Columnist for Thursday, 2/8 - jims

In the Pursuit of Piled Higher and Deeper

For those that do not know, I have been in the search of a PhD for awhile now. I've been a student at UC Santa Cruz for entirely too long, it is reaching the point where even the school is saying, Get Your Ass in Gear. The reason for my delay? Well, probably lack of focus, and working in industry for entirely too long. But, I like money and being able to do things.

With the department breathing down my neck to make some noticable progress, I have been doing some field research in order to figure out what is exactly involved. A PhD seems to be about making some worthwhile contribution to the field of research. What that contribution is and what is considered worthwhile is somewhat arbitrary in nature. In some cases, it appears to be just spending enough time under the wing of one's advisor and slapping some papers together. In another case, it may be as simple as presenting some work that convinces your advisor and committee that you have something, even if the chosen group is not fully versed in the field being presented. In a sense, a successful PhD appears to involve marketing.

Marketing, having spent the last decade in engineering, is Satan. Satan, I tell you. It is simply the process of convincing people to buy into your idea. With a Phd, as mentioned, that involves providing food, fancy words, and whoring oneself out for the appropriate amount of time. Which, in essence, is the same as marketing.

My whole time through school I seemed to be driven by some puritanical work ethic. If it was something I cared about, I put more effort into it and made sure things worked well. The same holds for when I have been in the work place. I spent a lot of time making sure things worked and worked well. On some level, this seems to be my barrier when it comes to working towards my PhD. Up until this point, I have found little projects to work on, but nothing with what I consider a substantial amount of meat. My field research has shown me that where I was looking for a juicy New York Steak, I may be able to get by with a short-rib. We will see if I can do that to myself.

Field research samples:

1. Unamed University (mascot is a tree), East Side of the Santa Cruz Mtns, CA.

The most recent presentation that I have attended, this school is supposed to be prestigeous. While the student presenting clearly spent time working on his subject, it was evident that he did so in a fairly constrained manner. It was a case of classic Academia not keeping aware of Industry happenings. When the presenter was asked if he did comparison with more recent implementations, his only response was that the literature was filled with things that were not very good. When asked about specific methods similar to what he was addressing, he had not performed his comparison -- and these were well known methods in that particular field. Don't get me wrong, I don't know a lot about anything in particular. However, when researching, I will search out people more knowledgable in an area to help flesh out my own understanding. This presentation can be best summed up in the words of a former coworker, who was in attendance, "Only 17%?!?" (This was when compared against 5+ year old technology).

2. University of the state that has the city that started grunge

The other end of the spectrum to the above are those professors who believe in the whoring principal. When looking at perspective grad schools some years back, I had the misfortune to talk with a professor who was very well known in his field. In talking with him, I realized that I should be afraid, very afraid. One of the very first things this professor mentioned was that under him, grad students typically took six or more years to finish a Doctoral Degree (full time). This is in electrical engineering. How much have things changed in just the last two or three years, let alone six or more? Alarm bells told me to be afraid, very afraid. This was clearly one of those professors where one whore's themselves out to. The follow up statement was that a student had just left to go into industry after six years without finishing. Not a very good sign.

Where is this leading? I am not quite sure. In my own studies, I need to put my nose to the grind stone. Over the coming months, I will be slowly finding an area of research with adequate depth and interest to produce enough data for me to add a degree to my collection. Being that I have friends in industry and academia knowledgable about the field, it should prove an interesting mesh. For now, I will end this and return to work and the slow path to becoming a gibbering fool.


Previous day's column