Fortune and Glory!
(Why Go to Graduate School?)
Professor Ken Joy
Department of Computer Science
While I'm standing here in front of you, let me say a few
words about something that can have a tremendous positive effect
on your lives. I see a large group of students here -- some are
seniors and are about to finish their academic careers, and some
are freshmen and sophomores that are just beginning. The message
that I will give you in the next few minutes is about graduate
Why go to graduate school? ................... The simple
answer is Fortune and Glory.
Well, I hear a few snickers in the crowd, but I'm serious.
Listen to me for a few minutes, and let me justify this! It's
the difference between short-term and long-term investments --
and the focus of the investment is you.
First, we have to discuss the difference between graduate
school and the undergraduate education that most of you are involved
An undergraduate education is considered by most universities
as an education that prepares the individual for greater success
in life. The objective is to produce a well-rounded individual
who specializes in one area of study, but is also broadly prepared
to take on a variety of tasks in life. From these noble goals,
come the programs and majors that you are now involved with --
general education, majors, minors, core courses, prerequisites,
required courses, etc.
Most undergraduates work from semester to semester, with little
coherency in their curriculum. Once finals are over in the fall
semester, they forget most of the details and begin to focus
on those courses they're taking in the spring. Your undergraduate
education focuses on short-term learning through fourteen-week
courses, and little emphasis is given to integrating the knowledge
that you have acquired.
Most people see graduate school as just continuation of undergraduate
work, but that is far from the truth. In graduate school, the
emphasis is on the long-term. The primary goal is to master the
field of your choice, and then contribute to it -- and this changes
everything. Let's be explicit! What do you get in graduate
- You get to explore the field of your choice.
In graduate school, you get to study exclusively in the field
of your choice. This means that there is no general education
requirement, or required courses outside your ``major.'' The
emphasis is on learning the material to master your field. You
have hurdles to cross -- preliminary examinations, oral examinations,
thesis writing, and research -- but these are not the short-term
hurdles of an undergraduate curriculum.These are based upon long-term
mastery of your field, and classes are one of the vehicles that
help you do this. Finally, you have an objective in graduate
school -- to contribute to the knowledge in your field. Your
short-term goals all have to do with these long-term accomplishments.
- You get to join a team of faculty, staff, and fellow graduate
students who are all working on interesting problems.
When you attend a major university, you're surrounded by people
working on state-of-the-art problems -- and you get to join them.
You will join a team that is specializing in a certain area of
study and you will work to contribute to this area and this team.
It takes some ``spin up'' to be able to work on these hard problems,
but when you begin to contribute, the feeling is great!
- You get to work on the most interesting problems in your
At a major research university, everyone is working on the most
interesting problems in their respective fields -- for that is
what we get paid to do. Whereas as an undergraduate, you frequently
solve problems that ``illustrate'' the concepts presented in
class, as a graduate student you work on problems that have national
and international significance. In computer science for example,
we are working on enhancing computer security, inventing new
programming languages, expanding operating systems to work on
networks of computer systems, inventing multimedia interfaces
for the Internet, expanding the world of computer graphics, visualizing
scientific information, expanding the capabilities of computer
architectures, and enhancing computer networks. What could
be more fun than working on problems at the forefront of this
- You get a lifestyle that is the envy of most working people.
A University campus is a wonderful place to live and work.
You will join a team of researchers and work on interesting problems
in a great learning environment. You probably will work long
hours -- but they will be your hours. Yes, you will not have
a lot of money, but you will have enough. The environment, the
freedom, the people, and the work make for a very enjoyable lifestyle.
- You get paid to do this.
The university pays you to go to graduate school. They pay you
to work on interesting problems in your chosen field. Yes, every
graduate student complains about their salary. But you do get
paid for 20 hours per week, and your tuition is paid by the university.
You also get office space, and can use the outstanding facilities
of the university -- health club, computer systems, telecommunication
facilities, library -- which are substantial perks.
So what do you get at graduate school? You get to join
the best learning environment in the world -- faculty and students
working on state-of-the-art problems on state-of-the-art facilities
on a university campus. And you get paid to do this!
