One week ago, I took off from Amsterdam to settle in Moscow for 3.5 months. I was going to be a research intern at Yandex, the Russian search engine and a major player in international search engine land.
It was a good thing I printed a map with the location of my apartment, the taxi driver had no clue where to go when I told him my address. But after about spending the best part of an hour in a traffic jam where he could study my map, we did find my building among thousands of very similar buildings. It turned out that I was going to spend my time in the rambling old Soviet building in the picture here on the left!
After an evening of fighting with banks and their peculiarities (the Dutch ING allows a maximum of two cash withdrawals per day while the Russian Сбербанк allows a maximum of 5000руб per withdrawal, these restrictions together allowed me to withdraw just over €200 with one card, my other card was swallowed), sleeping a short night in a very hot room (central Soviet heating) and a continued fight with banks (yes, it was a new day, so I could make my two withdrawals again) I took a the superb Moscow metro and walked over the Red Square to the Yandex office.
There, I was welcomed by two adaptation officers; people whose job it is to make sure new employees find their way around the office. After a tour through the office and a lunch at one of the excellent Yandex restaurants, I had the first discussions with my fellow researchers. And those discussions continued well into the current week. Now that I’ve been adapted and accustomed to live in Russia in general (people open their windows to get rid of excess heat in their apartments and simply use cash money instead of banks), it’s time to focus on research! To support this, ELIAS, an ESF Research Networking Programme, announced yesterday that they have granted me an Exchange Visit Grant which will also allow me financially to stay here for the full 3.5 months (this Soviet apartment with a 45 min commute to the city centre is way more expensive than any apartment of the same size in Amsterdam). This is much appreciated and I will do everything I can to make it well spent by bringing research and industry (even) closer together. In particular, the ELIAS network’s aim is to reconsider evaluation methodologies for information retrieval (IR) systems by bringing the users of such systems into the equation. In the very recent past, my research has focused on exactly that aspect of IR. And also large search engines, like Yandex and it’s competitors, are known to have a similar interest. I’m looking forward to finding the overlap in interests and all that may come from that!