Thursday, July 31, 2008

Doctor of Philosophy

Tomorrow it will be exactly five years that I've finished my PhD. Being on a scholarship the deal was they'd pay until the end of the month that I finished, but no longer than three years in total. So obviously, I sheduled my defense for the first day of the last month. Rather unnecessarily actually - I was finished months earlier, but why on earth would I have cut myself off funding prematurely?

Just yesterday, I came across a post from Jamie's Weblog Things I learnt during and about my PhD. Written by a computer scientists who didn't finish the PhD I find it somewhat overly cynical, but sadly enough there's lots of truths in it as well. So, since I guess some of our readers are struggling through these dark times while others are wondering whether to get into them in the first place, I want to add some thoughts from my perspective.

What is it good for?

A PhD is in the first line a degree that certifies you are qualified to conduct research. It's a necessary step if you want to stay in academia. It isn't impossible, but extremely unlikely that you will actually work on something groundbreaking. What you are supposed to do is to show yourself, your supervisor, and the rest of the world that you can study a topic in depth, acquire the necessary technical skills, formulate new questions, answer them, document them, and finish your examination.

You will likely not have a very good time. I don't want to discourage you, but I don't know anybody who was particularly happy during his PhD. As far as I am concerned it was possibly the worst time of my life. You will be mostly on your own, probably underpaid, overworked, be stuck on stuff you're not interested in while being subject to increasing pressure of getting done.

You will ask yourself repeatedly what is it good for. You will need a large capability for self-motivation. If you are not one of these persons who can not live without doing physics, a PhD is not for you. If you are stuck in the details of your thesis that nobody including you is or will ever be interested in, you will have to remind yourself endlessly: It isn't about changing the world or winning the Nobel-prize, it is a degree that certifies you are qualified to conduct research. Period. Read that reference. Make that figure. Finish that paragraph.

The Topic

It is not that the topic of your PhD thesis is completely irrelevant. If you apply for a new job, people will look at the title. But there is the general sense that if it's rather dull that's not your fault so you'll be excused. The number of people who will actually read your thesis is tiny. As far as my thesis is concerned there's exactly one person I am sure read it. That's my mother. She corrected all typos and grammatical bugs.

What is far more important than the topic of the thesis is how you pursue it. The important information will be in the letters accompanying your first application. And that letters will either say you haven't managed to make one single step on your own, and were neither able to find the library nor to understand the wise words of your supervisor. Or it will say you're destined to be a future leader. Translate into: you haven't bothered your supervisor with questions he indeed had to think about. (Like, where is the library?)

You can increase the visibility of your thesis by putting it on the arxiv. You can decrease it by writing in any language other than English. My thesis is in German, but I put an introduction and a summary in English on the arxiv which by now has 42 citations - that is mostly because it contains a large collection of references and an overview on the field that at this time was pretty much up to date. Also, if you are working in a group, there is the chance that your thesis will be handed over to the next students as an introduction to the topic. I know various examples for that.

Your Supervisor

I want to quote a particularly amusing paragraph from Jamie's post
Supervisors: a curious species, rarely sighted in their expected habitat

Supervisors are strange creatures. Some are like ghosts, appearing occasionally for a fleeting moment, and you’re more likely to meet them at a conference than at the University. Others are always around but they’re too busy running around like demented hamsters on a wheel – all motion and no progress. They’re disorganised. All of them will, at some point, forget what your project is about – and some will even forget who you are.

I made an interesting discovery half way through my PhD: the number of good/useful/interesting/brilliant things that your supervisor will say to you is not proportional to the amount of contact you have with them – it’s constant. Yep, that right. You can have weekly meetings with your supervisor but you’ll only get three good suggestions a year out of them [...]

Supervisors also participate in a little-known game which can catch out the naïve student: Hunt the Supervisor. This involves the PhD student attempting to locate their supervisor during the agreed meeting slot. And, no, they are definitely not going to be in their office. You’ll be lucky if they’re in the right country.

