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I will be applying to PhD programs in statistics this upcoming fall and I have noticed that at many institutions, the professors in the statistics department also hold positions in other departments such as CS or EE. I know that professors do interdisciplinary research, so they get experience in other fields, but how does a professor get this appointment? Do they apply or does the university award them after conducting research in the other field.

I am interested in doing research in statistical machine learning in graduate school and have extensive CS background on top on a math background. So I would love one day to be able to be a professor in say stats/CS department.

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    Usual method: After getting a position in Department A, he applies to Department B for a "zero salary, zero teaching, zero research" appointment. Often, Department B is happy to grant it. Less common: Departments A & B recognize an interdisciplinary area that they are lacking, and advertise jointly for someone to fill it; they decide what percentage of the salary each will pay, how much teaching will be done in each department, etc. – GEdgar Jan 20 at 0:46
  • Zero teaching? So is it purely by courtesy and no responsibilities? I have seen multiple professors teaching classes in both department. – KS6 Jan 20 at 0:57
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    When you say a class is “in” both departments, is it one cross-listed class (usually has a slash in the title)? Or is it two classes, with one only in A and one only in B? – Dawn Jan 20 at 2:06
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    @KS6 It varies, but mostly affiliated faculty don't get pay and have no formal responsibilities in the other department. Of course this does not prevent them from offering courses or advising students in the other department - this is one of the main reasons why they are affiliated in the first place. – xLeitix Jan 20 at 8:28
  • @GEdgar this can vary by institution and country. For example, in my institution it is more like: Department B says first start teaching for us and contribute to our department, and then we might consider it. – Bitwise Jan 20 at 9:14
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So I would love one day to be able to be a professor in say stats/CS department.

I don’t think you can really plan for this, other than by acquiring the skills and reputation that would make you an attractive hire for people in both disciplines. If the time comes and you see a position of this sort listed, go ahead and apply of course, but this is quite a rare event. Alternatively, once you secure a position in one department (already a hard enough thing to do in most people’s estimation), you can bring up the possibility of a joint appointment, either when you are offered the position or at any future time after you are hired, and see if the people involved are open to that idea. If you are very sought after and have multiple job offers on the table, that will give you useful negotiating leverage and increase your chances, but still be prepared for the answer to be “no”, or “not right now” - university politics is such that joint hires are not easy to arrange, and not always favored by all parties who need to sign off on them.

Finally, keep in mind that even if you can make it happen, it’s not necessarily the dream job you are thinking it is. As a joint member of two departments you will be paying a rather large (in my observation) “tax” of doing lots of things twice - getting to know and be on friendly terms with two large sets of colleagues; going to faculty meeting of two departments; being evaluated for promotion by two groups of people, each of which speaks a unique scientific dialect you’ll need to speak to convince them the work you are doing is good (and who will often look down on, or misunderstand, anything that you’re working on having to do with the other discipline); having two offices in two buildings that are halfway across campus from each other and needing to keep track of which one of them you left that textbook in that you really need right now; etc. - generally speaking there are a good number of inefficiencies of this sort. I’m not saying it has to be bad, and I’m sure there can be nice things about it, just be aware of these and other complications that you may not be taking into account. Good luck!

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These professors have knowledge / skills that are applicable to both departments so are "employed" by both.

The benefit is really to the institution in terms of HR as they have one name, but two posts satisfied, as well as the "cross-fertilisation" across courses & departments.

The maths courses in our engineering degree were taught by maths professors from the maths department and they were very good. Not only did they give the mathematical background or proof to concepts, they could work with the "real" engineering examples we were doing...

So, if you have the things another department is looking for then apply as it may be easier for them to use existing faculty instead of trying to find a part-timer...

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