As the fourth installment of the series in which Fellows of the EATCS provide their advice to the budding TCS researcher, I am posting the advice from Scott Smolka. Enjoy!
Advice I would give to a student interested in TCS Not surprising, it all starts with the basics: automata theory, formal languages, algorithms, complexity theory, programming languages and semantics.
Advice I would give a young researcher in TCS Go to conferences and establish connections with more established TCS researchers. Seek to work with them and see if you can arrange visits at their home institutions for a few months.
A short description of a research topic that excites me at this moment in time (and possibly why) Bird flocking and V-formation are topics I find very exciting. Previous approaches to this problem focused on models of dynamic behavior based on simple rules such as: Separation (avoid crowding neighbors), Alignment (steer towards average heading of neighbors), and Cohesion (steer towards average position of neighbors). My collaborators and I are instead treating this as a problem of Optimal Control, where the fitness function takes into account Velocity Matching (alignment), Upwash Benefit (birds in a flock moving into the upwash region of the bird(s) in front of them), and Clear View (birds in the flock having unobstructed views). What’s interesting about this problem is that it is inherently distributed in nature (a bird can only communicate with its nearest neighbors), and one can argue that our approach more closely mimics the neurological process birds use to achieve these formations.