This description is to my impression very accurate. I am relieved to hear actually it isn't much different in computer science than in physics.

There is something to learn from that: If you pick your supervisor, pay attention to his reputation in taking care of students and to his reliability, *not* to his professional reputation and his likability. Most obvious thing to do is chose somebody who doesn't already have more students than he can cope with, who isn't traveling 11 months of the year and who isn't glued to his BlackBerry. People who write books, speak on every conference, and are known for their public appearance typically aren't recommendable either. Problem is, these are the people you are most likely to have heard of. (And also the ones whose letters are likely to have the highest impact...)

You will find out these things rather easily: ask previous students. They will tell you more than you want to know. In some cases that information has already been collected somewhere and you can look it up. Nowadays probably online, in my days we had folders for every prof that were being passed around. What your found there was pretty accurate.

What helps?

What helps if you're stuck in the dark times are friends, your office mates who are stuck in similar situations, and online group therapy. If things get really tough I recommend you get professional advice. Most universities offer a counseling service, anonymous and free of charge, where they will help you to move on. Whatever problem you have, you are very likely not the first to have it.

One possibility to relieve loneliness is to chose a topic that is close to something another student is working on. However, this is recommendable only if you will not be finishing around the same time. Reason is that you will for some years be referred to as "Soandso's student who worked on maggot growth" (or whatever) - "Which one?"

Besides this, if you are stuck on a supervisor who is essentially useless, do not focus on that person. Just face that he isn't going to help you and look for help elsewhere. This is easier today thanks to online connectivity. If you are smart and not lazy you will have no problem finding somebody who is willing to work with you. Typically these will be postdocs or young profs who do not have many postdocs and students, and are looking for people to work out details of some projects they have in mind. Both for my master's thesis as well as for my PhD I have been unofficially supervised by postdocs while the actual supervisors where constantly absent or kept forgetting my name.

In any case you should preferably look for somebody who will not be searching for a new job and be moving elsewhere in the soon future. That very often limits the usefulness of postdocs.

Bottomline

5 years after my PhD I am still amazed I ever managed to finish what looked like a complete mess only 6 months before my defense. If you are currently working on your PhD, I wish you good luck and don't lose your dreams out of sight.

44 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very inspiring ; as I just started my master a few months ago I was starting to wonder if my situation was unique (supervisor very busy, having a hard time trying to solve not so meaningful problems, keep wondering if this is worth it ...). I'm glad to hear it's not !

Andrew Thomas said...

I reallt enjoyed Jamie's article and thought is was very accurate - not overly cynical. I completed my Phd about ten years ago. I actually really enjoyed doing it. You've got to enjoy working on your own, and you have to provide the direction and ideas (I don't really know what supervisors are supposed to do).

I think the main benefit is that it teaches you how to do research, basically - how to hunt down information. But, to be honest, I think doing a PhD is a waste of three years of your life for many people. I've learnt much more since I got into industry. I work in computing, and after entering industry after my PhD I found I knew almost *nothing* about the latest technologies. I had to play catch-up. And the speed which computer technology changes means you have to re-learn everything you know every three years or so, so the PhD is not helpful in that respect. Also, Jamie is right that a PhD is a horrible over-qualification for many jobs. I have left it off my CV many times.

Andrew Thomas said...

Something I think is really bad: have you ever met anyone who has actually *failed* their PhD? I mean, failed the final oral exam (we call it a viva in the UK)? I don't know a single person. I think any qualification which is so difficult to fail is almost meaningless. I was internal examiner on one or two and I'm afraid some we let through were seriously sub-standard. But who cared? No one cares. So what good is a qualification you can't fail?

QUASAR9 said...

Hi Bee, been a little busy with building work at the villa (and little or no time for the internet or blogging in July)

A sort of working holiday - lol!

But I hope to have time to catch up and keep abreast of my favourite blogs in August.

