NSF Program Directors

I see from the INFORMS eNews that NSF is looking for new Program Directors for both Operations Research and Manufacturing Enterprise Systems/Service Enterprise Systems.  Needless to say, these are critical positions for the operations research community.  And, reading Robert Sloan’s article about his stint in computing theory at NSF, it sounds like a fun job!

Here is the announcement:

Russell Barton and Michael Fu, currently completing their terms at the National Science Foundation, would like you to consider serving at NSF in one of their roles – either as Program Director for the Operations Researchprogram or for the Manufacturing Enterprise Systems/Service Enterprise Systems (SES) programs. Their replacements will take office approximately in August/September. The process will remain open until the positions are filled. Serving at NSF, write Michael and Russell, is fascinating, challenging, and extremely rewarding. The OR/INFORMS community will benefit greatly by worthy candidates being selected for these positions. Download the announcement for SES andO.R..

Get Money from Google for Operations Research, in Europe anyway

Google seems to be getting the idea that operations research has a lot to add to the company.  This is a long way from the time where I got the following response from a google software engineer at an information systems conference: “Integer programming?  I tried it:  it doesn’t work”.  Oh, really?

This change is great for our field:  the line between operations research and computer science is extremely fuzzy and is getting fuzzier as “business analytics” unites traditionally CS areas such as data mining with traditionally OR areas such as optimization.  Operations Research needs to be seen as a key reason for the continuing success for companies like Google.

If you are in Europe, you can even get some money for a post-doc or other research expense from google, as per this announcement from Laurent Perron:

Object: Call for Proposal for Google Focused Grant Program on Mathematical Optimization and Combinatorial Optimization in Europe.
Deadline: November 25th (strict).
Contact: proposal should be sent to both Laurent Perron (lperron@google.com) and Michel Benard (benard@google.com).
Format: A proposal is a 3 pages document following the format described in http://research.google.com/university/relations/research_awards.html

The purpose of this program is to facilitate more interaction between Google and academia and also nurture stronger relations and partnerships with universities. The intent of this focused awards program is to support academic research aimed at improving the theory and applications of mathematical and combinatorial optimization (Operations Research, Constraint Programming, Meta-Heuristics). Google funds Research Awards unrestricted and retains no intellectual property from the research. We prefer if the results from the research are open sourced and widely published. Awards through this program are for one year in the range of $10K-$150K.
A typical grant will cover 1 Post-Doctoral student for 1 year. This program is restricted to Europe.

Areas that are of particular interest include (but are not limited to):

* Inference and relaxation methods: constraint propagation, cutting planes, global constraints, graph algorithms, dynamic programming, Lagrangean and convex relaxations, counting based inferences and heuristics, constraint relaxation based heuristics.

* Search methods: branch and bound, intelligent backtracking, incomplete search, randomized search, column generation and other decomposition methods, local search, meta-heuristics, large scale parallelism.

* Integration methods: static/dynamic problem decomposition, solver communication, transformations between models and solvers, collaboration between concurrent methods, models, and solvers.

* Modeling methods: comparison of models, symmetry breaking, uncertainty, dominance relationships, model compilation into different technologies (CP, LP, etc.), learning (CP, LP) models from examples.

* Innovative applications derived from OR techniques.

As a point of comparison, last year, we funded 9 grants in the following fields: Explanations in Constraint Programming, SAT techniques in Scheduling, Just-In-Time scheduling, Complex Bin-Packing, Parallel Resources in Scheduling, Convex Integer Programming, Ride sharing, Large Scale Mixed Integer Programming, and Territory Design.

Google values well written proposals that fit into the 3 page format + references. These proposals should include the following sections:
– A clear description of the problem the authors are trying to solve, and the potential impact they could have if the research is successful.
– An overview of the state of the art in this field and an explanation of why the proposed research is innovative.
– A precise understanding on how the authors are going to solve this problem.
– A convincing experimental method that will prove the authors are solving the real problem on realistic data instances, and that will measure the actual gains.
– The biography and a link to recent publications from the P.I. related to the proposal.

Finally, receiving a Google Research Award does not grant access to Google data. In some instances Google researchers may however be interested in collaborating on the problem formulation and the algorithmic solution.

Passwords and Reviewing

I was asked to review a proposal today.  Right now, I am feeling a little overwhelmed:  I have a new administrative position (“Senior Associate Dean, Education”) which involves, among 1000 other things, using a 25 year old computer program (ahh, ms-dos days!), I have some sports schedules that have to get out, I have a pile of referee reports, I am getting behind on some editorial duties, and I still have aspirations of publishing something myself once in a while.   But I try to be helpful in the review process:  I recognize how important these are for people’s careers.  This was the proposal too far, however:  the title did not seem particularly relevant, and contained words that I am naturally suspicious of.  But it couldn’t hurt to check it out and see if I might have some unique insight that might be useful.

