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Paper woes and highs November 21, 2016

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, education, engineering, papers, research, work.
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I really, really hate grading papers.  I’m not sure why I assign them, except that I hope there will be a decent amount of reflection and introspection on the part of the students as they’re writing them.  However, I would rather grade problem sets or even lab reports than papers.

Part of the problem is that I’m looking for content and it’s not always in the same place as you go from paper to paper.  In problems and lab reports there’s generally a set structure.  For papers…it’s not entirely clear.

The other part of the problem is that they just aren’t engaging for me, so I end up falling asleep reading them.  I’m one of those people who has a hard time sitting down to read a book, even for fun, unless it’s intensely compelling.  I will, however, be fine listening to books on tape (or CD or iPhone or whatever they are now).  I thank this means I need to hire a really good voice actor who can read them to me. At the very least, it would be slightly more engaging.  But then I would still have to assign a grade.  :p

On the up side of papers, some of mine are finally getting cited.  The good ones, I mean.  I have watched over the past three years as one of my least favorite papers on which I’m a co-author steadily gained and gained citations.  I couldn’t figure out why except that it’s in a “hot” area.  Now two of my papers are starting to pick up citations (and my h-index is starting to creep up).  One of the papers is a good theory paper which was accepted to a rather selective conference while the other was more experimental in an area I’d like to keep doing research in (at least the theory aspect of it…don’t have the equipment to do experimental work now).  I’m just going to keep my fingers crossed and hope that they pass up the crappy paper in a couple years.  If either one does, it’ll be a reason to make something especially delicious and celebrate.

Rapid reviewing August 12, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, papers, research, work.
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I was on a trip this weekend and forgot that I had agreed to review a conference paper.  Not a problem, though, because once I got the reminder, I figured I’d still have plenty of time.  Except there was a problem: when I got home from my trip, I realized that the review was due at 1 a.m. that morning and not midnight of the next night: it was due 23 hours sooner than I had expected.  I realized this about 2 hours before the review was due.

I am a slow reader, so this immediately put me into panic mode, but rather than wait until morning and send it in late, I decided to see if I could at least get something in before the deadline.

Despite it being a bit stressful, I actually managed to read through the whole thing and get a decent review written up.  In fact, when I looked at it the next morning, I was rather shocked at how long the review was.  I did realize later that there is one minor point I missed, but I think that, overall, I caught some important errors and that my assessment overall wouldn’t have changed.

I have to admit that this was also made easier by the fact that the paper was reasonably well-written.  Reviewing papers and grading have one thing in common: the worse the submission, the longer it takes to review.

Not that I plan to leave all my reviews for the last minute, but it’s a good thing I realized I can do this in less time: two more review requests showed up this morning.

Malevolent butterflies in the stomach June 7, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, papers, research.
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I’m sitting at my computer this morning with somewhat bated breath.  I was supposed to be presenting a paper at a conference about now.  Instead, I am at home, and my major accomplishment was getting out of bed and getting dressed.  Oh yeah…and I ate a bagel and a banana without getting sick.

I was on my way to the conference and decided to leave a day early.  I was going to spend the night in Minneapolis with some friends and then continue on the next morning from there.  I was doing great until about a half hour before I got there, and then I started having stomach issues.  The problem with having celiac disease that was undiagnosed for so long is that I’m *always* having stomach issues, and I more or less ignore them now.  “Oh gee.  I must’ve eaten something that didn’t agree with me,” is one of the most common phrases I’ve used over the past five years.

I met my friends for dinner and then went back to their place.  I found that the stomach pain kept getting worse, though it was coming and going intermittently.  After about two hours, I needed to go to the ER because I was in very serious pain along the bottom of my ribcage.  I spent the next couple hours getting checked for gall stones and pancreatitis and losing my dinner and getting lots of drugs.  The doctor’s conclusion is that I either had a bug…or I did eat something that disagreed with me.  The only problem is that I have no idea what it could have been.

Fortunately, a colleague was also attending the conference, and he agreed to give my presentation for me with the consent of the session chair.  I got to come home (which is a long story in and of itself), and rather than worrying about how I was going to do on the presentation, I get to worry about how my colleague will do.

The whole situation is ironic, however.  I’ve always told people that I get sick to my stomach before I have to give a presentation, but I guess this time it was literal.

When is it plagiarism? June 6, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, papers, research, work.
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When I sit down to write a paper, I usually try to start from scratch.  I type up an outline and try to fill it in, and then I begin work on all the different parts of the paper.  While it has been tempting to reuse sections of previous papers, particularly the introductory material, I try not to do that.  If you work in a specialized field, people are going to notice that they’re reading the same thing over.  My writing may be fine, but after the 3rd or 4th time, it’s going to bore even me.

