Friday, May 16, 2008

Entry: My dilemma

NOTE: A word of caution. I wrote this in a hurry. Please don't hold the possible excess of grammatical errors, misspellings, and all around BS against me. ;)

So, as many know, I was recently accepted into the School of Computer and Information Sciences at Nova Southeastern University. My goal is to pursue their PhD in Computer Science. "What is the dilemma", you ask? I'm trying to decide if I should quit before I even start.

"But why would you want to do something like that?? At least give it a shot!"

My premise:
Many a would-be-academic has shot himself in the foot by choosing the wrong institution at which to pursue his advanced degree(s). Although it'd be more than adequate for any industrial or government-oriented career, I have hesitations regarding how it would be received by the academic community should I ever endeavor to join their ranks. I'm no stranger to being an alumnus of a less-than-internationally-renown institution. Having received two degrees from one, I have absolutely NO reservations whatsoever regarding the quality of my education after having gone up against people from schools like Penn State, VA Tech, Johns Hopkins, etc. I'm a definite believer in the premise that books alone do not make a person smart and neither does the money they pay to a big-name university.

What are my goals?
1. Currently working for a federal research laboratory, I want to be able to maximize my contributions to the research community (no matter where my career takes me).
2. To pursue this degree NOW (when I am unhindered) instead of later (when it won't be potentially feasible anymore).
3. To definitely consider collegiate academia as a retirement occupation and, quite possibly, even a pre-retirement career.
4. To be able to maintain my career while pursuing the degree. (This is an absolute must.) Therefore, I will be skipping the usual post-graduate student template that demands constant sacrifices to the god of stipends and perpetual impoverishment. Most unfortunately, this creates a demand for a distance-learning program.

My reasons for applying to Nova:
1. Regionally accredited school
2. It is a brick-and-mortar school with traditional class formats (established in 1967) with probably the most time-tested and refined distance-learning process and technology that there is (given that it was an innovator in this field).
3. It is a not-for-profit school

Why this program scares me:
1. Perhaps this is just my humbled opinion, but I think that EVERY CS PhD curriculum should have a very good algorithms course. This school offers none. It's other classes are on the norm, but that one omission has me thinking. I know...I know. It's the small things that keep me up at night. It's just that every PhD I've ever talked to pretty much learned all of his algorithms magic during his post-graduate education. Simply understanding the basics of big-O and having to look up what "P=NP?" means every time I think about it just doesn't seem to cut the mustard.
2. No comprehensive qualifying exam(s). As anyone who knows the pain and misery of studying for quals can tell you, this particular type of exam is to provide assurance to the faculty that you have derived a keen mastery of the crucial fundamentals of computer science theory and that you are ready to move on to your dissertation. Lacking this exam is analogous to becoming a Navy SEAL without ever having gone to BUDS training.
3. My acceptance letter had the wrong date in it. It was the right month/day, but it was for 2007. I guess somebody used the wrong template. They were kind enough to make the quick fix and then re-send it. Still.... IRK!!
4. I seem to recall a few typos in the graduate catalog. This might be my imagination, though. Granted, they were very few and very far between and the catalog was rather humongous, but still!
5. This university has surprisingly little money coming in for research (and I do mean little). That is really scary.
6. It is considered to be a national 4th-tier school.

Why this program DOESN'T scare me:
1. It has all of the requisite accreditations.
2. Minus the algorithms class, the offered courses seem on par.
3. The faculty seems to have a good collective background (Princeton, Columbia, UPenn, Imperial College, Carnegie Mellon, UFlorida, URochester, Purdue, and some others including Nova grads).
4. The faculty seems well published and appear to have diverse and scientifically legitimate fields of research. (Did I just say that out loud???)
5. Having read the testimonies of current and past students, the course-load is no joke and sounds to be on-par with actual doctoral-level coursework.
6. It has very realistic application requirements as would be found in other PhD programs.
7. A masters degree is a prerequisite.
8. There are impressive research dissertation topics from other graduates

Anyone who does an online search for this school can easily find a zillion different people who claim that this school is a "diploma mill" (or, in english, a school that sells degrees for minimal amounts of work and that are mocked by the general academic community). I have found that probably 35% (given my made-up statistics) think so because they believe this school to be a for-profit institution (the sure sign of a diploma mill) never having actually read anything about the school. On top of that, I'd say that an additional 55% think so since they don't consider a distance-based PhD program to be legitimate. These are typically people who favor the usual model that embraces student poverty, teaching assistantships, and no chance at working on an actual career until the diploma is in hand. That leaves roughly 10% who just don't think that the school measures up for various other reasons. THANKFULLY, the overwhelming majority of people (including the nay-sayers) wouldn't dream of grouping this university with the likes of Capella, University of Phoenix, and other for-profit schools. (Well...a few do, but they usually get jumped on pretty quickly by others.)


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

"The worst thing about the zombie apocalypse will be pretending that I'm not excited."

- Jerri and Steve

Friday, May 02, 2008

Pictures: Me and my sweetie

I look kinda crazy in this one.

(Her hand is on my butt. Shhhh. Don't tell anyone.)

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Congratulations, Cass!

I would like to extend my congratulations to Ms. Cassandra Pugh. This Saturday, she will be receiving her doctoral degree in veterinary medicine.

Cass and I have known each other since she was in the third grade (and I was in the eighth) at the Divine Redeemer Catholic school in Hanahan, SC. Since then, she has subsequently received diplomas from Bishop England High School, Clemson University, and the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia.

(I wonder if she knows that she's now sugar-mama potential....)

Update: Here is video of Cass doing the walk...