See the difference between graduate school and your current
OK, so far, so good! But if I put myself in your position,
I still have a question: ``Why did he entitle this talk `Fortune
and Glory'?'' To see this, we have to examine the results of
What is fortune? My desk-side dictionary defines fortune
as ``a person's condition or standing in life determined by material
possessions or financial wealth ; or success, especially when
partially resulting from luck.'' And glory? ``Great honor,
praise, or distinction accorded by common consent; a height of
achievement, enjoyment or prosperity''.
So fortune and glory denotes success, wealth, praise and achievement
-- and enjoyment. And how does this apply to graduate school?
Well, suppose you graduate with an advanced degree. What can
you expect as a result?
- You will make more money.
I don't care what survey you consult, all will say that the earning
potential of someone with an advanced degree is much greater
than someone with a B.S. If you ask some of my colleagues in
the Computer Science Department at UC Davis, they will tell you
that a starting Master's Degree student will make 20% more than
a student with a B.S. I believe that this is incredibly conservative
-- as most of my students earn about 40% more than those that
we send out with a Bachelor's degree. But more importantly, a
person with an advanced degree advances in salary much faster
than a student with a B.S. -- much faster.
Want evidence of this? Look at the upper-level management in
any company. How many Bachelor's degree students do you see?
Not many! Look at the cars in the parking lot outside a major
computing firm. How many of the BMWs belong to students with
graduate degrees? Probably most of them.
- You will get better job opportunities.
This is a big one! And it's big in two ways: First, you get to
have the job you really want. I advertise that each of my former
graduate students has the job they want -- and it's true. It
may have taken an extended search, or a one-year internship,
but they were eventually able to work themselves into the position
they wanted. Second, you will be much more mobile than a student
with just a B.S. degree. Think about this! Not only do you have
a better probability of moving up quickly in your company, but
if you don't like your job, you have a much better probability
of moving into a similar, or better, job at a new company.
- You will get to work on the most exciting problems available
in your company.
This is easy! When you graduate with an advanced degree,
you have exhibited the ability to join a team of researchers
working on state-of-the-art problems, and you have already succeeded
in solving one or more of these problems. Your employers will
know that you can be successful solving state-of-the-art problems
and will put you in a position to do this within their company.
They'd be foolish if they didn't!
In addition, by committing to a graduate education, you have
exhibited a commitment to lifelong learning. Thus your employers
will know that they have someone who they can count on over the
- You will receive the notoriety commensurate with your
Guess who gets to present the results of your work on these problems?
You do! You first get to present the results to the managers
and directors in your own company, and you frequently get to
present them professionally. Professional publication and recognition
comes to very few, and virtually all of these have advanced degrees.
So you will earn a higher salary, have better advancement
possibilities, have better mobility, get to work on great problems
with other great people, and receive the notoriety. What does
this mean? Fortune and Glory! See it?
To reinforce this, let me tell you a short story about a university
graduate, who took his B.S., went out to industry, and worked
his tail off for a fine firm in Los Angeles. We'll call him Kyle.
During the first two years, Kyle was happy in the job, and was
feeling quite comfortable as his salary was increased several
times. However, in the third year, he didn't receive the promotion
that he thought he deserved, and he asked his supervisor for
a meeting to discuss this.
After some initial discussion, Kyle's supervisor had to leave
the office to take a phone call, and Kyle was left sitting there
alone. While silently composing his final arguments, he happened
to notice that his supervisor had left the ``official'' promotion
list face up on the top of his desk. Temptation and frustration
together was too much, and even though he knew it was wrong,
he quickly glanced at the list. He couldn't quite believe what
he saw! It was clear that he'd been passed over in favor of several
co-workers who had done much less. When his supervisor returned,
he was so distracted, he quickly communicated his concern and
got out of the office.
The next day, Kyle solicited a meeting with the director of
his division, who was well known in the company for being forthright
with his employees. After some discussion, he was able to learn
that the majority of these promotions were given to colleagues
who had advanced degrees -- and this had been the determining
factor in putting them over the top. In short, the director thought
that they had a greater long-term potential in the company than
Kyle. The company was thinking about its long-term health, not
the short-term contributions that Kyle had made.