Good to see you going strong
Long Live Research & Theoretical Physics - in a world (universe) without a visible begining nor visible end.

Bee said...

Hi Andrew,

No, I don't know anybody who indeed failed. I know somebody who failed with the master's thesis, and somebody else who wasn't accepted for PhD because his previous performance was very unconvincing. I know a large number of people though who didn't finish in time.

I found Jamie's article cynical for the reason that the search for understanding is indeed a driving motivation and understanding can be very rewarding. That seems to be something he either hasn't experienced or didn't mention.

You've got to enjoy working on your own, and you have to provide the direction and ideas (I don't really know what supervisors are supposed to do).

It is interesting you say that. I do indeed think if you manage to work on your own that's the best thing to do. If it is your first PhD that is however very hard to do. Without at least somebody who occasionally gives you some feedback as to whether you are doing some sensible work or are headed into the completely wrong direction it is very easy to get lost. It also wastes a lot of time. The first two years of my PhD I was working on my own on a topic that never went anywhere, and I had to find out with years delay that if somebody who had been familiar with that stuff had ever looked on it, this wouldn't have been necessary. I learned something from that too though: The best way to find relevant information for your research is talking to other researchers.

Best,

B.

Arun said...

"If you are not one of these persons who can not live without doing physics, a PhD is not for you."

Too many negatives in one clause, I can't parse it!!!!

BTW, you've heard of the perpetual graduate student? Typically TAship + spouse-supported and would remain in grad school forever if possible.

Bee said...

I know some people who strove to be perpetual students. That however isn't hard to understand in Germany: there used to be no tuition fees at universities but in many cases, being a student brings rebates. In Frankfurt, you'd even get a semester ticket that allowed you to use all public transportation for free. They are still fiddling around with the tuition fees, I have kind of lost track of that.

Bee said...

<=> A PhD is only for you if you are one of these persons who can not live without doing physics.

stefan said...

Five years already... The remarks about supervisors are very fitting :-)

Cheers, Stefan

Christine said...

Many truths here, despite being just comics.

At the end of my PhD I found myself nursing my newborn baby at the same time as I sat at the computer to write a paper related to my thesis that afterwards was published in the ApJ Letters. Very hard times! I still don't know how I manage to finish it.

Good luck to all PhD candidates, and specially to mother-PhD candidates!

Nice post, Bee.

Anonymous said...

I had the opposite experience. I was with a rather famous advisor, and he actually cared very much for his students.

My thesis sprouted out rather unexpectedly from research that we were doing at the time (we had several different projects going). I ended up writing it in about five days, and it was accepted more or less two weeks later and never underwent serious rewriting as everyone was pleased.

We made a great team, and my postdoc collaborations have sadly never quite lived up to that standard, or the citation count I had in grad school.

Point being that chemistry is everything, and once you find someone you like working with, everything flows seemlessly.

Anonymous said...

I actually had a great time during the four years of my phd. I had a great advisor, did really good work and enjoyed writing papers and my thesis. I agree though, if you are not 110% sure physics is your turf, you won't get as much fun as most of us do ;p
I think there is a lot of people out there that doesn't struggle their guts off during the phd and do well. Just thought it would be worth mention that to the youngster out there...

"It's not 'eureka' but 'that's funny' "

and as we all know... just like 'sex' ;p

Garbage

Jamie said...

Jamie, author of the linked post here. I just wanted to explain one or two things:

The post was overly cynical but I wrote each section when I was at my most annoyed and sarcastic. If I was to rewrite the post now in one go, I wouldn't be as harsh but neither would it accurately capture my frustrations at the time.

I can understand pursuing knowledge just for the sake of it. I was a researcher for 4 years before I started the PhD so I probably had >5 years of doing things purely because I was interested in them. But one of the main reasons I didn't finish the PhD is because I wanted more from life for myself and my wife, including getting a job, a salary and starting a family. Pursuing knowledge for its own sake, and just because you are interested in it, is something I call "intellectual mast**bation". It's great at the time but not very fulfilling in the end. Don't do a PhD for this reason alone, do it because you want a career in academia.

