Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Two movies...

Spend some of my time watching movies during the holidays. More specifically:

Mission Impossible III
This one was on TV, and I really thought I've seen all of the MI movies. But it seems I missed this one. It's not a bad watch, but I do feel that the MI concept is starting to wear a bit thin. Yeah, it's Tom Cruise, some gadgets, a "rubber face" disguise, an impossible break-in, etc, etc. John Woo managed to put his signature on MI2, but I do not feel the this is case with the third installment. In short, an OK action flick, but nothing new here.

Max Manus
Went to see this Norwegian movie about WW2 legend Max Manus and his resitance against the German occupation. Starring Aksel Hennie and Nicolai Cleve Broch in the leading roles, I was afraid that it would seem odd, as both these actors are a bit over-exposed in the Norwegian film industry. But they were actually pretty good, maybe due to the fact that their charaters looked different then the what these actors usually portraits (Broch's blond hair and the longer-then usual hair on Hennie). It's also fun to see movies from cities where I've lived (like the Veum flicks from Bergen), and especially this one where they've made Oslo look 65 years older. And it is also based on a true story, with only minor artistic short-cuts and of course the story is told from the Norwegian side, but I still found it credible (no expert on WW2, though). The two hours went by pretty fast, so this movie is highly recommended. One of the better Norwegian flicks for a couple of years.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Surely you jest

In the latest edition of Morgenbladet, there's a story on how the faculty members at Trondheim and Sør-Trøndelag University College (HiST) are in uproar about having to keep hour lists in a centralized time bank starting in January. "Time registration is going to have devastating effects on the working environment and diminish the working conditions for the employees", says the union representative, and describes how he's been getting calls from distraught faculty members who find the new requirements to be disturbing and an encroachment on the academic freedom. Frode Nyeng, a Professor at HiST, states that this is outrageous to introduce time banks in the academic sector where people are strongly motivated and work far more than the required hours. Predictably, there are also vague threats as to how enforcing these hour lists could lead to students getting it in the shorts, as the faculty members would have no choice but to take time off due to their excessive and undue work load.

The administration at HiST is going to introduce the time bank irrespective of the complaints launched by the employees and the union. Specifically, the mandatory hour lists consist of registration in Excel sheets, where each employee is required to log the number of hour they work, both in the office and at home. No detailed information regarding what was done (teaching, research, administrative tasks, etc.) is to be entered in the Excel sheet, merely the number of work hours.

So what prompted the introduction of mandatory keeping of hour lists? The fact that the General Accounting Office (Riksrevisjonen) called HiST out on having paid an undue amount of overtime - to the tune of 11.8 MNOK in 2007.

Unless I'm missing something, you can't charge for overtime unless you're already keeping track of the number of hours worked. Moreover, if you're a faculty member in academia, you're paid a fixed salary based on an admittedly ficticious 37.5 working hours per week. If academic faculty members can actually get paid overtime based on this estimate, it's news to me.

"Our working conditions are based on trust and responsibility", says the union rep. No $hit, Mr. Hawking, which is why it reeks of weaselly conduct when employees contracted to a fixed salary claims overtime pay and refuse to document the extra hours.

Besides; if it's indeed true that employees at HiST work way more than the required 37.5 hours per week, then they would benefit greatly from tracking the hours. I certainly know that if I was allowed to charge the university for hours beyond the 37.5, I'd get a huge pay raise coming my way. As would my colleagues. Second, if the employees actually document that they're working way more hours than what their pay grade is designed for, then for sure they would have a monster card on hand during the salary negotiations, and a pretty solid argument for not downsizing employees, as this would lead to higher required workloads than what's legal. In an ideal world, documenting more than the required number of hours should leave the department no choice but to give out proportional pay raises, but let's stick to what's realistic.

Unless I'm missing out big time, there are only two possible reasons why the employees at HiST are not interested in keeping these hour lists, neither of which are favorable.

