I'm excited to see this experiment "meet the marketplace", and see what pans out. Given the small number of PhD students these top programs take each year, just yielding one or two great people into the PhD program that otherwise wouldn't have applied seems like it'd really move the needle.
[Disclosure: I went to undergrad with Jeff and we're good friends. He really is a great "mold-breaker" himself and I'm excited to see how a great "hacker of systems" in the best sense of the word changes academia during his career]
also check out jeff's related post on bringing startup culture to academic research!
Interesting. Because I have no intention of moving to a Google or YCombinator location, I never applied to either, but this makes me wonder if merely having been offered an opportunity at such a place could have value. Even if one never intended to follow through.
Which might not be a great thing for the folks reviewing applications...
If you want to have a good start in finance, having a degree (preferably a 1st) in Maths, Physics or Economics from Oxford, Cambridge or LSE is probably the most useful thing you can do!
[NB Not sure I approve of people using up forces resources just to pad their CVs]
As one of my favorite supervisors said, repeatedly, "It's not supposed to be fun. That's why they call it a 'job'. Now get back to work."
This is FUD. While there is arguably opportunity cost involved, it is not at all difficult to avoid "racking up debt" in grad school, at least if you're at the PhD level and in a STEM field. It is standard in such programs to get tuition waived (so, no cost) and to receive stipends for assistantship or fellowship (so, you get paid).
To get into specifics: I got my PhD in CS from Brown ten years ago, and my stipend was around $20K (I think about $22 or $23K my final year). During my time there the students clamoured for, and received, a healthcare benefit (free for the student, and they could pay extra if they had spouse and/or dependents). Because I was lucky enough to be debt-free going in, I actually finished grad school with about $15K in savings, but even my friends who had debt from ugrad were not accruing additional debt (and at the time were able to defer payment interest-free, although I gather that's no longer true). I was not exactly living the high life but was able to afford a decent apartment, ate out fairly regularly, and kept myself supplied with geeky tools and toys (laptop, wifi, etc).
So no, "racking up debt" is not a worry here.
I'm not saying doing a CS Phd program is not worthwhile- it still is. But, if you have an existing offer at Google or YCombinator its like going to the NBA straight out of high school. Certainly there are good reasons to go to college. But at the end of the day, if the NBA is where you're trying to get to- you take the chance when the opportunity presents itself. Grad school will always be there.
also, won't google always be there?
I proposed research on how to improve upon string searching, which according to the reviewers, did not benefit society (??).
The reviewers all have PhDs, I believe. But somehow, I do not feel they are qualified to review the applications. They are looking for specific things cross the check-boxes.
The second point is that stipends are taxed. So, $3k looks like a lot, but post-taxes, it's trimmed. Also, if you look at the OP's posting, $300k for ~5 years for a student. That does not mean the student receives $60k/year for living.
The third point is that someone immediately out of undergrad at 20 might find PhD / below poverty level stipends enticing, but once you make 150k+, you really don't want to hand control of your life over to your advisor's whims.
The fourth point (which is a corollary to the third) is that I know quite a few miserable PhD students, whose advisors control large aspects of their life. For example, a few of them were house-sitting their advisor's newly purchased mansion overnight in sleeping bags. These were foreign students.
The professor at Brown clearly enunciates some of the issues with the current system quite well.
It would be different if the answer were, "You've worked 2 years for Google or started a company that went through YC" because that's no different than a company asking for Big 4 Accounting experience when hiring a controller. (Having a Big 4 offer letter wouldn't suffice)
Allow me to take a moment to reiterate some of the comments I left on the Georgia Tech master's thread , specifically as a student who has taken graduate level computer science courses at Brown University with the majority of his experience working in industry.
* I went directly into industry in 1998 working at a software/systems engineer for a telecom working on Solaris deployments. I worked full-time and paid for my undergraduate education which I pursued part-time and which took me 9 years to finish. I majored in "information technology," as there was no computer science online program at Northeastern University. I didn't take any theory courses at all, and the majority of my course work was programming in languages like Java, C++, and C# (also COBOL, and the like...)
