At what age you complete your phD?

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mathwonk

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i have a lot of students who drop out of my challenging courses and take easier courses to get an A. So a B student could be one who is not afraid of a hard course. that could result in actually learning more and being challenged more thasn many fake A students.
 

mathwonk

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in fact some of my college D's were in the hardest courses offered.
 

mathwonk

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it is better for you though to get your phd younger. i got mine at 35, which means i will be 65 before i have 30 years credit at work. and i am getting a lot less energetic physically, which makes it way harder to do competitive research.

i used to work for hours and hours, often all night, to get out a project, but that becomes unfeasible eventually.
 
Jeff Reid said:
I've always wondered how most people afford to get phd's? What do they do for income while studying for a phd?
In Belgium, like in most countries in the world, you get payed during your PhD years. Most common sources of income are

Federal Science Fund (FWO) Scolarship
Technological (IWT) Scholarship
University Assistantship
Funds from a European Research Network (which is what I'm hoping for).

The first three a four years standard, with some possibility to add an extra year. The last one is variable, depending on how much money your research group has avaible and is willing to spend.

I've just turned 22, hopefully I'll be starting my PhD next october, so I'll be 26-27 when I get it. :smile:
 
The more important question is not when one obtains a doctorate but how productive one is with it, at whatever age one obtains it. Of course, getting one early means one has more years to be productive. I really wonder whether the brain slows down with regard to math after a certain age? For in other subjects it is not so. Kant's Critique, was written when he was in his sixties. And new studies are showing that the mind is far more elastic than we thought, which is a good thing, because I thought with respect to Math, the mind hardens by late fifties. What are the thoughts of the older members of the fourm?
 
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Office_Shredder

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I saw a movie called "Proof" the other day.

Apparently, your mathematical ingenuity peaks at 23. So I guess you're all SOL :P
 

Moonbear

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Jeff Reid said:
I've always wondered how most people afford to get phd's? What do they do for income while studying for a phd? In addition, you're in school until near 30, so this would seem to delay your career and family life significantly. Seems like a real commitment.
It is a real commitment, so not something to just jump into thinking it's the "next step" without thinking through what it's the next step toward. As for affording it, generally one gets paid a stipend when doing a PhD, either off of a funded grant their mentor holds, or through some sort of assistantship or fellowship. It's enough to pay rent and buy food. As for delaying career and family like, not necessarily. You're just doing your coursework while others are starting at the bottom of the food chain in the corporate world, or whever they go, but when you start your career, you start higher up. Once you're past the post-doc years, there's a huge leap to being an independent investigator with the salary that accompanies that huge leap, and with a much more satisfying career too, which is not to be underestimated. As for families, it's a little tougher on women than men, but I've seen people do it in all different ways and all seem to manage to make what's important for them happen. Some do delay having kids until after grad school (post-doc years are a good time to have children), some have them before they start and return to grad school at an older age when their kids can be more independent, and some have them while in grad school. The main thing there really is the level of support one has from a spouse. Usually, raising kids while in grad school requires having a spouse who earns enough to support the family and really good time management, and that your spouse is understanding of the hours you're going to put in on your education. A lot of people I've known preferred having their kids during their post-doc years because they could afford to take a little more time away to spend with the infant when first born, and just switched from balancing classes and research to balancing baby care with research, plus, you don't yet have the stress of trying to get grant support for your own work and working toward tenure. Ideally, you land your first job just before your kids start school, so you move once before they're settled into schools and then stay there, or they are only in the early grades with plenty of time to make new friends in a new town.

And, well, for some of us, it doesn't matter, because we just haven't met the right person to marry anyway, or that's not something very important to us.
 

rcgldr

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Well based on my experience as a programmer, the degree you have doesn't seem to have much bearing on your salary as a programmer (at least not for embedded software, operating systems, or device driver type work that I do), but then again, I've only had two co-workers that had phD's, and neither of them were phD's for computer science. Part of this is probably due to the fact that software isn't rocket science or physics.

Then again, phD's in computer science seem to be rare, maybe because there isn't a lot of research on software itself, but on specific applications of software. The hardware aspect of computer science is more often covered as an electronic engineering degree.

Just how unique and contriibutary to science does a phD thesis have to be these days? If multiple phD candidates are all working on the same research grant, how will their thesis vary?
 
