Takeaways from the Bayesian Nonparametrics Workshop

The first entry is from Chetkar Jha, PhD Student at Missouri University.

Group shot at SAMSI's Bayesian Nonparametrics Workshop

Attendees at the SAMSI Bayesian Nonparametrics workshop.

A couple of weeks back, I attended a workshop on “Bayesian Nonparametrics” organized at Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute (SAMSI) .

It was a 4-day-long workshop on Nonparametric Bayesian. The goal of the workshop was to brainstorm on some of the pressing problems related to Nonparametric Bayesian and discuss possible solutions as a group. Let me describe the format of the workshop to give you some flavor. Each day was divided in two halves: morning session and afternoon session. In the morning session there were presentations on Nonparametric Bayesian and that would lead to brainstorming sessions on related problems in the afternoon session. Since, we’re working in smaller groups that gave us a lot of latitude to discuss the topics closely and ask a lot of questions and clarifications. I, for one, really enjoyed talks and discussions on convergence/contraction, variational inference, MCMC methods and scalable models. Being a graduate student, there was a lot of new content for me and it was harder to assimilate but the workshop gave me exposure to lot of new content and some topical problems.

Person talking at the Bayesian Nonparametric workshop

Interesting lectures were presented.

The workshop was attended by some of the leading researchers in the field. It was sort of a ‘fanboy’ moment for me, as I was only aware of their names and their work. The workshop provided a perfect opportunity to meet ’real’ people behind the names. Also, I loved the energy and the passion that the group shared for Non Parametric Bayesian that was really motivating and hopefully, some of it did get rubbed on me.

Also, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the organizers and people at SAMSI, who did a wonderful job in organizing the entire event. Hopefully, we can have more such workshops in the future.

The second entry is from Dootika Vats, PhD Student in the School of Statistics at the University of Minnesota

My build up to the 4th of July weekend turned out to be a rather educational experience. I was fortunate enough to attend SAMSI’s workshop on “Bayesian Nonparametrics: Synergies between Statistics, Probability and Mathematics” from June 29th to July 2nd. This was my first visit to SAMSI and to the Research Triangle area. The first thing that stands out about the area is how green it is! Calming stretches of green fields and trees, make for an ideal research environment.

Driveway with grass and trees.

Driveway to SAMSI’s building in RTP.

The 4-day workshop followed the 10th Conference on Bayesian Nonparametrics held in Raleigh from June 22-26. Many participants of the workshop had attended both events, which made the workshop a great platform to discuss key points and ideas that came out of the conference.

The workshop was attended by professors, postdocs and graduate students from all over the world. We were a small group of people that came with varied research focuses to contribute to/learn about Bayesian nonparametrics. The days were packed into discussion style seminars in the morning, followed by a delicious lunch spread, and breakout groups in the afternoon. Each day had a somewhat broad, yet specific focus of interests like multi-resolution methods, high dimensional analysis, scalability and optimization, and theoretical developments.

Food at the SAMSI workshop

The food at the workshop was splendid!

The breakout groups really made this workshop different from other conferences and programs I had attended before. Each group was led by an expert in the field, and the audience could choose any group that appealed to them. Most groups ended up with 5-10 people at most. This made for an extremely educational experience for a graduate student such as myself. We got an insight into how experts in the field approach a problem and attempt to come up with plausible solution paths. Just observing these world-class researchers openly think about a problem and having the opportunity to ask trivial questions was worth the trip!

Apart from reading an introductory paper, I was not very familiar with Bayesian nonparametrics. My research is on Markov chain Monte Carlo(MCMC) algorithms so, of course, there were times when I did not quite understand the questions put forth in discussions or the even the problem at hand. However, since there were so many young researches, post-docs and new faculty, it made it easier to ask “stupid” questions. The workshop also held a poster session for young researchers to talk about their own research. I was able to present my work on MCMC output analysis and discuss ideas and improvements over delicious food and drinks.

SAMSI Bayesian Nonparametric poster session

People talking at the poster session.

Overall, I think SAMSI put forth a wonderfully organized workshop. I came back with a better understanding of Bayesian nonparametrics and with feedback and ideas for my own research. The logistics of the workshop were also well managed with frequent communications from the staff about the schedules. And, of course, the almost endless supply of coffee was deeply appreciated! I will definitely keep a lookout for more SAMSI events and encourage other graduate students to apply for such workshops and conferences.