The story of a winter seminar series

Published at: 2017-01-28

By Mohammad Amin Sadeghi, PhD. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The idea of Winter Seminar Series was first proposed by Sepideh Mahabadi in 2015. She was an IOI Gold Medalist and a PhD student at MIT.  In the summer of 2015 she was visiting UIUC.  She had observed that a significant fraction of Iranian academics in the US, visit Iran in winter holidays and are happy to present their latest work.  She observed that Iranian students were also interested to hear the latest research news in top universities.  What was missing, was an organized conference to connect the two groups.

In the summer of 2015, she organized a group of Iranian PhD students who study in the US.  I was delighted to be part of this group.  We gathered a database of 200 top Iranian academics in computer science globally.  We contacted them and selected about 25 who were planning to visit Iran in the following winter.  We scheduled lectures and coordinated with the guests.  Sharif SSC helped with preparing the venue and 250 students registered.

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The conference went very well.  It was a great networking opportunity for all parties.  Students in Iran established connections with academics in foreign countries; Iranian academics from around the world held reunions; and Iranian students from around the country met and got connected.  This conference not only spread knowledge, it also spread hope, inspiration and motivation within Iranian students.

WSS-2015 conference had a number of valuable lessons where I list a few.  First, with creativity and diligence, you can make positive impact with minimal cost.  We used the right timing and the right network to maximize impact with very little cost.  Second, Iranian students welcome sincere attempts to improve academic atmosphere.  Even though we had a limited advertisement, all 250 seats filled up quickly.  Third, women are smart, hardworking, and effective.  WSS-2015 was mostly organized and executed by female Iranian academics.

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Second year, WSS-2016 received even more attention and was held as a larger event. Organizers at WSS-2016 did a great job of organizing the event.  I thank all of the organizers and the speakers and I wish best of luck for the organizers of WSS-2017. We need more of these events in universities other than Sharif and in areas other than computer science.
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