Today, I just wanna note that I finally finished my academic journey on the 21st of Mai by successfully defending my PhD thesis. The thesis will be published very soon and I post it here on this website.
The following text is from the preface of the thesis and describes my personal struggles during and my perspective on the journey.
“The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” – Albert Camus
My Personal Journey
I can pinpoint the exact moment when I decided to start my academic journey. At that time, my life was harshly disrupted by physical illness and the death of my father. Consequently, my family struggled on many levels. Despite, and probably because of the unfortunate circumstances and with my family’s blessing, I quit my job and rejoined school to get my (technical) A level. I wanted to comprehend the world more than ever and escape the meaningless play of presenting. At that difficult time, there was a financial intensive to graduate as fast as possible. Therefore, I did not join the university but the computer science program at the Munich University of Applied Sciences.
During my undergraduate study, my former naive belief was crushed. I realized that I would never find any definitive objective truth about the physical world. It was a rather pessimistic but also liberating philosophical revelation that there is no definitive rule to follow and no absolute meaning to fulfill. My search was no longer aimed to find an objective meaning but a personal cause to follow. I still admired studying but for other more aesthetic reasons. I loved the clarity and usefulness of formal systems, the beauty of proofs, the elegance of algorithms, and the stu- dent’s lifestyle. I observed a transforming world where computer science spread out into many branches of science, economics, and society. It was a time of playful experimentation and the deconstruction of personal barriers.
After I got my bachelor’s degree, I finally joined a master program at the Technical University of Munich. This continuation was enabled by the individual and financial support I received from Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes & the Max Weber-Programm. I followed my aesthetic taste and visited rather unpopular formal lectures. At that time, I realized that the source of my personal cause to move on has to be bound to someone else. Beauty and aesthetic theories were a pleasant enjoyment, but they could no longer be the primary reason to live for.
Surprisingly my academic journey should not stop there, since Prof. Dr. Köster invited me into her research group. There are multiple reasons why I happily accepted her invitation. The desire to understand the world was reduced to the desire to understand at least one little part of it. Furthermore, I believed that simulations would influence science, economics, and society for decades to come. And if I could make the world a little bit safer, it might be the cause I was looking for. During my PhD, the wish to be useful and to help others was always a source of inner conflict and self-doubt. I started the whole journey to escape a world that I perceived to be shallow, empty, and driven by profit. From time to time, the scientific research project felt like this meaningless business world that came back to haunt me. Luckily I was in a superb position. Everyone tried to reduce this aspect of the scientific environment to a minimum, for which I am very grateful.
I think every PhD candidate has to deal with uncertainties and self-doubt – the uncertainty within science and the uncertainty of the journey’s path. There is no guaranteed progress or graduation and one is constantly confronted with his or her own limitations. These factors and the ever-present questioning voice in my head acted as a catalyst for an unavoidable existential crisis. I looked into many philosophical ideas and rearranged, and possibly reinforced, my world view and many important values – the chapter’s introductory quotes tell the tale. In my opinion, this process was only possible, because during my academic journey I received the tools to engage with difficult ideas. On the one hand, this crisis was unpleasant but on the other hand it enriched my life – a trade-off I am certainly willing to repeat. In the end, I had supportive companions that helped me to deal with all these issues. It was not easy, and I guess it rarely ever is, but the struggle is part of the charm – as Camus said,
“we must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
For me, to study is to train thoughtful thinking, perception, awareness, and tolerance. It sharpens the mind and opens up a little less ignorant new world. The ability to enjoy thinking and to share this enjoyment with other thoughtful people provides freedom and independence. It might be the greatest gift I received during my journey. Because of it and the people I met, it is a success story, and I am deeply thankful that I could have experienced it.