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Computer Science PhDs Popular

More grads choose private industry than academia


North American universities last year turned out twice as many computer scientists with doctorates as they did five years ago, but despite the bumper crop, industry and academia had no trouble absorbing them. According to the Computing Research Association’s annual Taulbee Survey, US computer science and computer engineering programs awarded 1,775 PhDs between June 2006 and July 2007, up 26 percent from the previous year and double the number awarded in 2002.

"It was hard for people with bachelor’s degrees to get jobs. They all went to graduate school. Now six years later, they’re emerging with PhDs. There’s no other explanation for this phenomenon,” said Lazowska, the University of Washington’s Bill and Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science and Engineering.

At the same time that private-sector opportunities dimmed, prospects for computer science research funding brightened. “We started taking our place with the sciences in terms of attracting respectable funding, and that created opportunities for graduate students,” said Stuart Zweben, chair of the CRA’s Survey Committee and a professor of computer science and engineering at the Ohio State University.

Grads go to private industry

Despite the record numbers of new PhD-holding computer scientists, all but 1 percent found employment. More than half of the new PhDs went to work in private industry after graduation, compared to about one-third who took positions in academia. Government, meanwhile, absorbed about 3 percent of the new grads.CS PhDs

The hiring picture contrasts sharply to 2002/2003, when 65 percent of computer science PhDs chose academia and less than one-third found positions in private industry. Jay Vegso, CRA manager of information services and membership, attributes that to academia providing a more secure career path than the higher-paying but layoff-wracked tech industry.

“Now that the industry has been picking up, folks feel safe again leaving academia. It shows the high demand,” Vegso said. “Industry for several years has been saying they need good researchers and sometimes have a hard time filling those positions.”

About 10 percent of the new grads went to work outside North America, where opportunities are on the rise. Zweben said he expected that more would take jobs elsewhere, since half of the new grads hailed from foreign destinations.

He didn’t rule out some of the fresh PhDs taking foreign jobs as they progress in their careers. “There are more opportunities abroad,” Zweben said.

Hottest specializations

The four most popular specializations of the new PhD grads were open source and networks (294), artificial intelligence/robotics (178), database/information systems (152), and graphics/human interfaces (134). Interest in both software engineering and graphics experienced an increase over the previous year.

Caucasians accounted for nearly one-third of the new graduates and Asians about 10 percent. Nearly one-fifth of the new PhDs were women, up slightly from the previous year.

The CRA views the surge in new PhDs as an anomaly, however, and expects numbers to decline in years to come.

“Six years from now, new PhD graduates will be down to 1,000, unless schools open the floodgates to foreign students to fill their coffers. But that will not say anything about the health of the field,” Lazowska said. CW (September 2008)

(Figure courtesy of the Computing Research Association) 



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