What's a Ph.D in CS?

Stevey's Blog Rants: Wizard School:

"You hire a Ph.D., it's hit-or-miss. Some of them are brilliant. But then some subset of virtually every educated group is brilliant. The problem is that the notion of a Ph.D. has gradually been watered down for the last century. It used to mean something to be a Doctor of Philosophy: it meant you had materially advanced your discipline for everyone. Von Neumann, Nash, Turing -- people like that, with world-changing dissertations, they just don't happen that often anymore, at least not in CS. Well, they probably occur at the same frequency, but it's one in a thousand at best.

Instead, what usually happens is a bright young Ph.D.-to-be chooses a school based on expedience: finances, or location, or parental pressure. There might be a dozen or so advisors to choose from, and the department as a whole has only one or two really big, prestigious areas of focus, areas for which the school is known (and hence funded). So if a kid goes to a school that does a lot of X, chances are pretty damn good the kid's going to do her Ph.D. thesis in X. But it's probably specialized to death, and the kid will wind up working for years on some tiny slice of almost-nothing: little prototype mobile doodads that track forest monkeys or something. And the kid will lose faith, stop hoping their thesis will ever mean anything, and they'll go through the motions until their advisor pities them and lets them defend."

Go read the article. It's (mostly?) fictitious but it does incorporate some snippets of truth.

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