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I would like to propose this idea to you, and the background context in which it originated, in the hope that you might advise me. You! Whoever you are :) Here is the background. I am very interested in computer science. I started programming in about 6th grade, on a TI-83 calculator, and progressed from there. By the time I graduated high school, I would rate myself at what might traditionally be called "Journeyman" skill level: a person who has enough experience (perhaps through apprenticeship) to work usefully in the industry, as a professional. At the time I graduated, I had a score of '5' on the Advanced Placement Computer Science Test "AB"; for me, the concepts were already routine. I achieved the highest level rating, Master, in the C++ programming language test on Brainbench.com and rated expert in many others. I had outstanding job offers from companies based solely on my scores and resume. I did not intend on taking them, though. Throughout high school and college, I worked on open source projects. Some of these were very successful. One project I started is extremely well-known, has been distributed on CDs, and has won awards from well-known software magazines. The project even outlived me, and continues to this day despite my retirement. What I mean to say is that I am *good*. I know that society hates for someone to say this about herself, but, it is true. It is demonstrably true. Empirical evidence surrounds me, in the form of successful projects, both business and open source. I am good at what I do, and I have no humiltiy about it. I also do not over-estimate my own skills. So I believe. When I got into college, I already had a strong idea of software engineering and how it should be taught. There are many things I learned during college; one of them being the difference between Computational Theory (CT) and Software Engineering (SE), both of which I consider in the field of Computer Science (CS). It is superfluous to argue about the meaning of the terms, but, to clarify to my readers, by CT I mean the study of mathematical and abstract computer concepts; while by SE I mean the study of how to build good, practical software. These are very different disciplines, with different focuses. One thing that may not be evident to lay readers is the huge difference between good and bad software. Like many other machines in our lives, we simply never recognize when a computer is behaving properly. This is as it should be. A computer is a tool to accomplish a job; the tool itself is not the focus. Accordingly, most people do not want to think about them. The tinkerers who are interested in the workings of computers are the ones we know of as computer scientists, or engineers. There is a big difference between an engineer and a scientist. Both of them want to discover new things! The engineer wants to discover how to improve the process of construction, while the scientist wants to discover new theories. I have always leaned strongly in the direction of Software Engineering. Like
other types of mathematics, the mathematics of CT is very difficult and precise. It is amazing the sorts of things we are now able to formally reason about; you might call CT the mathematics of things that aren't numbers. We have functions, variables, etc., but they aren't numbers -- they are more complex things, such as lists of numbers. It is even more amazing the sorts of things we have been able to prove. This is another topic for another time. For unfortunate, essentially non-academic reasons, I have been unable to complete my degree in the Professional Master's Program  from [redacted university]. That is okay. Sometimes life gives us lemons. I feel that, since college, I have progressed from Journeyman to Master in Software Engineering. I have learned a great deal of CT and would now consider myself a Journeyman. CS is such a big field that a Master or even Doctorate in the subject may have a completely different set of knowledge than another. For example, one might focus on Software Engineering (building browsers like Firefox) while another focuses on the specifics of how numbers are represented in mathematical software (like Matlab or Mathematica). Although I am now going to enter the professional population, and spend the majority of my time working as an engineer, I am always interested in personal growth. Therefore I am planning to formally continue my studies in Computational Theory and Software Engineering. I will learn more about the latter implicitly by working; the former will be a subject of study. I am therefore planning to pursue a Master of Science thesis  in the field of Computer Science, specifically Software Engineering. One of the things I have learned during my time in University is that politics dominates academia. Part of this politics is the huge growth of academia is an "industry", with large amounts of money exchanging hands. These aspects of academia do not interest me, and I would prefer to avoid them. Most institutions also expect a student pursuing higher level learning to work full time, and take on other roles. I think that some of these things are not essential, or even important, for the learning process that produces a Master or Doctorate. Ultimately, the metric used to determine the award of a Master or Doctorate is (should be?) the work of the student. Traditionally, a Master degree is awarded to a student who has demonstrated full mastery of a field, and PhD to a student who has demonstrably advanced the state of research in that field. The definitions have changed over time, unfortunately. It now seems that a Master's degree is something one can now just pay for. I know many people pursuing this type of higher-level education whom I have never thought were terribly interested in the subject in the first place. I find that as time goes on, all of the degrees are lessening in value: Bachelor's is simply expected, Master's is something you can pay for, and Doctorate is something you can pay for with a few more years. Although the tier 1 institutions are roughly protecting the Master's and Doctorate degrees, I do not think that the vast majority are. Consequently I have decided that I will independently pursue and develop my Master's thesis. Independent of any particular institution. I am sure that this line alone shocks you, for many reasons -- and it should. What temerity of a person, to award *herself* a degree? Madness! However, I believe that if one very deeply thinks about the issue, I believe he will come to the same conclusion that I did, which is that a self-award system may actually be more critical and significant. I will anticipate your objections and
