Saturday, February 19, 2011

PostDocs in Computer Science

PostDocs in CS are surging and there is a lot of discussion in the computing community about this trend.  If you haven't already seen the CRA PostDoc white paper based on Taulbee data, I would recommend giving it a read and also sharing your opinions on it. Since I am pursuing a PostDoc, I wanted to discuss some of the data presented in this report and its relevance to the computer architecture research community.

The charts above have all been taken from the CRA report. Figure 1 shows the number of Phds that went into different career choices. The "Others" in this chart represents graduating Phds that either took a different career path than mentioned here or did not have a job by the time they graduated. Looking at this data, it appears that the year 2004 was the best year for academic hiring where almost equal number of CS Phds went for tenure-track positions and industry positions. In 2009, a majority of Phds went in for industry positions, mainly because the number of Phd graduates almost doubled and reduced academic hiring due to the economic downturn. The trend to note in this figure is the number of PostDocs that has almost doubled from 2004 to 2009.

Figure 3 further splits the data of number of graduating Phds into research area sub-groups. In this chart, "Others" signifies inter-disciplinary research areas or could even imply unemployment. Based on the data shown in this figure, systems and networking and AI/robotics have consistently been hot fields in terms of number of Phd graduates. Computer architecture fares as a small-sized research community similar to theory and algorithms, and the number of Phd graduates has not changed much from 1998 to 2009.

Figure 4 shows the percentage of Phds who took PostDoc positions in each sub-group over the years. Computer architecture has the lowest number of PostDocs (~2%) in 2009 (includes me). Theory, AI/Robotics, and numerical analysis/scientific computing have consistently the highest percentage of PostDocs. One reason that I can think of why we have fewer computer architecture PostDocs is perhaps the strong semiconductor industry presence in our field and smaller number of available PhDs to fill those jobs.

If we look at Figure 5, which shows the percentage of Phds taking up tenure track positions, we are again in the bottom range in 2009 (~6-7%) but we did well in years 2003-2005 (~30-35%). I have plotted the number of computer architecture Phds and the number of tenure track faculty in our field in the chart below based on the data that I could visually interpret from the CRA charts. Clearly, the number of tenure-track positions in computer architecture were at its peak in 2004 when the relative number of Phds were fewer and now we are back at 1998 levels with stiffer competition for very few slots. It will be interesting to watch this trend in the future.

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