ICAI Interview with Rinke Hoekstra: ‘Academics help seeing the big picture.’

Rinke Hoekstra, Lead Architect at Elsevier, is Industry Director of Discovery Lab. This ICAI-lab, a collaboration of Elsevier, University of Amsterdam and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, kicked off in April 2020. Hoekstra: ‘Within Elsevier this is already seen as one of the most successful collaborations with academic partners.’

You’re the Industry Director of Discovery Lab. Can you briefly explain what your role is?

‘My role is to intermediate between the company and the partners. I make sure the lab is not overloaded by requests from the company. The lab members have to do research, but as a company, we have to make sure the research is of use to us. That’s a tension. We have to find a good trade-off there.’

What are the challenges involved with that?

‘I communicate the relevance of the lab for the company. The company as a whole is used to deal with a one-year-horizon, but the outcome of the lab will take years. A lot of people in the company don’t think in these terms of long- term innovation. It’s all very academic to them. Another challenge is bringing interesting problems to the academic partners. It’s quite challenging to make sure that we find the right nuggets of data within the organization that are of use to the researchers to play with.‘

‘Our customers are researchers. We feel that it’s our job to help them do research’

How is the lab working out so far?

‘The PhD researchers and the Elsevier data scientists just hit it off and started working. They created a very convincing story in their presentation during the internal kick-off of the lab. I see that internally this is already seen as one of the most successful collaborations with academic partners. The other Elsevier research collaborations are typically at a higher level. They have a couple of meetings every year and then the researchers go off and do their research. But in this lab the data scientists are really working together with the lab members in a self-organized way. They are also bringing in master students who do their research with us. We are creating our own little community. If you don’t have that shared community, you will never have a good collaboration.’

What was the motivation of Elsevier to enter this lab?

‘Our customers are researchers, either in academia, R&D companies or health. We feel that it’s our job to help them do research. We can sell products so they can do their research better, but we can also directly collaborate with them. It is a good opportunity to do research that we don’t necessarily see within our own organization.’

‘We have a longstanding collaboration with Amsterdam Data Science. And we saw this opportunity to work even more closely with our ADS partners. It is so interesting to work with these people. Frank van Harmelen is clearly one of the world leaders in terms of knowledge representation and reasoning knowledge graphs. Paul Groth’s work on provenance and learning knowledge graphs from structured information is well regarded. Maarten de Rijke is obviously big in information retrieval. And the group of Max Welling in machine learning: all world-class researchers. On other universities they have maybe one or two of these fields covered. It is very rare to see that combination in one place.’

What is the most interesting thing about your job?

‘I stay very close to academia and to that kind of free and open thinking. As a lead architect within Elsevier I work with the same technology and problems, but the context is very different. So it’s good to have this more open context where you can freely discuss ideas without somebody saying: ‘what’s the use case?’.’

At the ICAI Lunch Meetup of February 18, 2021, Rinke Hoekstra will present Discovery Lab. More info and sign up here.