National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University

05/08/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 05/08/2024 02:01

University Professor Shortage Crisis: NYCU's College of Computer Science Implements Surprising Tactics to Attract Two Young Female Scholars

By Hung-Wen Lin, Trend Perspective Expert and Bestselling Author
Translated by Hsuchuan
Edited by Chance Lai

The electronics and information industry has rapidly expanded in recent years, creating a widespread talent shortage. Taiwan's electronics sector offers high salaries to attract skilled professionals. Graduates from top universities in electrical engineering and electronics have opportunities to secure high-paying jobs with annual salaries of up to 2 million Taiwanese dollars, surpassing the salaries of many university professors in the country. Given this salary structure, it is not surprising that many Taiwanese universities struggle to recruit top faculty members, posing a significant obstacle to nurturing young teaching talent in universities.

In April 2023, during my visit back to my alma mater, National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University (NYCU), for its anniversary celebration, I took the opportunity to visit the College of Computer Science (CCS). While there, I attended a speech by Nathan Chiu (邱繼弘), CEO of cacaFly (聖洋科技) and chairman of the alumni association for the Department of Computer Science at NYCU. He mentioned that over the past two years, the CCS had issued nine job offers to Ph.D. graduates from prestigious overseas universities. However, none of these candidates ultimately joined NYCU.

At that time, I penned an article titled "Taiwan Semiconductor Talent Facing Its Greatest Crisis: Not Only a Shortage of Students But Also Unaffordable Professors," expressing my deep concern. The article discussed how Taiwan is currently facing a talent shortage that companies need and a scarcity of educators capable of nurturing such talent. This poses the most significant hidden threat to Taiwan's industrial development.

This article sparked discussion and debate; however, recruitment at the College of Computer Science has significantly improved this year. In February, the CCS welcomed two new assistant professors, Ting-Jung Chang and Yu-Chun Yen. Professor Jyh-Cheng Chen, the dean of the CCS, happily informed me that they are outstanding young scholars who chose to join NYCU. The CCS has finally overcome the challenge of talent scarcity. NYCU's experience and practices may serve as a reference for other universities in Taiwan seeking to attract excellent overseas scholars to contribute to the country.

As a result, Dean Chen arranged for me to interview the two young professors on this year's anniversary celebration day. Both professors graduated from globally top-ten-ranked universities, Princeton and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. They also worked in the United States after obtaining their doctoral degrees, but ultimately, they chose to return to Taiwan and join the College of Computer Science at NYCU. Their decision-making process and thoughts about the future are highly informative and worth sharing with everyone.

First, I asked both of them, given the prominence of artificial intelligence (AI) today and the high salaries offered by many companies to attract talent, why they ultimately choose to return to Taiwan to teach instead of pursuing careers in the industry, especially considering their expertise and qualifications, which are highly sought after by both domestic and international companies?

Ting-Jung Chang: Doing What You Want While Young

Ting-Jung Chang stated that she does not prefer academia to industry. She mentioned that she hadn't felt much pressure about studying since childhood, and her parents respected her decisions, allowing her to choose freely. After graduating from National Hsinchu Girls' Senior High School, she smoothly entered the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Bachelor's Program at NYCU. She also participated in short-term exchange programs at the University of Illinois and Cornell University, where she conducted various exciting research projects.

For instance, during her time at Cornell, Ting-Jung Chang researched the correlation between Americans' facial features and their names with an American professor. Together, they inputted numerous photos and names of American individuals for big data analysis. The results were quite fascinating.

After obtaining her Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at NYCU, Ting-Jung Chang applied directly to pursue a Ph.D. in the United States. Princeton University offered her a full scholarship, so she accepted it. At that time, some people advised her to seek high-paying jobs instead, mentioning that pursuing a Ph.D. had low value and might affect her marriage prospects. However, she simply laughed it off and remained steadfast in her decision. She followed her own path, stating that everything would be fine as long as she enjoyed studying and was happy being herself.

After obtaining her Ph.D. in the United States, Ting-Jung Chang worked at a US AI chip startup called SambaNova. She later moved from New Jersey to Texas, where she found herself surrounded by male engineers, being the only female in her environment. However, she also enjoyed the atmosphere, stating, "Well, at least I have the women's restroom all to myself. It's pretty nice."

Later, Ting-Jung Chang decided to return to her alma mater to teach because she wanted to pursue what she found interesting, such as computer architecture and digital system design. She mentioned that research and work assignments are usually predetermined in corporate settings, making it challenging to have autonomy. Moreover, she knew that once she began to enjoy the perks of a high-paying job, it would likely be difficult to return to academia. Therefore, she aimed to do what she wanted while still young.

Returning to her alma mater to teach, Ting-Jung Chang mentioned that besides the familiar environment, the relative youthfulness of the CCS at NYCU was an essential factor in her decision. She noted that the high proportion of assistant professors and the freshness of the topics being pursued created a vibrant atmosphere. There were ample opportunities for mutual learning and discussion among colleagues. Moreover, the school's willingness to cultivate young talent reflected its commitment to succession and future-oriented values.

Ting-Jung Chang mentioned that during her time at Princeton, assistant professors comprised 20% of all faculty members, while in Taiwan, universities generally have less than 10%. As for the CCS at NYCU, it currently has a total of 69 professors, with 9 being assistant professors, accounting for 13% of the total, which is considered very high compared to other universities in Taiwan. This high proportion of assistant professors was crucial in her decision to return to her alma mater. Many universities in Taiwan have not seen the addition of young professors in recent years, which could lead to a talent gap when senior professors gradually retire.

