Why Come to URCS?
The National Research Council's Assessment of Research Doctorate Programs (revised April 2011) ranked our department in the range 11th to 34th nationally according to one weighting of metrics (r-rankings), and in the range 9th to 48th according to the other weighting (s-rankings).
Rochester had the rare distinction of receiving continuous funding from the National Science Foundation Research Infrastructure program from 1984 to 2005. Also known by the earlier names CER (Coordinated Experimental Research) and IIP (Institutional Infrastructure Program), RI grants fund the acquisition of unique, large-scale hardware resources for interdisciplinary work. At Rochester these grants recognized ground-breaking collaboration among researchers in Computer Systems, Spatial AI, Symbolic AI, and Theory.
With an annual budget of over $5 million, and research expenditures around $3.5M, URCS external funding averages around $200K/faculty member per year. While larger departments often have larger total budgets, per capita funding at Rochester is very strong.
The Value of Being Small
Most other top-ranked departments are 3 to 4 times our size. Smallness has an impact, of course, on the total number of students and publications, the total size of the budget, the total number of alumni, etc., but it does not have an impact on the things that really matter: the output of the department per person, and the quality of the research, the people, and the programs.
While it is difficult for a small department to compete with the sheer volume and variety of work at larger schools, there are significant advantages to being small. Many of these advantages impact quality of life, making URCS a great place to work or to get a degree. Many, however, impact research quality as well, inspiring us to do research that we probably wouldn’t do at a larger school.
As noted above, the department places a heavy emphasis on interdisciplinary work. Small size facilitates this emphasis: groups naturally seek each other out to help build critical mass. At the University level, administrative policies make it easy to share funding and appointments across departments and schools. More locally, the department deliberately encourages “cross fertilization” by mixing student office space by area: the typical room houses students with three different research advisiors, working in different areas of AI, HCI, Systems, and/or Theory.
With about 3–4 PhD students per faculty member, on average, doctoral candidates receive a great deal of personal attention. Most students become active in research during their first year of graduate study. Beyond that first year, most learning occurs one-on-one or in small groups at the whiteboard, rather than in a classroom setting.
Communal resource model
The department pools financial resources to the maximum extent consistent with granting agency guidelines. Every PhD student is guaranteed support throughout the course of graduate studies, regardless of choice of advisor or research topic. A department-wide committee coordinates all major equipment purchases, to maximize the potential to meet multiple research needs. Machines are then uniformly available to all faculty, grad students, visitors, and postdocs. All Unix machines run a common password file, and all file systems are universally cross-mounted, so one can log on anywhere and feel at home.
Collaborative decision making
Because the entire faculty will fit around one table, decisions can be made almost entirely by consensus. Graduate student representatives serve on all department committees, and play a major role in graduate admissions, facilities, and curricular development.
Because everyone in the department knows everyone else, the social and professional atmosphere is unusually warm and collegial. There are weekly parties, and department teams in various intramural sports leagues.
The City and Quality of Life
Recently ranked as one of the Northeast’s 10 “Best Places to Live in America” by Money magazine, Rochester has also been listed as one of the “Most Livable Cities” in America by Partners for Livable Communities, a rating based on Rochester’s technology-focused economy, recreational opportunities, and historic neighborhoods. There is a thriving arts and entertainment scene, fueled in part by the UR’s own Eastman School of Music (the number one music school in the country). There is a wide variety of affordable housing within easy distance of campus. The surrounding countryside is gorgeous. There are four real seasons, each with its distinctive charm, and contrary to rumors you may have heard, winter is not significantly longer than the other three.