Information Interaction in Context 2014

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I asked FXPAL alumni Jeremy Pickens to contribute a post on the best paper award at IIiX which is named after our late colleague Gene Golovchinsky.  For me, the episode Jeremy recounts exemplifies Gene’s willingness and generosity in helping others work though research questions.  The rest of this post is written by Jeremy.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Information Interaction in Context conference at the University of Regensburg.  It is a conference which attempts to bring together the systems and the user perspective on information retrieval and information seeking.  In short, it was exactly the type of conference at which our colleague Gene Golovchinsky was quite at home.  In fact, Gene had been one of the chairs of the conference before his passing last year.  The IIiX organizers made him an honorary chair.  During his time as chair, Gene secured FXPAL’s sponsorship of the conference including the honorarium that accompanied the Best Paper award.  The conference organizers decided to officially give the award in Gene’s memory, and as a former FXPAL employee, I was asked to present the award and to say a few words about Gene.

I began by sharing who I knew Gene to be through the lens of our first meeting.  It was 1998.  Maybe 1999.  Let’s say 1998.  I was a young grad student in the Information Retrieval lab at UMass Amherst.  Gene had recently convinced FXPAL to sponsor my advisor’s Industrial Advisory Board meeting.  This meant that once a year, the lab would put together a poster session to give IAB members a sneak preview of the upcoming research results before they appeared anywhere else.

Well, at that time, I was kinda an odd duck in the lab because I had started doing music Information Retrieval when most of my colleagues were working on text.  So there I am at the IAB poster session, with all these commercial, industry sponsors who have flown in from all over the country to get new ideas about how to improve their text search engines…and I’m talking about melodies and chords.  Do you know that look, when someone sees you but really does not want to talk with you?  When their eyes meet yours, and then keep on scanning, as if to pretend that they were looking past you the whole time?  For the first hour that’s how I felt.

Until Gene.

Now, I’m fairly sure that he really was not interested in music IR.  But not only did Gene stop and hear what I had to say, but he engaged.  Before I knew it, half an hour (or at least it felt like it) had passed by, and I’d had one of those great engaging Gene discussions that I would, a few years later when FXPAL hired me, have a whole lot more of.  Complete with full Gene eye twinkle at every new idea that we batted around.  Gene had this way of conducting a research discussion in which he could both share (give) ideas to you, and elicit ideas from you, in a way that I can only describe as true collaboration.

After the conference dinner and presentation had concluded, there were a number of people that approached me and shared very similar stories about their interactions with Gene.  And a number of people who expressed the sentiment that they wished they’d had the opportunity to know him.

I should also note that the Best Paper award went to Kathy Brennan, Diane Kelly, and Jamie Arguello, for their paper on “The Effect of Cognitive Abilities on Information Search for Tasks of Varying Levels of Complexity“. Neither I nor FXPAL had a hand in deciding who the best paper recipient was to be; that task went to the conference organizers.  But in what I find to be a touching coincidence, one of the paper’s authors, Diane Kelly, was actually Gene’s summer intern at FXPAL back in the early 2000s.  He touched a lot of people, and will be sorely missed.  I miss him.