Foreword by the Scientific Director
Professor Matti Pietikäinen,
Department of Electrical and Information Engineering
The first year of the present operating period of Infotech Oulu is now over. Since its foundation in 1996, Infotech Oulu has already had a very positive impact. The quality and quantity of research within Infotech has been increasing all the time.
When selecting new groups to be part of Infotech Oulu in 2002, an overall evaluation of the organization was also carried out. The view of the evaluators was that Infotech is working well and its groups are pursuing research of high quality. Very constructive suggestions and some minor problems were addressed, including renewing the definition of key research areas and improving internal science management methods (e.g. self-evaluation, critique from local peers). As a result of this, Infotech Oulu has already redefined is main areas of research in 2003. The task of improving internal science management methods is still in progress.
The leaders of the selected groups with full membership in Infotech were interviewed by the scientific director and coordinator in spring 2003. Among the topics under discussion were the scientific goals and focus of the research, researcher training, international and domestic cooperation, publication and publicity activities, activities in the scientific community, funding, impacts of research, interaction between teaching and research, and how the activities of Infotech should be further developed and what specific knowledge each group could bring.
The answers showed that the older groups, which already had established their position in their field, seemed to have a clear idea where they are and how they should go forward. In the new groups these matters were naturally not as clear yet.
Researcher training is a vital activity for a research group. In the established groups this training often begins already during the Master's thesis research, or even earlier, and continues in postgraduate and postdoctoral training. Intensive supervision is very important for graduate students' progress. International projects and researcher exchange, as well as learning how to become acquainted with the scientific community, were also considered to be important. Major bottlenecks for the current doctoral training were that some groups did not have enough experienced supervisors and there was too little funding available for basic research.
Practically all groups had collaborating partners both in Europe and the USA. Cooperation included mainly joint projects and researcher exchange. A problem in researcher exchange is that a much larger number of visitors are coming to Oulu than vice versa. It would be very important for us to have especially young doctors and experienced graduate students visit leading research groups abroad more frequently.
As usual in technical sciences, a major part of the publications are refereed conference articles. There is, however, a strong desire to increasingly publish research results in respected journals. Preparation of publications should be a natural part of research, and the students should be trained for this as early as possible.
The overall funding situation was reasonably good. However, there is today more and more competition for the Academy of Finland and National Technology Agency (Tekes) funding. Many groups hoped that they could increase their basic research funding from the Academy of Finland. The graduate school positions financed by the Ministry of Education were considered to be extremely important.
A majority of the group leaders expressed a view that the most important impact of their research is that it could lead to the development of new applications and industries. Achieving scientifically significant results and the training of doctors for the needs of industry were also considered to be important. These views show that a close interaction between basic and applied research is not only important for the needs of society, but it is also a very strong motivating factor for the professors and students in our field.
The reports of the groups for the year 2003 clearly show that the research in Infotech has progressed very well. The focus of the groups is now better than earlier and a large number of scientifically important results have been achieved. Good interaction between basic and applied research has been a major strength of Infotech Oulu, and the reported successful exploitations of research results show that this interaction is working extremely well. In 2004, the Academy of Finland will open a new round for the national center-of-excellence applications. Let us hope that this time our groups will have better success and luck in the competition than earlier.