Beki Grinter

Post Docs in Computing

In academia, computer science, discipline, research on March 9, 2012 at 6:25 pm

The CRA has released their report on the status of post docs in Computing. It should not come as a surprise that they are worried about the increases in the number of post docs, and the potential expectation that one is required prior to taking a full time job. They offer some nice advice on when a post doc is most optimal.

But the report avoids asking some of the questions that will have to be asked and answered if we are, as the report urges, to avoid the situation that has occurred in some other fields where post docs are required.

Most importantly the question that I think they have to ask is why has the number of post-docs gone up? I suspect the answer is because there has been a decrease in the number of permanent positions in academia, industry and government. The post doc is actually a unique situation in the labor market. It’s the place where the difference between the numbers of people admitted into graduate school and the number of employment opportunities post graduate school come together. And I think as the gap between those two numbers has increased, so the number of post docs has increased.

Thinking about this makes me think about incentives and rewards. Where in the system can we change the incentive and reward structure in such a way that we reduce the difference between those two numbers.

Another observation I’ll make is their remark about post docs being useful but not optimal for dual bodies. I think it would be instructive to collect data about whether a choice to optimize for location is actually simultaneously a choice to not optimize for career. What are the long term consequences for those who chose to do this in the short term. The reason I ask is because as much as it sucks to be apart, if it turned out in the long run it was more advantageous for securing two faculty positions say, then people might think about that. I say this as someone who did spend two years apart. I know how much it sucks. I also know that I do like that we have great balance in our careers, and I think some of that came from the time we spent apart when we were both pursuing careers as industrial researchers.

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  1. The increasing number of post docs is a little concerning. Personally, I would be more inclined to optimize location, but at the same time I’m optimistic that I can optimize both location & career opportunities simultaneously… Whether that’s actually possible is debatable though.

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