The SIGAI Career Network and Conference
Any research field is as healthy as the new talent that it is able to attract, and AI is no exception. For this reason, AI conferences hold mentoring events for doctoral students and researchers in the early stages of their careers to support their advancement and connections to other researchers in the field. SIGAI holds one such event annually at the AAAI conference: the AAAI/SIGAI Doctoral Consortium. But we think that much more can be done, as these events are held once a year and do not necessarily cover all the topics that young researchers would want to. To support these goals, SIGAI in 2015 launched a Career Network website and an associated annual conference. Our goal is to create a network for early-career scientists, one that supports them as they transition from Ph.D. / postdoctoral research to independent research in academia, industry, or government. The SIGAI Career Network Conference (SIGAI CNC) is an official ACM conference that showcases the work of early career researchers to their potential mentors and employers. This showcase is a significant extension beyond what currently occurs at AI conferences. In 2015, we held CNC in Austin, Texas, collocated with AAAI. In parallel with the conference, the Career Network website provides a virtual community for AI researchers in the early stages of their careers.
SIGAI CNCSIGAI holds an annual conference, SIGAI CNC, to showcase high-quality research from graduating Ph.D.s and postdocs. CNC also includes a wide range of opportunities for career development and mentoring. CNC is a face-to-face event complemented by on-line exchanges through the SIGAI Career Network website.
- SIGAI CNC features presentations from students who have recently completed (or nearly completed) their dissertations. Applicants are Ph.D. students who are about to defend and current postdocs. To apply, researchers submit a CV, a research statement, and letters of recommendation. Based only on research quality, several applicants will be selected (by an independent panel or program committee) and invited to give an oral presentation (20-25 minute) and/or a poster presentation. These presentations are broad summaries of thesis or post-graduate research, rather than a single paper.
- SIGAI contributes significant travel funding for many of the selected students.
- Registration at CNC is open to all SIGAI members, with a token fee for any graduate student attendees.
- The event's format is designed with each year's event chairs.
- Accepted submissions will be published in the ACM Digital Library and disseminated through the Career Network Website.
SIGAI CNC also includes networking opportunities in the form of interactive poster sessions, professional booths, mentoring events, and a job fair. One of the main goals is to allow young researchers to network with researchers outside of academia. The experience of most Ph.D. students and postdocs is limited to the academic world. SIGAI believes that the opportunity to meet and interact with the research community in industry and government could broaden early-career scientists' horizons, and prepare them for future careers outside of academia.
On the "Job Market" Aspects of the Career Network and CNC
Many computer scientists are frustrated by how disorganized our job market is in comparison those of other disciplines. In particular, there is limited information on the range and nature of the many non-academic jobs available to graduating AI Ph.Ds. These jobs exist in government labs, at research organizations that do government contract work, and at smaller industry-research labs and startups. There are also some little-known teaching opportunities in predominantly undergraduate institutions and smaller colleges.
Most academic disciplines pursue a more coordinated approach to hiring, even when significant options are available outside academia (in, for example, economics and finance). In the typical process, employers have first-round interviews with candidates at an annual meeting or convention in the fall or winter. Moreover, these interviews cost little, because both employers and job seekers already attend the annual meeting; the main issues are time and scheduling. First-round interviews serve both employers and job seekers well. Employers can briefly screen candidates without an on-campus or on-site visit, while job seekers can establish contact with employers and test their potential fit with them before more substantial on-site interviews. This gives job seekers an early idea about work possibilities and a better overall perspective on their job search. Overall, there are fewer failed searches and better matches. For more on this issue, see this blog post by Lance Fortnow.
While SIGAI CNC is an exciting opportunity to gather the best young researchers in AI in a forum where the entire community can learn about their research, it also presents opportunities to connect job seekers with potential employers. The conference is well timed for both job seekers and employers.
For the most up-to-date information on the SIGAI Career Network, see sigai.acm.org/cnc/.