Letters from Alumni

The following letters were written by some aulmni:


Letter from Srijit Kamath

Dear Provost Glover,

I am a University of Florida (UF) Alumnus (Ph. D., Computer Science, 2005; Medical Physics Residency, Radiation Oncology, 2010). During my doctoral study at UF, I performed research that lead to development of efficient algorithms to deliver radiation therapy for cancer. My work at UF lead to several papers and 3 awarded US patents. I supplemented my Computer Science background with postdoctoral work and a Radiation Therapy Physics residency also at UF. Following that I joined Yale University School of Medicine, where I am currently an Assistant Professor of Therapeutic Radiology.

As a graduate of the Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) department at UF, I am writing to you to express serious concern at the “Proposed College of Engineering Budget Cut Plan” recently introduced by the Dean of the College of Engineering (CoE), and the deleterious impact that I feel it will have on the CISE department, the CoE, and on UF.

From personal experience (I would not have obtained a research/clinical position in a leading academic institution if not for the skills I obtained in CISE), I believe that the CISE department is a highly productive research and teaching department within the CoE. The majority of my fellow graduate students from CISE, who I am in touch with, have obtained research and development positions in leading corporations – Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Yahoo, IBM – to name a few. Most of these positions require expertise in research areas that involve performing computations on massive amounts of data, e.g., databases, algorithms, machine learning etc., which are considered core computer science areas. There is an ever growing demand for highly qualified Computer Scientists that cannot be met by graduates from related disciplines (e.g., Electrical Engineering, Industrial Engineering, Biomedical Engineering) who are not qualified to perform those particular jobs. To my knowledge, these are some of the most sought after as well as best paying jobs in the engineering domain. My own research on the delivery of radiation for cancer treatment has its roots purely in “Analysis of Algorithms and Data Structures” research areas that are exclusively CISE domain, i.e., they would not be performed in any other engineering department other than a Computer Science department.

The “Proposed Budget Cut Plan” will eliminate research faculty positions from CISE that uniquely identify with CISE and make CISE what it is. While the plan states (page 1 para 2) that a guiding principle in designing it was to protect “Tenure track/tenured faculty positions”, it is clear to me that the most likely outcome is much different. In theory, under the current plan, CISE faculty members will either (i) be absorbed in to ECE/ISE/BME department or (ii) stay as teaching (non-research) faculty in CISE. The fact is that many CISE faculty members who currently perform very productive research in core CS areas may not fit into the future ECE department by the very nature of their work; for example, as I have stated above, my dissertation work would not have found place in the ECE or any other department. Thereby they will have no viable position at UF! They will have no
option but to seek research positions in computer science elsewhere. Therefore, the proposed plan will most certainly have the effect of eliminating very productive research faculty from UF – contrary to the stated goal. I urge the University leadership to believe or consider this a serious possibility if not a certainty. In my opinion, the statement made in the proposal regarding protecting faculty positions is very misleading. The fact is that some of the most productive faculty will leave: whether it is by design or not. The resulting impact on UFs computing research and educational missions would be irreparable. The software industry presently seeks UF undergrads and graduates from CISE not for their successful completion of basic coursework; but for their exposure to frequently updated course material taught by faculty who perform cutting edge research in the rapidly evolving computing field. Typically, “teaching only” faculty cannot offer attractive courses in this field and it won’t be long before the value of the UF CISE degree will be all but lost.

I would like to especially note that the current proposal is not akin to “merging” ECE and CISE departments to form an EECS department where ECE and CISE teaching and research may flourish. Rather, it will amount to losing all the core CISE research components, absorbing select CISE research areas into ECE/ISE as determined by ECE/ISE and reducing core CISE into a teaching unit.

While there is a real and urgent need for the college leadership to meet the budget constraints, the decision to impose the entire burden of cost on one highly productive department (CISE in this case) – dismantling it in the process – while shielding others completely will perhaps be unprecedented among UFs peers. I expect that it will be subject to a lot of scrutiny and discussion both within and outside UF now and for future. It will have an everlasting impact on the influence of UF researchers and alumni on the Computer Science industry, which is arguably the most rapidly developing and influential among all engineering disciplines of this day. Recruitment
levels from industry and research funding for Computer Science projects would spiral downwards.

