This article is published in the March 2008 issue.

Research Funding and Education: Stay the Course, Keep the Faith

Musings from the Chair

As all of you undoubtedly know by now, at the eleventh hour, the new funding for physical science research (including computer science) disappeared from the omnibus appropriations bill. This was especially disheartening after all the work invested by so many and after the America COMPETES Act authorized major increases earlier in the year, with strong bipartisan support. Thus, we rightfully had high hopes for a corresponding appropriation. It was not to be.

As a consequence, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science have had to reevaluate plans and reduce expectations. NSF in particular expects to fund 1,000 fewer research grants in FY08 than planned, and the average award size will be smaller. In addition, NSF Graduate Fellowships will drop by 230 and the number of Early Career awards will likely drop by five percent. (For a summary of the implications, see

Funding: Stay the Course

There is little prospect that this can be changed during the current fiscal year. However, the science community is already mobilized for the next budget. During President Bush’s recent State of the Union address, one of the few things that drew a bipartisan standing ovation was the following comment:

Last year, Congress passed legislation supporting the American Competitiveness Initiative, but never followed through with the funding. This funding is essential to keeping our scientific edge. So I ask Congress to double federal support for critical basic research in the physical sciences …

There is hope, and I urge you to get involved if you are not and remain involved if you are. It is important that your voice be heard if we are to redress our current research funding shortfall by making the case that science and computing are critical enablers of economic growth, national innovation and education.

Education: Keep the Faith

As we debate the possible effects of an economic downturn, it is even more important that we articulate—clearly and forcefully—the importance of computing innovation and education as economic engines. As Thomas Friedman reminded us in his book, The World is Flat, we live in an interconnected, knowledge-driven economy. Innovation depends on a workforce of trained and engaged talent. That has never been truer in computing, as we consider computing’s image among our students and the nature of 21st century computing curricula.

In this spirit, and as I have mentioned in previous columns, CRA has created a new computing education committee (CRA-E) whose charge is to think broadly about the future of computing education. We cannot continue the indefinite addition of layers to the computing curriculum onion that was defined in the 1970s. I believe we need to rethink some of our fundamental assumptions about computing education approaches and content.

Hence, I am delighted to report that Professor Andries (Andy) van Dam from Brown has graciously agreed to serve as the initial chair of the CRA-E committee. Not only is Andy a distinguished and respected researcher, he is passionate about computing education, its theory and practice. As Andy engages the computing community, I urge you to engage and participate. This is vital.

Dan Reed CRA’s Board Chair, is Microsoft’s Scalable and Multicore Computing Strategist. Contact him at Daniel.Reed @ or his blog at

Research Funding and Education: Stay the Course, Keep the Faith