“It will be important for us to keep an eye on changes in the networking research landscape”

Our Research Director, Joerg Widmer, talks about the keys to the present and future of the institution

18 May 2023

The IMDEA initiative was born 15 years ago… What would you highlight, by way of summary, of IMDEA Networks’ contribution in this sense?

It’s quite amazing what the IMDEA initiative in general and IMDEA Networks, in particular, have achieved over a relatively short span of time. You would be hard-pressed to find a similar research institute in Europe in terms of top-quality research, technology transfer and internationalization. In my view, this endeavor has been a resounding success to strengthen scientific excellence in the region of Madrid.

In this context, the projects are part of technology transfer… if we take into account the current ones, what contributions stand out in this sense?

We have more than I can list here, but I would like to highlight two examples that I am personally involved in, the H2020 ITN MINTS and the recently approved Horizon Europe ITN 6th-SENSE, that reinforce our areas of millimeter-wave networking and sensing. Both are doctoral training networks that allow to hire excellent PhD students that then do research and are trained together with all the other PhD students in the project, to provide future researchers with all the necessary skills to be successful in the job market and provide highly needed expertise in these important areas.

What characterizes the IMDEA Networks team considering that we are formed by an international team in cutting-edge science?

Personally, I like that despite the highly competitive research and the very international composition of the overall research team, the atmosphere is one of joint work and collaboration, rather than competition within the institute. That helps a lot to focus on research without distraction, and benefit maximally from the expertise of and synergies with colleagues.

* German by birth, you are familiar with research in the international arena. Why and how has IMDEA Networks positioned itself as one of the leading telecommunications research centers?

The two reasons that first come to mind are the relatively attractive conditions and academic freedom, together with careful hiring decisions to focus on top talent rather than quick growth. I believe that from the beginning we were able to assemble a truly excellent team of researchers, which over the years has been carefully reinforced with other outstanding additions. Build­ing such an institute without top talent is impossible.

Which is the importance of Alum­ni in an institution such as IMDEA Networks?

At many institutes and universi­ties including ours, Alumni play a crucial role. In my view this is something we could and should further reinforce to create a stron­ger connection with former stu­dents that are now at important positions in industry and acade­mia, to promote knowledge exchan­ge and tech transfer, pursue joint research and projects, and help our current students to find equa­lly promising positions after their graduation.

Looking, for example, ten years ahead, what can be achieved in terms of research at the center?

I would expect further measured growth of the institute, always with the guideline that quality is much more important than quantity. More importantly, I think the networking research landscape is changing, with new application areas and tech­nologies close to realization, the pervasive use of machine learning, etc. It will be important for us to keep an eye on those changes and find a good balance between maxi­mizing impact in our well estab­lished research areas, and flexibly adapting to those changes and mod­ifying our research direction or opening up entirely new areas.

And what is the importance of events such as the Scientific Council or Annual Workshop?

We have a truly amazing scien­tific council. (This was one among several reasons that convinced me to join IMDEA Networks in the first place). In particular, in the early years of the institute, the Scien­tific Council was instrumental in providing guidance on how to shape the institute, and now they are extremely helpful in getting feed­back for our research and insights into promising new research areas, among others through the annual workshop. In this context, I believe also our first faculty retreat in 2022 was an important opportunity to take a step back from everyday research and brainstorm among the Faculty about the institute’s direction and discuss new areas.

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