Tuesday, May 16, 2017

If an ugrad asks `is field X worth studying' the answer is almost always yes

An undergraduate Freshman recently emailed me that he was very interested in Quantum Computing and wanted to know

1) Who on the fCS aculty works in QC (Answer: Andrew Childs though you should ask him about postdocs, grad students, and Physics faulty in the area.)

2) What are good books on QC for a bright ugrad. I said the following:

QC since Democritus by Aaronson
QC-A gentle introduction by Rieffel and Polak
QC for CS by Yanofsy and Mannucci
QC and QI by Nielsen and Chuang
Some of Scott's blog posts.
Ask Andrew Childs for more.

my webpage of book reviews for SIGACT NEWS here and search for Quantum to get some other books- read the reviews and pick one.

on Amazon type in quantum computing and see what reviews say- though they might not be reliable.

There are likely other good books but I do not know of them. (You can leave comments.)

3) Is QC a good topic to get into? I said YES of course. My reasoning is that they would of course LEARN something by studying it.

 But this raises the question: When would I say `that field is not worth studying' ?

1) If they really want to do RESEARCH and the topic is either too dead or too hard and they want to actually do research (as opposed to learning the topic without wanting to to research).

2) If there was nobody around to help them in that topic. Might still be okay if they are both highly motivated and very smart.

3) If the topic was bogus AND they would learn NOTHING from studying it. Are there topics that are bogus but you still learn from studying them? Does studying astrology seriously teach you some astronomy? Some history? How about Alchemy and Chemistry? Fine if the students KNOWS that Astrology is bogus and Alchemy is not correct.

The points is that I really do not want to dampen someone's enthusiasm for a topic.

SO- aside from the reasons above, can you think of any other reason to discourage a student from a topic they are interested in? I ask, as always, non-rhetorically.


  1. The answer depends on the general goal of the student who asks. For example, if a student plans to go to the industry after the PhD, so probably there would be few fields that "not that worth" entering to.

    Concluding, the student's question is not well defined.

  2. NielsEn and ChuAng?

  3. "Is QC a good topic to get into?" Doesn't that depend on the individual themselves? Isn't it THEIR determination to make. Best way to decide is to study it themselves. Perhaps they feel like it will be a waste of time and are trying to get around the unnecessary work. But considering you are an educator, I can't imagine why you would tell a student that a topic isn't worth getting into.

    The only rational reason I can think of to discourage a student from studying a specific topic they're interested in is that the field/area of study has no direction. But is there such a field?

  4. Lipton-Regan qM via Linear Algebra