June 2014 Vol. 26/No.6
By Peter Harsha, CRA Director of Government Affairs and Brian Mosley, CRA Policy Analyst
On May 29, the U.S. House of Representatives was on the verge of approving new funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) that would increase the agency’s budget more than 3 percent in FY 2015, while at the same time the House Science, Space and Technology Committee approved legislation the day before that would authorize smaller increases and place new restrictions and scrutiny on science funding at the same agency.
As this went to press, the House had not yet concluded consideration of the FY 2015 Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations Act, a bill that includes funding for NSF, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency. The bill, as introduced, represents a significant show of support for Federal investments in fundamental research. House appropriators provided $7.4 billion in funding for NSF in FY 2015 in the bill, an increase of 3.3 percent over FY 2014, and a bigger increase than the President requested in his own FY 2015 budget request ($7.25 billion, or 1.2 percent).
The bill would increase NSF’s Research and Related Activities account — home to the great bulk of NSF’s research funding, including research in the Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) directorate — by 2.9 percent, to $5.98 billion in FY 2015, an increase of $170 million over FY 2014.
The bill is not quite as good for NIST, which saw big increases last year for its Scientific and Technical Research and Services (STRS) account. STRS would hold flat in FY 2015 CJS bill at $651 million, below the President’s request of $680 million and the same as the account received in FY 2014.
It was still not clear at press time whether amendments that might target spending increases at NSF would succeed. A rumored amendment from some members of the House Science, Space and Technology (SST) Committee Majority that would shift some funding from NSF’s Social, Behavioral and Economic directorate to other NSF directorates (including CISE) was not yet in order at press time. The effort is similar to language approved as part of the House SST Committee’s consideration of the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act, which passed through the committee on a strict party-line vote on Wednesday.
The bill’s lead sponsor is the House Science Committee chairman, Lamar Smith (R-TX). The bill would reauthorize the majority of the America COMPETES Act of 2010 — a bipartisan bill that authorized a doubling of the budgets of NSF, NIST and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science in the name of ensuring the Nation’s economic competitiveness long-term — and focuses on the non-energy agencies (NSF, NIST, and the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy).
While the original COMPETES Act garnered near universal acclaim from the science community and Congress alike, the FIRST Act is opposed by a wide array of industry, university and scientific society organizations with an interest in the Federal investment in research. Opponents of the measure (which include CRA) note that the bill only authorizes the agencies it contains for two years, and one of those years (FY 2014) is the current year with settled appropriations. Democratic efforts to add a third year of funding authorizations for Federal science agencies as a way of demonstrating some commitment to the science community were rebuffed on a party-line vote during the committee markup of the bill.
The FIRST Act also authorizes very small increases for NSF (about 1.5 percent) and NIST (1 percent) in FY 2015, and the FY 2014 authorizations match the numbers appropriated as part of the FY 2014 Omnibus appropriation, with one significant exception: the bill would strip $100 million in authorizations from the $256 million NSF spends on Social, Behavioral, and Economic Science (SBE). The bill would redistribute that $100 million amongst the other NSF directorates, include about $70 million for CISE.
Smith and the other members of the committee majority have placed a target on NSF’s SBE Directorate on a largely philosophical basis. They do not believe that the Federal government should spend any of its increasingly limited resources supporting what they believe to be the “softer” sciences like sociology and political science. However, CRA and others have argued that much of the research performed in SBE has direct relevance to work in CISE, including valuable insights into human behavior and its impact on cyber security problems, as well as a better understanding of human-computer interaction.
