Training and practice

The onus of responsibility to better oneself lies entirely upon the individual. Her efforts must be applied in a disciplined, perseverant, and self-controlled manner. Laziness must be banished, and cheerfulness welcomed. When you are new to a topic, train smart and well. When you become an expert on a topic, practice daily. Set high, high standards and expectations for yourself and others; and be forgiving when they are failed to be met. If you never fail reach them, then you are setting your goals too low. Take joy and satisfaction from your effort, alone, and let go of anything else that it yields (bad or good).

Easy Ways to Fail a Ph.D.

Here is one person’s top ten list of ways to fail to obtain a PhD.
Interesting quotes:

Ph.D. school seems to be a magnet for every kind of procrastinator.

Advisors expect near-terminal Ph.D. students to be proto-professors with intimate knowledge of the challenges in their field. They should be capable of selecting and attacking research problems of appropriate size and scope.

A Ph.D. is a small but significant contribution to human knowledge. Impact is something students should aim for over a lifetime of research. Making a big impact with a Ph.D. is about as likely as hitting a bullseye the very first time you’ve fired a gun. Once you know how to shoot, you can keep shooting until you hit it. Plus, with a Ph.D., you get a lifetime supply of ammo.

It does not matter at all what you get your Ph.D. in. All that matters is that you get one. It’s the training that counts–not the topic.

(via ycombinator)

What is so bad about being an actuary?

Over the past couple of months I’ve done some very informal research on what it means to be an actuary. From reading the Wikipedia article and also the Be An Actuary website it seems like a pretty interesting job. Here is where it gets surprising, though: nearly everyone I know in the insurance industry has communicated that it is a very lonely and boring job. This leaves my question to you: what is so bad about being an actuary?
Here are two other links I’ve yet to research: Society of Actuaries and Casuality Actuarial Society (thanks Dr. Rowe), and clearly I need to do more.

How Do You Compete for Your Own Job, or, Are You Really Learning?

A few days ago my friend and I were talking about the software development market and how as you pass multiples of 10 years of age you tend to face “new concerns” at work. For example, when you turn 30 you get promoted to lead developer, when you turn 40 you get promoted to manager, when you turn 50 you get to keep your job, and when you turn 60 you are asked to leave. This might be a regional occurrence; but it can’t really be that uncommon (Note: I am not in this situation, which I believe to be an exception to the norm).
In every case, said developer is always competing for his own job. What does it take to keep it? How many years does it take to be a good [insert language here] developer. Say it takes 4 years to get “good enough” at Java; what do you have up on a recent college grad with 4 years experience who is willing to work twice as hard for half the prices as you? Think about it from an employer’s perspective; what is the dollar amount that they would place on experience? The answer to that question largely depends on the employer and potential employee, and in particular the former’s needs and the latter’s negotiation skills.
Whatever the case, isn’t there a question lurking at the back of their mind as they read the resume of a developer with 12 years of Java experience, a question something like “If it takes 4 years to get really good at Java, what did you do with the other 8 years?”. While the 4 year number is totally arbitrary and there is a lot more that goes into being a good developer than just programming; I have wondered things like this about both myself and other developers. In that amount of time you could easily attain a degree in some related, interesting field that would add a lot to your repertoire of expertise.
Without too much effort; one could earn a masters degree by attending night school for about 4 years. That is only one class per semester. In retrospect, I could have earned a masters in English Literature two times over by now, yet I have not. Who does this though? It is not considered to be normal; or maybe I am hanging out with the wrong crowd?
Perhaps it is too expensive to justify in terms of dollars or time? I guess I am just left wondering, what have I really been learning? Has it been of any significance? Has it been challenging and truly beneficial? How many programming languages do I need to learn until I have gotten the 80% that I really need?
How would the world look if we were expected to learn something significantly new every 4-8 years? I think that it would look very, very interesting.
What are you doing with your time? Are you challenging your brain? Are you really learning something new and challenging, or is it just more of the same?