[Published originally in the September 2005 edition of Computing Research News, Vol. 17/No. 4]
Issues for the CISE Community in the New Academic Year
By Peter A. Freeman
I trust that you had a refreshing and productive summer and are beginning the new academic year with renewed vigor to help advance our field. The NSF staff continued to work long hours with great dedication over the summer to make sure that we are serving you well. As usual at this time of year, we have a number of personnel transitions underway; these will appear on our website as they occur.
As we begin a new academic year, I want to give a brief status report on CISE and then outline some of the major issues we will be discussing this year.
Our budget for FY05 was essentially flat, and although we hope that some of the steps we are taking may have eased the proposal pressure just a bit, we do not anticipate that the final acceptance rates for this year will show any great improvement. We will communicate the past year’s results once the fiscal year closes. The expectation is that when Congress finishes work on our FY06 budget the coming year will show, at best, a tiny improvement. Indeed, the outlook for the next several years for all funding for S&E in all agencies is that it will be flat at best.
Earlier this summer, the CISE Division of Shared Cyberinfrastructure (SCI) became the Office of Cyberinfrastructure (OCI), and the responsibility for guiding it passed from me to the Office of the NSF Director, as guided by a CI Council of which I am one of ten members. Although this means that the revised CISE budget is now approximately $500M instead of over $600M, the impact on the computing research community should be minimal, if any. When CISE was reorganized two years ago, essentially all basic research support was moved into the three other divisions, and SCI was focused on cyberinfrastructure (CI) for other areas of S&E. (Some excellent CI researchers are currently supported by programs in SCI and we expect that this will continue). This activity has grown to be so important that it was time for it to have higher visibility and attention in the NSF organization. In turn, my staff and I can now focus our full attention on the other 80 percent of our former budget—fundamental research and education in CS&E. In short, this is a positive development for all concerned.
Let me now share with you some of the major issues that CISE will be concerned with in the coming year—issues that effect you and that I hope we will hear your views on. Budget, of course, is an issue that we wrestle with daily. There is not enough funding available for most areas of S&E in all agencies due to the exigencies of our current national situation. For CS&E, the situation is clearly worse than some but, in the absence of an expanding “pie,” it is very difficult to grow resources. (Consider the situation on many campuses when students suddenly shifted to computing disciplines, but the resources did not shift so quickly). Finding ways to make our case more effectively is a challenging issue for us all.
Insufficient funding overall, of course, is one of the major causes of falling “success rates” for proposals. We continue to explore mitigation mechanisms, especially with respect to young faculty, those that have not previously participated in funding competitions, senior investigators who may have stepped back in favor of younger colleagues, and so on. The issues are multifaceted, interrelated, and often must be dealt with in the absence of accurate or up-to-date data. These are issues that will face CISE and the field for the foreseeable future. Your ideas and feedback are essential to help us deal with the issues.
An issue that is highlighted by the transition of SCI to OCI is how to insure that the new developments needed for advanced S&E applications supported by CI make their way rapidly from your research into use—and to make certain that you are fully aware of the very important research opportunities presented by the worldwide efforts to provision advanced CI for S&E research. These efforts often lead to exciting breakthroughs in many research areas and provide great opportunities to explore new CS&E ideas in challenging applications. We are already taking steps to insure that the bi-directional flow of ideas and opportunities continues, but this will be one of the issues facing us this year.
Another change that poses a continuing challenge for many of you, for CISE, and for all of NSF is the transition from the formal ITR program to a situation in which the interest in and need for collaborative work between CS&E researchers and those in other disciplines continues to grow. The ITR program in general was a great success in broadening our field and showing others the value of substantive work with you, but now NSF must find ways to continue to encourage and fund that type of work in the absence of a formal program dedicated to it. I know this is an issue for many of you and it is one that we are well aware of at NSF.
While often the most compelling issue seems to be funding, I believe that the decisions you and we make—individually and collectively—about research and educational activities are in many respects of even greater importance. Will you choose to take a safe route in your research that will produce papers, but perhaps reduce the chances that you and your students will make the next breakthrough? Will you continue to teach many of the same things that require little preparation, or will you think hard about how to help your students be better prepared for the future? Will we as a field continue to let others erode our impact on major campus and societal decisions or will we provide the leadership that is so sorely needed? Will CISE focus its limited resources most effectively for the future, or will we continue outdated activities past their usefulness? All of us in CISE think about these types of questions a lot, and I urge you to engage each other and us in discussing them and finding strategic paths forward.
The CISE Advisory Committee (AC) is one of our primary means of seeking broad, strategic guidance from the community. Dr. Alfred Spector of IBM has very effectively led the AC for the past two years and remains on the Committee for one additional year. Professor Al Aho of Columbia University has graciously agreed to lead the AC for the next two years. I will be asking them to help us address these strategic issues in the coming year, and I encourage you to interact with the AC members to express your views and assist them in helping CISE. Our meetings are always public and are posted on our website in advance. The next meeting will be held at the Computer Museum in Mountain View, CA, on October 20-21.
Computer science, the disciplines based on it, and the students and results that flow from your efforts are at the heart of everything from economic development to national defense to better human communication. Yet the future will see developments that even we cannot imagine. We are exceedingly fortunate to spend our time on something that is so important and also so much fun. However, with that comes great responsibility to utilize our resources strategically for the benefit of all and to lead, not only technologically, but also in helping to guide the productive use of the wonders that come from our efforts.
Have a great year!
Peter A. Freeman (pfreeman [at] nsf.gov) is Assistant Director of NSF
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