This article is published in the November 2011 issue.

Trip Report from Spain

In July I had the opportunity to travel to Spain to attend and present at two research venues. The first event was the 19th International Conference on User Modeling, Adaptation, and Personalization (UMAP), which took place in Girona, a charming and beautiful old city in Costa Brava, Catalonia.

The conference lasted one week (July 11-15) with two days of tutorials and workshops for conference participants. I presented our group’s short research paper, titled Towards Understanding How Humans Teach Robots, at the main conference on July 13, and gave an invited talk on our research at one of the workshops on the last day of the conference. One of six papers in the category with acceptance rate of 14.29 percent, our paper brought in some insight from the human-robot interaction domain to the overall user modeling discussion.

I enjoyed listening to the keynote talks, which addressed the definition of “user modeling” and the need to come up with standards to evaluate it in different domains. Following my workshop presentation, I discussed my research with a Spanish professor who was interested in seeing a comparative analysis between the teaching patterns presented in our paper versus the established theories of teaching in the educational community. In a separate instance, I met a Japanese professor who compared his group’s research experiences in building teacher robots to our study’s findings. I also had the opportunity to listen to fellow students’ research work, including an interesting ongoing behavioral study by Iolanda Leite et al (from Instituto Superior Tecnico, Portugal) on how children react to playing against an emphatic chess companion (social robot). Last, but not least, I witnessed an onsite interview for a postdoctoral research position that gave me the opportunity to hastily write down some hints and do’s and don’ts for future interviews!

From Girona I travelled to Barcelona by train for the IJCAI 2011 Workshop on Agents Learning Interactively from Human Teachers (ALIHT). In this weekend workshop I gave a presentation on Challenges to Decoding the Intention Behind Natural Instruction, which was voted as the “Best Presentation” by the workshop participants. This was an incredible honor as the setting of the ALIHT workshop was much more interactive (with a lot more Q&As) than the UMAP presentation session as the workshop consisted of a much smaller group of participants who were focused on a narrower field of research.

My experience at these two research venues this summer was simply amazing. I met, chatted, listened to and learned from an international group of researchers working on exciting projects in different parts of the globe. Due to the high costs of an intercontinental trip and the conference and workshop registration fees, I was the only graduate student in our research group who was able to travel to Spain to attend and present at these research venues. This trip would not have been possible without the support of NSF (who funded the UMAP student scholarships), ACM-W and Wipro Technologies (who funded the ACM-W travel scholarships for women in computing), and CDC’s Sending Students to Technical Conferences Program. I am truly grateful for the support and funding I received that enabled this incredible journey.

Tasneem Kaochar  is a graduate student in the School of Information: Science, Technology and Arts at the University of Arizona. 


Tasneem Kaochar, Raquel Torres Peralta, Clayton T. Morrison, Ian R. Fasel, Thomas J. Walsh, Paul R. Cohen . “Towards Understanding How Humans Teach Robots.” In Proceedings of the 19th International Conference on User Modeling, Adaptation and Personalization (UMAP 2011), Girona, Spain, July 2011.

Raquel Torres Peralta, Tasneem Kaochar, Ian R. Fasel, Clayton T. Morrison, Thomas J. Walsh, Paul R. Cohen. “Challenges to Decoding the Intention Behind Natural Instruction.” In Proceedings of the Workshop on Agents Learning Interactively from Human Teachers (ALIHT) at the 22nd International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI 2011), Barcelona, Spain, July 2011.

Trip Report from Spain