Posted by: jonkatz | October 27, 2010

Simons institute for theory of computing

As I’m sure many other departments are doing today, our department submitted a letter of intent for the Simons Foundation Institute for the Theory of Computing. Do we have a shot? Well, we wouldn’t have submitted if we felt there was no chance. (Actually, we were thinking that the worst outcome would be if the Simons Foundation asks us to submit a full proposal when the probability of us actually hosting the institute is low.) In fact, depending on what the Simons Foundation is looking for (which is completely unclear to me), I think we might have a pretty good chance. The main points I see in favor of establishing a center at UMD are:

  • It would be a chance to establish a new center for TCS research, rather than to strengthen an already existing center for TCS research. Sure, you could make that case for any location besides a select few (e.g., Boston, New York, Bay Area), but I would eliminate from consideration any location that is not near a big city (sorry, Cornell) as well as any location that does not already have some strength in TCS. Besides, the nation’s capital seems like a place where you might actively want to establish new strength in an area.
  • At UMD there is a huge potential for collaboration with government agencies. Funding agencies like NSF or DARPA are the obvious ones, but we also have extensive existing collaborations (within TCS) with places like NASA and NIH, and we could hope to build on that with other agencies.

We made some other points in our letter of intent as well, but I think those are not necessarily unique to UMD.

Anyway, we’ll hope for the best!



  1. Congratulations! Did UMD submit alone, or partner with anyone?

  2. We partnered with people in other departments on campus, but did not partner with anyone outside UMD.

  3. I don’t think the argument about being new helps. The argument seems to be that a place like Princeton (with CCI) would not be hosting a new center. But CCI currently has 2 million per year split between 4 institutions. Simons is offering 6 million per year. So while giving it to Princeton/CCI would not be a new institute, it would provide for funding on a completely new order of magnitude, making whatever center exists there quite a different place.

    Also, I’d say Cornell has a shot. Especially since they are so strong in so many departments related to theory such as OR.

  4. But Princeton also has IAS. Also, I don’t know the cost breakdown for CCI but all the events (and, to the best of my knowledge, all the postdocs) are hosted at Princeton. So they are getting more than 25% of the money.

    Cornell certainly has a shot, I was only expressing my opinion that I would not establish a center in a location where it might be difficult to attract people for a semester-long program.

  5. IAS is very much focused on complexity, not all of TCS. If you look at the actual NSF awards for CCI on the NSF website, it appears that each institute gets about 25% of the money.

    Princeton is just spending it better.

  6. Nevermind–it does seem that Princeton has more money from CCI.

    However, what SImons is offereing is still much more ..

  7. Amusing video: “So you want to get a PhD in theoretical computer science?”

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