"To become a successful researcher you need to have basic research skills in your genes and a passion for research"

14 March 2013

​Interview with Shmuel Zaks, Chair of Excelence, Department of Telematics Engineering, University Carlos III of Madrid; Visiting Researcher, Institute IMDEA Networks; Chair Professor of Computer Science, Technion, IsraelInterview with Shmuel Zaks, Chair of Excelence, Department of Telematics Engineering, University Carlos III of Madrid; Visiting Researcher, Institute IMDEA Networks; Chair Professor of Computer Science, Technion, Israel.

1. To begin this interview, we are curious about how you were called to the life of science. When and why did you decide to become a scientist?

If you like to solve problems, be your own boss, like to teach students and supervise graduate students, and collaborate world-wide with colleagues who share with you passion for research – there is no other job as a university professor that will provide you the freedom to do and enjoy all of this. I discovered the eagerness to do all of these as my studies progressed, and I decided to go for PhD with a clear determination to pursue an academic career. Thanks god, and some others, that I was successful in this decision.

2. What training and background do you have as a researcher?

I undergraduated in mathematics at the Technion, Israel, and was especially attracted by Discrete Mathematics topics. Naturally so, I did my MSc thesis on Automata Theory, again at the Technion. At that time – beginning of the 70’s – Computer Science departments only started to emerge. I went for my PhD studies in Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA, where I learnt basic skills of a researcher. To be more accurate, in order to become a successful researcher one needs to have basic research skills in his/her genes, and need to have the passion for research. The PhD studies thus enabled me to discover these skills and develop research methodologies.

Since then, for over thirty years now, I have been working on theoretical issues, including discrete mathematics, graph theory, combinatorics, distributed computing, and networking. Background does not suffice in our profession. One must constantly get updated, and this is best done via collaboration with colleagues and via supervision of students. I have been fortunate to meet and collaborate with excellent colleagues worldwide and to have excellent MSc and PhD students under my supervision. These colleagues and students are, by all means, the true secret of keeping me enthusiastic about research throughout my career.

3. How did you get the opportunity to come and work in Madrid? What institutions have you been connected to so far?

For many years I have known researchers from Polythecnic University of Madrid (UPM), Universidad Rey Juan Carlos (URJC), and IMDEA Networks, including visits twice in the last three years. I have received a Cátedra de Excelencia from Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M), and I am happy to split my time between UC3M and IMDEA Networks, thus collaborating with many researchers.

4. What interested you most about the IMDEA project? What made you want to become involved?

My prior visits to Madrid enabled me to have a close look at the environment of research done in Institute IMDEA Networks. I found two factors very encouraging: first, the institute houses many young researchers and PhD students, and second, the researchers come from different countries and with a variety of interests. I have thus found this an excellent and dynamic research center, of an international scale, which, in particular, is an ideal place for visitors. I felt it would be a challenge to come and work in this friendly and dynamic environment.

5. In what research lines will you be working? What specific results do you expect to see?

I plan to continue on-going studies of mine, especially in the area of optimal problems in design and use of optical networks, hopefully with collaboration of people that share similar research interests. More importantly, I expect to collaborate with people in current on-going projects in IMDEA, with an attempt to contribute from my expertise. My background enables me to explore a problem from many of its algorithmic aspects, such as complexity, design and analysis of algorithms, approximation algorithms and on-line algorithms. All the projects run in IMDEA are related to the wide area of networking, and most, if not all, of them include also algorithmic issues. I hope to join such projects where I can offer my experience. The fact that I am not associated with any particular project enables me to be involved in many on-going projects, and to establish several research collaborations on topics of mutual interest.

6. Did you know Spain before joining IMDEA? What do you like best about Madrid

I have been travelling all around Spain, and have seen most of its touristic attractions. Besides Madrid and Barcelona, they include all the famous cities in the south, all the north (all the way to Santiago de Compostela), and more. After learning many parts of the European history it was very interesting for me to visit many places I learnt about, and being Jewish I certainly was thrilled by visits to places who are well rooted in my people’s history, and in particular Córdoba and Toledo.

As for Madrid – well, ‘El amor es ciego’. One gets in love with the city from first sight, and very easily; but one cannot pinpoint one reason. Whenever I walk in its streets I feel it is one of the main impressive capitals in the world. Is it the wonderful design that gives me the feeling of greatness whenever I walk in its avenues and parks? Is it the beautiful architecture I see all around? Is it the very rich cultural life and cultural centers I see everywhere, leaded by the first-line museums? Well, I assume the true answer is a combination of all of these. But I am confident that it would not be what it is if it were not for the warmth of its people, their extremely friendly openness, and their passion for life, joy and happiness. I feel extremely fortunate to be able to spend this long visit in Spain, and in particular in Madrid, and, before closing, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who made this visit possible.

The most important thing in my life – yes, even before career – is my family, shown in full capacity, about two years ago, when we had four grandchildren. Within my family, the most important people today are the six grandchildren, shown in the first photo. My best hobby is playing the clarinet, shown in the second photo. 

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Source(s): madrimasd, IMDEA Networks Institute
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