By 2031, I plan to be a Research Assistant Professor at the University of Waterloo, studying Quantum Computing. This will hopefully leading into becoming a Computer Science Professor of Quantum Computing, but there’s no real way to measure how long that will take after getting my Ph.D. If that doesn’t work out, I plan to get a computer programming job within a year after the university plan going wrong.
Becoming a professor at Waterloo will take a lot of time and hard work. After high school, I will have to:
Get accepted to the University of Waterloo for Computer Science, which requires the following things:
The following courses: Advanced Functions, Calculus and Vectors, 4U English, and one other 4U course, with a recommendation to take 3U Introduction to Computer Science
An average of at least 90
Encouraged to write the Euclid Mathematics Contest
Spend around five years to get my Bachelor’s Degree
Spend around two years to get my Master’s Degree
Spend around four years to get my Ph.D.
Applying to and getting hired to become a Research Assistant Professor
Eventually becoming a Computer Science Professor of Quantum Computing
All of this will take at least 12 years, most likely longer. It’s hard to calculate how much I will have to pay, especially because I may get grants or get into the Co-op program, but excluding living expenses I estimate the entire journey will cost around $72’688. Including living costs, I estimate the first year at Waterloo will cost around $17’192.
Here’s an interview with Dr. Craig Kaplan, a Computer Science Professor at Waterloo.
1. What is your specific area of research?
The simplest answer is that I study applications of mathematics and computer science in art, design and architecture. But I branch out from there into other topics — I’m affiliated with the Computer Graphics Lab, and I do research on other parts of computer graphics, especially when it relates to art. I also occasionally do work on human-computer interaction, and on computational geometry (computer algorithms that solve geometric problems).
2. What courses do you teach?
I teach a number of courses. The most common are these:
– CS 106: a second-level intro programming course for arts students.
– CS 135: our main intro CS course for CS majors.
– CS 115: our main intro CS course for other people in Math who aren’t in CS.
– CS 488: introduction to computer graphics
– CS 791: a graduate CS course on my interests, e.g., computer graphics and art.
3. What is your educational background?
I went to high school and one year of CEGEP in Montreal. Then I received a Bachelor’s of Mathematics from UWaterloo, with a double major in pure mathematics and computer science. After that I received a Master’s and PhD in computer science from the University of Washington in Seattle. I earned my PhD in 2002, and started as a prof at Waterloo in January 2003.
4. Describe what you do on a daily basis.
Ha ha, that’s a tough question because there’s no one answer that always applies. Every day is a bit different, and even at a high level things change every few months (i.e., term-to-term). But a professor’s job can be broken down into a few main areas:
– Teaching: preparing lectures; giving lectures; holding office hours; creating assignments and exams; meetings with co-instructors, teaching assistants, and other staff; maintaining resources like websites and syllabi. (But I’m not teaching this summer…)
– Research: meeting with graduate students and other researchers; talking to colleagues; reading papers, books, and other resources; finding new resources I need to read; writing code; writing papers; preparing and giving research talks.
– Service: committee meetings to keep the department running (e.g., recruiting, curriculum, promotions, etc.); reviewing research papers submitted to journals and conferences; organizing conferences.
– Miscellaneous: email; paperwork; travel; grant writing
Obviously I don’t do all that every day! Most days involve some small slice out of that list. It’s important to keep careful track of to-do lists so that you know what needs to get done and when. Today I mostly worked on creating the Proceedings book for the Bridges 2018 conference, and I met with an undergrad who’s doing research with me.
If it helps, when my bosses evaluate how good a job I did during the year, they use a formula where Teaching counts for 40%, Research counts for 40%, and Service counts for 20%.
5. How much of your time is spent teaching in comparison to researching?
Again, it depends on the term: whether I’m teaching, and how active my research is at any given moment. Research is also “bursty” — I tend to get into the zone and do a whole pile of research all at once, then lie dormant for a while.
Ideally, my non-service time is evenly divided between teaching and research. But really, it’s all too easy to let teaching take over during a term when I’m teaching. Then the balance shifts the other way when I’m not teaching, like this summer. Right now I don’t feel like I’m getting as much of my own research done as I’d like. Hopefully the pace of research will pick up soon.
6. What are the highlights of your job?
It’s extremely satisfying to have a key insight or idea that helps drive a new piece of research — something that provides the key to my next paper, or better yet contributes to the success of one of my graduate students. Sometimes that also comes just from finally understanding a piece of math that I’ve been trying to understand for a while. Right now there are a few mathematical topics that I never learned and really want to.
Teaching can also be very satisfying. I like when a lecture is going well and students are excited. I also really like finally helping a student figure out something that they’re not getting, after working with them in office hours.
