Spence Green

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I work at Lilt. In addition to computers and languages, my interests include travel, running, and scuba diving. more...

Grad School Principles to Live By

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Having been admitted to the Ph.D program for Fall 2011, I’ve finally allowed myself to think in broader strokes about the next few years. I’ve also been talking to anyone who will listen about how to structure a “successful” program. It turns out that success is specific to the individual, although a reasonable starting point is to settle the industry v. academia career question. Of course there are commonalities between the two trajectories: you must pass quals, you must write papers, you must complete a thesis. However, the end-goal should shape the nature of the research and how time is invested. Prospective professors should focus solely on a high-impact scientific contribution. It seems that networking opportunities, invitations to speak, and so on follow from doing respected work. Make a name for yourself.

The industry track is either easier or harder, depending on the time scale. If you want to spend your career in an industrial research lab, then you can do more practical grad school research, network at conferences, and do internships. However, if an executive role is the final objective, then it might be wise to include a b-school certificate, to collaborate with a company during grad school, and to take some non-technical courses.

Presently, I am working through these alternatives.

In my conversations with both peers and professors, a core set of principles has emerged that seem reliable irrespective of the career path. They are:

  1. Take classes, but no more than one per quarter: Stanford’s Ph.D program does not require coursework. As I did not have a thorough undergraduate training in my research field, this aspect of the system works against me. I need to take courses, but the challenge is to limit the interruption to my research.
  2. Work on two projects simultaneously, but no more: It is refreshing to switch projects when a barrier is encountered. The mind benefits. However, life is short; two is enough.
  3. There is no substitute for good research: It’s like cash in your checking account.
  4. Mind the technical foundation: Every project has an engineering component. I find that my mathematical and analytical skills erode when I spend too much time programming. A good way to workout those muscles regularly is to write “squibs,” or short pieces on a specific proof, idea, technique, etc. Writing is equivalent to implementing. If you can write it down, you know it.

Written by Spence

April 27th, 2011 at 3:02 pm

Posted in Academic,Grad School

2 Responses to 'Grad School Principles to Live By'

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  1. Hello,I came across this blog and I get some beneficial information from it. thanks for your tip.
    Another question: what a thorough trainning in nlp should include? Maybe it is a difficult question to answer 🙂


    28 Apr 11 at 08:24

  2. I think that the CLSP’s course offering page provides a good starting point! Most of these courses will be included in a master’s program in computational linguistics. You could also look at the course offerings at CMU’s LTI.


    4 May 11 at 13:15

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