I very strongly believe that that it would not be in the best interest of UF to set such a precedent that the administration will likely come to regret in future.

In light of the above considerations, I strongly urge you to reject the current plan to “restructure CISE” and to instead develop a new budget plan for CoE that rewards departments in proportion to the value they bring to CoE, to UF and to the state of Florida, and in keeping with the high educational and research standards that have made UF a leading University in the country.

Sincerely,

A CISE Alumnus

Assistant Professor
Department of Therapeutic Radiology
Yale University School of Medicine

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Letter from Dave Small

In response to Alison Law’s April 20th letter to the Gainesville Sun.

What a remarkable coincidence that someone sharing the same name as the wife of the one of the College of Engineering’s Associate Deans –Dr. Mark Law, Professor and former chair of the ECE department–would write in defense of the proposal to dismantle the CISE department!

It needs to be emphasized that *NONE* of the cost saving come from merging/moving half the CISE faculty into other departments, primarily ECE–again, a coincidence!

The CISE department has, for more than a decade, vigorously opposed and rebuffed repeated efforts by the ECE department to effect a merger. This whole charade is a pretext by which the ECE department will
cherry pick faculty from the CISE department.

To claim “At least [...] majors and programs are unchanged” is disingenuous spin. Let’s set aside the lack of support the remaining teaching-faculty-by-fiat will receive from the college. How many top students are going to be attracted to study computer science/software engineering in a gutted R1 university department that does no research?

Since you asked, here is a budget proposal based on pure logic and data from the US Government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Given that in 2010 there were over 2.6 million people employed in computing related fields but not even a half million employed in electrical/electronic+computer hardware engineering and that “among all occupations in all fields of science and engineering, computer science occupations are projected to account for nearly 60% of all job growth between now and 2018″[*] it is obvious that the demand for CISE graduates far exceeds the demand for ECE graduates. Therefore, it seems only proper to move the small minority of ECE faculty actually doing computing related work to the CISE department and declare the remainder of the ECE faculty teaching only, stripping them of support staff and TAs. That would be logical. And I would NOT support it either.

Dave Small, CISE Alumnus

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Letter from Robert Love

President Machen & Dean Abernathy,

I am writing to express my concern with the proposed changes to CISE. Contra more provocative coverage, I understand that the department is to undergo restructure and not outright elimination. I also understand the significant budgetary pressures facing Florida. Nonetheless, the proposed changes to CISE are wrong for the university and wrong for its students. Moreover, they set an ill precedent for other institutions at a time when the world needs not fewer, but more, CS graduates.

The proposed restructuring will irremediably harm the ability of Florida to attract top-caliber CS instructors, researchers, and students. The elimination of graduate and research programs will result in the loss of existing top faculty and place current students, who enrolled in graduate programs in good faith, in an unfortunate and precarious situation.

I am an engineer at Google and sit on a Hiring Committee, responsible for hiring decisions across my office. I am also an engineering manager. While we look for smart, driven individuals of varied and many backgrounds, this proposal will assuredly hurt Florida graduates beginning their careers. Universities with strong software–that is, CS–curricula and deep research programs matriculate students best equipped to excel in today’s technology companies–or start the companies of tomorrow.

When the largest, most successful companies in the world are software companies clamoring for more and better engineers, Florida should increase, not decrease, its investment in Computer Science.

I understand these budget cuts were imposed upon you. I wish they were not. Important decisions are rarely easy, but you must revert this proposal.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Love
Staff Software Engineer, Google
BA Math & BS CS, UF ’04

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Letter from Parbati Kumar Manna

Dear President Machen,

I am writing with respect to the recent proposal of restructuring the CISE department. I received my PhD from CISE in 2008, and I have been working at a blue-chip semiconductor manufacturer since then. I will  not waste your valuable time in explaining CISEs role in my career, rather I would like to point out a few things in the proposal that seems unreasonable to me.