Let me end this post by asking anyone out there with a job in the real world: Would you get pissy if your employer made you keep hour lists after having claimed undocumented overtime for years?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

This scares teh everloving crap out of me

...so a relatively short while ago I was googlin' a childhood friend I haven't had any contact with for ages, and I came across a blog entry titled "My Secret" at what turned out be kristenblogg.no. The story was as follows:

A newly wed couple wants to have kids, but nothing happens. They are told by specialists in two countries that the problem resides squarely with him, and that the odds of them conceiving "naturally" are 1:100 000. They were told of alternative methods, but didn't want any of that, because "if God wanted them to have children, He was powerful enough to make it happen." Fast forward a couple of months, and the wife surprises her husband by showing him a home pregnancy test showing positive results. They go back to the specialist, who's awestruck and "appears to be in disbelief of the test", but nine months later a baby boy is born.

A couple of years later, they want another child, and go back to the same specialists (despite having no faith - pun intended - in the conclusions to be had there). This time, they measure zero activity, and give odds of 1:30 000 000 for conception. They talk adoption briefly, but he won't have any of it. "God sees our needs, and if He feels that another child is right for us, He is powerful enough to make it happen." Same thing happens a couple of months later; the wife presents her husband with a positive pregnancy test, and nine months later another baby boy is born. Glory be to God and so on.

The story ends by the blogger stating that he does not know why God has chosen to bless his family so amply, but that he can't think of any other reason for these two miracles than the almighty God providing these two miracles.

There are plenty of commenters as well (22 as of today) ,and all of them echo the conclusion of the two aforementioned children being the result of divine intervention.

This major-league terrifies me. Just to summarize here: Dude is told that his boys can't swim, and that they've got 1:100 000 of becoming pregnant the old-fashioned way. Then his wife comes to him shortly after and presents him with a blue stripe, followed by a baby emerging nine months later. A couple of years later, the experts measure zero activity, and the same thing happens. The ONLY conclusion is that "The Lord must've done it".

Am I the only one who'd start shopping around for dna tests?

Not a single one of these true believers brought this up as a possibility; every single one of them - including the proud father - saw this as proof positive that Faith Manages.

How I hope none of these people have any jobs where they have to analyze data. Luckily, I know of several religious and extremely competent scientists, or I'd develop a severe bias. As my North Carolinian friend Ryan used to say: "Trust in God. Everyone else pay cash"

These people scare me. Looking at some other stories over there regarding homosexuality etc. don't do anything to dispel the fear of stereotypical Christian fundamentalists/extremists.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Season's Greetings

Finally I'm off the clock and the Christmas holiday is in effect. I'm totally bushwhacked this December, so some days of rest are what needs to happen.

Still, I got a lot of mileage out of the last two weeks or so, and I even managed to submit an article today, which I'm particularly happy with, seeing as how the experimental work was done by myself during an intense week of lab time, and also because we managed to churn out the manuscript in a hurry. Less than two months between data collection was initiated and submission of the manuscript is pretty good for government work, and not exactly the usual timeline we operate under.

Anyhoo; Merry Christmas to all y'all!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Results GQ5: Jumping the Shark - Rounds 3 and 4

Final rounds before Christmas. The songs were:
  • Song 236: Howling Wolf - Killing Floor. Obviously I'd also have accepted Hendrix here, as his version is teh famous.
  • Song 237: Jimi Hendrix - Spanish Castle Magic. Some REALLY spaced out lyrics on this one. It takes half a day to get there if you travel by dragonfly?
  • Song 238: Led Zeppelin - Immigrant Song. Whenever I hear this tune, all I can think about is Jack Black belting it out while driving his van in "School Of Rock".
  • Song 239: Gary Moore - Walking By Myself. "Still Got The Blues" is an awesome blues-rock album, and the guitar sound is flat out fantastic.
  • Song 240: Megadeth - This Was My Life. One of my favorite Mustaine tunes off of "Countdown To Extinction".
  • Song 241: Megadeth - In My Darkest Hour. Written partly as a tribute to Cliff Burton of Metallica after he died in a bus accident in Sweden, this Dave classic takes you on a journey from melancholy and sadness via self-pity to bitterness and flat out aggression. Such is the songwriting talent of Dave Mustaine that he will take you along for the ride if you let him.
  • Song 242: Mika - Grace Kelly. So lemme' get this straight; all of y'all found Mika, yet you struggle to recognize artists with actual skills and talent like - say - Megadeth and Van Halen? I'd sure hate to be trapped in a car (or an elevator) with y'alls record collection blaring non-stop. ;-)
  • Song 243: Eurythmics - There Must be An Angel (Playing With My Heart). Annie Lennox has one helluva voice. Totally wasted on the songwriting of Dave Stewart.
  • Song 244: E-Type - Angels Crying. I'm not really a Eurodance music kinda' guy, but E-Type is totally my bag. It just might have something to do with the fact that the progressions etc. he uses is damn close to the music of some Power Metal bands like Freedom Call. Without guitars and with different drum patterns, but still. Just in case anyone of y'all wishes to crip on my set for occasionally rockin' E-Type in the car or on our stereo, I'd like at this point to call your attention to the fact that you all recognized Mika.
  • Song 245: Van Halen - Jump. But without the main keyboard riff. Clever, eh?

