Archive for March, 2012

To do or not to do a PhD

March 20, 2012

After my earlier post on Why do a PhD?, I think this is a nice follow-up reading — Graduate student: To be or not to be.

Why do a PhD?

March 13, 2012

Matt Welsh at Volatile and Decentralized on getting a PhD:

Doing a PhD is certainly not for everybody, and I do not recommend it for most people. However, I am really glad I got my PhD rather than just getting a job after finishing my Bachelor’s. The number one reason is that I learned a hell of a lot doing the PhD, and most of the things I learned I would never get exposed to in a typical software engineering job. The process of doing a PhD trains you to do research: to read research papers, to run experiments, to write papers, to give talks. It also teaches you how to figure out what problem needs to be solved. You gain a very sophisticated technical background doing the PhD, and having your work subject to the intense scrutiny of the academic peer-review process — not to mention your thesis committee.

I think of the PhD a little like the Grand Tour, a tradition in the 16th and 17th centuries where youths would travel around Europe, getting a rich exposure to high society in France, Italy, and Germany, learning about art, architecture, language, literature, fencing, riding — all of the essential liberal arts that a gentleman was expected to have experience with to be an influential member of society. Doing a PhD is similar: You get an intense exposure to every subfield of Computer Science, and have to become the leading world’s expert in the area of your dissertation work. The top PhD programs set an incredibly high bar: a lot of coursework, teaching experience, qualifying exams, a thesis defense, and of course making a groundbreaking research contribution in your area. Having to go through this process gives you a tremendous amount of technical breadth and depth.

I do think that doing a PhD is useful for software engineers, especially those that are inclined to be technical leaders. There are many things you can only learn “on the job,” but doing a PhD, and having to build your own compiler, or design a new operating system, or prove a complex distributed algorithm from scratch is going to give you a much deeper understanding of complex Computer Science topics than following coding examples on StackOverflow.

A good post, in which, Matt expands on the things that he learnt during his PhD — reading and critiquing research papers, writing papers, giving talks, running experiments and interpreting their results, and, figuring out the problem on which to work on. Here is the conclusion:

So I think it’s worth having a PhD, especially if you want to work on the hardest and most interesting problems. This is true whether you want a career in academia, a research lab, or a more traditional engineering role. But as my PhD advisor was fond of saying, “doing a PhD costs you a house.” (In terms of the lost salary during the PhD years – these days it’s probably more like several houses.)

Nice one! Take a look!

Start-up ideas: frighteningly ambitious ones

March 12, 2012

Paul Graham has pulled a Hilbert with this one!

When Krittika was heaven …

March 11, 2012

Can the references in the ancient Indian texts say anything about the Aryan Invasion Theory? One of my colleagues and friend in the Department, Prof. TRS Prasanna believes that one can. Here is a quote from his homepage:

The Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) was proposed by 19th century European Sanskrit scholars based on the similarities between Sanskrit and European languages, now called Indo-European languages. According to AIT/AMT, Aryan tribes invaded/migrated to India about 1500 BC. The Rig Veda that is the oldest text is dated near this date. Later Vedic texts, Samhitas and Brahmanas, are dated to 800. AIT has always been controversial and many scholars have opposed it from the very beginning. Today, most archaeologists, geologists and scientists oppose AIT as the hard evidences point against it. Despite this, AIT remains a dominant theory and its legitimacy rests mostly on philological (comparative linguistics) scholarship.

The main reason most scientists don’t support AIT is that the astronomical references in the Samhita and Brahmana texts have been dated (from 1890s onwards) to 3000 BC. Western Sanskrit scholars have denied the interpretation and the dates of 3000 BC. We present comprehensive analyses of key astronomical references in the Samhita and Brahmana texts and show that they consistently lead to 3000 BC. They clearly show that AIT is an incorrect theory. Another finding is that Sanskrit scholars are unaware that they have correctly interpreted verses on ekastaka to 3000 BC for the last 80 years. That is, for the first time, we have shown that western Sanskrit scholars who proposed AIT have contradicted it themselves.

We have considered the evidences from physical sciences and established the criteria for scientists to form a professional opinion on AIT. We have proposed four questions that must be addressed satisfactorily in order for scientists to support AIT. On these grounds, we establish that there is no scientific basis for AIT.

Prof. Prasanna has published an article in the latest issue of Indian Journal of History of Science titled “Ancient Indian Astronomy and Aryan Invasion Theory”; you can download a the preprint version of the paper here (pdf). Here are some of the highlights of the paper:

  • A simple method to date the Brahmana period to about 3000 BC
  • The origin of Mahashivratri and its dating to about 3000 BC
  • Interpretation of Ekastaka verses and their relevance to dating the Vedic texts.
  • The position of Krittika during the Samhita period (which, sort of explains my title to this post!)

If you are interested in Aryan Invasion Theory or in the history of Indian science, here is a paper that is worth your while! Have fun!

Writing and editing

March 11, 2012

Luc Sante tells how to become editor of your own writing:

Rereading not only ferrets out problems, but it also ensures continuity of voice, as well as that elusive quality dear to both writers and rappers: flow. Constant rereading, which can be done out loud if you don’t trust your inner ear, is especially important now that progress has eliminated the tiresome but useful drudgery of retyping. Sometimes a glaring error that you motored blithely past a dozen times will become apparent only on the 13th read.

There are many more tips in the piece; take a look. Link via Jenny at Light Reading.

Teaching: for whom?

March 4, 2012

It may sometimes be rather deflating to discover that a well-prepared lesson did not really excite Johnny Smith’s interest, but, after all, the lesson was intended to benefit Johnny Smith, not his teacher; if it was uninteresting to him then the teacher must think again.

That is from E R Braithwaite‘s To Sir with love.