Ask HN: Is it ever sane to do a tcs PhD without much remaining interests?

9 points | by pepperpin 34 days ago


  • shoo 33 days ago

    It's worth thinking about where you might want to end up in 5, 10, 20 years. There's many different perspectives: e.g. your interests, career, finances, social life, family. That said, in 10 years you'll probably be a somewhat different person, and value somewhat different things to the things that current-you values.

    All things equal, it's generally good to give yourself options. If you've never experienced working in industry, what if you got a job in industry for a few years (ideally at a few different organisations, since there's a lot of variability), to see how you found it? Getting a broader range of experience may help give clarity.

    If you're concerned about being left without something to do in the short term, what's the harm in starting something but keeping actively looking for other better opportunities in a fraction of your time? If you find a better deal you can drop what you're doing and switch. I used to work for a small business that took on a few applied math PhD interns, one of the interns found the commercial side of things much more engaging and dropped their PhD to switch to work full time. Conversely there were other employees who switched from full-time work to part time so they could pursue masters or PhDs.

    • pepperpin 33 days ago

      Thanks mate. It never harms to try indeed.

    • apohn 33 days ago

      I'm not sure if this will help, but I've got a PhD and a know a lot of people (from before and after my graduate student days) with PhDs. Everybody has their own path in life, even if you do a PhD and end up in academia or not.

      Partway through my PhD I realized I had no interest in being a researcher. The reason was that after seeing what life as a tenure-track professor and/or researcher (e.g. Postdoc) was really like, I had no interest in that life for myself.

      Forget research interests, being the next Godel, and all that. Ask yourself, is life as a researcher or professor what you want - because that is what you will have to deal with no matter what your research interests are or if you are working at an R1 university or community college.

      Also, life is long. Don't worry about making the perfect career decision. Just make the best decision you can.

      • pepperpin 33 days ago

        Thanks for sharing the relieving experience and for reminding me of the length of life. I must have been traumatized somewhere to subconsciously believe that the natural death is near.

      • nhgiang 34 days ago

        Legends like Godel and people who won the Turing did not doing so all by themselves. The media made us see them as genius who think on another level, but in reality, they also built upon countless unknown researches before them.

        The world is actually built by nameless people like us. The legends are simply symbols representing the work of people before them, not goals for ourselves.

        Your work has value. Don't ever let anyone (read: employers and yourself) belittle them. Employers devalue your work so they can pay you less. You devalue your work because you compare it with the accumulated work of thousands of people across generations, which is downright silly, don't you think?

        • pepperpin 33 days ago

          Yeah you're right, I should probably look inside the areas before making judgments. But still, from an existentialist point of view, random papers are not necessarily more honorable than apps or crawlers or even disposable wastes, which let at least one person in the world live an intuitively less miserable life. Betting my life on the fight against randomness and absurdity is exhausting.

        • p1esk 33 days ago

          If you're capable of doing quality research (publishable in top conferences), you won't have any problem finding a job either in academia or in industry. Don't worry about that.

          As far as actual research topics, there's a long standing need to integrate symbolic logic into deep learning models. No one knows yet how to do this. If you have an interest in the intersection of tcs and ml, I'd encourage you to work on that problem. The next few decades will be known in human history as the time when AI emerges. You decide whether you want to watch it happen or help make it happen.

          • pepperpin 33 days ago

            Yeah that sounds interesting. Hopefully I'll be a participant of it with growing sincerity. Thanks.

          • bjourne 34 days ago

            Ask on To me, it sounds like you don't have enough passion for a phd.

            • apohn 33 days ago

              >To me, it sounds like you don't have enough passion for a phd.

              I've got a PhD and I don't agree with this at all. People get PhDs for all sorts of reasons, including not knowing what else to do in life. I know a lot of PhDs and I'd say only a few had "passion" for what they were doing as grad students. And for some of those passionate people that passion was driven out of them by graduation time.