Category Archives: Scholarship

October 5, 2007, 8:29 pm

Some ruminations on research

4909171_c626708935_m.jpgSo I spent the entire day today up the road at Butler at an NSF workshop for people interested in writing grant proposals. It was very informative, and it was especially helpful to have most of the actual program directors there in person — all of whom were friendly, very down-to-earth and open to talking with faculty grunts like me. (One request for the NSF folks, though: Please, for the love of God, consider the 10/20/30 rule for your presentations. Four straight hours of 40+ slide Power Point presentations done in 20-point font almost (but not quite) drove me crazy. Thanks.)

What I wanted to blog about right now, though, isn’t the NSF stuff per se, but more about the feeling I always seem to take away from conferences or workshops like this where there are a lot of people who actually do research. The feeling is one of being on the outside looking in, of being past my prime.


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August 21, 2007, 10:56 am

Spider-sense and social networking

A researcher in Argentina has just published a paper entitled “How to Be a Superhero” in which he analyzes the social networks of superheroes in the Marvel Comics universe. Here’s the abstract:

We analyze a collaboration network based on the Marvel Universe comic books. First, we consider the system as a binary network, where two characters are connected if they appear in the same publication. The analysis of degree correlations reveals that, in contrast to most real social networks, the Marvel Universe presents a disassortative mixing on the degree. Then, we use a weight measure to study the system as a weighted network. This allows us to find and characterize well defined communities. Through the analysis of the community structure and the clustering as a function of the degree we show that the network presents a hierarchical structure. Finally, we comment on possible mechanisms…

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August 15, 2007, 12:32 pm

The 80/20 rule

Olivier Bousquet at Machine Learning Thoughts has an insightful observation about life in academia or a research setting: “No matter where you are, it is almost impossible to spend more than 20% of your time doing research.” He calls this the 80/20 rule, and goes on to make a very sensible proposition:

Instead of choosing a job based on the amount of time that you will be allowed to spend on research, rather choose it based on what exactly the 80% other activities are.

Indeed, you should rather pick a job whose 80% activities you find enjoyable (unless you really can stand doing things you do not like for the sake of the remaining 20%).

Good advice. It can be frustrating when you want to do scholarship but don’t have the time, thinking that you should have as much time as you’d like for such things. Read the whole thing as well as the articles before and after that one, which are on…

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August 13, 2007, 10:20 am

Weasel words in education: “-based”

Some of the worst abuses of the English language today occur in education, and one that I dislike particularly is the suffix “-based” when applied to pedagogical methods. In particular, the terms weasel-words academically-based and research-based make my muscles tense up and my skin crawl, and ought to be banished forever from any kind of discourse.

You hear the term “academically-based” applied to early childhood education. I know this because my 3-year old started her Montessori preschool program this morning after having gone to two different daycare centers previously. When we were looking for daycare centers, we chose the two that she eventually attended because they touted themselves as having “academically-based curricula”. But more often than not, this meant half-hearted attempts at leading the kids through counting from 1 to 5, and that’s about it, while the harried daycare…

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August 11, 2007, 7:28 pm

To do it all over again

If I were given the opportunity to make a fresh start of my post-high school life — not just my career, but all the education leading up to a career, possibly a different one than I have now — what would I do differently? That’s the question that gets brought to mind by the very end of this article by Freeman Dyson at

In the final section, titled “Bad Advice to a Young Scientist”, Dyson recalls his experience of meeting a young Francis Crick in 1945. Crick had begun his career as a promising physicist, only to spend six years languishing in a “dismal office building” called Fanum House doing Naval intelligence work and watching his physics career die on the vine. Dyson goes on:

I came away from Fanum House thinking, “How sad. Such a bright chap. If it hadn’t been for the war, he would probably have been quite a good scientist”.

