Thursday, November 17, 2016

Computer Science Academic Hiring

My faculty recruiting season in 2016 never stopped. The spring recruiting season bled through summer right into various fall recruiting activities. How I envy my friends in other fields whose faculty recruiting season runs in less than three months.

Economist Noah Smith writes about the process he went through in the econ job market in 2012.
After applications go out, employers contact grad students for interviews. These interviews take place at the AEA's Annual Meeting in early January, which is a gigantic confab where most of the economists in the country go to eat free food and hobnob. As an interviewee, you generally don't have time to go to any of the presentations or speeches; you're running back and forth from hotel to hotel, going to interview after interview. This year's AEA Meeting was in Chicago. 
You then wait a week or two, and the employers who are interested in you call you back and schedule a flyout. Flyouts, which happen in February and March, involve going to the place, meeting the people, getting taken to dinner, and presenting your research. After that, offers go out.
Ahh to be done with recruiting before April Fools Day. Why can't we do this in Computer Science? In one word: Decentralization.

Academic fields act administratively like their field. So econ creates a structured market with the goal of an efficient (in their sense of the right people get the right jobs) outcome.

Computer science abhors centralized control. We lack a strong central authority and have very little coordination between different departments. So we have a process that takes a long time to work its way through and quite often fails to get that efficient outcome. Even the CRA's modest 2010 proposal for some common earlier deadlines went nowhere.

What can we do? I welcome suggestions and will give some of my own in a future post.


  1. I find the concept of recruiting seasons a strange form of centralization. Where I come from, there are no recruiting seasons even within a single department. Every position is filled at its own pace, usually independently of other positions.

  2. A major challenge I see here is field overlap. To the extent that the CS hiring side of the market is interested in candidates that are also looking at math/operations research (theory), stats (ML), biology (comp bio), etc., they can't agree to move synchronously in a field-unilateral fashion. I wonder if Econ does a disservice to itself and candidates at its margins by moving in this way. In their own words: are there issues of rent-seeking or regulatory capture with how they run their market?

  3. I don't know the causality here, but many of the social sciences hire this way as well as many of the humanities. So it's not clear this is a clever Econ design as much as a custom in related communities. From the point of view of the applicants this is apparently a horrible process. Also, wouldn't something like a stable marriages - like the resident matching program - be more centralized and more efficient?

  4. CS theorists already do way better than they deserve to on the academic job market. I wouldn't tap the glass.

    1. Really? I would think that if anything, universities should invest more heavily in theory. Both because:
      a) Theory seems to punch above its weight in terms of impact divided by the size of the community. (Outside of the top 30 schools, theorists are few and far between). Think about things like public key cryptography, boosting, and differential privacy. Not bad for a community supported by ~ 100 American faculty slots.

      b) Theory is where academia has a competitive advantage v. industry. Sure, work on cloud storage and deep learning is very important, but these aren't areas that are neglected by the big tech companies.

    2. Comment was for top ranked universities. E.g., does Princeton really need to hire four more pure theorists (and no AI researchers, unless you count comp bio)? Theorists may very well do worse than they should outside of top 30, I don't disagree with that.