Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Post-Doc Culture and Computer Science

Over at Geomblog, Suresh Venkatasubramanian argues strongly against making post-doc experience a requirement for an academic job in Computer Science:

I think that this is a dangerous trend, for the following reasons:

  • Quickly, doing a postdoc will become the norm, rather than an option, when looking for academic jobs. I think this is unnecessary from a training perspective for everyone (though it might be appropriate for some).

  • One of the things that has kept CS viable academically is that people can leave after a Ph.D, go to industry, and still make it back into academia. This no longer seems to be true in places like the natural sciences, with long postdocs. I wouldn't want their career path.

  • Postdocs are glorified free labor for PIs. Salaries are miniscule, and competition is fierce. And again, it's not entirely clear that fresh Ph.Ds are so incompetent that they need 5 year postdocs to be ready for a faculty job.

  • Ph.D training suffers, because "you can fix it in the postdoc". I don't think that's healthy either.


  1. gaddeswarup said...

    I agree with the above points and wonder whether the problem comes from producing too many Ph.D's. I some US universities, there are the so called prestigious assistant professorships of 3 years extendable to six years which seem to serve the same purpose.

  2. Abi said...

    @Swarup: Yes, those positions (and also the research assistant professorships) are not a bad deal at all; the name indicates that the position comes with some freedom and a decent pay.

    I think much of the anguish about post-docs will go away if they get a decent salary -- say, 70-80 percent of what an assistant professor makes. Right now, the salaries are abysmal; "Postdocs are glorified free labor for PIs, " as Suresh puts it.

  3. gautam said...

    As a Computer Scientist and a Director responsible for hiring, I look at someone who is doing a post doc in CS as someone not good enough to get a faculty position directly after a PhD. If I had my way, the same norm will apply in all disciplines. Alas, the experts who come for selections are "tuned" otherwise. Most of the time I have observed that the post doc work is not connected to the candidate's PhD work and he / she is unlikely to work in the area after the post doc is over.
    Gautam Barua, IIT Guwahati