Eating with research

June 20th, 2014

Having been pressed by her university to complete paperwork documenting how she spends her time, Mary Beard came across this model response from an academic of a previous generation:

In my 24 hour continental timetable I divide my time each day as follows:

2 hours of pure sleep

1 hour of sleep dreaming about administration

2 hours of sleep dreaming about research

1 hour of sleep dreaming about teaching

½ hour of pure eating

1 hour of eating with research (= reading)

1 hour of eating with colleagues and of conversation on teaching and research

½ hour of pure walking

½ hour of walking with research (= thinking)

12 ½ hours of research with preparation for teaching (= reading, writing or also thinking)

1 hour of official teaching without thinking

1 hour of official administration without thinking

___

24

For ever yours

Arnaldo Momigliano

'Nuff said, I think.

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LOL My Thesis

December 28th, 2013

Lol My Thesis wraps up years of study as succinctly (and flippantly) as possibly:

Really, really thin semiconductors look different and act differently than really thin semiconductors because quantum mechanics. Also, 10 nanometers sounds really big now.
Materials Science and Engineering, Northwestern University

You can't understand what hillly cities look like in two dimensions.
Architecture, Universidad Católica de Chile.

Shakespeare wrote existential characters, but they were also postmodern in some movies, so obviously love can't exist with Billy Shakes.
English, Iona College

Vortex currents off a wing have weird effects on other wings AKA apparently helicopters shouldn't work.
Mechanical Engineering, Colorado State

I wonder if the Daily Mail will bother to mention how few of the entries come from UK institutions of higher learning when they pick out some choice extracts in order to demonstrate the absurdity of spending hard-working taxpayers' money on such unproductive postgraduate research, before demanding that Michael Gove go further in order to root out the Marxists who have been running our universities for the last four decades? Because obviously all that money should have been devoted to finding a cure for cancer.

To be fair, there's the odd thesis on the list that even the Mail might just approve of:

Why Is The Security Council Dysfunctional? Because the Russians Are Devious Liars
Political Science, University of Pennsylvania

[Via jwz]

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Research in Progress

August 3rd, 2013

Be sure that you have a free couple of hours before visiting Research in Progress.

Office politics as a PhD student

[Via Crooked Timber]

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Monsters University: the Aftermath

June 23rd, 2013

Kieran Healy gives us an academic's take on Monsters University (plus a plot for the inevitable third movie):

Monsters University, the prequel to Monsters, Inc, opened this weekend. I brought the kids to see it. As a faculty member at what is generally thought of as America's most monstrous university, I was naturally interested in seeing how higher education worked in Monstropolis. What sort of pedagogical techniques are in vogue there? Is the flipped classroom all the rage? What's the structure of the curriculum? These are natural questions to ask of a children's movie about imaginary creatures. Do I have to say there will be spoilers? Of course there will be spoilers. [...] As it turned out, while my initial focus was on aspects of everyday campus life at MU, my considered reaction is that, as an institution, Monsters University is doomed. [...]

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Not Facebook's fault (again)

March 1st, 2013

Is Facebook Destroying the American College Experience? asks danah boyd, referring to prospective students looking up their classmates on Facebook and trying to establish links to those who share a common interest:

At first blush, this seems like a win for students. Going off to college can be a scary proposition, full of uncertainty, particularly about social matters. Why not get a head start building friends from the safety of your parent's house?

What most students (and parents) fail to realize is that the success of the American college system has less to do with the quality of the formal education than it does with the social engineering project that is quietly enacted behind the scenes each year. Roommates are structured to connect incoming students with students of different backgrounds. Dorms are organized to cross-breed the cultural diversity that exists on campus. Early campus activities are designed to help people encounter people who's approach to the world is different than theirs.

To be fair to Facebook1 – as danah boyd notes later in her post – this isn't in any sense a Facebook problem: the site just happens to be the tool students are curently using to do this pre-college reconnaissance. The trick to curbing this habit is going to lie in persuading students of the benefits of mixing with people they might not normally choose to rub shoulders with.

  1. Again. Twice in a fortnight; is this turning into a trend?

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In the presence of a sufficient genius

February 27th, 2012

Whatever his employers are paying Dr. Kaufman to mark essays like this, it's not enough:

First, my professor told me to write a paragraph like a hamburger. Can you believe that? That is not a rhetorical question: my college professor told me that the best paragraphs are structured like a hamburger. But I must follow my muse, Montaigne, and insist that I am not interesting in stabilizing my subject, however slight, in a structure of such déclassé fare, or that if I were, mine would tower above that base alternative in direct proportion to the extent of my genius. My paragraphs will, instead, inform my audience about the manner of their composition, paying special attention not to structure or transitions but to the brilliance that I mustered to tame into interest material others might find trite.

There's more – so much more – and it Just Keeps Getting Better.

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Big Research

October 16th, 2011

The distribution of Nobel prizes by country1 and year.

