(The following is cross-posted with CRA’s Computing Community Consortium blog)

The Computing Research Association recently published the results of its annual Taulbee Survey, and the numbers of PostDocs rose to record levels, continuing a trend that we have witnessed for more than a decade — and bringing new meaning to the CRA’s PostDoc white paper effort.


As we have blogged here before, CRA — the umbrella organization of the CCC — initiated an effort last fall to engage the community in a conversation about PostDocs, at a time when a growing number of new CS PhDs appeared to be going that route. A committee commissioned by CRA prepared a white paper reporting the statistics associated with academic and industry hiring, with the aim of providing a starting point for further discussion throughout the community. The white paper was posted online on Feb. 2 – http://cra.org/postdocs — and we have received some comments on the companion web forum.

New Survey Data

Based on this year’s Taulbee Survey data, the three-year rolling average for the number of new PhDs pursuing PostDocs rose from 159 in 2009 to 218 in 2010 — an increase of 37% in just one year. That’s on top of a tripling in the number of PostDocs observed during the 12-year period from 1998 through 2009, as reported in the white paper, suggesting that the trend toward PostDocs is not only continuing but perhaps also accelerating.  Meanwhile, the number of new PhDs who pursued tenure-track faculty appointments declined yet again, from 151 in 2009 to 137 in 2010, or 9% (three-year rolling averages). (The numbers of new PhDs pursuing other positions, including teaching and research appointments in academia, positions in industry, etc., remained essentially flat.)

Here’s a graph showing the hiring of new computer science PhDs from U.S. and Canadian universities from 1998 through 2010 (three-year rolling averages):

Hiring of new computer science PhDs from U.S. and Canadian universities, as a 3-year rolling average, 1998-2010

And taking a closer look at just the academic positions:

Academic hiring of new computer science PhDs from U.S. and Canadian universities, as a 3-year rolling average, 1998-2010

(For comparison purposes, these graphs are updates to Figures 1 and 2 in the original white paper.)

We Need Your Input

What do you think about these trends — and the implications for PostDocs, graduate students, faculty, universities, companies, and the field as a whole? Please discuss the white paper with your colleagues within your departments and labs — and post your views about this trend and PostDocs generally on the companion web forum: http://cra.org/postdocs. Some things to consider:

  • Should funders increase or decrease the number of PostDocs in response to the economy, or, more explicitly, in response to academic and industrial hiring trends?
  • Does an increase in funding of PostDocs come at the expense of funding for graduate students? If so, at what point does the growth in PostDoc positions begin to threaten the pipeline of next-generation researchers?
  • Is the PostDoc the most effective way to encourage interdisciplinary interactions?
  • Are there reasons to maintain a PostDoc pipeline in one computing subfield at a higher level than in another?
  • To what degree is a PostDoc experience helpful for a researcher who will take a non-academic position?
  • Is there a gender difference in terms of the impact on PostDocs?
  • To what extent should the computer science community be engaged in setting guidelines for the balance between PostDocs and students, if the total amount of funding is roughly constant?

Your input is immensely valuable, as the committee will soon compile and articulate the consensus of the community, if any, on this issue.

(Contributed by Erwin Gianchandani, CCC Director, and Member, CRA’s PostDoc Committee)

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CNSF Exhibition

On May 12, 2011, in Events, People, Research, Uncategorized, by MelissaNorr

The Coalition for National Science Funding held another successful Science Exposition on Capitol Hill last night and once again CRA played a part. CRA was ably represented this year by Dr. L. Jean Camp and Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) student Carl Brugger from Indiana University who did a fantastic job showing and explaining their work on Ethical Technologies in the Homes of Seniors (ETHOS). ETHOS researches and develops technologies to keep seniors connected to offsite caregivers and to keep seniors safe in their homes. The exhibit received a number of Congressional staff, NSF staff, and other exhibitors interested in learning about the projects displayed. The three technologies exhibited for CRA included an external device to indicate the trustworthiness of web sites, a tablet computer that uses photos of pills to assist in the monitoring of medication doses and interactions, and a clock set that would indicate to an offsite caregiver that a senior was home and active.

