Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Start Your Engines

Many fields, like mathematics and economics, have a civilized recruiting process. They have their annual conferences in January with organized meetings between graduate students and postdocs looking for academic positions and members of the faculty recruiting committees from many departments. Some serious weeding is done in both directions and then only a small number of candidates are then considered for positions in each department. The whole hiring season is mostly over in a month or two.

Computer science has no such civilized process. We have no annual meeting that can serve to bring job candidates and recruiters together. So we have a much more haphazard process that starts in earnest in January and doesn't wind down until May or June. We need a better process.

Some advice to the job seekers.

  • Apply early and often. Get your applications out by the end of December even if there is a later stated deadline. Faculty start looking at applications in January and you want your name to be there. Don't take the lack of an announcement or lack of mention of a theory position to deter you from applying to an institution.
  • If you are not sure whether to apply then apply. You don't have any decisions to make until you have two offers in hand.
  • Make a web page that sells you. Make the page visually appealing. Put links to all your recruiting material (CV, Research and Teaching Statements) as well as electronic versions of all of your papers. Just as important remove the embarrassing pictures at least until you have your offers.
  • Use personal contacts. Contact professors you know and let them know you are job hunting and ask if they know of positions at their school or others.
  • Start working on your job talk now. Make it accessible to a general computer science audience while convincing the theorists you have some meat in your results. Practice the talk with your fellow graduate students and faculty in your department.
  • Be patient. Many positions are tied up for a few months until the top few candidates make some decisions. The market will shake out, just give it time.


  1. Does the practice of doing interviews at an annual meeting lead to better matches between job-seekers and universities?

    What would it take to put together a similar annual meeting for computer science?

  2. Why is the "annual meeting" model considered any better than the model we use? Besides anecdotal evidence I've heard (complaints from people in the humanities), it seems to me that both applicants and departments are worse off in the annual meeting model:
    - The applicant has to make a decision without physically visiting the school and without meeting very many of the profs there. Furthermore, there seems much less chance for a candidate to "have a good interview" and thereby improve her standing; this seems to mean that decisions are based to an even larger extent on externalities like school, advisor, etc.

    - From the departmental end, it seems to me that the decisions end up getting made largely by the few people who are interviewing candidates at the meeting, rather than by a department-wide vote.

    Besides the (possible) drawback for applicants of having to travel a lot for a few months, are there other complaints about "our" system?

  3. The difference in the recruiting process is also a function of money. Our process is a luxury that not all fields can afford. Doing everything around annual meetings makes the whole process cheaper for departments.

  4. Not just money, but time. We've had years when over twenty candidates come to interview and that's a lot of talks to attend, candidates to meet, dinners to go to.

    But even worse, our system will often put a job candidate in the situation where they have to decide whether to accept an offer before they know what other offers they may or may not get.

  5. Completely off-topic question:
    Does anyone know what happened to ECCC? It seems that the ECCC server is down for two days.

    Appreciate your response.

  6. that's a lot of [...] dinners to go to.

    This is the first time in a while that I see someone complaining about free dinners ;)


  7. The mismatch between Computer Science and other fields -- in terms of timetables -- is also a *huge* problem for retaining interdisciplinary people, who often have to decide on jobs in other types of departments before they hear back from CS departments.

  8. Only someone who hasn't participated in the randomized meat-market that most academic disciplines use would call that process "civilized". (Oh, we're sorry to hear that you've got another interview scheduled during the only 15 minutes that we have available. Well, better luck next life.)

    Many good math departments avoid the monster AMS meetings entirely, relying instead on careful reading of (mountains of) written applications, recommendation letters, phone interviews, and on-campus visits. You know, just like in CS.

    Sure, our process takes longer, but accuracy seems more important than speed.