In addition to the troubling language regarding SBE, the bill includes language designed to ensure “greater accountability” in the grant-making process at NSF. This focus on SBE is largely in response to concerns raised by Senate Republican Tom Coburn (R-OK) last year that cited a number of NSF awards that appeared to be “silly” uses of taxpayer dollars (though later found, in every case, to be a worthy investment in research that provided valuable new understanding in that area). To prevent such misuses of NSF funding from happening in the future, the new language requires NSF to affirm that all grant awards funded by the Foundation are “worthy of Federal funding” and in the national interest, “as indicated by having the potential to achieve:”
The language appears in a section of the bill focused on “NSF Accountability” and represents and improvement over what had been circulated in draft versions of the bill. (Smith’s original draft of the bill was problematic because it required that prior to the award of any funding, NSF had to publish on a website the justification for that award (based on the above criteria), along with the name of the employee or employees who made the determination. However, after an uproar from the science community DC over what is largely seen as micromanagement of an agency which actually does a decent job of being transparent and focused on merit review, most of the most disagreeable portions of the language were stripped. In their place, language that requires a public announcement of the award, including “a written justification from a responsible foundation official” that the grant meets the criteria. For the science community, the most recent language is somewhat better, but it still provides a hook by which Congress can call the “responsible Foundation official” on the carpet for any dubious (in their, i.e. Congressional minds) grant. Of course, Congress already has that power.
The FIRST Act does contain a reauthorization of the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Program (NITRD). CRA, along with IEEE-USA, SIAM and USACM endorsed this a year ago when it was introduced in a stand-alone bill as the Advancing America’s NITRD Act. It’s not clear whether the NITRD language would survive a conference with the Senate.
Two possible silver linings in all this, for science advocates: first, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee is expected to release their version of a COMPETES reauthorization any week now. The hope within the science community is that it will be a more true reauthorization of COMPETES and will be more bipartisan in nature. The second silver lining is that FIRST is an authorizing bill, which means this is only covers how NSF can spend its money (rather than an appropriations bill which determines how much money NSF gets). Current year funding for NSF has already been determined and is unlikely to be impacted by this bill, assuming it gets signed into law. As well, next year’s funding levels have already passed the House Appropriations Committee, and they did not incorporate the FIRST Act levels in what they approved. We’ll keep our readers posted on further developments with this legislation.
It’s also not clear what the Senate will do with the CJS Appropriation. The Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) has been quite vocal about her support for Federal science agencies. Appropriators also have the advantage of working from a budget resolution for FY 2015, which provide the same set of numbers to both House and Senate Appropriation Committees, which, in turn, should make the path to compromise and final passage a lot easier.
We will keep you updated on both pieces of legislation as they move through the process. Find all the latest at the CRA Blog at http://cra.org/blog.
By Elizabeth Mynatt, Georgia Tech
Visions 2025 is a collaborative effort between the National Science Foundation (NSF) Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate Advisory Committee (CISE AC) and the Computing Community Consortium (CCC). Its goal is to expose and energize future trends and opportunities in computing research, and to provide insights into how computing research will evolve and grow over the next 10 to 15 years.
The 2025 steering committee identified three broad workshop topics. The intent was not to address all areas of computer science but to start with these cross-cutting topics that explore future uses of computing while engaging core computer science research. The first two workshops occurred in May and early June.
“Interacting with Computers All Around Us” was chaired by Limor Fix (retired Intel), Jennifer Rexford (Princeton) and Daniela Rus (MIT). This workshop addressed the question of how advances in technology might alter how computers made sense of, and interact with, the physical world as well as how computers and people might interact with each other. Topics in this workshop included computational perception, machine learning, robotics, speech and language processing and physical and social dimensions of assistive technology.
“The New Making Renaissance: Programmable Matter and Things” was chaired by David Culler (Berkeley), James Landay (Cornell Tech), Prabal Dutta (Michigan) and Eric Paulos (Berkeley). This workshop explored the potentially disruptive role of “making” tangible computational objects on traditional notions of craftsmanship, mass customization, human-machine interaction, and computing research and education overall.
Several provocative themes emerged that cut across both workshops.
An open question for interaction technology design is to better understand how to create “super human” capabilities in wearable and mobile form factors. While computers have unquestionably augmented human capabilities with each new generation of computing power and interface technologies, the potential to wear technologies that allow one to see through walls, to automatically translate written and spoken languages, to recognize long-forgotten faces, and even to predict the future begins to alter commonly held understandings of human perception and cognition and has intriguing implications for human to human interaction.