Whilst I understand the author's reasons for charting the host country of the winners, it'd be instructive to be able to overlay that data with further data sets showing the country of origin of the winners and the country they were in when they did the initial work that won them the award.2 Not so much to try to get some credit for academics who went to the USA in search of funding and facilities, but rather to see to what extent there's a pattern of people making discoveries/coming up with new theories early in their career then moving to the US to exploit/elaborate upon their initial insight. The question this chart doesn't answer is whether the winners had to go to the US in order to make their breakthroughs, or whether it was making their initial breakthrough that brought them to the attention of the big US institutions.3

[Via Flowing Data]

  1. Which means the country hosting the researchers at the time of their award, rather than the nationality of the recipients.
  2. At least for the science awards: the Literature and Peace awards are much more widely distributed, and I'd imagine that the career path of the recipients of those awards isn't much like that of the scientists and economists who gave the US the huge lead it holds in the chart.
  3. It'd all be something of a generalisation of course, with lots of room for individual decisions to have been skewed by factors beyond the issue of where research could best be carried out, but still potentially instructive.

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Peterhouse

August 27th, 2011

John Naughton on Hugh Trevor-Roper:

I've always been morbidly fascinated by Trevor-Roper, particularly by his mordant wit and elegantly mannered literary style. He spent most of his life in Oxford and lost no opportunity to assert its superiority over Cambridge, but then astonished everyone by accepting the Mastership of Peterhouse, Cambridge. His time there made Tom Sharpe's great comic novel about Peterhouse, Porterhouse Blue, look like a publicity brochure. Trevor-Roper spent much of his time at war with the Fellows, and the mutual contempt with which both sides regarded one another was a thing of wonder.

A friend of mine, a liberal American historian whom we will call X, was astonished once to receive an invitation to call upon Trevor-Roper. Arriving at the palatial Master's Lodge on Trumpington Street, he was ushered into the great man's study. The dialogue then went something like this:

T-R: "Ah, X, good of you to call by. I would like to seek your advice".

X: "How can I help?"

T-R: "I was wondering if you knew of any black, lesbian American historians".

X: "I'm afraid that nobody matching that description comes to mind."

T-R: (Thoughtfully) "Pity."

X: "Might I ask why you are seeking such a person?"

T-R: "The Fellows are seeking to appoint a College Lecturer in history and I was looking for a candidate who would really annoy them".

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Shortly thereafter, fireworks were lit all over the country

April 2nd, 2011

Malcolm Bradbury remembers the day he was informed that he was being considered for a place on the New Year Honours List:

The form attached presented me with two boxes: one to be ticked if you agreed to let your name go forward, the other to be marked if you wanted to hear no more of this product. Anyone who has ever at any time read the Guardian will understand the surge of anxiety, guilt even, that wells up at this moment. We all know the moral dangers of the baubles of office, the trappings of rank, the odours of power. On the other hand any sensible person will immediately realize that first sensations are of excitement and pure delight. In a liberal mind like mine, the result is utter confusion. Ten minutes after I had posted back the form, I could no longer remember which of the boxes I had ticked.

[Via The Essayist]

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'I am a veritable emperor in this kingdom of the dead.'

April 2nd, 2011

Comment of the week, on a post at Crooked Timber on the Cronon Affair:

Glen Tomkins 04.02.11 at 2:48 am

If they ever pull in my professional e-mails, I have the profoundest pity for the poor boob who will have to sort through it for the juicy bits.

Hint to all who may ever be called on to review the e-mail of an Academic Internist for the juicy bits – there are no juicy bits. We are perhaps the single most appallingly boring group of people in the known universe, and I am a veritable emperor in this kingdom of the dead.

We come by our ability to generate boredom honestly. Kierkegaard had it exactly right. People are interesting to others in proportion to how bored they are with the world, and people are boring to the extent that they find the world interesting. I actually find Bayes Theorem endlessly fascinating. That makes me capable of inducing sleep at 50 meters. I have put patients to sleep. Med students, colleagues – putting them to sleep is easy, expected, routine, especially with the aid of the lecture hall, that best friend of sleep. Any neophyte can do that. But patients come to you in fear for their lives. The are thrilled to find, at last, someone interested in their bowel habits, someone who doesn't insist that they shut up about their bowel habits already. For me to be so much more interested in their bowel habits than even they are is at first shocking to them, but that quickly gives way to sleep paralysis as the detailed questions just keep coming in mind-numbing succession.

I pity the fool who has to paw through the entrails of my e-mail. Horrors await there unimaginable to the non-Board Certified and non-MPH.

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Representing. Comfort-seeking. Advancing.

December 26th, 2010

Professor Ross Anderson's response to a request by the UK Cards Association1 that the university take down an MPhil thesis published by a student that included information about the No-PIN attack and "give [the UK Cards Association] comfort about [the university's] policy towards future disclosures." may not be as pithy as the best reply ever committed to paper, but it's equally robust:

Your letter of December 1st to Stephen Jolly has only this week been passed to me to deal with. I'm afraid it contains a number of misconceptions and factual errors.

First, your letter was not correctly addressed. The University of Cambridge is a self-governing community of scholars rather than a corporate hierarchy. [...] Omar's work was not 'published by the university' as you claim but by him. If you wanted him to take his thesis offline, you should have asked him.

However, given that the material on the No-PIN attack appears on my page as well as Omar's and Steven's, and given that Mr Jolly passed the matter to me to deal with, I expect that I can save us all a lot of time by answering directly.

Second, you seem to think that we might censor a student's thesis, which is lawful and already in the public domain, simply because a powerful interest finds it inconvenient. This shows a deep misconception of what universities are and how we work. Cambridge is the University of Erasmus, of Newton, and of Darwin; censoring writings that offend the powerful is offensive to our deepest values. [...]

[Via James Nicoll]

  1. That's 'cards' as in credit/debit cards, not playing cards or collectible card games.

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