Getting a good job

From: Chris Kennedy <>
Date: Fri Jun 30 19:38:46 2000

"Eric J. Korpela" wrote:

> We also expect that a PhD should be able to perform any task that might
> require a mechanical, electrical, software or civil engineer, an MBA,
> economist, lawyer or priest. They better have learned more in that extra 4+
> years of school than they did in the 16 previous.

If you amend that to "...learned more about a very specific topic in that
extra 4+ years..." then I'd agree.

The principle problem with Ph.D.s is that their knowledge base tends to
be as narrow as any other new grads; the only distinction being that they
have significantly more depth in one very specific area. Worse, during
the past four years that they've been focused on that area they've
typically been in the "simplifying assumptions" world that's so prevalent
in academia; the difficulty being that more often than not they simplify
the problem into oblivion and consequently have little useful to offer
when it comes to delivering product. I've had more than one occasion
where such people were literally reduced to tears in design meetings
as a consequence of being crucified by some staff engineer.

> Of course, that doesn't mean most engineers should have a PhD (or that they
> could get one if they wanted one.) It just means that there are problems
> I can drop in the lap of a typical PhD that would take a week to explain to
> the typical programmer.

"...drop in the lap of a typical PhD who is familiar with the problem area..."

Certainly anytime someone already has the proper frame of reference it
takes less time for them to spin up; this was useful to me once when
I needed formal correctness proofs of optimizations being performed
by a code generator for a parallel processor. I went to Rice, got
myself someone whose Ph.D. was in that very field and had them generate
the (dis)proofs. When they were done we tried to find other things
for them to do, but they were only marginally more effective than
our new crop of four-year grads. The person in question is now making
use of their Ph.D. by teaching undergraduate CS courses.

> It's a different skill set, and should be treated as such.

I don't see any evidence that the skill set is particularly different; I
haven't noticed that holding a Ph.D. makes one any more adept at
solving problems or even particularly good at operating the coffee maker.
All the Ph.D. represents is an additional four years of training in an
environment that is skewed from the one found in industry; the only
place where this would be an advantage is if they were to remain in
that academic environment -- which many (eventually) do.

Of course, my bias is actually broader than this. Given the choice
between someone with four years of experience and someone with no
experience and an advanced degree I'll generally pick the guy with
real world experience. Given the choice between two people with new
four year degrees, one with a 4.0, the other with a 2.9 because they
were working in the field in order to put themselves through school
I'll generally take the guy with the 2.9. It's all about what you can
do and how well it fits with my needs. Everything else is meaningless.

Chris Kennedy
PGP fingerprint: 4E99 10B6 7253 B048 6685  6CBC 55E1 20A3 108D AB97
Received on Fri Jun 30 2000 - 19:38:46 BST

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