About Us

URCS Measures of Excellence

There are many ways to measure the quality of a University of Rochester Department of Computer Science (URCS). By almost any measure URCS does very well.


The URCS faculty includes 19 tenure-track professors (James Allen, Chris Brown, John Criswell, Chen Ding, Sandhya Dwarkadas, Daniel Gildea, Philip Guo, Lane Hemaspaandra, M. Ehsan HoqueTom Howard, Engin Ipek, Ji Liu, Jiebo Luo, Henry Kautz, Randal Nelson, Len Schubert, Michael Scott, Joel Seiferas, Kai Shen, Daniel Stefankovic, Muthu Venkitasubramaniam), two teaching professors (Ted Pawlicki, George Ferguson)  , and 5 affiliated faculty members, from brain and cognitive science (Robbie Jacobs, Florian Jaeger) and electrical and computer engineering (Wendi HeinzelmanMichael Huang, Guarav Sharma).

Recent Professional Leadership



Graduate students are the lifeblood of a computer science (CS) research program. As of March 2011, the department has 52 PhD students. Of these, 17 (33%) are US citizens. The rest come from a variety of countries around the world, including Bangladesh, China, Colombia, India, Greece, Italy, Iraq, and Iran. Eleven (21%) are women.

URCS students frequently lead the College in GRE scores and University Fellowships. (For the entering classes of 2008–2010, median verbal and quantitative GRE scores were 600 and 800, respectively.) Many students are supported by external corporate and foundation fellowships. All others receive full department stipends, and all receive tuition waivers.

At the undergraduate level, the department graduates about 30 majors a year, many of whom are actively involved in research. Department teams are regular competitors in the international CS Games and the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC); Rochester teams took first place at the CS Games in 2006, 2007, and 2011, and first place in the Northeast North America division of the ICPC in 2009. The undergraduate mobile robot team took first place in the 2002 AAAI mobile robot host competition. Our undergraduates are frequent recipients of major national fellowships and awards. Frank Ferraro received both an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and an NDSEG Fellowship in 2011. Andrew Uzilov received the NSF Fellowship in 2007. David Eisenstat took first place, nationwide, in the 2006 Outstanding Undergraduate Award program of the Computing Research Association. Several other students have placed highly as well—most recently Robin Miller and Frank Ferraro, both of whom were finalists in 2011. There is an active undergraduate council, a student chapter of the ACM, and a Computer Interest Floor in the undergraduate dorms.


Between 1980 and 2013, URCS awarded 190 PhD degrees. URCS graduate alumni have gone on to outstanding careers in academia and industry. Danny Sabbah (PhD 1982) is General Manager for Rational Software at IBM. Rick Rashid (PhD 1980) is Senior Vice President for Research at Microsoft. Avi Tevanian (MS 1984) went on to earn a PhD at CMU, and was Chief Technology Officer of Apple from 1997 to 2006. Corinna Cortes (PhD 1994) is head of Google’s New York City lab. In 2008 she shared the ACM Paris Kanellakis Theory and Practice Award for the development of Support Vector Machines. Peter Dibble (PhD 1990) is a principal architect of the Real Time Specification for Java.

A little over a third of the department’s PhD alumni have gone on to academic careers. At least 34 now hold senior faculty positions, at Boston University (Crovella); Carnegie Mellon University (Schneider); Colgate University (Sanchis [deceased]); Concordia University (Narayanan); Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil (Meira); Florida International University (T. Li); Nassau Community College (Sher); Ohio State University (Parthasarathy); Pacific Lutheran University (Hauser); Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Zaki); Rice University (Cox, Mellor-Crummey); Rutgers University (Kahrs, Bianchini); The National University of Singapore (Jain); The Rochester Institute of Technology (Heliotis, Homan, Vallino); The State University of New York at Albany (Haas); Towson University (Zimand); The University of Alberta, Canada (Jägersand); The University of California at San Diego (Cottrell); The University of Crete (Markatos); The University of Electro-Communications, Tokyo (Tarui); The University of Essex, England (Poesio); The University of Florida (Newman); The University of Leicester (Raman); The University of Maryland (Aloimonos, Perlis); The University of Massachusetts (McCallum); The University of Pittsburgh (Litman); The University of Rochester (Kautz); The University of Washington, Seattle (Rao, also former department for Kautz); The University of Washington, Tacoma (Tenenberg); The University of Texas, El Paso (Fuentes); The University of Utah (Balasubramonian); The University of York, England (Frisch); Washington University in St. Louis (Loui); and the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh (Kyburg). At least 37 more recent grads hold junior academic positions.