The discussions at both workshops placed great demands on future computational perception and machine learning capabilities to make greater sense of complex environments filled with human and robotic actors. These capabilities could then be realized by fluid interactions by robots and programmable objects that possessed a deep understanding of their surroundings. Discussions about “soft” robots ranged from Saul Griffith’s pneumatic creations that challenge conventional design assumptions to Charlie Kemp’s force sensitive skin that allows his robots to gently brush away crumbs from a person’s face.
Workshop attendees anticipated the ability to create, program and deploy large collections of programmable objects that could cooperate as swarms, hives or other forms of evolving, cooperative behavior. How will large-scale networks of robots, agents, sensors and people (RASP) alter society? Will that impact exceed the dominant force that the Internet is today? Discussions also imagined augmenting or mimicking natural objects, from trees that harvest energy in the day and provide light at night, to robotic termites that build temporary shelters.
The barriers to creating and disseminating new capabilities in programmable matter warrant serious consideration. For example, what will be the app store for the Internet of Things look like? Edward Lee asked, “How can we help people hack their HVAC?” Lee, Griffith and others pointed to the need for new models in computing that encompass the challenges of dynamic control systems to allow game changing advances in cyber-physical systems and robotics. Research advances rely on education advances. How do we train the next generation of researchers that will grapple with these complex digital/physical systems? How should training in computer science overall reflect this new horizon? How can non-programmers be supported in “programming” matter? The “making” workshop also touched on education from primary school to lifelong learning. What type of education and training is beneficial for children and also necessary for the makers of tomorrow?
At the “making” workshop, Hal Varian reminded the attendees that great technology shifts that cause tremendous societal change rely on existing infrastructure that allows technology to scale into mainstream use. From the port cities that created the first network of the industrial revolution to the critical mass of listeners that enabled broadcast radio programming, revolutionary technologies evolve existing infrastructures for new uses. Participants imagined repurposing existing infrastructures from urban trees, highways, and the maker community itself to create sustainable approaches for programmable objects. One challenge was to make the 3D printed objects themselves inherently recyclable.
While some of these ideas have existed in research, not to mention science fiction, before now, the question we must turn to is how computing research can address these challenges. How to quickly prototype and create end-user programmable cyber-physical systems? How to secure these systems from abuse and breaches of privacy? How to create algorithms to specify the physical properties and dynamic behavior of programmable matter? How to create algorithms that can win design awards for their creations? Moreover these discussions strengthened the call for interdisciplinary computing research that encompasses design, engineering, physical and biological sciences, as well as law, ethics, and economics. The discussion that engendered the greatest consensus is that this terrain will be an exciting horizon for computing research in 2025 and beyond.
This report was prepared by Beth Mynatt, incoming vice-chair of the CCC. Mynatt co-chairs the Visions 2025 committee and has advised and attended both of the 2025 workshops. The third workshop that will address data analytics and the Internet of (programmable matter) and things is slated for fall 2014.
By CRA Staff
The Computing Innovation Fellows (CI Fellows) project, was a program that granted short-term postdoctoral fellowships to help keep recent graduates in the field during the economic downturn. Between 2009 and 2011, 127 PhD graduates in computer science and related fields were awarded CI Fellowships. The program has ended and the former CI Fellows are now in the early years of their formal careers.
Computing Innovation Fellows (CI Fellows) from all three cohorts (2009, 2010, 2011) assembled on May 22-23 in San Francisco, CA to reflect on the success of the program and absorb information and advice from leaders in computing research. This was the first gathering of all three cohorts since the program started. The theme was “Research, Innovation, Impact,” and CI Fellows took advantage of the opportunity to listen to keynotes in each area.
The opening address was the research keynote, delivered by Peter Lee, Corporate Vice President, Head of Microsoft Research, titled Why Research Matters, Now More than Ever. Peter originated the idea for the Computing Innovation Fellows Project and was the first PI. He encouraged the CI Fellows to live outside their comfort zones, and embrace Blue Sky, curiosity driven research. He reminded them not to lose sight that research is a long term investment. Practical applications are not always apparent in visionary ideas and research, but the expanded knowledge base often leads to the development of useful products.