address them below. There will always be crooks who claim to be experts in things they are not. These people can already get degrees by purchasing them online. Hell, they falsely claim credentials on their resumes anyway. Declaring that degrees must be awarded by large institutions only does not actually protect anything. It is like a law that prohibits stealing: the moral people would not steal either way; the thieves will regardless. Most people do not consider credentials to be proof of competency; you would not find that a PhD in computer science is enough to get a job in the field. Other things matter much more. What really matters? I think it is the character of the person herself. If I create an independent Master's thesis, it comes down to any individual to weigh their opinion of me. If I am trusted and respected, indeed, as a person and scientist and engineer, then their respect or trust in me suggests that they will trust my claim to Mastery. What of people who do not know me? A stranger cannot judge my character. If I have a PhD from Stanford U. or Rice U., he may trust me implicitly based on trust for those names. But nevertheless, this is not trust for me, myself. This is trust for those institutions, which is extended, as a loan of sorts, to me. If this fellow reads my thesis and finds it or the work I perform now to be lacking of what he considers a Master's skill, then the degree means nothing anyway. I believe what it comes down to is a claim: I have this amount of skill and knowledge; I have contributed this to the field. The claim and the actual contribution are independent of any particular institution. If I make a thesis, it is revolutionary, or it isn't. It's correct or it's not. It doesn't become more of anything because I pursued it at Harvard U. We as scientists are beholden to the concept that evidence just is, independent of subjectivity. A diploma for a Master's degree, then, is evidence that the student is a Master in his field. I believe therefore that this type of claim is simply verified by an institution, recognized by it. This is consistent with the ceremonial awards of degrees (which, admittedly, some people object to). There are many questions about whether my work would be truly a Master's contribution, and how I should judge this for myself. Can a person judge his own knowledge? I think there are three possibilities for this situation, a person who claims to be a Master: 1) The claimant is a liar (insincere) 2) The claimant is sincere, but misguided about what constitutes Mastery of the field. 3) The claimant is correct about his Mastery of the field. Some might argue that I am that I cannot, for myself, I can. As a student gains decide what Mastery of the Mastery. #1. The real challenge to the idea of this document is distinguish whether I am #2 or #3. In fact, I believe knowledge gradually, he must, at some point, be able to field is. He can then decide whether someone has
We are all biased in favor of ourselves -- it is inevitable. Therefore the proper way to compensate is to approach with a very careful and conservative estimate of Mastery. If one must err, err in the direction of knowing much more than necessary for a claim to Mastery. This is what honorable people will do, for an
independent approach to the diploma. The honorable person will make damn sure his contribution thesis is useful before inviting the community to spend time critiquing it as a Defense, because he will be humiliated if it is not. I know that many people may read this document and suppose that I mean to diminish the process of education, and lessen it by declaring myself a Master unjustifiably. Those who know me personally know that this is not the case. Hopefully I am known as a careful and thoughtful individual with high standards. If this is my character, then one should agree that I will hold myself to the highest standards, that I will study and master all relevant material, and that I would never publish a Master's thesis as such unless it justifiably met the standard for my field. I often find myself my harshest critic, and I suspect that I will learn more and contribute more this way. I will delve fully into topics and master them, instead of just "taking a class" and contributing the minimal amount. It is an inevitable question, then, how the traditional process of the thesis award would proceed independently. I don't think it needs to proceed much differently. The process of developing my thesis would proceed much like normal. I will consult those who know more than I do, and my peers within the Computer Science community. From them I expect to receive feedback equivalent to the mentorship of an advisor. The recognition of my thesis would be a very questionable and shaky thing. I expect that I would conduct a thesis defense identically to the University process, including an open invitation to the community. I believe that this will force me to hold my ideas to the highest standard. I could not see myself, through the process, "just getting" a degree -- I wouldn't waste other people's time like that. I predict that if I embark on this process and invite professors from the community, that I will receive very harsh and thorough questions during my defense. Contrary to a traditional thesis defense, the examiners will not be a cohort of my colleagues who have worked with me and wish me well, to receive my diploma. Instead, the examiners will be the most critical individuals, who may oppose the nominal award of my diploma. If I survive the thesis defense to their satisfaction, and my work is remarkable within the field, then I would believe myself to have met the burden. I would request all Doctors present sign my diploma in recognition. Ultimately, I believe a diploma is just a claim made by an individual, backed by some others -- maybe an institution, maybe my peers and superiors in the CS community. If I am a trusted, respected individual in the area of Computer Science, then that is independent of any degree. Historically, many scientists have made many valuable contributions from their own homes, often without scientific training. I firmly believe that this idea will advance the progress of science, as individuals are permitted to progress to Mastery without spending money and indulging in academic politics. I believe that this process would also produce more failures, because people could not embark on it falsely and "just finish a degree". There will no doubt be much discussion of this, with responses suggesting that any random person may now call himself a Doctor. This is already the case! Consider
carefully that it is always the burden of one person to judge the credentials and honor of another. This process will not change that fact, for better or worse. I would not expect the development of my thesis to take any less time than others'. In fact, since I will be working only part time, it may take much more. I will propose my thesis to the world, and ask others to judge my Mastery of the field, independent of any institution. If my research is strong, and my ideas developed, and my defense strong, then it will be appropriate for me to consider myself awarded.  Note that this degree is a professional, terminal degree, as awarded by [redacted university]. It is not a research degree; it has no thesis; it is not an "MS". Compare to .  The degree I am considering is a thesis-based degree, the MS.
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