In industry and government service, URCS graduate alumni are members of technical staff at many of the world’s leading research labs, including IBM (13), Microsoft (8), Google (8), Bell Labs (2), Intel (3), Xerox (3), Cisco (2), GE (2), NEC (2), Amazon, Ask Jeeves, the Canadian Space Agency, Equinox, Kodak, Lockheed Martin, Los Alamos, The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Sarnoff, Siemens, Sprint, Sun, Texas Instruments, VMware, and Yahoo.

While larger departments can boast larger numbers of distinguished alumni, the overall quality of professional placements from URCS is hard to beat.


Field-shaping ideas

Over the years, research at Rochester has changed the face of Computer Science.

The algorithms and complexity theory research group at the University of Rochester has made many field-shaping contributions, both foundational and applied. These are described on the URCS theory contributions web page.

Drawing inspiration from biological vision systems, Chris Brown, former faculty member Dana Ballard, and students developed the active vision paradigm, embedding computer vision in the physical world, applying it to concrete tasks, and leveraging information from moving camera platforms and task-specific knowledge.

The language group at Rochester has made seminal contributions to speech-act plan-based models of dialogue, including the first computational models of intention recognition for language understanding, the first multi-level plan representations for capturing dialogue intentions, and the most influential formalization of the plan recognition process. Rochester’s TRIPS system is probably the most sophisticated fully-functional spoken dialogue system in the world today.

Henry Kautz has made fundamental contributions to the field of efficient commonsense inference, including the planning as satisfiability framework. A 1987 URCS alum, Kautz joined the faculty in 2006 after an illustrious career at Bell Labs, AT&T Labs, and the University of Washington.

In parallel computing, the Rochester Intelligent Gateway project of the late 1970s and early 1980s laid the groundwork for modern network-centric operating systems, and is a direct ancestor of such commercially important systems as OSF Unix and MacOS X. In the mid-1980s, Rochester’s 128-node BBN Butterfly Parallel Processor was the largest shared-memory multiprocessor in the world. Work with the Butterfly influenced a whole generation of parallel operating systems and applications. The work of former faculty member Tom LeBlanc and his students helped shape the field of parallel program debugging and performance analysis. Michael Scott’s work with URCS alum John Mellor-Crummey served to launch the field of scalable synchronization. Their MSqueue lock has been adopted by many commercial libraries and operating systems. Nonblocking data structures developed by Scott and his students are part of the Java standard library. Sandhya Dwarkadas’s work on the Treadmarks and FASTLINK systems played a major role in the discovery of the gene responsible for Parkinson’s disease. Kai Shen's work on cluster management forms the backbone of Internet search site Ask.com.

For further information on current research programs, try the following links:

Cross-disciplinary focus

Much of the department’s research spans traditional boundaries not only among sub-areas of computer science, but between computer science and other allied fields.

International collaborations

Members of the department maintain active collaborations with colleagues around the world.

Local collaborations

Closer to home, the department works with several groups at nearby schools.