* I applied at Brown University after talking to the admissions and computer science departments multiple times, in which they told me I wouldn't be able to pursue a master's due to lack of independent or undergraduate research or an undergraduate education in computer science. The process of being told this was rather unfortunate, as the responses I received via e-mail telling me it wouldn't be possible were ended with "Sent from my iPhone."
* At the time I talked with them, I had been working at Basho Technologies for a year on Riak, an open source distributed Dynamo-style data store, as well as serving as a maintainer of rubygems.org.
* I was finally able to get accepted as a "non-degree" or "special" graduate student, which is allowed to take courses at full price. This role exists primarily to allow students to determine if they would be a fit for graduate school, at which point I would then have to re-apply for degree seeking status. This was possible because of an independent meeting I scheduled with Shriram Krishnamurthi, who, based on my industrial experience expedited the process along.
* Since starting as a "non-degree" student, I've been heavily motivated to attempt to stand out from other candidates for when I eventually re-apply to be a degree seeking student by independently publishing papers, publishing a blog, organizing a podcast, and speaking at conferences.
My website is located here: http://christophermeiklejohn.com.
Love the co-op that NEU is so well known for. Excellent way to earn a degree while gaining real-world experience on the job :-)
For those interested in a career in research and development, a PhD is almost a must. Getting on to a prestigious PhD programme is incredibly competitive, and as someone who has gone through the whole process and seen it from both sides, I can say that I've seen individuals who'd make great computer science researchers not being given an opportunity because they don't tick the right "boxes".
Sure it's not perfect, but worth a shot if you're interested.
Only for a career in research is a PhD important.
the ONLY enduring downside (which you mentioned) is the lost income.
No need to argue that point, because I'm not arguing against it. Look at the comment that I was replying to:
> For those interested in a career in research and development, a PhD is almost a must.
A PhD is a must for a career in research. It is not a must for a career in development. We use the term "R&D," but those are quite different things. There's a lot less "R" around, and a lot more "D."
When I say that the PhD is "rarely helpful," I do not mean that it is totally useless. I mean that the person who would otherwise have done the PhD is probably a self-starter who would've done other equally-valuable things in the meantime. Different things, certainly. But unlikely to be worse than what you would've done in the PhD. Thus, it is not helpful compared to what else you could've done in the meantime.
For a career in the "D" side of computer science "R&D," it's about your technical skills and experiences. Doesn't matter if you acquired them while doing a PhD, or in a company, or working on open source. This is very different from a career in research, where it is much more important to have a piece of paper with "PhD" written on it.
(also, my first job out of grad school was in industry and had nothing to do with my Ph.D. work)
I was pointing out that the PhD is useful for "research", but not for research "and development."
Agreed. But less so, the other way around.
Which is why development jobs don't reward the PhD enough to pay for the opportunity cost. It counts as 6 years of industry experience -- which you could've gotten in 6 years of working in industry.
This may be something I do later in life, but I feel very wired for R&D + tooling, and a bit locked out of these types of jobs without a PhD.
My own experience: I had had no research experience in school and worked in industry for a bit before decided that it bored me to death, but I felt shut out from PhDs at the time. I started looking into research that might be interesting and sent out a bunch of emails to professors at universities explaining who I was, my goals and asking if they were looking for a research tech or anything. I probably sent out like 30 letters, got a handful or responses. I took a bit of a pay cut, but I got a fantastic job that I loved as a research programmer for a professor. I worked there for a while, worked on some interesting research, read a ton of papers, got a handful of co-authors on papers, and then was able to apply to grad programs with a strong application.
Do something interesting and novel based on that - not neccessarily a detailed implementation, but at least a quick&dirty proof of concept; and then also describe and publish it as a formal paper, it's not particularly much work compared to actually doing the stuff. For example, if you "want to work on tools that advance how we think about software" then picking some specific narrow area of how, say, Bret Victor's concepts could/should be implemented in real practice would be an interesting topic.
