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Nov. 1st, 2006 | 02:24 pm

7 months left on the PhD. Lots to do and not much time to blog. I almost have a committee sorted out, and hopefully in a few weeks I'll move to "PhD candidate" status. I know that seems a bit strange at this point, but it's because I've joined the program after a few years at a research institute so I'm doing all this in a compressed amount of time. Anyway, over the next 6 months I need to get some more research done and of course write my thesis. Hopefully that won't be too much of a problem as most of the material will be ripped from my papers and then massaged to fit together into one document. Still it's a lot to do in the next half year — so don't expect to hear too much from me! In the middle of all this I'm also going on a trip to New Zealand for Christmas, then Rarotonga for a couple of weeks, and then Los Angeles for two days on the way home. Extra busy.

Another thing that I need to do is to work out what I'm doing next. One thing that got me thinking recently is the fact that a couple of very good AI theory guys I know who have done a few post-docs aren't having an easy time finding permanent positions. One has now taken another post-doc position as he didn't get any of the permanent positions, and another has given up completely and is now trying to find a job in industry. These guys are really good, and so seeing this is a bit of a worry. Given that I've worked for 5 years in industry, by the time I will have completed 2 post doc positions I'll be almost 40. If I then can't get a permanent position in a university and have to switch to industry, I'll be in trouble.

If I switch next year to business I'll be 33, and with 5 years industry experience already on my CV, I'm not looking too much like a career academic. That should make the switch a lot easier. Given that academia seems to offer little job security, little money and the pressure to publish all the time means that I'm unsure whether I'll ever be able to follow the longer term more ambitious things I'd like to work on, I'm seriously thinking about going to industry. Another problem is that in academia as a PhD grad you don't have much control over where you live next. You just have to follow the jobs shifting to a new city and possibly country every few years. That's bad news for relationships. I understand now why many academics' wives don't have much in the way of professional careers — in the prime of their career building years they are having to shift from one random town to the next.

Another thing is that I find academia to be quite limiting in some ways. If you propose something really radical with a high chance of failure, it's almost sure to be rejected by the funding agencies. You simply can't go away and try something crazy for a few years, instead you have to produce small units of publishable work all the time as this is a key measure of how your performance is judged. Of course if you are the head of the department you can do some crazy stuff as you have a permanent position. But by then it's probably too late as your really creative and crazy days are already over — you've been molded to the norm and blinkered by the dogma of your field. If I had $1 million in the bank, I'd shift somewhere cheap to live and embark on research so unconventional it would make respected academics wince.

Maybe somebody like Google would be interested in giving me a job that wasn't too bad. Or maybe I could find a niche and start my own business doing something interesting. In any case, I haven't lost my passion and belief that very powerful AI is not only possible, but that it's possible in the next few decades. That's the dream, now how do I live it? Getting a PhD in AI is just one step.

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Comments {23}

Psychology is my Boyfriend

(no subject)

from: radiantsun
date: Nov. 1st, 2006 06:03 pm (UTC)
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You may know google people. You certainly know people who know google people who could slip a resume in. And I hear that google let's you spend 20% of your working time on your own projects. Also, I'd liek to know your exact LA dates, so I can plan to be a part of whatever the group decides to do . . . assuming you know, that you want to see see if I'm too heavy just in photos or in person too. :)

It looks like you have a choice, married to academia, or ?

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mathemajician

(no subject)

from: mathemajician
date: Nov. 1st, 2006 08:22 pm (UTC)
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Arrive LA 12:55pm Fri 12 Jan
Depart LA 7:25pm Mon 15 Jan

. . . assuming you know, that you want to see if I'm too heavy just in photos or in person too. :)

As my on-again, off-again, on-again relationship is on and will be with me, I'll have to refrain from any "hands on" testing.

It looks like you have a choice, married to academia, or ?

Start an evil multi-national corporation and make A MILLION DOLLARS!!

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Nerissa

(no subject)

from: nerissacm
date: Nov. 2nd, 2006 11:51 pm (UTC)
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Just a million dollars? I'd think you'd dream bigger than that ;)

PS: What does your itinerary look like for your weekend in LA? (ie, where are you planning on going?) I feel a bit of an inclination to meet you in person... :P

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mathemajician

(no subject)

from: mathemajician
date: Nov. 3rd, 2006 09:59 pm (UTC)
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I haven't planned anything yet. The first day I'll be there with my girlfriend, and then the next day I'll be by myself.

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The (Extra)ordinary Anthropologist

(no subject)

from: jenarael
date: Nov. 1st, 2006 07:56 pm (UTC)
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If you propose something really radical with a high chance of failure, it's almost sure to be rejected by the funding agencies. You simply can't go away and try something crazy for a few years, instead you have to produce small units of publishable work all the time as this is a key measure of how your performance is judged. Of course if you are the head of the department you can do some crazy stuff as you have a permanent position. But by then it's probably too late as your really creative and crazy days are already over — you've been molded to the norm and blinkered by the dogma of your field.

