academics, as seen from vegreville. it can be cold here. and it is flat.
What the hell have I been doing this (academic) year?
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Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Post inspired by Mungowits End: Sorry I'm Late.
An interesting study would be to correlate a researcher's output with the speed at which the researcher writes referee reports. I bet the late report writers are often the less productive researchers. Just a hunch, though.
(Can you tell whether I am often late on my reports or not?)
It is the end of the month. How am I doing with my New Year Resolutions?
Monday, January 30, 2006
Unknown Professor pointed out an article from Inside Higher Ed. (It's offline as I write this so I cannot link. But I will fix it tomorrow.) The comments are fascinating.
The article is about fairness in grading. I am not sure that any system that assigns a numerical score to someone can be fair, or that I even know what fair means. But the system can be transparent, and clearly define what the students are supposed to be do. That seems to be the best you can ask for. And you cannot measure the students' effort, only what they hand in and how they act in class.
The article did lead me to think about what grading is for.
If the student can pass the course, the student should have demonstrated some basic competence in the material. For example, in a basic statistics class, the ability to explain what a confidence interval is, and compute a confidence interval in some specific cases. Certification is probably most binding for the pass/fail decision. But it is also important for other letter grades: a C student can do the minimum requirements and no more, a B student can do more than the minimum but cannot make the extra step, while an A student can make the extra step.
All that is important because one use of the grades is for future courses, future schools (like grad schools, law schools and so on) and employers to figure out information about the student. And perhaps because they will actually use the material. Grades during the course help the students understand how well they are following the material, too.
If we had no grades, would simply being accepted at a good school automatically guarantee better future prospects? That puts a big burden on admissions, no? I probably should think about that more carefully in the future. A bad grade also tells people in the future useful information about the student.
Some students are motivated by grades, so the grading scheme keeps them working. Sad in some ways, but they are people and respond to incentives. (This is why I am not a big fan of grading PhD students too much---they should be motivated anyway.) It also helps students recognize that outcomes at least partially depend on effort. For some small number of them, a useful lesson, even in college. A downside of motivation is the students who argue about everything. But I have found that many of them will work hard at the material if you make it clear that's what is required.
There always are students who really get the material and so earn A's. You see it in their test scores, homework, presentations, attendance, questions, concentration in class, and sometimes even eyes in class. Of course there are always marginal cases--A vs. B, B vs C, and so on. I try to err on the side of moving people up. Interestingly, in my courses there pretty much always is a gap in the grade distribution to make the cutoffs. I wonder how common that is?
The students who fail generally don't show up to class, hand in their homework late (or try to ), and cannot even do the basic calculations in the course.
I am playing around with wordpress. I imported my site to vegreville.wordpress.com; I am going to cross-post for a few days and decide. Wordpress is also free, looks nicer than blogger and has tags, but you cannot customize the site as much as blogger.
Sunday, January 29, 2006
A good quote
I have always liked Steven Soderbergh's moves and Guided by Voices' music. Today's NY Times had a nice article about the collaboration between Robert Pollard and Steven Soderbergh: NY Times (I suspect that the link will go away thanks to anonymous, a permanent link). Anyway, I think this quote is a good one to keep in mind for writing papers:
"He has that magpie eclecticism that I really respond to and appreciate," Mr. Soderbergh said. "He and I are alike in that we're just not very precious. We both feel like, you just do it and it shouldn't be a big hassle."<snip>
In my experience, the PhD students who view their thesis as a really important project often get stuck. And that's also true in my own research: if it's too important, I don't write anything because it's not good enough. If I obsess over perfection, no output. Nothing to revise. Far better to give it my best shot, submit it, and then get on to the next thing. Sometimes you lose. But keep moving.
The work has to be good; I'm not saying do like those students whose homework is done the night before the due date, written in a spiral notebook, ripped out, and then handed in (often unstapled).
