Sunday, May 03, 2015

Working Environment & Personal Career - My Fourth Week in Cambridge

My fourth week in Cambridge was filled with all kinds of work as usual. However,  the time spent on life-related or administration-related stuff has been significantly reduced, so that I can have much more time in doing pure research and reading books.

Looking back to what I have done lately: got scandex paper accepted and gave a talklet in the Lab; finished scoped-flooding draft; finished all the simulation work on different topologies; set up the website for N4D Lab; set up the website for ACM DEV; finalised the user scenarios in UMobile project; got familiar with docker system and started system design; even finished a history book, so on and so on. Working efficiency seems very high here in the Computer Lab, I do not know if it is because of pressure or I simply feel happy to work more.

The atmosphere in the Lab is really nice. The Computer Lab in Cambridge University is the biggest computer science department I have ever seen, and is well-known for its System Research Group. In terms of working environment and infrastructure, however, I must admit University of Helsinki certainly wins, maybe because of its much smaller size. As we (system scientists) know, scalability issues generally applies to every system. University of Helsinki is so generous to its employees that you can hardly find a competitor for it. However, having good infrastructure is not sufficient condition for being a top university. In most cases, "software" can be as important as "hardware", and we researchers, are the software who are continuously contributing to university's research outcome and build up its reputation.

In my opinion, a good lab/institute should at least have the following characteristics:

  • Trust - You simply cannot work (efficiently) in an uneasy environment. Pressure and tension kill the creativity.
  • Fairness - Reward people for their achievements, not matter big or small. Being mean can simply kill people's motivation. 
  • Collaboration - moderate level of competition between even within a group is fine. However, the collaboration is more important since nowadays excellent work can hardly be done by one person.
  • Promotion - it does not necessarily mean an increase in salary or change in position especially in academia. It is more about opportunities. Well, it might be a big problem for Finnish universities, and hopefully not for here.
  • Flat - having a flat structure makes communication very efficient. However, it is not going to be the case in Cambridge due to its super long history. But the good thing is that the university is at least very liberal and democratic.
  • Be nice - Last but probably the most important one. Good universities (should) never treat its researcher like slaves, especially for those with high throughput of incoming and outgoing scholars. Building up a network is the key to boost both personal career and institution reputation.
So far, the Computer Lab seems doing a great job from my own perspective. I do hope my following years here is going to be productive, and more importantly - happy. :)

My first talklet on service caching in the Computer Lab of Cambridge University. The audience were quite nice and gentle to me during the talk, probably because I am new and junior in the Lab :)