Making an impression March 20, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in grad school.
Tags: application process, grad school, grad school applications, visit
Female Science Professor recently discussed behavior differences at department visits between already admitted grad students and those who were still waiting to hear. In particular, she asks, of students:
What was your attitude during your visit? Did you try to impress, or was your attitude that it was entirely the responsibility of the program to impress you?
I have to admit that this question made me cringe because my inclination was to answer, “Neither.” I’m not one who likes to ‘impress’ people. I like to get to know them and how they operate. To me, trying to impress someone implies a certain amount of salesmanship and maybe even a little bit of dishonesty. I understand trying to put one’s best foot forward, but, to me, that’s different than making an attempt to impress. (I know I may be making a big deal of this distinction, but it makes for a much more interesting blog post than simply saying yes or no.)
Actually, I was a bit surprised by this whole notion as I took a different approach when looking at grad schools: I went and visited them first in order to decide whether or not it was worth applying. I liked this approach as there wasn’t much pressure on either side: I knew about the program and profs based on what I saw on the web, and they didn’t know if I was a student worth having, so they weren’t as likely to give me a dog and pony show.
Visiting before I applied gave a much more realistic impression than one gets during an admitted student weekend or something similar when everyone is on their ‘best behavior’, to the point of being fake, and the activities are highly scripted, to the point of creating unrealistic expectations. (I do see such events as useful to pick out people who really make a terrible impression.) My later experiences confirmed my ‘gut reaction’ to the pre-application visits, so my only caution is to not ignore those impressions or rationalize them away…or let those accepted student weekends override the early impressions.
I also think this minimizes the ‘workload’ to both sides: less applications for the student, only serious students applying to the program. I remember at one visit weekend, I spent some time with another applicant who was very negative about the program we were checking. She clearly hated the place, and it made me wonder why she’d bothered applying. I wondered until I realized that, unlike me, she hadn’t been there before.
The down side is that it’s not always possible, especially financially, for students to go and visit other programs. This is especially true if the only time to visit is the summer and professors are unavailable, mitigating the benefit. It’s even worse if that prof’s students are also gone so that you can’t have a chance to talk with them about the prof you’d like to work with.
My answer to the above questions is that I never tried to impress anyone, nor did I want them attempt to impress me. I wanted to see how the people and place functioned and whether I could see myself there. It’s going to be the fit that matters, and visiting grad schools is going to be to everyone’s benefit when the view of the place and people involved is realistic.
Tags: electrical engineering, geology, geophysics, magnetic fields, nomograms, smith chart
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I spent a good chunk of time yesterday dealing with Smith charts, and I remembered in the recesses of my brain that I had once posted something about them in the old blog. Sadly, it wasn’t as technically intensive as it could have been, but I still decided it was fun enough for a repost. If you would like to read something with a bit more technical content, you can check out Fluxor’s post on Smith charts at EngineerBlogs.
A nomogram is an incredibly useful tool. It is a visual “solution” to an equation. Usually it is some sort of chart or plot that allows you to figure out “what you’ve got” and you can move from there to “what you need”.
Anyone who works on the analog side of electrical engineering often gets to play with Smith charts, which were of course invented by Baker*. They’re rather confusing looking things:
The usefulness in Smith charts is that they can allow you to determine things like how much more transmission line you need to get an impedance match in your device. Rather than trying to solve an equation using complex values, you can just move along the curve in a Smith chart. (Disclaimer: While I learned how to use Smith charts in my microwave engineering course, I unfortunately would need to spend some time with my buddy Pozar to remember how to do it now.) I’m also aided in my negligence by the fact that there are a lot of nifty software programs that will compute the necessary values, reducing the necessity of using a Smith chart. (Thank goodness for computers. If it weren’t for computers, I’d probably have to learn how to use a slide rule, too.)
What brought this up is that I was introduced to a nomogram used by scientists in the field of paleomagnetism. The nomograms in this case showed relationships in demagnetization of magnetic minerals. For instance, if you have a mineral that has been exposed to a temperature of 400°C for 1000 seconds in the lab, you can follow the line on the nomogram and discover that the same amount of demagnetization could be caused by sitting in a temperature of 350°C for 100 million years.
So why do I spend time mentioning this on my LJ? Could it be because knowing that there are graphical methods to approximate solutions to problems is good to know? It is good to know, but it’s not why I bring it up. The reason I felt the need to post about it is because I had an entirely different picture of nomograms when I was sitting in class:
*Just kidding. It was developed by Phillip H. Smith.