All of this can be done w/o a PhD as a hobby/side-project, and such a project+publication would also be a ticket to a decent PhD spot.
It sounds like you know what you want to work on. My advise would be to do some more reading in the area and find research papers in your field. Soon you'll know how to extend or improve on prior work. At this point it's a good idea to identify schools and supervisors you want to work with, especially those whose papers you've read or reach you are interested in extending. You might even propose a research collaboration with them based on the papers you read. This is a good way to open channel of communication and get your foot in the door.
There's a great deal that can be said on how to get into a PhD programme. Let me know if you want to continue this discussion offline.
"Maybe you didn't publish as an undergraduate.... Maybe you can't even write a very compelling research statement yet."
When I was applying, no undergraduates had published research. And the "research statement" could hardly be described as "compelling"; that was one of the points of the breadth requirements for the graduate program---my eventual research topic was completely unrelated to my interests or knowledge coming out of my undergraduate program.
Besides, a research lab is a workplace after all, and some kids are completely missing the social skills that are needed in a working environment. You can't have that sort in a PhD program either.
No, it really really isn't. The vast majority of undergraduates have no effective access to research experience, even many that are fairly inquisitive and are receiving a pretty good education. This is especially true of undergraduates who are unable to afford tuition at top institutions (and increasingly even in-state public university tuition is unaffordable for the flagship universities that would be considered "top institutions).
Requiring research experience in advance of grad school turns grad schools into an elitist echo chamber.
I can't see having valid or "compelling" research experience as an undergraduate while taking a full load of classes (ok, so you have to take advanced placement courses in high school, which my school did not offer even if my school district did; I'm not sure one way or the other about that) and possibly working to support yourself (I'll leave the alternatives as an exercise to the reader).
At this point, you're filtering on many criteria that have absolutely nothing to do with successful research.
As for your question, no, I don't think that scientists in all of the branches of CS need to be good engineers. But that is just my personal opinion.
So basically when you have a choice of being unemployed vs doing PhD and getting some studentship, you obviously prefer the latter path.
And I believe there are quite many people who can "code" but unable to get paid.
Coding (or being DBA or analyst, depending on your area) to the level of getting an okay salary is quite trivial compared to that - from the PhD students I've seen the 'most unemployable' ones would be so not because of their ability to code but because of social/mental issues.
If you can prove theorems, then you can also code CRUD websites by following a tutorial, and get paid for that.
If you can't write code if your life depended on it but can write papers on human interface or methodology issues, then you can get a job as a system analyst in any large software development company and keep not writing code there.
It's like you say no one can be admitted to a PhD program in US without first learning some English.
I left grad school to work in industry, but I’m not so naive as to think that everyone shares my preferences. I have friends who turned down Google offers c. 2001 to go to grad school, and they’ve never regretted that decision. (And I don’t regret the time I spent in grad school before leaving, either).
btw i'm a big fan of jeff's approach and hope it works out well.
These days, good luck getting in a top tier institution for CS without a solid track record (I.e. a publication or two at an ACM/IEEE conference, and letters of rec from reputable professors/researchers in your field). The letters of rec are what make or break your application.
I agree that it's a bit over the top, but that's how it is.
Sorry to say this, but Ph.D. or not, it
is getting clear that in the US
being an employee
is no good for a career.
Can get hired as an employee in your 20s,
but the chances go down in your 30s, and
the chances go to near zero long before
your 40 year career is over. Exception:
If you rise high into management, then
you might be able to continue to get hired
until, say, 50. And high management positions
commonly don't last very long.
E.g., a big tech company might hire 100
Master's or Ph.D. degree holders, promote
1 to management, and at age 35 or so fire
the other 99. Then the other 99 can wish
that they could convert their Ph.D., say,
in electronic engineering, to an electrician's
license or had followed the path of a friend
in high school who was mowing grass and
now has 5 crews mowing grass and is getting
into landscape architecture and commercial
instead of just residential clients.
