Career Information for Graduate Students

I was reading an article ( and the focus was on the need for better career tracking between academics and industry at the graduate level. This is interesting to me because of my own experiences with computer science. In many cases, what you learn in academics are not skills you will use when you get to industry. What the article specifically speaks to is how graduate students are unaware of the career options once they complete their graduate degree. Although it may seem a bit tangent to my experience, both speak to the disconnection between academics and industry, one related to topics and the other related to where you can use the topics (in addition to where you can use that level of the topic). This is another breaking point I see in academia because at some point people and industry may push for more apprenticeships from industry if the academic deliverable is not there (as determined by industry). This has historically been around by the noted response from industry saying the graduated student does not have any experience and therefore is not qualified enough. So to me, the question is how much longer can academics and industry continue to write their own stories before the relationship breaks?

The “I want to be a teacher but I don’t want to research” comment…

I find it sad how frequently I hear how somebody wants to teach but they don’t want to do research. So I propose to you a similar statement about medical doctors: “I want to ‘practice’ medicine but I don’t want to research.” What if your medical doctor were to never collect data on whether their work was successful or not? Would you want to be their patient when all they are doing is the ‘same old method’ or the ‘trendy method’? Do you not have diverse and individual needs? Similarly if you are a teacher, would you not want to make sure your teaching is successful? How do you know your test or assignment is appropriate? Is it simply because it looks good to you, the expert? I could see someone finally being able to give up on research if they have the final solution with no need for any other modification, but teaching involves people and society is ever changing. The needs of today are not the needs of 20 or 50 years ago and therefore will not be the needs of tomorrow either. In the end, we should be doing our job with ‘intention’ in mind. We intentionally construct a test using a great deal of methodology to depict the strategy of success for our students. Things don’t just fall into place, so we have to figure them out. Even in the classroom, we can’t expect the same input to have the same output.

A Random Thought On Degree Advocacy

Sometimes I have random thoughts and this time it was on the idea of how many people with doctorate degrees advocate for others to get a degree but will not themselves participate in the same process ever again. To me, it’s like tasting some food, spitting it out and saying how horrible it is but then saying, “here, try it!” Are we experiencing things for the sake of saying we survived it? This could be a new reality TV show, although it would not be a very captivating one. Why would someone say they enjoyed the experience but not be willing to go through the experience again? As another analogy, it’s like an obese cop who says they were once able to do the obstacle course but obviously can’t do it anymore. Should this person be prescribing tomorrow’s standards? Maybe this is one of the reasons so many professors are out of touch with their students…

To me, I could not see myself not being in school. Even once I finish a doctorate degree, I will still take classes purely to entertain interests – and some of those interests are beyond photography and music but instead in physics and history, the classes you really don’t need if you already have a terminal degree. So as you move along in your career, look to incorporate the answer to why you are so excited about your field of study into what you do. Make sure your classes and research groups are having the same fun you are, or at least find out what makes it fun for them. I’m not talking about entertaining them. I’m simply talking about sharing your passion for the field and looking to see how many others share in that passion.

Senior citizens continue to bear burden of student loans

Recent blog posts have talked about the value of college and how it pays off long term. This article ( talks about times when it isn’t paying off and is noticeable when you have seniors who are still paying off student loans. One of the situations the article mentions is when a person goes back to school later in life to update their skills to be more competitive in the market. Although this is not the same has having student loan debt for 40+ years (from your 20’s to your 60’s), it does speak to the quality of education in terms of life long value and availability of education.

An issue I feel strongly about is the positioning of academics in society. Right now, we do not live in a society where we have a “right to learn.” Only the privileged few will get that chance. Some may initially argue, but consider this: What if I enjoy photography and I want to study it further, but it is not something I want to do as a career? Some will say how the information is still out there and how I could join clubs, but would you ever suggest that to someone as an alternative to traditional academics? Would you suggest this to someone who wants to become a medical doctor? Wouldn’t it be nice if the average person knew enough to save your life (like CPR and AED) rather than saying, “I’m sorry I’m just a computer person.” Some may argue that it can be explored during your undergraduate electives, but I would have to warn you how there are caps on how much you can explore your personal interests. For example, Virginia has a state code punishing those who go beyond the degree requirements and is known as the 125% rule ( Keep in mind that community colleges really don’t fit the bill either. First and foremost, you are very limited on the variety of classes you can take and they are considered to be entry level classes. So in the end, you won’t be able to get to the higher ranks.

