 - 23 September 2022, in-person Alicante, Spain
The ELLIS Doctoral Symposium is an annual conference for ELLIS PhD students and other PhDs in the network to meet in person and share knowledge about Machine Learning. The ELLIS Doctoral Symposium 2022 (EDS22) is the second edition, and will be held in Alicante, Spain. It is expected to host 200 attendees during one week in September. The conference will take place from the 19th to the 23th of September. Apply by Friday 20 May.
The theme of this conference is AI for Good.
Data Summit 2022 - EICC, Edinburgh
03 - 04 November 2022
Elham Kashefi joins the line-up of speakers for this year’s Data Summit. This year’s Data Summit is focusing on how data and AI can be used to create a better world and society. Data Summit 2022 will take place on the 3rd and 4th of November at the EICC in Edinburgh.
Outreach and Public Engagement
If you have participated in an outreach and public engagement activity in the last twelve months, please make sure it has been recorded by the InfComms team in the directory below. It is vital you told us about your activities, so we can report on them!
If you need to add an entry, would like to get involved in a public engagement activity or promote an opportunity that you are aware of, please use the webform below.
Call for Ideas - Edinburgh Science Festival 2023
This is an open call offering you the chance to be part of the 2023 Edinburgh Science Festival, which will run from Saturday 1 – Sunday 16 April 2023 under the banner Let's Experiment!
The 2023 Edinburgh Science Festival will embrace the concepts of experimentation, innovation, creativity, curiosity and invention that lie at the heart of all scientific disciplines. The call is open to anyone – individuals, groups or organisations – with bright ideas and a passion for communicating them.
The deadline for submitting an event idea to us is Sunday 11 September 2022.
For questions relating to Festival programming, please get in touch with Charlie Pike, Festival Programme Manager.
Midlothian Schools STEMfest
The Midlothian Science Festival has been sadly disbanded but a group of researchers from the University were keen to keep something running in October for the Midlothian schools, and so have set up "Midlothian Schools STEMfest" - MSSF.
For this year a very light touch festival is planned: the schools will be sent a list of STEM activities that they can book into, first come first served, in October. Some activities are already lined up, but more are needed to give as many schools as possible a chance to book in for something.
If anyone has a free STEM activity (in-person or online) they could offer to primary or secondary schools, even if just one delivery, please get in touch with Sarah-Jane Judge.
Staff Training Courses
We now have a page listing training courses attended by staff. You can submit your own feedback on a particular training you attended.
Best of InfGeneral
This month's best of inf-general goes to all helpful colleagues who recommended shows at the Edinburgh Festivals and offered last-minute tickets to buy! You are what makes inf-general a truly social channel and the School of Informatics community such a great one.
Inf-general is a mailing list used to carry informal discussions, postings, requests to and from staff within Informatics. Not for official purposes. Julian Bradfield is the guardian of inf-general who steps in to point out misuses and confirm when inf-general should most definitely be used. If you’re new to Informatics inf-general emails can be a great source of knowledge for you: ask and you will be informed, but do remember to share the information back with the mailing list users.