Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Check your assumptions at the door

Finishing graduate studies is hard. At Tampere University computing science department, there are about 100 graduate students. Every year about 5 of them graduate. This means that every PhD thesis requires about 20 student enrollment years. For every student who makes it, about 2 others fail. What makes me think I can do it despite not working on it full time?

What are my strengths and weaknesses?

The worst weakness is that I plan to work while doing graduate studies. This restricts available time.

My stregth is that industry experience has given me solid programming routine. Any research plan should rely on this strength in order to be realistic. Competitive disadvantage has to be balanced out by a competitive advantage. Otherwise risks grow.

How will I find time and energy?

A few years ago starting regular exercise increased my energy levels permanently. Thus far I have poured this extra concentration only into Chinese. However, Chinese is moving from the active study phase to the slow and steady vocabulary build-up phase. This liberates the time for graduate studies. Without a clear plan how to use this time, I'll just waste it, getting nothing in return.

Minimizing the amount of work is the second path. Both computer-aided language learning and bioinformatics are fields, where it is important to cross the cultural gap between two disciplines. Relatively modest skill in programming and mathematics is enough compared to pure computing science topics like model checking. This means that smaller number of hours is enough to produce new discoveries.

How will I benefit from graduate studies?

First of all, I don't expect to get paychecks from university. Applying for a university position would be a bad choice since industry salaries are bigger than researcher salaries. Getting a good salary from research requires a teaching position. You have to prepare for that already while studying by working as a teaching assistant. When I studied, I prepared for industrial work.

Getting a PhD degree will make it possible to apply to new kinds of jobs with higher pay. If I am able to come up with a popular CALL website, it will continue to mill small amounts of advertisement income for years. Setting up such a site requires a big initial effort but little maintenance effort after that. It creates an economic incentive to make the site high-quality from the start.

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