Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Theory Candidates

Having looked at the applications of several theoretical computer science job candidates, I notice some interesting differences from even one year ago.
  • Last year many of the stronger candidates were coming off of postdocs looking for tenure-track jobs. This year we see more strength from the fresh Ph.D.s.
  • Last year there were a large number of outstanding cryptography candidates. This year no particular field dominates.
  • Last year the strongest candidates were heavily weighted with MIT Ph.D.s. The degrees of this year's candidates are much more spread out.
The last two points are not completely uncorrelated.

There are some notable exceptions to the above and the differences are easily explained by statistical variations on small sample spaces. But still worthy to note how much variation we see in the theory market from one year to the next.


  1. At the risk of offending someone somewhere, let me suggest that the last two points are correlated at least in part because graduates from MIT (as well as other top schools) are often overrated.

  2. The poster above seems a tad bitter...

    I think what Lance was getting at was that last year, nearly the entire crypto group at MIT graduated and were competing for the same jobs.

  3. Question concerning job search: after the interview you got an offer. Does the search committee make offers to:
    a) several people simultaneously (on a 1st says yes basis) or
    b) only one at a time.
    In case b)'s correct: Also once they made the offer, what happens if you say I need to think 1 week (or x weeks), do they start contacting other candidates. How long can you safely wait before giving an answer.

  4. Search committees only make one offer at a time (unless their departments are fortunate enough to have two positions available). So when you get an offer, it usually comes with some deadline. Meanwhile, other departments are still making up their minds, or have offered another candidate, and will make you an offer only after the other candidate turns them down. So you negotiate with the school to extend the deadline as far forward as possible, leaving other people who are waiting for offers hanging...

    Any game theorists want to analyze potential strategies?

  5. No reputable place will withdraw an offer because of delay without warning you a fair bit in advance. (They may say they can only wait a certain amount of time, but they will tell you well in advance of the deadline.)

    So you can safely wait as long as the department lets you, and they will tell you how long that is.

  6. Wish I had that problem.

  7. There are more than 10 very strong junior theory candidates this year (composed of people 1-5 years out of school), meaning that at least some of them will have to take jobs at sub-top-10 departments. sucks.

  8. Re the last post. If taking a
    sub-top-10 faculty position is the
    only thing to worry about, you are
    in great shape. There are amazing
    theoreticians at all kinds of places
    including sub-top-50 so don't get
    carried away in equating quality with

  9. For what it's worth, I read anonymous #7 not as saying that there can't be good theoreticians as sub-top-10 schools, just that their job at a sub-top-10 school will be less enjoyable.

    As a theoretician at a sub-top-10 school, I would agree. (Though I'm sure there's large variation from school to school.)

  10. Below the top 4, you have to work to get good students. Below the top 10, there just aren't very many at all.

  11. Fortunately, there are about 20 or more schools that claim to be in the top 10, so things aren't as dire as #7 claims:P.

  12. The lack of quality students is the major difference between schools that are ranked differently.

    As an extreme exmample, I know a young cryptographer who ended up at a non-R1 institution and he is going nuts trying to find some way to spend his cybertrust money on some students - none of whom seem interested or capable.

  13. what is R1?
    And I am very surprised that students aren't interested -- maybe they're not capable, but I had the impression that even sub-top-50 students for phd would be interested in cryptography, no?

  14. RI stands for 'Research I' university (as opposed to 'Research II' or other categories of predominantly undergraduate institutions). These are the top US research universities as classified by the Carnegie Foundation (until year 2000). The Carnegie Foundation now uses a different classification system but the original classification has stuck.