Doctor Dave is in the House (*)

This update is a long time coming. In fact, except for a couple stalkers and my cat (who still refuses to friend me on Facebook), most people who care already know. But the whole point of that blog thing is to document and archive, preferably with more depth than allowed by biting 20-word status updates:

As of the end of last month, I am officially a Doctor in Bioinformatics from the Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences of Kyoto University.

I know: doctor in pharmaceutics… If the rave-going friends of my early 20s could read that, they would have a chuckle. I fully intend to test that new doctoral title, next time I need something from my local pharmacy (if I can’t write my own scripts from now on, really, what’s the point?).

This whole phd thing is, without a doubt, the longest project I have ever lead to fruition (so far). In fact, thanks to the wonders of blogging, I can date the very day I announced to the world that I was embarking on a quest for knowledge and glory in the academic world (can you believe it’s been nearly six years?).

I wish I could say that it has been a long, difficult and formative path, strewn with near-unsurmountable obstacles and valuable life lessons. The truth is, it really wasn’t that bad.

Sure, there was that year’s worth of missing undergrad credits crammed into one stressful, panicked, semester, made even more interesting by the cancellation of half the classes that Spring, due to widespread student protests. There were never-ending battles with administrative trolls guarding the magic forest of French Academia with all their bureaucratic might. Two challenging yet exciting years getting my Masters. Years spent travelling between Paris, Tokyo and a dozen other fun places, alternating periods of hardcore studying and steam-releasing travels. There was much waffling over different math-infused Computer Science topics, toying with neuroscience-oriented AI and even spending a Summer pretending to be an NLP specialist, all topped by the most exciting class of my Masters: an intro to bioinformatics. After a few small hesitations (can you guess where I nearly went to work in the Spring of 2007), I finally signed-up for three more years.

Some research, a few papers and a healthy dose of whinging about suburban Kyoto life later, here I am: ready to start my career as one of the most overeducated baker/coffeeshop owner in the northern hemisphere.

The point is: it really wasn’t that hard. Or at least: no harder than getting up everyday to go to work anywhere else (a lot less hard, if that work is to spend 8 hours a day on a factory line). You don’t have to be exceptionally smart to get a PhD, you just have to be ready to spend a sizable chunk of your (fading) youth on it, with little money or anything else to show for it at the end. You don’t even need to be that driven or motivated: once started, the whole of academia is leaning over your shoulder, ensuring your work comes to fruition one way or another.

PhDs don’t make geniuses out of people: at best they make decent researchers out of them. Often, they just make incompetent assholes into pompous incompetent assholes.

So I guess I finally answered my own existential interrogations of 6 years ago: turns out gathering a couple pieces of paper with your name in a fancy font, does not make a big difference.

It does, however, make it a lot easier to find an interesting job that makes use of my skills for purposes other than devising inventive new ways of squeezing cash out of the financial markets. Which is why I will be moving to Tokyo in June to start my new research position at AIST in Odaiba.

Until then, I have a couple years’ worth of travels to catch up. Detailed route and dates should follow shortly.

(*) Yes, I know. I promise this is the first and last time I do that.

5 comments

  1. I agree with your take on the phd: not impossibly hard, takes a lot of commitment, and certainly doesn’t mean you are smart when you are done. But it definitely helps in opening up new possibilities for where you can work when you are done. Congrats on the PhD!

    You beat me by two years! At the time though, Columbia had good funding and wasn’t in a rush to push me out, so I was able to waste some of my computer science time on studying Japanese, which in the end has become a prime component of my professional life.

    Good luck in the new job!

  2. PhDs don’t make geniuses out of people: at best they make decent researchers out of them. Often, they just makes incompetent assholes into pompous incompetent assholes.

    Brilliant – as always Dave- ahem, Dr Dave.

    Congrats my friend. Great to see it all finished up well.

    See you in Tokyo!!

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