Obviously… January 8, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in grad school, younger son.
Tags: obviously, younger son
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The younger boy was saying good night before bed. I told him I needed a hug, so he curled up on my lap and said I couldn’t work any more tonight.
“The whole night? If I don’t get any more work done because I spent the whole night snuggling you, then what will my advisor think?”
“Obviously, she would think that you have a son who loves you.”
There’s nothing cuter than a little boy using the word obviously, except when he does it while snuggling you.
Distracting the mansplainer August 1, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in feminism, grad school, research, societal commentary.
Tags: mansplaining, sexism
I used to really think that if I presented people with enough compelling facts, I could totally convince them to change their minds about things. I try to operate that way myself, but it took me a good, long time to realize that’s not how most people think. Not only did it take me a long time, but it took a lot of arguments and hurt feelings. (I’ll admit that I still don’t get the way people view things a lot of times, and it really troubles me when I don’t understand how someone could have come to a particular view. I’ll hammer at it for days trying to understand…which is usually futile because they’re basing their judgement, often times, on experiences I wouldn’t know about.)
I also discovered that arguing with a lot of men really doesn’t work. I’ll be honest and say I’m not sure what does, but I have run into a fair bit of the “mansplaining” phenomenon. Technical guys, in particular, love to tell women how to do things because women just obviously cannot wrap their little brains around those complex things that men do.
Even if she’s got degrees in physics and engineering.
Today I got mansplained again…and it nearly turned into a knock-down drag-out type ordeal. Fortunately, I’ve learned that, at some point, you need to turn an argument into something constructive or it will get you nowhere.
I had to try to explain to someone that my widget didn’t seem to be compatible with their docking station. They were convinced that my widget had a bunch of design problems and they couldn’t see how it would work in any docking station. I tried to explain that I had already used it in several docking stations, and even in their own docking station! But when it was in their docking station, I could only communicate with modem and not with ethernet. It didn’t matter. This person kept insisting the problem was that my widget was the wrong size and shape, and if I happened to get it working, it was working in only one place and as a result of luck. And every time, I would get a lecture on how to design widgets properly.
It almost got to the point of shouting, and I wasn’t sure what to do, so I grabbed my widget and his docking station and made it fit. He was shocked. You see, me saying that it fit really didn’t matter. I am obviously not smart enough to know when the widget fits properly or not, and in his estimation, it shouldn’t have fit. But it did.
It also turned out to be the right thing to do because suddenly he could see what sorts of communications problems the widget had and was distracted from his theoretical notions of appropriate widget dimensions to that actual problem at hand. In about a half hour, we had the kinks worked out so that the widget could use both modem and ethernet.
At this point, the person asked me why I hadn’t talked to him about the problem before. Apparently he didn’t realize that I had and that, each time, he insisted my widget must be the wrong size. I would assume that he knew better and would go off, searching out the problem, only to find that the problem still seemed to be with the communications protocols. Each time it happened, I would try to provide some proof, which would be dismissed with a wave of the hand and, “That can’t be the problem,” regardless of the evidence I’d generated. So why hadn’t I talked to him? Because he’d diagnosed the problem before I even spoke to him and wouldn’t even look at any evidence to the contrary, citing how his own background put him in a much better position to figure out the problem.
It’s working! Bwahahaha! July 18, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in computers, grad school, research.
Tags: computers, dissertation, grad school
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I really try not to let myself post too many blog posts when I’m overly tired. Usually this results in a post that is only semi-coherent and riddled with grammatical and spelling errors. (The other day on Facebook, I intended to write “more likely” but it came out “morely like”…which is a sure sign of sleep deprivation.)
However, I’m rather excited that after months of trying to deal with my bad programming, the compiler not being overly friendly with my code, and some sort of conspiracy between my compiler and the communications protocol on one of the computer clusters, I am running some code for real now. (Not just in debug mode!)
To celebrate, I am going to sleep as soon as I’m done with this post. I sure now how to live it up, don’t I?
(Official notice: spelling and grammatical errors have not been approved by this poster but will likely show up anyway. Especially wierd ones.)
Tags: brain rules, education, family, higher education, learning, learning disabilities, older son, online learning, schedules, science education, teaching, technology, UDL, universal design for learning, universities, younger son
I’ve been having a discussion with Massimo about his post on instructional technology. Despite what I’ve already said, I have a lot more thoughts, so it’s just easier to write it out as a blog post (or maybe more than one).
