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, February 28, 2006
Why after seminar chatter might best be ignored
I have heard such comments after lots of seminars for good and bad papers. In my field, many seminal pieces of research were rejected time and time again before finally making it into print. Short term impact does not always equal long term impact.
Original iPod announcement thread at MacRumors - Signal vs. Noise (by 37signals):
Original iPod announcement thread at MacRumors Jason 28 Feb 2006
A shallow insight
Even since I have put less on my slides, students pay more attention to me. You would think that would be better. Not always. Now I cannot just bullshit and be sure that they have a good record to use for solving problems. I need to engage them all.
Still need to work on handouts, I guess. Even thought the students have a perfectly good textbook that they don't read.
I still notice lots of great teachers have terrible slides. Maybe slides are not all that important.
Today I gave a lecture to 60 people in class. Three students were passing notes, and I finally had to ask them to stop. It was like a flashback to middle school, where I never got any notes, only watched everyone else pass them. Boo f*ck1ng hoo.
My faith was restored when good students asked quite perceptive questions in class. F*ck1ng A. Teach smart students interesting stuff, and they will get it. Don't baby them.
Monday, February 27, 2006
I am always impressed with how powerful incentives are for most students. And the benefits of being clear about what you expect of them. If you are clear, then most will deliver; or at least do their best given their constraints.
I am also reminded how important it is not to take anything too personally. Students are busy, and will not do something unless they can clearly see the benefits. If they push, I need to push back and be firm.
Of course, most is not the same as all.
Sunday, February 26, 2006
More presentation tips
Presentation tips (apparently from Tufte)
Just a taste:
PGP: with every subtopic, move from the Particular to the General and back to the Particular. Even though the purpose of a subtopic is to convey the general information, bracing it with particulars is a good way to draw attention and promote retention.
Not so much a tip as a law: Give everyone at least one piece of paper. A piece of paper is a record, an artifact from your presentation. People can use that artifact to help recall the details of the presentation, or better yet to tell others about it.
Worth reading the whole thing.
Saturday, February 25, 2006
Why I like being an academic
The beginnings of a list:
Friday, February 24, 2006
Either I am getting too old, or need a vacation. I am getting annoyed with seminars. I don't think that I ever noticed that before.
And now I am having trouble thinking about the paper before the weekly seminar. It used to be that I was obsessed with reading the paper beforehand and thinking about questions. Now, not so much. Why?
The field still fascinates me, and I like the technical stuff as much as before. But many of the papers don't seem to be teaching me much; nothing new under the sun.
Help! I want my enthusiasm back. Or I need to see some more rigorous papers again. Probably just the winter blahs.
I am trying to use a google widget to post this morning. It seems pretty good so far.
I have been thinking about meetings again. There are proposals to replace meetings with electronic communications. That could work, but I think that decision making would change dramatically. I often notice at meetings that there is a wave---someone says something and then everyone starts to pile on. You can often see the current shift visually. It all seems so manipulable.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
What's really important in my classes
is getting good TAs. Ones who the students feel comfortable talking to. Ones who know the material. Ones who do the work on time. Ones who I can trust. Ones who take it seriously. But most importantly, ones with common sense.
It's not always easy to find such TAs, either.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
confused and badly written papers is much less pleasant than refereeing clear and well written papers. But often the confused papers have a gem of an idea hidden in them---you just need to find it. And the well written ones can be vacuous.
There is a theory that says that you should put all your ideas into the paper, hoping that the referee will figure out which one is good and help you figure it out. I never believed that theory, but I realize that I often unwittingly provide supportive evidence in my reports.
My head hurts today.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
I read the linked article today from the NY Times: Why it's all about me in amazement. I teach large classes, and encourage questions via email, since it gives me a record of the students' questions and requests for meetings. Handy for revising the notes for the next time I teach. Hardly any of the students abuse my email. Perhaps because I tell them to be sensible, usually through a joke.
Also, complaining that students ask for copies of the teaching notes? Where the hell do the professors mentioned in the articles teach? Making notes available is so common where I work so as to be unremarkable. And you can say no, anyway.
Complaining about grades? Oh my---how could a student ever do that without my email address? It's useful to reply to the email; the student can reread what they wrote when they are calmer. It usually works to clear things up.
But being approachable yet also being clear about who is in charge is a fine line. I don't think I will give up my IM name yet, nor my cell phone number.
The tone of the article is also weird. The writer seems to have interviewed professors who think that they automatically deserve respect, simply because they are professors. No. You have to earn respect from the students.
Monday, February 20, 2006
Found this online
and it seemed neat.
On Tuesday nights, we have bingo, coffee, and cabbage rolls.
picture from: www.churchsigngenerator.com
Saturday, February 18, 2006
Why is there always someone who tries to reschedule the exam to their own schedule? Even if I announce the exam the first day of class? And why do they seem so surprised when I say no? I am the only one the does not reschedule?
It never seems to matter on the number of people in the class.
I am, as always, puzzled.
