My Way to Academia, Postdoc in Industry and Two-Body Problem

This post is about 8 years of my journey from the end of my PhD until the beginning of CS faculty life. I hope it is a little helpful for someone, particularly CS PhD students and postdocs, to pursue their research career.

Gearing up for a postdoc

After amazing 2.5 years, I wanted to go to the next step, and started my second postdoc at NetApp (ATG, closed in 2020) in Munich in December 2014. My intern mentor at Nokia had moved there, and I wanted to work with them. The US company-style working environment was so exciting and I had freedom. I also worked with amazing colleagues in Europe and US. After two years, for some reason (not lay off) I returned to NEC in November 2016. As both the employers participated in the same EU project, the move was rather smooth.

Bootstrapping CS career for partner

She thus quit her job and started her second bachelor in CS at a university in Japan, the same university that she (and I) graduated and offers a second degree in another major in two years. I bootstrapped her CS study by mentoring her semester projects and thesis, and suggested that she present her work in external venues, like a CoNEXT student workshop and FreeBSD developer conferences, as it was clearly her useful experience in the future. We stayed together in Munich during her semester breaks, and in Tokyo over Christmas holidays.

Following the completion of her second bachelor, she joined me in Heidelberg, where I was doing “third” postdoc at NEC Labs Europe, in March 2016. While doing intern, she started applying for a CS masters program, within a commutable distance. The problem was that very few universities offered a CS masters program in English, but fortunately, she was admitted to TU Darmstadt starting in October. It should be noted that tuition fee was free even for foreigners!

Publish, publish, publish!

I kept working. Fortunately the resulting paper was accepted at one of those venues in the end of 2017. At the same time, since I wanted to move to a new place and my freedom was about to end, it was really time to explore my next step, so that I can move as soon as my wife finishes her master’s study.

Applying for academic jobs, but how!?

Over the winter faculty hiring season, I primarily applied for universities in the UK, where my wife would also get a job in English, and I could spend day-to-day life in English. One might think there were plenty of English tech job opportunities in non-English countries like Germany, but in reality, such opportunities were much fewer than those requiring the local language, even in the IT industry in big cities.

Settling in

So far I really like Edinburgh and feel it has my favorite aspects of every place I lived — Munich (city size), Heidelberg (cleanness & castle), London (English, diversity & food) and Helsinki (sea & cityscape). University life is great too. I have a great mentor who help me bootstrap the academic career, and friendly colleagues to collaborate or hang out with.

Lessons learned

  • Make friends in conferences — random people you chat during a conference can be your long-term friend or even saver in the future. You may, or even will, face arrogant people, but you will certainly find nice folks too. I met fantastic folks who chat with me, although I’m not from an illustrious university, and kept meeting them from time to time in other venues, feeling more friendship now.
  • Have your circle outside your institution or employer. This is your safety net. In my case it is in the research community and IETF community. Those folks relaxed me when I was in a tough situation. I also talked a lot to those folks in spring and summer 2018, before starting academic job search, and it was so helpful, for example, to make sure I wanted to go to academia.
  • Find a couple of people you adore at the same or a slightly later career stage than you; better if you know them personally, but not necessary. Such folks are your prop. Having them in my mind helped me keep growing as a researcher, not as an employee.

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3rd year CS faculty at the University of Edinburgh — https://micchie.net

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