Friday, May 16, 2008


Normally, Lance has a yearly post asking where people around the theory world ended up at the conclusion of their job search. But this year I'm going to organize a coup :). Please leave a comment and let us know where you or your friends are going next year, if graduating or changing jobs. Many decisions are still to be made, but let us know when you do decide.

For now let me begin with my personal story. The hiring season is finally over for me. It's been a very hard few weeks (deciding what I want to do), and a much harder day telling people about it. I really look forward to getting back to research after this.

The outcome is that I am going to AT&T Labs, the fittest descendant of the legendary Bell Labs and seemingly a good place to work towards a Nevanlinna prize ;). The lab has certainly had its share of corporate nightmares in the past decade, but it seems it is coming back as a major force in this confused landscape of corporate research.

Next year proper, I will be at IBM Almaden, on a Raviv fellowship. I think IBM Almaden has one of the most amazing groups in theory from the US, featuring some 5 theory hires in the past few years, and some true all-time classics (including an almost mythological figure of concrete complexity, Miki Ajtai). The dedication of the relevant people there to "sell" a theory group to the corporation is truly admirable; theory would not be the same without such efforts. It was very difficult for me to reject a permanent offer from this group, but in the end ATT was slightly better for personal reasons.

I am one of those people who treat labs as a long postdoc, and I think my path will be to return to academia after a number of years. For a second, declining university offers to go to labs felt like a step into the void. The decision was not particularly easy, since I had to turn down Georgia Tech, a place with an admirable dedication to theory, who many see as the big rising star in our field; and UCSD, a place with a truly captivating personality, a disarming feeling of friendliness, and some very ambitious plans for the future (I liked to call it the Google of academia).

Why did I choose labs? Hard to say... I could use a few years to work on some problems that I really want to solve. I value industrial experience, and (I think) I'm interested in networking -- SIGCOMM / SIGMETRICS kind of stuff. Things are too dynamic now and I want to keep my flexibility and avoid the big commitments that a university job requires. And, in the end, some of the values I admire the most are courage and ambition, and I should stick to them now.


Florin Manea said...

Good luck in your new job!

The HEavy Hitters said...

Razborov --> U Chicago

Daskalakis --> MIT

Harvey --> Waterloo

Anonymous said...

Parikshit Gopalan is going to Microsoft Silicon Valley.

Anonymous said...

Which theorists are at AT&T? (This is not meant as a knock in any way, I am just unaware of more than 1-2 people there.)

Anonymous said...

Well, this is a link to the theory group of AT&T - quite strong in my opinion:

MiP said...

Thanks for the link to ATT's theory group. For completeness, here is a link to IBM's theory group:

Anonymous said...

The new Microsoft lab in Cambridge (MA) steals Yael and Adam Kalai.

Tasos Sidiropoulos goes to a postdoc at Toronto.

Anonymous said...

Asaf Shapira is going to Georgia Tech, on a joint position between Maths and CS.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mihai.

I guess it is obvious that you did not yet find the job you wanted and deserved (i.e. a tenure-track position in one of the top-3/4 universities).

The job market in theory is amazingly competitive. And as you know it's also a matter of how popular (game theory?) - as opposed to how important/fundamental/useful/? - what you do is, in what area the top departments are looking to hire (which is very related to the former), etc.

Anyways, congratulations and kotgw.

Anonymous said...

Can you comment on the salaries you were offered in academia vs industry?

MiP said...

I was positively impressed by the salaries in academia. The annualized salaries were signficantly above 100k (you know the system -- the university pays 9 months, and grants etc pay the rest).

The salaries from labs were indeed higher by some 20k, but I think TCS researchers don't care about money enough to notice such a difference.

Of course, the salaries would've seemed much higher before the dollar collapse in recent years :)

former theory grad student said...

It's a bit of a shame that these numbers are quite guarded, but my impression is that the figures are roughly as follows:

academic public university $75K (9-month)

academic private university $85K (9-month)

research lab (e.g. IBM, Microsoft) $120K

google $95K (with a PhD)

Couple caveats:

* I'm not sure how often academics actually manage to obtain a full 12-month salary. NSF maxes out at a 11-month salary.

* There's usually more room for negotiation at private universities and can go up much more.

You can find additional statistics at:

MiP said...

Based on my own experience, your numbers (across the board) are too low by some 15-20k. How's that for divulging information? :)

Anonymous said...

former theory grad student, your numbers do indeed seem a bit low.

Here are my data points, based on hires I am aware of in the past year or two:

public university: $110K (12 month -- but you are right that faculty, especially in theory, do not often get paid all 12 months. Note also that this figure refers to "top tier" schools, I am sure the nationwide average would be lower)

Google: $105K and up (but don't forget other perks, including stock options but also non-monetary ones)

former theory grad school said...

That's interesting! I'm actually aware that my estimates may be under by some $5-10K (which would be consistent e.g. with $110K 12-month for public universities), but $15-20K is quite surprising!

MiP: Just to clarify, we're all referring to starting pay for someone fresh out of grad school or perhaps after a year or two of post-doc?

MiP said...

For somewhat obvious reasons, my data points are for somebody fresh out of grad school :)

Like the last anonymous is pointing out, these numbers are probably only valid in the top-10, and tend to drop after that. (I only know a couple of salaries from friends outside the top 10, and they are some 10-15k smaller...)

Anonymous said...

McGregor -> UMass
Vershynin -> Michigan
Yekhanin -> MSR SVC

Dumi said...

My first comment on Mihai's blog... right when they're talking about salaries. How's that for a, umm, coincidence :-)

In industry, the numbers from FormerTheoryGradStudent are on the low side indeed, for Seattle/ Bay Area at least. Google should be 110K-115K for top school Ph.D. + many perks. MS (not MSR!) is around 100K in Seattle for top school BS + 4 years of experience; now Ph.D. = BS + more than 4 years; and if we'd be talking MSR Bay Area, it should beat 120K, especially since there's Google right down the road. (I'm with Google now BTW, my wish-website is just outdated).

I'm somewhat surprised about the academia salaries though, I thought they'd be somewhat lower. Interesting.

Congrats Mihai. Knowing you, I bet you'd make a heck of a professor/ researcher; AT&T got lucky.