I have gone through the Deans proposal very carefully. I understand that there is a budget gap that needs to be addressed; however, the proposal that has been put forth to address it is impractical, and will hurt UFs image immensely in the long run.

The Deans proposal talks about merging the _research_ in CISE & ECE but keeping the _teaching_ separate. Apparently, it stems from the Deans earlier concern regarding the duplication of the same degree program (Computer Engineering) in both ECE and CISE, which she believed may confuse students. However, the new proposal does not clear the confusion at all – instead, it increases it manifold. Now, as per the Deans proposal, all CISE RESEARCH will be merged into the ECE department, yet the CISE TEACHING will still exist standalone. What does that tell to any prospective student who wants to get a degree in Computer Science?

I have never heard of any school where the undergraduate and graduate programs of the SAME discipline are taught in two different departments. If the aim of this proposal is to get rid of any “confusion”, it is doing exactly the opposite!!

I also am dumbfounded at the idea of allocating researcher professors into ECE, BME and ISE. Computer Science is about generating efficient algorithms to solve problems. While the professors may gain some
“domain knowledge” in those problem areas, that does not mean they belong to those problem area departments – they belong to CISE only. Should we transfer a professor who is working at Natural Language Processing to the department of English? What happens when the professor picks up a different problem area – does he get  transferred to the new department? What about those professors who work with multiple problem areas simultaneously? If the proposal goes ahead and puts the different professors into different departments, you are going to see a mass exodus of all the competent faculty into other schools, which will essentially kill the computer science program at UF (and the ranking of UF Engineering will plummet).

If this proposal just merged ECE and CISE into a single department, even if I did not agree, I would at least  understand. However, this proposal will not do anything like that, and would result in total annihilation of Computer Science from UF (which is a pity, since we were almost becoming elite in CS).

I would urge you look at the alternatives and not dismantle CISE.

Thanks and Regards,
Parbati Kumar Manna
A Proud CISE Alumnus


Letter from Matthew Belcher

Trustees, Vice President Norton, and Dean Abernathy,

As a 2001 graduate of the University of Florida’s CISE department, I’m writing to ask that you reconsider the proposed plan to reorganize the CISE department. If the University of Florida is going to remain a research university and continue to grow as a world-class institution, it needs to have every department engaged in real research engaged with the wider academic community. Ending basic research in computer science at a time when it is so important to the economies of both Florida and the United States is completely misguided. The Department of Labor predicts that computer science jobs will continue to grow at a rate much faster than the labor force as a whole for at least the next decade.

I’m sure you’ve heard these arguments before, so I’d like to share my personal experience with the CISE department and how it helped my career. While a student at Florida, I was lucky to have contact with professors doing real computer science research such as Meera Sitharam, Jorg Peters, and Tim Davis. They all took strides to bring their research into the classroom and engage undergraduates with current issues in computer science. As I advanced as a student, I
began to participate in the undergraduate research program with Dr.Sitharam and published my first computer science paper in a regional conference. I was also able to attend my first academic conference thanks to support from Dr. Davis. These experiences gave me a strong interest in computer science research and also increased my credentials, so that when I applied to graduate school, I was accepted by both the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and Stanford University – top five programs in computer science. I’m convinced that this would never have been possible without the strong start I had in research at the University of Florida.

Since graduating from UIUC, I’ve gone on to a successful career developing software for high-frequency trading companies. We have very high standards for new hires and I give technical interviews to approximately 30 software developers a year. Of these, the candidates which perform the best are those from computer science departments whose faculty are engaged in research and have research experience themselves. Research exposes students to solving new problems and in the world of cutting-edge software development, these are the only problems worth solving. I’ve been recently encouraging my employer to
recruit more from the University of Florida but if research is cut off this will make my task much more difficult. Why would we send recruiters to a university which doesn’t train its students how to research and solve new problems? I can’t emphasize this enough: the skills of academic research in computer science are exactly the same skills that are required to solve the problems in the real world of software development.

As an alumnus of the University of Florida, it would greatly pain me to not be able to recommend my own school to those considering studying computer science at the undergraduate level, but I’m afraid if these cuts go through as proposed that will be the case. I will instead have to recommend the University of Central Florida or Georgia Tech as the best schools in the region.