Megan Smith, VP at Google[x] gave the impact keynote on Heroic Engineering, Talent, and Network Effects. Farnam Jahanian, Assistant Director for the Computer & Information Science & Engineering (CISE) Directorate at the National Science Foundation (NSF), delivered the innovation keynote on The Imperative of Research in the Innovation Ecosystem.
Throughout the workshop, participants gained insights from senior computing researchers in sessions that covered topics such as strategies for writing a successful research proposal, communicating research with a broader audience, developing mentoring relationships, how to handle difficult situations and making time for important things. Click here to view the full program agenda. The plenary sessions were recorded and will made available online soon.
As a follow up to the CI Fellows project, the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) is now administering the Postdoc Best Practices program. It is a program to develop, implement and institutionalize the implementation of best practices for supporting postdocs. This new grant program is another effort to advance postdocs and their contributions to the research enterprise. Information on the program can be viewed here.
CCC would like to thank Microsoft Research and the National Science Foundation for their support of the workshop. The organizing committee included Miriah Meyer and Bobby Schnabel (Workshop Co-Chairs), Sitaram Asur, Mary Czerwinski and Ann Drobnis (CCC Director).
By Kathryn S McKinley
CRA-W hosted its 11th annual Grad Cohort in Santa Clara, California on April 11 and 12, 2014. Grad Cohort is a two-day workshop that seeks to improve the success and retention of women in computing research. Senior women advise graduate students on research skills, publishing, career stages, internships, networking, and collaborations with presentations, panels, individual mentoring, and by creating professional social networks.
This year, 304 masters and PhD women graduate students in their first, second, and third year of graduate school attended. More than 30 senior women and a few men volunteered to share career advice and mentor students for the full two days. Since women remain under represented in computing (e.g., the 2013 Taulbee report cra.org/govaffairs/blog/2013/03/taulbeereport/ indicates that less than 400 women earned PhDs in computing in 2013), the 304 Grad Cohort attendees represent a critical community resource and an enormous opportunity for computing.
All participants received full funding for travel expenses, meals, and registration, made possible by generous corporate, ACM, IEEE, university department, and individual sponsors. With 503 well-qualified applicants this year, even more wanted to attend. CRA-W endeavors to choose applicants who are in their first three years of graduate school (Masters or PhD), giving priority to under-represented minorities and students who have not attended previously. CRA-W completely funded up to two qualified students from each computing department and then department chairs had the opportunity to partially fund additional students from their institution.
- Grad Cohort Participant
- Grad Cohort Participant
This year over 80 students were able to attend thanks to the generous support of their departments. In many cases, departments sponsored multiple students, which resulted in student participants representing 124 distinct masters and PhD granting institutions.
Figure I shows that 20% of students were in masters programs and 80% in PhD programs. Figure II shows student race and ethnicity. 39% are U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Only 5% of the attendees self-identified as African Americans and 4% as Hispanic, even though we accepted all who applied this year. Unfortunately, ethnic minority women are even more severely under represented compared to ethnic minority men in computing. Under representation can lead to feelings of isolation, lack of fit, and attrition. Developing networks of social support with others who share similar experiences often helps individuals persist in the face of adversity. Most women graduate students find themselves in the minority within their computing departments. Furthermore, variations in advisor mentoring strengths and unconscious biases can disproportionally discourage students that already feel isolated.
To address these problems, CRA-W created Grad Cohort, a two day workshop, to help students to connect with peers and senior role models, and to provide resources on how to build a successful research career.
CRA-W organizes the workshop into plenary sessions, presentation and panel tracks, a poster session, and individual mentoring (new this year) with plenty of time for questions. CRA-W has three simultaneous tracks that deliver material most appropriate for first, second, and third year students, although students are free and do move between tracks. The first evening includes a reception with a DJ and dancing.
