Skip to main content


Showing posts from May, 2010

The Secret Lives of Professors

I came to Harvard 7 years ago with a fairly romantic notion of what it meant to be a professor -- I imagined unstructured days spent mentoring students over long cups of coffee, strolling through the verdant campus, writing code, pondering the infinite. I never really considered doing anything else. At Berkeley, the reigning belief was that the best and brightest students went on to be professors, and the rest went to industry -- and I wanted to be one of those elite. Now that I have students that harbor their own rosy dreams of academic life, I thought it would be useful to reflect on what being a professor is really like. It is certainly not for everybody. It remains to be seen if it is even for me.

To be sure, there are some great things about this job. To first approximation you are your own boss, and even when it comes to teaching you typically have a tremendous amount of freedom. It has often been said that being a prof is like running your own startup -- you have to hire the sta…

Proposal: Improving the NSF Review Process

Summary: Let's improve the NSF proposal review process by making it function more like conference program committees.

Intellectual merit: The core problem that this proposal addresses is the poor quality of many reviews submitted by NSF panelists. It is not uncommon for a proposal to be rejected with short, content-free reviews, offering little feedback to the authors. In many cases the scoring of a proposal is poorly justified, leaving the author mystified as to why they got such a low (or high) score. Recently, I had a proposal rejected where one of the reviews was essentially a single sentence in length. Not only does this not help the PI improve the work for later submission, but it leaves the impression that the review process is arbitrary.

(I'd like to emphasize that this is a problem that many NSF program managers have called attention to, but they are powerless as individuals to do much about it. So I believe the fault rests with the research community, not with the NSF…

Geoff Challen and IDEA

First of all, I'm very pleased to report that my student Geoffrey Werner Challen (formerly known as Geoffrey Werner-Allen, for reasons explained on his own web page) just defended his thesis! Geoff was the lead student on our work on sensor nets for volcano monitoring and developed the Harvard MoteLab testbed (used by dozens of research groups around the world). His work on Lance and IDEA defined new paradigms for resource management in sensor networks. He will be joining the faculty at the University of Buffalo next year and I am very proud of him. Congrats!

Second, I just posted the final version of our MobiSys'10 paper on Integrated Distributed Energy Awareness for Wireless Sensor Networks. This paper deals with the problem of configuring individual nodes in a sensor net to achieve some network-wide energy objective, such as targeting a given network lifetime. Each node generally has many local parameters that can impact overall energy consumption, such as the choice of par…

The PC Meeting Protocol

I am always surprised at how chaotic program committee meetings tend to be. Although most people have served on several PCs, it seems that a lot of the same procedural questions and issues come up each time, and it would be helpful to establish a common protocol for the community to maintain order. Having just gone through the SIGCOMM TPC meeting (with a whopping 50 PC members - it was like being a delegate at the UN) I started thinking about some of the things we could possibly standardize to make the process run more smoothly. (By the way, Geoff and KK did an awesome job running the meeting - the problems outlined below are common to *all* PCs I have been on!) Michael Mitzenmacher not-live-blogged about this meeting here.

The first is laying down the ground rules. Program chairs tend to assume that PC members know basic things like not to leak information during the PC meeting (emailing your students or colleagues when the paper is being discussed), not to express an opinion on paper…