I know that state budgets are particularly tight in these times, but I encourage you to find some other way to close your budget gap than ending basic computer science research at the University of Florida.

Thank you,
Matthew Belcher

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Letter from Pranav Dandekar:

Dear President Machen,

I graduated from the CISE department with a Masters degree in 2004. I am currently pursuing a PhD at Stanford after having worked at Amazon.com as
a software engineer for a few years. My time at UF, and my research experience working with Prof. Meera Sitharam, has been critical in shaping the trajectory of my career so far: I got my Amazon job because of a friend I met at UF, and then I chose to return to school for a PhD because I knew how much I enjoyed research.

I have gone through Dean Abernathy’s proposal and am deeply concerned by its shortsightedness. Please consider the following assertions:

1. Software is becoming an increasingly important component of large parts of our economy and therefore a huge driver of growth, and jobs. (Among the many many articles/reports I can list in support of the argument, I’d like to point you to the one written recently by internet pioneer Marc Andressen in the Wall St. Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903480904576512250915629460.html).

2. The software industry has a growing demand for well-trained engineers and scientists, more so than most other engineering disciplines .

3. Because of UF’s position as a major, public, comprehensive, land-grant, research university, and because of #2, UF is obligated to produce well-trained software engineers and computer scientists.

4. A thriving research program that attracts top-notch faculty and PhD students is critical to producing well-trained engineers (including undergraduates) and scientists.

If you agree with the above assertions, it is inescapable that not only is Dean Abernathy’s proposal a huge backward step for UF, in its way it is a big disservice to society.

In fact, to the extent that Dean Abernathy’s proposal represents a well-considered statement of the College of Engineering’s educational/research priorities, it shows a fundamental misunderstanding on her part of where the world is and where it is headed. As such, it brings into question her ability to lead the College of Engineering of a prestigious university such as UF.

I urge you to strike down this proposal and reassure CISE students, faculty and alumni that UF values the contributions of CISE in its current role as a full-fledged research department.

Sincerely,

Pranav Dandekar

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Letter from Vlatko Milosevski

Dear Sir/Madam

I graduated from the CISE department of the University of Florida in 1999 with honors ( GPA: 4.0 throughout the studies). I worked from 1997 to 1999 as a teaching and research assistant at the CISE department. Since my graduation, I have worked at the top engineering and managerial position at the Royal Philips Electronics, NXP Semiconductors and NXP Software.

In my career, I have met engineers with degrees from top engineering schools from all over the world via my contacts and professional engagements with Samsung, Sony, Nokia, Ericsson, Siemens, Google, Microsoft, etc… I can tell you that the quality of the education that CISE department provided me is on par, if not better than all of these fancy schools. I owe my professional career to the stuff that I have learned in Gainesville. For that, I will always carry UF in my heart and will be grateful to the CISE department until the end of my life.

But aside from giving me the professional value, UF CISE department changed me as a person and expanded my horizons in different way. My graduate years were my first contact with the American culture and people. I fell in love in America instantly. I fell in love in Florida. I fell in love in the hospitality of the good people of Florida. Next to being Macedonian and Dutch, I became American in my mind as well. These two years spent in Gainesville have turned me into a passionate pro-American advocate. My stories about the Florida’s life and beauty have surely made at least 100 of my friend from Europe and Asia to spend their vacations in Florida, to visit Gainesville, to buy a Gators t-shirt. I always believe that the education is the best way to win people’s hearts and minds. And UF CISE department has done that for me.

Dear Sir/Madam, I would strongly advise you to reconsider your decision. Nobody closes Computer Science Departments at the beginning of the 21st century. This is not  the right way to save costs. I understand that everybody needs to cut costs. Over  here, in Europe, every single country and nation is going through that painful process. But not even Greece or Spain or Portugal are closing University Computer Science Departments. Steve Jobs would probably use this famous word : “INSANE!” to describe this decision.

Thank you very much for your attention,

Vlatko Milosevski, Ms. Sci.

Business Development Manager

NXP Software

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