As a tax payer, I have invested in the public school systems, and as a society, we will benefit. As an individual, I still have to pay the price because the information is held hostage behind the high tuitions and competitive enrollment. With many of the universities opening their classrooms to the Internet, I see hope in breaking this historic model, so now what we need to do is find new ways to recognize learning in the marketplace.


I ran across an article (,0,2525774,full.story) that brought up how robo-readers are being used to grade writing. There were two huge points that caught my attention.

The first interesting point was how someone could write a bunch of nonsensical phrases but still be 100% grammatically correct. The example in the article was, “An essay about Christopher Columbus might ramble on about Queen Isabella sailing with 1492 soldiers to the Island of Ferdinand…” I thought it was neat because a computer could pull out all of the “facts” such as 1492, the queen’s name, along with Christopher Columbus, but where it failed was making sense of the facts in the context for which they were presented.One huge benefit I could see here is at least the teacher wouldn’t have to do all of the spelling and grammar marking on the papers.

Another interesting point that also fits more with my own philosophy is the need to focus more of our time cultivating the critical thinking skills it took to come up with the premise to the answer. The communication issue is more of a hindrance, not a demonstration of being uneducated. This is something quite frequently seen when you have a diverse international crowd. You can be a genius when it comes to a particular academic topic but have your only struggle on how to convey that to another person.

To me, I think robo-readers are a great way to learn grammar rules. The issue I have with it is when students use tools like this to sharpen their image of being scholarly when there really is no learning going on. It’s much like how I learned math – I know the patterns but I really do not have a firm grasp on why or how it applies in real contexts. So I could see people doing the same thing with language – I know it goes in this order, but I could never get it to naturally flow from me in that way.

What’s More Expensive Than College? Not Going to College

Our recent class conversations talked about international education and this article ( had a different angle to add to the conversation. The article tosses around a lot of statistics related to unemployment rates in the Middle East and Asia, and cites articles that claim increases in our national GDP and earnings by means of education reform. An interesting quote from the website was:

Finally, a study from the Hamilton Project found that $100,000 spent on college at age 18 would yield a higher lifetime return than an equal investment in corporate bonds, U.S. government debt, or hot company stocks.

My first impression of the statement was on how they are minimalizing the magnitude of $100,000 as if it is no big deal when you consider a lifetime. But even so, the article makes a good point about the connection between the rate of enrollment in higher education to the highest income countries. So maybe the cost of education is going up but we really need to be focusing on how expensive it would be if you just didn’t go.

Grad School Guilt

An ironic thought: I’m reading, but I feel guilty because I could be doing work on my dissertation. The irony comes in when you are reading an article about the topic while you are highly distracted by academics (

The premise of the article focuses on the very flexible structure in graduate studies and the way it can cause stress in other parts of your life. Furthermore, there are other needs in one’s personal life. There are other needs in one’s academic duties. One can be plagued by one’s own high standards of productivity and anything less can cause guilt and extra work.

In the end, the author recommends to make sure you have a full day worth of work on your dissertation in order to avoid the guilt. The author mentions setting some daily goals so you have some personal perspective to compare the day’s work.

Now it is time to walk over to go have a nice burrito without guilt…

Is there really only one job for a Ph.D.?

In my daily mental exercise of reading the sad perspectives of ailments in our society, I ran across a statement that makes me question the scope to which we work as a society.

