However, while some faculty advising and postdoc evaluation could be
interdisciplinary, much of it needs to be
specific to computer science. For example, computer science departments can
take advantage of the vibrant research
labs in industry to assemble a diverse
mentor pool for CS postdocs, and topics
covered in the IDP can be customized to
meet the unique needs of the CS field.
Creation of a faculty “postdoc committee” assignment is straightforward, but
the faculty member(s) must be proactive in engaging the postdocs for the
assignment to be of any value. Daily
interaction with others in the department—students and faculty and postdocs—is also necessary for the postdoc
to have a quality training experience.
Determining an effective division
of labor and costs between the department and the larger university organizations will be key to creating sustainable programs for supporting a critical
resource, our CS postdocs.
We urge all universities, departments, and faculty to consider: “Ask not
what your postdoc can do for you, but
what you can do for your postdoc … to
grow and advance toward a successful career.”
1. Davis, G. Improving the postdoctoral experience:
An empirical approach. Science and Engineering
Careers in the United States: An Analysis of Markets
and Employment. R.B. Freeman and D.L. Goroff, Eds.,
University of Chicago Press. 2009.
2. Jones, A. The explosive growth of postdocs in computer
science. Commun. ACM 56, 2 (Feb. 2013), 37–39.
3. Jones, A. and Gianchandani. E. Computer Science
Postdocs–Best Practices. 2012; http://bit.ly/2mInIFH
4. myIDP; http://bit.ly/2j0zlCB
5. National Research Council. The Postdoctoral
Experience Revisited. 2014.
6. NSF NCSES data; http://bit.ly/2j0m790
7. The Taulbee Survey; http://bit.ly/2ANbDRP
Chitta Baral ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Professor of Computer
Science at Arizona State University.
Shih-Fu Chang ( email@example.com) is Senior
Executive Vice Dean, School of Engineering and Applied
Science, and Professor in the Electrical Engineering
Department and the Computer Science Department at
Brian Curless ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is a
Professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science
& Engineering at the University of Washington.
Partha Dasgupta ( email@example.com) is an Associate
Professor of Computer Science at Arizona State University.
Julia Hirschberg ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is Percy K.
and Vida L. W. Hudson Professor of Computer Science
and Chair of the Computer Science Department at
Anita Jones ( email@example.com) is University Professor
Emerita at the University of Virginia.
Copyright held by authors.
tations, email announcement of each
postdoc arrival, department Web-page
announcement of any major postdoc
accomplishments, monthly postdoc-only lunches, an annual lunch with
the department chair, inclusion in all
email pertaining to researchers, and
encouragement to attend the frequent
social activities offered by the department. UW faculty also discuss each
postdoc in annual review-of progress
meetings, more broadly increasing
faculty awareness of both the postdoc
community in the department and the
individual postdocs. NY hosts quarterly orientations for new postdocs,
hosts community building events during National Postdoc Appreciation
Week and community excursions (for
example, a guided museum exhibit focused on computer science history in
NY), in addition to the annual postdoc
symposium rotated over consortium
campuses for postdocs to present their
research to other postdocs and faculty.
Implementing and sustaining postdoc best practices requires a commitment from faculty and staff and support from the university as a whole;
each of the sites funds personnel to
run their programs. NY has a full-time
staff member devoted to the effort,
and AZ and UW each have a half-time
staff member. NY’s requirement has
been greater due to the larger size of
its multi-institutional effort and the
greater organization and coordination required by the many workshops
and other events it runs. UW and AZ
also devote individual faculty time to
engaging with the postdocs. Having
faculty and staff support has been essential to developing sound programs
to nurture postdocs appropriately,
but such support is often difficult
to fund outside of the programs described here, which are currently (but
not indefinitely) supported by CCC.
At AZ, support and participation from
the graduate college and the Science
Foundation of Arizona has helped in
many events and has shown a path toward sustainability beyond the grant
period. At the same time, taking inspiration from their CS program, AZ
State University’s graduate college is
developing a general program for all
Our efforts are a work in progress,
and we are continuing to evaluate the
impact of our respective implementations of best practices. After completing their efforts, the three sites will collectively recommend a suite of effective
strategies for training and nurturing
CS postdocs, to ensure their success;
these recommendations will appear in
a follow-on article that provides greater
depth about the programs, discussion
of pros and cons of practices tried, and
measurements of the impacts of the efforts. We do not expect a one-size-fits-all implementation of best practices.
Each CS department has different
strengths, challenges, and resources
that will define the steps that they can
realistically take. But it is clear to us that
by taking a few actions, the support for
postdocs can be enriched greatly. This
observation is reinforced by the findings of a recent study by the National
Academies of Sciences, Engineering
and Medicine. 5 Because postdocs now
play a major role in the research activity of many departments, the quality of
the work of those postdocs is a material determinant of the quality of the
research of a department. Postdocs are
not just another group to train; they are
taking major responsibility in running
labs, mentoring graduate and undergraduate students and even teaching.
... and a question
We conclude with an important question: How sustainable are these efforts?
At a minimum, what we do to support
graduate students can often support
our postdocs as well. Both are at a somewhat similar stages in their careers. But
such programs require dedicated staff,
and such staff are expensive. Research
awards and travel grants also have costs.
NY and AZ began their program
by teaming with offices that support
postdocs across the university. Indeed,
much of the skill development support could be shared across postdocs
in many science and engineering disciplines, yet still be of high quality for
computer science postdocs. Individual
development plans might likewise
be common across “like” disciplines
and their administration—to a great
extent—supported by a school or the
university, rather than by the department’s lesser resources.