Stephen A. Fuqua (SAF) is a Bahá'í, programmer, and conservation and interfaith advocate in the DFW area of Texas.

November 11, 2003

Grad School & The Linux Guru

Okay, so this is a slight tangent from my intentions with this site, but I must share the following quote from Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, neatly summarizing (with only slight exagerration to reality) my experience as a graduate student in physics.

…Randy enrolled at another Sibling with the aim of getting his master's degree in astronomy. This made him a grad student, and grad students existed not to learn things but to relieve the tenured faculty members of tiresome burdens such as educating people adn doing research.

Within a month of his arrival, Randy solved some trivial computer problems for one fo the other grad students. A week later, the chairman of the astronomy department called him over and said, "So you're the UNIX guru." At the time, Randy was still stupid enough to be flattered by this attention, when he should have recognized them as bone-chilling words.

Three years later, he left the Astronomy Department without a degree and with nothing to show for his labors except six hundred dollars in his bank account and a staggeringly comprehensive knowledge of UNIX.…

So no, I was not and will never be a true UNIX guru (partially for this very reason), and I did manage to finish my MA (by not working in the lab my last summer so I could just spend time writing my thesis, traveling around and living at friends' houses due to my income-less-ness). BUT, this so dead on for many people, I'm sure.

And could I possibly get a job in physics with my degree? Despite some decent lab work, the honest answer is no. I barely learned any physics as a grad student. But I did learn more than I ever thought I would about running Linux (and a bit of AIX and NeXTStep to boot).