Sunday, April 25, 2010

Revival of MIT's PL offsite tradition

Upon Prof. Saman Amarasinghe's (persistent) suggestion, I organized (with some other kids) an MIT programming languages/software engineering off-site with six PL-related groups. Each group had 30 minutes to present their work. There were two professors panels, one on research advice and one on the future of MIT programming languages research.

The goals of the off-site, as state on our website, were to "discuss the current and future directions of MIT's PL research." The event was surprisingly productive in terms of getting everyone up to speed on what different groups were working on and in terms of discussing what students and professors should do to improve the research experience at MIT.

During the research advice panel, one professor gave four pieces of advice: 1) learn, 2) teach, 3) do slow research, and 4) have an attitude. The third point sparked quite a bit of controversy among the other professors, most of whom argued that computer science research is inherently fast-paced and thus our research practices should adapt to accomodate the pace. Another interesting thing was that most professors seemed to agree that the current peer-reviewed conference model is not the best model for how PL research should work, but there was not consensus on how it should be done.

During the future of MIT PL research panel discussion, there was some interesting discussion not just about what the future of PL entailed, but how much of the present and past to retain. (A big question was the degree to which it is important to teach type theory to MIT students and, given nobody at MIT does type theory research, what the best way of doing that would be.)

A result of the off-site was the goal to stay more connected throughout the year. I would be curious to hear how other schools' programming languages groups sync up to discuss ideas and learn new concepts.

Oh, and if you don't believe this actually happened--there are some nice photos here with a group shot here.

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