Graduate School

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#1 Lemur  Icon User is offline

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Graduate School

Posted 13 September 2012 - 09:22 PM

So I'm going to graduate in December, and I've been brought to some choices that I'm not entirely sure on quite yet. Should I enter full time employment, or continue my education?

Now, as far as relevant background. I love to learn, I tend to read ~100 pages a day of tech manuals or casual reading, I want to get a large amount of knowledge and see how far I can push the limits of what I can do. The issue I run into is that I've been forced to admit that my biggest weakness is a solid base.

I believe that college has given me a solid base of understanding on concepts that I would have otherwise patched together and MacGyver'd to work in the simplest of fashions. I am by nature a hacker, I like to play with things and make them work, even if it's completely unorthodox. College has been a grounding force in making me face more of reality.

In that I would be tempted to argue that it would almost necessitate higher education if I wish to have a solid base in high level concepts.

I can learn anything, but I only really pay attention to the bits that interest me. Again, the hacker type mentality is both an insane blessing and an abysmal curse. I have no attention span for things that don't interest me unless given reason to. Probably a personality flaw, I'm aware. Either way, that will inevitably come to a head, but I worry that it could be too large an issue to fix in some ways.

So what do you all think? Should I justify graduate school, or just not bother.

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#2 modi123_1  Icon User is online

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Re: Graduate School

Posted 13 September 2012 - 09:58 PM

Honestly I did not see a solid justification for grad school. Everything you say, regarding learning, can be achieved sans the tuition cost, right?

I am unclear what you mean by 'high level concepts'. You found books.. and if you have interesting ideas just buy the textbook from a place like http://www.abebooks.com.

Of course there's the question of what you want to do _WITH_ your grad degree. Continue to be educator someone's researcher?

Personally I found taking the concepts of 'structured learning' from school transitions well on personal projects.
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#3 fromTheSprawl  Icon User is offline

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Re: Graduate School

Posted 13 September 2012 - 10:33 PM

Whoa, 100 pages of tech stuff per day? I would have probably done the same if I own a computer but sadly, now.

On topic, before I was thinking of pursuing grad school but comparing what I learned from college to what I'm doing at work I'm pretty much doubtful that my university's offering anything of substance in grad school that will benefit me.

If you have the money and time, do it. If not, go work, you'll learn tons of stuff there that you haven't gotten to learn on school. At least that's how it was for me.
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#4 Lemur  Icon User is offline

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Re: Graduate School

Posted 13 September 2012 - 10:48 PM

I decided to buckle down and learn everything I could this summer to see what my limits were in that aspect. I ended up reading approximately 14,000 pages over the summer (May to August.) That's about the point where I really started to realize that I'm just consistently getting patch knowledge, even with books.

There's just a huge disparity between my current level and that of which is necessary to be a developer. To be fair, I'm more of an Op type, but I still want to learn Development as well. I rather like the idea of maintaining my Jack of all Trades knowledge spread.

I started reading into Algorithm books and I had no idea where in the world to even start, the symbols were completely foreign to me even if the concepts weren't. The psuedocode being used just drove me up a wall, I don't get it remotely.

I'd like to think that there's a way of supplementing my knowledge on such subjects, but regrettably my College has fallen into the trap of spawning business ready workers instead of class-act programmers. A majority of the experience I've had in College was C# and archaic languages that were deemed useful by local businesses stuck 50 years in the past.

I want to find a way to get deeper into the theory, and how things work, rather than the practical nonsense. It's effectively putting a cart before the horse. It ruins the entire point in my mind. If you really understand deeply how programming works, then applying it to business is trivial. The other way around? God speed mate, you'll need it.

It just feels like I'm presenting a minuscule understanding to a black box and hoping it spits out a good result with no real knowledge of what drives it.

I can program, but I cannot understand what programming itself really is. I'm not sure how much sense I'm making in between random musings and rants, but I can't think of a better way to describe this one.

