Fostering Systems Research in Europe: A White Paper by EuroSys, the European Professional Society in Systems

TitleFostering Systems Research in Europe: A White Paper by EuroSys, the European Professional Society in Systems
Publication TypeMiscellaneous
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsDruschel, P, Isaacs R, Gross T, Shapiro M

The Computer Systems discipline (which encompasses the sub-areas of operating systems, distributed, embedded, real time and pervasive systems) constitutes a central pillar of computer science. Systems research is the scientific study, analysis, modeling and engineering of effective software platforms. Its challenge is to provide dependable, powerful, performant, secure and scalable solutions within an increasingly complex IT environment. As toolsmiths fueled the Industrial Revolution, today Systems researchers lay the foundation for IT services and applications in the Knowledge Era. Healthy research in Systems is therefore essential for the success and continuing innovation of the IT-based industry (be it proprietary or open source) in Europe.

Europe contributed many early innovations in Systems and continues to produce significant successes; yet it tends to be overshadowed by research in the US. We find several systemic reasons for this, which need to be addressed. Among others: (1) Overall, Europe under-invests in fundamental research in Systems; (2) the structure and culture of academic institutions do not consistently foster excellence at all levels of Systems education and research; (3) In general, European research groups are isolated, and need to network more effectively amongst each other, with their peer groups in the US and other parts of the world, and with the IT industry. If nothing is done, Systems research in Europe will decline, drying up the roots of innovation. This will negatively impact, not only the European IT industry, but beyond it, all sectors that are IT-based, e.g., financial services, government, health care, education, and manufacturers of high-value products such as aircrafts and cars.

The European Systems community has started to address these issues through improved networking and by raising awareness among leaders in the business community, at universities, at funding agencies and among policy makers. This is a good start, but to excel, more is needed: changes by all players are necessary to improve the Systems research landscape. We make specific recommendations, which are detailed and justified in the main body of this paper. Here is a short summary:

Universities: The top priority is to foster excellence at all levels of education and research. For students, we make the following recommendations: establish “Research Masters” programmes feeding into a PhD; ease time limits on PhDs; generalise doctoral internships; encourage student exchanges. For faculty, we recommend outside hiring, evaluation involving outside peers, and evaluation metrics adapted to Systems. To compete for the best young talent, institutions should offer competitive working conditions, including stability, responsibility and significant career prospects. In particular, junior faculty should have modest teaching load and receive mentorship, while enjoying the freedom to pursue their own research agenda.

Industry: Our proposals aim to encourage to innovation and technology transfer. The Systems research community and industry need to improve their interaction. Each side needs to better appreciate the other’s needs and roles; e.g., intellectual property issues and the value of fundamental, risky, long-term research and publication. The European IT industry should offer internships for PhD students and hire more PhDs.

Funding agencies: Funding agencies should support long-term, focused, risky and fundamental research projects. Systems research and infrastructure investment need to be sustained over sufficiently long periods. Funding decisions need to be based primarily on technical criteria, such as quality and impact; political criteria (such as balance between EU countries) must come second for research projects.

There is currently a window of opportunity for attracting talented researchers to Europe and to establish Europe as the leading location for high-quality, high-impact Systems research. But to take advantage of this opportunity, the issues we raise need to be addressed now.