I guess that's why I admire Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Robert Pollard, Steven Sonderberg, Woody Allen, Paul Westerberg, Los Lobos, Yo-Yo Ma, and many, many other artists--they keep going. They finish the project in reasonable time, and then get on with it. Sometimes the project turns out well, sometimes not. But they keep going. It helps that they are talented, but I suspect that for Bob Dylan, a song is a song. Finish it, and then write the next one.
Friday, January 27, 2006
Why my slides usually suck
even though I spend a lot of time on them.
okdork is getting attention (from rob poitras). I found him through a comment on signal v. noise.
I am in my biz, gov, & society class, the teacher is reading directly off the power point slides so I am catching up on my rss reader and browsing the net on my ibook.<snip>
Based on the site profile, he wants to learn, too. He is giving more useful feedback than going to www.ratemyprofessor.com.
It's dull when there is too much on the slides for me at the talks I go to. I cannot read and listen at the same time---so I read the slides. But that's faster than the speaker can talk, so I have time to doodle, or edit hardcopies of my own paper. Why should students be any different?
I am probably the last one to figure this out. Oh well.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
I wonder how many non-academics love mechanical pencils (and really all things stationary) as much as I do? When I was in grad school, I was obsessed with the $25.00 mechanical pencil. One of the first things I did when I got a job was to get a really fancy mechanical pencil. Even now, I could happily window shop for them. I have also become obsessed with the fisher space pen, and the perfect pad.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Might be tough if I have too many lectures in one day.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
More on writing
freerange librarian.com has some writing tips. They are all useful. Here are some new points (to me).
2. Read a lot. Read writers you like, writers other writers like, writers you can't stand but know you can learn from. I prayed for the Rapture to come and release me from the pain of reading W.G. Sebald, but I learned a lot.<snip>
11. Reduce, reuse, recycle. If you like a riff (or scene, or character), but it doesn't fit in the piece you're working in, boldly whack it, and save it separately. I had an entirely essay grow out of a paragraph I cut from another essay where it really didn't fit at all, and the cutting grew the better, stronger plant.That would also work for class material-slides and notes.
12. Back up your work. Back it up electronically. Back it up in paper. (Last week I reconstructed a three-page section from a printout.) Back it up in a way that if your office goes up in flames you still have your work somewhere. N.b.: it is that last step I still haven't accomplished to my satisfaction, but I am thinking hard about off-site backup (in addition to local backup and local hard copies).Not really new to me, but I've been burned badly in the past on this. So repeating it will remind me to check the office computer tomorrow so see that backup really is working.
15. If you do any fact-based writing, save and organize your citations. You are likely to return to these facts for future work, and you never want to have to reconstruct them again. I subscribe to RefWorks, a Web-based citation management software which I adore, but if you aren't immersed in research-based fact-based writing, then a spreadsheet, a document file, or even a legal pad might suffice.All great. Found through Lifehacker.
Monday, January 23, 2006
In my field, research output is measured by publications in journals. But not all publications are equal.
I remember hearing in graduate school: 'It's OK to publish one paper there--that's not too bad. But don't publish two. The second subtracts from your vita, not adds to it.'
Is that really true? Is a publication in a some outlets worse than shelving the paper? (I have had my fair share.) I used to think worse. But now, getting the paper into print is a win. And all publications take lots of work--as long as the publication is refereed, the referee is going to want some revision. Never minor, either.
Saturday, January 21, 2006
Powerpoint on laptop?
The whiteboard pens make me high. I cannot erase the chalkboard well enough so that they can see. Transparencies are OK, but I am a leftie—I will never forget the smile on the students’ faces the first time I taught and they noticed my red, blue, and black hand.
Powerpoint is dull for the students. I am reading Presentation Zen and the ideas there seem promising; it might work to combine a stark powerpoint presentation with the blackboard and handouts that are not simply printouts of the powerpoint.
A tablet pc might be good, too. But that’s another computer that I don’t want to buy. And then I would have to post the written up slides on a web site, giving the students yet another temptation not to pay attention in class.
I am confused.
