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I am doing a PhD in molecular modeling and simulation.

It seems like AI is becoming (or, rather has already become) a household name in research.

Typically people learn things by enrolling in a short-term diploma or MSc program. However, those are generally considered for people without a Ph.D.

What is the ideal way for learning something new after a Ph.D.?

Are self-study and workshops the only options?

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  • 12
    Short courses, conference workshops, self-study, auditing a class at a local university, working with colleagues, just as a part of working... When have I stopped learning new things after my PhD?
    – Jon Custer
    May 24, 2023 at 12:29
  • Best way to learn something new? Teach it :)
    – Clement C.
    May 30, 2023 at 0:01

6 Answers 6

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If you boil it down, a Ph.D. is a big project that you have to figure out on your own, often by teaching yourself many skills that might be needed (which you rarely know in advance). After completing it you have to write it up and publish the result (as a paper, data, web application, etc).

So you can do the same with anything else you want to learn. For example, I learned about data science by taking a project in archeology (I'm a physicist). To finish and publish it I had to learn data science and web development. I learned from Coursera, YouTube tutorials, Stack Overflow, Discord servers, asking around for help, etc.

If you are specifically interested in AI, you can become a code contributor to projects you like on GitHub or by developing a side project related to your work, which can benefit from AI.

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If you already have a PhD, self-study generally is the way to go. A PhD should have taught you the ability to self-study effectively and often people will give you credit for that.

In a work context you can claim basic knowledge from self-study on almost any topic (don't lie, you have to actually do the self-study). Deeper knowledge is then shown by work experience in the area.

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Typically people learn things by enrolling in a short-term diploma or MSc program.

This one made me laugh. No, typically people learn things without pursuing any educational qualification at all, and it is only PhDs who seem to lose sight of this fact. If you want to learn a new thing after your PhD then you should think back to how you learned things before your PhD. If you want to learn AI you could start by reading some introductory papers about it and perhaps doing some practice with computational packages that implement relevant models. There are formal courses and programs available for AI if you want to go in this direction, but it is okay to dip your toe in the water first with some self-study.

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I'm a phd student. Lots of my REAL learning comes from working with my coworkers (who are mainly experts in ML/causal inference/econometrics). I've literally spent the last 2 days debugging my friend's Python code for the estimator he created for his dissertation, and I've learned more than I've wanted to about.... convex optimization, software engineering, python dictionaries, indecies, and all kinds of stuff that I'd just not needed before. So for me, even while I'm a student, I learn a lot by working on applied problems that I'm really interested in, with people who know more about a subject than I do.

I should also note, this code will be used for my job too, so it'll have further reaching implications than just school. Point is, work on things you like, things that may be hard but things you're really interested in knowing about.

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The other answers have good ideas that include self-study, formal and informal courses, books, web-based tutorials. To add to these, here are some more career options:

  • Historically, a post-doctoral fellowship would teach new skills and that was why a PhD-holder would have these positions (see many other posts on this site about the pitfalls of postdocs).
  • Sabbaticals offer faculty a chance to learn something new. Some faculty take this time to visit other labs or visit and work with other researchers to learn new skills from them.
  • Formal professional development programs exist like the AAAS's S&T Policy Fellow to help people learn new skills and broaden their horizon.
  • Programs like the Fullbright Scholarship Program exist and will fund people to travel abroad to learn about new things as well.
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If anything, a PhD degree should prepare you for maintaining a learning and growth mindset for the rest of your life. In fact, it is what many people embark on PhD research with: the intrinsic drive and motivation to learn new things, come up with new questions and find information and ways to tackle those - over and over again.

There is nothing to stop you from continuing along this line in the rest of your future career and life, regardless of whether you continue in academia (one might argue that doing a postdoc while shifting fields is a great way to learn new things) - but of course you don't need the intensity or full submersion that a professional degree or training can give you. Decide if you want to learn for yourself (in which case the possibilities are endless) or whether you also want/need to document it on your CV for future reference (in which case you might want something with an official certificate or an official workshop/course).

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  • A regular structured program along with a certificate is a kind of motivation for studying.
    – user366312
    May 28, 2023 at 16:21
  • Sure - and sometimes that is what you want and sometimes it isn't needed at all.
    – BioBrains
    May 28, 2023 at 16:27

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