I think I’m going to start by defining some things about how classrooms operate online. First, you have what I would call the Udacity (or maybe Khan Academy) model. This is a model where you basically watch a lecture online, complete and submit homework assignments online, and discuss things via discussion boards (or Blackboard or Moodle). The second model is completely computerized – all the lessons are presented via a reading or lecture, and the bulk of the course is completing problems. Both my sons have used the former method to learn math. One uses EPGY and the other uses Aleks. On top of these choices for online education, there are in-class courses, mixed (some components online and others in a classroom or lab), and earning credit by exam, such as AP, CLEP, or DANTE exams.
If you look at these options from the point of view of a university, some of these options for educating students are going to be more appealing than others. Credit by exam, of course, is going to be the least appealing. The university gets a fee for administering the exam but pretty much nothing else. Many universities simply will not accept them, but there are a lot of them (mostly non-elite schools) that will.
The other one that is bad from a university POV is the completely computerized model. It works incredibly well for things like math and some sciences because it basically moves working from a textbook to working on the computer. Also, most of the programs are adaptive in that, if you’re having difficulty with a concept, it will first give you additional problems. If this doesn’t seem to be helping, it will pull you off that topic and put you on to another, waiting a while before it allows you to revisit the difficult topic. (I believe K12 uses a completely computerized model for all courses, but I have no experience with it and can’t say how well it works for language or social science-type courses.) In a classroom where one person is a facilitator supervising several students working on the course, this is a very cost effective method, and a lot of elementary and secondary schools are beginning to utilize it. When doing it for online education, however, it represents an expense that is more, generally speaking, than hiring an individual to teach a class. The majority of tuition money would be spent on licensing (as there are already several good ones out there) or development of a program (which may not compete well with pre-existing products) and not going into university coffers. Also, why offer something that everyone else can offer, too? That’s certainly not going to set you apart in terms of attracting students. Therefore, universities are more likely to want to have in-class courses, mixed, or online courses that utilize the Udacity model.
In the discussion Massimo’s final comment was this:
I was not aware that there is now solid research showing that online education is superior to classroom teaching for the vast majority of students (I assume that at Stanford they no longer offer classroom-based math courses — it would make no sense to have continued, given that online courses work better). I am surprised that classroom-based education still exists at all, and that so many of us still believe that it is better — but I am sure society will soon abandon this useless relic of a time past, and embrace the more effective online education.
Here’s the problem: there are decades of research showing that online education is, at the very least, equally effective for most students and significantly better for other students. So why aren’t we using it more? I could also state that lectures have been been shown to be one of the poorest forms of teaching known to man, so why do we continue to use it so much? Turns out, there’s an answer. In this journal called Science (you may have heard of it), they ask exactly this question about interactive teaching and inquiry-based classrooms:
Given the widespread agreement, it may seem surprising that change has not progressed rapidly nor been driven by the research universities as a collective force. Instead, reform has been initiated by a few pioneers, while many other scientists have actively resisted changing their teaching. So why do outstanding scientists who demand rigorous proof for scientific assertions in their research continue to use and, indeed defend on the basis of intuition alone, teaching methods that are not the most effective? Many scientists are still unaware of the data and analyses that demonstrate the effiectiveness of active learning techniques. Others may distrust the data because they see scientists who have flourished in the current educational system. Still others feel intimidated by the challenge of learning new teaching methods or may fear that identification as teachers will reduce their credibility as researchers.
I’d like to note that this was published in 2004, almost a decade ago. Here we are, 8 years later, and from my observation, active teaching strategies are seldom used in most classrooms.
I think it’s safe to say that this is the same set of problems faced with online education. I would also add that people who learn well in the classroom have a hard time understanding that others may learn as well or better using a different medium. Or there’s just simply the problem that they’re afraid they’re going to lose their jobs. (I only see this as likely in the scenario colleges would somehow try to implement completely computerized online classes…but you can see my comments on that above.)
One major issue that I see is how few college instructors really understand how people learn. They learned well through a lecture style course, and so they assume that it is obviously the best way to learn. I personally think that every instructor ought to have at least one course in educational neuroscience so that they understand how lousy lectures really are as well as so that they may communicate to their students how they ought to try to approach learning and studying. (This was a significant part of the class I taught to incoming engineering students last year, but not all places have a course where you can cover topics like that.) I do realize that such a course is not available at most universities, but I don’t think that should prevent one from accessing this knowledge. I would suggest that one who has never taken such a course invest some time in the course materials available online (are you feeling the irony?) at Harvard. Those opposed to online education can read the book Brain Rules, which was used as the text for the course. (Of course, if you are opposed to online education, I hope you’re reading an actual paperback rather than downloading it onto your iPad.)
