Tuesday, February 10, 2009

An Article on Genius

While I don't usually discuss things I've read, this article on genius from the New Yorker a few months back actually seems relevant to our community. Academic genius, in the stereotypes I know, burns brightly young. Can we foster the other type of genius discussed in this article within the competitive academic structure?

1 comment:

David Molnar said...

One quick note: it appears to be rare for people to take a PhD in CS later in life, and even more rare for someone to switch from a different field to academic computer science. The degree itself is a hurdle that may discourage "late blooming genius" in academia.

Here by "later in life" I mean more mid-to-late career, as in the New Yorker article. It is of course fairly common for people to work a few years in industry, then return to school. (Especially during economic downturns!)

So what can we do about it? Berkeley used to have a program specifically aimed at women and minorities who wanted to switch careers into academic computer science. In particular, it accounted for the fact that its target audience may not have taken a bachelor's degree in computer science. Unfortunately, the program no longer exists. From what I understand, its placement rate in graduate school for people who completed the program was remarkable, as was the program's intensity.

If we want to encourage people to enter the field of academic CS in the same way that the author in the New Yorker article just decided to "sit down and write," the it seems like we need more programs like this. While of course it is possible to simply teach oneself enough to submit papers, it's a high barrier to entry. I don't have data on this, but I wonder if industry does a better job of encouraging "late genius," since there is generally less need for a PhD in most such jobs?