In broad terms, for a long career in the US,
be a sole proprietor with a geographical
barrier to entry. If want to do something
technical, then be a CEO of a startup that
takes advantage of your technical background.
For being an employee, regard that as a
temporary slot that will have to be replaced
by owning part or all of the business from
which you get your income.
Then, a problem with a Ph.D. is that you spend
in grad school most of your 20s when you
are most employable. Then to go into the
job market in your late 20s or 30s can be
a big disappointment because, really, the
jobs are for subordinates, not narrow
subject matter expert researchers. Actually,
a Ph.D. can be highly resented, can be a
black mark on your resume.
Of course a professor has control over the admission process. If he wants you on his team, you're in, unless you have a criminal record, or GPA below 3.0 (or whatever is absolute minimum for that particular grad school).
Think of it as a hiring process, with the professor as a hiring manager.
Based on the conversations I have had, it seems to be typical that a committee selects the applicants, not the professors. That is what all the professors tell me.
That being said, I would be stunned if this were the truth. There is no frickin way that this happens. Here's how I imagine it:
'Admissions committee is in session'
'So, which of these bozos we gonna pick?'
'I want Joe, Schmo, and Dingus'
'Sweet, I want Harry, and Fiona'
'Ok, we all cool?'
'Aite, lets get beers'
I actually think that creating many interesting projects + one's corresponding Github would be a better metric than getting a Google (or even YC) acceptance letter. You want people who are constantly tinkering and thinking of new ideas/projects/approaches and inventing just for the sake of inventing.
If you go too entrepreneurial, you might also be selecting for students who might be more amenable to dropping out from the program and doing a start-up (which then wastes the resources/time that Jeff mentioned he had to give to every PhD candidate).
185 dollar GRE that I can get in the 99th percentile on with ZERO studying? Grades that aren't normalized across institutions weighed heavily? Need recs from established professors who can slip in a good word for you?
Oh sorry, you were actually doing things that interested you, not necessarily things that would impress the right people. Oh sorry you took tons of hard classes at a prestigious institution and so have something less than 4.0. Oh sorry you hopped labs for a bit instead of staying with that boring CS guy that would've gotten you into any PhD program in America for 4 years. Oh sorry you spent a year or two out of college doing startup tech work without building credentials with other PhD grads but nevertheless solving research grade problems.
I've realized that the PhD admissions does not select candidates who actually want to do research. It selects candidates who want to be admitted into a PhD program. No thanks. I love science and math, and I love research, but I think the PhD application has been so harrowing for me, I won't consider it again unless drastic changes are made.
I care a little about your GRE scores, it is a filter, you need some kind of standardized comparable. Congrats on getting in the 99th percentile (that's expected). I don't care much about your GPA. I might look at what classes you took. I will probably look at your reference letters briefly. They might be from professors, they might not. I don't care. I love the fact that you have some startup or industry experience, you are slightly more likely to actually know how to get things done.
The very first thing I read is your cover letter, then straight to your research statement which I will read in great detail. The only thing I care about is do you have a passion for research, are you likely to be successful at it.
At most research institutions in most areas of science, we have to pay our graduate students stipend and tuition, either right away or after a year. This is a damn good incentive to get students in who are going to do great research.
All I care about is getting great researchers in the door and (eventually, hopefully) into my lab. So, my advice: focus on your research statement. Tailor it to the department your are applying to, talk about the research they are doing there. But, have your own agenda. At least know what research areas you are passionate about.
The GRE point I was trying to make was that since 99th percentiles are expected, the test shouldn't exist at all as it is clearly a poor filter.
Honestly, I think you dodged a bullet. Academia isn't that magical (CS PhD here). I think you get a better education reading Hacker News some days.
Now on to the game of academia. It is one that is based on reputation, papers, and not money. No one cares for efficiency either and no one is building crap. All they are doing is trying out different "solutions," which may or may not make any sense. For instance, "hey guys, let's apply game theory to problem X, it will be a good/novel experiment and we can get a paper out of it." Waste of tax dollars. The logical answer that solves problem X might have already been solved and can be solved using ordinary methods, but academia doesn't want that. Research labs have business models, keep proposing new complexity on complexities, very unnecessary. Overcrowded fields like computer vision reek of this.
