Monday, September 25, 2017

Thesis Defense Horror Stories

A rich assortment of STEM thesis defense horror stories of the format, "Famous professor X disproved this guy's thesis at his defense in thirty seconds". An example:
A case I know of first-hand: A doctoral student in engineering developed some powerful pattern matching theorems based on various transformations including one that was introduced in a major conference paper. At the student's defense one of the examiners pointed out an example showing that the transformation doesn't have one of the key claimed properties. The student sat silent for a minute and then simply said that his thesis is wrong. The examiners were shocked and assured him that the situation couldn't be that bad. It turned out that it was that bad and the student did not complete his doctorate. Fortunately his advisor helped him land a good job in which he has established a successful career.

Computational Complexity


Monday, September 18, 2017

The Difference Between Humantities and Mathematics

Consider the charts of Polish national high-school exit exams below.

From Imgur. Discussion on Reddit.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Matt Might on How to Get Tenure

Matt Might, faculty at U. Alabama (and several other institutions), writes on how to get tenure, or more generally, how to approach an academic career with a sense of inspiration. Key takeaway:
Life is too precious and too fleeting to waste my time on bullshit like tenure. I didn’t become a professor to get tenure. I became a professor to make the world better through science. From this day forward, I will spend my time on problems and solutions that will matter. I will make a difference.
Matt Might.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Katherine Johnson on Double-Checking

A very short clip of an interview with Katherine Johnson -- subject of the book and movie Hidden Figures -- who had her 99th birthday last week. Here she talks about John Glenn demanding, before his first spaceflight, that she double-check by hand the trajectory calculations from the digital computer in use at the time.

I feel like this might be an excellent starting point for a classroom discussion on, "Why would anyone ever want to double-check a computer calculation? How could it be wrong? Was John Glenn totally insane?" Granted that I become more and more convinced that the topic of sanity/double-checking may be the most fundamental sense-making theme that runs through all the classes we teach at a community college.



Thursday, August 31, 2017

Thursday Thought: Beginnings

Schiller in a letter to Goethe, February 5th, 1796:
I always think it better, whenever possible, not to begin at the beginning, as it is always the most difficult part.
Found in the Introduction to Numbers by K. Lamotke (Springer-Verlag, 1991).

Monday, August 28, 2017

Grade Inflation and Corporatized College

Ed Burmila has an incisive piece on how "college run as a business" inevitably promotes grade inflation and the other ills we deal with daily:
When grades are inflated, everyone appears to win. Students are happy for obvious reasons. Administrators are happy that students are staying enrolled. Teachers are happy their already hefty workloads aren’t being increased further. Yet the collective outcome — contra econ 101 — is suboptimal.

As the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded rises, employers can demand additional credentials (which universities are only too happy to offer at eye-watering prices). The only ones who benefit are those who can afford to distinguish themselves from the pack of three-point-something GPAs by buying costly elite credentials.

 Jacobin



Monday, August 21, 2017

California State Ends Remediation

At the start of the month, the chancellor of California State pushed the button on the "nuclear option", ending all requirements for remedial-level skills in math and English in their college system. Much like CUNY, they are promising a doubling in graduation rates (from 20% to 40%).
Cal State plans to drop placement exams in math and English as well as the noncredit remedial courses that more than 25,000 freshmen have been required to take each fall — a radical move away from the way public universities traditionally support students who come to college less prepared than their peers.

In an executive order issued late Wednesday, Chancellor Timothy P. White directed the nation’s largest public university system to revamp its approach to remedial education and assess new freshmen for college readiness and course placement by using high school grades, ACT and SAT scores, previous classroom performance and other measures that administrators say provide a more accurate and comprehensive understanding of students’ knowledge.

Cal State will no longer make those students who may need extra help take the standardized entry-level mathematics (ELM) exam and the English placement test (EPT).

LA Times.