Computing Profession Letters to the editor

Weighing Grad School Payback

  1. Introduction
  2. Author's response:
  3. Editor-in-Chief's response:
  4. Body of Evidence
  5. A Letter Apart
  6. Erratum
  7. References
  8. Footnotes
Letters to the Editor, illustration

In his September 2020 column (p. 5), Moshe Vardi rightly criticizes the Trump Administration's policies prohibiting foreign graduate students and points out the dearth of domestic graduate students willing to fill positions. He asks to understand the root of this problem, and I would like to share my perspective on why I chose another path.

During my undergraduate program, a few professors encouraged me to consider graduate school. They said it had been the best decision they had made. However, I could not help but feel that I was talking to lottery winners about buying tickets. To me, graduate school looked like a long, slogging prospect with an uncertain outcome. The conventional wisdom was that graduate students were the grunts of the academic workforce, suffered disproportionate grievances, and won disproportionate low rewards. The stories of destitute adjunct faculty in academia pointed to a future with great risk.

For me at least, not going to graduate school was a question of incentives. To convince students to attend graduate school, they need to be convinced their lives will be better by going.

John Boyd, Brooklyn, NY, USA

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Author's response:

John Boyd's comment on the strict winnowing process that leads to tenured positions in major research universities is fair, but it cannot be the full explanation. Most doctorate holders in computer science, after all, end up in industry and not in academia. Also, other fields, such as music or sport, also have a strict winnowing process, yet they do not lack applicants.

Moshe Y. Vardi, Houston, TX, USA

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Editor-in-Chief's response:

These are valid perspectives on education—its utility in acquiring wealth and securing career opportunities. Another classical view of education is in its reward in both the journey, and the growth that comes from the journey that enables us to appreciate life, science, technology, and those who both pursue and remarkably, shape its trajectory! I recommend Nick Feamster's thoughtful piece on "Do You Need a Ph.D.?" on Medium (https://bit.ly/35P4xie).

Andrew A. Chien, Chicago, IL, USA

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Body of Evidence

I read Vinton G. Cerf's August 2020 column (as I do all of them) with interest. Before folks adopt "Internet of Medical Things," it might be useful to note that a different term has been in circulation for a few years, one that encompasses medical things and other wearables. A mathematician colleague of mine at RAND Corporation, Mary Lee, was one of the early commenters on the label "Internet of Bodies" or IOB (see https://wapo.st/2PIB54s).

I will admit it took me a while to get used to the IOB label, but it is briefer and, in my opinion, more flexible than IOMT. Moreover, it evokes some new possibilities for, say, peer-to-peer networking as well as the "phone home" aspects of most of today's networked medical things. Mary Lee has a report on this topic in press that surveys the landscape and related issues, so stay tuned for that.

Marjory S. Blumenthal, Washington, D.C., USA

There are three fundamental assumptions toward the success of the Internet of Medical Things proposed by Vinton G. Cerf in his August column (p. 5). The first assumption is that sensory technologies are capable of continuously measuring a variety of aspects of human physiology. The second assumption relies on achieving ultimate accuracy by minimizing false positive and negative detection rates of both diagnosing onset of a condition and helping monitor existing conditions. The third assumption relies on the consent of individuals, either those who are disease-free or live with one or more chronic conditions, to allow the use of technologies to continuously analyze and report on the functionality of their organs, often to entities other than their trusted medical personnel such as insurance companies.

A fourth fundamental assumption not mentioned in Cerf's column is the inability of sensory technologies to accurately diagnose the majority of life-threatening conditions. It is indeed possible to assess controlled conditions such as hypertension and type 2 diabetes and even more complex conditions, for example, monitoring heart failure by incorporating CardioMEMS's wireless sensors implanted in patients' pulmonary arteries.1 Conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and bone disease, however, often require the use of technologies available only in hospitals, considering their high prices and large sizes. To diagnose heart conditions, patients may be evaluated by stress tests, cardiac computerized tomographies, and echocardiograms, among more invasive tests such as coronary angiograms and myocardial biopsies. By asking patients about their symptoms, a physician can diagnose unpredictable conditions such as spontaneous pneumothorax (collapsed lung without any reason in a healthy individual), which results in a sharp and continuous chest pain and leaves no option but to visit the emergency room, but ultimately the diagnosis is confirmed by an X-ray, a technology not yet available as a wearable.2

Mainstream adoption of the Internet of Medical Things would require addressing all four assumptions. I believe bringing hospital-only sensory technologies to individuals as wearables or even as technologies not yet existent is possible given incredible progress in combining advances in health care and computer science. Indeed, it currently seems unrealistic for a complex medical device to be used in a nonhospital setting, for example, acquiring MRI- or bone-density-like scans at home, even multiple times a day. However, one angle to view sensory technologies of the Internet of Medical Things at their current stage is to compare the current adoption and usefulness of the Internet to that when it was invented many decades ago.

Uri Kartoun, Cambridge, MA, USA

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A Letter Apart

In the June 2020 issue (p. 6), Donald Costello suggests ACM be renamed ACP for Association of Computing Professionals.

While having an almost-as-long association with ACM as Costello, I agree that 'Machinery' is a term that is past its best-by date, but the proposed change is too acute.

Essentially it would change the Association from being about computing to being about people who have something to do with computing. There are surely sufficient social media groups and forums for those people.

By all means change the 'M' (perhaps to 'E' for Engineering, or 'K' for Knowledge, or almost any other letter), but surely ACM's strength and advantage has always been that it has focused on computing machinery, software, and algorithms—and everything those have achieved—rather than the people.

Mike Cowlishaw, Coventry, England, U.K.

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The article by Fay Cobb Payton and Alexa Busch "Examining Undergraduate Computer Science Participation in North Carolina" (Aug 2020, p. 60) contained labeling errors within the figures in the print edition. The lines labeled for Duke and UNCC were inadvertently switched. Communications regrets this error.

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