A useful link
Useful teaching advice (for me)
I usually try jokes to lighten up the class. And try to keep my cool, but sometimes I cannot. I found this advice useful: How to deal with difficult audiences (at www.presentation-pointers.com) from the valuable post at presentation zen.
I should always remember not to personalize anything when I teach. I usually don't take it personally, but the times I have gotten into trouble are the times that I do take it personally. Happy and cheerful people (or those who are in class) seem to be the better teachers. It does not mean pandering, either.
Friday, February 17, 2006
What great advice
Original from Signal v. Noise: It just doesn't matter:
(Please forgive the quoting, I hope I don't take anything out of context.)
My favorite answer to the “why?” question is always: “Because it just doesn’t matter.” I think that statement embodies what makes a product great. Figuring out what matters and leaving out the rest.<snip>
The best designers and the best programmers aren’t the ones with the best skills, or the nimblest fingers, or the ones who can rock and roll with photoshop or vim, they are the ones that can determine what just doesn’t matter. That’s where the real gains are made.<snip>
Building a model means ignoring what doesn't matter. A good model explains what matters by ignoring what doesn't matter. And explaining why.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
learn to say no to extra work. Must learn to say no to extra work. Must learn to say no to extra work. Must learn to say no to extra work.
(I am hoping that if I write it enough times, I will do it.) But noooooooo. Not this year.
What matters for my salary? What matters for my mobility? Probably not the stuff I am agreeing to do.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
I hate microsoft word.
Although I do most of my writing using latex, some things are best done in word. Today I updated an class syllabus, and I found a bug in the tables feature in the macintosh version of word--text mysteriously disappeared, as if the text was too big for the cell. Word wrapping did not work, it was like the Bermuda triangle of text. And when I emailed my version to someone with a windows box and they mailed it back to me, everything was fixed. Weird.
That program is possessed.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Imagine all the reports I could write
if I could go without sleep. And all the research I could get done. And committees that I could serve on. Etc.
More importantly, I could do all that stuff, and spend more time with my family.
No sleep for 33 years:
Monday, February 13, 2006
that sometime the tougher you are, the more that students like you. The nicer you are, the more wishy-washy you appear. And the less they respect you.
I should try to remember
that sometimes, the students in class forget that you can see them. Nothing like giving a lecture and watching someone check their watch every 5 minutes. Or watching someone put their coat on 15 minutes before class. Or put their notebook down 15 minutes before class ends.
They must think they are invisible.
On the other hand, I doodle during a boring meeting or seminar, and might even bring my laptop. So I am not better, maybe just subtler.
But damn, it hurts my feelings when when even one student isn't into class. I must remember: You cannot please all the people all the time.
Update: I get OK teaching ratings, too.
Sunday, February 12, 2006
Although February is cold,
snowy days are fun. Sledding and hot chocolate---what is not to like?
Saturday, February 11, 2006
It happens every year,
February is the month that I become overwhelmed. Classes are now in full swing; there are new PhD folders to read; there is a surge or reports to write, since people submit papers after the holidays; seminars are going strong; and committee meetings are starting up. The students are stressed as well. And yes, the weather sucks.
My office begins to resemble a war zone---coffee cups, napkins, newspapers, scrap paper, and piles. I have to spend a day just cleaning my office and my hard drive, because the mess causes me so much stress that I just stare at the walls.
But the spring is coming. The spring is coming.
Friday, February 10, 2006
One of my favorite parts
of my job is dealing with PhD students. Here are my rules.
Thursday, February 09, 2006
random writing quirks of mine
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Works for me
Replace "critique" with "report" and "artistic works" and "design" with "manuscript."
An abridged version of the article could also go to students who fill out teacher evaluations.
from: Jason Santa Maria | Under The Loupe #3: Critiquing:
First off, let’s all get on the same page; a critique is a critical discussion or review, typically of artistic works. You might think you already know that, but there is an important thing to take away from that definition; you will notice the word “opinion” is nowhere to be found. This is not to imply that opinions have no place in critiques, rather, it is meant to show that the two are not synonymous. Critiques are about dialogue; a two-way conversation. There is critique etiquette to observe. Just because you may not appreciate someone’s work, does not mean it is without merit.<snip>
When Giving a Critique
Ask questions. Critiques should be more of an investigation than an interrogation. Try to understand why the designer did something before suggesting that they do it another way. Basically, try to understand the problem they’re trying to solve.<snip>
Beware of nebulous design buzz terms.<snip>
Keep it brief and poignant.<snip>
“I don’t like it” is one of the least helpful things you can say. The fact that green isn’t your favorite color means very little in the grand scheme of things. Instead, stick to what is concrete. Did you have trouble finding valuable information in the design? Do you see anything that might be a problem when a design gets printed/programmed? Is there something vastly different than what the client is expecting?<snip>
A critique is not only the time to bring up problems with a design, but also to highlight what is successful. Alternating praise with the constructive criticism is a good strategy for all-around happiness.