The Round 3+4 Score stands as:

  1. Pigeon/T-Bombz (tied at 13 points)
  2. ...
  3. Cathy (12 points)
  4. Anders/Sondre (tied at 10 points)
  5. ...
  6. Nils (9 points)
  7. Marius (0 points - exam season)

The Total Score of GQ5 as of December 2008 stands as:

  1. Cathy (26 points)
  2. Pigeon (25 points)
  3. Sondre (24 points)
  4. Nils (23 points)
  5. T-Bombz (21 points)
  6. Anders (14 points)
  7. Marius (6 points)

Congrats to Pigeon and T-Bombz for dominating rounds 3 and 4, and a big shout-out to Cathy for managing to climb to the very top. We'll continue in January '09.

That's what I've been sayin' for a LONG time now

BMI is crap for evaluating the individual. Welcome to my world.

Btw; notice if you will the brutal math VG unleashes in order to provide the means to calculate Body Mass Index. Epic fundamental arithmetic proficiency.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Brad Paisley - Start A Band

From his new album "Play" - excellent song and SO friggin' true:

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Tao of Grad School part 6

Part 6: Experimental work
..or modelling, as the case may be. And I'm not talking about the "make love to ze camera" modelling, but rather the application of mathematical methods to extract and predict trends. Most likely, your Ph.D. is going to entail massive amounts of experimental work, computer modelling, or a linear combination thereof. Moreover, proper planning and execution of lab work will probably be crucial in your future job, so you might as well get good at it. While there are many ways to becoming a good experimentalist, I personally consider the following to be of utmost importance:

Don't take any shortcuts
The quality of your data is directly correlated to the quality of any publications or presentations derived from your work. Without rigorous data collection, you've got nothing. This also means reproduction, as a single data point or a trend means very little unless it's reproducible. To paraphrase my former co-advisor, there's a reason they call it re-search and not just search. If at all possible, you should also try to confirm your results via a complementary technique.

Statistical methods are your friends.
Never exclude data points unless you are certain they are outliers. Which either means that you know something went wrong with that particular experiment, or (more likely) that you've performed the proper statistical tests to ascertain whether said data point indeed belongs to the remaining set.

Know Thy Experimental Techniques
Never, ever, ever, ever just use black box technology. ALWAYS know the working principle, the possibilities and limitations of the experimental techniques you use. Each and every experimental technique comes with it's own set of possibilities and limitations, and this counts double for mathematical models. Don't be the guy (or gal) who accepts instrument output as truth without any form of bias. In principle, you could be using a metal detector to be looking for unicorns in your sock drawer and never see the problem unless you really know your instruments. As instrumentation gets more advanced and data collection becomes increasingly automated, more data can be collected within a short period of time. Which is awesome. However, this places more responsibility on the individual researcher, both with respect to data treatment and with respect to trusting the instrument output. 'Cause the instrument is gonna spit out a number or a data matrix no matter what - whether or not it means anything and if so what, is for you to assess.

Plan your data collection.
Walk into the lab with a hypothesis and a planned set of experiments to put this to the test. Look at your data during the process, and change the experimental set-up according to the outcome. Data collection is an iterative process, and a plan of research is just that, not a set of commandments. Start the data collection with a goal in mind.