“To some people, this state of affairs has all the trappings of a pyramid scheme. Graduate schools and principal investigators take on too many students because they are inexpensive, work hard, and help to get papers published. At the same time, the graduate schools and investigators know full well that not all the students can move up the pyramid. In this view, the university is not an educator so much as a scientific sweatshop. (”

Many of us can very much agree on the next-to-nothing pay, but what I question is what our society is doing with higher educated people. The same article talks about an imbalanced supply and demand of too many PhD’s with not enough jobs, but is that really the problem or do we just not know how to utilize people with more specific training? A parallel question would be whether the things learned in academics beyond a masters degree are worth anything to society in the context of employment.

One common job opportunity I hear from a variety of specialists is the opportunity to do consulting. What this usually means is the cost is too prohibitive to have someone of this caliber on staff so periodic temp work is the best option for a company. To me, I really can’t see a PhD meaning I have a life of consulting and/or being a faculty because there are only two options. Maybe we just need to redefine the PhD so there are more opportunities. Otherwise, it seems we only have PhD’s so we can create more PhD’s.

Do College Professors Work Hard Enough?

In my daily reading, I ran across an article titled, “Do college professors work hard enough? (” This got me thinking because of my own experience teaching. When I first started teaching, I was working with computer based vocational skills – everything from office software to premier computer certifications. When I first started, we had a lot of instructors and we frequently had prep days where we would play with new material to prepare for new classes or higher level classes. The number of classes we could teach was directly related to our pay. We typically taught from 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM with the usual workplace breaks.

So I compare this model to higher education and this is where I start to really wonder about the workload. If I am teaching fairly similar material, then I should need a similar amount of preparation. In most cases, it was a day of preparation for a day of teaching (based on predefined courses). Once I had prepared for the course, I could teach it at any time since I was familiar with the material. This means I’m teaching 250 days out of the year at about 6.5 hours per day for a total of 1625 hours per year (assuming 2 weeks vacation). Keep in mind that frequently students will stay after class (wouldn’t you?), which is very similar to office hours in higher education, so the remaining ~400 hours gets balanced out with classroom preparation (turning on and off computers) and student interaction. This is a similar argument laid out in the article and I have applied my own personal numbers to the situation. The premise to the argument in the article is that the structure of teaching at a research institution by research faculty is commonly applied to other settings and other lecturer positions. The article uses an example of 15 hours per week for 30 weeks for about 450 hours as their base numbers of comparison.

Some might argue that higher education typically does not have predefined courses but I would have to argue two main points: 1. if a department is going to develop a course, they frequently will have a development stipend, 2. if you have already taught the course, then you are only making modifications unless you completely failed during the development. There is also a lot of battle with academic freedom, which was also a factor in my teaching but we didn’t raise such a stink about it. No matter which kind of academic setting, we still have learning objectives and learning outcomes that need to be followed. So this isn’t an apples and oranges comparison of flexible theory courses versus predefined vocational courses.

A third key point on predefined courses is that faculty in higher education are supposed to be the cream of the crop when it comes to teaching the material. But are they? Maybe all the extra time is because nobody actually taught them to focus their time on teaching so they never got good at it. Heck, many professors can’t accurately write a course learning objective. They can prove neat scientific theorems and quote the historical masters of the universe, but how many of them actually were taught how to teach by a trained teacher? If you were to have me build a spacecraft, it would take me a long time because I don’t know much about it. I’m smart, I can figure it out eventually, and I’m sure I can come up with something that will work (for the most part), but is that the quality you are looking for? Then why do we allow this in higher education?

Could Many Universities Follow Borders Bookstores Into Oblivion?

In a recent article (, there was an interesting perspective presented on who leads academics. The comparison was drawn to the media where the media would not exist without news stories and an audience, both of which have a greater rule over the content than the media. Is this also academics? Do we risk marginalizing our stakeholders in favor of our own ideals? Academics has a symbiotic relationship with industry, and if you consider apprenticeship, we used to be together as one. The question I see in this is how do we make sure the goals and needs of industry and society will be fully considered in academia?

Another interesting note in the article is the common use of online classes as a recreation of the face-to-face classroom. The point is how academia must adapt to the requirements of the future. So this is where I question whether we are really ready to identify the requirements, let alone respond to them.