I go to the funding agency’s website, and find that I have to create an account to view the proposal.  No problem:  account creation is one of my skills.  But I was stymied by the password requirement:

The password must follow these rules:

  • Must be at least 10 characters long
  • Must contain at least two capital letters
  • Must contain at least two lowercase letters
  • Must contain at least two numbers
  • Must contain at least two special characters: ~!@#$%^&*()_-+={[}]|:;>,<.?

Ummmm….. let’s see.  I certainly can type in some nonsense that I can’t possibly remember, hoping that the reset simply goes to my email account (which has a pretty good password, but not one that meets those requirements).  Or I can … “Thanks, but my schedule precludes my taking on more at this time.”  Really… my reviewing of a funding proposal requires this amount of nonsense in a password?

xkcd, as it often does, got it right (I believe the 2^44 comes from choosing 4 of the 2000 or so most common words):

NSF Operations Research Position open

The National Science Foundation is looking for a program director for operations research. I wrote about this position the last time it came open, when Robert Smith became director.

The NSF is incredibly important to the health of the field of operations research. In addition to the “regular” grant activities (CAREER grants and basic research grants), the program director has the opportunity to make the case for having OR as part of interdisciplinary and exploratory research directions. I hope someone good finds this an interesting opportunity. Robert Sloan has an interesting article on the joys of being a program director in computer science.

NSF on Twitter

Following up on my issues with twitter, (like why?), the National Science Foundation has its own twitter account.  What a great way to get word out about all the great stuff the NSF does!  This is something professional societies (like INFORMS) should emulate.  I don’t think my own life is interesting enough for an hour by hour update, but NSF is certainly interesting to follow.

Visual Display of the Stimulus Package

Further to the $787 billion stimulus package (or 78 NSF Stimulus Package, as I like to call it), my finance colleague Bryan Routledge has done a wordle of the summary of the appropriations bill. Here it is (from www.wordle.net):

Stimulus Package Wordl
Stimulus Package Wordle

There is a lot to like in that picture. Certainly “science”, “research”, “grants” and “billion” go together quite nicely.

I want my 78 NSFs!

Three times a day, I trek across campus with a group of colleagues, most of whom are in finance and economics.  Conversation, not surprisingly, has often been on the financial mess the world is in.  How different the world would be if people in operations research ruled the world!  We’d need a little more centralization, of course, since our models tend to work better if we can impose “best” solutions.  And, undoubtedly, we would forget a constraint or two along the way, and perhaps ignore some stochastic elements that are a little hard to handle.  But I think we probably would have avoided the nuttiness that resulted in things like Iceland going bankrupt.

Now we are in the midst of yet another bailout.  This one seems to have a few more rules (as opposed to last year’s bailout that seems to have completely disappeared with no effect).  Among other things, it limits compensation for some of the bankers to a mere $500,000.  Of course, this has the bankers all in a tizzy:  we need multi-million dollar compensation to keep the best people!  Well, yes, given the past success of these people, perhaps we should pay them more just to keep them out of the more important parts of the economy, like food production and the manufacture of real things (though don’t get me started on the auto industry in the US)!

The new stimulus package includes good news that the National Science Foundation received an additional $3 billion, bringing its budget up to about $10 billion.  That number really puts the $787 billion stimulus package in perspective.  Instead of getting 78 NSFs we are getting … what exactly?

Added 6:20PM. As one of my less kind colleagues noted, this is exactly what I need for my proposals “ranked in the bottom 2%”.  Finally summer support!

NSF Program Director Position Open

Stephen Nash’s term as Program Director for Operations Research at the National Science Foundation is coming to an end. The position is announced here, with a target date of looking at applications of April 1. The “Engineering Design” position is also open. I think this position is a very interesting one. The responsibilities (from the position announcement):

[Program Directors] solicit, receive and review research and education proposals, make funding recommendations and administer awards. They are also responsible for interaction with other Federal agencies, forming and guiding interagency collaborations, and for service to Foundation-wide activities.

I spent a number of years running Tepper’s Carnegie Bosch Institute, where we provided support for research on international issues in business. Even though the area was not my core interest, I found it a very rewarding period. So, in the interest of disclosure, I may throw my name in the hat for this NSF position (the main drawback is too much time away from my four-year-old son). I definitely encourage those interested to consider the position: we need as strong a voice for OR as we can get in this role.

Robert Sloan in computer science has a nice article on the joys of being an NSF Program Director.