Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Journal Editors or Black Holes?

Sometimes journal editors (or referees) are observationally very similar to black holes. A paper is submitted, but no review escapes the force of gravity generated by the scientist in question. If the academic who is submitting the paper is well established, (s)he might not be overly bothered by this "black-hole-like effect" and live to see the day. However, in case the paper is submitted by a young scientist who might be applying for jobs, the negligence of an editor or a reviewer might have negative consequences on the career of the author of the paper.

Suppose, by way of example, that a young scientist submits a substantial paper to a high-impact journal reporting on the major findings in her doctoral dissertation. The first review round takes a whole year, despite repeated enquiries to the handling editor, and the editor asks for major revisions based on the detailed referee reports. The author works hard at handling the suggestions from her reviewers, and submits a revised paper. One more year passes and the email enquiries by the author receive no answer from the cognizant editor.

What would be the best line of action for the young scientist in question? Should she wait for a second bunch of reports, which might never come, or would she be best served by withdrawing the paper and submitting it elsewhere? What advice would you give in a situation like this one?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

What Are The Hot Research Areas in Concurrency Theory?

Yesterday Andrei Sabelfeld (Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden) visited ICE-TCS with Arnar Birgisson, a former master student of mine who is now doing doctoral studies under his supervision. Andrei delivered the seminar Information flow in web applications in the ICE-TCS seminar series (the abstract for the talk is here), we talked about liveness and safety properties and about academic matters in general. We at ICE-TCS enjoyed his visit a lot.

Over dinner,  Andrei asked me:
  • What are the big unsolved problems in concurrency theory?
  • And what are the hot research areas in the field?
I gave my quarter-baked personal answers, but I'd like to hear yours.

I have the feeling that research in concurrency theory is driven more by "hot research areas" than by collections of big open problems, but that's just my personal impression, even though at some point I started collecting a list of open problems and stated some in this essay

Also, how much does the "hotness of a research area" inform the research you do and that you suggest to your students? For what it is worth, for good or for worse, I mostly tend to follow my own personal interests and inclinations rather than the directions of the field at large. However, one  has to "sell" one's work and have it published. It is undoubtedly easier to do so if the work is considered to be hot and timely by a substantial fraction of the research community. Doing work in areas that are considered "important" by many will probably also give a student better opportunities to find further employment.

Overall, I feel that it is important to give one's students a good problem to work on for her/his dissertation. There are certain characteristics that a good problem should have for sure, but is "hotness" one of those?

Addendum: There is a lot of good career advice for everyone here.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

LICS 2010 Accepted Papers and Martin Grohe's Latest Opus

The list of accepted papers for LICS 2010 is out. As usual, the programme looks very interesting and exceedingly strong.

For an interested, but not very knowledgeable, observer like me, one of the most interesting looking papers that have been selected for the conference seems to be yet another seminal contribution by Martin Grohe. The paper is Fixed-Point Definability and Polynomial Time on Graphs with Excluded Minors.

From the abstract of that ten-page paper, I learn that Grohe proves that fixed-point logic with counting captures polynomial time over all classes of graphs with excluded minors. To my untrained eye, this looks like an amazing result. The proof of this theorem will take up the whole of this monograph, which is currently being written and will be well over 200 pages long. The current draft spans 238 pages.

Would such a result meet the current requirements for the Gödel prize, say? It seems to me that it would not, unless Grohe also publishes a journal paper based on a fragment of his monograph. Taking the view that proofs of certain results are likely to be very long and that very few journals in computer science would publish papers that are 250 pages long, say, would it not be reasonable to let a research monograph qualify a piece of research for the Gödel prize? After all, if the result is important, it will be studied in depth by many researchers, ensuring a more thorough level of peer review than the one obtained via a standard refereeing process for a journal.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The loss of a giant: Robin Milner has passed away

I just read the following message from Gordon Plotkin. This is really sad news. I plan to post a more elaborate message soon, but we have lost another intellectual giant, a gentleman and a true inspiration for us all.


Dear Colleagues,

I am deeply saddened to pass on the following message from Barney and Chloë Milner:

"We are sorry to announce that Robin Milner died on Saturday 20th March, in Cambridge, just three days after the funeral of his wife, Lucy.

He will be greatly missed by his family and friends, as well as the academic community."

Gordon Plotkin

Friday, March 19, 2010

SOS 2010

I am co-chairing SOS 2010 (Structural Operational Semantics 2010) with Pawel Sobocinski (Southampton). The call for papers has been posted on several mailing lists and all the information on this workshop, which is affiliated with CONCUR 2010, is available from the workshop's web site.

Consider submitting a paper and join us in Paris on August 30 to discuss the latest research on Structural Operational Semantics! I have a series of long-overdue posts describing some of the recent work by my co-authors and me on this topic. I hope to find some time to write those posts after the teaching is over and I have cleared my desk a little.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

First Clay Mathematics Institute Millennium Prize Announced Today

It looks like the Clay Mathematics Institute (CMI) is parting with its first one million USD. Indeed, today the CMI  announced that Grigoriy Perelman is the recipient of the Millennium Prize for the resolution of the Poincaré conjecture. Full details are here and a full-length press release is also available. 

What do you think will be the next Millennium Prize Problem to fall? It seems very unlikely that it will be our own P vs. NP problem, but, as Bohr taught us,  “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future".