FICTION - A Universe where Researchers are Tradeable Assets

Posted 05 Mar 2017

This is a piece of fiction based off a news article about a trade in professional sports.


Tony Tang traded to Thunderbirds by Dinos

Veteran researcher, acquired from Dinos for draft pick, 'jumped at' chance to join the University of British Columbia

Vancouver – The closest Tony Tang ever came to winning a Best Paper at CHI was in 2014 when he was with the UCalgary Dinos.

That year, along with his co-authors, Tang won a Best Paper Nomination – really, second place.

Almost 21 years now after the Dinos lost out in the Best Paper race at CHI 2014 in Toronto, Tang is now returned to the institution that drafted him into a PhD. On Wednesday, the UBC Thunderbirds acquired the veteran professor in a trade with the UCalgary Dinos for a first-round pick in the 2031 PhD Draft. Tang can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Tang, 51, is in the final season of a three-year, $400k contract with an average annual value of $133k, accoring to

With the Dinos in last place on the 2030 Google Scholar citations this year, Tang indicated in January that he would be open to a change of scenery, for one more serious run at Best Paper. The Thunderbirds, one point out of the running altogether for Best Paper, but now within contention due to a strong research study in the past few months, recently expressed interest.

“UBC was one I heard about first,” Tang said Wednesday. “And once I did, I was very excited to go with that. Their track record, their success as an organization, and the professors and students they have there – I jumped at it.”

Tang has 63 peer-reviewed publications (53 conference papers, 10 journal articles) in 78 projects during 25 years with SFU Clansmen, UCalgary Dinos, UBC Thunderbirds, and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. He is third among active HCI researchers in peer-reviewed publications behind Carman Neustaedter of the SFU Clansmen (88), and Mark Hancock of the Waterloo Warriors (86).

This season, he had 2 peer-reviewed publications in three projects for the Dinos, who are low on citation metrics this year. Five of his six citations this year are self-citations.

In joining the Thunderbirds, Tang felt his familiarity with the department chair Sid Fels would help with the adjustment. Fels had originally drafted Tang as a PhD student back in 2005.

“When you’re publishing, it’s great,” Tang said. “He sends you to conferences, helps you prepare presentations and all that stuff. When you’re not (publishing), I imagine he probably hasn’t changed that much. He’s not scared at all to communicate it, particularly where your arguments are weak – and that’s a good thing. He is firm, and he can be tough. But I think that can be a good thing.”

“You always know where you stand with him.”

Thunderbirds provost Baljeet Singh said she thought Tang would be a good fit with one of their two top professors: Janet Smith or Amir Khan.

“If you look at Tang, it’s not only that he does the dirty statistics work, but he’s also a really strategic, smart researcher,” Rohling said on a conference call. “A good example is like Scott Bateman, where he does an excellent job of finding those research gaps, and figuring out how to capitalize on them. These kinds of skills are critical in today’s publishing game given the way everbody is trying to get citations.”

Singh’s moves show a renewed interest this season in bolstering the Thunderbirds’ HCI complement, which is poised to make a deep run this year. “I felt that we could be buyers this year: even if we don’t win Best Paper this year, our window [to win] is the next few years while players like Smith and Khan are still on pre-tenure contracts and working hard. I feel like we would stand a good chance of signing Tang before free agency.”

For Tang, it’s easily as much about publications and citations as it is about food and family. “Vancouver is such a great foodie city, I mean the fit here is fantastic. Calgary has great food, but the choices in Vancouver are unbelievable. I am sure that I can get my weight back up to 200lbs+, which I haven’t been able to do for a while. To be back in the place where I first got to that milestone, among the friends I shared so many meals, is great.”

For the Thunderbirds, it’s been five days of major changes. PhD student Sandra Hawkey, who recently missed 90 days of research due to internship, has finally returned to the lineup Saturday. The Thunderbirds acquired PhD phenom Frank Moffatt in a trade with the UofS Huskies on Sunday. Shortly before the Tang deal, the Thunderbirds traded Post-Doctoral Fellow Manny Oehlberg to the University of Toronto Varsity Blues for a conditional pick in 2031 PhD draft: if the Varsity Blues win the Best Paper award this year, it will be a first-round pick; otherwise, it would be a fourth-round pick.

This was written as a tribute to Alexandre Burrows, who played a lot of hard seasons in a Vancouver Canucks uniform and was recently traded to the Ottawa Senators. As we are about the same age, I feel like I grew up with him, even as I was cheering him on as a fanboy!