Massimo also says:
I am not disputing that online education may be the only/best option for some — but, from it being a valid option for some, to it replacing classroom teaching foreveryone, there is a bit of a leap, don’t you think ?
No, I don’t think so. There are two reasons why I think this. First, teachers who embrace online learning are more likely to embrace other technology that is likely to enhance learning. Generally, this will enhance learning beyond anything that is likely to occur in a lecture-based class that occurs in a classroom. Despite what some people may say, research shows (read Brain Rules) that learning which is multisensory (like watching YouTube clips) is better for you than sitting in a lecture. Images will convey more information than talking, and video (or seeing something in action) conveys more information than straight images. Sitting in a lab is likely the best environment of all. Online learning also is likely to be able to keep people’s attention. (If you read Brain Rules, you’ll come to find that most people can only focus for about ten minutes, and then they need something to restimulate their attention.)
Second, I think accessibility is a huge issue in education. I have one parent who found it incredibly difficult to finish a degree (and she never did) because she had a choice between quitting her job to take classes at the local university, which were only offered during the day, and taking night classes at an expensive private college. I have a sibling who is currently finishing a degree in accounting online because she lives two hours from a university and works 4-10s. How is she supposed to finish a degree at a school in those circumstances? There are a lot of people in similar situations who would otherwise be unable to earn a degree. In fact, my husband earned his MS through Penn State through a Navy program where he took some classes at the university and some through a video link…well over a decade ago. He said he would’ve been unlikely to pursue a degree if he’d had to drive across Puget Sound (he was in the Seattle area at the time) evenings for two or three years.
Okay, so obviously I know a lot of people who have benefitted from these sorts of things. So why do I think it could work for everyone? I think this is a basic principle behind Universal Design for Learning: the notion is that if you design a curriculum that helps people with difficulties and disabilities, you’re going to help many other people as well. Our brains work on a continuum, and while not everyone may have learning disabilities, they may operate in a region where learning may be difficult, if not disabling, when it’s presented a certain way. Therefore, if you design materials to teach someone who is hearing impaired, for instance, you’ll likely help a lot of people who may have difficulty with ingesting information through auditory means in general. (Lest you think this must be a small part of the population, take into consideration that I was working toward a master’s degree before I found out that I likely have some sort of auditory processing disorder…and only because my son was diagnosed with one. Smart people can often do well even with learning disabilities because they often have other ways to compensate…but it can be frustrating for them, nonetheless. I wrote a post on this topic a while ago.)
So what does this have to do with online learning? I can give a concrete example: my older son is ADHD and had auditory processing disorder. He really struggles sitting in a normal classroom and, for most of his life, his teachers told me he couldn’t possibly be gifted because of his classroom performance despite the fact that I had documented evidence to the contrary. We took him out of the classroom, and he started earning college-level credits through CLEP exams beginning his freshman year of high school…working independently, primarily through reading. As I mentioned above, he does all of his math through Aleks. He does extremely well on pretty much any type of standardizes examination. I can easily see a kid like him, even with less problems, having huge difficulties sitting in a college classroom but being able to handle an online class very easily in no small part because the method of presentation. So why can’t this help someone who is less distractable?
Take it a step further. If online learning is ideal for people who have jobs and families and can work in the evenings but not get to classes, why can’t it also work for students living in dorms or even at home? Maybe some of them find that they concentrate best at night and it is preferable to sitting in a large, crowded, warm, boring classroom at 8 a.m. (And yes, people do function on different clocks.) Aren’t you benefitting the student by allowing them to work at their peak time?
I’m not saying everyone will take advantage of this, but I think it ought to be an option for many people. Some people really thrive on personal interaction and keeping them out of a classroom would inhibit them from learning. Some people don’t. The ideal situation is where students have choices and options.