Professors Lori Clarke, Sandhya Dwarkadas, and Lori Pollock organized this year’s workshop, selecting students from the 503 applicants, contacting department chairs for additional funding, choosing speakers, and content. CRA Director of Programs Erik Russell handled all the logistics, including reimbursing the students. The co-chairs invite carefully vetted successful women researchers to serve as speakers and mentors. Volunteer speakers include professors, government, and industrial researchers, who serve as role models from a range of institutions, such as Rochester, Princeton, Georgia Tech, Delaware University, the University of Massachusetts, Yahoo!, Google, and Microsoft Research. The speakers are very accomplished with many prestigious research awards, this year including at least seven ACM Fellows.
Another highlight this year was the plenary session on the "Future of Computer Science," given by Dr. Farnam Jahanian, Director of CISE at the National Science Foundation, who pointed to critical problems such as secure systems, cyber physical systems, and the ending of Moore's law as research directions and opportunities critical to our nation.
Other popular sessions included "Finding a Research Topic," "Networking," and "Balancing graduate school and personal life." Between 80% to 90% of student participants in our post-workshop survey described most sessions as "quite a bit" or "extremely useful." For more details on the agenda, please click here. For more details on student changes in knowledge, peer and mentor networks, and favorite sessions, please see the CERP report on the post-workshop surveys.
This year for the first time the workshop offered as the final session, an hour, which turned into two, for formal individual mentoring. The mentors each occupied one table and then individual students had 5 to 10 minutes to ask them for personal advice on their careers and curriculum vitae. This session was extremely popular -- I think every student joined and stayed in line. Many of the mentors stayed late to make sure every student got the opportunity to speak to a mentor individually. The students asked questions about job opportunities, how to know if they were good at research, and strategies for dealing with difficult people and situations. By popular demand, the workshop will offer more time for this session next year.
One thing that makes CRA-W stand out is that our programs work! We know they work because we survey computing graduate and undergraduate students across the nation and compare participants and non-participants. For example, CRA-W Grad Cohort participants at similar stages in their careers (one to three years after attending) later publish first author papers at higher rates than their peers who do not attend Grad Cohort (71% participants vs. 23% for non-participants). In addition, Master’s students who attend CRA-W Grad Cohort are over two times more likely to have the intent to pursue a PhD than master’s students who do not (67% participants vs. 29% non-participants). See examples of the in depth analysis that compares Grad Cohort participants and non-participants by the CRA Center for Evaluating the Research Pipeline (CERP).
An increasing body of evidence shows that more diverse teams make better products and improve business outcomes. By equipping young women researchers with career knowledge, strategies, and a network of supportive peers, CRA-W seeks to improve the success and retention of a diverse computing research workforce. CRA-W believes "Diversity drives innovation."
Dr. Kathryn S. McKinley is a CRA-W co-chair, CRA Board member, ACM and IEEE Fellow, and Principal Researcher at Microsoft. She was previously an Endowed Professor of Computer Science at The University of Texas at Austin and received her PhD, MS, and BA from Rice University. Her research interests span programming language implementation, architecture, security, performance, and energy. Three of her research publications recently earned test of time awards from OOPSLA, ICS, and SIGMETRICS. She is passionate about increasing the success and representation of women and minorities in computing, because computing is changing how we live, learn, communicate, and govern; a more diverse workforce will better drive these changes.
- Grad Cohort Participant
- Grad Cohort Participant
By Jessica Cundiff, CERP Research Analyst
Grad Cohort is a two-day workshop that seeks to improve the success and retention of women in computing research by advising graduate students in computing on research skills and on career planning and development. Grad Cohort seeks to meet these goals using presentations, panels, and individual mentoring, and by creating professional social networks. Participants (N = 162) completed surveys prior to and immediately following the workshop. Findings suggest that Grad Cohort had a positive influence on participants’ self-reported outcomes. Participants reported greater self-efficacy, greater tendency to interpret setbacks as opportunities for growth (i.e., growth mindset), stronger networking skills, and a stronger network of colleagues after attending Grad Cohort than before. The complete Evaluation Report can be viewed at cra.org/cerp/evaluation-reports.
