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A few weeks ago I quit my PhD. Early on I realised that a career in research is probably not for me. Research, is about thinking, experimenting and communicating - writing papers, reading papers, lecturing, managing students, writing grant proposals. I'm not interested in any of those, I just love designing and building things. Whilst there is certainly a need for practical engineering, it is not the principle activity of most research. Space for aesthetics is more limited still.

A PhD is a very cosy job to spend three years on, so I didn't jack it in as soon as this realisation hit. PhD students are free to follow their own path (funding permitting), can manage their own time and are paid quite well. Although the pay is lower than most graduate jobs in absolute terms, the tax exemption and student status make for a very reasonable living. However, I could never really get into the topic of my PhD. I did not secure a school studentship, which funds a student, instead I was paid by a project grant. This meant that my work was constrained to the goals of the project. Although these were more flexible than most, it was still a bit too conceptual for my liking, and in the months I worked on it, I was unable to formulate a solid engineering challenge that I could get excited about.

Recently I've been becoming increasingly interested in the interface between art and engineering. Design, I think it's called. Perhaps I'd like to do a design masters course. But I've been in constant education practically since birth, so I'm going to take a break for a year or two. In this time I'm performing an experiment to see if I can survive, and enjoy life, as a freelance designer, maker and engineering consultant. It has got off to a good start with some exciting projects, which I'll blog about soon.

So please get in touch if you'd like anything made. See the commissions page for a non-exhaustive list of my skills and interests. I'm trying to keep my work as varied as possible, so even if your project looks unlike the rest of the stuff on this website, don't be shy, email me and we'll talk. I can build your idea.

Submitted by jeff on Sun, 04/05/2009 - 02:46.


Big decision you made there. I understand exactly what you are saying though.

My advisor talked me out of mine

I spent years working on a PhD. Took all the courses, got one paper published, did the Comprehensive written and orals, had a committee, gathered all my citations, etc. One of my advisors was Dr Peter Denning, father of virtual memory. He took me to lunch, and asked the question that all the faculty always asked: Why, Pat, do you want a PhD?

As usual, my answer was vague.

he replied: you don't need a PhD to do what you want to do. You need to stop, go work for a and change the world. So I did. I went to CyberCash (now long defunct) and we invented Internet commerce.

He was right.

For some of us, smart, talented and good looking folks, the PhD is not the answer.

Best of luck.


Renewable Energy is hot!

Jeff, i understand - but hope you keep on designing robots which help cleaning the atmosphre one day :)

All the Best!

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