Farewell Academia

My Master’s thesis (presented here) was finally published in the April issue of TOIS. Good time to recap my second academic adventure.

Six years ago, when I considered graduate studies (10 years after graduating my B.Sc) I was CTO in a company that was at a crossroads, leading to very short term product and technology thinking. Looking for a change, I felt the academic world offered a space where deep, broad thinking was preferred over nearsighted goals. So I reduced my position at work, and took on studies back in the Technion.

I finished the needed courses in a year and a half, but the thesis took much longer. Friends warned me it’s difficult to context switch between work and research, not to mention family, and they were indeed right. Still, I wanted to feel the academic life again, and figure out if I wanted to pursue it full time and continue to a PhD.

The conclusion gradually distilled into a resounding No. I’ll stop at Master’s. One reason was my allergic reactions to too much maths, so prevalent in the Technion, but there was also something deeper. I realized that the user experience is where I’m at, and core computer science research is far from it, except perhaps HCI departments.

There is a significant gap between the cutting edge in academy and in practice. A paper may be worth publishing due to a statistically significant increment of 5% in relevancy (see the major interest around the Netflix prize), whereas actual users will barely feel the difference. On the other hand, stuff that is considered “commodity” in the academic world, can make big waves if implemented well in the industry, and for a good reason. Companies have built a major user following (and a fortune…) just by doing excellent and usable implementation of basic CS algorithms.

So if I have to choose between making a the research community happy, or making end users happy, I definitely choose the latter. Perhaps I’ll go back to do my PhD in another 10 years, but until then, it’s Farewell Academia!

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3 responses to “Farewell Academia

  1. Maybe you can pivot your Master into PhD by addressing Concept-based UX methods?

    • Actually there were works that took our concept method (Wikipedia articles as concepts) and used these to let the user see explicit concepts to refine his query by. So this falls more into the HCI field I mentioned (Human Computer Interfaces), sadly it generates much less interest (i.e. funding, conferences) in the CS academic world. But you’re right, perhaps that’s where I’ll find my PhD eventually…

  2. Interesting post – I think many of us that love CS theory are having similar internal debates along the years. For now I prefer the practical side of things as well, even though my mother keeps asking me every once in a while “why don’t you go get a Ph.D” 🙂

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