I think the final thing I have to say on this topic is that the real problem, in my mind, is that teachers see themselves as essential to the learning process. Really, the one thing I’ve learned going through graduate school and homeschooling my kids is that teachers are more often an impediment. The university functions to teach students, and yet, in many cases, students are quite capable of learning the materials on their own. That’s really the reason behind homework: you learn it far better by doing it than by sitting and listening to someone talk about it. In reality, students are still learning on their own. The role of the university is to focus the effort, speed up the process, and assess performance. Students are not necessarily learning anything from their classes that they cannot learn on their own…and in fact, they may be learning it less deeply than if they did it on their own.
I find this ironic given that the other aspect of a university is research: people are expected to learn new things and create new knowledge all the time. If learning really only happens meaningfully in a classroom, then research couldn’t exist. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that researchers who learn things on their own all the time will turn around and claim that undergraduates somehow lack that ability.
My conclusion, therefore, is that online education should seriously be considered as an alternative whenever available. I think it democratizes education and makes a better environment for learning for a significant portion of students. The reason we haven’t shifted to these models is mostly because professors, on the whole, are unwilling to consider that it should be done another way and are uninformed about the benefits.
Tags: fostering, Gigadog, illness, reading, west nile, writing, younger son
I never thought I’d be thankful for my child being sick. I suppose I should as it means he’s acquiring another immunity.
I’m guessing the younger son had West Nile. At least, the symptoms were consistent with West Nile, and it showed up a couple days after his daycare took the kids to a nearby state park to swim. Swimming hole = mosquitoes = contagion. The younger boy is usually pretty healthy, but it was obvious he was pretty sick this time. He spent two days solid watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons, eating jello and yogurt, and sleeping.
I constantly had a thermometer in my hand. The worst was reading temps of 103.5°F, because then I had to convince myself that it was really better not to give him Tylenol. See, the kid wouldn’t sleep unless I let his fever run up, and I know from past experience that you’ve got to let them hit that spike or it just drags out for days. It seemed to work because less than 24 hours after we initially discovered he was sick, his fever dropped down in to the below 101°F range. Yesterday, which was 48 hours after we found out he was sick, he was going stir crazy and taking Mike and myself with him.
In the meantime, I was stuck at home, and it was the probably some of the best uninterrupted time I’ve had in months to work on my dissertation. This resulted in a big jump forward, at least from my perspective. In that time, I learned how to use the debugger and managed to fix a couple major issues with my code. On top of that, I managed to finish a fictional novel I’ve been reading for the last six months. (Yeah, I know…) I even spent some time doing some fun writing of my own (though obviously not the blog).
I also was asked to take care of a rescue dog for a couple days. He’s a very sweet boy, but he makes Gigadog look tiny. (Maybe we should call him Teradog?) I’ll probably be picking him up tomorrow, so I’ll try to get some pics up. (Depends on how busy he keeps me.) I think we’ve decided to call him Rainier, since he’s huge as a mountain. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he and Gigadog get along well.
Musings on research June 13, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, grad school, papers, research, science.
Tags: engineering, engineering research, research, scooped
I made an interesting observation today. It’s funny that I should’ve noticed this before, but I didn’t.
I have finally come to the realization that the question, “How’s your research going?” is really a euphemism for, “How long until you’ve finished your PhD?” I’m not sure why it didn’t hit me before. My usual response to the question is to ask ‘which research?’ because I work in two totally different areas of research, both of which I find pretty fascinating. I thought the person asking the question was actually interested in what I was doing.
Nope. I realized today that they always say, “Why, your PhD work, of course!” And, when it comes down to it, only a handful of people who ask really are interested in the research itself. Most are just interested in how close that completion date is.
The reason I should’ve realized this before is because my husband got the question all the time. It didn’t occur to me until this line of thought became clear that once he’d graduated, people started asking, “How’s work?” (And usually, they aren’t interested in his research, either.)
If there isn’t a PhD comic strip devoted to this topic yet, there ought to be.
I got scooped. (A work related project – not my dissertation.) It was a small side project that I’d worked on here and there but had really not had any significant time to commit to. I’d gotten started on it and looked at things here and there. In part, I was waiting for someone else to finish some of his software development. (Of course, he was laid off earlier this year…so I imagine I’ll be waiting a while.)
Anyway, I am kicking myself because I obviously had a good idea (given someone else published exactly. the. same. thing.), but there was just no time to flesh it out. Did I make the right choice by focusing on other things or did I miss the boat? On the other hand…hey! I had a good idea. I, of course, have a couple of ideas of things that can be done based on the original project, but it’s disappointing that I won’t have the paper that gives the original idea. Of course, at the rate that particular project is going (because it’s so low priority…just some ideas I had playing around in the lab), I’m not sure I’ll ever get those other papers out.
