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CSL's annual student conference continues success after transitioning online


Allie Arp, CSL

In 2020, the CSL Student Conference (CSLSC) was one of the final events to take place before many parts of the university shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. A year later, the conference was moved entirely online using GatherTown, Zoom, and a lot of work from the conference committee.

Anwesa Choudhuri
Anwesa Choudhuri

“We think it went well considering this year it was very different we didn’t know what to expect,” said Anwesa Choudhuri, conference co-chair and electrical and computer engineering graduate student. “We were planning a parallel physical conference, a virtual conference, and a hybrid conference. It let us think in all sorts of ways.”

In January, the committee chose to do an entirely virtually conference. This option wasn’t without its perks. More students from outside the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign attended, the plenary speaker was located in the UK but was able to attend with the virtual format, and there seemed to be more interaction with speaker during the question and answer sessions. Despite all of these benefits, both co-chairs agree they hope for the format to return to in-person next year.

Ranvir Rana
Ranvir Rana

“While there were some perks to a virtual conference, given the option, I would choose a physical conference,” said Ranvir Rana, conference co-chair and electrical and computer engineering graduate student. “One of the main appeals of an in-person conference is you get to meet your peers in CSL and discuss research and opportunities to collaborate, while getting to know each other. We think people missed that.”

Attendees did not miss the standard, information-packed content for which the conference is known. Sessions included Optimization, Control, and Reinforcement Learning, Networking and Decentralized Systems, Machine Learning and Signal Processing, Machine Learning and Signal Processing, and brand new for this year, a COVID-19 session. Students got to participate in presenting at these sessions as well as a poster and robotics session, a job fair, and multiple virtual hangouts.

A screenshot from the virtual awards ceremony at the 2021 CSL Student Conference.
A screenshot from the virtual awards ceremony at the 2021 CSL Student Conference.

Following in the tradition from recent years, awards were given out to the best student presentation in each session. The award winners were:

  • Aaron Havens, Optimization, Control, and Reinforcement Learning
  • Paiyao Sheng, Networking and Decentralized Systems
  • Anadi Chaman, Machine Learning and Signal Processing
  • Al Smith, Bioimaging and Computational Biology
  • Kristina Miller, Poster Session
  • Farhad Nawaz, Poster Session
  • Yifan Zhu and others in the Intelligent Motion Lab, Robotics Session
Peiyao Sheng
Peiyao Sheng

For presenter Paiyao Sheng, CSLSC was the first opportunity for her to present at a conference. Her research, ACeD: Scalable Data Availability Oracle, was accepted at another conference later this spring, and she was thankful for the opportunity for the chance to present at CSLSC first.

“This was a great opportunity to first present our work to peers here at CSL and get feedback. It was good practice,” said Sheng, a computer science student. “I think my peers had very good presentations, so receiving the award is a great honor. This gives me more confidence to present our work and I’m very happy about it.”