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During college, I decided to use my free electives to pursue a second major I had an interest in (Sociology) besides my main focus on computer science.

I am contemplating applying to some phD programs that intersect both of these fields. However, I know these are new programs.

I have e-mailed a few departments but I get the vibe that they are more focused in getting people to apply to these new programs rather than necessarily being honest about prospects.

So my question is essentially, are there tenure track professorships that are interested in applicants with these kinds of backgrounds? And if so is it only a very small group of institutions?

Example of one of the programs I am referring to: Ph.D Program in Computational Social Sciences

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  • If you do find out more let us know! I'm in the same position(at GMU, with Econ, IT, and Psych) but am not convinced CSS looks fruitful enough to completely go that route. The Santa Fe Institute has some great MOOCs as well as lots of information on complexity science which is(as far as I understand) a great part of the CSS curriculum and has plenty of videos and papers to feed your CSS questions. Also I enjoyed their MOOC on complexity and Rob Axtell, the department chair is an external professor there. – user10435 Jan 2 '14 at 17:07
  • The digression about the Sante Fe Institute's MOOCs doesn't really address the question about job prospects in the wider market. Can you expand this to be more than "doesn't look good to me"? You say you are at GMU as well, maybe you know something specific about that program and where people end up from it? – BSteinhurst Jan 2 '14 at 17:53
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Generally, if this is a relatively new cross-disciplinary area, this will start as a very small group of institutions. If it's a fruitful area, that number will grow quickly, and among the early adopters might well be some of the best universities.

And yes, to set up these programmes in the first place, does indeed require buy-in from professors and top-level university administrators, so there are tenure-track professorships interested in applicants with those sort of cross-disciplinary backgrounds

What is it like to study in a new cross-disciplinary area?

There are a few things that make it different.

You might find yourself building the foundations. A lot of the work might be much more exploratory. It can be the wild west, with few established paths and no signposts; and you may end up making up the rules as you go along.

That is to say, established fields tend to have well-defined protocols for things like data collection; and a proven set of tools to work with. Whereas in a new cross-disciplinary area, you're more likely to be building the basic toolkit from scratch: writing your own protocols starting from bare bones. There will be things you can take from each of the disciplines that you span, but combining them will be untested ground.

Some of the papers you write may end up being foundational for the new cross-disciplinary area, and highly-cited for years to come. Even though the work they contain, might seem fairly basic to you.

It can be lonelier. Scarier. More exciting. Harder to get funding. Or easier to get funding. Your reading will be broader, as it will span journals across more than one discipline, and you won't find enough journals or conferences that are closely-enough targeted at your field. You might end up starting your own conference, just to help build the platform.

disclaimer: I do work in a new cross-disciplinary institute, but I do not work in computational social sciences (though one or two of my colleagues are indeed computational social scientists)

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  • Pardon me if you don't feel comfortable answering, but what institutions did your colleagues attend for their doctorate before they arrived at your institute? As these programs are rare and I'm always interested in finding more. – Bob Aug 29 '13 at 13:42
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I lead the semantic technologies and cultural heritage research line at Incipit CSIC (www.incipit.csic.es) in Spain. We are right in the cross between software engineering, philosophy of language and cultural heritage.

To answer your question, we desperately seek people with a profile like yours. We just had a vacancy for a PhD position and it was (as usually is) extremely difficult to find suitable candidates. When we find them, we treat them with much care and respect, and our aim is to have tenured positions in the future for these people.

Having said that, I must admit that this is a quite uncommon situation. Most research institutes in Spainand Europe tend to align their research lines along more conventional paths, and recruit people with more conventional backgrounds.

I guess your will need to work hard to find a place that needs people with your hybrid profile. There are few, but you will be gold to them.

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I'm in the CSS department at George Mason University, just starting my dissertation. Though I'm not primarily aimed at tenure-track academic jobs after graduating, I have some insights regarding the questions you have asked.

First, you should know that CSS at GMU (and most other places similar to it) are not solely focused on placing their graduates into academic jobs. There's a wide diversity of career paths, both prior to entering and after graduating. To me, that creates a looseness and openness among the students. This is in contrast to discipline-focused departments where everyone is expected to prepare for and compete for top academic jobs. In those situations, there seems to be a strong emphasis on things other than just learning and doing good research (competition, prizes/awards, getting into the 'in crowd', elitism, etc.)

Second, CSS would be a poor fit for many academic jobs (research or teaching) that really want depth and credentials in a single discipline -- Economics, Sociology, Business, or Computer Science.

Finally, there is significant growth in the number of departments and jobs (internationally and in the US) that specifically call for Computational Social Science or similar interdisciplinary degree. This is driven in part by funding agencies who have become very enthusiastic for CSS and similar types of programs and projects. It's also driven by market demand -- especially for social network analysis, Big Data in social science, and programmatic research (e.g. public health, international development, conflict studies, cyber security). While the number of these jobs may not be large in absolute terms, CSS graduates could be extremely well-qualified to fill them, compared to single-discipline graduates.

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