This makes me wonder…is it good to focus on the ‘next big thing’? Or should one keep trying to work on those little things in the meantime? How do you prioritize? I think I made the right decision…but it’s easy to second-guess yourself.
thinking work June 10, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in grad school, research, solar physics.
Tags: grad school, productivity, programming, solar physics
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I have to give a presentation next week and older son took off for the summer, so between getting slides together and getting stuff and people shuttled to the airport, it was a rather busy weekend. There was some code I wanted to work on but didn’t have the chance.
It’s funny, though, because I was still thinking about it, and I actually think I made good progress on a plan of action. I realized I had three options: fix it, rewrite it, or throw my hands up in despair and give up. (Okay…last one is very low on the list of possibilities, but I can’t say it’s non-existent…there have been days.) I’m not sure I can fix it, but I have an idea of how to go about doing it. It’s a piece of code without commenting, but I know what it’s supposed to do, and I have an awesome ‘cookbook’ of numerical algorithms that explains it. (Need a spline written in a jiffy….I’m your woman!) I also suspect that in the process of trying to fix it, I’ll figure out a way to rewrite it a bit more efficiently, likely with less effort than fixing it will take. And I planned out how I can verify everything, as well.
While I didn’t have much time to work on it directly, I got my resources together and know what I’m going to do so I can hit it first thing after work tomorrow. I wonder if I made more progress by spending my ‘off’ time thinking about it than if I’d just dived in. I guess I should know in a couple days. But it’s funny how stepping away from something and letting your mind idle on it can result in something worthwhile.
Grad student advice: Picking a topic April 17, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, grad school, physics, research.
Tags: advice, advising, advisor, dissertation, grad school, research
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It happened again yesterday: one of the email updates I received had a post from someone asking someone to give him a good topic for a dissertation.
It’s not an absurd question: some of us don’t have much if any guidance from advisors, though I get worried that this is indicative of a problematic advising relationship. I’m also not saying an advisor should give a student a topic (at least not for a PhD), but they apparently aren’t even addressing the topic with the student. However, I figured it’s a question worth addressing on the blog. If nothing else, I can post a link whenever I see the question pop up, which it seems to do with regularity.
The real simple answer, in my experience, is to start reading. Read journals in your field. Look at what interests you. Try to think of gaps or problems that aren’t addressed in the research you’re reading. And don’t forget to go back and read the references for the most interesting articles. Other ideas are to get involved in projects or try to choose something from a class project (I discuss this here). Generally, you’re going to be spending several years on something, so let your curiosity guide you. If it’s not interesting now, it certainly won’t be in four years. (In fact, even if it is interesting now, you might be sick of it in four years, but it’s best to make that four years as tolerable as physically possible.)
The question in my mind is whether you should talk to your advisor before or after you start doing this. Some advisors do give their students projects, but my experience in physics and electrical engineering is that most don’t. (My friends in the biological sciences, particularly medicine, have indicated that, in their fields, getting a topic handed to you is the norm.) However, even if your advisor doesn’t give you a project, s/he is likely to have an area of interest where they’d prefer you work. My MS advisor was very much the exception in that he expected his students to pick topics outside of his primary research area as a way for him to learn more about other areas. I think his rule of thumb was that it had to require electromagnetics…beyond that, you were pretty much on your own. On the other hand, if you had no particular interest, he did have suggestions, so he didn’t leave you hanging, either.
Therefore, as you’re looking at topics, be sure to check in with your advisor on a fairly regular basis to make sure that you’re not going too far astray (been there, done that) as well as making sure they still ‘buy in’ to your project (done that, and it’s not fun when they aren’t terribly interested). You also need to take into consideration whether or not you have the facilities and equipment and, probably, funding for your project. If you want to go into a certain area and need funding, you’ll likely need help from your advisor. It’s also a good idea to do this early because it gives you an idea of how invested your advisor is in your project and how well you communicate. Figure it out early before you get four years into a thesis project only to have your advisor tell you you’re an idiot and won’t be graduating. (Yes, it does happen.)
The take away message should be that you should try to use your curiosity and creativity to find a project, and that you need to make sure your advisor buys into it. Don’t ask total strangers as they’re so far removed from the situation, you’ll never get anything useful.
Some of my readers are wise in the way of advising, so I’m curious what they have to add.