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Moonbear

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Jeff Reid said:
Well based on my experience as a programmer, the degree you have doesn't seem to have much bearing on your salary as a programmer (at least not for embedded software, operating systems, or device driver type work that I do), but then again, I've only had two co-workers that had phD's, and neither of them were phD's for computer science. Part of this is probably due to the fact that software isn't rocket science or physics.
Yeah, you don't need a PhD to do computer programming, so there's no need or point in obtaining one if that's what you plan to do, unless you're someone who just has thirst for knowledge for knowledge's sake, but there are easier ways of acquiring knowledge if you don't need a PhD for what you want to do.

Then again, phD's in computer science seem to be rare, maybe because there isn't a lot of research on software itself, but on specific applications of software. The hardware aspect of computer science is more often covered as an electronic engineering degree.
I'm not too familiar with what CS includes or not, but you're probably right there.

Just how unique and contriibutary to science does a phD thesis have to be these days? If multiple phD candidates are all working on the same research grant, how will their thesis vary?
It does have to be novel research. Usually, you won't have more than one student working on one research grant, but if they do, then they each will be addressing different aspects of it. Generally, though, the mentor's grant should be their jumping off point, not their ending point. They should be developing their own, unique project (usually the basis of a new grant proposal, not an existing one). There are people who just assign a student to a couple aims on their existing research grant as their entire thesis project, but I don't think that's good training for PhD. That's more what you do for a Master's degree, or bring in undergraduates to work on their senior projects, or give to a post-doc as a side-project while they familiarize themselves with the new area of research they're learning to start up their own project in the new lab. The entire point of getting PhD is to learn to come up with your own ideas for experiments, and if your mentor just hands you a complete project, you aren't going to learn that and will struggle to gain independence later.
 

rcgldr

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The most techinical aspect of my programming work has been with error correction codes. This involves a subset of finite field math, but a well developed one, because there's a commercial need, and so a lot of grant money comes from corportations, including the company I work for.

I got to correspond with a professor that specialized in error correction codes, on some of the more advanced stuff, since I was designing algorithms for both hardware and software impementation. He is based in Hawaii (must be nice), but occasionally teaches small weekly classes at various locations in the USA. It was interesting to work with math algorithms that were relatively recently developed instead of ones that were hundreds of years old.

Some of the more advanced stuff helped reduce the gate count in chip for hardware implementation, but chip technology has evolved to the point that gates are almost "free", obviating a lot of the need for some of the advanced stuff, so I was fortunate enough to have learned about it before it became just interesting with no commercial demand.
 
Not much research in Computer Science? :bugeye:

You do realise that ACTUAL computer science (as opposed to just learning to program) is basically applied mathematics?

Just take a look here at the research we do at our university
http://dinf.vub.ac.be/english/onderzoek.html

And we're a small university!
 

rcgldr

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Dimitri Terryn said:
Not much research in Computer Science? You do realise that ACTUAL computer science (as opposed to just learning to program) is basically applied mathematics?
I never thought of it that way. At most colleges, a bachelor's and masters degree in computer science is mostly about programming, with a some electronics to understand the basics of how computers are made.

The applied mathematics seems to me as just that, applied mathematics. The fact that computers are used, doesn't change the fact that what you're referring to is mostly about math, and math oriented algorithms.

Then again, I got my degree back in 1990, so maybe things have changed.

Most of what I think of as sub fields of computer science: how computers work, basic programming, various languages, distributed processing (multiple computers / multiple threads), networking, databases, windows programming, device driver programming, other operating systems, ...

Then there are some niche areas:

Artificial intelligence - most of this work seems to involve control systems, like computer controlled subway cars, robotics, but I suppose there is still more generic work trying to duplicate how living things respond to inputs.

Scheduling (of computer tasks) is a classic main frame excercise that few current students will ever get involved in, although I do remember a couple of questions about it when I took the GRE graduate subject test in computer science (back in 1990), I don't even know if this is included in the current tests.

Sort algorithms are another exercise that affect only a small percentage of students, and by now most would know that merge/radix (the classic method of sorting with multiple tape drives) sorts, are the fastest method. Again, the 1990 GRE test had only one or two questions about this.

