Archive for June 29, 2018

We might want naive and delusional PhD students

We’re in the midst of cleaning out 25 years of accumulated stuff in our house in order to sell this house, buy a new house in Ann Arbor, and move to the University of Michigan by September 1.

As I was cleaning, I found the below — my original statement of purpose that I submitted to the University of Michigan in 1988 to start my doctorate.

I shared it with some friends, ruefully.  It felt silly, as well as grammatically flawed. I really did think that I was going to get a faculty position in “Computer Science and Education” when I graduated in the early 1990’s.  I was naive, maybe even delusional. I had no idea what academic CS was like when I applied. The reality is far different than what I imagined.  At the Home4CS event just this last April, I mentioned that it would be great if we had CS Education faculty slots in Schools of Education today.  As Diane Levitt reported on Twitter, the audience roared with laughter.  How crazy was I to think that we’d have some in the 1990’s?

But now, some positions like that do exist.  There are faculty who have been hired at US higher-education institutions to focus on CS Ed.  My new job at the University of Michigan is a joint position between CS and their Engineering Education Research program.  It took 25 years, but yeah, I’m going to have the kind of job for which I earned my PhD.

Some friends encouraged me to share this statement. Maybe it’s a good thing to have naive new PhD students.  Maybe that’s what we want in PhD students. We want PhD students to think long term, i.e., to have bought into a goal, a set of research questions, or a vision — and be willing to work at it for decades.  Eventually, if the student is really lucky and others are working on similar visions at the same time, the vision doesn’t seem not quite so naive, not quite so delusional.

I’ll be taking some time off from the blog while making the move to Michigan. I may post some guest contributions over the next few weeks, but for now, I’m putting the blog on hiatus.

June 29, 2018 at 7:00 am 5 comments


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