IEEE ComSoc Distinguished Lecturer Tours: Why, How, and Tips from a Distinguished Lecturer

By Ying-Dar Lin - IEEE Fellow, IEEE ComSoc Distinguished Lecturer, National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan


The rationale behind the IEEE Distinguished Lecturer Tour (DLT) program is to lower the barrier of international academic exchange, with IEEE covering international air tickets and the hosts covering local accommodation. This greatly reduces the expenditures required by local hosts, which is critical for hosts in developing countries or those who are unwilling to go through budget logistics. Providing hotel accommodation and lunch/dinner is much simpler than paying for long-distance air tickets. The increased exchange would facilitate spreading research trends and fostering research collaboration.

My own motivation to serve as a distinguished lecturer ranges from sheer academic recognition, feedback to my research results, potential collaboration, to mixing in sightseeing fun. I would judge a talk as a failure if no questions were asked. The more questions I received, the more rewarding a DLT was because often these questions prompted me to reflect again on my research problem and solution. Although not every DLT would introduce you to new collaborators, a perfect match would come up from time to time. Spending one full day with your host provides an opportunity to find common interests, if not immediately then maybe in the future. I must say that DLTs boosted my international contacts, and allowed me to visit tourist destinations that most conferences would not take me to.

How to DLT

Table 1. Summary of my six DLTs.

To be a ComSoc distinguished lecturer, apply by September 30 each year, with the completed form and a four-minute video to prove that you can present fluently and vividly. After being selected, you either organize or are organized with a DLT, file a DLT application with ComSoc, conduct the DLT, and then file for reimbursement on-line at the ComSoc website with receipts and a DLT report. All DLT reports are posted at http://www.comsoc. org/about/memberprograms/distinguished-lecturers, which can be googled easily with “ComSoc DLT.”

There were six DLTs in my first term of two years, as summarized in the accompanying table. Unlike most other distinguished lecturers who wait for invitations indefinitely, I also reached out to researchers I know personally to arrange DLTs. I ended up having two DLTs initiated by myself and four others invited by someone I knew or did not know. In the DLTs to New Zealand and Latin America I didn’t know any inviting hosts or chapter chairs, while the DLTs to Australia and Indonesia were invited by someone I knew. The DLTs to the U.S. and Europe were organized by myself, where I knew some hosts but not all. The Austin chapter chair, who I did not know but is now my friend, was approached by me and they organized three talks to AT&T Labs, IBM Research, and the Austin Chapter, with all attendees from industry. I got to know two dozen people through these DLTs, with some of them added to my Facebook.

At AT&T Labs (left to right): Ying-Dar Lin, Robert Dailey, Chris Chase, Fawzi Behmann.

Though ComSoc policy recommends two DLTs per year for a Distinguished Lecturer and expects three lectures in three venues in each DLT, this is just a general guideline. I added an extra DLT to Indonesia, with only two talks, in the first year without sponsorship from ComSoc because the host covered the cost of the entire trip. In the second year, after I committed to the DLTs to Europe and Latin America, the New Zealand chapter chair approached me. We asked Com- Soc whether the third DLT could be sponsored, and got was approved. I attempted to pack as many talks as I could into a DLT and piggyback it onto a conference trip to save time and money. In extreme cases, I packed five and six talks into the DLTs to the U.S. and Europe, and piggybacked them onto Globecom and ICC, respectively. Some hosts also tried to piggyback a talk onto an event. The DLT in Indonesia turned out to be two keynote speeches in a conference. As a one-day workshop, the hosts in Louvain and Auckland invited local network researchers and packed eight to 10 small talks after my keynote. Beyond DLTs, I was also invited to give lectures elsewhere, with keynotes in Japan and Bangladesh.

The number of attendees and the number of questions are two metrics that one would state in a DLT report. In my talks, it ranges from 20 to 150 attendees (with an average of 30) and three to 15 questions (with an average of six). The extremes happened in Buenos Aires, with an artistic auditorium seating 150, and AT&T Labs in Austin, where my host asked me about 15 questions directly related to his traffic forensics work. He concluded that this was the most interesting talk he had recently and should have called back his colleagues on vacation. I know that AT&T Labs would be an excellent place to spend my sabbatical.

Useful Tips

Here I summarize my lessons for potential distinguished lecturers.

  1. 1. Don’t simply wait for invitations. Reach out someone you know or chapter chairs to organize your DLTs.
  2. Make your topics appealing and current. Put topics, your bio, and past reports on the ComSoc web page. Some chapter chairs do look at them to invite lecturers.
  3. Don’t talk on one single piece of research. Give a roadmap with a series of works. Encapsulate your roadmap with a tutorial first. The entire audience will not fall in your area.
  4. Care more about the number of questions being asked than the number of attendees. Write them down in your report and treasure them as feedback to your research.
  5. Pack more lectures into a DLT and piggyback onto a conference trip whenever possible.
  6. Call for collaboration in your talk to identify potential partners, but don’t expect a match after each talk. Perfect matches come naturally.
  7. Follow up with those who discussed with you more and maybe add them to your Facebook.
  8. Allocate at least two nights, preferably three nights, to a city to give yourself one full day to explore a new city.

Ying-Dar Lin is a Distinguished Professor of Computer Science at National Chiao Tung University (NCTU) in Taiwan. He received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from UCLA in 1993. He served as a visiting scholar at Cisco Systems in San Jose during 2007–2008. Since 2002, he has been the founder and director of Network Benchmarking Lab (NBL), which reviews network products with real traffic. NBL recently became an approved test lab of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF). He also cofounded L7 Networks Inc. in 2002, which was later acquired by D-Link Corp. His research interests include quality of services, network security, deep packet inspection, wireless communications, and recently software defined networking. His work on “multi-hop cellular” was the first along this line, and has been cited over 700 times and standardized into IEEE 802.11s, IEEE 802.15.5, WiMAX IEEE 802.16j, and 3GPP LTE-Advanced. He is an IEEE Fellow (class of 2013), an IEEE Distinguished Lecturer (2014-2017), and a Research Associate of ONF. He is serving or has served on the editorial boards of many journals, guest edited several special issues, and co-chaired symposia at IEEE Globecom’13 and IEEE ICC’15. He published a textbook, Computer Networks: An Open Source Approach, with Ren-Hung Hwang and Fred Baker (McGraw-Hill, 2011).