So You Want to Be a Data Science Professor
20 SEPTEMBER 2023
By Stella MIn
The ADSA Career Development Network recently hosted a discussion about tips for applying for data science faculty positions. The panel included Drs. Mujdat Cetin, Douglas Hague, and Brian Wright. Learn more about each panelist and some key takeaways from the career panel below.
👉Don’t forget to check out our previous panels to learn more about career paths in data science.
About the Panelists
Dr. Mujdat Cetin is the Director of the Goergen Institute for Data Science and the New York State Center of Excellence in Data Science at the University of Rochester, where he is a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He also directs the NSF-sponsored Ph.D. training program on Augmented and Virtual Reality at Rochester. Dr. Cetin's research interests are within the broad area of data, signal, and imaging sciences, with cross-disciplinary links to several other areas in electrical engineering, computer science, and neuroscience. The overarching theme of his research is the development of probabilistic and machine learning-based methods for robust and efficient information extraction at various levels of abstraction from observed uncertain, complex data. His research group has made advances in three key areas computational imaging, bioimage analysis, and brain-computer/machine interfaces. Dr. Cetin is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the IEEE Transactions on Computational Imaging, a Senior Area Editor for the IEEE Transactions on Image Processing, as well as an Associate Editor for the SIAM Journal on Imaging Sciences and for Data Science in Science. He served as the Chair of the IEEE Computational Imaging Technical Committee and as the Technical Program Co-chair for five conferences. Dr. Cetin has received several awards including the IEEE Signal Processing Society Best Paper Award; the EURASIP/Elsevier Signal Processing Best Paper Award; the IET Radar, Sonar and Navigation Premium Award; and the Turkish Academy of Sciences Distinguished Young Scientist Award. He is a Fellow of IEEE.
Dr. Douglas Hague is the founding Executive Director of the School of Data Science at UNC Charlotte. He comes with deep industry experience in financial services, telecommunications, and aerospace and is currently a member of the State of North Carolina’s Innovation Council, a regulatory sandbox. Dr. Hague’s research interests are split between sports analytics and methods for managing the bias and fairness of data science models. Before joining the university, Dr. Hague was Chief Analytics Officer for Bank of America's Merchant Services. He also chaired UNC Charlotte's industry advisory board for the Data Science Initiative. Dr. Hague earned a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering Physics from the University of Tulsa, a Master’s degree in System Design and Management from MIT, and a Master’s degree and Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from Penn State University.
Dr. Brian Wright serves as Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Programs at the University of Virginia’s School of Data Science. In addition to leading the Minor in Data Science, he teaches Practice of Data Science and has served as a capstone advisor in the M.S. in Data Science Program. Dr. Wright is also the School of Data Science Director for the School’s first Collaboratory with the UVA School of Education. The Collaboratory for the Advancement of Data Science and Education was launched in 2019 with research hubs on economic mobility, replication studies, and education technology implementation. Before joining UVA in 2019, Dr. Wright developed the Masters of Data Science Program at George Washington University where he taught for four years. While at GW, he founded their Data Science Institute and helped develop the creation of a joint Ph.D. in Education and Data Science. Dr. Wright began his career with the Department of Defense as a management consultant and researcher with a focus on enterprise resource planning conversion. Dr. Wright holds degrees from the University of Tennessee, including a Ph.D. in Higher Education/Higher Education Administration, an MPA, and a B.S. in Economics.
Unfortunately, Norene Kemp had to withdraw from the career panel last minute.
Norene Kemp has close to 30 years of experience in higher education and 10 years of industry experience. Norene has dedicated her life to developing the next generation of IT professionals. She holds both a Bachelor’s in Information Technology and a Master’s in Information and Telecommunication Systems from the prestigious Johns Hopkins University. While completing both degrees she continued to learn the industry for Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health as a Technology Project Manager. Norene has taught at the Community College level in both North and South Carolina. She has been an online instructor for both Coastal Carolina University, in Conway, SC, and Concordia University in Portland, OR. She has presented innovative teaching concepts on the local, regional, national, and even global stage. Her passion lies with women in STEM and even created a female programming club called “GPS: Girls Programming for Success” at Johnston Community College in Smithfield, NC. Outside of work, she is a crazy cat lady with a beautiful 21-year-old daughter and an avid Clemson and Ravens football fan, Carolina Hurricanes hockey fan, and now that she lives in Saint Petersburg, a Tampa Bay Rays fan.