The issue came to the fore as I’ve been reviewing papers for a conference.  While it’s not one I think I will be able to go to (it’s usually in Asia), I have reviewed for this conference the past couple years and really get some interesting things to examine.  However, this year, all of the papers I reviewed has issues with self-plagiarism: that is, they copied verbatim materials from their own previous papers.  Many of the papers I review are now being checked automatically for similarity to other papers, and while the process is supposed to be double-blind (that is, they don’t know I’m reviewing their paper, and I’m not supposed to know that I reviewed theirs), it makes it very easy to figure out who wrote the paper I’m reviewing: it’s the one with huge tracts of text that are identical but never referenced.

As I mentioned, I try to write papers from scratch, but I started to wonder if this was an ethical issue.  After all, if I wrote a paper, shouldn’t I be allowed to copy it?  It turns out that it’s not a good idea.  In particular, most of the papers I’m dealing with will fall under IEEE copyright rules (that is, the authors transfer over copyright of their written materials should the IEEE publish those materials).  Therefore, if you wrote the paper and it was published by IEEE, it’s simply not a matter of copying your own writing but plagiarism of IEEE materials.  In fact, the IEEE communications society has an explicit policy that says,

IEEE Publications has long maintained the policy that verbatim copying of another’s work (plagiarism) is unacceptable author conduct.

The Communications Society values the intellectual contributions of its authors, and vigorously enforces the IEEE policy on plagiarism.  As IEEE modifies its publication policies, it is important that authors who submit their work to ComSoc journals and magazines are informed of these changes.

In November 2002, the IEEE Board of Directors approved a new policy on Duplicate Publication and Self-Plagiarism.  This policy is found in the IEEE Policies document, Sections 6.4.1B(f) and 6.4.1B(h).  These two sections are given below.

(f) Plagiarism is unacceptable.  The verbatim copying or reuse of one’s own research (as indicated in paragraph “h” below) is considered another form of plagiarism or self-plagiarism; it is unacceptable.

(h) Except as indicated in Section 6.3.4 (Multiple Publication of Original Technical Material in IEEE Periodicals), authors should only submit original work that has neither appeared elsewhere for publication, nor which is under review for another referred publication.  If authors have used their own previously published work(s) as a basis for a new submission, they are required to cite the previous work(s) and very briefly indicate how the new submission offers substantial novel contributions beyond those of the previously published work(s).

I know people who do this regularly.  All you have to do is read enough of their papers, and it becomes obvious that the intro section is commonly recycled by several authors.  I really don’t like the practice because it also drives up index values for papers that are simply examples of related work while not being foundational.  On the other hand, it is a pain to rewrite those sections every time.

I’m very glad the Com Soc is being very explicit about their policy.  However, other places are not as explicit, and this is honestly something that no one has ever mentioned to me.  It’s something I would like to see delineated more clearly by all publications as I think it would draw more attention to using ethical practices in paper writing and submission.

When reviewing, I can’t be certain that the person writing the paper is aware of the policies on self-citation, if there even is one for a given organization or venue, so I generally mention that it’s a good idea to change the text.  I’m always curious what the editors/session chairs do with this feedback, though.  Do they take it seriously?  Finally, it reinforces to me that it’s never a good idea to reuse previous writing unless it’s properly attributed, even if it is my own.

Indices of usefulness May 28, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, papers, research.
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While tootling around on IEEE Explore, I noticed the metrics tab on many of the articles.  I’d never really looked at it before.  (I’d seen it was there, but never paid much heed.)  I clicked on it and thought,

OMG!  Someone looked at my paper!

That was kind of cool.  I wasn’t sure if that meant that someone just looked at the online page that includes the abstract or read the actual paper.  According to IEEE, “Usage includes PDF downloads and HTML Views.”  Awesome.

Except I noticed something rather disturbing.  I have one paper that has been looked at over 200 times, but hasn’t been cited once.  On the other hand, I have another paper that has a fraction of the views but has been cited several times.  To be perfectly honest, I consider the first paper to be far better than the second one.  Then there’s a third one with several more citations than any of my other papers but barely has been looked at.  And I consider this paper rather…Ugh.

This left me pondering: why do some papers get cited while others don’t.  I don’t think quality is the issue because, as I mentioned, the papers that are cited more are ones that I consider to be some of my less favorite papers.  I don’t think innovation is an issue, either (although for some people it is).

I have noticed that papers with co-authors who travel a lot to conferences get more citations than other, better papers (although these papers are usually cited as examples of particular applications and not so much for foundational material).  And conference papers seem to be cited more than journal papers.  Going on that, I’m starting to wonder how much of citation (at least in my field) tends to be more of an issue of looking for certain authors (particularly ones they’ve seen at conferences) versus doing an in-depth lit review.

Given how I don’t like to travel a whole lot, this does not bode well.  It’s also a bit disconcerting to think that the only thing that matters is actual citations when an uncited work could actually be having a bigger impact and wider readership than a cited work.

