A couple of years ago, John Regehr (U. Utah) discussed "Inward vs. Outward Facing Research". When discussing why researchers have a tendency to face inward, he stated "This is natural: we know more about our research’s internal workings than anyone else, we find it fascinating (or else we wouldn’t be doing it), we invent some new terminology and notation that we like and want to show off, etc. — in short, we get caught up in the internal issues that we spend most of our time thinking about."
However, the research community (either broadly in computing or specifically in a research area such as software engineering) can be impacted by the broad ecosystem that the research community lives in. For example, a government funding agency needs to allocate total funding across different research areas; a university (college or department) or industrial research lab needs to allocate the total head count for new hires across different research areas; a student applying for graduate schools needs to decide on what research area he or she would like to apply for. Thus, it is important for the research community to sustain and further boost the importance, impact, and reputation of the research area perceived in the eyes of other computing research communities or in the broad society such as the industry and government. Only when we accomplish so, can the community as a whole grow better, e.g., attracting more resources such as funding allocation, faculty positions, industrial-research-lab positions, top student/junior-researcher talents, other communities' researchers to address our important problems.
In particular, besides the typical inward thinking that researchers in the research community already have, more outward thinking is needed for the research community to better grow in this broad ecosystem. In the broad computing community, there are quite some prominent researchers and other research areas with such strong outward thinking. For example, Ed Lazowska (U. Washington) "is widely viewed as the computer science research community's highest impact national leader and spokesperson." For the research area of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Eric Horvitz (Microsoft Research) has addressed "Rise of Concerns about AI: Reflections and Directions: research, leadership, and communication about AI futures". The ACM SIGAI Newsletter (the counterpart of our ACM SIGSOFT Notes) named as "AI Matters" includes its first-listed submission category "AI Impact": "Description of an AI system or method that has had a tangible impact on the world outside of the research community. These submissions are intended for dissemination to a general audience, and any technical content must be accessible to non-AI researchers."
In the research area of software engineering, there have been also various leading researchers with such strong outward thinking, playing important roles in the broad ecosystem. Although the research community has started paying attention to engaging and impacting the software industry or broadly practitioner community, the research community shall also put more eyesight on impact on and perception by other research communities in the computing community along with the broad society such as the industry and government.
Below I list some example activities towards such outward thinking for researchers in the research community to consider:
- Propose and organize events that help establish funding programs and initiatives or help communicate the research community's important problems and great achievements. For example, recently, Bill Scherlis (CMU) co-organized the Workshop on Safety and Control for Artificial Intelligence sponsored by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and CMU. Kevin Sullivan (UVa), Annie Anton (Georgia Tech), et al. are organizing the CCC Visioning Activity on "Cyber Social Learning Systems". In FSE 2014, the first CCC Blue Sky Ideas Track "Visions and Challenges" was organized by Jian Lv (Nanjing U.) and myself. In ICSE 2016, another CCC Blue Sky Ideas Track "Visions of 2025 and Beyond" was organized by Gail Murphy (UBC) and David Rosenblum (NUS). A recent example interdisciplinary workshop is the NSF Interdisciplinary Workshop on Statistical NLP and Software Engineering (NL+SE 2015) co-organized by Prem Devanbu (UC Davis).
- Start new outlets and leverage existing outlets to help communicate the research community's important problems and great achievements. For example, CACM's Research Highlights section enables various ACM SIGs to highlight their selected research results to the broad CACM audience. Will Tracz (Lockheed Martin Fellow, Emeritus (retired)), the Most Recent Past Chair of ACM SIGSOFT, has served as the Webinar Coordinator for ACM Professional Development (PD) Committee, and helped start the ACM SIGSOFT and PD sponsored webinars, co-organized also by Robert Dyer (Bowling Green State U.), providing a great outlet for outreaching webinar talks to both within and outside of the research community. I have served in the ACM History Committee as the ACM History SIG Governing Board (SGB) Liaison, outreaching SIGSOFT history and impact activities to other ACM SIGs.
- Nominate well-deserved colleagues and high-impact work for recognitions at the level of the broad computing community besides recognitions at the level of the research community such as ACM SIGSOFT awards and IEEE TCSE awards. There are various awards from the ACM, IEEE (IEEE Computer Society), CRA, NCWIT, etc. There are various fellow and distinguished member programs from the NAS, NAE, AAAS, ACM, IEEE, etc. A recent prominent example was that Mary Shaw (CMU) received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2014.
- Volunteer yourself or nominate/encourage qualified colleagues to serve the broad computing community besides one's own research community. There are various professional organizations in the broad computing community such as various ACM boards and committees, IEEE Computer Society boards and committees, and CRA boards and committees. In recent years, prominent researchers from our research community already served in various leadership positions in the broad computing community: Alex Wolf (UCSC) as a past ACM President, Barbara Ryder (Virginia Tech) as a past ACM Vice President, Mary Lou Soffa (UVa) as a past member-at-large of the ACM Council, Carlo Ghezzi (Politecnico di Milano) as a Past President of Informatics Europe, etc.
- Apply for relevant temporary/rotator government (funding agency) positions. There are short-term government fellowship programs such as AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships, White House Fellowships, and IEEE-USA Congressional Fellowships. At times, there are various program-manager positions in government funding agencies (such as NSF and DARPA) available for university or industrial-lab researchers to apply. Program managers may have opportunities to start new funding programs or initiatives on various important topics. For example, in past several years, Kathleen Fisher (Tufts U.) served as the original program manager for DARPA's High-Assurance Cyber Military Systems (HACMS) program, within which the supported SMACCM project produced SMACCMCopter as probably "the most secure UAV on the planet". Suresh Jagannathan (Purdue U.) has served as the program manager for DARPA's Mining and Understanding Software Enclaves (MUSE) program and Building Resource Adaptive Software Systems (BRASS) program, etc.
Please let me know if you have additional ideas for such outward thinking by sharing your suggestions here or submitting your writing to be considered for dissemination in the History and Impact column of the ACM SIGSOFT Notes!