Stanford offers CS certificate program for non-CS PhDs

A one-year graduate certificate program in computer science education is an effort by the Department of Computer Science to help address the nationwide problem of a low faculty-to-student ratio in CS courses.

Demand for computer science skills is at a record high, and colleges and universities nationwide are struggling to keep pace with rising enrollments in CS courses. To help address the problem, a Stanford professor launched a pilot master’s program two years ago to train PhDs from other disciplines in computer science education. Stanford’s Computer Science Department recently announced that the program will continue this fall as a graduate certificate program.

The year-long program, which will run through summer 2019, is currently accepting applications on a rolling basis for fall quarter. Applicants are expected to have or complete a PhD in a non-computing field by the start of the fall. They should also have experience in teaching at the university level.

The curriculum includes two computer science and/or pedagogy courses each quarter, as well as an independent project tailored toward creating course materials and content for a proposed course that the student intends to teach. Students will also be required to serve as a course assistant during one quarter for a computer science class.

The program is fully funded for students – tuition is covered and a stipend is provided. The department is seeking to enroll five students for the program this fall.

The program is the department’s effort to help address the nationwide problem of a low faculty-to-student ratio in CS courses. Across the country, computer science classrooms are seeing an influx of students – both CS and non-CS majors – who recognize the importance of developing computing skills for today’s job market.

This has put enormous pressure on colleges and universities that struggle to keep pace with the growing demand for teachers, says Chris Gregg, lecturer in computer science and director of the CS education certificate program. But the problem, he notes, is twofold.

“At the other end of the spectrum, recent PhDs in many other disciplines continue to face the opposite problem,” Gregg says. “Graduates would love to teach in their field, but have found that there are few job openings in academia. Many would-be academics are put off by the prospect of years of visiting professor and adjunct positions that rarely lead to tenure-track employment.”

The problem is partly due to most computer science PhDs choosing to enter industry rather than academia. Universities, in turn, end up with more open faculty positions than they do qualified teaching candidates, leaving them no choice but to turn away students interested in taking CS classes.

Much of the research into the problem has been led by Eric Roberts, the Charles Simonyi Professor in the School of Engineering, Emeritus. In 2016 he launched a pilot computer science education master’s program for non-CS PhDs at Stanford. The idea was to provide them with the training and skills necessary to transition from their field to computer science faculty positions.

All program graduates who have pursued faculty positions have received multiple offers to teach computer science, both in tenure-track and teaching positions, Gregg says.

“Universities and colleges that have hired the graduates have appreciated the interdisciplinary nature of their training, the fact that they have PhD degrees and their strong computer science foundation that they have received at Stanford,” says Gregg.

For more information about the program and details about applying, visit the Computer Science Department’s admissions webpage.