Friday, January 20, 2006
Meetings that are not evil
Not all meetings are useless. Academic research seminars are often good meetings. Here why I think they work, when they do:
Update: Unknown Professor has a good follow up, and the advice he gives from Ben Franklin is good too. I will be ‘jonesing’ during the next workshop.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
Most of my research leads to 20-60 page papers, which need to go through a refereeing process in order to appear in print. I have received positive, negative, and indifferent reports.
The positive ones are the nicest to receive, and they often contain lots of useful suggestions for improving the paper.
The negative ones hurt the most. I usually cannot read them the entire way through without shaking. Negative reports are generally are one of two types. Either the referee does not like the paper's idea and also complains about the implementation. Or, they think that the idea has some promise, but argue that the implementation would require too much effort to improve. Both types are helpful, if the reports are not wishy-washy. I can fix the implementation, if I think that the idea is good enough. Then it's time to try another journal. I have often found the negative reports the most helpful---for that paper and for improving my future papers.
But it's sometimes a game. I now try hard to write the paper in a way that they only can complain about the idea, not the implementation. Impossible, but I try.
The worst reports are the indifferent ones. They usually are rejections, and that means that the reviewer did not like the paper. Fine. Indifferent reports often don't help me move ahead on improving the paper, though. So then its just a quick polish and off to another journal to play the roulette wheel again.
My overall impression is that refereeing helps the paper---if I can figure out what the referees did and did not like. But referees may not always be truthful. Or the letter to the editor may be different than the referee report.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Not much to add to this
Meetings considered harmful: (from signal vs. noise)
Researchers in organisational psychology have confirmed that meetings are, well, evil. A study conducted by the University of Minnesota found that the amount and length of meetings correlate with “negative effects” (burnout, anxiety, and depression) on its participants.
They break your working day into small, incoherent pieces on a schedule incompatible with the natural breaks in your flowHere is one reason that the information flow is so low---after you have been meetings with the same people for a while, you can predict with 98% accuracy exactly what everyone will say. Somehow the meeting causes people to 'dig in' to their original positions.
As a rule, the less you say in the meeting, the more that people pay attention to you when you do speak.
Monday, January 16, 2006
Work leads to (new) work.
I have started reading this book by Robert Boice:
It's great. Thanks, Unknown Professor.
The book strongly recommends (really says do it, or don't be a researcher) that you to do some writing on your research every day. I really like the idea of writing everyday---and doing it before you do the fun stuff (like say, writing your blog, or reading other blogs).
Anyway, one of the benefits when I get going on writing a paper is that 'Work leads to new work.' I mean that writing my ideas down carefully and clearly leads to new ideas for research. When I procrastinate on writing a project, I don't get anything done on the current project, nor do I get any interesting new ideas. But once I am working, things happen.
Revising a paper for the nth time (after it has been through a few journals), that's another story!
Saturday, January 14, 2006
A funny joke
Here (from Rob Bushway). It's a bit like those seminal unpublished working papers that you track down using interlibrary loan.
Friday, January 13, 2006
The Golden Rule
I always believed that The Golden Rule (wikipedia link)---treat others the way you want to be treated--- is a good way to run my professional life. I have tried, and of course sometimes failed.
But it's not so simple, anyway. The real issue is that the way I want to be treated is not the same way that others want to be treated. Conflict therefore is unavoidable. Then what to do?
A corollary: People you think of as jerks generally don't view themselves as jerks.
Technorati Tags: academics
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Saying the same thing 5 times
does not make it clearer. It's a paper, not a lecture to undergrads.
I may kill myself if I have to review another paper in which each section goes: I am going to do XX. XX. I just did XX. And a long winded introduction listing AA, BB, ..., XX and a conclusion restating AA, BB, ...,XX.
I don't think that the extra pages improve the chances that I will understand the paper. They just bore me. I am smart enough to figure it out --- if you explain it clearly, one time.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Also for research papers.
The point is about fiction, but it applies to academic writing, too.
Making Light: Parsimony and refinement:
<snip>Now, back to working on achieving that in my own papers.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
I like the image. I could imagine using it in a powerpoint slide; maybe for class, or maybe for a seminar presentation.
