I was happy to see that two friends defended their PhDs this summer. In chronological order, Radu Atanasiu defended his PhD in Iasi, at the end of June, and Robert Mercas defended his PhD in Tarragona, in July. Both of them work in theoretical computer science (on the formal languages "side of the world"), they had quite nice results in their papers, and I am sure that the PhD is just the beginning of their research career. Good luck in the future!

However, these happy events made me think about a "fundamental" thing: what "being a PhD" really means, and what social impact should such a title have? In Germany there is quite an important thing, since everybody who has a doctorate proudly lists a "Dr." in front of his/her name on any occasion (including here all the official papers); however, there are people who really don't have a clue what this means: is he/she a medical doctor? or what this prefix means?, but, anyway, they show respect to a person owning this title. In last years, nobody cares about this thing in Romania: there were so many "overnight PhDs" so the title is not meaningful anymore.

I think that being a PhD means that you've reached a certain scientific maturity: you were able to produce a series of original research results, that were considered relevant by the community, an where published in respectable venues. Of course, every university (or every supervisor) has the right to define what makes a PhD, but, generally speaking, all these definitions should encode the same idea: a person becomes a PhD when it is capable to move on from being a junior researcher to being a senior researcher, when it is capable of identifying new research topics and of working on them independently. In Germany the requirements that one should meet before becoming a PhD are quite high; in Romania they are very low. And probably this reflects in the manner a doctor is seen in the society. But...

... Should this title really have a social impact? I think that it should, but not a very deep one. Of course, a person who is a PhD must receive some respect in the society: that person is a certified expert in a certain area (which, by the way, is not encoded in any way in the "Dr." prefix), has proved certain intellectual capacities, and is also capable of working on a long term, difficult, project. But this is all! It's important not to make a big fuss about a title that says much about your professional capabilities, but not so much about you as part of the society, and to concentrate more on the actions and deeds that actually define you as a person.


Radu said...

I like the society part. The idea is that most of us are not aware of our role in the society (I know I'm not) and sometimes we should reflect at the concept of "brick in the wall".

Nonetheless, the part that in Romania the PhD is underrated is quite obvious. For instance, the first question I usually hear from people hearing that I have defended my PhD is: "And what are you going to do with it?" I think that this happens also due to the Romanian society's standards, where more empirical values have been traded for immediate, distinguishable benefits.

the unknown said...

"a person becomes a PhD when it is capable to move on from being a junior researcher to being a senior researcher.."

lol dude, phd is juz the beginning.

a graduating phd student has a long way to go b4 he can achieve the stature of a senior researcher.

theoretical computer science is fun to think bout but do they have actual, serious implication on the computing world?

Florin Manea said...

Of course PhD is the beginning. But I'd say it is the beginning of your "mature life" (ok, maybe senior was too much) as a researcher.

As for the "implications of TCS": of course it has a serious impact. Just imagine the algorithms and data structures that allow us to search efficiently on the Internet.

the unknown said...

the thing is, u can design and improve the performance of algorithms without formal methods or any other TCS approaches.

really successful research companies like google dont really use things like TCS. hence, the question :P

Florin Manea said...

"really successful research companies like google dont really use things like TCS. hence, the question :P"

Have a look here.

Some of the papers are theory, some of them are really used by Google.

the unknown said...

lol ok, maybe u can pinpoint, *specifically*, which theoretical paper is actually being used by google as a practical commercializable solution?

this could be fun :P

Florin Manea said...

Well, I am not a specialist in google-stuff. But one can get an image on how TCS is used at google from this paper.

Anonymous said...

par rapport à ce sujet... je trouve que PhD c'est en gros UNE OCCUPATION comme toutes les autres... je ne vois pas pourquoi ce métier doit provoquer un respect accru... c'est un choix de carrière finalement et tu le fais pour gagner ta vie aussi... je tiens à dire que je vais commencer mon doctorat en octobre et je connais d'autres personnes qui le font. et je tiens à répéter... c'est un métier comme tous les autres!