For me, I've never started an experiment if I'm not reasonably certain the data is going to end up in a publication since I started grad school, and I'm also inclined to plan the research with a specific journal in mind. This has worked out pretty well for me, but there have also been cases where it failed spectacularly. Most notably, experience has taught me that if a study is assumed to a) be quick and b) the outcome is expected to be predictable, it's very likely to be neither.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

At last.....

..I'm down to having just one more thing to grade in 2008. The last couple of weeks have been quite the mindf*ck, culminating with nine oral exams plus project student presentations yesterday. During my mandatory pedagogic course, we had several lively debates on different forms of evaluation, and if and when they were applicable. I even wrote a term paper on oral versus written exams where I concluded (among other things) with oral exams being the better evaluation form for small classes of higher-level (in particular Ph.D.) students who were used to public speaking and oral communication of results.

While I still stand by that assessment, the major flaw is the lack of definition of how many students "small classes" are comprised of. 'Cause lemme' tell you; nine oral exams in a day are too damn many.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Tao of Grad School part 5

Part 5: Approaching your project
You are embarking on the journey to compiling your dissertation, defending your work and getting your Ph.D. Obviously, you should have a strong sense of ownership of the project, and the sooner you realize this, the more likely you are to maintain motivation throughout the journey.

Before I go on, I guess I should include a disclaimer where I outline how different advisors and project types afford more or less stringent guidelines on how much creative wiggle room you've got within a given project description, so find the outer perimeters of your personal scientific freedom by inquiry and caution rather than by crossing boundaries. That being said, you still need to feel an ownership of the project in order to function as a researcher rather than a lab technician. Not a bad word about lab technicians, but if you're a grad student, you are supposed to learn how to become an independent researcher. That's kind of hard to do if you're not accustomed to bringing your own ideas to the table.

In my humble opinion, your Ph.D. project can be divided into three separate levels: Big Picture Science and Detail Science. Obviously, the former category refers to research which moves the project frontiers towards the overall goal of the project and how the results of this project can be used to (hopefully) move the frontiers of your chosen scientific discipline. A caveat here would be that moving the frontiers of science is not necessarily a good thing; all things considered, you'd rather not be known as the guy (or gal) who set your scientific discipline back 20 years. Big Picture Science is (probably) how the project was pitched to the funding agency, and what will lead to some applied aspect of your work down the road. However; in order to understand your system well enough to advance the overall knowledge of the field, you need to perform a lot of Detail Science. This type of science is what you'll do in order to complete various subgoals in the project description, and this is where you'll be spending most of your time by far. For every time you get to publish some Big Picture Science, multiple minor issues/challenges/learning opportunities (formerly known as problems) arise which need to be solved in order to move things to the next level. If you do your job well and the scope is wide enough, you'll get more publications from this category of research.

What's really important is to never lose track of how these three levels of research are interrelated. When you do some specialized work, always keep your mind on how this fits into the big picture. Whenever you get to move towards the larger goals of the project, know the limitations, and what fundamental issues had to be resolved to get where you are. No scientific results are unconditional.

The keen observer might have noticed that I've referred to three levels of research yet defined only two. That's because the third level is what I call Stealth Science. Not everything you do is going to pan out the way you or your advisor planned it. As you get to know your system(s) better, you might start to think of directions which can move the project forward, but which do not necessarily exist in the subgoals. Longshots. Small-level research you can try on the down low to see if it's feasible and if the results derived from it align with your initial hypotheses and with the project goals. But also additional research within the defined subgoals, where data is collected for the purpose of having results on hand for a rainy day, when you're expected to show results but the initial guesses as defined in the project plan didn't work out. Either way, before embarking on your stealth science mission, make sure that you know if your advisor and/or project allows for this type of off-the-books independent research. I personally always did it myself and encourage it now, but this might not be the case for your advisor. To quote Ice Cube; check yo'self before you wreck yo'self.

GQ5: Jumping the Shark - Rounds 3 and 4

Final round(s) of 2008.

Submit your answers to mfactorquiz (at) gmail.com by the end of Sunday 122108. Each song holds the potential of two points - one point for artist and one point for the song. Answers will be posted on Monday 122208.