A year later, I met Crick again. The…

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August 9, 2007, 8:56 am

SQUIRM-ing at bad research methods

RightWingProf offers up this horror story from a conference presentation for a supposedly quantitative research paper in education. There’s no way to quote all the methodological problems with the paper in a succinct way — there’s too many of them. But suffice to say that a little statistics and a little critical thinking would have gone a long way, although “Jeanne-Marie”‘s paper might not have survived the process. Just go read the article.

I’ve blogged on this sort of issue before, calling out proponents of the so-called Digital Native hypothesis to either produce real statistical evidence to support their claims or else stop making those claims in the first place.

I really think that people who care about research methodology need to create an organization whose members attend conferences where this faux-quantitative research is being presented, ask all kinds of irritating direct …

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August 3, 2007, 10:49 pm

Another day, another theme, then back home

Yes, another theme, this time Aqueous Lite. What do you think of it versus the previous Rounded Transparent theme?

Tomorrow will be busy. We will be presenting our curriculum module proposals from 9:30-11:30, then lunch, then I leave for the airport at 1:50. After the Newark Airport debacles from earlier in the week, I can’t say that I’ve ever dreaded going to an airport more. That includes going to the Guangzhou airport with an 8-month old we just adopted to take a 14-hour trans-Pacific flight back in 2004.

I’m scheduled to get back in Indy just before midnight. I certainly hope I don’t run into too many delays. Given my experiences with USAir, I’ll settle just for landing in Indy sometime before Halloween.

Anyhow, blogging will probably be light for the rest of the weekend. I’m looking forward to getting back home. I’ll have more on Reconnect later, but I will share that I had a…

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August 2, 2007, 1:52 pm

Brief report from Reconnect, and upcoming blog changes

First of all– Yes, I know, it’s yet another theme change. More on that in a minute.

It’s been a few days since my last post, simply because — as advertised — the Reconnect conference has been quite busy. “Conference” isn’t really the right word for it. It’s more like an intensive minicourse, punctuated by group projects and technical talks. And we go pretty much from 9:00 AM to 8:00 PM every day. This afternoon we have some free time to work on our group projects, and there’s an outing to New York City which I am skipping. (We’re at Rutgers University, about an hour from NYC.) I’m ahead on my project, so I finally have some time to post.

The title of the conference is “Data Analysis in Law Enforcement and Homeland Security”. We have been getting interesting talks from all sides of this general topic. During the day, Dr. Bill Pottenger from Lehigh University is giving lectures on…

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July 31, 2007, 11:58 am

Made it…

Although the last post’s title indicated that it couldn’t get much worse, it did. My second flight out of Charlotte was also cancelled, forcing me back up to the ticketing counter for rebooking. I was much faster this time. After arguing with the ticket counter, I was put on a plane to Raleigh-Durham to catch a connecting flight to Newark on Continental. Made it to Raleigh-Durham fine, although there was a 90-minute delay in that one — what is the deal, USAir? — only to find that the connecting flight was delayed an hour, and then when it arrived, its computer system went down. It finally came back up a scant 20 minutes before the cutoff time past which that flight would have been cancelled. So I made it into Newark at 11:30 PM and to my hotel at 12:30. Only to find that my room key wouldn’t open the door, of course.

But I’m here, safe and sound, and working very hard to catch up. I’m…

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July 29, 2007, 6:28 pm

It can only get better from here

The last 24 hours have been a minicourse, not in data analytics like I was supposed to be having at the Reconnect conference, but in patience, resourcefulness, and — above all — the extreme, epic suckage of air travel in general and USAir in particular.

I arrived in Charlotte, NC en route to Newark yesterday around 12:00, right on schedule. But then apparently a line of thunderstorms moved through the New York/New Jersey area. Pretty soon we had a 45-minute delay. Then that was upgraded to a 90-minute delay. Then a two-hour delay. Then, they cancelled the flight — along with apparently every other flight going into the greater NYC area. It was off to the USAir ticketing counter for rebooking… along with, I kid you not, a crowd of at least 500 and probably close to 800 other stranded travelers. Plus, I had to retrieve my bag.

It took 90 minutes for them to unload the bag from the…

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