Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I'm in the middle of trying to write a PhD thesis to complete a PhD at Keio University. I was working on this when I got my current job at the Media Lab and Nicholas Negroponte told me that I should dump the idea of finishing a degree because my not having an earned degree was a badge of honor at this point.

7 years later, people call me "the academic" on panels and while some people are still "impressed" that I don't have a degree, just as many students wonder whether I really understand their point of view having never gone through the process. Also, Jun Murai poked me the other day and urged me to think again about finishing the degree so I quietly started working on it awhile ago thinking, "I've got plenty of time..." Now my thesis is due on April 30. Step 1 in "how to feel like a student."

The degree that I am working on is a Thesis PhD which doesn't exist in the US. It's a process designed for people like me who aren't doing research for their degree, but instead, earn their degree by writing a thesis about stuff that they've done or are doing and "pitch" it to the university. Jun Murai, a Professor in the Department of Environment and Information Studies in the Graduate School of Media and Governance at Keio University, is my advisor.

So I have to finish writing the thesis, then I put together a committee, they review it, I defend, there is an exam and then, if I'm successful, I get a PhD and walk on September 18 in Japan. Jun and his team were kind enough to put "Congratulations!" on the commencement line of my proposed schedule.

So while this blog post is a bit of a break/procrastination ("how to feel like a student part 2!") it's also pressure for me to actually finish this or fail publicly. At least to the extent that anyone is reading this blog.

Which brings me to another point.

With my new Wired column and other more formal writing I'm doing these days, my blog has been getting neglected. Also, in doing research for my thesis, my blog has served as a great outboard memory for me to remember all of the things I've thought about or have been involved in with date stamps, photos and links. I realized that the original purpose - of journaling - might be a good reason to keep blogging. Writing to my future self to remind me of what I was thinking and doing today. Also, as a great procrastination method with slightly more long term value than browsing and liking random things on Facebook.

So there you go. I'm going to pivot my blog to be a bit more like personal journal to chronicle my journey than a soap box to pontificate from. Sort of like how it started.

9 Comments

I learnt a lot from you, I was especially impressed and agreed with your concept “putting science, engineering, art and design on one place(person)”.
I have one question, what opinion do you have about life extension science or anti-aging technology (not for its reliability but taking time to research for it) ?
I have terrible fear about death. I suppose you have some undisciplined idea.
I know you’re busy, so look forward to seeing and talking with you about this question directly some day. Maybe in Japanese. Thank you.

I think we should do research and I think that we will some day probably discover how to halt or reverse a significant part of the aging process. I do think it will have an unexpected effect on society and I'm not sure exactly how it will turn out. I'm not as optimistic about its effects as some people are - there are so many possible secondary effects.

I think that to the extent possible, we should consider and work on the ethical and societal systems in parallel with the development of such technologies. However, right now, there is still an unpredictable path forward so it's hard for me think of exactly what the right work on the social implications are - but I'm sure some people are thinking about this more deeply than me. (I'd be interested in learning more about what people are thinking.)

Just curious, Joi. Is your PhD thesis in Japanese or in English? Also, seems like you could just submit Wiplash and be done with it! Best, chuck

The thesis will be in English. Actually, it's structured like a formal academic thesis so while I will be taking some of the stories and ideas from the book, it's more than just just making an argument. I have to come up with a vision, describe the issues I'm trying to address, describe the design and theories of change, explain what I did and what I'm working on and then describe how everything ties together and where things are going.

I'm on the other end of the same trip, starting a PhD. Even so, I think that the experience of narrating it in blogs is something that can contribute to others in the becomings of these. I share the feeling that in an instant world of notifications, the pleasure of leaving a public note of our statements is less frequent. I will also follow your advice to retell in my blog.

A lot of encouragement and energy in these weeks before delivery. Without having even arrived there, it is known that they are troubled and intense days. As someone told me a few months ago "There is no better thesis, than the one delivered" Enjoy the trip and reach the goal :-)

Dear Professor Joi Ito,

My humble opinion.
Noting the date of this Blog post, I wonder if this is an April Fool’s joke. For instance, you state about the PhD:

"It's a process designed for people like me who aren't doing research for their degree, but instead, earn their degree by writing a thesis about stuff that they've done or are doing and "pitch" it to the university.”

But where is the empirical evidence, a literature review that justifies the uniqueness of your research, the personal and intellectual processes of iterative development that can only be undertaken over time? A PhD surely is more than a one-off sales pitch, a certificate of participation. This concept may be unique to Japan but then given the relatively low world rankings and academic recognition of Japanese universities (even the so-called prestigious entities), maybe I should not be so surprised.

Surely your fantastic research at the MIT Media Lab and your ideas about ‘anti disciplinary’ education are worthy of deeper study with challenging academics at more demanding universities. I respect your work immensely and look to your lab work, your Blog, your interviews, your presentations, and your tweets for inspiration. Why do you desire a PhD if it is not earned in the same demanding manner expected of MIT graduates? Why do you need a PhD to justify your immense talent and intellect? One that is gained from a presentation to people who may be humbled (intimidated?) by your thesis topic, your charisma and your status. You have already been ‘congratulated’ and, as everyone should know, entering a Japanese university is often a greater accomplishment than actually graduating.

Best wishes,
Michael Vallance

Hi Michael. It is actually a relatively commons form of PhD and it does require a literature review, and a contribution to the field, a proper thesis committee, a defense, etc. The main thing that's different from a traditional PhD is that you write your thesis with an advisor first, then once it is accepted by the university, you convene a committee and go through the review, the exam, the defense, etc. What's mostly being replaced is the research element - your activities have to support the thesis and the contribution instead of what you might do in residence as a PhD candidate at a university.

I had started this PhD before I got my job at MIT and stopped it. My advisor Jun Murai has been pushing me to complete it. I don't really "need" it, but I felt that it would be good to have closure, the writing is really helping me pull together and organize a lot of what I have done and am doing, and I think that going through the process doing a PhD will help me better understand what it's like for my students.

I did briefly discuss doing a degree at MIT, but some felt that it would be a conflict of interest. Keio University's SFC Campus is really the only other interdisciplinary research program that I know where my work would fit, and my advisor, Jun Murai, has been my mentor since the 90s.

Do we get to read it Joi? Fascinated that you can pitch your PhD thesis to a university based on the work you are doing....It is so relevant and a so much more practical achievement.

If it turns out well I'll post it. ;-)

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