Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Job Market, Post Analysis

When I was in graduate school, the academic/research lab job market was pretty soft. By the time I graduated, it was a little better, but not great; you could see things heading upward, though. (Of course, I should point out here the caveat that generally the job market always seems a bit softer in theory than in anything else...)

So, looking back this last year, what is everyone's take on the job market this past year (and the trend for next year)? It seemed to me that while it's not in a completely disastrous state, it's not great, and it's been trending downward the last year or two. The effects of the economy and the long-term exodus of CS majors is not helping in academia, and while there's some availability in research labs, there doesn't seem to be a lot of spare capacity. Google is providing a much-needed outlet, as are (to a lesser extent) Yahoo Research and the new Microsoft Cambridge lab, but it's not clear (to me) how all three will play out long term, or even in the next few years. (If it weren't for sponsored search, I hesitate to think where the theory job market would be today. And if Yahoo ever does get bought out, what will happen to research...?)

There still seem to be jobs available for the best people (or, depending on your point of view, the people with the best buzz), and we still don't seem as saturated as I always hear physics and math are. But the market seems weak, and it's something students should be aware of.

I'd be happy to hear more informed opinions, or disagreeing opinions, or especially insights on the job market from non-theory people...


Daniel Lemire said...

My own theory is that Computer Science is headed the way of Physics, and for very similar reasons.

Saying that there are always jobs for the best can be a trap. Even if you are THE best and there is a job for you, the fact that there are 400 nearly-as-good people lined up for the same job lowers your value on the market. It also make bad career choices much more likely and costly. It also limits your freedom.

In a market when you can say "screw this" and immediately move to an equally good job, you are *are* better off, if only psychologically.

Anonymous said...

As a student just finishing a PhD in information theory, I am also curious to know opinions about the EE market. From what I saw, there have been a few hires, but overall the job market is pretty tough. Even getting a good post-doc seems to be pretty hard.

And theoretical EE people seem to have fewer research lab options than CS?

David said...

I was reading Steve Hsu's blog recently. There was a passing discussion of intellectualism. It's a recurrent meme. I'm curious what you think about what features distinguish the vocation of professorship from the avocation of learning and discovery, and how that maps to the current society of academics.

I'm not a professor, and while there are times that I would consider getting a Ph.D., it would be principally as an acknowledgement of the completion of a body of work, not to get a tenured gig somewhere. Insofar as CS goes, for the price of a couple of rounds of golf at a local municipal golf course, an interested layman could rent as much computing power as they need from Amazon.

As more people make their texts available online, more academic outsiders will consider the problems at hand. The problems of theoretical computer science are broadly applicable, and a lot of people, I think, would have specific use for the conceptual tools. TCS fits nicely for me right between the math abstraction and the concrete application. [I can map an application up to a computing problem, then map that back down to a variety of problems]

Craig said...

I'm stuck in one vantage point which probably doesn't provide enough coverage to make a generic comment, but I'll risk it.

What I'm seeing is a vigorous job market, especially for folks who have a systems background (and thus, can build something, either for research or product), and come from good programs/good advisors.

Anonymous said...

I was on the job market this year. It seemed like a lot of universities were hiring tenure-track positions, though I have no reference for comparing to previous years. But most of the positions seemed to be in bioinformatics or systems, and I'm not in either of those fields (I'm not in theory, either, so maybe my experience isn't what you're looking for). My application package was pretty strong compared to my peers that have graduated from the same (top-40 research) university recently, but I only got one interview out of nearly 30 applications to research universities at all levels. Fortunately that one interview turned into a very good offer. I also had a postdoc offer and a few industry offers, and probably could've gotten a few more postdoc offers had I pursued them. There seems to be some debate about the value of a postdoc in CS, though, with some top people saying that only postdocs at MIT, Berkeley, or Stanford are worthwhile compared to an industry position.

Richard Jennings said...

Two new job sites where just added to the top ten employment site list:

Good luck

Daniel Tunkelang said...

Mitz, I didn't realize you blogged!

Regarding the CS PhD job market, I think it's alive and well, but that the trend is away from traditional research. In particular, I think that the big industry research labs (such as G, Y, and M) have become much more integrated with product development--and personally I think that's a good thing. I also see a trend of smaller companies, like mine, investing in applied research groups.

I don't think the situation for Computer Science PhDs is comparable to physics. Good CS PhDs (not just THE best) can get great non-research jobs doing computer science. In contrast, there are far fewer opportunities to be a physicist outside of academia and government labs.

I don't know of any other academic field that opens so many doors to work on interesting problems. Whoever runs into Turing and Von Neumann first, please tell them I said thanks!