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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Brochure Season

Tis the season that my fellow professors and I start receiving collections of brochures, newsletters and posters from various CS departments around the country. I never see this propaganda from the top four departments (MIT, CMU, Berkeley and Stanford) but usually that next level or below trying to exclaim how great they are.

The brochures look the most impressive, for example Wisconsin-Madison with 36 glossy pages including a two-page spread on Jin-Yi Cai and the P vs. NP problem.

The thrill is in the chase for Cai and others in Theory of Computing. He describes his research with the language of an artist, drive by "elegance, internal logic and beauty." The usefulness of the findings in this field can often be transformational, but they may not be evident until decades later.
Newsletters focus more on recent hires, awards and research activities. Rutgers, for instance, has a full page on new hire (and former NEC colleague) Joe Kilian. The profile even mentions Joe's work on the Franklin eBookman. "As a theorist, it was rather strange to realize that I could go to Staples and buy a device that contains actual code I've written."

The posters have a more specific function like advertising the graduate program or announcing distinguished lecturers. They can't really expect us to travel a thousand miles to see a single talk. I suspect the distinguished lecturer posters really say "We are a real department because famous computer scientists visit us."

Brochures, newsletters and posters all have the same true purpose of branding, so we think of those departments when we recommend graduate schools for our undergrads, faculty jobs for our Ph.D. students and when we fill out those questionnaires that lead to departmental rankings.

The departmental web page has become the true portal that potential students and faculty go to to explore a department. Most CS departments that home pages high on content but often low on visual appeal. Departments should put as much effort into the style of their web pages as much as they do for those brochures, newsletters and posters.

8 comments:

  1. These days graduate programs have to compete not just with each other for the best and the brightest... In your experience, how often does the best student go to a top graduate program like CMU or MIT, and how often does he instead go to work for Google?

    ReplyDelete
  2. how often does he instead go to work for Google?

    Good point. Does it really take these many bright people to make a search engine work?

    ReplyDelete
  3. The thrill is in the chase for Cai and others in Theory of Computing. He describes his research with the language of an artist, drive by "elegance, internal logic and beauty."

    Yeah....right.

    ReplyDelete
  4. and how often does he instead go to work for Google?

    This is not a new phenomenon. Over the decades I've seen quite a few of the brightest go work for Sun, SGI, Intel, Microsoft, Yahoo, Amazon and nowadays Google, instead of going to grad school.

    ReplyDelete
  5. And can I just point out that it's a good thing that we in computer science (and in particular theoretical computer science) train bright people to go work in industry (or become lawyers, doctors, or whatever they end up doing)? While of course we academic/research types want the best students to follow in our footsteps, it's also a very good thing when they choose to take what they have learned and use it in different ways.

    As long as enough good students choose to go on so we can continue to advance as a field...

    ReplyDelete
  6. You're talking as if faculty positions are unfilled due to lack of candidates... How many talented people go to industry because no CS dept gave them a job?

    ReplyDelete
  7. "Does it really take these many bright
    people to make a search engine work?''

    Actually YES. Page ranking is hard,
    especially making it hard to game
    the system. Also click-fraud-detection
    is a hard problem. There are other auxilary
    problems that also come up.

    Are these people better off going to
    grad school? Is society better off if they
    go to grad school? These are hard questions
    too.

    bill gasarch

    ReplyDelete
  8. I never see this propaganda from the top four departments (MIT, CMU, Berkeley and Stanford)

    Actually, Berkeley mass-mailed such a brochure a year or two ago.

    ReplyDelete