Song number 236:

Song number 237:

Song number 238:

Song number 239:

Song number 240:

Song number 241:

Song number 242:

Song number 243:

Song number 244:

Song number 245:

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Results GQ5: Jumping the Shark - Round 2

Quite teh awesome average this time around....and some indications that December is a way busy month..... The songs were:
  • Song 231: Theme from Knight Rider. Before they made t-shirts about not hassling the Hoff, David Hasselhoff was the costar of Knight Rider. I'm saying costar, because arguably his acting skills ranked third of the most featured cast, after Kitt the computer and the freakin' car chassis.
  • Song 232: Theme from the A-Team. I pity the foo' who didn't get this.
  • Song 233: Poison - Life Goes On. Long hair, spandex and lipstick. And power ballads.
  • Song 234: Cranberries - Zombie. Apparently it was the law for cover bands to have this song on the set list. Damn that pitch-shifted vocal thing the singer does is annoying. Cool riff though.
  • Song 235: Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit. Or Wild Thing, as Jimi Hendrix and before him The Troggs used to call this song. This song and this band more than anything represents packaged rebellion and how the music industry made everybody wear the same outfits, listen to the same music issued by the biggest record labels and have the kids think that they were actually rebelling against corporations. Thanks a lot, Kurt Cobain.
The Score after Round 2 looks a li'l like this:
  1. Sondre (10 points)
  2. Cathy/Nils/Torbjørn (tied at 8 points)
  3. ...
  4. ...
  5. Marius/Pigeon (tied at 6 points)
  6. ...
  7. Anders (2 points)
The Total Score
now stands as:
  1. Cathy/Nils/Sondre (tied at 14 points)
  2. ...
  3. ...
  4. Pigeon (12 points)
  5. Torbjørn (8 points)
  6. Marius (6 points)
  7. Anders (4 points)
Congrats to Sondre
and good luck with rounds 3 and 4!

Friday, December 12, 2008

TGIF Funny stuff the sequel

You probably don't know that (if you do, shame on you)

But for sure, you don't know that one (and you should)

Have a nice week end

TGI funny stuff!

...starting of with a Cult Procession:

And another funny one from the great fail blog:

Have a nice weekend!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Tao of Grad School part 4.1

Part 4.1: Passing the required exams.
As discussed earlier, you need to pass a required course load and still upholding the 3.0 GPA. Here are some practical tips on passing these exams with not too much effort.

(Disclaimer: Of course this isn't part of Wilhelm's series of Grad School posts, but since I (of obvious reasons) don't have anything of value to add there, I'll just post my funny-stuff in a separate post rather then cluttering up the comment sections in Wilhelm's posts. No disrespect, bro, just some good ol' fun...)

This message has been

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Tao of Grad School part 4

Part 4: Approaching the required course load.
In Norway, as well as Stateside, you've got to maintain a 3.0 GPA or higher to stay in grad school, and scoring lower than B is equivalent to a Fail. Within the Norwegian system, the be-all end-all of the required course load consists of upholding the 3.0 GPA for the 30 study points you're supposed to take. Norwegian grad students don't need to know anything about cumes, quals or prelims (Oh, My!), something which significantly lightens the work load.

With that established, what remains is how you approach the required course load. There are lots of people who'll tell you that grades are not important. Some will go even further, claiming that if you get an A, it means that you've spent too much time studying when a B was all that was required - time which could've been spent doing other stuff, like research.

I massively disagree. At the Ph.D. level, part of what you're expected to do is to be able to absorb, understand and apply new material quickly, an ability grades capture quite adequately. There's no real comparison to how you might have prioritized during your undergrad years, unless you planned to be a researcher all along. With a Ph.D. level job - in academia or otherwise - absorbing and then reciting new material within a short period of time is a big part of the job, so you might as well get used to it. The main reason I disagree with the "B is good enough" attitude is that if you approach the "absorbing and reciting new material" part of your Ph.D. with the mindset of only doing what's necessary and nothing more, then I strongly doubt that your course load is the only aspect this attitude applies to. B is a passing grade, and if you worked hard to get that B, then good for you. That's vastly different from reveling in the fact that you worked just hard enough to get a passing grade.

