Monday 10 April 2017

Visiting JG Mainz University

I've just returned from a two week visit to Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, where I was hosted by Andreas Karwath in the Data Mining group of the Dept of Informatik. I was there to pick up new research ideas, to get away from admin/teaching duties for a while and to share what we've been working on lately. 

The University at Mainz is a large campus based university on the outskirts of the town, on the beautiful river Rhine. It's named after the inventor of the printing press in the west, Johannes Gutenberg. The Gutenberg museum is excellent, tracing books from wax tablets through handwritten parchments, to moveable type print, then the industrial revolution, typewriters and high volume printing. This is a museum about the value of information and its transmission, and the technology invented to do this. There was even a special exhibition about the Futura font, as an added bonus. This is the geometric circles-and-lines font used in posters for "2001 A Space Odyssey", and on the Apollo 11 moon plaque ("We came in peace for all mankind"), and in so much future-looking advertising and propaganda in the Art Deco inspired 1930s era, both in Germany and beyond.

It was interesting to be embedded in a data mining group, rather than bioinformatics for a change. They have a broad range of application areas, but also happily switch technology (neural nets, relational learning, topic models, matrix decomposition, graphs, rs-trees and more) as the application area needs. Also very interesting to see in which ways a different country's research culture is different. It's not REF-dominated like the UK, so more they're more free to focus on quick-turnaround peer-reviewed compsci conference publications, and perhaps more hierarchically structured, as only the few professors have permanent positions. And yet it's still the same. University departments are international places and share much in common, whichever country you're in: same grant applications, student supervisions, seminar talks, dept silos, etc.

It was great fun to be there, and they were excellent hosts. At the same time, it was strange and sad to be a British person on exchange in Germany during the week that the UK sent article 50 to the EU. International collaborations are so important to research that leaving the EU is bound to be hugely detrimental to us UK academics. We need more exchange, not less.

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