7. Which parts of your job do you enjoy the least?
I don’t like administration very much. That is, I don’t like having executive positions where I help make decisions on the future of the department and how we spend our money. Those are important decisions, but I don’t enjoy working on them. I also don’t like writing grants very much; fortunately, in Canada we’re lucky that it doesn’t have to be a huge part of the job.
8. What is the most difficult part of your job?
I find time management to be very difficult. If I lose focus, the work starts to pile up, and then suddenly I’m way behind. That’s stressful and causes me anxiety. Also, although I like working with grad students, I’m not very good at keeping them busy and motivated. I find it hard to make them work, even though I’m their boss.
9. When and why did you decide to become a professor?
There was never a point when suddenly I knew for sure that I was destined to be a professor. It’s more accurate to say that I simply kept pursuing opportunities as they arose. When I finished undergrad I knew that I loved learning and wanted to keep doing that, so I started to get a PhD. As a grad student, I tried a number of things: teaching courses, working for a software company, working in a research lab, etc. I discovered that I enjoyed teaching, so as I was graduating I thought I’d apply for a few professor jobs and see if that worked out. It did!
10. Do you wish you had done anything differently on your path to becoming a professor?
I’m pretty happy with the way things worked out for me, so I don’t think there’s much that I’d want to do differently. There are a few research topics that I would like to have studied more deeply during grad school. But that’s a minor inconvenience — nothing’s stopping me from studying them now!
The NOC for a University Professor job is 4011, however it is not listed in the Ontario Skills Passport. Instead, the closest job listed in the Ontario Skills Passport is 4021, College and other vocational instructors, so I’ll use the information listed there instead. The unit group includes instructors who teach at various colleges and college level schools, as well as private instructors and department heads. The essential skills, along with the tasks required, are:
textbook and course material, to plan instructional activities
reports on changes in industry standards
contracts related to things such as part-time instructors
newspapers and magazines to locate articles for in-class activities
policy and procedure manuals
proposal and grant applications
course outlines and lesson plans
letters of reference
memos to co-workers and students
reminders and emails to various people
With students that are unable to grasp content or are not engaged
Incorrectly estimated times for instructional activities
Teaching spaces that are unsuitable for planned instructional activities
Instruction equipment that is unsuitable for planned activities
Equipment malfunctions with objects such as photocopiers
My research into the demand for computer science professors has been slightly confusing. All of the sites I have looked at say that there are very few people who hold Ph.D.s in computer science, as low as 2 percent compared to 8 percent in subjects such as math and technology. Additionally, few people who have a Ph.D. in computer science go on to become professors, as low as 18 percent. This leaves two scenarios: the first being that there is a very high demand for computer science professors; the second being that it is extremely unlikely that one becomes a professor. At first it seemed like both could not be true, but it makes sense when you consider that outside companies are willing to pay a lot more for computer science Ph.D.s than universities are. Therefore, if the current situation stays the same, which my sources agree that it will, then it might be better for me to pursue a different job after I get my Ph.D.
Overall, I think I would enjoy being a Computer Science Professor, but the road to get there is extremely long, and more rewarding opportunities may come up. So, while I think I would be well-suited for researching at Waterloo, and I could handle teaching university students, I think the best course will be to try as hard as I can to get into Waterloo, and keep my options open throughout my time there. My time at Stemotics has taught me that sometimes a job may be completely different than the one you expected, so doing research as well as interviewing Dr. Kaplan was extremely helpful. I want to keep learning for as long as I can, so if I can learn and get paid, that would be ideal, but if I have to get a “real job” hopefully my education will get me a workplace and job I enjoy.
Ontario Skills Passport, www.skills.edu.gov.on.ca/OSP2Web/EDU/DisplayNocDetails.xhtml?nocid=4021#15.
Statistics Canada. “National Occupational Classification (NOC) 2011.” Surveys and Statistical Programs, 23 Mar. 2018, www23.statcan.gc.ca/imdb/p3VD.pl?Function=getVD&TVD=122372&CVD=122376&CPV=4011&CST=01012011&CLV=4&MLV=4.
Bednarz, Ann. “Computer Science Salaries Rise with Demand for New Graduates.” Network World, Network World, 13 June 2016,
“No Clear Solution to Nationwide Shortage of Computer Science Professors.” Inside Higher Ed, Inside Higher Ed, www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/05/09/no-clear-solution-nationwide-shortage-computer-science-professors.
Dehaas, Josh. “When PhDs Realize They Won’t Be Professors.” Macleans.ca, Macleans.ca, 27 Oct. 2015, www.macleans.ca/work/jobs/phds-realize-they-wont-be-professors-now-what/.