In this post I’ll list some of the mental models I employ when I think about graduate school.

Opportunity Cost

This is my most significant consideration. A PhD in computer science requires roughly six years’ work. What else could I accomplish with six years?

In a parallel universe, my situation might look like this:

  • Income: perhaps as much as $500k earned over the course of six years. My salary at the six-year mark—after six years’ work experience—could match that of a newly-minted PhD.
  • Skills: as a software engineer, I would be required to learn a variety of practical skills on a continual basis—languages, libraries, frameworks, etc. Each of these things increases my productivity and value.
  • Roles and responsibilities: It seems possible that I could move into a managerial role within six years of work. I tend to work hard and seek responsibility.
  • Personal life: as a grad student, I feel compelled to devote most of my waking hours to research or coursework. I most likely wouldn’t feel this way about my employment. So my parallel universe-self probably has more time for hobbies, personal projects, relationships, etc.

This simple vision serves as a powerful baseline of comparison. Graduate studies come at a real cost.

My reflexive response to it is actually one of motivation, though. I think of the experiences of my parallel universe-self, and it motivates me to get the most out of my own time in grad school.

It also motivates me to seek some of those experiences as a grad student. Some examples:

  • I got involved in SACM in order to hone my management and leadership skills. I ended up being president and getting a lot done. Very rewarding.
  • I try to make sure I’m constantly learning new concepts, and ways of doing things. I try not to settle for the skills I already have. I try to pay attention to new developments in the practice of ML and software engineering.
  • I have even spent some time exploring new hobbies. I joined Wisconsin’s club triathlon team last year and really got into training. I competed in some Olympic-distance races. I wasn’t the best, but I had a lot of fun and fully intend to get back into triathlons once I’ve graduated. (I’ve backed off on the training this year—devoting more time to research.)

If I find myself growing lax, all I have to do is think of my parallel universe-self. My choice to get a PhD is a proactive one, and I intend to make the most of it. I’m not here to screw around.

Comparative Advantage (TODO)

Sunk Costs (TODO)

\( \blacksquare\)