We've been forced on .NET/Java and I've always felt chained, but when I started into functional programming there was just something magical about it, everything just worked. It was beautiful. I want to understand that beauty, and what makes it beautiful to me. I'm looking into MIT 6.001 in Scheme, hopefully it clears some things up.
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#5 Korupt  Icon User is offline

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Re: Graduate School

Posted 13 September 2012 - 11:47 PM

From that post, I'd say you definitely need grad school but do not pursue a Masters, go for a Phd. You seem to want to know how every little thing works, and an extra four years with heavy math and theory classes coupled with practical research will give you just that. You will not only be able to appreciate programming as an art but also the hardware that makes it possible. A Phd is generally free as well, given you obtain a position as an RA/TA at your university. They will even pay you for the job, granted not much. The downside here is you lose four years of industry experience during which you could be making a lot more money and moving up in the corporate ladder. But if you have a hunger for knowledge four years are a low price to satisfy it.
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#6 modi123_1  Icon User is online

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Re: Graduate School

Posted 14 September 2012 - 07:08 AM

Again, this all pushes on what you want to do post school. There's topics that have spawned recently dealing with usefulness of education versus doing it yourself. Example: is a computer science degree worth the paper its printed on.

There's a great side of pushing to learn more at college but then there's the inevitable question of what do you do with it? To what end? Do you continue down being a career student? Certainly nothing wrong with it, but it would lack... application, for me.

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business ready workers instead of class-act programmers.

From that link above - it would almost sound like most college are *not* turning out business ready workers.

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I want to find a way to get deeper into the theory, and how things work, rather than the practical nonsense.

Theory is great, but it depends on what kind. Calc, automata, number theory, etc were great but do they measure much more than say learning how to operate for loops, classes, or the tcp/ip stack?

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I can program, but I cannot understand what programming itself really is. I'm not sure how much sense I'm making in between random musings and rants, but I can't think of a better way to describe this one.

No this isn't making much sense, but so it goes.



After the last two posts I am going to take a step outside the norm and tell you what I am seeing - fear. I do not mean this is some sort of denigrating or malicious way, but merely stating how your last two posts read. You are coming to the end of college; the safety net of validation, structured learning, and people doing 'interesting things' and staring into the maw of 'life after'. A down economy, bills, potentially shitty work environments with little recognition, having to cull and manage your own time on your own projects and create your own validation.

It is difficult determining how to get over that giant hill of 'where to start' on every project and potentially sliding back into a lackadaisical rut where you find yourself five years down the line in an educational torpor. Yeah, that sucks and is not pleasant to deal with but it happens to everyone.

So again I am pushing the functional side of this - where do you want to do go with your grad school? Is this a push to be a career student then researcher then teacher, or will this last masters/phd be enough and you'll enter the business world? The advanced theory is great, but man it translates poorly into the business realm which - fair or not - is how it is.

All of this I know because it wasn't that long ago (well.. I guess now it might be considered 'longish') that I was about to snag my undergrad and was applying for phd programs. I was dead set on one particular program and was damn well hip on my theory and what not. I ended up having an interesting round of visits to a few schools and know where I was standing when I decided 'no', drove home, and started applying for jobs (outside the one I was working).
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#7 macosxnerd101  Icon User is online

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Re: Graduate School

Posted 14 September 2012 - 07:18 AM

If you are worried about learning the basics of math and proofs, take a proofs class. That should poise you well to take an algorithm analysis class. Have you seen things like recurrence relations before? Those are used in algorithm analysis a lot. If you have an interest, a couple classes would be sufficient.

If you want to do this on your own, pick up a Discrete Math textbook for a basis. I think Epp has a good book that isn't too technical. Johnsonbaugh isn't as thick, but is a lot more algorithmic/technical/computational. Rosen is the classic Discrete book, and the only one I don't have any experience with.
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#8 Lemur  Icon User is offline

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Re: Graduate School

Posted 14 September 2012 - 07:39 AM

I have next to no experience with math, the highest I went was College Algebra.

Ok, fine, attempting to make Business minded programmers. Granted on that one.

It's not as much fear as I'm not sure I'll have enough time any more to really learn things once I graduate. I have job offers, I have a solid job currently, so I'm not worried about finding out. It's more to the point of I want to get some of that knowledge that's eluded me up to this point.

I could just as easily graduate and go into full time, but I just wonder if I've missed an opportunity to answer some of the questions that I could never understand if I do that.
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#9 jon.kiparsky  Icon User is online

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Re: Graduate School

Posted 14 September 2012 - 07:41 AM

You don't have to take a degree to learn stuff. If there's a good school near you, find a class that you think would be useful, and take it. Lots of states will actually give you education tax credits, so it ends up not costing you much in the end. Check your local listings for that one, though.
I made good relationships with some of my profs, now I can pretty much wander into CS classes and sit in on them - they seem to like having me in the class, and they know I don't need more degree, so it's all cool.