Yu-Chun Yen: Striking a Balance Between Family and Career is Crucial

Yu-Chun Yen, another newly appointed assistant professor, has been an academic achiever throughout her educational journey. She graduated from the Department of Computer Science at National Taiwan Normal University. She pursued her master's degree at the Department of Computer Science and Information Engineering at National Taiwan University. Afterward, she received a full scholarship to pursue her Ph.D. in Computer Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) in the United States. Her research focuses on popular areas such as human-computer interaction, crowdsourcing, and human-AI collaboration.

Yu-Chun Yen was recruited as an intern researcher by the renowned company Adobe Research for two years during her doctoral studies. After graduation, she was selected as a Computing Innovation Fellow by the National Science Foundation in the United States, receiving a substantial grant to serve as a postdoctoral researcher at the Design Lab of the University of California, San Diego. She decided to return to Taiwan last year to pursue a career in academia.

Yu-Chun Yen mentioned that serving in academia allows her to continue her passion for academic research and provides greater freedom in choosing research topics. She found that while there are opportunities for research in the industry, the direction is often constrained by the company's development policies. Moreover, some cutting-edge research cannot be published externally due to peer competition. Additionally, the teaching process provides a sense of achievement in nurturing innovative technology talent, which is also crucial.

Yu-Chun Yen's husband is also a Ph.D. graduate in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He initially worked as a principal engineer at Intel in the United States. After understanding her expectations and passion for Taiwan's academic community, he accompanied her to their hometown and joined Google Taiwan.

Yu-Chun Yen mentioned that balancing family and career is crucial for her. Another significant factor in returning to Taiwan is her desire to allow her parents more time with their grandchildren. Fortunately, with her parents' strong support, she and her husband can occasionally catch their breath.

Yu-Chun Yen mentioned that she only applied for a teaching position at NYCU upon returning to Taiwan. This decision was made because NYCU has always been known for its strong engineering programs. Her advisor at UIUC had also supervised many NYCU students, so he supported her decision to return to NYCU to teach. Additionally, she admires many professors at NYCU's College of Computer Science, such as Professor Wen-Chieh Lin and Professor Yung-Ju Chang. She has long been aware of their achievements and hopes to have the opportunity to collaborate with them.

Yu-Chun Yen also mentioned that she had wanted to pursue an academic career early on, but the salary level at domestic universities is significantly lower than overseas. However, during her interactions with NYCU's College of Computer Science, the school has worked earnestly to bridge the salary gap and provided many other forms of support. This significantly increased her willingness to return to Taiwan.

Alumni Fundraising to Supplement Salaries Helps Attract Young Scholars to Return to Teach in Taiwan

Regarding the very real issue of compensation, the salaries for university professors in Taiwan are currently limited by regulations from the Ministry of Education. Assistant professors receive a monthly salary of just over 80,000 NT dollars, and even professors receive no more than just over 130,000 NT dollars. In the fiercely competitive environment for talent, these salaries are simply not attractive. This restriction has also led many universities, especially those in STEM fields, to struggle to recruit young scholars, resulting in vacant positions for newly appointed professors.

Jyh-Cheng Chen, the dean of the CCS, stated that in the past, the Ministry of Education provided the Yushan Youth Scholar program, which offered an additional annual bonus of up to 1.5 million NT dollars on top of professors' salaries. This was intended to supplement the monthly salary of assistant professors, which is just over 80,000 NT dollars. The monthly salary would be significantly increased with an additional bonus averaging 125,000 NT dollars per month (1.5 million NT dollars divided by 12 months). However, the Yushan Youth Scholar program has limited quotas, and not everyone can successfully apply for it.

Jyh-Cheng Chen also mentioned that due to these restrictions, NYCU has been actively seeking donations from enthusiastic alumni, which has resulted in substantial contributions. These include establishing the President's Young Scholar Award by the university and endowed chairs funded by alumni specifically for the CCS. Assistant professors joining the CCS who cannot secure the Yushan Youth Scholar program can apply for the President's Young Scholar Award. If that option is not available, endowed chairs are also funded by alumni of the CCS. These initiatives aim to address the issue of relatively low salaries and serve as significant incentives for young scholars to return to Taiwan and teach at the College of Computer Science this year.

Jyh-Cheng Chen emphasized that inviting young scholars back to Taiwan to teach cannot rely solely on enthusiasm; the practical issue of compensation must also be considered. In his discussions with these young scholars, he highlighted that while salaries offered by foreign companies or universities may be high, in countries like the United States, heavy taxation and high living expenses often leave little room for savings. Conversely, with subsidies provided by universities and colleges, scholars may save more money by staying in Taiwan.

In March 2023, during the release of the policy white paper on Taiwan's IC design industry, several IC design leaders, including MediaTek Chairman Ming-Kai Tsai, attended the event. Wu Bing-Chang, CEO of Himax Technologies, mentioned that Taiwan is currently facing a shortage of talent for companies and a shortage of talent for training purposes.

Talent is undoubtedly the most significant advantage for future industrial development. Taiwan must find ways to retain outstanding Taiwanese talents and work even harder to attract talents from around the world. Therefore, the competitiveness of salaries is undoubtedly a crucial factor.

NYCU has always enjoyed the most enthusiastic support from its alumni. The initial success in attracting young talents has alleviated the College of Computer Science's previous two-year struggle in recruitment. Perhaps this could serve as an excellent demonstration for other universities in Taiwan in talent acquisition and succession planning.

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