Friday, September 30, 2016

CS@Aalborg University: Research evaluation 2011-2015

Every five years, the Department of Computer Science at Aalborg University undergoes a research evaluation. The purpose of this exercise is to provide the department with qualified and independent opinions on its "actual research topics, results, and performance, but also on strategic issues like funding, internal organization and synergies, possible new directions, collaboration with industry, internationalization, positioning IT as a key enabler in society, etc." So the overall aim is to improve the quality and impact of the research carried out within the department.

The evaluation committee for the period 2011-2015 consisted of Peter Apers (University of Twente, the Netherlands), Jan Gulliksen (KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden), Chris Hankin (Institute for Security Science and Technology and Imperial College, UK), Heikki Mannila (Aalto University, President of the Academy of Finland, Finland) and Torben Bach Pedersen (Aalborg University, Denmark), who was the internal member and chair of the committee.

The report resulting from the latest such evaluation has recently been released and can be found here. The editors of the report were Manfred Jaeger, Jesper Kjeldskov, Hua Lu and Brian Nielsen. As a former editor of such a report in days long gone, I know that their job required a considerable use of time and effort.

So, what did the evaluation committee have to say? Quoting from its evaluation of the department as a whole,
"The Computer Science Department has two world-class groups and excellent staff in all groups. The Danish IT benchmarking exercise of 2014 shows that the Department is the best department in Denmark for number of refereed publications and BFI points per full-time faculty member. The Department is also top in a number of other metrics. During the review it was also reported that Aalborg Computer Science graduates are highly prized by industry. The Department thus deserves to be ranked even higher in the QS World University Rankings by Subject or the Academic Ranking of World University (ARWU \Shanghai") Subject ranking. The current rankings are to a large degree caused by the poor coverage of computer science publications in the commercial bibliometric indices used in these rankings (WoS, Scopus). Here, Google Scholar provides a much better coverage. However, the Department clearly has the potential to rise considerably in these rankings but will require support from the Faculty and University to achieve this."
The two world-class groups mentioned in the above quotation are the Database and Programming Technologies and the Distributed and Embedded Systems units. (The latter is now called Distributed, Embedded and Intelligent Systems unit as it now also includes researcers from what used to be the Machine Intelligence group.) Those two groups are led by the Danish computer scientists with the highest h-index, and have a truly impressive publication and grant-winning record.

You can find the committee's evaluations for each of the research groups in the report. Here I'll limit myself to mentioning an excerpt of what the committee wrote about the Distributed and Embedded Systems unit, where I had the pleasure to work for ten years.

"The Distributed and Embedded Systems group is a world-class group. It is involved in a broad range of activities from semantic foundations through tool development for verification and validation to real-world applications. The group is making excellent contributions across the whole spectrum of activity; this is internationally recognized by prestigious awards such as:
  • The ERC Advanced Grant LASSO
  • The 2013 CAV Award for Uppaal - the first time that this award has been granted to a non-US team
  • The ranking of  "Uppaal in a Nutshell" as the 9th most influential paper in Software Engineering since 1972
  • Best paper awards, medals and other awards to Associate Professors
The h-index of Kim Guldstrand Larsen is outstanding and places him among the top echelon of researchers in this area; his h-index is higher than some Turing Award winners in cognate areas. It is also pleasing to note that some of the Associate Professors also have high h-indices for their career point. .....

The group has published well during the review period with 175 conference papers - 75% of which are in A and B venues - and 63 journals - 92% of which are in A and B venues. .....
The group has secured 37 new grants to a total value of DKK103.8M. ....

The major strength of the group is the people; not only the group leader but the strong group of more junior academic staff and an excellent group of support staff. The broad span from foundational work to applications is also unusual in such groups in other universities and is a considerable strength of DES. The profile and reach of the group is enhanced by its dissemination activities but also the engagement of senior staff in policy-related activities at national and European levels."

Of course there is still a lot of room for improvement, but this will require support from the university as a whole, high-profile new hires in the future and the development of the talent the department already boasts. However, the opinion of the evaluation committee clearly highlights the current strength of a CS department that, in my admittedly biased opinion, deserves to be better known worldwide.

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