This oh-so-true statement makes me want to hug you, Shane. I can't imagine you doing anything academically "safe" -- you have too great a mind for that -- but I know many people who remain in academics for its feeling of "competitive safety". Uni faculty are rarely as edgy as we hope they are as graduate students.

It's so exciting to see you close to completing your PhD; I'm ready to sell my things and open a ranch for emus in Australia.

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mathemajician

(no subject)

from: mathemajician
date: Nov. 3rd, 2006 10:31 pm (UTC)
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This oh-so-true statement makes me want to hug you, Shane.

Sigh, I was hoping it was my firm masculine body.

Yes, "safe" isn't really me. Which is a bit of a problem actually. My girlfriend's direction in life at the moment seems to be orientated towards finding greater stability. I on the other hand want to try to build a crazy thinking machine and change the world, even if that means living in semi-poverty. Gucci sun glasses might make me look cool, but the 9-5 job in the bank that would be required to pay for them would kill my soul. I'd rather be unconventional, live off-beat, and do crazy work.

(Random aside: In what position do monkeys have sex? Just something that occurred to me the other day and I figured you were the most qualified person I know to answer this.)

You know, sometimes that hardest part of living your dreams lies in working out exactly what your dreams are. In 2001 while in a bus travelling across Spain watching a movie, I saw in the movie all these scientists talking to each other "Dr. ..." and "Prof. ...". The movie suxed, but at that moment I knew that I had to get a PhD. I wonder where I'll be this time next year. Life is full of surprises. Maybe I should just load my back-pack and disappear into the depths of Asia for half a year or more. The last time I did something like that was 5 years ago.

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mauitian

(no subject)

from: mauitian
date: Nov. 1st, 2006 11:40 pm (UTC)
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"If I had $1 million in the bank, I'd shift somewhere cheap to live and embark on research so unconventional it would make respected academics wince."

Why does it take a million? Do what you love. Hell, if you actually came up with good AI, instead of writing papers about it, money wouldn't be a problem.

We must support the ideal of the renegade academic! :)

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mathemajician

(no subject)

from: mathemajician
date: Nov. 2nd, 2006 08:49 am (UTC)
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Actually US $200k in the bank would be enough, maybe even $100k. But I don't have that and so somehow I need to have an income. That's where things start to get a bit more tricky. If I get a normal job then that takes up all my time. I also have the problem that I have a girlfriend in Switzerland and so if I don't find a real job then I'll most likely get kicked out of the country. For the last few years the compromise has been reasonable: Work on things similar to what I would really like to be doing, get paid to live and get my PhD in AI at the same time. I think it has worked out ok. But now what... that's more difficult. How do you survive money-wise?

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domino plural

(no subject)

from: spoonless
date: Nov. 2nd, 2006 09:02 am (UTC)
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For the last few years the compromise has been reasonable: Work on things similar to what I would really like to be doing, get paid to live and get my PhD in AI at the same time. I think it has worked out ok. But now what... that's more difficult. How do you survive money-wise?

I'm kind of dreading the same decision arising for me in a couple years. I turn 30 in 2 weeks, and I'll probably be graduating in about 2 years. So I'm in the same boat with being a bit too old to make the wrong decision. I kind of go back and forth weekly about whether I really think I could get a permanent faculty position doing what I'd like to do.

Best of luck on that decision. I'll be curious to see how it works out. If nothing else, getting a PhD is fun and builds character (and respect), so I don't see it as wasted time.

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mathemajician

(no subject)

from: mathemajician
date: Nov. 2nd, 2006 09:52 pm (UTC)
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No, I don't think it was wasted time. I learnt many things.

When you say that you "go back and forth weekly", what is the other option to getting a permanent faculty position?

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domino plural

(no subject)

from: spoonless
date: Nov. 2nd, 2006 10:27 pm (UTC)
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When you say that you "go back and forth weekly", what is the other option to getting a permanent faculty position?

Going into industry and doing something more useful. Or, trying to jump tracks into another field where there is money but they could use the insights of a physicist who is used to looking at complicated systems and reducing them to equations, etc. Or, just doing some sort of fun research on my own and making money on the side.

AI would be high on my list of things I'd love to be of some help working on, although like you my preference would be for the more academic or ambitious stuff like AGI. Which isn't something I'm going to be able to just jump into overnight. (Doing simple AI stuff for a company I could do already; I have a background in computer engineering, both academically and professionally.) I sat in on a graduate Machine Learning class this quarter (although I kind of stopped going after the first few weeks as everything else got busier) in the hope that I could kind of get an idea of what things I would need to learn if I really wanted to help with more academic type AI stuff. But I guess the real problem is finding a way to work on it and still make money. Ben Goertzel appears to be doing well with this, but it's probably not easy.

