by Diana on May 7, 2013
Since becoming a PhD candidate* mid-April (hence the long hiatus on this blog) I have been asked multiple times why is it that I am not specifically going into an academic career. I would like to take a moment to respond to this and to address what I believe to be the more pressing issue – that of PhDs in the USA.
PhDs and Academic Work
I am not saying that being an academic is not attractive to me. Nor am I saying that I would not take an academic position were it granted to me. What I am saying is that I have already been in job markets related to my degree for over a decade. In fact, my work experience actually matches if not exceeds my academic experience. This means I look for positions where I can apply both my experience and education rather than just one or the other. To accomplish this, I often go for positions I have never officially held simply because they seem to offer a challenge and the opportunity to learn something new.
So, while I am not against an academic career and would not balk at one if one were to be granted to me, I am also under no illusion that it is the only thing you can do with a PhD. This means I did not enter my program with the thought that an academic career would be my only end-game (and neither should you!). The fact of the matter is academic positions with tenure tracks are few and far between. Most of them seem to be going the way of the dodo bird as those in them retire and not replaced. Additionally, associate professorships are becoming exceedingly competitive for little to no money simply because the supply exceeds the demand.
Then Why Get a PhD?
So, you may ask, if you’re not going into academics – why get a PhD? Speaking from personal experience, I was given the opportunity and money to do so. Secondly, I am one of those busy bodies that always has to be learning something**, so why not put those efforts toward a degree? Thirdly, and I hate that this is partially the case, as a woman in technology I am automatically paid less money and attention. Though a PhD isn’t going to ensure I get more of either one of those, pair it up with my work experience and the words “Cyber Anthropologist” and it does tend to turn a few heads.
Fourthly, I enjoy school. I enjoy the academic world. I love the “ding”*** I get at the end of every semester when my A’s roll in (yes, I am a 4.0 student who works full time). I enjoy learning about new subjects. I enjoy new understandings and light bulbs that go off as a result of my studies. I enjoy finding gaps in current research and knowing that I can fill those gaps and how to do so.
Lastly, I like it. I am good at it. Doing the work and achieving that level of education pleases me. I did it for myself and I am happy that I did. If you can’t be satisfied with doing something because you want to, then why do it?
PhDs and the Job Market
Though those on the PhD track may not find positions in academia, this does not mean we cannot find jobs outside of it. In fact, many of the skills we have gained in working toward the PhD as well as the education itself are perfect opportunities to market ourselves to the public sphere. We, as PhD students, need to learn how to market these things better so that employers can truly understand what it is that sets us apart and what we can bring to the table that others can’t.
That said, rest assured I am under no illusion that I am more qualified or better because I am a PhD candidate. Rather, it’s because I am a PhD candidate that I can back up what I do and how I do it with the reasons why I do it as well as provide other ways it can be done. It is because of my education I know I do not know everything, however, I also know how to figure out what I do not know. It’s the ability to know both how and why, or at least the ability to figure those things out, that has always appealed to me and always will.
Considering a PhD?
For those considering a PhD – if you are not going to continue to contribute to your debt to do it and if you are doing it because it is something you want, which would satisfy you even if you were not addressed as Professor, I say GO FOR IT! Go into it with the understanding that PhDs aren’t only useful for a career in academics. They carry as much value as you give them. So, give it all you have and make it count for you out there in both the public and academic spheres. If you start out that way, you can tailor your education to be as open as possible making you more marketable. To that end, I have always written papers and sought projects outside the world of academics as a part of my academic studies and I suggest you do the same.
Hiring a PhD?
For those who are in the position of hiring someone – don’t let the letters PhD mislead you. Just because someone has these letters on their resume or at the end of their name, it does not mean they are only suited to do academic work. These are true go getters with a heightened sense of autonomy and responsibility for their own work. They have the ability to do independent thought and research, which means if they don’t know the answer or how to do something – you can rest assured they can figure it out. And, last but not least, they are willing to put the work into what ever the project is in order to see it to its completion and will do so by elegantly and diligently overcoming any barrier or impasse that may come their way. Give them a chance, they won’t disappoint you.
A Few Shout Outs:
To my fellow students who have recently completed their quals – congratulations and good luck!
To those in the job market – broaden your scope, the opportunities out there may surprise you!
To those hiring – consider the broader implications of the degree and what it took to get there!
*PhD Candidate (aka ABD) – I have completed all of my coursework and passed my qualification exams. I will begin my dissertation research this summer and hope to complete my PhD by 2015 (within 5 years of having started it). You can see my ramblings about this process here.
**Continuous Learning – other learning opportunities on my list at the moment include learning Spanish, bettering my German, learning Piano (I played other instruments in school), and getting back into programming a bit
***Ding – this is part of what I call the “ding effect” (I referred to it in my previous research). It is that sense of accomplishment that people get from playing video games that causes them to want to continue to play the game even if it means doing a lot of the same repetitive tasks over and over again.
