CS+X at Caltech: Disrupting science and engineering with computational thinking

It seems like I’ve been waiting forever to make this post!  Back in the fall, I helped to organize an Alumni College at Caltech centered around the theme of “CS+X”.  Now, I’m very excited to announce that the videos from the event are up!

What is an alumni college you ask?  Well, instead a homecoming game or something like that, we get alumni back to Caltech by promising a day of research talks, well really thinks like TED talks!  So, Alumni College focuses on a different theme each year, and then does a day of provocative talks on that topic.  This year the theme was “Disrupting Science and Engineering with computational thinking” i.e., the disruptive power of CS+X.

As I’ve written about before, we view “CS+X” as what makes Caltech’s approach to computer science so distinctive compared to other schools.  We pride ourselves on inventing fields and then leaving them for others once they’re popular so that we can invent the next field.  So, “seeding fields and then ceding them”…

In any case, the alumni college was a day filled with talks on CS+X from researchers at Caltech that are leading new fields…  We covered CS+Astronomy, CS+Physics, CS+Biology, CS+Economics, CS+Chemistry, CS+Energy, and so on…

You can watch all of them on Youtube here.  Enjoy!

Postdocs available, lots of postdocs…

We always have a large number of postdocs around at Caltech (we usually have ~20+), and this year is no exception.  Our application site just went live, so please help me spread the word.  We have (multiple) postdoc openings in all of the following areas in CMS:

I am personally looking for postdocs as part of the first four programs.  Don’t worry too much about which program is best suited for you when you apply, the backend of the application site is unified so that all faculty can easily see all the applicants.  Just be sure to mark the names of the faculty that you are most interested in working with when you go through the application process.

I’m generally looking for postdocs in the areas of Network Economics, Smart Grid, and Online Algorithms, but a few areas that I’m particularly hoping to find people in are: (i) digital platforms (any flavor of research, from measurement to modeling to economic analysis), (ii) markets surrounding data, (iii) electricity markets for demand response and renewables, (iv) online optimization or, more broadly, online algorithms.  So, if you’re interested in these areas please apply (and send me mail)!

CMS Faculty Search is Live — Apply today!

I’m very happy to announce that our CMS department faculty search is live.  As in previous years, we’re searching broadly — truly broadly.  We’re looking across applied math and computer science both and expect to be able to make multiple offers.  We’re interested in candidates in a variety of core areas, from distributed systems and machine learning to statistics and optimization (and lots of other areas).  But, more generally, we look for impressive, high-impact work rather than enforcing preconceived notions of what is hot at the moment.  Beyond the core areas of applied math and computer science, we are hoping to see strong applications in areas on the periphery of computing and applied math too — candidates at the interface of EE, mechanical engineering, economics, privacy, biology, physics, etc. are definitely encouraged to apply!  As I said in my recent post, inventing new CS+X fields is something that Caltech excels at — it’s our brand.

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(Nearly) A year later

It’s been one year since I started as executive officer (Caltech’s name for department chair) for our CMS department…and, not coincidentally, it’s been almost that long since my last blog post!  But now, a year in, I’ve got my administrative legs under me and I think I can get back to posting at least semi-regularly.

As always, the first post back after a long gap is a news filled one, so here goes!

Caltech had an amazing faculty recruitment year last year!  Caltech’s claim to fame in computer science has always been pioneering disruptive new fields at the interface of computing — quantum computing, dna computing, sparsity and compressed sensing, algorithmic game theory, … Well, this year we began an institute-wide initiative to redouble our efforts on this front and it yielded big rewards.  We hired six new mid-career faculty at the interface of computer science!  That is an enormous number for Caltech, where the whole place only has 300 faculty…

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The CMS PhD program

Back in January I wrote an excited post announcing our new Computing and Mathematical Sciences (CMS) PhD program.  Unfortunately, the approval did not happen in time for students to apply to it last year, but everything is up and running now, so we’re looking forward to seeing the first round of applicants this winter! (Though, we actually had 6 students who applied to other options last year switch into CMS for this fall — so the first class of CMS students is on-campus already!)

To prime the pump, I’m hoping that all the readers of this blog can spread the word about our exciting (& unique) new degree.  I know it’s what I wish I could’ve done when I was a grad student…  Please feel free to point prospective students to this post or to simply have them send me email.

Why did we start a new degree program?

We are in the midst of an unprecedented convergence of ideas & tools across disciplines.  This is happening among both traditionally “close” areas in the information sciences such as electrical engineering, computer science, and applied math as well as between the information sciences and seemingly disparate fields such as economics, biology, statistics, physics, and operations research.

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A report from CDS 20 & CMS 0

All of the slides (and some videos) are now up from the Control and Dynamical Systems (CDS) 20th anniversary workshop that we held here at Caltech earlier this month.

The workshop was a huge success, and it was thrilling to see so many alums from the PhD program coming back.  It’s really amazing to see how successful the program has been, and how varied the research is that they are doing now.  CDS alums have become professors at all of the top 15 universities in the world (according to the London Times ranking), and they hold positions in a huge variety of departments: CS, EE, Control, Mech E, Math, and Bio.  So, as a result, the applications covered during the CDS20 workshop were extremely broad: from bio and physiology, to communication networks and the smart grid, to machine learning and privacy.

And, not only was the worshop the 20th anniversary of CDS, it marked the kickoff our our new Computing and Mathematical Sciences (CMS) PhD program.  We used the last session to highlight the evolution of CDS, which has resulted in the emergence of CMS.   This new program is really modeled after the tenets of CDS that have proven so successful: seek rigor and relevance, and ensure that research is student-centric. I’ve written about this new program in a previous post, but I put together a slide deck for CDS20 that I think does a pretty good job of introducing the program.  We can only hope that in 20 years we’ll have had as much impact as CDS…

What makes Caltech special?

As you may have heard, Caltech has been ranked #1 in the world by the Times Higher Education (THE) Rankings the last few years…

That’s nice and all, but Caltech is such an oddball of a place that to some extent, where it places in such rankings is more a function of how they normalize by size than anything else.  Caltech is simply an order-of-magnitude smaller than other places (we have only ~300 faculty institute-wide), so if you don’t normalize it suffers…

But, while rankings are always problematic, I think the feature that the THE put out about Caltech this week actually summarizes very well what makes Caltech such a special and unique place…and, of course, it comes from its size.

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Releasing Rankmaniac

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m teaching my “flagship” course this winter, a unique networks course that focuses on the structure and economics of networks using both a theoretical and an applied perspective.

One of the unique things about the course is that we have three fun/challenging mini-project competitions: rankmaniac, pandemaniac, and clickmaniac.  The first of these is rankmaniac, and it’s going out in class today…which means that the next week is one of my favorite parts of the class.

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A new PhD program: Computing and Mathematical Sciences (CMS)

I’m very excited to announce that Caltech will introduce a new graduate degree  next year: a PhD in Computing and Mathematical Sciences (CMS).

While we didn’t get the approval in time to advertise it before students applied this year, I cannot resist mentioning it right now, since I hope that some of the students that we admit to other programs at Caltech this year will choose to switch over and be part of it…

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