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.