IR Research Pioneer Bruce Croft Retires into Research-Only Role

Bruce Croft
Bruce Croft

Distinguished Professor Bruce Croft is retiring this spring after spending his thirty-nine-year career on the computer science faculty at UMass Amherst, but he does not show any signs of slowing down. He is setting aside his faculty responsibilities to focus on research and on directing the Center for Intelligent Information Retrieval (CIIR), which he founded in 1992.

After stepping down as CICS Dean a year ago, Croft's research funding and number of Ph.D. students have increased: for example, he is a co-author of ten papers accepted to the 2018 ACM SIGIR Conference on Research and Development in Information Retrieval, the premier research conference on the field of information retrieval (IR).

"This is an exciting time for information retrieval research," said Croft. "Some of our research developments in areas such as neural models and conversational search are showing great promise in advancing the field. I'm looking forward to continuing to work with the outstanding students we have in the CIIR."

Croft joined UMass Amherst in 1979 after receiving his Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Cambridge. His research has focused on areas of IR, including retrieval models, document representation, web search, query processing, cross-lingual retrieval, and search architectures. He has published more than 250 articles on these and other subjects. Through the joint Lemur Project with CMU, his group has provided open-source search engines and research tools to many in the academic and industrial IR community. According to Google Scholar, his h-index is over 100, meaning that more than 100 of his publications have 100 or more citations by scholars in the field.

The CIIR, currently celebrating its 25th anniversary year, is recognized as one of the world's leading IR research groups. Under Croft's direction, the center has produced over 1,000 publications and 75 Ph.D. students, involved 18 faculty and 515 CIIR personnel, worked with over 100 industry/government members, and received over $75 million in funding. In addition to producing significant fundamental research advances, the CIIR has been involved in many innovative industry collaborations.

Many "firsts" have come from Croft's distinguished research career.  He was instrumental in the advances of IR and search engine technology.  He has advised 34 Ph.D. students (as chair) and is currently advising nine Ph.D. students in the CIIR.  Many of these students have gone on to successful careers in academia and industry and are now shaping the future of information retrieval and search engines.  

Croft's lasting research contributions to the field of IR are shown by the five ACM SIGIR Test of Time Awards and one SIGIR Test of Time Honorable Mention that he and his co-authors have received. He has also received a number of prestigious career awards for his pioneering research, including the ACM SIGIR Gerard Salton Award, the UKeiG Tony Kent Strix Award, the ASIST Research Award, the IEEE Computer Society Technical Achievement Award, and the UMass Amherst Award for Outstanding Accomplishments in Research and Creative Activity. Croft is a Fellow of the ACM and was Editor-in-Chief of ACM Transactions on Information Systems from 1995-2002. Croft and CICS Ph.D. alumni co-authors Trevor Strohman and Don Metzler published one of the first undergraduate textbooks on information retrieval.

Croft's influence spreads beyond the CIIR. He was the chair of the Department of Computer Science from 2001 - 2007 and the inaugural dean of the College of Information and Computer Sciences from 2015 - 2017. Outside of campus, he was involved in shaping CS policy while a member of the National Research Council Computer Science and Telecommunications Board from 2000-2003.

"Bruce's leadership and adroit fiscal management were critical for the success of our department and college during his six years as chair of the department and two years as dean of the new college," said James Allan, chair of the faculty. "He led us during rapid growth periods and during economic downturns where difficult decisions needed to be made. Under his leadership, the faculty, staff, students, and our entire college are thriving. That he was able to maintain an active and vibrant research program in the midst of that administrative load is a testament to his commitment to both the college and his research community." 

"Bruce's research and administrative contributions have been numerous," said CICS Dean Laura Haas.  "During his tenure as dean, he built the college's infrastructure and steered faculty and staff through the changes that come with being a new college. Among other accomplishments, he oversaw the rapid growth of the Master's program, the addition of two Master's concentrations and graduate certificate programs in data science and security, and all-but-finalized plans for our undergraduate informatics program."

After his formal retirement, Croft will remain as the director of the CIIR and will continue to be involved in research for many years to come. A celebration to honor his contributions was held on May 22.

For more details on Croft's research and the CIIR's history, go to the 25th anniversary article in the Fall 2017 issue of Significant Bits.