Friday, October 03, 2014

Letter from the President of the EATCS for the October issue of the Bulletin

In case any of my two readers is interested in having a look, here is the letter from the president that will appear in the October issue of the Bulletin of the EATCS.

Dear colleagues,

First of all, I hope that you had a good summer break and that you have recharged your batteries for whatever challenges await you in the new academic year.

For many of us, the start of each academic year is accompanied by teaching courses to new cohorts of students. Computer Science enrollments seem to be increasing all over the world and several institutions, including mine, will have to decide how to handle the large number of students who are eager to enter our degree courses. I encourage you to have a look at the slides available here for an American perspective on computer science enrollments. Look also at this Harvard Crimson article. Course CS 50 at Harvard has over 800 undergraduates (and over 850 total) signed up, making it now the largest class at Harvard.

Having many students is, of course, a substantial amount of work, but the popularity of computer science also gives us a very good opportunity to entice  some of these students to study the theory of computing; let's make the most of it!

I enjoyed meeting several of you at ICALP 2014 in Copenhagen. It was a pleasure to see many young researchers and students at the conference, and I really appreciated the good attendance we had at the event. Thanks to all of you who made the trip to Copenhagen!

The 41st ICALP was an excellent conference, both scientifically and socially. The organizers did their very best to make it a memorable event, and I like to think that all the participants felt welcome and enjoyed the conference. On behalf of the EATCS, I warmly thank Thore Husfeldt and his team for doing an outstanding job.

You can read my report on ICALP 2014 in this issue of the Bulletin. The recordings of the invited talks and of the award session are available from the conference web page. I hope that you will watch them.

ICALP 2015 will be held in Kyoto, Japan, and will be co-located with LICS 2015. Kazuo Iwama is the ICALP 2015 general chair. After 42 years, this will be the first ever ICALP outside Europe and I am very excited at the prospect of holding ICALP in Japan. I hope that you will make plans to submit your best papers to the conference. The call for papers for the conference will be ready for distribution soon.

The general assembly of the EATCS decided that ICALP 2016 will be held in Rome, Italy. I thank Tiziana Calamoneri and her collaborators for their willingness to host us in Rome.

One of the important decisions that the Council of the EATCS will have to make over the next few months is related to the future publication outlet for the proceedings of ICALP from 2016. Our current contract with Springer will expire at the end of 2015, but we only have until March 2015 to negotiate any changes to it or to decide whether to move to a different publication outlet. I look forward to hearing any opinion you might have on this matter.

Regarding publications, I strongly encourage all the members of the EATCS to make all their publications freely accessible on line. It is our duty, as well as being in the interests of our science and in our own interest, to make access to our scientific work free of financial barriers for any researcher. This is possible even for papers that have appeared in journals and conference proceedings published by commercial publishers.

As usual at this time of the year, the EATCS issues calls for nominations for the EATCS Award, EATCS Fellows and the Presburger Award. (The call for the Gödel Prize will be published at a later time, when ACM SIGACT has named its representatives in the prize committee.) You can read the calls in this issue of the Bulletin; they have also been posted on mailing lists, blogs and social networks. Please distribute the calls as you see fit. Most importantly, I hope that you will take the time to nominate excellent researchers and papers for these awards. Awards and prizes are a way to recognize the achievement of some of our many outstanding colleagues and they put our favourite research fields in the spotlight. Last, but by no means least, awards provide examples and inspiration for the younger generations of researchers who are the future of our field as a whole. Writing a nomination takes some of our precious time, but it is worth it.

At the time of writing, the EATCS is cooperating with the newly formed ACM SIGLOG, the EACSL and the Kurt Gödel Society on a new award, which we hope to be in a position to announce in the not-too-distant future. I am also happy to announce that the Computational Complexity Conference will be held in cooperation with the EATCS from 2015.

On Thursday, 2 October, I attended a talk given at my university by Donald Sadoway, John F. Elliott Professor of Materials Chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His talk was inspirational and stressed the importance of research carried out at universities the world over. University research is even more fundamental today than it ever was because, according to Sadoway, universities are the places where truly innovative research takes place. In his view, corporate research laboratories do not embark in fundamental research today as they did in the past.

While listening to Sadoway's talk, I could not help but think about the sudden closure of Microsoft Research Silicon Valley. As you all know, Microsoft Research Silicon Valley had achieved a very high reputation within the theoretical-computer-science community because of the scientific standing of its stellar staff, the high impact of the work done at the laboratory, the mentoring role its members played within our research community (with many outstanding
young researchers spending important formative periods at the laboratory) and its stimulating research environment with frequent visits by high-profile scientists.

As the blog posts from TCS researchers and the associated comments clearly
indicate, losing Microsoft Research Silicon Valley has left our community with a sense of loss and sadness, also because of the timing and the abrupt nature of its closing.

With a laboratory like Microsoft Research Silicon Valley, Microsoft had gained a substantial amount of credence within the theoretical-computer-science community and had attracted some of the best talent in our field worldwide. Many outstanding young researchers had considered a position at Microsoft Research Silicon Valley and Microsoft's other research labs as their first choice, even above tenure-track or tenured positions at prestigious academic institutions. All this is now probably bound to change, which would be a loss for both Microsoft and our research community.

For what it is worth, I hope that Microsoft Research will continue to support research in theoretical computer science. Advances in the theory of computing will benefit the company in the long run and further investments by Microsoft in TCS will be beneficial for our field of study.

I thank you for reading this letter, and look forward to hearing suggestions and opinions from the members of the EATCS (and the community at large). You are the heart and soul of our association!

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