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Experience, Learn and Share at the Heidelberg Laureate Forum

Written by Zaineb Chelly Dagdia

Everything starts with an inspiration and a dream. Sometimes things keep popping up in your mind even when you close your eyes; when you go to bed or when you have a moment of peace with yourself. It just keeps smiling at you and reminding you every moment. You find yourself becoming so attached to it and this is where it switches from a dream to an exciting target. Somehow you know that the target will be difficult to achieve but you also know that you are eager to go for it and to do your best to excel.

My name is Zaineb Chelly Dagdia and I am a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow at Aberystwyth University, Wales, UK. My research career and my journey began with an inspiration; I am inspired by the laureates of all fields, winners of the Abel-Prize, Fields-Medal, ACM-Turing award, Nevanlinna Prize and ACM Prize in Computing. I am amazed by the achievements of the recipients, this inspiration is what gives me the desire and the strength to work hard, to give my best and to excel in all I do. As a computer scientist, my goal is to make a considerable contribution to my research field; Artificial Immune Systems and Machine Learning. I worked hard to complete my Bachelor degree with honorable distinction at the “Faculté des Sciences Économiques et de Gestion de Nabeul” (FSEG-Nabeul), Tunisia. I then worked on my Master’s degree at one of the top-ranked universities in Tunisia; “Institut Supérieur de Gestion de Tunis” (ISG-Tunis). There, I completed both my MSc and PhD degrees in Computer Science, also with honorable distinction. My work, publishing my research in good and reputable journals, writing book chapters and presenting at leading international conferences has challenged me. This work was recognized and I was awarded the IEEE EHB Young Researcher First Prize, the ACM-Woman Award and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual European Fellowship. Additionally, I am a Marie Skłodowska-Curie ambassador. Through all this, that dream, my target, that inspiration, was hand in hand with me; always pushing me to do my best.

Through that journey, opportunities come in to play. I, by chance, met Christine Zarges, a leading researcher in theory of randomized search heuristics, at several conferences and with a lot of hard work together we succeeded in obtaining the prestigious Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship for me, which made my position as a research fellow at Aberystwyth University possible. It was Christine who suggested and encouraged me to apply for the Heidelberg Laureate Forum (HLF), as she previously took part in the 1st HLF. Since then I have been very enthusiastic about taking part in it myself. But hold on a minute!

It is the Heidelberg Laureate Forum!

At this event, the winners of the most prestigious awards in Mathematics and Computer Science, the Abel Prize, the Fields Medal (including the Nevanlinna Prize for contributions in “Mathematical Aspects of Information Science”), the ACM A.M. Turing Award and the ACM Prize in Computing are invited to participate. Oh! That is definitely a great opportunity! I felt like my dream popped up and smiled at me again! Then, I got confused and started wondering “Will I be able to meet the laureates? They are the source of my inspiration… The dream that lived with me and nourished me all the time to go ahead in my career…”, “To talk to them and to share with them?”, “Will I be able to introduce myself to them and to have some advice concerning my career?” That is what I would describe as a dream come true!

I had to carefully prepare my HLF application to not miss any chance and to not leave any gaps. At HLF, the selection process is primarily handled by the award granting organizations, supported by the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies, Mathematisches Forschungszentrum Oberwolfach and by Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz Center for Informatics. The candidates proposed by these organizations will be reviewed by the Foundation’s Scientific Board, which make the final decision.

When the time came, I received the notification of acceptance which made my day! I was among the 200 most qualified young researchers who were given this unique opportunity to enrich and share the exceptional atmosphere of the Heidelberg Laureate Forum. I was very excited about this and I started thinking about this special interaction offered by HLF. But it did not stop at that level as another opportunity appeared. The HLF committee invited all the postdoc participants to apply for the role of an organizer of one of the workshops held in conjunction with the HLF. The workshop topics were suggested by the participating laureates and/or by members of the Scientific Committee.

I found this so exciting and I did not want to miss a chance at being able to work closer and learn more about the laureates; and the chance to have some further interactions with the laureates. I prepared a well-planned proposal for the workshop entitled “Algorithms in Nature” and submitted it to the HLF reviewing panel. My proposal was evaluated by the members of the Scientific Committee who accepted my proposal. Great! The good news was that for each workshop, there is one mentor, who is either a laureate or another expert in the field of the workshop. That was amazing! I had the honor of having Professor Stephen Smale, recipient of the Fields Medal, as my mentor.

In terms of organization, I had the responsibility of defining a structure for the workshop, soliciting contributors (among the HLF participants), defining reading material that the participants of the workshop should read prior to the HLF, and eventually moderating the workshop – all this in close collaboration with my mentor.

Working together with one of the laureates was a dream and I am so happy that it was fulfilled. It was an honor for me to organize a workshop with Professor Stephen Smale; under his valuable guidance and advice. I was pleased that the workshop went so well and was successful and that I learned a lot from my mentor and I thank him very much for that. Thank you Professor Stephen Smale!

During the HLF, I met the laureates, interacted with them and learned from them. That had definitely broadened the sphere of my knowledge and given me insights. Close interactions and panel discussions with the laureates were possible; all were available to feed the spirit and mind. As the laureates are my prime source of inspiration and since it was a unique opportunity to be with them at HLF, I wanted to keep a souvenir from this event; a tangible and a special one. I asked the laureates to write me some pieces of advice in my notebook and I made a very nice collection! I thank them all very much for their time and kindness. I kept reading my notebook and I smiled; that was when my dream, my inspiration, whispered to me and I remembered when I said, “Will that be possible one day?”

Being part of the Heidelberg Laureate Forum was a great opportunity for me to enlarge my contact network by meeting not only the laureates but also a large number of motivated young researchers in computer science and mathematics. Discussions with the forum ambitious attendees enabled me to learn more from their experiences, from their research fields and I could establish collaborations tied to my research field. Meeting the current and future leading researchers is a great chance to shape the future of research in computer science and mathematics.

I definitely recommend young researchers to apply for the coming HLF as it is a great experience to live. It is a big boost to motivation and networking opportunities. This forum offers plenty of opportunities for you, researchers, for growth and it is definitely a not to be missed an event. Do not hesitate and give yourself a chance! Apply and enjoy! And remember that you will not find any other event which will offer you such a chance. Just do it!

And in this concern, my heartfelt thanks to all the HLF organizers and all members who helped to make this event so successful.

Zaineb Chelly Dagdia is a computer scientist who, thanks to her Marie-Skłodowska-Curie Individual European Fellowship, is currently developing her research on an optimized framework for Big Data pre-processing in certain and imprecise contexts at Aberystwyth University, Wales, UK.
Her research interests include different aspects of Artificial Intelligence. She writes on Evolutionary Algorithms and Artificial Immune Systems (AIS). She deals with reasoning under uncertainty and focuses on developing new AIS methods within an imprecise framework based on machine learning techniques and mathematical theories. She also extended her domain of expertise by dealing with Big Data. Her career publications include good and reputable journals, book chapters and leading international conferences. She was awarded the IEEE EHB Young Researcher First Price, the ACM-Woman Award and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual European Fellowship and she acts as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie ambassador.

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