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Lindsey Kuper

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My regularly-scheduled why-am-I-not-in-grad-school freak-out [Nov. 10th, 2005|08:34 pm]
Lindsey Kuper
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I'm only a year and a half out of college, which I feel makes it only moderately boneheaded for me to read people's advice for computer science college students and feel like it might still apply to me.

I love Joel on Software. I would read the back of a Lysol can if Joel Spolsky wrote it. But I'm just not feeling this essay. It's hard for me to relate to his story of how he dropped his Dynamic Logic course in college because it made no sense to him to waste time studying something that was so difficult and yet so irrelevant to actual software development. I mean, he's right that a good computer science curriculum is not the same thing as a good software development curriculum, and vice versa. He's dead right about that. But he then goes on to assume that if you're in school for computer science, then you must love programming, so take lots of programming-intensive courses and just try to tolerate those useless "courses in lambda calculus or linear algebra where you never touch a computer" as best you can.

*sigh*

See, I really, really liked those useless theory courses. I did. I liked programming too, but I think that might have been mostly because I liked being around programmers -- they're some of the wittiest, funniest, most thought-provoking people around, and the best way to immerse myself in that was to be one. The theory stuff, though -- I liked it purely for its own sake. I loved linear. I loved combos and Automata. I thought lambda calculus was really interesting (well, sort of). If I hadn't figured so late that I was interested in that stuff, I might have gotten to take a course like Joel's Dynamic Logic. It might have kicked my ass and been irrelevant, but that would have been okay. I don't like that stuff because it is or isn't applicable to anything. I like it because it helps me be a better thinker, which is applicable to everything.

Before I graduated, I asked Mr. Stone if he thought I was good enough at this stuff to go to grad school for it, and he said yes. Then I asked him if I was good enough at this stuff to go to grad school for it and have a band, and he said no. So I decided that I was going to at least try to do one of the two, but instead, I didn't do either and now I find myself drifting into software development. I like software development -- I think. But it might just be that I like the jokes and the folklore and the witty people and the macho little games we play, and now I'm wondering if it's what I'm really supposed to be doing.

So I'm trying to have a band now, but I'm also thinking about school again. Paul Graham writes, "In principle, grad school is professional training in research, and you shouldn't go unless you want to do research as a career. And yet half the people who get PhDs in CS don't go into research. I didn't go to grad school to become a professor. I went because I wanted to learn more." Yeah. See, that's the thing. I don't know if I want to be a professor or a researcher; how is anyone supposed to know a thing like that at age 23? What I really want to do is just keep learning -- so what's the best way to do that?

That's it for tonight; I'm late for a party at my friend's place. He's a developer.

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Comments:
[User Picture]From: theguiterrorist
2005-11-11 08:28 am (UTC)
I wouldn't freak out, given that people can wait well into their twenties and sometimes into their thirties to go to grad school.
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[User Picture]From: cerulicante
2005-11-11 11:57 am (UTC)
Yes, life can actually start at...27. I am proof!
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2005-11-11 09:14 pm (UTC)
True, but what if I forget everything I know, or get too used to the lifestyle that having a job in industry affords? (And what if I don't want to continue having this crisis four or five times a year for the next five to ten years? Heh.)

I guess it's that I know a lot of folks who take a two-year break between undergrad and grad school to do something else, and now I'm going on two years, it's getting to where I have to decide whether this is my two-year break or not.
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[User Picture]From: theguiterrorist
2005-11-12 12:05 am (UTC)
My two-year break may be permanent in the sense that I don't really want to go to school again -- I just need a backup plan.

Needless to say, it's hard to motivate yourself when journalism school is the last option and not somewhere higher up on the list.
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[User Picture]From: pixelherder
2006-01-14 08:48 am (UTC)

Bah. I took three-and-a-half years before going back to grad school. Two years is nothing - and I know others who took as long or longer. Also, don't forget that grad school doesn't necessarily mean a PhD. There's also the masters option.

True, but what if I forget everything I know, or get too used to the lifestyle that having a job in industry affords?

