Message from the Director

Fall/Winter 2018

It is my great honor to take over leadership of ISR from Prof. Cristina Lopes. Crista has moved on to take up the directorship of a new Professional Master degree in Software Engineering, MSWE, within the school of ICS. Crista served as director of ISR from July 2017 through June 2018. I am grateful for her leadership during that time. A change in directorship always brings with it both new challenges and opportunities. As before, ISR plans to continue to support important research in software engineering and give its faculty, students, alumni, industry, and friends a sense of community. Moreover, ISR aims to explore a tight collaboration with the upcoming MSWE program, serving as a liaison between the students in the program and high-tech industry partners.

ISR Director Prof. Sam MalekWhile there have been many noteworthy news items over the past few months, I am particularly excited about one: the establishment of the Richard N. Taylor Graduate Award in Software Engineering. This award was made possible by donations from Dick’s former students and several ICS alums. The award honors the everlasting contributions of the founding director of ISR to the field of software engineering. It will be bestowed annually to a Ph.D. student pursuing software engineering at UCI. See the article on page 5 for more on this Graduate Award.

As in previous years, ISR will continue to have its Distinguished Speaker talks throughout the year and the ISR Research Forum at the end of the academic year, this year on June 7. I look forward to seeing many of you at these events.

The blurring line between journals and conferences in software engineering

Premier software engineering journals and conferences have taken up several initiatives over the past few years, intended to address a variety of problems in the way research results are peer-reviewed, published, and disseminated. In the process, they have further blurred the lines between journals and conferences.

As the primary publication venue in software engineering, conferences are faced with the challenge of scaling the review process to hundreds of submissions, yet maintain the quality of reviews. Both conferences and journals also face difficulty with finding qualified reviewers willing to volunteer their time. Journals are struggling to remain relevant in light of the top conferences, such as ICSE and FSE, that provide more visibility to the authors and achieve a timelier dissemination of research results.

In light of all this, top conferences have been experimenting with several initiatives. Notably, to reduce the service load and to remain environmentally friendly, top conferences, such as ICSE and FSE, are no longer holding physical program committee meetings, rather opting for asynchronous discussion of papers online. In addition, to improve the review process, conferences now incorporate a rebuttal phase, as part of which the authors get to respond to reviewers’ criticism. In turn, the review process for a conference submission is more than ever similar to the process a journal submission goes through.

In parallel, premier journals in the field have adopted an initiative known as “journal first,” where just like conference papers, accepted submissions that are not extensions of previously published work are given presentation time at the meeting of top conferences. Additionally, some of the journals in the field, such as TSE, no longer publish papers beyond a certain length without the authors having to pay hefty fees. Not having a page limitation was generally considered to be one of the key differentiating factors between journals and conferences, allowing journal papers to delve into the details and provide a more comprehensive description of the research.

Arguably, prior to these changes, it was not clear what distinguished publications in conferences from journals. For instance, for promotion and merit review, most universities gave a top conference publication the same weight as a top journal publication. The new initiatives have further morphed the two—similar page limits, review processes, and dissemination mediums—begging the question as to why we need both.

It is time for the software engineering research community to revisit the role of conferences and journals. What do we like to achieve through journals? What about conferences? If the two are indeed overlapping, do we need both? If the two are different, what is that difference? There are a number of interesting possible ways forward. One possibility is to follow an approach similar to that in the database community. The VLDB conference accepts papers continuously throughout the year. The accepted papers appear in the PVLDB journal. Papers accepted by a certain deadline are presented at the conference. Another possibility is to follow what is typically done in basic sciences and other engineering disciplines. Conferences primarily serve as a place to meet colleagues, exchange half-baked ideas, and receive feedback from other experts, while journals become the primary venue for publication of mature, peer-reviewed research.

While it is heartening to see a willingness to experiment with and change well-established processes within the governing body of conferences and journals, a more concerted effort is needed to fundamentally reconsider the role of these publication venues in our field.

For more about ISR Director Sam Malek, visit his website.

This article appeared in ISR Connector issue: