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Academic Careers for Experimental Computer Scientists and Engineers
Forsythe list2 have one or more experimentalists, and more than half of the members of some departments are ECSE faculty.
Experimental computer science and engineering programs at U.S. universities differ significantly. Some schools, typically those with large groups of experimentalists, are quite able to build and maintain the faculty and infrastructure necessary to conduct significant experimental research. Highly trained graduates are produced, and technology is created that is valuable to national competitiveness as well as important for its scholarly content. Junior faculty are mentored to be successful at promotion time. At these schools, the tenure and promotion process seems to accommodate the particular characteristics (enumerated below) of experimental research that complicate an academic ECSE career.
However, a much larger number of schools—perhaps characterized by their smaller size or accidents of their development—have few experimentalists and little experimental activity under way. These schools include some that otherwise have strong reputations. Many such schools present a career environment that new assistant professors in ECSE often perceive as difficult or hostile. Many ECSE faculty at these "nonexperimental" schools—untenured and tenured alike—described for the committee the difficulties of creating and maintaining research environments appropriate for their needs; further, they reported a strong belief that promotion required them to do theoretical research as assistant professors in order to gain the respect of senior faculty and produce enough publications to meet the tests of the "paper counters" within the department, college, and university.
To the extent that these latter views are valid, there are several major implications. In the absence of a fair and balanced academic reward system for ECSE faculty, promising and talented experimental computer scientists and engineers may well forsake academic life in disproportionate numbers, leaving an academic community unduly weighted toward theoretical work and increasingly irrelevant to computing practice. Such a shift would serve students poorly, since a balanced education includes instruction in the state-of-the-art technologies that are essential for productive careers. Such instruction is most effectively provided by faculty engaged in cutting-edge experimental research. Moreover, because academic research in ECSE is critical to the continued technological preeminence of the United States
The set of academic departments offering a doctorate in computer science or computer engineering is known in the field as the "Forsythe list" after the late George Forsythe, a professor of Computer Science at Stanford University, who originally compiled it.