Monday, September 7, 2009

Life after the PhD

This post is quoted from a document written by Mor Harchol-Balter advising people applying to PhD programs in computer science or related areas. Mor has been in the committee of PhD admissions at CMU, Berkeley and MIT. I found the whole document very informative, but too large to include in a single post.

"When making a decision about the next 6 years of your life, it’s good to stop and think about what you might do when you finish. Most students upon completing a PhD either go into academia (research university or teaching school) and become a professor, or they go to a research lab. Some people never do research again after completing a PhD. For such people, the PhD was largely a waste of time.
    If you choose to be a professor at a research university, your life will consist of the following tasks: (i) doing research on anything you like, (ii) working with graduate students, (iii) teaching classes, (iv) applying for grants, (v) flying around to work with other researchers and to give talks on your research, (vi) doing service for your department and school (like giving this talk). Note that I say “your life” rather than your job, because for new faculty, your life becomes your job. It’s a fantastic job/life for me because I love these activities, so I’m happy to work hard at all of them, but it’s not right for everyone.

    If you choose to be a professor at a teaching college, your job will consist of the following: (i) teaching lots of classes, (ii) doing service for your department or school, (iii) occasionally advising undergraduates on undergraduate research, or doing a little of your own research.

    If you choose to go to a research lab, your job will consist of the following: (i) doing research (half will be on whatever you want, half will be on whatever the company wants you to do), (ii) working with other people in the company, (iii) traveling around a little to give talks and work with others."

I'm going to publish other parts of Mor's talk, discussing specific aspects related to PhD, in subsequent posts on this blog. So, keep watching.


  1. I think a professor in a university spends some time looking for good students whom he can work with. Am I right?

    Excellent idea,

  2. Although there's no clear cut, there seems to be some emphasis on what type a university is (i.e. in terms of research and education). For example, MIT and Stanford positions themselves as research universities, while Chicago State University positions itself as an educational university. However, grad students in MIT still need to take graduate courses, and the professors at CSU probably need to do research. This "type" directly impacts how much time professors spend for research vs. teaching. I would say that Alexandria University -for example- is a very good one, but in the educational sense only.

    So, I think you're particularly right if we're talking about a research university. In teaching universities, I'm not sure about it.

    Thanks for passing by Asmaa,