I wasn't interested in a career in academia though because I never saw anything actually get done. I came to believe that businesses can do more for people than universities (for computer science at leaast -- other subjects are very different).

The point Andrew makes is very good: how many people actually fail a PhD (rather than just dropping out/giving up)? Without failure there is no success. It seems that if you persevere long enough you'll always get the PhD. Which makes it a qualification in perseverance (which, I guess isn't a bad thing to be able to say).

Anonymous said...

I have to say, a lot of this is ridiculous, and I can't imagine it holds true on average. (About me: I dropped out after completing 2 years of a PhD in chemistry, then went on to get a PhD in Computer Science.)

First of all, if you are having a horrible time during your entire PhD that is a warning sign. (It was for me.) If you don't enjoy your PhD work, you will not enjoy your postdoc and you will not enjoy being a professor. If you are not enjoying your PhD, get out! And why would you pick a PhD topic you are not interested in?!

For what it's worth, I know plenty of people (in chemistry) who enjoyed their PhD experience, and I would say that the majority of people in CS enjoy their PhD experience.

I agree that a PhD is mainly a sign that you can do research, but would point out that there are fields (CS is one) where it is possible to do groundbreaking work as part of your PhD.

John Baez said...

Bee wrote:


If you are not one of these persons who can not live without doing physics, a PhD is not for you.


I pity all the poor schleps who get PhDs in other subjects...

ali said...

I agree with the two anonymous commentators above. I had a fantastic PhD advisor who really cared for his students like his kids and even though I worked very very hard, I enjoyed it more than anything. I also loved my own PhD research. I detested postdoc experience though and I do not know one single person out there who likes being a postdoc and I wonder how you can demonize your PhD years as a person who has been postdoc for 5 years now with no hope of getting a faculty position. To me, postdoc is the real hell and I am glad I have a faculty position now.

Bee said...

Off-topic: The blogger dashboard says our blog "has been locked due to possible Blogger Terms of Service violations." I have no clue what I'm supposed to have violated. This has happened to me before with a different blog, so I hope they'll be able to correct that rather soon. Until then however, this blog will have to remain silent.

Bee said...

Hi Ali,

Yes, I am sure there are people who enjoy they PhD time. What I wrote above is very obviously a personal experience and as such subjective. I like my postdoc time better because I have more freedom and don't have to consider I eventually have to get reports from profs that will result in a grade. What sucks about being a postdoc is the constant moving, the back and forth and restarting. Best,

B.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sabine,

your blog might have been blocked because you wrote He might have a dream against the interests of the future president of the U.S.

See how it may be working and welcome to 1984.

Best
Lubos

Anonymous said...

Alternatively, look at the old Andrew Thomas's mirror (click) of your website where it now redirects.

This is kind of the type of activity that spam blogs are doing. They mirror each other at many places and then they redirect some of the copies to the ultimate destination of their target.

Does Andrew Thomas have a good reason why he redirected the mirror of your blog to Failblog, whatever it is?

Best
Lubos

Andrew Thomas said...

Thanks, Lubos. I removed the mirror days ago. None of my sites points to Bee's blog now, haven't done for a good few days. I certainly hope it was nothing to do with me.

It does sound like a load of political sites have been flagged all at once.

Andrew Thomas said...

Other people's problems:

http://groups.google.com/group/blogger-help-troubleshoot/

Andrew Thomas said...

It's some Google mistake, quite a big news story:

http://www.bloggernews.net/117011

http://www.gisuser.com/content/view/15258/

Pretty poor of Blogger. Surely these things should be checked manually before being flagged. Some people will be moving to WordPress for sure.

Shame "The Reference Frame" wasn't affected ...

Lumo said...

I should have recorded a video. A few hours ago, when I opened the http://www.asp-demo.com/page2.asp web page, it redirected me to failblog.org (try it). Suddenly the first URL says "not found". Are you sure, Mr Thomas, that you're not making these hurtful changes in real time?

