Why do you want to be a CS professor?
January 2014 (perspective of a postdoc)
I've recently been helping friends prepare for computer science faculty job interviews, mostly at research-intensive universities. And soon I'll even be interviewing candidates ... scary, eh?
At this super-early stage in my career, I have little confidence in my ability to judge whether someone is good for this job. So I'll defer to senior faculty who have been involved in dozens of interviews and subsequent hiring decisions. But one thing I can contribute is my own perspectives as a recent applicant.
Out of all the interview advice guides I read last year, John Regehr's Of Course It's an Interview was the simplest yet most memorable. This article builds upon some of John's ideas.
Every candidate should have a compelling answer to this simple question: Why do you want to be a CS professor?
If you've been invited to faculty job interviews, that means you could be working at any top software company, starting or joining an early-stage startup, quanting as a quant on Wall Street, hobnobbing with CEOs and VPs as a management consultant, or doing cutting-edge research at an industrial research lab. Given all of these compelling career options, why the hell do you want to be in academia?!?
This isn't hypothetical. Since I was a software engineer at Google when I applied for faculty jobs, many people straight-up asked me some form of this question: “Why the hell would you leave all of the perks of Google to become a professor?” (The free food! The gourmet coffee! The massages!)
You need to come up with your own answer, but here are some potentially helpful thoughts.
Loving research, and ...
Chances are, you loved doing academic research as a grad student, and that's why you're applying for faculty jobs.
Loving research is a necessary but nowhere near sufficient condition for thriving in a faculty career. From what I've seen, the happiest senior faculty all excel in multiple roles. Thus, before interviewing, think deep and hard about whether you like:
You don't have to love all of these activities, but the more of them that you like, the happier you'll be in this line of work. So when you're at interviews, keep those in mind.
You were invited to interview because your research credentials were outstanding. So the question now becomes: Are you going to thrive in this new career, which differs a lot from what you were doing as a grad student or postdoc?
And finally, listen to Taylor Swift talking about her music career. In academia, you have to love your research so much that you're willing to do all of the other stuff that this job requires:
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Last modified: 2014-01-30