Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Gossip Center

Rahul Santhanam continues to spread the word from FOCS

Conferences are not really about the talks, they're about socializing and gossip. Who's having an affair with whom? Who's been drinking too much? It's for answers to questions like these for which we brave jet lag, find others to teach classes for us, endure conference food&hellip.

Well, not quite. Poets and artists might gossip about such things, but scientists are on a higher plane, of course; we're beings of pure reason, are we not? The questions that concern us tend to be more of the form "Who's deserted University X for University Y?" & "Who's been spending weeks holed up in his room thinking about Conjecture Z?". And while I'm sure there are those of you who want to know more about the various research addictions triggered off by Razborov's proof of Bazzi's theorem, jobs news is probably of more general interest.

So here's what I've learned in the past week:

Emanuele Viola → Northeastern
Andrej Bogdanov → Chinese University of Hong Kong
Nisheeth Vishnoi → LRI, Paris
Neeraj Kayal → Microsoft Research, Bangalore
Brent Waters → University of Texas, Austin
Shang Hua-Teng → University of Southern California, Los Angeles
[Lance's Note: Rahul Santhanam → Edinburgh]

I rely on commenters to make good the omissions.

It certainly seems as if there's been more movement than usual on the job scene since STOC. The grad students and postdocs I've talked to seem pretty apprehensive about the market for next year, and with fair reason, I think. The market hasn't been that great for theory in the past couple of years, in any case, and the financial crisis seems likely to lead to funding cuts and more hiring freezes.

Perhaps there is some cause for optimism in the increasing number of postdocs available? The improvement in the NSF situation in the past couple of years means that more faculty in North America are able to hire postdocs. The emergence of Microsoft Research, Cambridge and the new Center for Computational Intractability in Princeton certainly won't hurt. But while having more postdocs around is good for our field, it might not be such a good thing from the point of view of the postdocs themselves. First, there is the intrinsic transience of the position - I had very good research environments in my postdocs at Simon Fraser and Toronto, but I never escaped the feeling of being in Purgatory. Second, there's the fact that job applications and interviews are very time consuming - it's hard to be productive when you know your entire future career might depend on how well you can advertise your research. And do we really want theoretical computer science to become like theoretical physics, where it's normal for graduating students to expect a postdoc apprenticeship of 6-7 years before they can find a permanent job?

For theorists not intent on getting a job in North America, the situation might be a little better. There are increasing opportunities in Europe and especially in Asia, as recent job news indicates. In general, the best attitude might be to be realistic about your prospects and to use the competitiveness of the market as motivation for your research.


  1. Let's not forget Sasha Razborov → U Chicago

  2. I'm very happy that Tom Hayes joined the University of New Mexico this year. Along with Jared Saia and Shuang Luan, we now have a strong theory group in Markov chains, phase transitions, quantum computing, distributed computing, and computational geometry. We also have lots of funding. So send us your students!

    - Cris Moore

  3. It seems that a lot of these people would have gotten better jobs were the job market the same as, say, five years ago. However, it's good to see that TCS is "spreading the wealth around".

  4. Interesting title/intro to the post, Rahul....

    I think you like a bit of gossip.... Nothing wrong with that, as long as to always remember the difference between gossip and slander ;-) ...
    [and a special type of slander, where the stories are so mental that the target can never guess them, even after many months have passed]

    Like you say we are lucky that our research field still has enough interest that we have some research material to talk about (not true of all areas, I find). Hopefully our new hires that are being "spreaded around" the globe can bring a new, adult, open, friendly, positive influence to their departments ... it is worthwhile (in work and in life) to fight against integrating into any negative atmospheres they may find in the new place

    -a wise colleague

  5. Yeah, I entirely agree that we should be spending more time thinking about things like counting knapsack solutions.

  6. Bit curious to know how does department survive or gets funding from ? What is the view of the working of the entire university system esp. funding for professors ?

    Is it only the NSF that funds always ? what incentive does a company have funding a theory professor/projects/labs ?

  7. Andrej Bogdanov → City University of Hong Kong

    Should be The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

    Andrej Bogdanov's homepage.

  8. Fixed Bogdanov's affiliation.