Planning the Spontaneous

It's more than just a blueprint.

Work || Academic

Posted by Robert Chow on 16/11/2009

So I went into university today, just to say hi to all my friends, and what not, and I managed to get dragged into the Advanced Graphics lecture they had.  And I have to say, I did find it all very interesting.

Although I’m pretty much doing just OpenGL at IGI for now on the graphics side, there is no theory based around the work I am doing.  We (I say that, as if I’m taking the course, but I’m blatently not) learnt about surface reflectance, and 3 different models used to calculate how light interact with a particular object.

Without going into too much detail (because I can’t):

Bidirectional Reflectance Distribution Funtcion: simple reflection from a surface

Bidirectional Surface Scattering Reflectance Distribution Function: subsurface scattering for translucent materials

Bidirectional Texture Function: to simulate self-shadowing/scattering

Very interesting, and very theoretical.

But that’s the problem.

The majority of academic material learnt during university, college, or school, doesn’t become relevant in the working world, unless you are doing, for example, a job such as research.  You don’t need to know the theory, you just need to know how to apply and use it, and the majority of the time, it’s already done for you.

Take OpenGL for example.  I can’t say I’m an expert at OpenGL, and I don’t think I ever will be.  But in this context of theories, OpenGL takes in parameters to describe the light model.  All the theory I learnt during university,  I don’t need to know, for OpenGL does all of it for me – all I need to know is how to use the interface to create the model.  And this annoys me sometimes.

A lot of stuff I learn at university will be very irrelevant when I come to work in a job.  Of what I learn, a lot will be interesting.  Also, a lot, not so.

And I’ve been battling with myself on whether or not to take a PhD after I graduate.  The University of Manchester, School of Computer Science offer very good scholarships for PhDs, and at this current climate in the economic situation, it might definately be something worth considering.  And maybe doing some research into graphics might be rather ideal for myself.  Okay, I can use that research to create a graphical program that uses the theories of my research, but then where does it go from there?  It may be taught in other universities, but the students don’t actually need to know how it’s done – it’s already been done for them.  Like every argument, there’s always a for and an against.

There’s a PhD open day a week next Wednesday – although it’s for entry in September 2010, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to keep my options open.

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One Response to “Work || Academic”

  1. Anthony Jones said

    Take a look at today’s programmable pipelines. Then you’ll start to see where all this theory becomes practical. With a programmable pipeline, you replace the fixed function pipeline (the OpenGL black box you use at work) with your own functionality. Subsurface scattering, self-shadowing, and many, many more effects are supported this way. So this academic stuff is all useful… well, in theory at least. 🙂

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