Note: Self-efficacy was measured by aggregating responses on the following three items: How confident are you that, if you choose, you can (1) publish papers as first author in the top publication venues of your field, (2) discuss your research and other technical topics with senior members of the field, and (3) become a leader in the computing community (response scale ranged from (1) not at all confident to (5) extremely confident). Growth mindset was measured by aggregating responses on the following four items: (1) Obstacles in grad school make me want to give up (reverse-coded), (2) I think of negative feedback from my advisor as a learning experience, (3) People who have been successful in my field have rarely encountered as much failure as I have (reverse-coded), and (4) Failure in graduate school indicates that you are really not meant to be there (reverse-coded; response scale ranged from (1) strongly disagree to (5) strongly agree). Networking skills were measured by aggregating responses on the following three items: (1) It is hard for me to introduce myself to people at conferences (reverse-coded), (2) I feel confident that I can network effectively, and (3) I don’t really know how to make connections at conferences (reverse-coded; response scale ranged from (1) strongly disagree to (5) strongly agree). Strength of network was measured by aggregating responses on the following four items: Think about your relationship with people in the computing community. To what extent is each of the following available to you at this point in your career: (1) People with whom you can discuss professional development questions, (2) A strong network of peers to interact with at conferences, (3) People in your field who you identify with and can relate to, and (4) People who would be excited to learn about your professional successes (response scale ranged from (1) not at all to (5) very much).
This analysis brought to you by the CRA’s Center for Evaluating the Research Pipeline (CERP). Want CERP to do comparative evaluation for your program or intervention? Contact email@example.com to learn more. Be sure to also visit our website at http://cra.org/cerp/.
By Brian Mosley, CRA Policy Analyst
On Wednesday, May 7, the Coalition for National Science Funding (or CNSF) held their yearly Exhibition on Capitol Hill. The exhibition, probably best described as a science fair with some really smart people, is a showcase of research and education projects supported by the National Science Foundation. It gives a great venue to show members of Congress and Congressional staff what the American people have funded.
By CRA Staff
Computing Research Association is pleased to announce the hire of Helen Vasaly as a Program Associate for the Computing Community Consortium. In her current role, Helen interacts with members of the research community and policy makers to organize meetings, workshops, and outreach activities. Previously, she was a Science Education Analyst at the National Science Foundation working on promoting excellence in undergraduate STEM education for the Education and Human Resources Directorate. Helen organized and participated in a number of outreach events and conferences for many programs including the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) Program,whose goal is to increase the education of technicians for the high-technology fields that drive our nation’s economy.
She holds a bachelor’s of science in biology as well as a master’s of science in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Virginia.
CRA and CCC are excited to have Helen as the newest addition to our team!
Stu Zweben (Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University, and Chair of the CRA Survey Committee) and Betsy Bizot (CRA Director of Statistics and Evaluation) have been awarded a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for “An In-Depth Examination of Data and Trends Regarding Women in Computing.” Published information on the status of women in computing tends to be either highly aggregated (e.g. nationwide percentages such as those in the Taulbee report each year or in NCWIT’s “By the Numbers” summary) or very detailed, focusing on a single academic level, a subset of women or institutions, or results of a particular intervention. The purpose of this project is to systematically examine 20 years of national data on women’s representation at multiple points from first-year college students through Ph.D. recipients and academic faculty, in search of important differences that may be obscured by high-level aggregation and important commonalities that may be missed by more narrowly focused studies. The project will use data from the Taulbee Survey, the ACM survey of Non-Doctoral-Granting Departments, IPEDS, the NSF Survey of Earned Doctorates, and the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI: The Freshman Survey), disaggregating as much as possible by factors such as type of institution or program, ethnicity, citizenship, and field of computing. The grant is one of five awarded by the Foundation in a program studying women in computing and IT.