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Month: October 2013

Academia is a lot more complicated than "publish or perish"

When talking with people about academia and metrics for success, the adage "publish or perish" is often brought up. Even people far removed from academia seem to have heard it.  However, simply publishing doesn't guarantee success, nor is it the only route to success.

Lesson 2: Academia is a lot more complicated than "publish or perish"

Tenure-track professors need to publish in order to remain competitive for tenure and promotion - and this record of publication typically journal articles. In many fields, books are not highly valued and the reward for undertaking such a large project may not be commensurate with the resources required for its successful completion. Furthermore, at research universities, publishing is only part of the equation: obtaining grants for projects is becoming increasingly viewed as vital to one's career.

Of course, more prestigious journals are valued more than lower-quality journals (though relative merits of journals can be debated). Furthermore, federal grants are typically viewed as more prestigious than state grants and other funding sources because of their perceived competitiveness (even though dollars are dollars, they look better when coming from the federal government). In both grants and publishing, original research that expands knowledge in the field is valued while other ends (such as teaching or service) are not as valued.

While there has been a movement in some places to emphasize the importance of the teaching and service, original research dominates the focus for traditional professors. There are other types of professors (non-tenure track, often with a name like "clinical professor" in many fields) whose duties are dramatically different, often with a decreased emphasis on original research to afford more time for other important activities.

What "publish or perish" comes down to is doing your job well and ensuring that those that make hiring and promotion decisions know it.

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Listen to your advisor

With three years of grad school under my belt and three to go, I feel like I've accumulated a fair bit of experience that would make for good advice to people starting out. I'm going to start posting brief tidbits that have proven helpful to me. All of these will be tagged as "lessons from grad school".

Lesson 1: Listen to your advisor.

Your advisor is an experienced professional in your field and has gone through grad school before. Therefore, it is very likely that they have a pretty clear idea where you were, where you are, and where you need to be for the jobs you want. If they think a project is worthwhile, take the hint and spend time and effort on it. If they think a project is a waste of time, minimize the resources you devote to it. Their goal is to get you to the finish line of graduation, and they have a better idea of what is expected of you than you do. Just listen to your advisor.

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Updates and changes to my ThinkPad T420i

While I haven't been doing much posting recently, I have been doing behind-the-scenes work on this website. The main thing was that I changed quite a few images from being hot-linked (when sites were okay with that) to being hosted; this was done after realizing some web filters were not blocking my website but were blocking a bunch of the images that were hosted off-site.

I've also made some substantive changes to my laptop: I am no longer dual-booting Scientific Linux and Windows 7, so no more posts about Linux and this computer. Instead, I am running Windows 7 on my laptop and running other operating systems in virtual machines inside of that (using VirtualBox). Most of the time I use Windows 7 as a guest (yes, on a Windows 7 host), but I do also use WatchOCR and Xubuntu. The reason why I virtualize Windows 7 on Windows 7 is so recovering from a catastrophic incident (e.g. computer stolen or destroyed) is quicker: just move the Windows 7 VM with all of my work on it to another computer and continue working.

Of course, simultaneously running 3 VMs is tough on a computer, so I upgraded to 16GiB of RAM. I specifically used 2x Centon 8GB DDR3-1333 (PC3-10666) 204-pin. The specific part number was R1333SO8192, pictured below. (RAM can be finicky, so I figure giving more details about what worked for me is better than too few. Also, the 8GB is what is on the package even though it should be 8GiB - I just don't want to be called out for inconsistency. </pedantic>)

I used two of these Centon sticks in my computer, and they seem to work great.
I used two of these Centon sticks in my computer, and they seem to work great.

I also replaced the hard drive with a Samsung 840 Pro 256GB SSD (MZ-7PD256BW). It works pretty well, and I utilize the whole disk encryption, though I don't really notice any benefits over my previous Intel SSD (other than increased capacity).

Of course, it's not all good news: with all of these changes to my computer, my battery life has taken a substantial hit. When it was new, I was comfortably getting 8 hours. Now, with battery capacity at 62% according to the ThinkVantage Toolbox, I'm getting about 2 hours. I'm not often away from a plug, but virtualizing OSes may not be such a great idea if you need long battery life. Or simplicity in many other ways - but my complex system works well for me.

(To help those using search engines, my ThinkPad T420i is model number 4177-CTO.)

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Prudential's "Stickers" Commercial

I spotted a dot plot while watching TV the other day:

It isn't too frequently that one sees a dot plot on TV, so this is a good opportunity to discuss something students might have encountered. Using this commercial might be a worthwhile topic of discussion in a statistics lesson.

The apparently constructed the dot plot by asking 400 people "How old is the oldest person you've known?" A few more details can be gleaned from the Prudential website and a "behind the scenes" video that was shot.

A few things that can be discussed with students come to mind:

  • What can we actually conclude from the dot plot?
  • The description of the YouTube video describes this as an "experiment" (as does the narrator in the behind the scenes video). Is this really an experiment?
  • What do we know about the sample?
  • What happens as we get older in terms of the oldest person "[we]'ve known"? (Children and adults with a wide range of ages are asked to place a sticker.)

There's a 30 second version of the advertisement, too.

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Peer Review and Open Access in the Headlines Again

Peer Review and Open Access on the Radio

The internal systems used by research and academia are not often the subject of discussion by members of the public. They are, after all, somewhat tedious and removed from the lives of a vast majority of people. Because of this, when I was listening to NPR on Friday morning and heard the words "peer review" and "open access", I immediately turned up the volume to listen in.

NPR was interviewing John Bohannon regarding a study he conducted wherein he sent an article that was written to be deliberately bad to several hundred open access journals. Bohannon wrote about this study for Science as "Who's Afraid of Peer Review?" In the end, a majority of the journals he submitted to ultimately accepted the paper despite the fundamental flaws (that were ostensibly obvious to anyone with some modicum of training in the field) it contained. NPR ran the story as "Some Online Journals Will Publish Fake Science, For A Fee" and describes the study as a "sting". Bohannon is quoted as saying that the sting revealed "the contours of an emerging Wild West in academic publishing."

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