And don't even try to feed me any bulls*it line about prioritizing your work according to it's pre-conceived relative importance according to you. That's the excuse of an inferior scientist.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Thanks for nuthin', CDON

...so a good while ago I ordered the latest Yngwie Malmsteen release from CDON.com. Specifically, I pre-ordered it, so that I'd get my grubby little hands on the latest Malmsteen Miracle as soon as possible. At the same time I pre-ordered the latest Edguy release - Tinnitus Sanctus. 'Cause why waste time?

Anyhoo; the weeks flew by, and eventually I got the Edguy album - which was released well after Yngwie's latest masterpiece - but there was no sign of "Perpetual Flame".

Major bummer.

Logging on to CDON.com didn't help much - the order history did not provide any specifics, and the only way to get a hold of any customer service was to use their online form - and that didn't get me no answers.

Fast forward until today, and I log onto CDON.com to check if there's been any progress. And check it out; the cyberlosers have now cancelled my order AND removed "Perpetual Flame" from their catalogue. Did I get as much as an email informing me of this fact? Hell no. Did they even bother answer my request using their online contact form thingy? Hell no once more.

This coming week it'll be roughly two months since "Perpetual Flame" was released. I sure didn't pre-order the album for the purpose of being jerked around only to have to purchase it elsewhere.

F*ck CDON and the gargoyle they rode in on! Not cool - no es frigido!

GQ5: Jumping the Shark - Round 2

Second round. Still time to join in for anyone who might think that they could do better and kick ass.

Submit your answers to mfactorquiz (at) gmail.com by the end of Friday 121208. Each song holds the potential of two points - one point for artist and one point for the song (with the exception of the first two songs, where I'm good with the title of the respective TV songs). Answers will be posted on Saturday 121308.

Song number 231:

Song number 232:

Song number 233:

Song number 234:

Song number 235:

Results GQ5: Jumping the Shark - Round 1.1

More points to dole out this time fo' sho'.

  • Song 226: The Beatles - Michelle. Kinda' famous tune, eh?
  • Song 227: Johnny Cash - Ring Of Fire. Didn't really care for this tune until I saw the movie "Walk The Line". Great stuff.
  • Song 228: Ozzy Osbourne - Suicide Solution. Wine is fine but whisky's quicker/suicide is slow with liquor/take a bottle, drown your sorrow/then you float away tomorrow....you better believe Mr. Osbourne got to see the inside of a courtroom courtesy of the lyrics in this song. This song was also the venue of Randy Rhoads' unaccompanied solo, for those who might care.
  • Song 229: Cheap Trick - I Want You To Want Me. Surprised none of y'all found this feelgood tune...oh well.
  • Song 230: Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Dog - Stil D.R.E. I'm really impressed that three of y'all found this tune. Kudos on that.
The Score after Round 1.1 - and also the Total Score is:
  1. Cathy/Nils/Pigeon (tied at 6 points)
  2. ...
  3. ...
  4. Sondre (4 points)
  5. Anders (2 points)
Welcome to the quiz, Nils, and congrats to teh winners.
Good luck with Round 2.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Tao of Grad School part 3

Part 3: The right advisor?
Finding a suitable advisor is important but hard to achieve. Truthfully, the US system provides a better way for grad students to find a compatible advisor and vice versa. While the details vary, you are accepted into a graduate student class, and assigned one preliminary advisor based on your expressed research interests. However, you're not allowed to make your final selection before the end of the first semester, and during that time you're required to have interviews with at least three other faculty members. At the end of the semester, you hand in your ranked list of potential advisors. If your first choice turns you down, you get your second choice, etc.

While these interviews are very useful, the real benefit of this system stems from the fact that an advisee gets a full semester to get to know potential advisors as well as other grad students in their research group. Thus, you can get the skinny on how a Prof is to work for. While you shouldn't take everything at face value, you can certainly detect trends. Within this system, you could collect vital information such as:

What's the average completion time for a Ph.D. in this group?
Not as relevant in Norway, but within the US system it's DEFINITELY an issue. As there is no standardized time limit for a Ph.D. most places (apart from a definite cut-off limit ten years following admission into grad school), and your advisor is the one telling you when you're ready to defend, the time required could vary with several years. Also something to keep in mind; at some point you become extremely qualified, ultracheap labour, and if your advisor is short on funds, he or she might take advantage of this fact. A useful guideline is the amount of time it took for your potential advisor to graduate. Figure on spending at least this amount of time, as a fragile ego might assume that if you finish quicker, you're smarter than he/she, and that's simply not possible.............

