Monday February 10th

My first AAAI

How do you know that you belong in a place?

  • I was thinking about the answer to this question today, as I was grading the last of homework before heading to sleep, at 3 am.
  • I attended my first AAAI conference this weekend. Alas, I have class, and I don’t intend to miss any this semester, so I could only stay for two days, but it was really worth it for me.

I ended up here by accident

  • I was asked if I would be interested in hosting a lunch, in exchange for a ticket and my hotel/flight covered. I thought that that sounded great, so over the past few weeks, I was part of a group that organized a lunch, gave out travel grants that included admission to AAAI, flights and hotel covered. It was a great experience for me, because everyone was so on top of everything, and it was a way I felt that I could give back.

Apparently, I was trolled

  • It was only until I got to the conference that I noticed that my name was on the programme as the organizer; as uhh the organizer. The organization (Black in AI) that planned the lunch decided to let me set up the lunch, and to give me the opportunity to shine as an organizer. I thought that that was one of the most thoughtful things anyone has done for me in a while. It’s an indirect way of saying that they knew that I had the capability to do it, and that they believed in me. And I really appreciated it. Essentially, what the organization lead was hinting was that I should step up as a leader and do my stuff, and I really was thankful for the opportunity. It gave me visibility in a group I already had a lot of respect for, and allowed me to interact with several high-profile persons in tech and academia in a meaningful way. All in the first year of my PhD. That’s really something special, particularly at such a large conference.

I volunteered on a panel also

  • I volunteered to be on a panel for Try AI, in which we spoke with students from CUNY (City University in New York). It was awesome. Liz (a PhD student at Harvard) put the event on and it was a memorable experience for me getting to see high schoolers passionate about the future of AI. I’m thankful for that opportunity.

  • They are amazing and have such a bright future! I would definitely participate again next year!

  • photo courtesy of M. Tambe of Harvard, at the Try AI panel. Liz is in the photo, and my profile photo is in the back. This was a lovely experience!

Anyways, here are some photos from AAAI

Other photos

This is a random Iguana Dance Club from Try AI to AAAI

  • So appropriate! I love NYC’s energy! Dance iguana, daaaance!

View from my room!

  • Very Spiderman-esque!

My badge!

  • Woo Vermont!

My people!

  • I LOVE THEM all! Thank you for being a part of my life during my PhD. Such a supportive group!

View on the way to the Black in AI Lunch

Imposter Syndrome

  • AAAI is a conference with everyone in the AI field you can ever imagine. It’s very technical, and while he was speaking, I couldn’t help but note the difference between Geoff Hinton’s talk at Google I/O (geared more towards developers) vs his talk here. It was like night vs day.

  • Dr. Jasmine Jones spoke about Imposter syndrome today at the Black in AI lunch (we were grateful to have some incredibly high profile persons attend our lunch!), and about the importance of participating, not being afraid to ask questions and to step up in a space in which you are underrepresented. This was especially meaningful for me, as at these types of conferences, without a support group, it’s easy to feel like you don’t belong. Everyone is from a top school, everyone is doing research with crazy sponsorships from ten companies, everyone doesn’t really look like you or have your perspective. So that’s important to remember; you bring your journey and your perspective with you, and that it’s important, and it’s very valuable. You belong here.

Three Turing award winners

  • Spoke at the event today. Hinton, LeCun and Bengio. I thought it interesting that they mostly were doing research that everyone else was not particularly interested in. But the idea ended up influencing ML and AI and a whole different perspective. So that takeaway was to not be afraid to do what other people aren’t doing; be curious enough to take the chance to do something completely different.

The location for the Black in AI lunch

  • They (Papillon Bistro) were really professional, and very prompt and helpful and it was just a great experience working with them!

A friend takes a Selfie during the Black in AI AAAI 2020 lunch!

  • I have not seen this guy in more than a decade! We were in choir together in high school in Trinidad! Amazingness! Was fun catching up! Totally unexpected!

Fellows Talk

  • The three Turing award winners spoke; Hinton, Bengio and LeCun. Each for 20 minutes about what they’re currently working on

I left super grateful

  • I left the event right after the Fellows talk to catch my flight back to Vermont. I left feeling super grateful for everything, and feeling so supported by the entire AI community. It wasn’t my intention to become a part of it, but it’s my intention to stay.

And that’s it


  • AAAI has been thoughtful and generous enough to send all Chairs and Committee members Certificates of Appreciation! Truly thankful for this!

Written on February 10, 2020