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Sep 04 2010

The illustrated guide to a PhD

Well, my PhD studied have certainly been put into perspective. At least this final frame was good motivation:
(Hat tip to Alex)

5 comments

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  1. 1
    Andrew Hall

    That is a nice visual… though I thought there would be a penis joke somehow thrown in.http://laughinginpurgatory.blo

  2. 2
    JoƩ McKen

    Wow, heck of a good (and stark) way to explain it. Though that last frame and its context is rather saddening.

  3. 3
    Alea

    Agreed, it’s a sad thought. But I suppose we need to get our motivation from somewhere.

  4. 4
    NotThatGreg

    Wow.I’ve recently been inspired to revisit the reasons I decided to go into grad school (I wound up with a Master’s, but it took nearly as long as I might have needed for a Ph.D.). Mainly, I wasn’t ready to get a real job, and there was a family illness; I certainly had the marks; but really I did it as a default instead of for a specific reason. At the time (1984) there was no web, it was harder to get a big picture of what was happening in different places, and I hadn’t realistically considered the possibility of moving to a different area. I wound up showing up at the computer science faculty of an unfamiliar (but prominent) nearby U, doing a year of courses, and asking my assigned supervisor what I could do for a thesis. I picked the least boring item from a list of ‘open’ things he provided. I completely lost momentum in the second year, spent too much time doing interesting stuff unconnected to my project, and ended up getting a job; finally finishing my thesis on weekends, at the far end of my second extension.I also think, in retrospect, it was just a dull time to be in that faculty at that university; it may not have made too much difference what I did there (by contrast, I’ve had several employment experiences where I started off doing something fairly lame and within a year changed focus to something much cooler).Things have worked out well for me in the long run, but I’ve often wondered how it could have been different if I had been doing some research that was really interesting to me; I really love hearing from people who are thoroughly enjoying their grad school work. A big reason I’m going through this ‘review’ is that I don’t want my own kids to wind up in the same situation as me (I had no guidance from my own parents). So I want to absorb ‘good’ grad school experiences vicariously, the better to know what I’m talking about when the time comes.The ’10 reasons grad students fail’ on matt.might.net is really amazing; I wish I’d had even that guidance. This has reminded me of another reason I was a bad grad student; I understood that you couldn’t publish things without being fully aware of all the previous work that you were extending; but that seemed to me to be a lot of extra work (tracking down and reading all those papers) which didn’t necessarily contribute enough to what I was doing (I mean, I felt I could *accomplish* stuff without reading *all* those papers, just some; but I couldn’t rightly *publish* without reading them all). Maybe my (undiagnosed, untreated) ADD had a lot to do with that…At one point I felt I had worked out something small but interesting to add to the field of data compression, which could be publishable (and, wholly unrelated to my thesis!); I needed to go find Huffman’s paper to see if he had already mentioned what I was going to say, and try to follow the trail of cites. I failed to find Huffman since it was published in 1950-something, and wasn’t in the library stacks, and we had no www at the time, so I gave up (yes, I’m sure I could have persisted, but I wouldn’t even have known if the idea was original until I had done a bunch of work; it wasn’t entirely non-obvious). Last year I discovered that someone had published my little idea in around ’96, it had been cited many times. Rats. And, you see, the area of data compression was considered far more interesting in 1996 than in 1985. It’s hard to recall now what things were like without the www. I can sit on the couch with this ole laptop and it’s far, far easier to find papers than it was when I was a card-carrying grad student in the university library…Enough boring life story. Jen, I am so happy for you that you’re going to UWash and doing such interesting work. I’ll be rooting for you. Whatever you wind up doing.

  5. 5
    Lilla Bertalan

    I’ve seen that site before… very discouraging. I’m only at BA level yet, and being railroaded at that, but this guy tells me that if I want to live, I need to devote myself to what I’m studying and what I hated from the start like a monk devotes his life to religion?! (See the “10 easy ways to fail a PhD” section.) *sigh*

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