Thursday, December 08, 2016

Fixing the Academic Job Market

Last month I posted about the craziness of the computer science academic job market due mainly to the decentralized nature of our field. Here are some ideas of what we can do better. I've stolen some of these ideas from other fields such as math and economics.

Single Job Market System

A single website that every CS department uses to advertise positions and accept applications. Easy for applicants to apply to multiple places and, if they wish, make their materials open for any department to see. Recommenders need only upload their letter once. We could add some additional controls, methods for applicants to indicate say geographical preferences or two-body issues.

We could have an opt-in site for candidates to list where and when they have interviews. It would make coordination of job interview dates and offer timing that much simpler.

Annual Meeting

A meeting in early January that brings together all the subfields of computing so we can work as one community instead of twenty. As part of this meeting, members of recruiting committees and job candidates come and schedule short interviews with each other to make preliminary choices for on-campus interviews. CS hasn't had annual meetings since the 80's but math and econ still do.

Virtual Meetings

Every time I bring up annual meetings, people complain that we already have too many conferences in computer science. So if no physical meeting, we can set aside days to have a virtual meeting with recruiting committees and candidates talking over Skype.

Common Dates

Have some common fixed dates, just a couple of times in the spring, when departments can present offers, and when candidates must make a decision. That should reduce how long departments have to hold a position before it settles.

These last two ideas require no centralization, just willing job candidates.

Job Market Paper and Video

As the recent CRA Best Practices Memo suggests, candidates should choose a single paper to highlight their research. Each candidate should also post a short (3-5 minute) video where they describe this research at a level that any computer scientist could follow. The job talk should cover this paper only, instead of trying to wow with multiple works.

Candidate Web Page

If you are publicly looking for a job, set up a web page, linked from your home page, to your job materials: CV, research statement, teaching statement, list of references, pointers to all your papers with links to PDFs, with the aforementioned job market paper and video highlighted. Also give a pointer to your Google Scholar profile page and make sure that page is correct and up to date.


  1. Respectfully, I disagree. I don't think having a single "job market paper" is suitable for CS, or desirable in general.

    In economics, the typical tenure-track applicant has 0 publications and submits one manuscript for consideration. In CS, applicants will typically have several papers already published and their overall research agenda can be evaluated.

    Furthermore, (theoretical) CS is a very collaborative field. And I don't see how you can judge a candidate based on a single paper if she has several coauthors.

    I also don't think CS should aim to move to a "big and slow" publication model, as would be needed for the hiring approach you suggest. Being a fast-moving field in which ideas are shared and evaluated quickly is a good thing, and we should enjoy it while it lasts.

    That said, I have no experience on hiring committees, so I may have the wrong viewpoint. However, I do not see why hiring based on a single job market paper is desirable and some justification is required.

  2. I completely agree on some suggestions:
    1) Common web site (this is something the CRA or ACM can and should coordinate).
    2) Common dates.
    3) Videos (but content should be up to the candidate). Also, having videos of several lengths (e.g., 5 minutes and 30 minutes) would be great.
    4) Candidate web pages. Most candidates do this already, but it's a good reminder.

    The other suggestions require more structural changes, and I think there will be much more resistance.

  3. I don't understand something about this post: are you talking merely about the limited USA job market, or do you suggest an international centralized job market?

  4. Thanks for this post. Here's my completely unsolicited 2 cents:

    I strongly agree that more decisions should be made by virtual meetings, that a single job market system is sane, and that everyone should have a webpage. :) I'm ambivalent about job market papers: it may make sense or not, depending on the candidate.

    I don't think having common dates is feasible; departments have different policies on making offers that can seriously affect the timing of offers. They may also tailor their policies depending on the candidate, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. Having an annual meeting also seems infeasible, given all the conferences we already go to.

    What could SIGACT do to help with this?

  5. Can't videos lead to unfair bias? Judging a candidate based on their video production skills or prejudice (even subconscious) based on e.g. accent, voice tone, appearance. Sure some of this is unavoidable in the interview but maybe it is good to postpone to as late a stage in the process as possible.

  6. In mathematics, has become the defacto universal site for applying for mathematics positions (not just in the US, but in many countries around the world.) I've worked with it as a search committee member and chair over the past few years.

    I've come to the conclusion that has dramatically improved the application process for applicants and recommenders. It's very simple for applicants to upload their materials and update them as necessary. Recommendation letter writers can submit one letter that can be used for all of the applicant's job applications.

    However, because it is so easy to apply for a position through the web site, candidates often apply for positions way outside of their areas (e.g. statisticians applying for positions in applied mathematics.) As a result, search committees have to sift through very large numbers of applications that aren't very responsive to the position advertisement.

    A further problem is that applicants often don't bother to research the position before applying and typically know nothing about our institution until we discuss it during the screening interview. For example, some candidates that we've interviewed have thought that they were interviewing for a position at another (much larger) institution in our state. When we do invite these candidates for on-campus interviews they're more likely to turn us down because they've realized after the fact that they weren't really interested in the position. This wastes our time and displaces other candidates who might genuinely be interested in the position.

    I don't have any suggestions to fix these problems- just offering some comments on the advantages and disadvantages of a centralized web site for applications.

  7. I don't think I would want to move towards hiring with job market papers. Econ job candidates are often discouraged from going on the market with a job market paper that has co-authors. This makes sense, if you need a single paper that will put you personally in the best light, but it has the effect of discouraging collaboration. I like the collaborative model of TCS very much -- I think it leads to increased productivity among other things -- but it does require being able to judge candidates by a body of work, rather than a single paper.

  8. Getting a lot of the top places to co-operate in terms of aligning when offers are made and accepted isn't going to be easy, but did happen for graduate school applications - everyone goes by a common deadline now.

    I think centralizing the application process, especially making it easier for letter writers to upload the letter to a central website is a great idea.
    I think one should not make it trivial for an applicant to apply to 100 places.
    To ensure that they are serious about the place, either a small application fee,
    or filling out a form that shows that they have some basic interest/knowledge about the position they are applying to could be important.

  9. Everything you suggests distorts the information inequality between the employers (universities) and applicants (new hires) to an even worse place than it is now. One would wonder what side your on; oops. one doesn't.