Lumo said...

By the way, the domain www.asp-demo.com still exists, it is still registered under Andrew Thomas, and it is still a spam blog domain. The main web page of the server still steals izone.org.uk.

Andrew Thomas said...

Bugger off, Lubos. izone.org.uk is my own site. I can point my own domain at my own site, last time I checked.

Stop trying to cause trouble. Many sites have been brought down by Blogger over the last day or so.

Bee said...

Hi Lubos, Hi Andrew,

Yes, the message that is quoted in the post Andrew mentioned is exactly the same I have.

I am kind of irritated though that the other guy writes "Google has some new automated system that is flagging potential spam blogs (whatever that is) and locking out blog owners." As I mentioned above the same has happened to me before though for a different blog, that was about a year ago. So that can't be such a new software they are running. Possibly a bug in an update. Also, I didn't get an email (I checked junk).

Either way, I have a considerable amount of faith that Google will be able to fix that bug. Until then, I'll take a blog break. Have a nice weekend.
Best,

B.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Bee's comment on pursuing research for its own ends, and "curiosity": that's largely baloney, in my opinion. An unfortunate source, but perhaps the unabomber summed it up the best:

"Science and technology provide the most important examples of surrogate activities. Some scientists claim that they are motivated by "curiosity," that notion is simply absurd. Most scientists work on highly specialized problem that are not the object of any normal curiosity. For example, is an astronomer, a mathematician or an entomologist curious about the properties of isopropyltrimethylmethane? Of course not. Only a chemist is curious about such a thing, and he is curious about it only because chemistry is his surrogate activity. Is the chemist curious about the appropriate classification of a new species of beetle? No. That question is of interest only to the entomologist, and he is interested in it only because entomology is his surrogate activity. If the chemist and the entomologist had to exert themselves seriously to obtain the physical necessities, and if that effort exercised their abilities in an interesting way but in some nonscientific pursuit, then they couldn't giver a damn about isopropyltrimethylmethane or the classification of beetles. Suppose that lack of funds for postgraduate education had led the chemist to become an insurance broker instead of a chemist. In that case he would have been very interested in insurance matters but would have cared nothing about isopropyltrimethylmethane. In any case it is not normal to put into the satisfaction of mere curiosity the amount of time and effort that scientists put into their work. The "curiosity" explanation for the scientists' motive just doesn't stand up."

X said...

Hi Andrew, Jamie, etc.

You have no idea what the science is, therefore, I will use an alternative language. In Russian Science (and Physics) is a woman and it is law of life: you will get nothing if you are not ready to give everything (for free).

Hi JB,

“I pity all the poor schleps who get PhDs in other subjects...”

Let me ask you a question: what the word arrogance mean?

Hi Christine,

Bee statements “If you are not one of these persons who can not live without doing physics, a PhD is not for you.” or “A PhD is only for you if you are one of these persons who can not live without doing physics.” are completely wrong. E.Rezerford (Rutherford) threw out his student from the lab for the similar statement. Physics is hard profession; one should know and build almost everything. Raising baby is the particularly useful experience.

Hi Bee,

“What you are supposed to do is … formulate new questions, answer them.”

This is fundamentally wrong. You are supposed to answer old, well-known and self obvious questions. You should not invent new questions. If you find the answer, that will lead to the new questions naturally and so on. In addition, time ordering is particularly important. As my personal example, I finished my PhD investigation and asked permission for two extra years. I got it. During that period I talked with Yakir almost every day in cafeteria. He was not my official supervisor but he tried to convince me that I should continue in the other direction first. I was young and stupid. Today I know he was right.

Regards, Dany.

stefan said...

Hi Dany,


Let me ask you a question: what the word arrogance mean?

Quite an irony, that this question is being asked just by you ;-)

Rutherford threw out his student from the lab for the similar statement.

