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Here’s why RPL Summer School was a success

KTH EECS RPL Summer school group picture
Published Jul 15, 2022

The good reviews of the RPL Summer School are no coincidence. Member of the organising committee, Fereidoon Zangeneh, shares some key insights about the success.

RPL Summer School in numbers

  • 85 attendees
  • and 9 speakers
  • from 34 institutes
  • in 12 countries.

13–17 June, the division of Robotics, Perception and Learning held their first summer school for doctoral students and postdocs. Researchers from all over the world got the opportunity to learn and collaborate in the inspiring environment at Happy Tammsvik, outside of Stockholm. Even though this was their first year of organising, the event got stunning reviews and has already resulted in multiple new research projects.

During the pandemic, the opportunity to collaborate and take note of each other's research has been minimal. So, at the request of the management, a committee from the RPL division organized a summer school. They attracted 85 attending doctoral students and postdocs from 34 different institutes via invites.

RPL Rummer School panel discussion
Panel discussion on how to succeed in an academic career with Marynel Vázquez (Yale University), Nick Hawes (University of Oxford), Georgia Chalvatzaki (TU Darmstadt), Ana Matrán-Fernández (University of Essex), Abbas Abdolmaleki (DeepMind), Arash Ajoudani (IIT Genoa), Ali Eslami (Google DeepMind) and moderator Hossein Azizpour from KTH.

“Our work depends on sharing our ideas and thoughts. Together we can make better results. That is why our main goal with this summer school was to give people the opportunity to connect and find new common ground,” says Fereidoon.

This was the first time the division of RPL organised a summer school. But they already knew they wanted it to be different from others.

“Usually, a summer school holds lectures from 9 to 5. Then you are exhausted and have little energy left for your own ideas. Unlike other summer schools, we focused on seminars on a higher level and lots of discussions.”

If you have ever attended an event, you know it’s not always easy to get the interaction you would like. That’s why the committee tried a different approach.

“We planned the whole week like a journey. We started by getting to know each other’s work and finished with concrete points of collaboration.”

The first step was to divide everyone into groups based on research field to present their work in parallel tracks. This was an opportunity to note overlaps and find exciting people to work with. The next step was to investigate possible ideas. They continued exploring concrete points of collaboration that could continue after summer school and ended the week with a project pitch from each group.

RPL Summer School two minutes pitches.
Every group had only two minutes to pitch their new ideas.

“This way of working has resulted in several active projects already. In fact, I am working on a project right now with two people I met at summer school - one from Linköping and one from Paris.”

You could say that the result of the summer school seems like a success. And the attendees agree.

“The majority liked the freestyle discussions and the organic formation of ideas. The food, company and location were also much appreciated. Some social activities could have been better prepared, but we had a fantastic time at Happy Tamsvik. But the real evaluation will be in five years or so when we know how many have initiated new projects with their connections from the summer school.”

Now, the only remaining question is – will there be an RPL Summer School next year? This is yet to be determined.

The committee’s tips for a successful summer school

  1. Know your target group. Have a committee that can represent each group of interest. Base the event on own experiences, likes and dislikes.
  2. Hold the event at another location than your campus. In that way, the attendees from the home university are free from private obligations and you can make the most of your time together.
  3. Find speakers who are not only renowned in their field but can also commit to staying engaged throughout the event activities and add weight to the discussions that take place.

Organising committee