RE: Gelernter: Only the crazies get doctorates...

Jim Whitehead (
Thu, 15 Jan 1998 10:45:36 -0800

On Thursday, January 15, 1998 1:40 AM, Rohit Khare []

> Reactions? I have to agree with David. Only 3% should grant degrees, and
> only 3% of the students int he pipleline should be here. Most would be
> better off with practical eduications. It's only good for the
> really-long-shot dreamers, for the empire-builidng theses. And for gods
> sake, in some POST-cold-war academic CS subdiscipline. So much of it has
> been done to death, ialready, even in such a short time. There's still a
> ton of AI, compilers, numerical methods faculty out there, and not
> enough how-do-we-model-reality profs. Like David.

My reaction? The essay comprises equal parts of elitism and selective

To start, let me guess which few elite schools should be the ones granting
Ph.D's in Computer (er, Software) Science. I'll bet the list would include
Yale and MIT, and would somehow omit a lot of state schools like U.C.

My interactions with industry inform me that the value of a PhD is greater
now than it has ever been. There is a lot of knowledge among computer
industry pracitioners, but little understanding of how to fit this
knowledge into a larger framework, or even how to go about generating a
larger framework. The results can be seen in the winds of hype which rip
across the flat plains of the industry, unstopped by breaks of critical

With increasing life-spans, career decisions have to be made with a very
long-term view. If you start work at 22 today, if you want to, you can
have a productive career of 50 years (Hey, I *like* to work. It's
fulfilling, allowing me to give some meaning to life). Spending part of
that career investing in a Ph.D. does not seem like such a bad decision,
especially since a) getting the Ph.D. is an enjoyable process in itself,
and b) having the degree increases quality of life and work even after
getting it. Plus, if your post-Ph.D. career is 40+ years, it is still
possible to work in academia for many years, and industry for many years,
achieving wealth while still being able to pursue academic interests.

Plus, the relevance problems raised by David have always been with CS.
Faculty who can adapt to new conditions will be rewarded with increasing
funding opportunities. Faculty who cannot will face greater struggles to
remain in their chosen area of study. It's not as if faculty have never
had to adapt to a changing world in the past.

If David wanted to raise a really difficult long-term issue for academia,
it's the long-term bummer of pricing yourself out of your market (e.g.,
middle-class education).

- Jim