Wednesday, June 16, 2010

equipment funding in academia

So coming from industry to academia, the 50% pay cut was announced up front - fair enough - I can get up at any time after 11am, and only have to be in one place for an hour every week. But I didn't realise how hard it would be to get equipment and software that was trivially available in the commercial world. If you can make a case to your manager that a 30" monitor will save you an hour a week, it is more effort for them to reject the request (a 30 minute meeting costs more than the requested hardware), than to grant it - hence hardware and software are a non-issue.

But it turns out I had made an assumption that inviting someone to study graphics at a university meant that there would be equipment available to do graphics research of a globally publishable quality. I'm not talking about Cray supercomputers, I'm talking a decent current gaming pc (£1,500) to be able to do real-time graphics. Turns out that Glasgow's department of computer science starts PhD students off with really poor hardware:




and upgrade them if they complain enough - there's no money available for upgrades (all the budgets are maxed out in the current environment), so they shuffle graphics card and memory around the department to whoever needs them more. This was the specs of the machine that I was given when I started at the end of 2008, they don't come close to what I'd describe as "industry standard software development platform", closer to what you need to run office software:-


PhD Starting October 08 got this machine


So that's no dedicated graphics card, and 19" monitor - most people in the vision group (who spend their days with 15 windows open, examining many images), still use this gear. Frankly I doubt this equipment cost £500 at that time, my similar machine (with a £200 graphics card, but without the £100 monitor) cost £600 a year earlier. And okay there are servers available - but mostly these are funded by individual research grants, rather than being open for all PhD students - and most importantly servers make it difficult to do the kind of real-time processing that graphics demands.

After complaining (and as way of apology for loosing my computer) I got a computer equivalent to that £600 machine - but most almost all students don't have industry experience, don't know what a development environment looks like, and don't complain loudly enough.

For example the last graphics paper I wrote had a nice render and an accompanying video. Either setting up the rendering of large scenes or editing video require a decent local computer, especially to compete in computer graphics at an international level.

atlantis

Considering there's so little money required for decent hardware (£3000 over 3 years is probably sufficient, even for heavy graphics), compared to the cost of salaries (£40,000 over three years) it leaves a feeling that the department doesn't value PhD time. However when you start to look at where the hardware funding comes from, (for example Sicsa pays Glasgow £2000 a year for my hardware), it looks like it's being lost in the University's & Department's bureaucracy black-hole.

dcs workstation
my dept pc - we're not talking state of the art here

I've ended up building my own gear for use at home - bit of a sad outcome, but guess I don't have to put Glasgow on any of the papers I write now ;)

5 comments:

  1. Yikes.

    This is quite a damning report on the state of funding and administration @Glasgow. Frankly, the situation isn't very different from what I've experienced here at home (India).

    I've got admission for a Masters course at DCS focusing on Information Retrieval starting September.

    Should I be worried?

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  2. If you're doing a taught Masters course you don't get an office or any gear.

    But I assume it's a research Masters'. Be aware that this post was written with respect to graphics (which needs real time feedback) - also check with your supervisor (quote this blog post) as to whether there is extra money for equipment - many have grants to make up for the department's shortcomings.

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  3. I have joined for a Taught Masters because I'm not that sure about what my outlook will be about research after a year. Its going to be a develop (software and everything else), learn and observe before deciding on if research is my thing.

    I am leaning towards research, but better to get out with a taught degree in case ;)

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  4. So the taught Masters have a shared lab, that has different rules/equipment than PhD students. I know nothing about these!

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  5. Anonymous18:32

    Very sad to see Glasgow treat students like this... But I think it depends on who your supervisor is, the 1st question my supervisor asked me was if I wanted a desktop or laptop and a mac or windows machine - to which I replied windows laptop but can I choose the model and make? The reply was a one line email saying "yes" and the rest is history.

    If SICSA allocate £2000 per year for equipment then I don't see why the student shouldn't be able to use it. However, I have seen other SICSA funded students get the same rough deal that you got.

    Anonymous SICSA funded PhD student from St Andrews.

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