Posted by: jonkatz | April 30, 2010

CI Fellows Program

The CI Fellows program has just been announced for this year. This program provides funding for postdocs (who have graduated from US universities) in computer science. The program requires applicants to select up to 3 potential ‘mentors’, and one of these potential mentors is then assigned as part of the funding award.

This is, of course, a fantastic thing, and kudos go to the steering committee who must have put in a lot of work to make this happen again.

On the other hand, the late announcement of the program is really frustrating, and I wonder how many people the program will really ‘help’. (Let me stress that I in no way ‘blame’ anyone on the steering committee — I assume this must have simply been outside their control. Complaints about the late announcement, by both potential postdocs and potential mentors, are also not new.) Some thoughts and observations along these lines:

  • There is nothing to prevent people who have already lined up a postdoc position from applying for the fellowship (listing as their mentor the person who has already guaranteed their position). The CI Fellows program acknowledges this, and suggests that even if someone who already has a position receives an award, this will free up money for someone else. Maybe, but given the late date by which decisions on the program will be made, it seems to me it will be too late at that point to offer the position to someone else.
  • An easy way to address the above would be to lower the salary. I don’t know what the ‘average’ CS postdoc salary is in academia, but I believe it is lower than the $70K the CI Fellows program is offering. A salary closer to (or even lower than) the average would discourage people who already have offers from applying.
  • More generally, the stronger students are (presumably) more likely to get an award, but aren’t they the ones most likely to have secured a position by now? And, if not, does this mean that getting the CI fellowship is somehow a ‘stigma’ (since it indicates that you did not have an offer by that point in the process)?
  • Given the late date by which awards will be made, I wonder how many people are going to be comfortable gambling their future by applying to this program. E.g., if a student has no postdoc offer but has an offer, say, from google, should they really turn down the google offer and apply for this fellowship in the hopes that they get it? And what if they don’t?

I have no answer to the above, but I would be interested to hear opinions from any CI Fellows from last year about their experiences, or from people considering applying to the program this year.



  1. Last year, almost all CI fellows in theory already had positions and got CI fellowships to go where they had already agreed to go, obviously for a much higher salary (which is 75K not 70K as mentioned).

    I am not aware of any of the institutions that these CI fellows went to advertising *additional* postdocs due to the freeing-up of funding.

    The bottom line is that CI fellows program did not increase employment. A lower salary, as mentioned, would be the only way to increase employment.

  2. It does seem that this is a problem, but lowering the salary seems like a strange way of addressing the issue. The real problem, as mentioned by Jon, is the late date. If the winners were announced earlier, the best candidates would choose their hosting institutions, many of which may not otherwise be hiring postdocs, and thus clear the way for the 2nd ranked candidates. Even when the best candidates choose places that would have hired them anyway, if it is early enough those mentors should be more likely to hire a 2nd postdoc. So does anyone know the explanation for the late date?

  3. Agreed. If the deadline were earlier, then more people would be employed.

    The salary for the prestigious NSF math sciences postdoc is around 60K, so the CI fellow salary still seems somewhat high.

  4. It definitely seems like the program will not end up employing many more people.

    But do we want to employ many more people? If we build up a backlog of postdocs, the jobs situation will go the way of math and never recover. Long postdocs will become the norm, with high attrition at every stage of the process. Not healthy for the field.

  5. That’s assuming that the only purpose of a postdoc is to prepare for a professorship. One can still work in another research position after getting a postdoc. Basically, your argument is the same as saying less people should be in science, which I don’t think is true.

    Also, if the point of the CI fellows program is not to employ more people, then it is just to give people higher salaries. Is this what we want?

  6. There have been discussions on Dick Lipton’s blog where he suggests that one day the University model of education may go the way of the Newspaper industry. People may go to online learning and academia may be changed. It could be the case that we would then have less professors, until we figure out what to do with the PhDs. Does this mean we should train fewer people to be scientists?

    One reason to do a postdoc is to do science, not just be trained professionally. The arguments about how we should not be employing more people are really wrong, in my opinion. We should be figuring out ways to employ more people. If we can’t do that, then our field is not very important.

  7. Lowering the salary in a hope to increase the employment will definitely not work: employers will just pay the *difference* as an additional income. Ahh but then we can reduce the salary all the way down to zero, may be then this would work… *blink*

  8. According to the above anon’s logic, we should have already had a CI fellows program before it was funded!

    Why is everyone so supportive of last-minute postdocs being paid as much as beginning/middle-level profs? What is the point of this program?

  9. Lowering the salary in a hope to increase the employment will definitely not work: employers will just pay the *difference* as an additional income.

    This is true, but only to a point. If I have a pot of grant money, then every dollar I spend from that pot to supplement a CI Fellow’s salary means less money available to offer to a second postdoc or a grad student.

  10. Well, I didn’t get the CIFellowship that I applied for last year. But, the fact that I spent the time working with my potential mentor on the application led to a postdoc there. So, I guess it helped me, even though I didn’t get one. I applied again this year, and I hope I get it. If not, I’ll have to end this current postdoc after 8-9 months, and not have as much to show for it as I would like!

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