- Side note on this for all of you agile people out there, it can end up being very hard to achieve this ding effect in an agile work environment where people continuously work on ongoing projects and that may lead to faster developer / designer burnout. You MUST give your team a ding every once in a while to encourage them to keep going. Otherwise, ongoing projects just end up resembling the ever rotating mouse wheel with no end and no carrot in sight and you will lose your best and brightest over and over again. (Yes – speaking from experience from working on a team that has turned over at least 6 teams over the last 3.5 years.)
by Diana on January 15, 2013
I do not have many words to add to the multiple that are already out there. What I do have to say is that about a year ago I was protesting SOPA with the rest of you. It was one of those things those of us who care so deeply about freedom and the Internet did in hopes that it would actually bring about change.
Internet and Information freedom are near and dear to my heart. My entire Masters research was on FOSS / Fedora. I’ve posted on this blog about many of the things that are threats to this freedom including cyber bullying, censorship, and net neutrality.
Though I have a few papers floating around on the Internet, you will not find any of them in a journal much to the dismay of many of you who have contacted me for copies and citations. Why? Because I refuse to have my research (especially that which I do of my own free will and with no outside funding) published in a journal that cannot be accessed by the public, even if this hurts me academically.
I am not the only one that has a problem with the journal system and there are a few journals out there that have risen up against the status quo. There are also a few people who have taken a stand against the privatization of publicly funded information. Aaron Swartz was one such person. While he should be remembered for the many awesome things he did for Internet and Information Freedom, it is the ending of his life over the weekend that is being talked about today.
All I can say is the world, especially those of us who feel the same way he did, lost a great mind and advocate. He has been an inspiration to many of us, and he will only continue to do so. It will be interesting now to see how he has changed the world through the ending of his own. I am just an academic and a wanna-be hacker, but I will always do what I can to fight many of the same fights he did.
In the words of famed anthropologist Margaret Mead:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
How are you changing the world today?
P.S. If you are reading this through an RSS feed – thank Aaron…
by Diana on November 7, 2012
I think gamers would make great politicians. In game we have to be able to communicate, manage our time and resources, understand technology and how to use it, and work well with others. We also do all of this on top of our daily lives as parents, employees, students, and more. And, last but not least – we do it all for FUN!
So congratulations on your new state senate seat, Colleen Lachicz – Orc Rogue. From me, Diana Harrelson – Anthropologist, PhD Student, User Experience Designer, and proud to be a level 86 (working my way up to 90!) Night Elf Druid.
by Diana on November 7, 2012
I spent today creating a clickable prototype in Fireworks based on screenshots of my wireframes. Usually I just program it all myself, but I have to take the fast way out this time. It’s been YEARS since I’ve used Fireworks – since about 97 when it was first being released I believe. Yeah…
The last time I did anything similar to this I hand coded imagemaps based on screenshots to help PC tech support people troubleshoot Macs for 3DFX back in 2000. The techs could actually click through an HTML version of the Mac OS in order to direct users on how to troubleshoot extension and preferences issues on OS 9 without ever using or seeing a Mac.
Needless to say, this project has so far made me feel really old.
by Diana on August 14, 2012
A friend posted a link to this article, A crisis of perception, on Facebook asking for my response. The article talks about how the perception of science is currently shifting from that of discovery to pure application. I wrote out a response and felt it was an important enough topic to post here. (My apologies for my otherwise lack of posting – I’ll post my reasons for this in a separate blog post entirely.)
Response to A Crisis of Perception:
I think a lot of this links back to today’s current lack of established classes that promote critical thinking for thinking’s sake going all the way back to high school or even jr. high and elementary. There is a saying I’ve seen going around that says something like “We’ve forgotten that college is meant to build a mind, not a career.”
Until we can get away from having to tie everything to money, we will continue down this path where every degree ends up being sponsored by a company, or a political party. Students will be like racecar drivers with sponsor patches littering their laptops and mobile devices. And, the only thing our society will be able to do is what our sponsors have had us trained to do.
Gone will be the days of innovation – one of the only things that actually makes us different from our competitor countries. This sort of thing is already happening in China . They are GREAT engineers, but they are poor innovators. Without a culture that promotes science for the sake of science, that’s where we are heading…
by Diana on January 30, 2012
Yesterday I found myself introduced to a brand new online community of people. As common as this community is, it’s completely foreign to me from the topics they talk about to the language abbreviations they use. Then I realize here I am again, the n00b.
Though most look down on the rank of n00b, it’s perhaps the most valuable position in a new group. Why? Well, everything is new! You have no preconceptions of how it should be, you question everything, and you are able to provide insights on things that those who’ve been around a while just take for granted. Being a n00b means there are no expectations of you, and really when you’re learning all you can this is exactly where you want to be. People are more willing to forgive mistakes, to answer questions, and to be just overall helpful.
