Monday, July 4, 2011

Universities are Important

I'm going a little bit off the topic of this blog in this post, but since most of the research in computational intelligence is done at universities it's still relevant. In a post at the blog, Nathan Furr discusses four myths on why universities don't matter anymore (they do). The most salient are the top three:

1) You can teach yourself everything
2) You can teach yourself everything online
3) I don't use anything I learned at college

In regards to 1) and 2), from my own experience some students do think that: one comment on a course evaluation for the data processing course I taught in 2003 was along the lines of "this course doesn't teach anything that an enterprising student couldn't learn online". The counterpoint to that is that if they hadn't done my course, they wouldn't know what they would need to teach themselves. In other words, they wouldn't know that they didn't know.

In regards to number 3, people who say that probably just don't realise that they are using stuff they learned at university. In my own case, my undergraduate education is in software engineering and systems development, my PhD is in computational intelligence, and now I do research in ecological modelling. With every project I do in ecological modelling, I have been able to apply what I learned as either an undergrad or during my PhD.

I've spent my professional life working at universities, and I will be the first to admit that, like every human enterprise, they have their flaws: I've seen people promoted because of their political skill rather than their research, teaching skill, or managerial ability, only to have them run their departments into the ground. I've seen people build entire careers on a single piece of research, then spend the rest of their lives giving the same talk over and over again. But universities do far more useful things than bad things, so they are worth keeping around.