Message from new leadership at Computing Research Association. Susan Davidson shares her thoughts about the organization, what it is doing, and what our next steps will be.
Computing Research News
A few weeks ago, members of the computing research community assembled for the 19th biennial Conference at Snowbird, the flagship conference for chairs of Ph.D.-granting departments of computing and allied fields and leaders from U.S. industrial and government computing research laboratories and centers. Here are some observations on trends in the field evident during the meeting.
For many institutions, early fall features Family Weekend events, when parents and families return to campus to visit their children and hear about research and educational activities occurring within the department. Especially for parents of first-year students, it is also an opportunity to hear about directions and opportunities in the field, as their children make decisions on a degree major.
The Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard,1 once remarked, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” So it is with economic and social crises; they can be understood retrospectively, but must be experienced in the moment. Without doubt, these are extraordinary times, with global socioeconomic transformations most of us have heretofore experienced only via historical accounts and the stories of our elders.
Over the past thirty years, I have accumulated the common artifact of an academic research career—bookshelves overflowing with research journals and conference proceedings. Each time I pull an old and yellowing volume from my shelves, it is simultaneously nostalgic and thought-provoking to read a few randomly selected articles. Not only does this stroll down memory lane illuminate how far we have come, both technologically and theoretically; it also shows how profoundly the publication culture of our field has changed.
The hearing room for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology is as formal and imposing as the name suggests. Each time I have testified there on aspects of the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program, I have paused to reflect on the two quotations inscribed there. The quotations command attention because they are inscribed on the paneled wall behind the seats of the committee members—and all witnesses face the committee and that wall.
You are a newly minted Ph.D. recipient who landed a faculty position at a research university. The fall semester is just beginning, and you are simultaneously excited and a bit apprehensive. University life is unchanged and also surprisingly new—writing research proposals, teaching classes and serving on faculty committees. Your friends and new colleagues are giving you sometimes conflicting advice on time management and priorities. What really matters? How do you choose? How do you find your own path?
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 technologists, we often focus on the technical aspects of our profession. Yet the cultural transformation wrought by the technologies we create is deep and profound, with implications for how we train a new generation of researchers and how we attract new and more diverse computing students. Herewith are a few memories to personalize and ponder.
My friend, Ray Ozzie, the creator of Lotus Notes and now Microsoft’s chief architect, relates a wonderful story about his undergraduate experience, when he worked as part of the Plato¹ project at the University of Illinois. Plato, you may recall, was an early computer-aided instruction (CAI) system that included touch-sensitive plasma displays (a precursor to today’s plasma televisions), computer-synthesized music, a chat system, message boards and email. A thriving electronic community grew up around Plato, which shaped the professional lives of many—more on that shortly.
We humans are not particularly good predictors of change, particularly exponential change. We tend to extrapolate tomorrow from today—geometrically, two points do define a straight line, after all. In the near term, that is a safe and reasonable expedient. However, we, of all disciplines, know that the pace of change is accelerating, with ever greater global connections and greater social, economic and scientific interdependence. In turn, this has profound implications for computing education, research, employment and societal engagement.