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

I Find Karma (
Thu, 15 Jan 1998 13:33:20 -0800

> >
> > Reactions? I have to agree with David. Only 3% should grant degrees, and
> > only 3% of the students int he pipleline should be here.
> My reaction? The essay comprises equal parts of elitism and selective
> amnesia.

<waffle musing="high">
I think you're both right.

> 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. Irvine.

Actually, I'd pick Irvine and USC and Austin and Washington-Seattle over
Yale and MIT for software and software engineering any day of the week.
Oh wait, USC isn't a state school. But the point is made.

> 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 analysis.

You're saying that PhDs don't contribute to the hype machine?

Practically speaking, the difference in education between MSs and PhDs
is -- in my encounters -- minimal. I can't even say that PhDs are more
tenacious, because I know some MSs who are like pit bulls. The only
difference in my mind between an ABD and a PhD is someone who needed a
little more time to figure out what to do with his or her life.

> 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).

Me? I like to avoid work. I will avoid work as long as I humanly can.

> 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,

The mind control is working... :)

> and b) having the degree increases quality of life and work even after
> getting it.

Gosh, the mind control is *REALLY* working... :)

> 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.

I wish I had your idealism and optimism.

I expect to die bitter and penniless in a gutter, having hocked my last
few CDs for a wicked 8ball concoction of heroin, valium, speed, crack,
caffeine, nicotine, percodan, mandrax, NyQuil, marijuana, dilaudid,
methadone, blue label, methamphetamine, tequila, and rum, with a pickax
in one hand and a nuclear warhead in the other.

Compared to that, *anything* seems like the good life.

> 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.

The problem with running in that rat race is that, ultimately, you're
still a rat.

> 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).

The only difficulty with middle-class education is that it doesn't exist
anymore -- even the state schools have become ridiculously priced for an
undergrad education, and who knows what it will be like in 25 years when
my kids are ready for college. Better that you should drop out after
your first term, move to a northwestern town, and build a software
empire that 23 years later has the whole world in your hands.


Do you like apples? "Sure." Well, I got her number. How do you like
*DEM* apples?
-- Good Will Hunting