It has been a little over a month since I left IMDEA Networks and Madrid. I am now back in Lugano, and back to my typical life at USI (Università della Svizzera italiana). In fact, the spring semester just started last week, so I am also immersed in teaching, and also busy with various research efforts and with a good dose of academic affairs and service duties. At any rate, my sabbatical has come and gone, so it is good to reflect a bit on the whole experience, and in particular on the professional and personal interactions I had at IMDEA Networks.
I would like to start by saying that, regrettably, my time in Madrid was too short. The policy of my University is that professors take a sabbatical leave over only one semester, as opposed to one year, which is more typical elsewhere. If that was not already a significant limitation, I also had to attend to a number of events in Lugano in the middle of my sabbatical semester. For example, I had to personally administer a number of exams in September, and one of my students defended his PhD thesis in October. So in the end, I could only spend about three months at IMDEA Networks. And that is simply too short a time to meaningfully settle in a research environment and to establish solid research collaborations. As I said, this is regrettable. I should have spent more time at IMDEA!
Still, in the relatively short time I had, I did have a chance to share and discuss research ideas at IMDEA. In particular, I had a number of productive meetings with Professor Kirill Kogan in which we explored the application of some of his results in packet classifications to the problem of forwarding in information-centric networking, which is one of my on-going research projects. At this point these are just initial explorations, but I hope that Prof. Kogan and I can find the time and energy to pursue these ideas further.
I should also say that, for sure the institute has excellent researchers. I joined IMDEA Networks knowing full well that my research interests are not exactly within the main focus of the Institute, and more importantly (and unfortunately!) that I am mostly ignorant about a lot of what IMDEA excels at, especially wireless and mobile networks. And yet—or perhaps because of that—I had very interesting discussions on topics ranging from millimeter wave mobile networks to under-water communications. I think I learned a lot and in any case I particularly enjoyed those technical conversations.
One of my goals for this sabbatical, as banal as it might sound, was to detach myself a bit from my institution and also from my usual research activities, and to simply enjoy a different environment. More specifically, I wanted to interact with other researchers (students as well as professors) openly and naturally, based on curiosity and spontaneous interests, without pressures, and outside the constraints of existing projects. And IMDEA provided just the right environment for that.
This brings me to what I consider to be the best part of my experience at IMDEA Networks. What I am about to say may be considered a cliché or even a criticism in disguise. Not at all. It is my best praise of the Institute and in fact the best thing I could say of any research institute. The most rewarding aspect of my time at IMDEA was the lively, rich, and generally very open environment. Of course, this is pleasant at a very basic human level. But I also think that it is a wonderful catalyst for research. In fact, I consider it an essential component of any productive research enterprise. In my opinion, research is ultimately and fundamentally a social activity in which friendly and spontaneous cooperation, including lots of healthy criticism, does a lot more than individualism and competition. And IMDEA Networks excels at fostering this positive social attitude.