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Nerissa

(no subject)

from: nerissacm
date: Nov. 2nd, 2006 11:58 pm (UTC)
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Hmmm, if all you need is US$100K, you might want to look into a job in the US that earns $100K per year (net $70K after taxes): Live on $20K and save $50K per year for 2 years...
For some reason though, that sounds sooo much easier said than done ;)

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mathemajician

(no subject)

from: mathemajician
date: Nov. 3rd, 2006 10:02 pm (UTC)
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Firstly, I have the a problem in that I have a girlfriend in Switzerland. The second problem is the visa issue. Currently H1B visas are running out on the first day of the financial year so I'd have to wait for a year before coming... which is a problem both for me and any company that wants to employ me.

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Nerissa

(no subject)

from: nerissacm
date: Nov. 9th, 2006 05:52 pm (UTC)
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Yup, easier said than done ;)

I'm not really familiar with H1B visas...Is that the visa you get when your employer sponsors your permanent residence in the US (ie, green card)? Or do you have to get that visa first, and then see if you can find a job?

And the girlfriend you have in Switzerland...are you planning on staying there after your PhD, or are you going somewhere else no matter what?

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mathemajician

(no subject)

from: mathemajician
date: Nov. 9th, 2006 07:06 pm (UTC)
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Basically I'd need to find a job in the US, then they would have to sponsor the H1B visa for me. Only once I had the visa, i.e. in a year's time, would I be allowed to come to the US and actually take the job. Then once I was in the US, the company may decide to also take the next step and sponsor me for a green card. The main problem in this whole process is that fact that it takes such a long time. Companies usually want an employee now, not in 2008. Not to mention the problem it creates for the employees who has a year of waiting to take the job.

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Nerissa

(no subject)

from: nerissacm
date: Nov. 9th, 2006 10:50 pm (UTC)
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Wow, what a roundabout way to go about things.
When my family first came here, we were on a tourist visa. Then my parents applied for an Employment Authorization card (valid for 1 year at a time), and then they applied for jobs. Each year we had to renew our Employment Authorization card; if it doesn't get renewed, we can't work (legally, anyway). (One time, our renewal date was 3 days *after* our old card expired, so we were "fired" from our jobs for those 3 days.)

But we did this for about 10 years, from 1989-1999. Then my mom got a job that sponsored her green card, and that's how the rest of the family got our green cards. I don't know if immigration laws have changed since then, but that's what we went through.

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ch0c0tac0

H1B Visas

from: ch0c0tac0
date: Dec. 11th, 2006 10:02 pm (UTC)
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The visa process has gotten a lot harder post 9-11. There's a lot more paperwork and scrutiny.

One way is to become a Canadian citizen and use the TN permit to allow you to work in the US. It's an agreement between Canadians and the US that allows you to in the US as long as you renew your TN on a yearly basis. However, you will have to pay taxes in Canada and the US, I believe. And it gets harder to renew your permit year after year. As for the relationship between Canada and New Zealand, that's something I would look into to see how easy it is to emigrate to Canada.

You can obtain a TN permit once you get a letter from your employer stating that you have some type of niche skill that US employees do not have (certain categorizations like software engineers and what type) and to present this document at the Canadian border for approval.

The other option is that if you're a student at an American school and graduate, you qualify for a F1 visa which is basically a green card that lasts for a year. Then you're on your way finding a visa afterwards or marrying some hapless clueless american girl (though I think your girlfriend would kill you and you being dead is not an optimal condition).

Hope that helps!

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mathemajician

Re: H1B Visas

from: mathemajician
date: Dec. 11th, 2006 10:31 pm (UTC)
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Are there many "hapless clueless" girls in America? Or are they all now married?

Though you're right, dead is not optimal at all. I've have to take that into account.

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domino plural

(no subject)

from: spoonless
date: Nov. 2nd, 2006 07:45 pm (UTC)
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Oh, and by the way... you might be interested in this if you haven't seen it. They're looking for people who are interested in participating in a new journal/conference devoted to AGI:

http://agiri.org/AGI_Group.pdf

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mathemajician

(no subject)

from: mathemajician
date: Nov. 2nd, 2006 09:44 pm (UTC)
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Yes, Ben Goertzel send me an email about this.

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(no subject)

from: rck_girl
date: Nov. 6th, 2006 07:12 am (UTC)
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I hear you!! You just mentioned most of the reasons why I needed to leave academia after finishing my PhD.

The son of a woman I used to work with has just been offered a job with google (in Ireland i think!)

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(no subject)

from: anonymous
date: Dec. 10th, 2006 01:35 am (UTC)
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Oh man, kiss the LA ground for me ;-)
Saluti alla Tizi, divertitevi bene in Nuova Zelanda!
Julie from GE

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mathemajician

(no subject)

from: mathemajician
date: Dec. 11th, 2006 10:32 pm (UTC)
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Grazie!

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