Can you point me to a source for this anectode? I'm always interested in such stories - alas, many of them are well invented...

Thnks, Stefan

X said...

Hi Stefan,

“Quite an irony, that this question is being asked just by you”.

Bee, sorry for off-topic. Stefan, please show me single concrete example based on Search Backreaction and I will demonstrate to you that you use your own subjective (mis)interpretation. Arrogance is not my territory. In addition, I don’t believe that you consider any PhD outside physics “poor schleps” (provided it has the scientific value). Perhaps JB mean the inverse what is written, but then it is too complicated for me.

“Can you point me to a source for this anectode?”

“Физики шутят”, Составители-переводчики Ю. КОНОБЕЕВ, В. ПАВЛИНЧУК*
Н. РАБОТНОВ, В. ТУРЧИН,Под общей редакцией доктора Физ. мат. наук В. ТУРЧИНА,Редактор Л. В. ГЕССЕН,Изд "МИР" Москва, 1966

I don’t know whether English retranslation exists.

Regards, Dany.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Dany,

"Physicists joke", drafters of the translators Yu-KONOBEEV, V. PAVLINCHUK *
N. RABOTNOV, V. TURCHIN, under the general editorship of doctor Fiz. Sci. Science V. TURCHINA, editor L. GESSEN, Izd MIR Moscow, 1966”

What gives me the feeling that “jokes” for many of your place and time served mainly as a mechanism or device to express and convey that word you earlier admitted to not understanding.

Best,

Phil

stefan said...

Hi Dany,

... I will demonstrate to you that you use your own subjective (mis)interpretation. Arrogance is not my territory.

No point to argue with you about that. Arrogance is what your environment perceives.

Thanks for the reference. It's a good case in point. Since this is an english-speaking environment and you can not expect everyone to read Russian, I perceive as just plain arrogance not to bother about a proper transcription of the autors/editors names. But true, it may be useful only for someone who reads Russian anyway.

Sorry for being off-topic...

Stefan

Bee said...

Dany,

You have come pretty close to getting another of your comments deleted. If you would please invest at least a tiny bit of your brain before hitting 'publish', I am sure it can't be so hard to say whatever you want to say without insulting other people.

Possibly this is a cultural problem, but your comments have in many instances been inappropriately aggressive. The only thing that your above comment expresses is that you are evidently living in a different world than I, and apparently all of our other commenters do. I value different points of view as they can be very insightful, but your repeated accusations that other people have 'no idea what science is' are 'fundamentally wrong' or 'arrogant' just because they have a different perspective are not welcome.

As to my allegedly fundamentally wrong statement: where I come from a PhD thesis needs to contain a novel examination, and no, you are not done with "answer[ing] old, well-known and self obvious questions". It is in many cases not explicitly written down, but if your PhD studies don't result in at least one publication you can forget about it. One can discuss whether this is good or bad, but it's a fact.

Best,

B.

X said...

Hi Stefan,

“Sorry for being off-topic...”
You are professional in Web. One makes copy-paste to Google. That brings him to the relevant page with English translation. I can’t do better. In addition, it is hard to find the specific anecdote. Under request and with Bee permission (since it is off-topic by definition) I am ready to reproduce it here in English. In addition I have in mind hundreds independent ref frames of people that know me and will say you that it is absurd statement in that particular case.

Regards, Dany.

P.S. Hi Bee,

I perceive that Stefan insult me for nothing. My comment is closely related to the possibility that your blog in general and the current discussion in particular read young beginners. I have nothing against your “realistic” presentation, but several other consider improper. Remember, YOU are the teacher; you are the “megaphone”.

Bee said...

Hi Dany,

Well, if you feel that Stefan insults you for no reason, then you know now how those feel who you insult for no reason. I'd therefore recommend we all stop insulting each other.

If you want, you can reproduce that anecdote, unless it exceeds several print-pages in which case I'd prefer you'd upload it elsewhere.

