Sunday, June 18, 2006

Academia: Disillusionment

Academia is an odd animal, at least for Computer Science. To succeed as a graduate student it is known that you must have plenty of publications and do plenty of networking. To network you must attend conferences that your work is accepted at, and go to many talks that you can. All of these requirements are quite reasonable and easy to understand; if it doesn't sound interesting, then academia is not where you should be.

However, the odd part comes with the money. It is hard to get funding for travel, both from your own university and from the conference itself. For an example, I will not be going to my conference in Switzerland because the conference would only waive my registration fee and the department could only give me enough money to cover less than 1/2 of the cheapest plane ticket I could fine. The university may have been able to give me more, but their deadline for applying was before the acceptance date at the conference and required proof of acceptance. However I don't know the probability of getting university funding; it may be slim, or may be high. Of course, if it works the same as with the department where the student must pay up front and then be reimbursed it almost doesn't matter; I do not have the ability to buy a $1200 plane ticket, even with credit cards.

So I am disillusioned at the requirements coupled with reality. We are expected to do things that are near impossible. We certainly cannot afford most conference trips on our student salary, but yet it is difficult to find funding. How ironic that one of the most important things is so far from our grasp. I even know of someone whose advisor has good funding (mine currently does not), but her advisor would not (or could not?) fund her for a good conference her paper was accepted at. What a lost opportunity.

Overall, we are better off than non-science graduate students as we have almost-guaranteed salary funding, but we still have a long way to go before overall funding is realistic. The other part of academia that disillusions me is the fact that I'm being paid less this summer than I pay in rent; but that's an issue I'll have to strike up later, probably when I start wondering why I went to grad school right out of college instead of taking a few years to save up some money.

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