If you know people who are looking for the same sort of knowledge you're after, you can also get a study group together. Three or four serious people working on the same material and meeting regularly about it can really get places.

A Ph.D is really a full time commitment to several years' full time work, and what it mostly gets you is license to teach. If you want an excuse to spend several years studying serious problems in CS, it's great. If you just want to learn stuff, you can do that.
One important thing I've gained from enrolling in formal study has always been that some decisions are made for me that I'm not ideally placed to make for myself. Specifically, someone has determined the right order in which to pursue these things, and I don't have to work out the dependencies for myself. That's very useful, but you don't need to enroll in the courses to learn that sequence.
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#10 macosxnerd101  Icon User is online

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Re: Graduate School

Posted 14 September 2012 - 07:42 AM

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I have next to no experience with math, the highest I went was College Algebra.

When you say college algebra, do you mean trig/precalculus, or something more like modern or abstract algebra? Proofs really doesn't use calculus. Neither does algorithm analysis. It's more of a logical and discrete feel. If you're comfortable with your basic algebra, that's really the skillset you need. It's more that this type of math is different and that's what throws people.
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#11 Lemur  Icon User is offline

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Re: Graduate School

Posted 14 September 2012 - 07:53 AM

College Algebra is effectively Basic Algebra that's the sole requirement of any major here for a math class (except, well, math.)
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#12 modi123_1  Icon User is online

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Re: Graduate School

Posted 14 September 2012 - 08:01 AM

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It's not as much fear as I'm not sure I'll have enough time any more to really learn things once I graduate.

Why won't you? You have time now, right? People know you are in class from x to y on these days? Keep that going. There's nothing wrong with telling friends "Yeah we can go kick it with the new gas-mask bong I saw on 'Wilfred' in an hour and a half... I have some work to get done". Shockingly they do well. Heck I don't answer the phone (though that leads to some amusing discussions with one friend where he thinks I am obligated to answer the phone when someone calls).

When faced with a concern for a deregulated time schedule cowboy up and enforce your own.

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It's more to the point of I want to get some of that knowledge that's eluded me up to this point.
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I've missed an opportunity to answer some of the questions that I could never understand if I do that.

Curious side question - what are these questions then? I know it might be like trying to describe the interior of an asymptote, but a vague circumnavigation of the problem space might be enough for my curiosity.

As other folks have said - you can still take college classes when you are not going for a college degree. Auditing classes... just paying for the one class.. etc.. they all do well.
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#13 DarenR  Icon User is offline

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Re: Graduate School

Posted 14 September 2012 - 08:01 AM

well getting the masters is up to you..

pros-- maybe get a higher paying job
--masters degree


cons-- larger debt out of college
--might give you to much education for a much needed job
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#14 macosxnerd101  Icon User is online

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Re: Graduate School

Posted 14 September 2012 - 08:43 AM

If you want more theory, you need more math. Coming from Algebra, Trig, and Precalculus, you should have the following skillset:
  • Understanding the behaviors of polynomial, logarithmic, exponential, and rational functions
  • Solving equations of the above types
  • Understanding trig functions, trig inverse functions, trig identities, and the unit circle
  • Infinite series and sequences
  • Vectors, the dot product, and the cross product
  • Limits


That will set you up nicely for both Calculus and either Discrete Math or proofs. Take Discrete, proofs, or both. Make sure you have a good foundation with recurrence relations, proof by induction, direct proof, and proof by contradiction before going into Algorithm Analysis. If you can get a Combinatorics or Graph Theory class in before Algorithms, even better. There might also be a 3000 Data Structures and Algorithms class that is programming intensive you can take. There will be enough math to give you a flavor for what to expect in a 4000 Algorithms class.
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#15 jon.kiparsky  Icon User is online

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Re: Graduate School

Posted 14 September 2012 - 09:07 AM

Or if you want to try to work through some stuff on your own, there's a book called The Nature of Computation that walks through a lot of good problems - there's no programming in the book, it's all about the math.
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