Me and my Ph.D. It rhymes!! [Warning: Narcisistic Post]

So I am reinstalling Ubuntu on my work computer because I totally screwed up the permisions for the users. Turns out you can take away your own admin abilities and without them there is no reasonable way to get them back. Still, I couldn't be happier with Ubuntu in general as a work computer. As a home computer I still have a few gripes but thats why I spend most of my time in the windows partition. Actually, I do have a problem. I can't print to the public printer here in Birck because I can't find printer drivers for a cannon imageRUNNER 5570 for Linux. I'll keep looking.

So I wanted to write about me today because studying for the Ph.D. area exams has gotten me focused on how I seem to think differently then most people. The way I have typically described it is almost like a learning dissablility. When I first learn something I usually have trouble understanding and keeping up with whats going on. This is expecually true with math classes *shakes fist*. However, you ask me a year later about the class and it is very likely I can apply what I have learned much better then my classmates. I should qualify that, I know how to apply it much better, the nitty-gritty often escapes me though. But, in engineering the knowing how is usually the hard part. For instance boundry conditions and differential equations can be solved by computer. Picking those boundry conditions is still an art.

I also have a rather weak memory for how far I have gotten in school. I recently gave up playing World of Warcraft because I had difficulty getting engaged in quests. I would pick up a quest, read it, and then forget where I got it and often even that it existed. Despite getting to level 30 (night elf hunter, and I had Humar as my pet :-) ) I rarely knew where towns were and how to get from here to there. It just sucked and was way to much effort because I suck at its main skill, memorizing and keeping track of many different things at once.

I take pride in being able to see connections that others don't see. I am not sure if it is skill or just an almost manical obsession with it (if you spend all of your time trying to do something it can make up for mediocracy). Really this is what this blog has always been about. Its an outlet for various connections and ideas I have from reading news articles and whatever else I have managed to pick up along the way. I have always wondered if there was some connection between this ability and my relatively poor memory (Ha! didn't even realize I wrote that until now when I am reading this over and revising it...) . Well I found an interesting article today that described a direct relationship between an individuals ability to focus and the supposed "size" of their memory. The researchers determined that often people with great memories don't memorize more, they just make sure to get the important stuff. Ok, so thats fine but the interesting part was these last few sentences:

This is not to say that people who can't screen out stimuli are dumber. As Vogel noted, "Being a bit scattered tends to be a trait of highly imaginative people." The more you rattle the marbles around in your brain, the more creative new connections you make, as it were -- connections that might be lost on those focusing intently [on what you wanted to memorize]
Bingo! At least it made me feel good about myself :-) I often find that my creativity and my ability to function are inversely proportional to each other. It seems like the times when I am least functional (forget to pay the bills, have a disaster of a bedroom, and what not) are the times when I have my greatest ideas. Ok, that is alittle egotistic since I really don't have any great ideas that have been proven correct. At least that is when I have the ideas that I enjoy most. Its funny, but my room was probably at its cleanest durring my masters while I was writting my thesis.

I do seem to go about research in a different way then most people. I tend to treat it like design. Start with an intuitive guess and then slowly refine the design, adding and subtracting as needed. Often what ends up is quite different then what I started with. It was funny looking back on some of the stuff that I wrote for my masters thesis on the thermoelectricity of ionic solutions. I suppose it was somewhat confusing for my advisor because I must have come to her with 5 or 6 complete theories of electrolyte thermopower durring the 2 years I worked on the project. Each time I would manage to convince her and myself it was true before finding some new bit of information that made me rethink things. I am quite proud of where I ended up but it was a long road.

Its tough to describe the power that these strikes of intuition have over me. My labmates and friends probably can actually... :-) I will put it this way: there are only two things that make me content, TAing and working on or listening for these gut feelings.

I don't really know where this is going. Mostly I am expressing some doubt as to my career choice. Academia isn't the same beast that it was. Unless you are freaking amazing you have to fight for money, publish papers, network, write books, write grants, and budget what money you have better then thousands of other very intellegent people. I just don't think I can do that and I don't think that I can achieve the reputation neccessary to not have to do those things. Sure, in industry I will also have many of the same responsibilities but I have a feeling that I am more likely to be utilized better. Basically, in academia I have to fit a single job description but in industry I have much more freedom to find a position that I can excel at. Im not saying getting a Ph.D. is wrong, it will doubtless help me obtain this magical job I speak of, but I no longer feel like I am here to experiance my Ph.D. I am here to get it and move on.

I'm not sure thats a good thing. I am a big proponent of always enjoying the journey as much as the destination. Kind of hard to enjoy the journey with your eyes so focused on the prize...

And what ever happened to ending these posts with a question! That used to be my favorite part. Maybe this is part of maturity, not only do you start giving up on your dreams but you start "Tell'n it like it is" with no room for doubt...

(Is that a question?) <--- At least that is!!!!


Blogger Josh Staiger said...

I was wondering what you thought about this:


But judging from that third to last paragraph, sounds like you have a pretty good handle of the challenges of the Ph.D.

8:42 AM  
Blogger Craig Snoeyink said...

Ya, I saw that too. Probably also through Reddit :-) It applies much more to fields like english, history, the classics, and what not but it does have a point about engineering and science.

I think, at least in engineering, people are fairly well aware of the difficulty in getting a tenure track faculty possition. The problem is that position is worth much more then its pay to people. I think it is an awefull lot like engineering in undergrad, it seems like the thing that really smart people do.

12:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maturity is not about giving up on your dreams, what a sad, silly thing to say. Someone so smart and so strongly idealistic should know better, what happened to gut feelings? It is depressing to think of how many people see their lives in such a way and in turn blame and spite. Maturity is also NOT about stepping down to the competition, it is about making a conscious choice, establishing goals and being physically and psychologically capable of committing to them without constantly glancing over at what the other guy is doing. If you love yourself and your work success will come. Overcoming, preservering, achieving with capacity to gravitate towards enlightened contentedness...that is maturity. The tricky part. . . you have to discover yourself outside the realm of percieved obligations. . in other words you can not discover yourself while you are constantly comparing and competing. Once you discover who you are you can define what you want. . it is hard to achieve a goal if you don't have one and are too afraid to make a decision. . . comfort zones are self imposed prisions. . .find a way to break out of yours.

5:31 PM  

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