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Author: Doug

Statistics on The West Wing

The United States decennial census features heavily in the sixth episode of The West Wing (S1E6, "Mr. Willis of Ohio"). In particular, the topic of sampling versus a door-to-door headcount is discussed at length. The episode is 45 minutes long, and would probably be appropriate for high school students and beyond. (Not to say that spending an entire class period on this one episode is the best use of time, but there is certainly value to knowing this episode exists even if it is just for interested students' knowledge.)

While sampling-versus-census is a central focus of the episode, there are other subplots. Some of the subplots may be uncomfortable for some viewers, particularly in the later part of the episode. You should watch the episode before recommending or assigning it and know your audience.

The episode is available for streaming on both Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Cast of The West Wing, © NBC
Cast of The West Wing, © NBC
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Eating in Gainesville

There's no shortage of good restaurants in Gainesville. Branching out beyond the near-campus and Archer Road selections early was one of the best decisions I made as an undergraduate because, as my time here began nearing a decade, I was able to feel more connected to the community. A great website that helped me with finding local places to eat is NoSoupForYou.com. It contains a reasonably complete list (that is kept up-to-date) of local/independent restaurants in Gainesville along with their contact information, payment information, etc. It is also sortable by type of cuisine. Pretty much any information you'd want about a restaurant is available at a glance.

There are no ratings on the site, and that is one of the reasons I continue to rely on it. Whenever I want to try a new restaurant, NoSoupForYou is where I turn. That doesn't meant that there aren't good chain restaurants in Gainesville, but eating at independent eateries helps complete the Gainesville experience.

Check out NoSoupForYou, try something new, and form your own opinion of it. Gainesville is a great little town full of life beyond campus.

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Priorities in grad school

I know that I haven't really been keeping up with this blog, and I'm not making promises to myself to keep up with it in any sort of regularly-scheduled-posting way. I will, however, continue to make posts as they come.

The reason why I haven't been posting is that this blog is not (at the moment) a priority for me. Grad school has kept me busy, and there are always lots of projects and people clamoring for time. Making sure that my commitments to other people, projects, and myself are met means prioritizing what I do. If I felt myself swelling with ideas for this blog and wanted to make passionate posts, then this blog would become more of a priority in my personal, relaxation time. If this blog actually had a following and/or had some (even marginal) impact, then maybe I would start to see this blog as a professional commitment.

As it stands, it is neither. And that's okay. Some things are more important than others, and right now research, teaching, classes, and time for me are more important than this blog. I think being successful at school - grad and otherwise - depends on being realistic with priorities and commitments. I guess this could be summarized as:

Lesson 3: Some things are more important than others, and ignoring the less important things can be okay.

There are no deadlines, and this blog will still be here waiting for me when I have more to say.

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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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