Computer Science at UCSB Jumps into the Top 10

October 10, 2010

Computer Science at UCSB Jumps into the Top 10

Santa Barbara, California, October 18, 2010—The National Research Council (NRC) has released its rankings on a broad range of university graduate programs. The College of Engineering at UCSB, and in particular, the Department of Computer Science, has shown an impressive rise in the rankings; moving from 48th in the nation in 1995 to a top 10 department–an unprecedented move.

The all-important NRC rankings provide a better measure of a department’s quality than other rankings, for example, the US News and World Report. Where the US News and World Report rankings are purely based on an opinion poll, the NRC rankings are based on a vast amount of collected data that are combined using a sophisticated ranking formula. The effort required to collect the data and the complexity of calculating the rankings is one reason why it has been 15 years since the last results were released.

Because of the desire to avoid comparing departments using a single, potentially error-prone number, NRC provides two more general rankings called S-rankings (or survey-based) and R-rankings (or regression-based). These rankings differ in the way they assign weights to different characteristics. The weights used in the S-rankings were obtained based on a survey that asked faculty to rate the importance of 20 different program characteristics to determine the quality of a program. The weights in the R-rankings were obtained indirectly by first asking a randomly selected group of faculty to rate the quality of a set of programs in their field, and then determining (using statistical techniques) what set of weights would generate the same ratings.

Computer Science at UCSB received a range of 3-to-16 for the S-ranking which means that in 5% of the results UCSB was in the top 3 among all CS programs and in 95% of the results, UCSB was in the top 16 among all Computer Science programs. UCSB CS received a range of 6-18 for the R-rankings. Looking at the mean value for the S-ranking, Computer Science at UCSB is tied for 5th among all programs behind Stanford, Princeton, MIT and U Penn, and tied with CMU and Berkeley. Alternatively, based on the mean value for the R-rankings, UCSB CS ranks 9th among all programs, after such traditional powerhouses as Stanford, MIT, Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Based on the NRC data, it is clear that Computer Science at UCSB has made a significant jump into the top 10 ranked Computer Science departments nationally. This is quite an impressive jump in performance.

The question many are asking is why the big jump? Why has the Department of Computer Science at UCSB been so successful over the last 15 years? The answer is based on a combination of reasons. The first is that in 1995, when the last rankings came out, the PhD Program in Computer Science was brand new—it was only established in 1988. More importantly, just as the Internet was starting to boom, UCSB was able to create an agile, forward-looking department that was able to quickly establish vision and strength in areas that were to become increasingly important over the next decade.

Equally important is that almost all of the faculty hired in those early years and since have risen to national prominence. Every single junior faculty member hired in those years earned the prestigious CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF), which recognizes outstanding potential in new faculty members. UCSB is also tied for second among all universities for the number of “Young Innovators Under 35”, an award from the MIT Technology Review that recognizes “young innovators
whose inventions and research we find most exciting.” Most impressive is that while Computer Science at UCSB has a faculty size in the low 30s, they are able to compete against other departments two and three times their size.

A key strength of Computer Science at UCSB has been its vision in understanding what the future challenges are for computing, and then, as a group, establishing leadership in the area before larger programs are able to catch up. In the early 1990s before Google was a household name, researchers at UCSB were developing new ways of organizing massive amounts of geographical information, including maps and photographs. This early leadership led to a nationally visible project called the Alexandria Digital Library and then later the Alexandria Digital Earth project. More recently, UCSB has gained visibility for its work in computer security with projects ranging from identifying flaws in electronic voting machines (and resulting in the suspension of electronic voting by the California Secretary of State) to challenging Internet hackers and capturing botnets.

UCSB’s most recent effort, in a new research area called “cloud computing,” has been critical in acting as a catalyst for facilitating and promoting multiple innovating startups companies in the Santa Barbara area, and in fact has already garnered the attention of the White House and President Obama’s Chief Technology Officer.

The far reaching impact of Computer Science at UCSB can also be gauged by simple but significant examples, such as the recent award given to UCSB CS alumni Gustavo Alonso (PhD 94, currently Professor at ETH, Switzerland) who received the prestigious Ten Year Award at the premiere database conference, Very Large Data Bases (VLDB). The impact of this work, especially on the management of data in large clouds and data centers is another clear indicator of the forward looking type of research being incubated at UCSB.

One of the keys to making UCSB’s Computer Science research so impactful is that it is one of the few departments across the country to work hard at carrying its research out of the lab and into the community–to support the economic mission of the State of California and demonstrate exactly why it is so important that the State support the University of California. Computer Science at UCSB has contributed to the creation of several local companies and had an impact on several other highly visible companies. Faculty in Computer Science at UCSB have founded Teoma, which was purchased by Ask.com; ExpertCity which was purchased by Citrix Online; and Eucalyptus Systems which has received a $20 million round of funding. Computer Science at UCSB has also placed several former faculty and graduate students high up at Google.

These are among some of the reasons UCSB has risen to national prominence and a top ten ranking among Computer Science departments. The faculty and former students are all glad that their hard work continues to pay off and they look forward to the future.