Knuth: "Be an edge, not a node."

At a recent talk, engineering hero and consummate computer scientist Donald Knuth gave the following graph-theoretic advice for future professors: be edges, not nodes. That is, plan to have two sub-specialties in different fields and be able to act as a bridge between disciplines. Perhaps the source of this advice is related to the proof of his Knuth is fondest of: as edges are randomly to a set of nodes, after initially forming a quite disconnected graph, at a certain point there are two quick phase transitions and afterward a large fraction of the nodes then share membership in a single connected component.

I think Knuth's advice is sound for non-academics too (and a step beyond just being T-shaped). Some of the blog entries I've most enjoyed writing are those that bring together tools from different areas of computer science, such as numerical linear algebra and programming languages.

Comments:

Never mind just professors as you say: being a narrow über-specialist can be of limited value whereas having the ability to do good work in and connect multiple sectors is more fun and more likely a social good too, IMHO. Not an excuse to be "master of none" of course, which AI teaching was infected with in my day. Rgds Damon

Posted by guest on May 13, 2011 at 08:15 PM PDT #

No, I'm sorry, but one shoe still does not fit all. Better to figure out for yourself what you are good at. Yes, you can become over-specialized. But you can also become over-generalized - a dilletante. Some people are better at being specialists and some are better at being more general and can make connections between specialties or even between disciplines that seem unconnected. Perhaps the real question should be "Are you still growing? If not, try something different."

Posted by guest on July 08, 2011 at 02:39 PM PDT #

Post a Comment:
Comments are closed for this entry.
About

darcy

Search

Archives
« April 2014
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
  
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
   
       
Today
News

No bookmarks in folder

Blogroll