So the next time you’re new, appreciate the fact you’re a n00b. It’s the best place for an anthropologist to be!
by Diana on January 19, 2012
I just spent the last 24 hours intentionally without access to Facebook. What struck me was not that I missed it as in fact I did not and to be honest there was a bit of relief that washed over me as I walked away from my computer after disabling my account in protest to SOPA. No, what struck me was how many times I, as a matter of habit, considered opening a Facebook tab during the course of my day. Please don’t confuse this as missing it. Understand it instead as how habitual my use has become that it was just second nature to want to act on this subconscious thought of “I have a moment to spare, so I should fill it with something.” The happy thing was that I easily filled those moments with something else without too much effort or thought.
Overall I was just surprised at how often the thought of visiting Facebook occurred to me. I remember just 5 years ago when it was Livejournal that filled up my pauses in work or school. Over 10 years ago it was a local message board for a club that kept me refreshing Netscape every five minutes as drama exploded online. What about 15 years ago? Well then it would have been my first college issued email account (yes, I’ve been in school a long time!) or my first Hotmail account. Two decades ago I was in high school and I filled all of my spare moments with a book. There was even a joke made about this at my senior assembly where a picture was taken of a woman at a mall reading a book and that was supposed to have been me 10 years later. (Instead it ended up being me on my Palm Treo 300. I like to think I invented mobile Googling to solve arguments almost 10 years ago. But, I digress….)
I suppose the point I am trying to make here is that no, it wasn’t that I missed Facebook itself. Rather, I realized that as of late I have been using Facebook as an escape that 20 years ago was reserved for mystery novels and fantasy books. I believe the reason for this is not that I value Facebook over my books of times past. Instead, it’s that I have so little in between time these days that I fill it with a brain snacks instead of a healthy meal. That said, with work and my PhD classwork I get plenty of high quality brain food. I guess what this all boils down to is that I just miss the brain snacks that were both filling and tasted good.
by Diana on January 17, 2012
I know someone like me, a little blogger, taking down my blog for the day will not move mountains or change people’s minds about their political stance. That said, this is a warning to those who do actually read this blog that it will be taken down for the day tomorrow to protest SOPA in solidarity with Reddit, WordPress, NVidia, Wikipedia, and more.
If you want to learn more about this, check out my SOPA Pinterest board.
by Diana on January 12, 2012
On Friday December 30th, my husband and I had a wedding ceremony in North Texas exactly one year after we were married in South Korea where he was stationed serving in the US Army the year before. We planned our entire wedding from El Paso in far West Texas (only about 600 miles away from where we had it) as my husband is currently stationed at Fort Bliss, and I used Evernote to help us do that every step along the way.
Using Evernote meant that no matter where I was, I could add things to my todos, inspirations, growing expenses, guests lists, and more. I also used it to write my vows the day before the ceremony. This is where it gets fun.
About an hour and a half before the ceremony I realize that my vows and the reception music were still on my laptop, which was at the house where I had started getting ready and not at the venue of the wedding where I had already arrived. I had one of my bride’s maids shove it in the car of another to bring it so that I could fix my overlook. (Funny that my todo list on Evernote did mention putting the music on a flash drive, but alas in the chaos of it all I didn’t have a chance to refer back to it!)
All of my bride’s maids arrived in time and we were getting ready when we realized that the car where the laptop was had its keys locked inside. This meant that both the music and my vows were now in the car and I only had half an hour to go before the ceremony. Realizing that I had typed my vows into Evernote, I took out my phone and looked them up in an attempt to memorize them. Then one of my bride’s maids said, “Why don’t you just use your phone? Better to have it and read them, then not have it and forget them.” With that they all agreed that not only was the the best choice, but for me – a cyber anthropologist, it was apropos.
With that, my phone was handed to the officiant and off I was rushed to hide in the final moments before the ceremony began. It was a pretty emotional ceremony as we’ve spent almost as much time separated as together in our marriage due to the fact he’s serving his country. I had already been tearing up before he got to his vows and by the time he uttered his words to me I was about to start sobbing. That’s when it was my turn and the officiant took out my phone and handed it to me. All of the guests began laughing, which was a blessing in that I was able to laugh too. Otherwise, I may not have been able to actually read my vows without being a blubbering bride.
After all of that, and all of the other uses I have for Evernote as a PhD student (all of my class notes, paper drafts, project notes), Research Assistant (all of my meeting notes and todos), an Anthropologist (all of my field notes), and a User Experience Designer (notes, todos, ideas, drafts etc) – I just want to say thank you for making such a great product and for all of the extensibility that is offered through its various application interfaces. I don’t know what I would have done otherwise. Using your product really did save me on my wedding day!
For those interested, you can read the vows here.
A thankful bride