Connecting at Conferences with Michail Alexiou, IEEE Program Committee Member

Published 06/26/2024
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Michail AlexiouAs an Assistant Professor of the Department of Computer Science at Kennesaw State University, Michail Alexiou finds fulfillment in giving back to the computing community by participating and helping organize several IEEE Computer Society conferences. He was brought into the world of IEEE as an undergrad studying Electrical Engineering at the Technical University of Crete (TUC) and has made several contributions within the organization since then.

During his undergrad, Alexiou was fascinated by the student branch’s challenge events and how they managed to bridge the gap between research and practice, exposing him to real-world use cases for the concepts he was learning in his class. Now, as an Assistant Professor, Alexiou continues to serve the community, making connections and sharing insights all along the way.


Can you tell us more about your IEEE Computer Society journey, starting from when you first joined the community to where you are now?

I was introduced to IEEE CS during my undergraduate years in Electrical Engineering at the Technical University of Crete (TUC) in Greece, primarily through student events and competitions organized by the local IEEE student branch. While STEM schools offer opportunities for practical applications of theoretical knowledge through lab projects, these projects often fall behind the current needs of research and industry. However, what intrigued me about IEEE’s student branch challenge events and activities was their ability to bridge this gap, exposing students to real-world applications of cutting-edge concepts. As I progressed to my senior undergraduate years, I was further exposed to innovative research problems and methodologies, initially through volunteering at local IEEE conferences. This early involvement was pivotal to my career, as it introduced me to new concepts and fields and connected me with experienced graduate students and researchers who would guide or collaborate with me in the future. These experiences inspired me to pursue research in my graduate studies, during which I took on a more active role, initially presenting my own research papers that were accepted at IEEE conferences, and later serving as a program committee and organizing committee member for such conferences. Overall, IEEE CS has developed a robust support system for academia members (be it students, researchers, and professors alike) guiding individuals from the early stages of their careers, assisting them in establishing their research ideas and facilitating new collaborations.


Can you elaborate on your involvement with IEEE Conferences, like the IEEE International Conference on Tools with Artificial Intelligence (ICTAI)? How has being a part of these events shaped your career path?

I’ve had the privilege of volunteering for several IEEE Conferences over the years, starting as a student volunteer during my undergraduate years at the TUC and continuing through my graduate studies at Wright State University (WSU). Over time, my roles evolved from Program Committee to positions such as Publicity Chair and Financial Chair for the ICTAI and BIBE conference series. More specifically, I’m particularly honored to serve again as the Financial Chair for this year’s ICTAI 2024 conference.

These experiences have been pivotal in my career, shaping my academic journey and guiding my long-term research goals. Meeting and collaborating with individuals from diverse scientific backgrounds and perspectives has been instrumental in this regard. Conferences serve as hubs for exchanging cutting-edge research results and ideas, broadening our understanding of previously limited problems and illuminating future research directions. Whether at local or international conferences, the opportunity to interact with researchers from various disciplines fosters new collaborations that can yield impactful results across diverse fields. Through IEEE conferences in particular, I had the opportunity to connect with exceptional researchers from both academia and industry. A standout example in my case is Dr. Iosif Papadakis Ktistakis, currently a Senior Mechatronics Architect at ASML. He not only provided guidance in the early stages of my career but also became a cherished collaborator and friend over the years.

Conference participation has not only expanded my network but also facilitated my exposure to new and interesting research topics, some of which I’ve integrated into my overarching research plan. When I began my doctoral research, I concentrated on reverse-engineering technical documents to extract underlying knowledge and behavioral models using formal and machine learning methods. However, my exposure to cybersecurity concepts and industry challenges at several AI conferences organized by IEEE broadened my perspective. More specifically, they helped me realize the potential applications of my research in this area. This realization steered my research towards the reverse-engineering of software and cyber-physical systems, aiming to tackle these pressing cybersecurity issues. Equally important, conference participation has helped me develop invaluable management and collaboration skills through various organizational tasks crucial for conference operations. These skills and experiences have proven particularly beneficial in guiding my own research team of undergraduate and graduate students as I recently transitioned to my role as an Assistant Professor at Kennesaw State University (KSU).


In the broader sense, why are events such as these important? What role do they play in advancing research within computer science?

In my opinion, the beauty of research lies in its multifaceted nature, both in its pursuit and its reception within the scientific community. Consequently, new research concepts and, more importantly, results are meant to be shared and discussed among members of both the scientific and industry communities. On that note, there’s a common misconception that scientific conferences cater exclusively to academia, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Vital research is conducted daily in both academic institutions and industry research labs. IEEE conferences have played a pivotal role in bridging this gap by providing a forum that brings together individuals from both industry and academia to exchange ideas, address common challenges and facilitate the progress of research overall. The scientific impact of these conferences became particularly evident during and after the pandemic, with numerous research studies published on the detection and long-term effects of COVID-19. Additionally, the insights gained on the effectiveness of various medical treatments against it have greatly aided the scientific community in addressing this threat.