If you are afraid that I disillusion young students the only thing I can say is they will find out sooner or later anyway. I'm not a big fan of making things sound better than they are, this way we'll never manage to improve the situation. If that wasn't enough cynicism for today, there are too many postdocs in physics anyway. Best,

B.

X said...

Hi Bee,

“If you want, you can reproduce that anecdote, unless it exceeds several print-pages”.

It isn’t fair; you suggest solving logically inconsistent problem. To avoid direct answer, I have in mind very short story originally communicated by P.Kapitza.

“You have come pretty close to getting another of your comments deleted. If you would please invest at least a tiny bit of your brain before hitting 'publish', I am sure it can't be so hard to say whatever you want to say without insulting other people.
Possibly this is a cultural problem, but your comments have in many instances been inappropriately aggressive. The only thing that your above comment expresses is that you are evidently living in a different world than I, and apparently all of our other commenter do. I value different points of view as they can be very insightful, but your repeated accusations that other people have 'no idea what science is' are 'fundamentally wrong' or 'arrogant' just because they have a different perspective are not welcome.”

Indeed I have no intention to insult anybody (Andrew, Jamie included; it is just empirical fact stated by them that they have no idea what the science is). Somehow your environment perceives that differently. Thus:

1)If my comment expresses the agreement with you or other commenter, it is redundant, doesn’t contain information (C.E. Shannon); in that case it is tasteless waste mine and readers time.
2)If my comment expresses the disagreement with you or other commenter, you perceive it as insult and want to delete it; in that case it is tasteless to write it in the first place.
3)If my comment is not related either your or other commenter (new), it is off-topic.

So let me reduce the problem to the level of single bit:

1)Please tell me stop commenting at your blog and I will never do that again.
2)Let me express my POV in the way I know to do.

The current discussion I identify as the problem of initial conditions:

1)One initiate a new problem and solved it => nobody knows that problem and don’t understand why it should be solved; the outcome is deterministically obvious.
2)One attack well-known problem and
2.1) solved it => many others know, understand and interested in that investigation;

2.2) fail to solve it => many others interested to study what not to do; that
also conventionally considered the positive contribution; as you correctly
pointed out the outcome is statistical in nature.

Conclusion: we have only ourselves to judge on each other and everything in PhD is entirely student dependent.

Regards, Dany.

P.S. Remember: we NEED young generation to continue our Sisyphus task.

Bee said...

Dany,

1) Agreement is not the same as a repetition and thus does indeed add information.
2) I do not perceive disagreement as insult, I perceive insults as insults. Possibly we perceive that differently, I already said this might be a culture clash. I would simply appreciate if you would be less aggressive. You constantly tell people they are stupid and don't know anything about science. This is completely unnecessary if you want to express your point of view.
3) You might have noticed that even though I discourage off-topic comments I hardly ever delete any. I have a strong hesitation to delete other people's writings unless absolutely necessary. I hope you won't abuse that hesitation.

Regarding the length of that anecdote that's got nothing to do with fairness but with readability. If it gets too long I'd recommend you upload it elsewhere and post a link.

Regarding the questions. What I wrote was 'formulate new questions'. Typically for your PhD your supervisor gives you a topic and points into a direction. Your task is to find out what are the questions to ask on the way and to answer them. That might be a well-known problem, but in realitas it hardly ever is the case. What you'll be doing most of the time is study the details of some scenario your supervisor has put on your desk. In almost all cases however the aim is at some of the well-known questions (isn't that what we are all working on anyway?).

However, in my impression most supervisors will not object if you want to pursue a topic on your own. The problem is just that if nothing comes out of it it doesn't look good, neither for the student nor the supervisor. With that I don't mean a negative result - as even a fail is a result as far as I am concerned - but just no outcome whatsoever. If you manage to follow a thought up to the level where you can conclude it is just wrong and doesn't work out, that's fine. It's not exactly what you'd wish for but it's not nothing. That however too requires you 'formulate new questions' and draw conclusions, step by step.

