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Summary of 26 pages of forum archives from the PhD (comic) forums

I summarized 26 pages of “On Academia”

For anybody that hasn’t seen or looked at PhD Comics, I recommend you start at the beginning at work your way through. I’m trying to figure out if I should get my PhD in the future. I’ve already read a million AskMe (metafilter) questions on it, and I even skimmed the obligatory So You Want To Get Your Doctorate guide at Borders*. But this post isn’t about all that.

This post is about the 26 pages of threads I’ve been through. Not 26 pages of one long thread. I’m talking 26 pages of thread listings. 26 out of 77. For clarification purposes:

You go into a forum, you see the list of topics. You’re interested so you pick a couple topics and read them all the way through. Each topic is a couple pages long. You go back to the main page and click “Page 2? at the bottom of the forum.  Rinse, wash, repeat until page 26.

For this monstrous task, I have to first give thanks where thanks is due:

  1. Thank you Firefox, for being my browser of choice and so-darned pluginable (yes, pluginable).
  2. Thank you Greasemonkey, for making available so many more user-contributed plugins. (And before I finish with point number three, let me point out the “Sup dawg, heard you like…” meme possibility here.)
  3. Thank you Auto-pagerize, for being one of my most favorite Greasemonkey scripts ever. It detects new pages and auto-inserts them into the page you’re already in.

I didn’t want my cute little numbered list to look really long, so I stopped babbling about Auto-pagerize….but, it’s the greatest thing ever. Forums are always one page long, threads are one page long. Blogs are extended. I never click “more”, I never click “page 2?. It only extends the page when you scroll down far enough. It is excellent!

I probably picked on-average about 5 threads from each page. I’m guessing I read around 130 topics. Some topics had multiple pages, but there general thought was pretty much understood after page one. It was confirmed on page two, etc. Here’s what I’ve learned from reading through 26 pages of thread topics:

  • A lot of people don’t do their doctorate in their undergraduate field. Granted, a lot of people were in similar professions, but it was interesting to see how many people stepped out of bounds. I originally thought you had to go in with a lot more.
  • People seem to say it takes more than 4 years these days. It was hard to find a whole lot of computer science PhD students, so it’s hard to say how that will affect me. Then again, I might not even be studying CS (see point #1).
  • I should start studying for the vocabulary for the GRE now. I read technical books and non-fiction business bestsellers. I need more vocabulary. I should start studying for the GRE now. As an aside, you should totally check out The Personal MBA. Awesome reading list
  • Research experience is (part) king. Research experience as an undergrad shows you have the stuff PhD’s are made of and didn’t just figure out how to play the school game. I’ve cooked up a plan to graduate Stockton in the fall (hopefully), and somewhere in there I’m going to need to work an independent-study in. GRE scores seemed like the other king here.
  • I should probably take the CS GRE specific test. The general consensus is “GRE specific tests aren’t required.” However, I’ll be coming from a local, relatively unknown school. A good score on the GRE CS-specific test would help show that I still learned my stuff. Unfortunately, everything I looked at said the CS GRE subject test was impossible. Go figure.

There were other tidbits too: research gets lonely, picking your thesis topic, and a lot of other stuff. I’ll have to keep looking around for more information. Hopefully this summary can benefit somebody in the same position as me.

And of course I didn’t forget: everyone said getting a PhD is hard. I believe it. I’m pretty good with stress though, and I’m sure it’s intense — but I’m up for it. Or I think I am. I just did 26 pages of PhD research, didn’t I?

*This actually isn’t the title of the book. It is, however, probably published by the College Board.

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  1. These days there’s a certain level of education that we tend to think of as being required for being a civilized adult. what that level is exactly depends a lot on class background, career, the field you’re in, and what you hope to do. There’s also (always) a point where we must admit that we go for more education, not because we want to be more civilized, but because we’re interested in studying a certain thing, or because we need a degree to get (or keep) a particular job.

    Confusing these reasons for education can lead to pain, because you end up in school, not because you need more education, but because it’s habit, or because you think you should be in school. I certainly applied to graduate school a couple of times because I was so used to being in school, because I wanted (eventually) to get a professor job, and because although it’s terribly difficult to get into graduate school, there’s a certain safety (I think) to being in school, rather than out in “reality.” Though the academia/reality split is… tedious.

    I had dinner with sone of my father’s colleagues about a year ago, and this guy (who I know from another context) when I talked about a vague plan to go to graduate school in 3-5 years, kept pushing me to answer “what I wanted to get out of it,” and “why I needed the degree,” and while I was able to eventually come out with some almost clear answers, the questions made it obvious that I wasn’t ready: I didn’t quite know why I wanted to go back to school. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted the project I’d work on during graduate school to be but I didn’t really know what I’d do when I got out. Not having an answer to that question should raise a serious flag in your mind. Figure out what you want to do, figure out why you really want to go to school: to meet someone, to move away or relocate, to do research, to get an academic position, to get a job in academia, to learn a particular skill, and so forth. And then figure out if getting a Ph.D. is the right way to accomplish this goal. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.

    Its my perception that there’s a larger “non-academic” job market for CS than for some other fields, but I don’t know if that’s the case. I don’t have a citation for this statistic, so grain of salt, but something like 50% of the people who are eligible for academic jobs (i.e. have Ph.Ds) don’t get jobs in academia, and this has been true throughout the 20th century, with the expansion of academia in the 60s, after the G.I. bill, and the purported overproduction of Ph.D.s in the 90s. This may be encouraging or discouraging depending on your perspective.

    Having said that: learning how to program, learning about technology, contributing to your field, all of that, are things you can do *right now* without needing to go to graduate school and are things you can do after you finish college if you decide to graduate school or not. Write software. Contribute to open source as a learning experience. Avoid thinking of your professional career as something that starts when you’ve finished school entirely. The truth is that thinking about your career as something that you’ve already started and can take an active role in is probably the kind of thing that will help you get into graduate school, *and* help you if you decide to not to go to graduate school at least for the moment.

  2. Wow. I’m much happier that my old web host mangled the MySQL database; your comment was the most helpful considering even the old ones.

    I agree completely (and grudgingly) with every point you made. There are probably too many PhDs out there, and I can work on things now. There’s much more work to be done!