Archive for the ‘Academia’ Category

Independent and original

January 30, 2012

I doubt if I can offer any deeper insight or more pointed advice to a tenure track assistant professor in the sciences, than what anyone can find on a number of reputable science blogs.
Often times, however, as I go through posts describing the “dos and donts” of young scholars wanting to maximize their changes of eventually landing tenure, while I find myself in agreement with the general ideas expounded (we are not really talking secrets, anyway), I also feel that some of the most common recommendations could be taken too far, or interpreted too rigidly, ultimately doing the probationary faculty more harm than good.

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Education disadvantage

January 21, 2012

If a cash-strapped province or state had to make painful cuts to public services, the immediately noticeable effect would be the outright elimination of some of them.
One would not think of, say, laying off a fraction of all bus drivers and asking the remaining ones to work longer hours, in order to keep all existing bus routes active — some would be phased out, based on various considerations of priority, in order to minimize the inconvenience to denizens, while continuing to offer as much of the original transportation as possible. Some people, however, would have to go to work or to the grocery store in some other, less convenient or more expensive way.

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Double whammy

January 16, 2012

We all understand that, sometimes, financial hardship is simply a fact of life. And I do believe that most of us are willing to endure painful sacrifices, in the pursuit of a common good.
What exasperates people, is the perception of a general lack of vision, of a concrete, well thought out crisis management plan, on the part of those in charge of overseeing operations. Particularly disconcerting is a reassuring public rhetoric, filled with generic statements of understanding of the gravity of the situation, and of resolve to ensure that the period of scarcity be weathered with minimal suffering and no permanent damage, and a concomitant pattern of actions suggesting all but the opposite.

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On the road again

December 23, 2011

A long and tiring term is coming to a close. Time to celebrate the holidays, then head out to Vancouver for a few days, to end 2011, and then it will be a new year and a new term. The Winter term of 2012 is also going to be very intense, but for different reasons — I have quite a bit of traveling ahead of me. Indeed, it looks as if I shall be in Europe (Germany and Italy) until Summer.

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Customers

December 15, 2011

Imagine the following, hypothetical situation: the owner of a small high-tech company needs all of his employees retrained, in view of the adoption of a new, company-wide software system.
He decides to send a few of them to a week-long course with a private firm, specialized in offering short courses on the particular software that will be acquired. A firm representative promised him that at the end of the course, these employees will be proficient with the new system, capable of operating and managing it, and able in turn to train other colleagues. That way, the company will be up to speed in little time.

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The boss is out to lunch

November 18, 2011

The two basic criteria to establish whether someone is your boss are:
– Can they fire you ?
– Can they give you a raise ?
Unless the answer to both questions is yes, then they are not your boss.

(can’t recall who said that to me… my dad, maybe ? Nah, it’s impossible, that would make him right…)

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Must be me…

October 31, 2011

The Globe and Mail has a story about an “experiment” (I use quote-unquote because I personally see nothing new about it, but I come back to this below) carried out by a college teacher who has broken down her 200-student class into small groups, to work through their latest assignment.

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Rantings over rankings

October 9, 2011

Times Higher Education has just published its influential rankings of World universities. I can almost see university presidents all over the world, at this time, either pounding their chests, proudly announcing to their students that the reputable institution to which their money goes, has climbed from 369th to 347th place in the world, a fact of the utmost importance clearly to ascribe to the vision, hard work and resolve of its administration… or, shrugging off the news (typically reported by the campus paper) that their institution has yet again slipped in the rankings, flatly dismissing the entire operation as petty and insignificant, glorified propaganda, and denouncing the inherent bias, inaccuracy, unfairness and futility of all rankings.

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Sliding into Fall

September 17, 2011

Oops, it did it again…. The Fall term 2011 has managed to sneak up on me, like its 2010 predecessor. All of a sudden, it’s all back. I am facing a crowd of 400+ students, teaching the same introductory physics class I taught last year, in the same humongous, with its microphone, its two big screens and no white board.

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Exams never end

September 5, 2011

(Title of famous play by Italian playwright Eduardo De Filippo.
To my knowledge, it was not inspired by his own PhD defence)

Dear fellow Committee Members,

as the appointed Chair of the Examining Committee for the upcoming doctoral exam of Mary J. Great, who will be defending her dissertation next week, I thought I would share with you ahead of time my views on what a doctoral exam should be, and my expectations on how I wish to see it administered. I understand that some of my views may seem unorthodox, but the notion that some things should be done in a certain way just because “they have always been done that way”, has never sounded very convincing to me.

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