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Archive for January, 2013

The Nevanlinna Prize committee is seeking nominations for the 2014 award (to be sent to the chair).   The prize recognizes a researcher under 40 years old for work in “All mathematical aspects of computer science”.

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In a well-reasoned blog post, Tim Gowers rekindled the debate on author-pay (or as he prefers to call them: “article processing charge”) journals, while participating in founding a new such one.  (These are academic journals in which the authors or their institutions need to pay the journal to publish their academic article.)  While being explicit about preferring a more “modern” approach, such as a new overlay journal system in which he is also participating, he argues that the author pay model (ok, APC for “article processing charge”) is a useful step in the right direction.  Gowers makes a good case showing how safe guards are in place to ensure that financial matters do not interfere with academic ones, arguing that the total financial cost or a paper to the mathematical community will be much smaller, and that access will be better.

As convincing as the arguments showing that this type of journal is “useful”, my own feeling remained at the level of “it is just plain wrong” and “morally repugnant” which Gowers pointed out cannot be an argument as of itself but may only be a conclusion from other arguments.  I see two types of arguments behind this feeling.  The first type is a “consider the equilibrium” argument which would argue that the natural tendency of  APC models would be to evolve in ways that “follow the money” reaching “vanity press” levels.  The second argument is my reaction to the following argument he makes:

As I think everybody agrees, now that we have the internet, the main function left for journals is providing a stamp of quality…. If you feel that APCs are wrong because if anything you as an author should be paid for the wonderful research you have done, I would counter that (i) it is not journals who should be paying you — they are helping you to promote yourself, and (ii) if your research is good, then you will be rewarded for it, by having a better career than you would have had without it.

Undoubtedly, true.  We all know that.  Many of us do publish in journals mostly to get the line in the CV, and then get positions or promotions or grants or such.  This may be “the way of the world” and may even be unavoidable in some form.  But, but, but, this is the “dark side” of academic life; this is the cost of the academic business; it is something that we should try to mitigate not to encourage; to be embarrassed of, not proud of.  Author-pay models put this dark side on a pedestal and shout to the whole world that we publish in journals not as to let others benefit from our work but rather to advance ourselves.  This may be useful, but repugnant.

This reminds me of a joke and a saying.

The joke goes like this: “Look at this guy, he’s peeing in the public swimming pool!” says a shocked observer to his friend.  “But everyone does” replies the other.  “Yes, but from the springboard?”.

The Talmud says that “Everyone knows why a bride enters the bridal chamber.”  Still the Talmud — and most societies — dictates  that we not make this too explicit.

I won’t opine here whether publishing for the line in your CV is like peeing in a swimming pool or like having marital sex.  Nor do I have a strong opinion whether author-pay journals are more or less harmful than the current breed, but I do think that they are more repugnant.

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Congratulations to Ruta Mehta for winning the First ACM India Doctoral Dissertation Award for her thesis “Nash Equilibrium Computation in Various Games”.  The award will be given on January 25, 2013 during the ACM India event that takes place at Chennai.

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‘Tis the season to be blogging about the academic job market (see for example the 3-part masterpiece by Matt Welsh as well as the post by Al Roth ), and I figured I’d put my two cents in. The irony about the job market is that by the time you roughly figure out what’s going on it’s all over. That’s why these tutorials actually help. Since several comprehensive resources are already available (see below), I just want to highlight some specific points from my own rather recent experience as a candidate, as well as to give the CS-econ point of view. Disclaimer: I am specifically talking about the US academic job market; the Israeli academic job market is very different, and I have no experience with the academic job market in other countries or the industry lab market.

General tips:

  1. As a candidate I discovered an earlier edition of these incredibly useful (albeit slightly intimidating) slides by Jeannette Wing — when I almost finished interviewing.
  2. In interviews people often ask “do you have any questions for me?”. My most frequent answer was “no thanks, I already have all the information I need”.  It took me a while to realize that this “question about questions” is not only a service to the candidate but rather an interview question like any other. Make sure you have a good “answer” (see Jeannette’s slide 18 for some ideas).
  3. If you enjoyed your visit, send a “thank you for your time” email to everyone who interviewed you and say so.
  4. The typical job talk audience tends to be a bit more aggressive than the typical seminar audience. If you interview in good departments you can expect to be challenged by the occasional famous professor. My impression is that sometimes the purpose is to test your ability to control your audience more than your ability to justify your research. Don’t get pulled into a long discussion! I made that mistake once and it almost derailed my job talk.
  5. As an Israeli I am conscientiously opposed to wearing a suit. I am marginally willing to compromise on a tie, as long as it is almost entirely hidden. As a result, when I interviewed I looked like this (perhaps my tie was slightly less sloppy). I don’t think anyone minds, and in fact it may help you stand out from the crowd of severely overdressed faculty candidates.

Algorithmic economics tips:

  1. It is important to position yourself well within CS.  Many faculty members will not think of you as an “algorithmic economics” candidate, but rather as a theory or AI candidate. In fact, some of my interviews were specifically for AI slots. Teaching is partially to blame: undergraduate algorithmic economics courses are rare (existing examples include Duke and Harvard), but mandatory theory and AI courses have to be taught. More importantly, classifying a candidate into a “traditional” large field gives a reference point for evaluation (e.g., STOC/FOCS publications for theory, AAAI/IJCAI publications for AI), and allows a comparison with many other candidates from the same field. As an example of what I mean by positioning, check out my job talk slides.
  2. Apropos job talks, I had three almost entirely different talks: one for Israeli jobs, one for US CS/AI jobs, and one for US CS/econ jobs. I wouldn’t recommend preparing three versions (I simply had to discard the Israeli version after realizing it was crappy; fortunately in Israel the job talk carries little weight), but you should consider preparing two versions, depending on your interviews.
  3. Business school interviews require extra thought. My experience is that they are very cautious about making offers to computer scientists, presumably because there were several algorithmic economics candidates who turned down fantastic business school offers in favor of CS jobs. Of course, there are also examples of algorithmic economics candidates who accepted b-school offers and today are thriving there. If you are a computer scientist and interviewing at b-schools as well as at CS departments, you need to decide in advance whether you are willing to make the cultural switch in terms of teaching and publication venues; being able to convincingly say so or making some sort of commitment could be pivotal in getting a b-school offer.

I’ll finish with a slightly more specialized tip: if in the course of an interview meeting with a famous professor that is already going badly he asks you “what is your favorite programming language”, whatever you do, do not say “Java”!

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