CHI is generally considered to be the most prestigious conference on Human-Computer Interaction, with acceptance rates between 20 and 25% (CHI currently has an overall acceptance rate of 23%: 2,930 papers were accepted out of 12,583 submissions). HCI research labs and individual researchers are often compared based on their track record for CHI (or the lack thereof). For example, Professor Jan Borchers of RWTH Aachen maintains a ranking of German universities based on the number of CHI archival publications (full papers or notes) since 2003.
Unfortunately, participation of Belgian universities and companies at CHI tends to be rather limited, especially with respect to these archival publications. Our lab, for example, got work-in-progress papers accepted before (e.g., Telebuddies), co-organized CHI workshops (e.g., User interface description languages for next generation user interfaces), and had people in the organizing committee, but we did not (yet) get a full paper or note accepted to CHI. I must say we don’t always try every year, though. On the other hand, we do publish at more specialized conferences, such as UIST (D-Macs), Pervasive (Situated Glyphs), 3DUI (Vanacken et al.), Tabletop/ITS (FluidPaint [video]), PERCOM (Pervasive Maps), INTERACT (Haesen et al.), MobileHCI (Luyten et al.), AVI (Gummy), and EICS (CAP3). Some of these more specialized conferences are considered to be as competitive and prestiguous as CHI. This is especially the case for UIST, but also for CSCW, DIS and Ubicomp & Pervasive (for the related area of ubiquitous computing). Since other scientific disciplines (e.g., physics, biology) are mostly focused on journals instead of conferences, some people explicitly mention the importance of top HCI conferences such as CHI and UIST in their resume.
What about other Belgian universities? In 2009, dr. David Geerts from CUO (KULeuven) had a full paper accepted to CHI. This was the first CHI archival publication from a Belgian institution in years. At that same edition of CHI, two researchers from Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) presented a scientometric analysis of the CHI proceedings up until 2008. Their analysis seems to indicate that the paper by Geerts was just the second Belgian archival paper at CHI. Indeed, Belgium has exactly 1 credit in the main proceedings up until 2008:
As far as I can tell, this refers to the paper at INTERCHI ‘93 by Jean Vanderdonckt and François Bodart of the Université Catholique de Louvain. Note that INTERCHI ‘93 was in fact a joint INTERACT+CHI conference (it was also the first CHI conference that was held outside North America).
Belgium’s neighbouring countries do a lot better in the analysis: the Netherlands have 17.17 credits, France has 27.03 credits and Germany is a clear winner with a score of 39.74 in the main proceedings. Belgium’s total number of credits per million inhabitants (which includes credits for extended abstracts — non-archival publications) is a bit higher than that of France, though (1.78 vs. 1.34).
Fortunately, the situation seems to be improving. Last year, KULeuven had another 2 archival papers accepted to CHI 2011: a note by Geerts, and a full paper by Karl Gyllstrom. This year, there is a note co-authored by Anand Ramamoorthy from the University of Ghent. Steven Houben, an UHasselt alumnus (and one of my former Master’s thesis students) who is now working on a PhD in Jakob Bardram’s group, got a CHI 2012 full paper accepted too (congrats again, Steven!). Of course, there’s the question of what really constitutes a Belgian CHI paper. Is it enough if the paper is (co-)authored by researchers employed by a Belgian institution, or do the authors have to be Belgian? While Karl Gyllstrom and Anand Ramamoorthy are affiliated with Belgian universities, they are not Belgian citizens (as far as I can tell). On the other hand, while Steven is a Belgian citizen, he is not affiliated with a Belgian university or company.
This made me wonder if there were any other Belgians working abroad who ever co-authored papers at CHI. I could only think of Professor Pattie Maes (VUB alumna) who directs the Fluid interfaces group at MIT Media Lab (she currently has 4 CHI papers according to DBLP). I would love to hear about other people that I might have missed.
To conclude, there is certainly room for improvement, although we’re not doing that bad either. Let’s hope the HCI community in Belgium continues to grow and Belgium will eventually be as well represented at top HCI venues as our neighbouring countries.