Analog computing, is there any activity in this area anymore, or has it all been replaced with numerical integration? It was kind of cool to simply hook up x double dot (2nd derivative) to negative x on the front panel breadboard, setup an initial condition, let it rip and see a sine wave on the screen (I'm not that old, but got a change to spend some time with an analog computer back in the early 1970's).

Extendend precision math is getting very advanced. Using the concept of finite field math to limit the range of values in arrays of floating point numbers, optimizing algorithms to speed up the math, choosing the size of the sub-numbers before a calculation so that carries / borrows can be done just once after a series of math operations, ... but how often do you need thousands or millions of digits of accuracy for calculations?

Data compression. I've done some work with this, mostly LZ1 and LZ2 type algorithms.

Error correction codes / algorithms is a grey area. I've worked a lot with this. Is this math or computer science? I've never seen this or finite field math as a requirement for a computer science degree.

There are other grey areas as well. Signal processing, like transmission / reception of data via various methods, sound (remember the orignal remote controls for televisions?), radio waves, light. Recording and playback of data on various media types (my company and other companies sponsor research as UC San Diego for magnetic recording research).
 
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mathwonk

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your ingenuity and creativity are only your potential to do math, so even if those have slowed , it does not prevent you from doing your best work. in my experience, getting physically older and tired, and having to cope with illness, family needs, etc, is the main and eventually more difficult part of doing math in old age. The brain is actually the part that stays in shape the longest.

I got my Phd at 35 and although not as "bright" maybe as I was at 15 or 19 or 23, I was nonetheless in a position then for the first time to train my abilities such as they were, on a significant problem, i.e. after finally getting my professional research training from experts and creative intellectuals.

After that, it is the people who work consistently, without long periods of inactivity, who seem able to sustain their productivity into old age. The hard thing is to ramp up your brain cells again on an abstract mathematical project after letting it get "cold".

Try not to let the work get too cold, and you can continue it a long time. But that is not so easy. My older son and I recalled, me regretfully, he in stronger terms, just last night how many times he and his brother had come home from grammar school to an empty house while I was at work.

And I am a very unusual researcher who made a big effort to take my family along even on international trips at least half the time i went. I.e. what I remember was how hard it was to prepare a talk after taking the family out for dinner, when none of the other speakers had any entourage. What my family remembers is partly the good times they ahd, and partly that they were only invited half the time.

But everyone turned out well, and I am happy about it now. I am more happy about the times I took them certainly than about the times my talk was easier to prepare.
 

jtbell

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Jeff Reid said:
phD's in computer science seem to be rare
Until the end of the dot-com boom, it was so easy to make a lot of money in the computing industry, relatively few students pursued advanced degrees in computer science. Many universities (in the USA at least) were in a real manpower bind because they had to teach rising numbers of students but had trouble finding new PhD's to hire as faculty.
 

mathwonk

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doing math is kind of like shooting pool or hitting a softball, you have to stay in practice. As a kid I was a teriffic sandlot softball hitter, and in junior high I batted 1000 for a few weeks on the team always going 3 for 3, or 4 for 4, with several home runs, until I learned about home cooking, and struck out looking. But I never studied. I was also the best undergrad pool player at my college. I even won a few games of one pocket from the traveling pro who gave shows at colleges. I also flunked out of school.

Then ironically to me, as a postdoc at harvard 10 years later, at the height of my research career, I was outhit at a departmental softball game by the least athletic nerd I knew. A year or two later I actually whiffed so hard I fell down at another picnic game. And a neighborhood friend beat me at 8 ball.

but I brought in 300,000 dollars in grant money during that period, received numerous international research invitations, and published hundreds of pages of refereed work.

now I am getting older and my yard is (slightly) neater than before.

you can't be good at everything. take your pick, and work at it.
 
N

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The more important question is not when one obtains a doctorate but how productive one is with it, at whatever age one obtains it. Of course, getting one early means one has more years to be productive. I really wonder whether the brain slows down with regard to math after a certain age?
Can't agree more since I'm just completing my PhD after a decade of study including my Master's which makes me the grand old age of 43. But does that bother, not a one iota. It is what drives you that matters. I've always loved learning and since I was working for myself I could fit in a part-time PhD with moderate ease. The task was made easier since I'm a Computer Scientist which means 'amateur' intellectual endeavour is possible. It is after all a little difficult to build most physics or chemical apparatus into the standard 4 bed room detached house, but I can house enough computing kit to get the job done. Perhaps I see myself more in the line of the Victorian gentleman scientists, in the vein of Darwin esp. since my area is evolutionary systems. Also computing when I first graduated was barely worth studying, but it has now matured well beyond how to code.