Furthermore, IEEE conferences are crucial because they foster collaboration among individuals with diverse scientific backgrounds and perspectives, thereby significantly influencing research progress. In particular, IEEE has actively promoted the participation of traditionally underrepresented groups in research through various scientific and social events. Understanding and recognizing the societal impact of such conferences as equally important as their scientific impact is paramount.


Speaking of connections, can you discuss the importance of mentorship? Who in your career has helped guide you?

In my opinion, an integral aspect in our professional journey, regardless of the sector (be it industry, academia, services, etc.) is finding suitable mentors. While many experienced researchers or managers possess the skills and knowledge to excel as mentors, it’s crucial to identify those who resonate most effectively with us individually. A fitting mentor not only attentively listens to their mentee’s feedback and concerns but also effectively communicates ideas and imparts knowledge, guiding them along their academic or professional paths and helping them to achieve their own goals. And, it is my belief that true mentors continue to do so long after their mentees have “graduated”. From my own experiences, I’ve found that diverse perspectives shared with a mentor often spark some of the most intriguing research ideas, questions, and solutions. However, effective communication necessitates some common ground to bridge differing viewpoints. Ultimately, mentoring someone is a privilege that entails long-term commitment.

To that end, I consider myself fortunate to have encountered invaluable mentors who have played pivotal roles in guiding me throughout my career so far. Among them, Dr. Evripides Petrakis stands out as my initial mentor. As a Full Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at TUC, he not only supervised my engineering diploma thesis but also provided continuous support throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies. His mentorship and support not only instilled in me a passion for research but also served as a catalyst for launching my career. Another very influential mentor has been Dr. Sukarno Mertoguno, a Research Professor in the School of Cybersecurity and Privacy at the Georgia Institute of Technology. During my postdoctoral research under his guidance, Dr. Mertoguno challenged me to approach research projects with innovative perspectives, emphasizing the “how and why” behind novel ideas rather than conforming to existing research trends. Lastly, the most impactful mentor in my academic career so far has been Dr. Nikolaos Bourbakis, a Distinguished Professor at WSU’s College of Engineering and Computer Science. As my doctoral advisor, Dr. Bourbakis not only helped shape my current research direction but also profoundly influenced my personal and professional growth. His dedication to teaching, collaborative spirit with students, and unwavering commitment to quality and innovative research inspired me to pursue a career as a professor and researcher myself.


You’re currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Kennesaw State University. How does Kennesaw State University promote student involvement with the research community?

In order for academia to be successful in its mission, it is imperative to offer not only high-quality teaching but also ample opportunities for research engagement. This principle is rigorously upheld within the Department of Computer Science at KSU, reflecting the institution’s unwavering commitment to the success of our students in their future careers. Specifically, the College of Computing and Software Engineering at KSU, under which the Department of CS operates, actively promotes student engagement in research through various initiatives, which include senior student research projects, Capstone projects, and the C-Day event. In the latter, students are invited to present posters and demos highlighting their experiences within internships, team projects and their graduate thesis or dissertation research work. Faculty members, like myself, are given the opportunity to collaborate closely with student groups with different levels of seniority throughout the academic semesters. This collaboration spans a wide array of research topics based on our own expertise and tailored to align with the student’s interests and career aspirations. These endeavors are integral to the university’s broader mission of providing students with practical, hands-on experience and exposing them to cutting-edge methodologies and tools, moving beyond theoretical knowledge and preparing them for the requirements of both industry and research in academia. As a faculty member at KSU, I also take pride in the support received from IEEE CS toward that mission, which further enhances our efforts through additional workshops, seminars, and networking events organized in partnership with our IEEE Student Branch.


As someone who has lots of experience working with students starting their careers, what’s the best advice you would give to the next generation of engineers?

Throughout my career, collaborating with engineering and computer science students from diverse backgrounds, as well as working closely with many experienced professors and researchers, has taught me the importance of never hesitating to ask questions. While this advice may seem simple, overcoming self-doubt regarding our understanding of new concepts or the relevance of our inquiries can pose a significant challenge. Professors often emphasize that “there are no wrong questions,” a statement I believe applies in all facets of life and career. Asking questions is essential for identifying the root of research problems and improving upon state-of-the-art techniques. Furthermore, finding the courage to express concerns regarding the current status of knowledge is the first step toward developing innovative solutions that address cutting-edge research problems.

Another piece of advice, though equally difficult to follow, is maintaining focus and commitment to our goals. In today’s rapidly evolving research and industry landscape, where new tools and technologies emerge frequently, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and left behind. However, navigating these changes, adapting to new challenges and ideas, while remaining true to our core research objectives, is essential for both our professional and personal growth as engineers.