Friday, October 14, 2011

When you are not Steve Jobs

In high school, you are impatient to be in college, to focus on the subjects that interest you.
When you are in college, you are eager to be in graduate school, to do research full time.
When you are in graduate school, you are impatient to solve an interesting problem and get an assistant professor job.
When you are assistant professor, you are impatient to find a big result and get tenure.
When you are a tenured professor, you are impatient to develop a research group.
When you have a research group, you are always impatient to finish your current project in time for the next conference deadline.
And the next one.
And the next one.
And the next one.
...
And the next one.
One day someone will bring up the subject of retirement or death or promotion to higher administration. You will be shocked! You haven't yet gotten around to working on the things that you were most interested in. There was always some higher-priority task that needed to be done first. You had all those ideas that you wanted to explore later, once you had some free time, but that never happened. You will have been busy for many years, but will not have had a chance to do what you wanted. Perhaps you never even had a chance to figure out what those things were.

I look at my students hard at work. Surely no more than a dozen or two can be passionate enough about the material that they delight in spending long hours on it. I read the news about the dismal economic predictions. Most of them work hard, because they are afraid for their future. I see the relentless schedule of assignments - just for my course, this semester they will get 26 grades. It is one deadline after another, and there is never any time to step back. And they have four courses to take! Thanks to the fear-mongering media and to the crushing workload, they are already being trained, and are on their way to not becoming the next Steve Jobs.

6 comments:

  1. You know, it's not the case that if only most people were not given enough assignments or tasks, they would all become the next Steve Jobs.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous: I don't think you know the Brown students. All of them are potentially the next Steve Jobs!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Maybe it's time to give us less homework then! :) I like labs because that's when things start making sense and talking to someone else helps but sometimes homework is just like...I don't get it...and TA hour is so far away.

    ReplyDelete
  4. That's an interesting point, though I'm not sure if it has a lot to do with the amount work students have to do on assignments. The problem lies in the ever-increasing pressure to be "competitive", whatever that means. As a result, people focus more on getting ahead of their peers, and less on simply doing good work. In academia, choosing a research topic becomes a question of what will "sell" in the community rather than a question of what one really finds interesting. The point behind writing papers is increasingly to show how smart the authors are, rather than clearly communicate something to others. Somewhere along the way people lose the spontaneousness and a lot of fun from doing their job, which also hinders their creativity.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anonymous 5:22: My hands are tied. When my self in the past decided to base your evaluation on 26 grades, her commitment now binds my self in the present.

    Anonymous 10:25: maybe. That might be why program committees play such an important role. They have to give recognition to "good work", and that can be hard to discern.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I'd rather be the next Steve Wozniak...

    ReplyDelete