The transition from failed research student to successful Professor and Industry Computer Scientist.

One of the things that always plagued me at Oxford was my imposter syndrome. I constantly felt like my skills meant nothing and that all my previous accomplishments meant nothing. It was like that quick transition in Men in Black where J lists off all his qualifications and that K had recruited him and K just responds with “none of that matters now”.

As a research student, I always felt I was falling short and the institutional support wasn’t really there. If you do something good you are just given more work, if you mess up you get to hear about it for months. You are not recognized for being an intelligent, highly skilled person and are instead a trainee. Even if you finish your Ph.D/D.Phil you still aren’t accomplished as shown by the fact that you have to spend more years as a Post Doc before you are a trusted researcher. You may be a world expert on your subject but that doesn’t mean much, and you are expected to pull long hours for menial pay in order to move up the chain.

So due to personal circumstances, I withdrew from my research studies. The reward wasn’t worth the effort, and the reward would just lead to further menial positions even as a world expert. I relocated to San Jose, CA (near where I grew up in Palo Alto) and proceeded to get snapped up as an Adjunct at San Jose State University. From submitting my resume, to my meeting with the Chair of the Computer Science Department, to being hired as a Professor Adjunct took less than 5 hours.

Getting my resume sorted out for an industrial job took a little longer but when I had hit the right keywords I had to start beating recruiters off with a stick in order to make my phone stop ringing (a great problem to have, I’m still turning down companies like Google, eBay, and Cisco). I had several multinational corporations vying for my skills and even had NASA contractors contacting me to work on extra-terrestrial biology research or the search for extra-solar planets in our galaxy.

I accepted a job working on file synchronization and concurrency which are hugely interesting problems to work on. My pay rate is over 8x my stipend as a research student. It is 4x the pay rate of a Post Doc in the Uk. Finally, it is about 2.5x the rate of pay for a new Professor in the UK. Not only that but my skills and experience as a professional are highly regarded. The VP of a billion dollar/yr company stops by my desk to make sure I am happy and things are going well. I have an infinitely better work/life balance than I did in academia.

This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy my time at Oxford, I did. I learned a great many things and I met some wonderful people. But, the difference in appreciation for my talents between academia and the real world is night and day.

Maybe failing my doctorate was the best thing that could have happened.

Best of all, I still get to teach. I’ll do a post about that soon, but I love teaching.

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