From The Economist:
Why doing a PhD is often a waste of timeEr... 50-somethings.
On the evening before All Saints’ Day in 1517, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg. In those days a thesis was simply a position one wanted to argue. Luther, an Augustinian friar, asserted that Christians could not buy their way to heaven. Today a doctoral thesis is both an idea and an account of a period of original research. Writing one is the aim of the hundreds of thousands of students who embark on a doctorate of philosophy (PhD) every year.
In most countries a PhD is a basic requirement for a career in academia. It is an introduction to the world of independent research—a kind of intellectual masterpiece, created by an apprentice in close collaboration with a supervisor. The requirements to complete one vary enormously between countries, universities and even subjects. Some students will first have to spend two years working on a master’s degree or diploma. Some will receive a stipend; others will pay their own way. Some PhDs involve only research, some require classes and examinations and some require the student to teach undergraduates. A thesis can be dozens of pages in mathematics, or many hundreds in history. As a result, newly minted PhDs can be as young as their early 20s or world-weary forty-somethings.
And collaboration with supervisors hasn't exactly been close, as the ones I've been able to find aren't specialists in my area of research.
My work involves both theoretical research and experimentation. There's not usually a lot of the latter in Computer Science, it tends heavily towards the theoretical. But then, it looks as if my PhD will be in Computational Chemistry rather than Computer Science as such. If I get it. Busy writing up now, trying with increasing desperation to find some theoretical justification for our extraordinary (and extraordinarily useful) results. It appears that the evidence tends to support some rather heretical (well, unpopular) ideas, but until we extend the work to other problem domains, I'm not even sure we can say that with any confidence.
Certainly the results weren't what I expected. But checked and re-checked, the results are sound. I really thought the method I came up with had to be good. Just not that good.
And in order to keep the wolf from the door, I'll be teaching two subjects in 2011, one at master's level, the other undergraduate. I love teaching, it's something I've always had a passion for. First Can off the rank, COMP8100 Requirements Elicitation and Analysis Techniques. Or "before we start making a system... what the heck is it supposed to do?" Too many systems have been built exactly according to specifications... but have been useless, as the real requirements and contractually stated requirements bore little resemblance to one another.
Digression: I found out long afterwards what my nickname was at ADFA (the Australian Defence Force Academy), when I taught there. They give all the lecturers and tutors appelations, some printable, others not.
They called me (though never to my face, more's the pity) "Mum". I rather like that. And yes, I was presenting as male at the time... and actually thought I was doing a good job of it. But it seems that while my appearance said one thing, my personality said another. They didn't know I was Intersexed, or Transsexual, or whatever. Just that... I was Mum.
At least at the ANU (Australian National University) I won't be looking at the casualty lists, and remembering those killed in action or giving disaster relief as the 18 yr old kids they were, not the professional military officers they became.
Excelsior. And with luck I might just have a life after my PhD regularly teaching part-time in Academe, maybe while formalising my research into the science of sex and gender. I'd like that, in the next stage of my life.