Monday, April 20, 2009

Piled Higher and Deeper

(Way back in 2004, I ambitiously started a blog called Telecommedy with the intention of writing on it every day. I stopped writing there in 2005. C'est la guerre. In the interest of posterity and hubris, I am slowly moving those posts over here so that all of this inanity can be concentrated in a single forum and not pollute the intenets any more than necessary.)

The most cherished acronym in the life of many Telecomm employees is PhD. Telecomm is crawling with PhDs. Some are obvious in their dress, their manner, or their insistence on being called "Doctor". Others are more subtle and can only be seen at night on certain days of the month. Overall, though, PhDs are an interesting sub-species in Telecomm, and one that is worth some study if you don't have something more interesting to do (movie, television, book, root canal, ...).

PhDs generally come in two types. The first type is the one that usually shows up in the mass media - the geeky type with little to no social skills that is more often than not shown as a bumbling idiot and held up to ridicule by people with very, very tiny IQs. In the real world, this sub-species deserves respect, as its members are responsible for many of the greatest advances of the human race (as well as many rather less interesting advances in obscure topics that are of little benefit to any other varieties of human beings).

Care and Feeding of your Type 1 PhD
Type 1 PhDs are very rarely seen by the public, as they prefer to dwell alone in dark caves and work 18 hours a day on their pet projects. A large percentage dwell in University laboratories, although a significant number also reside in private industry. Type 1s generally are not interested in communicating with others, although they will publish occasionally as a way of ensuring food supply. If you are lucky enough to own a Type 1 PhD, be happy and treat them well. They require very little care and can be enormously useful in solving problems or just keeping the computer network alive.

If left alone, the Type 1 will labor happily and bring success to those who feed him. They are, in general, very gentle although easily spooked. Try to avoid speaking to your Type 1 about activities that are not directly related to his work (sports, movies, music, hygiene, etc.), as this can create confusion. The occasional Type 1 has crossed the blurry line between genius and madness (it can be fun to hop back and forth, just remember to leave breadcrumbs so that you don't get stuck on the wrong side), but even then it almost never happens that a Type 1 will go on a killing spree with a plasma rifle that they have been secretly developing on the side using old microwave television parts. So, don't worry about that.

Type 1s do require some guidance. If left entirely on their own, they have a tendency to drift off into strange and useless research topics of little interest to any other humans. While this may be acceptable for University PhDs, in general it is not a good use of funds if you actually want results that are of value to others. Usually, a few simple questions are enough to guide your Type 1 in the right direction. Examples such as "Is it possible to build equipment that runs entirely on old beer cans and discarded gum wrappers" should keep them pleasantly docile and productive for years.

The Type 2 PhD
The Type 2 PhD is harder to pin down. This type of PhD generally has a personality that allows it to interact with others, which makes it a much less predictable sub-species. Type 2s can be aggressive - not necessarily a bad thing if managed - as well as vain, annoying, and/or pompous.

If you are lucky enough to get a Type 2 with a good personality, it can be a nice addition to your family. Unfortunately, Types 2s with good personalities are rarely working in their selected field of study, and are usually no longer able to contribute technically. However, they can still be of enormous value as translators, as the PhD attached to their name often enables them to communicate with other PhDs. Type 2s with good personalities often get shunted into areas where they can cause the least amount of damage while remaining visible to the outside world. Therefore, typical telecom titles for Type 2s with good personalities include Director of Business Development, VP of Marketing, or CEO.

The far more prevalent Type 2 PhD is the type with a bad personality. These are the ones that require that everyone call them "Doctor", contribute very little other than noise to their owners, and have an extremely inflated version of their own importance to the ecosystem. Type 2s are often reluctant to reveal their actual PhD Thesis Topic, as it rarely has any relevance to the work that they are now performing. The work is either ridiculously out of date ("Vaccum Tube Use in the Apollo Moon Landings") or obscure ("Pattern Recognition in the Decimals of Pi"). In Universities, Type 2s almost always have tenure. In private industry, they almost always work in the Engineering department. If you are unlucky enough to have a Type 2 with a bad personality, don't panic. They can be controlled by massive numbers of committee meetings and ISO9000 process management.

Enjoy your PhDs
In general, the PhD is a rare sub-species and one that should bring you hours of enjoyment. Regardless of the type that you own, most PhDs will provide hours of entertainment and value to your life. And if you happen to encounter one in the wild, be sure to treat it with respect - from a distance.

Disclaimer: The above descriptions and instructions do not apply to liberal arts PhDs. Please consult your non-Telecomm field manual for information on other PhD types.


Lotstodo said...

An interesting take on the types. I do think that there is also the PhD type 1.5. Contributes technically and is not a lab rat? Having met a few, I hope there are more out there!

Scott said...

Dr. Todo,

There are rumors of the type 1.5 PhD, but few have been spotted in the wild. Upon investigation, most rumored 1.5s actually turn out to be type 1's who are somewhat deluded and/or very early in their careers. They can be found writing and commenting on obscure blogs on diverse subjects.

(By the way, my PhD advisor is now in the EE department at your locale. Interesting coincidences make the world a fascinating place (as does skee-ball (and those that populate skee-ball establishments (especially at the beach)))).

Dr. Me