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Posted By Linda Coyle, Friday, July 21, 2017

Guest Blog:  Dr. Len Fine, SFAz Fellow, formerly Professor & Director, Undergraduate Studies, Columbia University

 What’s this about?   It’s about a computing conference and convening in Flagstaff, Arizona, The Nation’s First STEM CITY.   The events was part of a “Foundational Model for Postdoctoral Programs in Computer Science and Engineering at Large Universities: PostDoc BP-Arizona”

The paradigm is shifting! In recent years, the combined needs of academic departments, industrial research laboratories and government agencies have led to dramatically increasing numbers of postdoctoral positions in computer science and engineering. Data from research show that the numbers of recent Ph.D.s pursuing postdocs following graduate school increased by more than 300%, soaring from 60 in 1998 to 249 in 2011. And the beat goes on.

The continued success of the discipline notwithstanding, as research organizations continue to channel many more young researchers into these positions, it is incumbent upon the computing and computer science community to have a clear understanding of the best practices associated with pursuing, hosting, and nurturing postdocs. They must be more than just workhorses for a research agenda.

The intent of this program is to articulate best practices for the several constituencies involved with special emphasis on the Computer Science and Engineering (CS&E) and to better serve the wider science and engineering communities that are linked together by computer science. It builds on recommendations aimed at realistically satisfying the career expectations for a postdoc, expanding the professional duties of the advisor who directly supervises the postdoc, and extending the responsibilities of the host organization beyond local professional needs. It also defines the supporting role that the Ph.D. advisor must assume if the pipeline is to be adequately primed and maintained. Importantly, there are roles and responsibilities for each of these constituencies before, during and after a postdoctoral experience.

In partnership with Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz) and led by the Computing Research Association (CRA) and the Computing Community Consortium (CCC), and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the program addresses national and societal needs in Computer Science, providing the platform for a new postdoctoral experience in Computer Science and Engineering (CS&E). The program addresses three aspects of the current CS postdoc model:

1.     Postdocs are often not exposed to the bigger picture: practices beyond the specific laboratory and interests of the advisor/mentor. At a crossroads in their career, postdocs are often over-focused on research at the expense of career development and advancement.

2.     The responsibility placed on the advisor/mentor is high and may be overwhelming, as it involves responsibilities to mentor one or more postdocs, manage other students and staff, maintain an active research portfolio, and develop ongoing project ideas. The advisor/mentor is recognized as one of the most important factors for the success or failure of a postdoc’s career.

3.    Organizational infrastructure at all levels--from the department to the office of research— tends to lack mechanisms to train and otherwise support postdocs. This can be ascribed to the postdoc’s interstitial employment status. Postdocs are generally considered momentary contributors within the larger research apparatus and their diminished visibility results in decreased opportunities.

The focus is on Computer Science and Engineering (CS&E) postdoctoral researchers within ASU’s School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering (SCIDSE) and extended state-wide through UA and NAU. The goal is to design innovative postdoctoral programming and the implementation of best practices at large, research intensive, metropolitan universities for wider dissemination and application.

The SFAz Computer science and engineering (CS&E) postdoctoral best practices initiative in partnership with ASU and in collaboration with UA and NAU held a 2-day program in Flagstaff that brought together 40 postdocs, faculty and industry partners for a series of events that brought to focus career workshops on successful grant-writing, intellectual property, and assessment of broader impacts of IT and Informatics. R&D seminars featured environmental sustainability and Big Data issues, policies and practices. Hosting the diverse event was Professor Paul Flikkima and the NAU School of Informatics, Computing and Cyber Systems (SICCS). Lowell Observatory provided an evening astronomy after dinner event for all attending. The program (attached) was exciting and engaging, and begged for follow-up programs… now being planned for late in the fall, in Flagstaff and Tucson, and in Phoenix.



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