Think before you speak.<snip>
When Receiving a Critique
You are not infallible and neither is your design. Let yourself be wrong, you will learn more and become better for it.
Be open to all the ideas and feedback you receive. Try not to get defensive. You are often very close to your design work and may not see something that’s glaringly obvious to everyone else.
Sometimes you will need to prod people for their real thoughts. If people are stone-facing you with an “I don’t like it” angle, try and crack them. Ask questions to try and draw a real response out of them. Chances are, their problem may be with a small piece of the design and they are just having trouble communicating it to you.<snip>
When critiquing someone’s work, above all else, put real thought into what you are saying. Ill-conceived commentary usually feels as such, and will inevitably cause someone to call you out on it. Take the time to write or say what you mean, otherwise there is little point in saying anything at all. The person you are critiquing put time into what they created. If you are going to step up to the plate and offer criticism, good or bad, show them enough respect to put a bit of time and brain power against your thoughts.Found through www.swissmiss.typepad.com
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
I don't normally whine,
but today killed me. I got to the classroom with my laptop and a second laptop---an old tablet that I wanted to try out in class. And the AV equipment would not work; I could not successfully plug either one of them in. So my beautiful presentation, including some neat interactive graphics, went the way of the Dodo. Onto the board, which I could not erase to save my life.
I did do some playful stuff, but I was so tense about the equipment that I was off my game. All this in front of 60 over stressed students. On the bright side, I finished a report yesterday.
Monday, February 06, 2006
This paper kicks ass.
It's great to referee a manuscript in which I can say that. The more reports I have written, the better the papers that I get to review.
Here is how I write a report.
I find that the best way to get a report done is to read the paper, think about it carefully for a while, and then start writing. I usually start by writing a short paper summary, and then by going through the manuscript with a pencil or my text editor open, noting unclear and incorrect things. I then write a few paragraphs about why I or do not think the paper is successful. Rinse, lather, and repeat a few times until I am happy with the report.
Saturday, February 04, 2006
I hope this is not what the students think about my class
photo taken by Max Sparber found through flickr retro records pool (the photo has a creative commons license, so I think I can post it like this.)
If you enjoy
cool images. Check out the retro records flickr pool.
(I have struggled to get blogger to post this.)
Every paper and lecture should have a
"comma-stupid" phrase (from creating_passionate_users). Just replace user with the target audience for a paper, and replace use' with student for a lecture.
I believe we all should spend time--a lot of time--figuring out exactly what should be in our "comma-stupid" phrase. We can start by asking, "What does the user care about?" Followed by, "OK, but WHY does he care about that?" Follwed by, "And why does he care about that? until we get to the heart of it. Then we pick a phrase... a message that expresses this in a way that everyone on the team can understand. Then from that point forward, every decision should include two questions:<snip>
One day, I would like to have the guts to write a referee report that simply says: "This paper does not kick any ass. Sorry."
(It was an exhausting week.)
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Taken from: passionate
But whose fear? The metaphor Liz used (she got from someone else) was that many of the "leaf nodes" (what Microsoft and Sun and others refer to as "individual contributors") tend to be innovative and brave, but many of the "branches" (i.e. layers of management) can't stomach the risks. In their (admirable) desire to be strong and stable, the "branches" put safety above all else.<snip>
So add one more skill to our career advice for young people: be willing to take risks! Perhaps more importantly, be willing to tolerate (and perhaps even encourage) risk-taking in those who are managed by you. Of course I realize that this is much easier said than done. I was a "leaf node" at Sun, and a zillion other places before that. I've even done a little time as a "branch" (and I sucked at it).<snip>
Regularly review your sacred cows<snip>
Easy and familiar is safe, but often comes with built-in, unscalable walls. You can't get there from here.<snip>
Probably good advice for research, refereeing, and new course design. Taking chances leads to innovation, which leads to the big advances and payoffs. But you need to have some insurance. What if you do something risky and it does not pay off? That's the tradeoff. Since I can only write a few papers or prep a few new courses, I will try to mix them up. Try some base hits and also swing for the fences. Remembering that each is a paper, (or new course) and try to move on when the time comes.
In the end, base hits are often as tough as swinging for the fences.
And I will try to keep all this in mind when I review papers/grants and am acting as a branch.
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Most successful researchers are good entrepreneurs. Getting funding, access to data, getting good PhD students, finding co-authors, organizing sessions at conferences, getting new courses listed, recruiting new researchers to your ideas, and so on, all require a certain amount of drive and networking. Researchers work in the (cliche alert) 'marketplace of ideas.' Not all the markets are large, but there are markets you need to service.
Sure there are lots of entrenched people in academics, but even they had to be entrepreneurial at some point in their careers Although it may not take a lot of home-runs, it takes some. (Home run is surely a relative term here.)
And there is institutional power--once you are a professor at school X, you control lots of resources. But it requires a certain amount of entrepreneurial effort to become a professor at school X.
I always laugh when I see how academics are portrayed on TV shows. Corduroy-jacket wearing, dreamy wankers. With glasses, too.