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Communications of the ACM


Improving Computer Science Research Collaborations Between U.S. and China

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Carnegie Mellon Associate Professor Jason Hong

On March 23-24 2011, the National Science Foundation held a workshop looking at how to build more effective collaborations between computer science researchers in the U.S. and in China.

International collaborations in research are useful in spreading scientific knowledge that can benefit all of mankind, as well as in cooperating to address the increasingly global challenges humanity is facing in poverty, education, energy, security, and climate change. Collaborations with China are of particular interest because of the sheer scale of the problems that China is facing, the rapid growth of computer science in China, and the growing number of opportunities for collaboration.
Previously, the National Science Foundation (NSF) worked with the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) in hosting three U.S.-China Computer Science Leadership Summits, where department heads and senior faculty both from the US and China met with each other to better understand each other's research context and organization. Fred Roberts, the current Director of DIMACS at Rutgers, gave a great overview of these three summits (PPT, 75M).
In contrast, our workshop was attended by a wider range of junior and senior faculty primarily from US universities, and focused more on identifying specific opportunities and barriers to collaboration, as well as sharing notes on what has and has not worked in the past.
With respect to opportunities, James Wang from NSF outlined several programs that could help facilitate research, many of which are managed by NSF's Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE). For example, one program is CNIC 
(Catalyzing New International Collaborations), which offers funds for US researchers to establish new connections with researchers in other countries. Others noted that supplemental requests to existing NSF grants could be obtained to strengthen international collaborations, and that explicit collaborations could be part of proposals themselves. However, these kinds of collaborations need a clear return on investment, in terms of showing that it could accelerate progress or lead to better outcomes. 
NSF also sponsors programs for students as well, with the goal being to help strengthen the U.S. workforce in the long-term by exposing students to other cultures and helping them be competitive in a globalized system. For example, EAPSI (East Asia and Pacific Summer Institute) is an 8-10 week program allowing U.S. students to participate in research experiences at host laboratories, including China. 
Many participants also talked about their personal experiences with collaborating with researchers in China. One popular approach was to take a sabbatical at a research lab in China, many of which are modeled after research labs in the U.S. and Europe. Another approach was to host visiting faculty and students from China, many of whom can secure funding through the China Scholarship Council
An intriguing opportunity is with the growing number of top-tier conferences being held in China. For example, SIGMOD 2007 and CSCW 2011 were held in Beijing and Hangzhou respectively, and the upcoming SIGIR 2011 and Ubicomp 2011 conferences will both be held in Beijing. These conferences can be used as a starting point for visiting nearby universities and research labs, perhaps through more formal mechanisms by local organizers.
It's also useful for us as a community to think about planting the seeds for long-term collaborations and understanding as well. For example, James Landay, a professor at University of Washington, has been doing a sabbatical in China for the past two years. As general chair of Ubicomp 2011, he has been working on getting funding from industry to sponsor student volunteers to come from outside China and attend the conference. These student volunteers will be paired with local Chinese students, giving them the opportunity to meet their international peers and helping to improve the relatively weak connections between the social graph of computer science researchers between the two countries.
These were just a few of the opportunities that were identified. In my next blog post, I'll talk more about the many barriers that we discussed, focusing on the technical, cultural, political, and social issues that came up.



This is going to be the great opportunity for us to hear about improving Computer Science Research Collaborations between U.S. and China. I know many students will benefit on this kind of program.


I think the opportunities with China FAR outweigh some of the difficulties/challenges of collaboration. So much so that I'm trying to create a new institute that is joint between a top Chinese university and a top US university.


An internationally themed STC or like NSF center program, might be a way to go to advance the vision of a US/China institute mentioned above. There might be a temptation to push for specific US-China program funding, and perhaps this would be worthwhile, but an agency like NSF is perhaps best geared towards keeping things relatively open ended -- for example, two big NSF/CISE sustainability-related Expeditions awards emerged from a call to generally get outside the box, not a sustainability related call per se. Researchers could look for funding opportunities of big US-China collabs under existing programs like STCs, or NSF/OISE/PIRE. In addition, I think its worth thinking about including selected other countries in such a collab, which could add to a collaborative spirit. --Doug Fisher


You missed the WWW2008 which is also hosted in beijing china.

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