Dr. L. Jean Camp and Carl Brugger at the CRA exhibit

The CNSF exhibition, a sort of science fair for Congress and staff, had 32 booths manned by researchers representing universities and scientific societies featuring some of the important research funded by the National Science Foundation.

Dr. Camp and Carl Brugger discuss the displayed research

As we’ve noted before in this space, personal visits to members of Congress and their staff are vital to getting the message about the importance of computing research out. If you are coming to Washington and would like to visit your Representative and Senators, let us know and we’ll be happy to help with appointments and provide materials for your use!


AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy

On May 9, 2011, in Events, by MelissaNorr

The AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy took place on May 5 and 6 this year. The Forum is the official release of the AAAS Report XXXVI: Research and Development FY 2012 to which CRA contributes a chapter. Presentations and audio of most sessions should be available here in a couple of weeks.

The first day of the Forum opened with a morning of R&D budget presentations including one from Dr. John Holdren, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House. Highlights from Dr. Holdren’s talk can be viewed here. There were concurrent sessions on Communication Science for Policy, Emerging Issues in Scientific Integrity, and The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill as well as the annual William Carey Lecture given this year by Dr. Charles Vest, President of the National Academy of Engineering.

Dr. Vest’s address was titled “US Competitiveness in the 21st Century: Why an Eternal Optimist is Worried”. He started with his three key points: 1) We know what the problems are. 2) We know how to solve them. 3) We do not know how to develop the political will to implement the solutions. He pointed to the Rising Above the Gathering Storm report released in 2005 and the nearly unanimous support in Congress for the passage of the America COMPETES Act. However, this was followed by a lack of appropriations and then the Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Rapidly Approaching Category Five follow up report in 2010. Dr. Vest starkly stated that we are no longer number one in any of the measurable indexes (education, competitiveness, etc). He likened the current situation to the one the US faced against the rise of Japan as a manufacturing powerhouse and said that during that time we learned from Japan and implemented changes that allowed both countries to prosper. He was clear that basic research is an economic necessity and without it we have no chance to compete. He ended by saying that the US needs to “reconnect what we do with what we dream.”

The second day included an innovation roundtable and a plenary titled “US Research Universities: How Many Do We Need? How Many Can We Afford?” The plenary panelists were Toby Smith of the Association of American Universities, Debra Stewart of the Council of Graduate Schools, and Irwin Feller of Pennsylvania State University.

Toby Smith began the panel by stating that universities are necessary for basic research and that US universities are the envy of the world for a couple of reasons. First, projects are funded by merit as chosen by other scientists. Second, research funding supports not only the research itself but also the education and training of the next generation of researchers and scientists. He stated that the role of the federal government in funding basic research must be reaffirmed while at the same time critically examining the unsustainable or broken parts of the system such as academic stovepipes and the loss of students from research fields early on in their academic careers.

Dr. Debra Stewart noted that graduate education is dependent on research universities but stated that global competition for the best and brightest, domestic restrictions on foreign-born students and research, and fiscal problems could destroy the current form of graduate education in the US if the problems are not tackled. She encouraged more evaluation of graduate education programs including rigorous assessment of such things as time to degree and degree completion and attrition. She also stated that it’s important to recognize that most doctoral students go into non-academic jobs and that additional training and skills for these jobs needs to be incorporated.

Dr. Irwin Feller discussed research capacity from his standpoint as an economist. He noted, and got a chuckle from the audience, that universities will always have enough capacity to do all the research the government funds. He said this was not the first time that federal budget issues had cut into research at universities but that this was the first time that state government support for public universities was being cut so significantly as well. His example was that the governor of Pennsylvania has proposed a budget with a cut of 52 percent to universities. Feller noted this is a devolution of higher education from a public good to a private good and encourages the privatization of costs for an undergraduate and graduate education. His solution to all of these problems was fairly simple: always vote for the politician who will fund higher education and research.