While CS50 students experienced their first day of the incredibly popular, Harvard-imported class, one new CS hire taught his first-ever Yale course yesterday.
After decades of stagnant growth, the Computer Science Department announced this summer the hires of two new faculty members: professor Mahesh Balakrishnan, who officially started on July 1, and professor Mariana Raykova, who starts on Jan. 1, 2016. The hires were in part facilitated by the two anonymous donations totaling $20 million given to the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences this past spring, a development that also included moving the Computer Science Department under the SEAS umbrella. Raykova and Balakrishnan both said the donations critically influenced their choice to teach at Yale. They said the donations show a commitment by the department and the University to improve the computer science program, and they believed this was an opportunity to come in on “the ground floor” of something new.
“The recent changes show commitment to expanding the faculty body, which I interpret as a sign of recognition of the importance of computer science in the educational curriculum and as a research field,” Raykova said.
She said she thinks joining at this early stage of expansion would allow her to actively participate in the hiring process of new faculty and shape the future culture and curriculum of the department.
According to Balakrishnan, other universities hire new faculty much more frequently, which allows tenured professors to collaborate with new hires on projects, generating new ideas.
“The moment you stop hiring, the institution becomes stagnant. You don’t have fresh blood coming into a department,” Balakrishnan said.
Balakrishnan, who spent six years working at tech companies such as Microsoft, said he was drawn to academia because he wants to have a role in shaping students’ perceptions of computer science.
Raykova specializes in cryptography and its applications to security, areas that are becoming increasingly important. She will be teaching new introductory and advanced computer science classes in cryptography, privacy and security.
Similarly, Balakrishnan’s specialty in distributed systems will allow him to teach courses that previously were not offered in the department.
According to Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler, Raykova and Balakrishnan were hired from an international pool of candidates, the best of whom were brought to campus to teach a lecture and meet with faculty and students.
“The new faculty that computer science brought to us this year are exceptionally gifted scholars and teachers, and I am confident that the additional faculty that they add as the result of searches over the next few years will also be researchers and teachers of the highest caliber,” Gendler said in an email.
Computer Science Department Chair Joan Feigenbaum said the department is “gearing up for a vigorous recruiting campaign this year,” adding that she hopes to have hired more professors by the end of spring 2016.
After hiring Balakrishnan — who replaces the position vacated by former professor Bryan Ford — and Raykova, the department will still have at least four spots to fill: two new ladder faculty in the department and two joint endowed professorships with SEAS.
But the department is still waiting to hear back on an offer they made last year to a “target of special eminence,” an official Yale term used to refer to special outreaches, Feigenbaum said. She added that the candidate is choosing among “multiple great offers.”
While both Raykova and Balakrishnan say that the recent growth in the Yale Computer Science Department factored into their decision, Feigenbaum struck a cautionary note, emphasizing that it is important to not be satisfied with just this “good first step.”
“Unless the administration authorizes substantially more growth, Yale will never have the big and great CS Department that it needs to maintain its elite status in the 21st century. Remember that Harvard’s CS Department is slated to grow to 36 [professors].”
Yale’s Computer Science Department is slated to grow from 20 to 26 ladder faculty within the next three years.