Computing Community Consortium Blog

The goal of the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) is to catalyze the computing research community to debate longer range, more audacious research challenges; to build consensus around research visions; to evolve the most promising visions toward clearly defined initiatives; and to work with the funding organizations to move challenges and visions toward funding initiatives. The purpose of this blog is to provide a more immediate, online mechanism for dissemination of visioning concepts and community discussion/debate about them.

CS PostDocs: What is the “one-year technique” for CS that fits into a PostDoc training program?

March 20th, 2011 / in pipeline, policy / by Erwin Gianchandani

The following is a special contribution to this blog by CCC Council member Stephanie Forrest.  She reports on her department’s opinions about PostDocs in computer science.  We welcome your thoughts about Stephanie’s summary — as well as the broader PostDoc issue — below or at  (More information about the CRA-facilitated conversation on CS PostDocs is available here.)

Computer Science PostDocs... a CRA facilitated conversationThe University of New Mexico’s Computer Science Department has considerable experience training post-doctoral fellows because of its long tradition in interdisciplinary research.  We discussed the pros and cons of post-doctoral fellows at a recent Faculty meeting.  Several of us have had positive experiences with post-docs — they have enriched our department during their stay — and overall we favor a modest increase in the number of post-doctoral positions in CS.

Our interdisciplinary projects are enhanced by post-docs from outside CS.  We have supported several post docs in the department who received their Ph.D. in either Physics or Biology, and these have generally been successful.  We have not had as much success recruiting high-quality post-docs with Ph.D. degrees in CS.  Even if CS post-doctoral programs were expanded, we think a trickle down benefit for lower ranked universities is unlikely.  Most students seeking post-doctoral positions are trying to “move up” and count reputation of the host institution more highly than the quality of the research experience.

In biology and biomedicine, post-docs of 1-2 years allow a student to learn a new technique, something that is learnable in a year or two and transferable to a new setting.  We wonder what the equivalent one-year technique is for CS and whether that model makes sense for us intellectually.   We note the distinction between subfields like theory, where significant progress can be made in a year or two, and subfields like systems, where infrastructure building requirements can be daunting.

Post-doc opportunities, such as the CIFellows Project, help recent graduates stay in a research-focused environment and provide flexibility for couples who are managing two-body relocation issues.

The slippery slope:  We are concerned about the time that post-docs might spend in the grey zone between graduate school and a permanent job.  Although many fields have a tradition of post-doctoral programs, most of these fields seem to have shorter length-of-stay in their Ph.D. programs that CS.  If we move to a post-doc model for CS, the field should simultaneously consider the length of time it takes to complete a Ph.D. in CS.

CS PostDocs:  What is the “one-year technique” for CS that fits into a PostDoc training program?
  • geomblog

    I wonder a little bit about the claim that biology has 1-2 year postdocs, and that fields with traditions of post-doctoral research have shorter length of stay. Biology is the prototypical example here, and postdoctoral research in biology tends to be much longer than 1-2 years, and the degree itself takes longer (closer to 6-7 years, than the typically 5-6 in CS). But overall, I agree with the concern about the slippery slope.