But what really matters is your motivation, to which I add a warning if you're expecting a much larger salary you're in for a shock esp. in the United Kingdom.
 
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I just want to know, what schools do these young people go to that don't slow them down?

I think I have what it takes to do it quickly. I just want to find a place that won't try to stop me from doing it quickly, working at a faster pace than the factory made programs, not having to deal with slowly administered courses, etc.
 
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Moonbear

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Mickey said:
I just want to know, what schools do these young people go to that don't slow them down?

I think I have what it takes to do it quickly. I just want to find a place that will actually let me do it quickly, work at a faster pace than the factory made programs, not have to deal with slowly administered classes, etc.
That's not a problem in grad school. Graduate work is very individualized, and the formal coursework is quite fast-paced. There's a lot more to getting a Ph.D. than just plowing through coursework, though. How quickly your research progresses often depends on how smoothly the project goes. You can't always predict where you're going to hit stumbling blocks there, since you're the first person ever to do whatever project you choose.

During your undergraduate years, you work on breadth of knowledge, in graduate school, you focus on great depth of knowledge in your area of specialization.
 
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I guess I'm just skeptical, moonbear. After every graduation, especially 8th grade and high school, people kept saying "it'll be different" and each time has been a monumental disappointment. Nothing has been different. Classes weren't discernibly harder. There's nothing in college that I couldn't have done in high school and nothing in high school I couldn't have done in junior high, etc.

I don't think I can take being disappointed again! :/
 
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Kurdt

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Once you get into university the range of courses are extraordinarily flexible so there should be plenty to challenge you. Of course this flexibility depends on what you choose as your course (i.e. physics or maths). I'm sure you'll enjoy it anyway.
 
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I've done the undergraduate thing already, Kurdt. No, they're not extraordinarily flexible. Actually I found UG to be more inflexible than high school. I had just presumed that college would be more flexible because everyone said that.

Then say said, "oh, things will be more flexible once you get to into the courses for your major," which didn't happen, and then they said, "senior year," which didn't happen either.

I'm basically hoping that I just went to the wrong university (a small private Midwestern one), studied the wrong thing (business economics), and that things will be different again. More different than they were different last time.
 
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Kurdt

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well like i say depends on the courses you do aswell. On subjects like maths and physics there are usually a large amount of modules, far more than constitute a full course credits and so you tend to be able to chose. I found my course was good for allowing me to change modules. Then again I'm based in the UK and from what I've heard sounds like you're US and I don't really know how they do it there but i'd imagine it would be similar.

Sorry to hear you had a bad experience though.
 
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I think it depends more on the size of the university here in the US. Bigger schools just have more professors, more courses, and a larger variety of opportunities. It's my own fault for not realizing that. I was tempted by the small, quiet, environment.*

Once I get over it, I'll have to get working on a grad program. ;)


*(Ironically, they're in a growth phase. They would soon tear down a building right in the middle of campus and start construction on a new one, rip up the main street and replace it, and the city would entirely dismantle a nearby interchange and replace it... dust and noise from construction was nearly a constant feature of campus life. I left it a very different place.)
 
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J77

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I was 25 (in the UK).
 
PhD age doesn't matter

It really doesn't matter what age you get your PhD, what matters is what you do with your degree. The age at which you get your PhD has little if anything to do with intelligence or brilliance, and more to do with circumstances. In this day and age, especially, people accomplish things at older ages than they did in the past. As the life expectancy grows, so does the average age at which you get your degree, think of it as a sort of scaling law. People who get their degree at a relatively younger age are not necessarily 'smarter' or 'better' than everyone else, it's more a matter of their circumstances. You could get a degree at a younger age, but have done crap for your thesis work, whereas if you had worked on the thesis longer, you might have results that are much better. About one-hundred years ago, many people got their degree when they were 23 or 24, but Einstein got his when he was 26, and Zeeman when he was 28, and they obviously did great work.
 

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