That brings me to my point. I have tried a few times using powerpoint slides provided by textbooks. What the hell are the publishers thinking when they provide such terrible slides? Even relying on them to discuss the examples in the text requires so much editing as to be a waste of time. Too much on the slides, long rambly sentence bulletpoints, gratuitous animation, terrible color schemes, no flow, and so on. Not that I am an expert, but they never seem to work for me in class. Perhaps I have just had a bad sample.
Yet the textbook reps always take pains to point out that the books have powerpoint. Why do they bother?
(Written because I wanted to test out posting an image.)
Monday, January 09, 2006
have been editing a paper tonight. But instead, I fucked around with my blog template. I still need to get the colors right.
I cannot even pretend it is work, unlike fooling around with my syllabus, or class web site, or vita, or organizing my files.
But it was fun. I am starting to understand bit of css. For me, probably a useless skill.
This kind of stuff is why sometimes the helpful colleagues---those who can help you the most with your computer and software problems---end up having fewer publications. (Sometimes they have more publications, though, too.)
Sunday, January 08, 2006
Slow academic publishing
This post (at mkbadb.blogspot.com or breaking into the academy) discusses the speed, or really slowness, of academic publishing. It certainly is the case that papers take forever to make it into print from first submission. Even if things go well.
But is that really bad? Does it really slow things down that much? I notice in my field that I often see many good papers at seminars and conferences long before they are in print. Publication is the final certification stage. And working papers are so freely available on the web that you do not need to wait for publication to see the paper anyway. So what is the cost of the delay? Waiting for the certification?
I would imagine that much of the delay is in the refereeing. And that is a finite resource. How could we speed it up? How costly would it be?
Technorati Tags: academics
Saturday, January 07, 2006
What I look like at the end of a conference
Is it because I am spending the evenings at the bar? Kind of. But when I go to my room early, I simply flip the channels watching stupid TV, and have a beer from the mini-bar; I end up getting no sleep anyway. I hardly ever watch TV at home, either. Nor stay up late.
I notice that I am not alone in this. Almost all my friends are the same---everyone is sleep deprived by the end of the conference. It does not matter if I am presenting, discussing, interviewing, or doing nothing.
That CD at the top is pretty good, too. Even if you are well-rested.
Thursday, January 05, 2006
Should I write this up?
For me, it takes about a year to write a paper --- if I am lucky. And that is just to first submission to a journal. After that, god knows how long it will take to make in into print. Sure, I can write a first draft in a few weeks. But that first draft will have lots of holes, be poorly written, and be full of problems. It will take many seminar presentations, conferences, and rewrites before it is a polished piece.
So I am a bit nervous about starting out a new paper. My papers rarely end up the way that I planned them. Once I get going, I find out what the paper is really about. Usually the paper starts short, grows, and then shortens back up as I finally figure out the real point.
My rule is that I do not start a new paper until an old one is accepted, or close to being accepted. Like many people, I keep an ideas file although it is not really necessary. Ideas are easy. Papers are hard.
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
Bibliographies from the web?
Seth Godin thinks that bibliographies should be done on the web: Stuck systems:
A young friend of mine needed to create a bibliography for a school project this weekend.<snip>
Some random questions:
UPDATE: How much of the required stuff is in 'Endnote' (which I don't use). Of course that is not a web app. But why not?
Monday, January 02, 2006
What I say to myself before the first lecture each semester
The Bene Gesserit Littainy against Fear.
And 5 minutes into class, the fear is gone. It happens every semester.
Why do so many people write literature reviews with laundry lists of tangentially related papers? When I read a paper, no sentence annoys me more than:
‘AA(2004), BB(1990), and ZZ(2005) all study a related topic.’Edit that crap out, or actually say something real about the work and how it relates to yours.
I read that sentence in about half the papers I review.
Sunday, January 01, 2006
New Years resolutions
This (www.mungowitzend.blogspot.com) post led me to start this blog. I needed to have a blogger account to comment on that post. The advice in that post is good.
Here are my academic resolutions for the year: