Archive for November 21, 2011

Picking a PhD Research Topic: For passion or curiosity, for funding, for job?

PhD programs, at least here at Georgia Tech, have changed dramatically in the last five years — with the economic downturn and with increased cutbacks in federal and state funding. A PhD student without funding can’t last long in the program now. A student can’t get admitted to the program without a faculty member making a commitment to getting the student funding.

There’s also the case of picking a topic in order to get a job in the future. I recently met with an undergraduate who said that she wants to be a teacher at a four-year liberal arts college. She was talking to me about doing research in CS Education. I told her that I’d be glad to work with her, but it’s not in her best interest to get a PhD in CS Education Research given her job focus. Few teaching-oriented schools hire CS Ed people. She has time now, as an undergraduate, to develop research skills in some area that could lead to a graduate career that would make getting her dream job more likely.

Here in Australia, there is a real boom in CS Ed PhD students. There were 20 at the Doctoral Consortium in Melbourne. University of Adelaide has one now, two more starting in September. One of those starting next year had to re-do her proposal because she’s getting a CS PhD and there wasn’t enough CS in there, but not because she couldn’t do CS Ed. It’s striking that Australia has this boom in CS Ed PhD’s because of student interest — no increase in funding, and I don’t know what the job prospects are like.

Selecting a topic for your PhD dissertation is critical. You need something promising, but do-able within the time available. It has to be something you really care about, but also something that your advisor cares about and is reasonably knowledgable about. It’s already a highly constrained problem. Needing funding from Day One complicates things further. If I need to find the money before the student, then I need to organize PhD admissions around finding the best fit for my particular project. That may not be the best student available–it’s just the one who fits. It feels backwards–buy the shoes first, and then look for someone with the right size feet. It’s also not a time efficient process. If a grant proposal takes six months to be evaluated and I can’t hire someone until the money is in hand, then I may have to wait up to a year to find the person who fits in those shoes. My annual report for year one I fear will end up saying “so far I think we’ve found someone who might want to work on this. We haven’t spent any of the money yet. Can you give us an extra year?” And what if I make an offer of admission to the one person who fits those shoes, and they choose a different graduate program? My fear is that this will lead to 1) lots of unhappy students working on projects that are not their first choice, and 2) lots of projects with no labor available for a medium to long amount of time.

via Research Topics: The PhD Student’s Passion or What We Have Money For? « The Next Bison: Social Computing and Culture.

November 21, 2011 at 4:16 pm 2 comments

NCWIT Sit With Me Campaign

When Barb and I went to the NCWIT summit in May last year, we were asked to be interviewed with our daughters for the NCWIT Sit With Me campaign. The campaign hasn’t launched yet, but there is a video up on the website now which is really compelling. And it’s fun for me to see all four of us in it!

Sometimes you have to sit down to stand up. Starting later this year, we will be sitting to inspire more women to participate in technical careers. When the “Sit With Me” campaign launches, we will sit to raise awareness of the crisis facing our field. We need more women and men to sit with us. Our collective support will help promote a world of technology that is as broad and creative as the people it serves.

via Sit With Me.

November 21, 2011 at 4:09 pm Leave a comment

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