What did Kyle do? Well I can tell you because this is a true
story, and I know! I know because Kyle's real name is
Ken -- and this is my story. This incident made me put my head
up and take a look at my long-term prospects at this company
-- and the result was I went back to graduate school. And what
did I get? I got the job I wanted; I got unlimited consulting
opportunities; I got to contribute to the field of computer graphics;
I got to work with the best students in the world; and I receive
recognition for the work I do. In short, Fortune and Glory!
The message of this is not to start looking at lists on your
manager's desk, it's to look at what you want to do and your
long-term potential for doing it. I think you will find, as I
did, that you have a much better probability of success if you
obtain a graduate degree.
Before I wrap this up, let's go back and examine some of the
excuses that students give for not going to graduate school:
- ``I'm tired of being a pauper, I want to go out in the
real world and make money.''
Oh yeah! The message here is to stay in school, get an advanced
degree, and eventually make much more money -- and the university
will pay you to go! You not only get to make more money, but
you get to do it in the field you want!
- ``I'm tired of going to school. I'm going out and get
a job where I don't have to go to class.''
Employers look at a person who commits to graduate school as
one who is committed to lifelong learning. If you ever give an
employer the impression that you're not interested in learning
-- and going to class is part of learning -- you should probably
begin to review your resume writing skills. Lifelong learning
is a part of continuous improvement, and that is what every employer
must have from his employees.
- ``I owe my parents a lot of money. I'm going out and get
a nice-paying job so I can pay them back.''
I'm sure that Mom and Dad would be very happy to extend your
loan if they knew that you were much more likely to make a lot
more money upon graduation -- and would be much more likely to
pay back the loan in a timely way. If they were still not happy,
you could sweeten the pot! Tell them that you would be willing
to pay back 10% more, or would sign over some of the stock options
available to you. Make their short-term investment a long-term
- ``I want to go out to the real world and work on some
Right! When you're attending a major university, you are surrounded
by people working on the most exciting problems of their respective
fields. Each of these researchers is just dying to have some
enthusiastic students work with them on their problems. Sure,
when you're an undergraduate student, the university requires
you to take a lot of classes that (supposedly) improve your physical
and mental being, but in graduate school you get to focus exclusively
on the interesting problems in your field.
All of these statements, which we hear frequently, focus on an
extremely short-term view of a long-term problem (Your life!).
Most who make these statements do not realize the benefits of
a graduate education. They do not realize that a Bachelor's degree
sets you up perfectly to enter graduate school. Sure there are
pressures on you. But we are not talking about a continuation
of undergraduate work, we are talking about graduate school,
where you have control. If you look forward and examine the paths
available to you, you will see that the best probability of
success is through graduate school.
Let me back up a bit and state that it's not necessary that
you go immediately to graduate school after receiving your B.S.
degree. In fact, it can be quite beneficial to spend one or two
years in industry to ``remove your training wheels'' in computer
But its easy to focus on the short-term (like Kyle did), and
forget your long-term possibilities. So every time you walk by
the rows of Lexuses (Lexii?) in the preferred parking lot of
your firm, remember that most of their owners have letters after
their names (like M.A., M.S., M.B.A., or Ph.D). They are inside
working in the best jobs in the company, earning their large
salary, working on exciting problems, and basking in the glory
of their contributions. And you could be too!
Starting to understand? Let's push the point home --
and you should have seen this one coming.
What do you get from fortune and glory? Fun! Fun! and more
Think about it! Money and success, praise and distinction,
and the sense of mutual accomplishment from working with others
to contribute to the state-of-the-art in your field. What could
be more Fun that this? The great jobs are the ones where its
fun going to work, and you can have one of these jobs!
So here is your mantra -- Fortune and Glory. Whenever
you want a reason to push yourself hard, think fortune and
glory. Whenever you explain to your significant-other why
you're studying so hard, tell him (or her) about fortune and
glory. When you need to pull that extra grade point to get
into graduate school, just remember fortune and glory.
And then put your head up and think fun, because in
the long-term that is what you will have over all your peers
who decided not to go to graduate school.
Fortune and Glory... and Fun!
This paper was based upon several talks given
to computer science students at UC Davis.
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All contents copyright (c) 1998
Computer Science Department, University of California, Davis
All rights reserved.