I'm a full time Ph.D. student. You might, of course, know that professors interact with the students very often (except if the professor is super busy always). I interact with mine almost every day. I do work with couple of collaborators in different countries. That is because my advisor knows them in-person before deciding to collaborate. I work with lab colleagues frequently. Remote makes all this extremely challenging.
"Disclaimer": I'm not in STEM
It's not a tactic I'd recommend to anyone unless their circumstances were strongly dictating it, and there's definitely stuff lost in the process. And my department wasn't particularly "collegial" - for the places that are, it'll be worse.
I would recommend against it in exceptionally strenuous terms for the PhD. Full-time on-site PhD or don't bother IMO. It just decreases the educational intensity and quality so much not to do that.
In academia however you can possibly build connections with your peers (other labs) and lab colleagues through your work. One can attend on-campus seminars and exchange ideas with potential collaborators. Being remote voids these options. Opportunities to work on interesting projects (other than research. For instance, contributing to student organizations) will be lost as well.
Edit: Regarding my research area.
On most occasions, students will have to register for classes (not all classes are offered online). Once you complete classes, it is potentially viable to work remotely. However, it again depends on the funding scenario. How a student is supported etc. If I'm a Teaching Assistant, I'm expected to be on campus and available to students. Being a Research Assistant gives the flexibility to work remotely (if advisor agrees however not all universities might allow that).
While it was possible, and I'd defend my decision to do it, it's a tough road, and not one I'd start out on if I could avoid it.
In Europe, mostly, you're required to have a master's degree to apply for a PhD.
I'm also not sure how its relevant to what I said?
(1) People who were planning to go into industry and already have, say, an offer letter from Google, or just a strong open source profile, but now aren't sure if they want to go into industry or academia. Being able to apply to Brown with their offer letter could reduce a lot of friction in their consideration of the academic route.
(2) People who've already tried to get into a top Ph.D. program the traditional route and failed. If this is your dream, and you don't have the grades or publications to get in otherwise, but you do have top programming chops, this could be a way for you to still get what you want.
(3) People who are already in industry and want to go into academia. They may have lost their academic connections at this point in time. Even if they had great grades, they may struggle to reconnect with old teachers to write the requisite stellar recommendation letters.
Looking at the examples in the original post, I think the "demonstrate scholarship" section could directly apply for physics as well. Offer letters, github, are more more marginally useful...
Tough one. I'd love to hear how this works out, he sounds like a very thoughtful professor.
My academic resume isn't going to get me noticed for a PhD program but it sounds like someone is finally looking at ability (I had great scores on the Computer Science GRE in 1990, but they apparently only last five years and that test has been discontinued)!
Thus, CS programs stopped requiring it, so fewer people took the exam, so the ETS decided to drop it.
Note that no professors have actually been tracked or harmed.
Most European countries require a masters degree before starting, but the PhD is officially supposed to take 3 years (but usually takes 3-4+)
personally I think HN has both a pro-PhD, pro-academic, and also an anti-PhD or anti-academic segment. Sometimes within the same people! I certainly do.
I think it has both strengths and weaknesses. I think to the extent that universities and PhD track stuff serves an unnecessary and embarrassing anachronistic echo from the Middle Ages then that is a bad thing. But to the extent it helps teach disciplined thinking, cultivate a new generation of teachers and researchers, and helps to cull out noise or invalid/false/dumb contributions to the advancement of an art, it's a very good thing. The weed-out effect is good. I think some antipathy comes from the folks who perceive there to be a lot of non-weeds outside academia, and weeds within it. All discipline and curation is good. But it's not the unique providence of universities or professorship tracks. A lot of programmers have a libertarian bent too and dislike profit-maximizing monopolies or priesthoods, and universities/academia has at least a little of that aspect to them.