The Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security (CERIAS)

The Center for Education and Research in
Information Assurance and Security (CERIAS)

Riffing on the Ph.D. Degree


I recenty was having a discussion with someone about the Ph.D. option for a degree here.  The person said “I don’t want a Ph.D. because I don’t ever intend to do research at a university.”  Thus began a conversation about how the Ph.D. may be a requirement for most faculty positions, but it is not a sentence connected to the degree!  Furthermore, not all faculty positions are primarily research positions.

As an example, of the 23 Ph.D. graduates for whom I have been primary (co)advisor to date, 11 have spent some time as faculty members but only four are still full-time faculty.  Six of them currently reside outside the U.S., and six (an overlapping group) have started their own companies. Seven are C-level executives, and another 10 are in senior director/partner-type positions.  It is certainly not the case they are all doing academic research at a university!

The Ph.D. is a way of learning how to focus on a narrow problem, develop a comprehensive plan to solve it, and then present the problem and its solution in a formal, convincing manner. Thus, completing a Ph.D. is a way to hone time management and research skills, dive into an area of interest, and prove one’s capability to manage a big task.  That is useful not only for academic research, but for managing projects, running an agency, and solving problems in “the real world.”

I’m proud of all of these graduates for what they did while completing their degrees and then going on to do interesting and important things in their careers. Here’s a list with mention of their most recent position:

  • Hiralal Agrawal; 1991; Senior Research Scientist, Perspecta Labs.
  • Hsin (Sean) Pan; 1993; Senior Director, Foxconn.
  • Steve J. Chapin; 1993; Lead Cyber Security Researcher, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories.
  • Chonchanok Viravan; 1994; President of Pathanasomdoon Co, Ltd. (Thailand).
  • Sandeep Kumar; 1995; Staff Engineer, VMware, CA.
  • Christoph Schuba; 1997; Senior Security Architect, Apple Computer.
  • Ivan Krsul; 1998; President, Arte Xacta (La Paz, Bolivia).
  • Diego Zamboni; 2001; Enterprise Architect, Swisscom (Switzerland).
  • Wenliang (Kevin) Du; 2001; Professor, Syracuse University.
  • Thomas Daniels; 2002; Associate Teaching Professor, Iowa State University.
  • Ben Kuperman; 2004; Senior Manager of Software Development, Adobe.
  • Florian Buchholz; 2005; Professor, James Madison University.
  • James Early; 2005; Senior Software Engineer, Good Uncle.
  • Paul D. Williams, 2005; Senior Vice President and Chief Security Officer, Teradata.
  • Brian Carrier; 2006; CTO and Head of Digital Forensics, Basis Technology.
  • Rajeev Gopalakrishna; 2006; independent Consulting Researcher.
  • Serdar Cabuk; 2006; Partner, Deloitte Denmark.
  • Maja Pusara Jankovic, 2007; Senior consultant, Ab Initio.
  • Dannie Stanley, 2014; Associate Professor, Taylor University.
  • Mohammed Almeshekah, 2015; Founder and Managing Partner of Outliers Venture Capital (Saudi Arabia).
  • Kelley Misata, 2016 (INSC); CEO and Founder, Sightline Security Corporation.
  • Jeff Avery, 2017; Senior Principle Cyber Systems Engineer, Northrop Grumman.
  • Christopher Gutierrez, 2017; Research Scientist, Intel Corporation.

I am working with five Ph.D. advisees currently. Four of them are employed outside of academia and intend to stay in those positions after getting their degrees.

If you’re interested in getting a Ph.D. (or an MS) at Purdue related to cyber security, take a look at our information page.

(As a matter of trivia, even though the majority of my former students didn’t go into university positions, there are at least 53 more people who received the Ph.D. with one of the above 23 as primary advisor.  Maybe we should start a “Spaf number” similar to the Erdös Number?)



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