Yes, we need the next generation. We need their creativity and their skills, and we need them to know where and how to use them best. Whether or not that is in academia doesn't matter. I'm not going to tell anybody pretty lies just to attract them into a job they might be unhappy with. I have seen enough profs talking students into PhDs for no other reasons as that departments get money per students. That's not how you should use the creativity and skills of the next generation.

Best,

B.

X said...

Hi Bee,

“Regarding the length of that anecdote that's got nothing to do with fairness but with readability.”

Bee, we are at the orthogonal spaces. Here and at any other points. Here I meant that presentation of the story will be perceived by you (and Stefan) as insult. Read carefully what is written there. I said your case is similar. That is the reason why I don’t want to reproduce it. Etc, etc, etc.

I repeat: I don’t insult anyone; I don’t argue with anyone, I present the ALTERNATIVE. And I am not liar either. We have different life experience. I believe that your picture is real as mine. But I know something else and never met your reality. And I express my POV in the way I know to do.

You didn’t answer me. Therefore I answer instead: one time you or Stefan will mention that I insult anybody or delete single word written and I will never put a comment at your blog.

Regards, Dany.

P.S. Do you know what JB “schleps” mean? I knew an individual who during WWII taught Yiddish instead German for living; anyway nobody was able to check.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Dany,

“Therefore I answer instead: one time you or Stefan will mention that I insult anybody or delete single word written and I will never put a comment at your blog.”

A most interesting ultimatum, one which I would ask as being applicable to the commenters as well?

Best,

Phil

Phil Warnell said...

In regards to recent exchanges a letter of Albert Einstein’s came to mind. It was in response to a blistering criticism leveled in 1947 by four Soviet scientists, representing the Russian Academy of Science to his proposal of the institution of a world government. I won’t of course quote the whole thing here, simply only the opening paragraph. It has always represented to me as to how one should conduct themselves in matters of dispute or contention and I thought as such it might be of interest.

“Four of my Russian colleagues have published a benevolent attack on me in an open letter carried by the New York Times. I appreciate the effort they have made and I appreciate even more the fact that they have expressed their point of view so candidly and straightforwardly. To act intelligently in human affairs is only possible if an attempt is made to understand the thoughts, motives, and apprehensions of ones opponent fully that one can see the world through his eyes. All well meaning people should try to contribute as much as possible to improving such mutual understanding. It is in this spirit that I should like to ask my Russian colleagues and any other reader to accept the following answer to their letter. It is the reply of a man who anxiously tries to find a feasible solution without having the illusion that he himself knows “the truth” or “the right path” to follow. If in the following I shall express my views somewhat dogmatically, I do it only for the sake of clarity and simplicity.”

-Albert Einstein- Ideas and Opinions- Crown Publishers-1954

Best,

Phil

X said...

Hi Phil,

Thank you for empirical demonstration that my ref easily might be translated to English and that it was E.Rutherford/P.Kapitza joke and not an insult. Now as a matter of pure curiosity:

1)Did you know in advance meaning of “schleps”?
2)If not and provided you were curious to know, how long it took to find the answer?

Regards, Dany.

Marty Tysanner said...

Hi Dany,

You asked Phil,


1)Did you know in advance meaning of “schleps”?
2)If not and provided you were curious to know, how long it took to find the answer?


I'm not Phil (sorry Phil!), but I did a quick Google search, "define schleps" (without the quotation marks), and got 1770 hits. I find search engines to be useful in quickly finding definitions, although I was already familiar with the particular word at issue here.

X said...

Hi Marty,

“Although I was already familiar with the particular word at issue here.”

Wonders of Google. However it seems to me vagabond is better.
It was recent discussion here of arrogance and JB comment apparently support that stereotype. I don’t agree with him especially when math-ph involved. I think that more adequate notion is Jewish national feature known as “schwizer” and I admit I suffer it as well. Unfortunately, Google search this time gave nothing even close.

Regards, Dany.