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Academic Careers for Experimental Computer Scientists and Engineers
lenges in being evaluated and in creating appropriate research environments, although some top-ranked universities have met these challenges quite well.
THE NATURE OF EXPERIMENTAL COMPUTER SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING
Experimental computer science and engineering (ECSE) is a synthetic discipline in the sense that it studies phenomena that are entirely the product of human creation. Many interesting computational phenomena—processes, algorithms, or mechanisms that manipulate or transform information—are too complex to understand on the basis of direct analysis from first principles. For example, an algorithm may have many complicated states, or a process may involve time-dependent interactions of many subprocesses. For all practical purposes, such complex phenomena can be understood only on the basis of empirical observation.
Thus, ECSE refers to the creation of, or the experimentation with or on, computational artifacts. Often artifacts are hardware systems (such as computers) or software systems (such as text editors), but the term includes graphic images or animations, robots, or test and benchmark suites. When computational processes, algorithms, or mechanisms are implemented in an artifact, the behavior of the system and the interaction of its components can be observed in action. In general, when the computational phenomenon is complex, an artifact that embodies the idea will also be complex and will have many component parts.
In ECSE, artifacts may be the subject of a study, the apparatus for a study, or both. Artifacts often embody a substantial portion of the intellectual contribution of ECSE research, and their creation represents a significant intellectual effort.
Artifacts serve at least three primary purposes in ECSE. A given implementation can seek performance or seek improvement and enhancement of prior implementations (proof of performance), demonstrate that a particular configuration of ideas or an approach achieves its objectives (proof of concept), or demonstrate a fundamentally new computing phenomenon (proof of existence).
Computing artifacts are malleable and versatile. Unlike other machines, computers are ''universal,'' meaning that within broad limits, whatever one machine can do, all machines can do. Although this property is extremely convenient in many respects, it implies the lack of an a priori limit on the functionality of computers, which feeds ever-expanding expectations for their capabilities.