Field-shaping Texts

Book Cover
Michael Scott's Programming Language
Pragmatics (Morgan Kaufmann, Third
edition 2009) addresses the fundamental
principles at work in the most important
contemporary languages. It highlights the
critical relationship between language
design and language implementation,
and devotes special attention to issues
of importance to the expert programmer.
With adoptions at over 200 schools, it
occupies the #2 sales position in the field. 
Book Cover
Lane Hemaspaandra and Leen Torenvliet's
Theory of Semi-Feasible Algorithms
(Springer-Verlag, 2003) presents the first
consolidated survey of the vibrant field of
research known as the theory of semi-
feasible algorithms. It showcases the
richness of, and contrasts between, the
central notions of complexity: running
time, non-uniform complexity, lowness,
and NP-hardness.
Book Cover
Lane Hemaspaandra and Mitsunori Ogihara's The
Complexity Theory Companion (Springer-Verlag,
2002) is an accessible, algorithmically oriented,
research-centered, up-to-date guide to some of
the most interesting techniques of complexity
theory. Its proof methods are algorithmic, and
to highlight the role of algorithmic techniques,
it is organized by technique rather than by topic.
Book Cover
James Allen's Nature Language
Understanding (Addison-Wesley, 2nd
edition, 1995), is the leading text in the
field. It delivers a synthesis of the major
modern techniques and the most current
research in natural language processing.
The approach is unique in its coverage of
semantic interpretation and discourse
alongside the foundational material in
syntactic processing. 
Book Cover
Reasoning About Plans (Morgan Kaufmann,
1991), co-written by James Allen, Henry Kautz,
Josh Tenenberg, and Richard Pelavin, presents
an integrated framework for temporal
reasoning, planning, and plan recognition. 
Book Cover
Dana Ballard and Chris Brown's
Computer Vision (Prentice Hall,1982)
was for many years the defining text
for the field, and remains to this day a
central resource for computer vision

Technology Transfer and Industrial Partnerships

Though the focus at Rochester is on long-term research, we value our many ties to industry, and endeavor to transfer our work into practice whenever appropriate.

External recognition


URCS Research facilities are by any measure outstanding (see separate page). Significant hardware donations in recent years have come from IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and Sun. Current department resources include a 32-processor IBM pSeries 690 (“Regatta”) machine, 8- and 16-processor SunFire multiprocessors, 32- and 128-core Sun Niagara machines. The department also enjoys easy access to a 672-core Linux cluster and a 1024-core IBM BlueGene/P machine at the University's Center for Research Computing.

The academic program

URCS was founded as a PhD-only department in 1974. The first degrees were awarded in 1980. The department typically admits 10–12 PhD students each fall, and graduates about 7 every year. Time to completion of the PhD is just over five years on average. The department also offers a “3-2” combined BS/MS program, and a small professional master’s program.

While the department has taught undergraduates from the outset (largely through the applied mathematics: computer science program in the math department), it did not administer its own BS and BA programs until 1995, with the first degrees awarded in the spring of 1996. In 2004 the department received the University’s Goergen award for curricular achievement.

As noted above, the National Research Council ranked URCS 14th in the nation in the “effectiveness of the graduate program”. James Allen has received the University’s Curtis award for graduate teaching. Michael Scott has received the University’s Goergen award for undergraduate teaching. Wendi Heinzelman has received the University’s Curtis award for teaching by a non-tenured member of the faculty.

The value of being small

Most other top-ranked departments are three to four times our size. Smallness has an impact, of course, on the total number of students and publications, the total size of the budget, the total number of alumni, etc., but it does not have an impact on the things that really matter: the output of the department per person, and the quality of the research, the people, and the programs.

While it is difficult for a small department to compete with the sheer volume and variety of work at larger schools, there are significant advantages to being small. Many of these advantages impact quality of life, making URCS a great place to work or to get a degree. Many, however, impact research quality as well, inspiring us to do research that we probably wouldn’t do at a larger school.

The city and quality of life

Recently ranked as one of the Northeast’s 10 “Best Places to Live in America” by Money magazine, Rochester has also been listed as one of the “Most Livable Cities” in America by Partners for Livable Communities, a rating based on Rochester’s technology-focused economy, recreational opportunities, and historic neighborhoods. There is a thriving arts and entertainment scene, fueled in part by the UR’s own Eastman School of Music (the number one music school in the country). There is a wide variety of affordable housing within easy distance of campus. The surrounding countryside is gorgeous. There are four real seasons, each with its distinctive charm, and contrary to rumors you may have heard, winter is not significantly longer than the other three :-).

For more information on the Greater Rochester Area, check out the pages maintained by the UR Public Relations Department and the UR Admissions Office.

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