Blogging my way through the rest of my PhD

I’ve reached a turning point in my PhD studies. Classes are behind me and what lies ahead is largely unstructured. Success or failure will largely be a function of whether or not (and how well) I pull myself together.

The next steps are:

  1. Pass comprehensive exams AKA “comps” (scheduled for early April 2020)
  2. Propose and defend a dissertation topic (which must be completed by spring of 2021)
  3. Write and defend the dissertation itself

Everyone knows that dissertation research is unstructured. The lack of structure is—from what I can tell—a large source of struggle for PhD students. (Another, unfortunately, is lack of support from their advisors and program. Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with an amazing mentor and advisor in Bill Kennedy

Yet in my program—Computational Sciences and Informatics (CSI) at George Mason University—even comps are unstructured. The program of study is largely a “choose your own adventure” degree. As a result, there is no set exam that every student takes. Instead you form a committee as you finish classes and then more-or-less negotiate the subjects of your exam with your committee members. There is some structure, but the content itself is bespoke based on courses you’ve taken and your intended dissertation focus.

I have been taught (and reinforced by experience) that you don’t just write to explain; you write to understand. To that end, I intend to start blogging again, but this time with focus. My goal is to blog about what I’m studying for comps, what I’m reading related to my research, and what I’m thinking about. (That last bit is to help articulate and codify some of the ideas knocking around in my head.)

Tommy Jones

I like answering boring statistical questions about exciting machine learning models.