Thursday, December 29, 2022

Computer Science and Mathematics at the GSSI named "Excellent Department"

The Computer Science and the Mathematics groups at the Gran Sasso Science Institute (GSSI) have been selected amongst the "excellent departments" in Italy, based on the outcome of the latest Italian research evaluation exercise and on a proposal submitted by those two groups. The proposal by the GSSI in Computer Science and Mathematics received a score of 29/30, which was the highest grade in those fields together with those of the Normale di Pisa, a scientific powerhouse, and the University of Pisa (Mathematics). The groups at the GSSI will receive approximately 7.3 million euros to support permanent faculty positions and to open new research laboratories.  

This is fantastic news for Computer Science and Mathematics at the GSSI. I congratulate my GSSI colleagues for this achievement! Since the establishment of the GSSI and its international PhD school, our computer science colleagues there have been building a group with a flat hierarchy, which has collegiality as one of its core values and where everyone is a principal investigator and a "leader" from day one.

As my colleagues at the GSSI know well, hiring and promotion decisions are two of the key factors in improving the quality of any department or research group. I trust they will use this funding to hire the best people they can get their hands on and to let them work in a nurturing and hierarchy-free research environment. Hire the best people you can attract and support them in doing the best work they can!

I look forward to seeing the developments in the computer science group at the GSSI and hope to give a small contribution, if I can. If you are considering a relocation to Italy, I encourage you to consider the GSSI. On a purely personal note, I would love to see the group there become as successful as the Department of Computing Sciences at Bocconi University in attracting foreign academics.

Friday, December 09, 2022

Report on the formative research evaluation of the Department of Computer Science at Reykjavik University

I am pleased to share with you the report I received yesterday from the panel that carried out a formative research evaluation review for the Department of Computer Science at Reykjavik University last month. (See below for some excerpts from the report.) The (IMHO, stellar) review panel consisted of Geraldine Fitzpatrick (TU Wien, Austria), Kim Guldstrand Larsen (Aalborg University, Denmark) and Michael Wooldridge (University of Oxford, United Kingdom).

Our evaluators have given us a lot of food for thought, have identified several challenges for the department and have given us many recommendations we might follow to improve our research environment and work, as well as its impact. I trust that some of those remarks will be useful for the university as a whole. 

Our next task as a department will be to do justice to the work of the review panel and build on it to improve our research environment and output.

I thank all my colleagues at the department, including postdocs and PhD students of course, whose creativity, drive, enthusiasm and research work have contributed to building a research environment that, in my admittedly very biassed opinion, punches well above its weight. I am very proud of their work. 

However, we have to keep our feet on the ground and realise that, as the challenges identified by the review panel indicate, we are just starting our journey.

Excerpts from the formative review report

"Overall we were pleased and impressed to find that a department which is very young in international terms has succeeded in establishing itself as an internationally competitive hub for Computer Science research. This is a noteworthy achievement by any measure, but is particularly impressive when considering the highly competitive culture of international computer science research, where world-class researchers are very highly-sought after and are able to demand highly lucrative packages.

We repeatedly heard that the department is a highly collegial environment, and has largely avoided the curse of factionalism that taints so many university departments.

We were impressed by the international links that the department has been able to establish, with many visitors who clearly contribute to the research culture of the department at all levels. We saw evidence that directly experiencing this culture has been instrumental in a number of hires and in attracting PhD students.

The self-evaluation report we were provided with gave a number of key performance indicators, such as volume of publications in internationally competitive journal and conference venues, research awards such as best-paper prizes, and the acquisition of research funding. We were pleased to note that, modulo some expected minor year-on-year variations, all of these measures seem to be on a positive upward trajectory.

We noted that much of the Department’s research portfolio is strongly interdisciplinary, and addresses key societal challenges with demonstrable national impact.

Finally, we noted that the Department does well in terms of diversity at faculty level, with an increased number of female staff. Other aspects of diversity are less clear, though this perhaps represents Iceland’s racial demographic."

With my ICE-TCS glasses on, I was delighted to read the panel's opinion on our centre:

"We were truly impressed by ICE-TCS that in a short span of time (inaugurated in 2005) has established itself as a world-class center within Theoretical Computer Science (TCS). In particular, we find that the center has been extremely successful combining Track A and Track B of TCS with notable research contributions within and recognitions from the sub-fields of Concurrency Theory, Logic, Programming Languages, Combinatorics and Algorithms."

As a centre, we will strive to improve following the panel's recommendations and to develop a crisp, overarching research vision for the coming few years, which may help us keep spreading the TCS gospel in Iceland and attract talent to the country.