Publications - how many and where?
On average, how many publications can a prospective Ph.D. from this group count on leaving the lab with? If the number is low, can it be explained by a comparatively higher impact factor of the journals in question? Make no mistake; when they say "Publish or perish," that's exactly what they mean...

What's the drop-off rate among the grad students in the group?
Pretty self-explanatory. If the percentage of grad students dropping out of the Ph.D. program in one group is significantly higher than the department average, that might be a clue right there.

What kind of jobs have former grad students ended up with?
Another self-explanatory but important question. Are you more likely to hawk used - I mean pre-owned - cars at CarMax or working as Director's Fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratories following your graduation from the research group in question?

Advisor peculiarities
Are you expected to keep the same working hours as your advisor, lest you'll be accused of not working enough? Hands-on advisor or do-whatever-you-want-as-long-as-you-do-what-I-would-have-done type? Will he or she be available or always out of office/too damn busy? Frequent status reports? Thrice-weekly group meetings including one at Saturday morning? Who writes the manuscripts - you or the advisor? Is the advisor prone to changing your entire project around about half-way in the expected grad school progression? TA or RA and if the former; how many classes would you expected to teach? Is transitioning between TA and RA used as a reward or punishment (depending on which direction)?

Much if not most of this information is unavailable within the Norwegian system if you transfer in to the university. Typically you have an interview and that's that. You may or may not get to meet with and talk to the other grad students, and most of the information listed above is certainly not being handed to you. Thus, you may not have much to go on. Obviously you'll be able to pick up whether you are completely socially incompatible with your advisor - i.e. if the Devil manifests himself in the corner of his office (big shout-out to Jimmy James C. for that one).

You'll also be able to figure out whether the potential advisor appears to have a genuine interest in the project he or she is pitching, which might well be the most important aspect.....

GQ5: Jumping the Shark - Round 1.1

Let's start over.

Submit your answers to mfactorquiz (at) gmail.com by the end of Friday120508. Each song holds the potential of two points - one point for artist and one point for the song. Answers will be posted on Saturday 120608.

Song number 226:

Song number 227:

Song number 228:

Song number 229:

Song number 230:

Results GQ5: Jumping the Shark - Initial round

Heh.....when I named GQ5 "Jumping the Shark", it turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe the songs were extra hard or the recordings sucked something fierce, but the fact of the matter is that only one of y'all *cough*Cathy*cough* managed to get any points at all. Thus, I deem this a bonus round, and start over with the next round.

In case that wasn't clear, GQ5: Jumping the Shark starts over, with this trial run only counting towards a bonus score for the person who got any songs right *cough*Cathy*cough*.

Damn that dry climate-control air.

It ain't no point in listing the scores, so I'll just reveal the songs:
  • Song 221: Van Halen - When It's Love. Van Hagar era tune - probably falls into the category of power ballad. Not one of their lesser known songs either...
  • Song 222: Poison - Ride The Wind. Two! Two Two; one third the Number Of The Beast! ..or in this case a Poison song from their Flesh & Blood album.
  • Song 223: Van Halen - Dreams. Now this is definitely one of the better known tunes from the Van Hagar era - where's teh love for VH? And don't try to pawn this off on VH being an unknown 80's band, 'cause not even Pigeon can use that excuse while keeping a straight face...
  • Song 224: U2 - Beautiful Day. .......no freakin' comment.....this song has polluted the airwaves ever since Kurt Nilsen won Idol...
  • Song 225: Scorpions - Pictured Life. It's sho' nuff got that 70's blues rock feel to it..

