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Purdue Graduate School ('12-'13) - Semester X

Well, I did it. Really.

ECE 699 - Research PhD Thesis

As Purdue President Emeritus Martin C. Jischke said - at every single commencement ceremony - "Well, you did it!" And so I have. Five or six years later, depending on how you feel like counting, I have finally completed all of the requirements for a Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering. I know, I don't believe it either. So, here is proof!

Of course, this time around we had a different president - Mitch Daniels. It's particularly disappointing (and a little embarrassing) to watch an ex-politician, who is now in charge of one of the best engineering schools in the nation, make petty political jokes that are largely guaranteed to annoy, if not upset, around half of his audience. Check it out for yourself.

It's equally enjoyable watching that same person subtly call into question the notion of making predictions with scientific models as a mechanism for informing decisions about the future. You know, something that a huge number of Purdue's faculty and students spend their lives doing. Are the scientists wrong some times? Absolutely. But it is, by far, the best vehicle for progress that we've developed so far.

And then, to top it all off, his speech deliberately mocks Dr. Paul R. Ehrlich. To quote, "For the latter forecast and a career of equally comical errors, the author was granted a MacArthur 'Genius' Prize as recently as 1990. After years in Purdue's laudably rigorous grading system, you're entitled to ask, 'If that's genius, what would foolishness look like?'" By the way, Professor Ehrlich is also a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

Look, I have no problem with criticism in academia - it's a vital part of the scientific process. That said, you do need to back up your claims with data. So, genius is pretty close to someone who has spent their entire career tirelessly pursuing scientific modeling and analysis of the world around him for the betterment of mankind. I have to imagine foolishness, or at the very least, hubris, on the other hand, would be a man that has somehow made his way to the head of one of the best and most prominent education and research institutions in the country only to stand in front of its most recent graduates, mock the honest mistakes of a hard working scientist, and then brush his entire career away as "comical."

The embarrassment just keeps coming too. He upset a significant portion of Purdue's faculty as well as drew the ire of Michael Kazin, someone who you might think shares some of President Daniel's ideological positions. There are other problems here too, including allegations of plagiarism. Well, at least the next few years won't be boring. Heh. Hopefully Purdue and President Daniels can both learn something from their time together that results in the betterment of both.

Now that I have that out of my system...

It has been a long ride fraught with challenges and disappointment, but somehow I have persevered and managed to make it out (barely) alive. In last semester's "summary," I mentioned that I was struggling to get published and that I may end up graduating without publications. Not counting my dissertation, that is indeed the case this semester.

I spent a lot of time considering staying enrolled and continuing to seek publications, but the reality is that I felt I had spent more than enough time in the program, done more than enough research, and created a contribution that was far larger, if not equally as novel, than your average Ph.D. graduate. I may not have gotten a publication, but the research that I did was enough to convince 5 Ph.D.s that I should pass my final examination. That's no small achievement. So, as I grow increasingly distanced from this time in my life, I am beginning to feel like it may have been a worthwhile endeavor with a good, if not useful, outcome. Of course, this could also just be my ego rationalizing away a process that resulted in a virtually complete destruction of any feelings of self-worth I may have had. Who knows? ;-)

The End III

Regardless, I am now Dr. Jeff Turkstra. One thing is crystal clear to me, and that is that I am glad it is over. It is unclear at this point where I'll end up. I am still very interested in someday moving to Colorado. At the same time, after spending 13 years at Purdue University, I really feel like this place is my home. Not to mention that should I remain here, I'll be working at one of the top 10 engineering schools in the nation. It's unlikely that I could do better than that elsewhere. I have many friends and colleagues in the area, whom I would miss greatly as well. Then, of course, there's the consideration of family. Here our families are still relatively close and accessible. In Colorado, they obviously would not be.

For now, and after long discussions with my wife, we have decided to try to stay in the vicinity of Purdue University. We are Boilermakers through-and-through. The location here permits easy travel to visit family and is only an hour drive from a major airport, making visits to Colorado also fairly straightforward. The Lafayette area has excellent schools for Jefferson as well as a vibrant art and culture scene. They have a wonderful citizens band, their own symphony orchestra, and awesome events like the Taste of Tippecanoe. We even have a Zoo! Should things not work out here, we can always resume efforts to relocate to the mountains.

So, now we all know the answer to the great question "how long does it take Jeff to get a Ph.D.?" That answer is, of course, 13 years. Or 12 years. I suppose it depends on how you want to count ;-).

Oh, and by the way...if you're interested in finding out more about my research, check out Metachory, the culmination of said research. If you're particularly bored and technically-minded, my dissertation, Metachory: An Unprivileged OS Kernel for General Purpose Distributed Computing is published here and available free for download here!