Key Takeaways from the Career Panel
The panelists shared helpful suggestions for each stage of the application process, from preparing application materials to preparing for in-person interviews and negotiations after you receive an offer.
Preparing application materials
The panelists unanimously agreed that it’s painfully obvious when applicants have not carefully researched the open position. For example, Dr. Wright mentioned that some applicants referred to the UVA School of Data Science as an Institute which is an obvious error that an applicant can avoid by briefly reading about the School’s history. Applicants should always research the position and University or College that they are applying to, both to determine their fit for the role and to demonstrate respect for the hiring committee’s time.
In addition to researching the institution and role, the panelists recommended that applicants perfect their cover letters and research statements. Dr. Hague said that candidates who can communicate the depth and breadth of their work are the ones who stand out. All the panelists recommend specifically highlighting connections between your research and the research of current faculty to illustrate the potential for collaborations. Dr. Cetin recommended communicating these connections in the cover letter, which serves as a guide for hiring committees as they look over application materials. Double-check that the stated connections between your research interests, achievements, and potential opportunities for collaboration can be easily backed up by your CV. Otherwise, it can appear as if you’re misrepresenting yourself and just using popular buzzwords. This is frustrating for the hiring committee and reflects poorly on applicants.
Lastly, the panelists recommended reaching out to folks at the institution before submitting an application. Let them know that you are applying so that they can champion you to the hiring committee. Data science is a broad and multidisciplinary field, so there’s a chance that committee members will be unfamiliar with your research and its potential impact. An endorsement from a current faculty member is one way to garner support for your work among the committee.
Applicants have a strong chance of receiving an offer if they’re invited for an in-person interview. Before you arrive, Dr. Hague recommended reaching out to current faculty to let them know when you are coming. Oftentimes, the committee will send out invitations to its staff and faculty to speak with you one-on-one. It’s a good sign when those slots fill up quickly because it indicates strong interest in the applicant.
The panelists also highly recommend perfecting the job talk. The job talk is a candidate’s opportunity to demonstrate that they can effectively communicate the importance of their research to a broad audience representing many different disciplines. The panelists said it’s especially impressive when the candidate can connect their research with people in the room.
Given the weight of the job talk, Dr. Wright recommended rehearsing the job talk repeatedly. This advice has been shared in previous career panels. For example, Dr. Samuel Fishman recommended presenting your job talk as frequently as possible in front of academic audiences long before the interview stage during our Sociology Career Panel. Dr. Fishman also asked close colleagues and his advisors to critique his job talk one-on-one, in-person and virtually, to prepare for questions that he may be asked during a campus invite. Another approach that some may find helpful is recording your job talk and listening to the audio recording repeatedly as you do chores and run errands. This strategy was shared by Dr. Emily Gade during our Political Science Career Panel. Regardless of the approach you settle on, give yourself plenty of time to practice and perfect the talk.
⭐ You can always schedule a practice job talk with the CDN. You’re also welcome to reach out to the CDN members for support and advice.
Anyone with an interest in an academic career knows how difficult it can be to secure an offer for a tenure-track faculty position. For those who are fortunate enough to find themselves in this position, don’t just accept the offer without first considering what the institution can potentially do to help set you up for success. For example, estimate your startup costs, which may include the cost of the software, hardware, and cloud computing infrastructure that you will need for your research. Be prepared to justify these costs. Dr. Cetin mentioned that his university will sometimes ask candidates for this information before sending the offer, so start thinking through these pieces as you prepare to go on the market.
Candidates should also prepare to negotiate for more than just startup packages. For example, Dr. Hague suggested that candidates can also consider negotiating course buyouts, funds for graduate students and postdocs, and/or benefit packages. All of which may be easier to secure than startup money at some institutions. Think through these options and consult with others to get an idea of what seems fair.
The career panel on data science faculty positions provided helpful insights and advice for every stage of the hiring process, from tips for preparing application materials and job talks to important considerations after receiving an offer. The panelists shared many more tips that couldn’t be captured in a post that is intended to be a short summary. Prospective candidates are highly encouraged to watch the full recording on our YouTube channel.