Actually, I use that to my advantage. I find it a very compelling motivator to get my PhD and get back to work in industry as quickly as possible. That's not to say that I don't like grad school -- I'm enjoying it immensely and learning a ton. And though the work is significantly harder, it's much more fulfilling. But I'm not ashamed to say I miss the money and look forward to having it again.

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[User Picture]From: cerulicante
2005-11-11 11:57 am (UTC)
Graduate school, particularly the PhD programs, is simply training in critical thinking, regardless of the actual field. You can have a PhD and never do any research, but knowing how to do it and being able to interpret other peoples' research is an integral part of the education. Being a PhD is all about being able to critically read stuff as well as theorize and speculate based on previous work.


Grad school=critical thinking, not necessarily research, although to do research properly takes a LOT of critical thinking.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2005-11-11 11:31 pm (UTC)
This is encouraging! I like critical thinking.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2005-11-12 07:36 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure you can separate liking software development and liking software developers.

I'm not sure I can, either. =) The people (actually, James was one) were what attracted me to computer science in the first place, before I even knew anything about it. They just seemed like the sort of folks I wanted to be around.
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[User Picture]From: anacoluthia
2005-11-11 02:37 pm (UTC)
I love to learn. It's pretty much the only thing that ever motivates me. I'm going to grad school because it will allow me to do nothing but learn full time for the next 5 years, and because I am fairly certain I want to be an academic, the only way to do that being to get a PhD.

You will keep learning, because it's what you love to do. It's really just a question of venue. Will getting the degree put you closer to your goals in life? Are the things you want to learn things you can't do on your own? It seems to me that, especially in CS, there are many ways to learn. Grad school is only worth the time if it will help you move forward.

needless to say, i've been regularly having a similar freak out for the last 2.5 years.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2005-11-12 11:12 pm (UTC)
Congratulations on grad school.

I love to learn, too, and it's true that there are lots of ways to learn about software development: you can work on open-source projects with a geographically dispersed group, you can work for a startup, you can work for a large software company, and so on. I've definitely learned a lot from working for a startup over the past year, both details and big-picture sorts of things. But I miss being in a formal computer science learning environment; I wasn't necessarily learning better things there, but I was learning very different things there, and they're the sort of things I want to be learning about again.
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[User Picture]From: anacoluthia
2005-11-14 03:18 pm (UTC)
oh, it's not time for congratulations yet. unless you are congratulating me on finally getting it together enough to apply. i really have no idea whether or not i'll get in anywhere i want to go, or what i'll do if i don't. uncertainty and fear. makes life more interesting?
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From: rmfleming
2005-11-11 03:10 pm (UTC)
I'm having a too many options freak out. See, more grad school, always good, and increasing my starting salary somewhat. But jobs, in Iowa, they are so appealing, and I'll make nearly as much as Weeze.

I love theory, too. I also loved linear, but that was so long ago.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2005-11-11 03:24 pm (UTC)
Yeah, for you it was way back in high school. For me, it wasn't until junior year. I was a late bloomer. It was me surrounded by a bunch of first-years, and that was the beginning of a two-year whirlwind of math and mathy CS wherein I managed to catch up with my class.

Are jobs in Iowa really so appealing? Also, Weze has freak-outs like this, too.
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From: rmfleming
2005-11-11 04:11 pm (UTC)
yeah, but I did nearly the same with history. I kind of feel like, only now have I caught up.

The jobs in Iowa are in Iowa, which adds a lot. The one in Iowa city I'm not fully qualified for, but they want you to catalog in foreign languages like Arabic and Korean, which are pretty damn near the top of my "languages to learn" list. Also, their LIS department is full of brilliant and good looking people, so there's that. Also, they're in Iowa.

I've got to choose between the doc program and a real job. I am more torn than I've ever been about anything ever in my life.
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[User Picture]From: stingmeyer
2005-11-11 11:02 pm (UTC)
This looks like it may be a helpful guide.

O~
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2005-11-11 11:29 pm (UTC)
It does! Thanks.
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