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© Nick Feamster and Alex Gray 2006-2007 Ph.D.: What is it? Why do it? Nick Feamster and Alex Gray College of Computing Georgia Institute of Technology
© Nick Feamster and Alex Gray 2006-2007 The reason I got my Ph.D. is so that Id never have to wake up before 9 a.m. wear a suit to work Your Answers…
© Nick Feamster and Alex Gray 2006-2007 What is a Ph.D.? Answer 1: A degree signifying expertise –Signifies the capability to conduct research –Many positions (e.g., professor, research scientist, managers at govt labs, etc.) only hire Ph.D.s –An entry card into a community of experts in some area –By the time you graduate, you will be known and respected as an expert in that area What is an expert? Someone who knows more about some topic than anyone else in the world (daunting, but not as hard as it sounds: you will be the only one focusing time and energy on a single problem)
© Nick Feamster and Alex Gray 2006-2007 What is a Ph.D? Answer 2: An opportunity for a certain lifestyle –To think for a living –To make a large impact on something –To be your own boss Flexible hours Flexible pace Flexible topic –To travel –To constantly learn and attack new challenges –To make decent money If you dont take this opportunity now, you probably never will.
© Nick Feamster and Alex Gray 2006-2007 What can you do with your Ph.D.? Academia –Tenure-track faculty –Research faculty –Faculty at teaching university/college Industrial research lab –e.g., Microsoft Research, Intel Research National labs (government) Wall street Management consulting Start a company –Example: Google started from Stanfords Digital Library Project (but…it is still good to finish)
© Nick Feamster and Alex Gray 2006-2007 What can you do without a Ph.D.? Many jobs – e.g. often Ph.D.s end up programming, or doing applied engineering, or managing, or doing startups You should recognize if you want one of those jobs Opportunity cost is high Ph.D. jobs pay decently, but not fantastically
© Nick Feamster and Alex Gray 2006-2007 What is a Ph.D.? Answer 3: A process –On average, 4-6 years –Major steps: 1.Classes (show broad knowledge) 2.Qualifying exam (show area-specific knowledge, some capability to do research) 3.Thesis proposal (show plausible thesis plan) 4.Thesis defense (show expertise and contribution) 5.Job hunt (show expertise and contribution to wider audience)
© Nick Feamster and Alex Gray 2006-2007 What the Ph.D. is not A chance to take more classes A meanwhile activity Well-defined –No assignments and checklists –Dont think of your work as homework. If you only do what your advisor asks and no more, you will have missed the point of the Ph.D.
© Nick Feamster and Alex Gray 2006-2007 How am I evaluated in the Ph.D. program? Early on: standing out in classes (good or bad), value in producing deliverables Middle: paper production -- number and quality (= top conferences) Later: independence, initiative, creativity
© Nick Feamster and Alex Gray 2006-2007 How am I evaluated after the Ph.D.? Not by your grades, ever Not even your dissertation, really Mostly, by your cv (papers), job talk, meetings with people, and recommendation letters
© Nick Feamster and Alex Gray 2006-2007 How am I evaluated after the Ph.D.? For an academic job: –Papers: number and quality overall productivity and contribution –Impact and standing overall level of dominance of something –Independence, initiative, creativity ability to do novel work –Ability to be persuasive and clear ability to get grants and teach well –Affability and fit with others in dept ability to collaborate
© Nick Feamster and Alex Gray 2006-2007 How am I evaluated after the Ph.D.? For an industry or government job: –As above, but less so –Practical research with specific applicability For Wall Street: –General intelligence –Maybe some applicability to finance For management consulting: –Ability to do case studies –General affability and poise
© Nick Feamster and Alex Gray 2006-2007 How am I evaluated after the Ph.D.? Your own startup: –Be willing to do everything: sales, business plans, programming, etc –Be willing to work intensely, on a budget Note that of all these jobs, a Ph.D. program essentially trains you best for an academic job, because it mainly focuses on high-quality research
© Nick Feamster and Alex Gray 2006-2007 Academia or industry? Academia (generally): –More freedom –More people working on your projects –More intellectual stimulation –More young people –More people from other fields around –More long-term impact –More technique focus –More prestige
© Nick Feamster and Alex Gray 2006-2007 Academia or industry? Industry (generally): –More structured –More stability –More money –More direct/tangible impact –More problem focus –More holistic problem-solving –More focused to-do list –More time to do technical work
© Nick Feamster and Alex Gray 2006-2007 The dissertation A coherent collection of contributions to a single problem area –Every good dissertation has a thesis This step should be relatively easy after the proposal (except for perhaps the writing) It may only include a small fraction of the publications from your graduate career Although the dissertation is the last step, it is not the critical one. Remember: nobody reads your dissertation.
© Nick Feamster and Alex Gray 2006-2007 The job hunt Actually, this can (and should) begin very early in your graduate career Never too early to start networking, self-promotion, etc. The big push will come once you have established your area of expertise/main contribution Treat everyone you meet with respect – you never know who will be your key to your dream job
© Nick Feamster and Alex Gray 2006-2007 Passion and Interest Q: Am I smart enough to get a Ph.D.? –A. Wrong question. Instead, ask yourself if you are passionate enough to get a Ph.D. By virtue of the fact that you are sitting here, you have the intellectual horsepower If you are passionate about some problem, with enough tenacity, you can make a meaningful contribution
© Nick Feamster and Alex Gray 2006-2007 So…do you really want a Ph.D.? Evaluate –What type of career do you want? –Do you have the elements (personality, drive, passion) to succeed? –Is this the best use of your time? If not, it is OK to leave –Now, or at any time (recall the sunk cost fallacy) If so, optimize your decisions (life, career, research choices) around making the most of it – and give it everything you have! –If youre going to half ass it, why bother?
© Nick Feamster and Alex Gray
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