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Tao of Grad School part 2

Part 2: Where should I take my Ph.D.?
Compared to the US system, there are way fewer considerations to take in Norway. Whereas the ranking/reputation of the university matters a great deal Stateside, the pseudo-egalitarianism of the academic system i Norway pretty much negates most of the importance related to which institution you get your Ph.D. from. What research group you get your degree from still matters a lot, but being able to evaluate that is another matter, and odds are overwhelmingly against someone who just got their M.Sc. being able to separate the groups which are Da Bomb from the lesser ones. Besides, it doesn't necessarily have any significant bearing on the quality of your Ph.D. within the Norwegian system, unless you've hooked up with a certain Sudbø or that fake diet GP who got busted recently.

Stateside, normal practice is to accept classes of graduate students on an annual or biannual basis, which then are filtered through potential advisors to projects which can be tailor-made or which are prone to change according to the direction the research is going, etc. The reality in Norway is that you've got to apply for available positions linked to specific projects, or that a tenured faculty member must apply for a scholarship in your name. In the former case, you're one applicant out of many, depending on the job market, the general appeal of the project and how "hot" the research group is. If you get hired on a pre-approved project, you probably won't get much input into the overall goal and timelines of the project. You're hired into a pre-determined project with subgoals and timelines which are approved by the funding party, and you'd better have a good reason for wanting to mess around with this. On the plus side, your application is probably ranked according to a more holistic image, where relevant research experience etc. are taken into account. If you apply for a scholarship in your name, be aware that grades are what's up. If there are more applicants than positions (and it is), then the pre-selection is done pretty much entirely by GPA. If there are ten positions available and your GPA ranks you number 11, you're what's known as shit out of luck. Moreover, if an application is filed in your name, you can (probably) have a say in the project description, and thus have more of an ownership of the project at an early stage.

Funding for a Ph.D. project typically comes from one of three sources (or a linear combination) - Industry, Research Council or University/Department funding.

Industry funding:
If applied research is your thing, and you want to see how your lab work stands up to scrutiny in the real world, under real conditions, this is probably where you want to be at. Odds are you'll also be working within a team rather than this being a solo effort. Moreover, the entire Ph.D. basically serves as a giant, prolonged job interview, and at the very least you're networking with potential employers and key reference people.

Research Council funding:
Depending on the program under which the funding was given, you could be working alone or in a team, and the project may or may not have industrial partners. Any project funded by the Research Council probably involves an international collaborative effort, where you get input from other research groups. These types of projects range from applied to very fundamental science. In many ways, these projects could represent the "best of both worlds" if you like to balance on the razor's edge where you want your work to have a practical application, but you still want to be able to address fundamental concerns.

University funding.
University positions are few and far between, and usually reserved for those with really good grades. Most often, the types of projects funded by the University encompass fundamental research, and as one applies for a specific candidate, the project is probably going to be an individual effort.

None of these categories shut the door on any future job prospects in either academia or industry, but obviously the private sector might be more prone to hiring someone with whom they know and who has worked on and become familiar with "their" technology, organization and research. While the paycheck is going to be the same while you do your Ph.D., there's no question that you'll make more money if you're hired in the private sector than what you'll earn if you're academically inclined. Still; if you even consider accepting a position where the project and underlying science doesn't really interest you because of the pot of gold waiting at the rainbow's end when you get a high-paying job in a large corporation, then you're either the greediest person alive, or you're massively underestimating the amount of work you've got to put into a Ph.D.. This also applies for anyone going into a more applied research project when they really want to do fundamental science, except for the part about the paycheck... Unless you're really interested in the project, you're better off applying your talents elsewhere.

Another thing to consider is whether the Ph.D. position is scheduled for three or four years, or alternatively; whether or not you're expected to teach while you get your degree. I'm not sure whether this could or should be considered a dealbreaker, but it's something you should take into account. If your goal is to go into academia, then you'll get teaching experience which'll look good on the ol' resume. Moreover, graduate TA's now get an abbreviated version of the infernal mandatory pedagogic course for faculty members. In other words, you get teaching experience and a pedagogic diploma which'll give you one leg up on the competition. Conversely, if you were a TA during your undergraduate years and you absolutely hated it, you probably still hate teaching, in which case the extra year of teaching is going to substantially add to the suck-factor of grad school.