The powerful prevalence of parachesis January 15, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in computers, engineering, humor, meta, papers, science, work.
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I was going through my to-do list for the week:

1 – Paper review

2 – Paper writing

3 – Patent application

4 – Proposal preparation

5 – Program simulation

How did I never notice before that just about everything I do starts with the letter P?

Oops…I forgot to add “Post to blog!”

And now I will publish…

Rejecta engineerica December 18, 2013

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Obviously my Latin is rusty.  Probably because I never had Latin, except for a few dinosaur names I learned way back when.

As I was cruising the internets today, I came across a journal titled Rejecta Mathematica…which I can’t seem to access, even though it’s supposed to be open access.  It prints only papers rejected by other mathematics journals.

I wondered what such a journal in engineering would be called as I can’t find the Latin word for engineering anywhere.  However, there are a couple of journals I suspect have already taken on the premise.

It made me realize, as I was contemplating this, that I have never had the occasion to publish in one of those journals, and I hope I never have to.  Not that I have a prolific publishing history, but I haven’t been rejected for a publication yet.

Except I’m worried about that happening for the first time.  I’m currently working on a paper that I think has a realistic possibility of being rejected.  It’s not that it’s not a solid paper, but that the venue is rather selective.

I guess I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it doesn’t happen.  I really don’t want to have to put this particular paper into the Rejecta Engineerica, even if that’s not its official title.


I think you have the wrong engineer December 12, 2013

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Every few weeks, I get a request to review papers for a conference.  (For those who are sciencey types, a lot of engineering conferences require full, peer-reviewed papers rather than abstracts.)  At first, this was rather cool and accepted the first half dozen that came to me.  Then I started realizing that it was a bad idea, but not simply because, as you expect, it required a decent amount of time.

I started realizing I had no business reviewing some of those papers.  The reviews often request that you assess your own knowledge and expertise in the area.  Unfortunately, many of them didn’t have an option that was similar to, “Ignorant dolt.”  The best I could do was say I had a passing knowledge and try to make constructive comments on the lack of legible text in the legend and poor grammar here and there.  Oh…and finding out that half of their text was copied and pasted from another document.

I have to wonder why they aren’t more careful about screening potential reviewers given most of my requests come from a service which describes my qualifications.  After all, there are several subdisciplines within electrical engineering, and I don’t imagine too many people are knowledgeable about the state of the art for all of them.  Beyond that, my undergrad is in physics, so my knowledge of EE is probably even more limited than your standard engineer.

I guess I’m probably a decent reviewer as long as as you’re only looking for someone who can point out when something is undecipherable.  Maybe I should add that to my skills: unenlightening critiques.

The Dynamic Duo December 6, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, family, papers, research.
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When I was doing my MS, I ended up getting a research assistantship working in the same place as Mike (which is, of course, where I now am working).  There was one person higher up in the ranks who would occasionally see us having lunch together and would exclaim, “There’s the Dynamic Duo!”  This person was rather tickled that Mike and were interested in the same field of engineering.

At the time, it kind of peeved me.  I was already getting a bit of a feeling that people viewed me as his shadow, and this comment didn’t help to alleviate that concern.  Now I think about it, however, and it actually was much better than I thought because there was no implication that either one of us was better than the other: we were peers.

We both take this view when we’re doing research, and we really enjoy collaborating on things.  We’ve found that our strengths are complimentary, so it’s very easy to talk to each other about a topic and get good feedback.  We also have several projects that we’re doing separately, but we almost always (especially on our drives home) talk about what we’re doing and asking for feedback.  (Well, admittedly, it’s volunteered whether we want it or not.)

Those conversations have, more often than not, been incredibly helpful in moving projects forward.  However, this leaves us in a bit of a bind because, as I said, some of these projects really aren’t involving the other person.  When this happens, especially if the project results in publication, we always have to make a decision: do we add the other person as co-author or mention them in the acknowledgements.  When it’s been nothing more than conversational input, particularly when we proofread each other’s papers, we choose the latter.  This does lead to some interesting possibilities for entertaining acknowledgements.

I would like to thank my spouse for suggesting such a nifty title.


I would like to thank my spouse for catching that diagram that was completely bass ackwards when proofreading the paper for me.

and maybe even

I would like to thank my spouse for the helpful input in developing the concept of this project, despite the fact that they laughed at my hokey acronym.

I know.  It’s totally unprofessional.  But it’s a lot of fun to imagine doing such a thing.

self scrutiny March 25, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, papers, research.
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After spending a considerable amount of time griping about other people’s papers, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t complain about my own once in a while, as well.  I’m currently revising a paper that I and a coauthor submitted to a conference.  It was accepted, but there were changes requested.  I started to work through some of them, but then realized that some of the comments didn’t make sense.

I sat down with a couple people, including the coauthor, and we started trying to figure out what was going on.  After reading through each comment with a fine-tooth comb, we came to the realization that the problem was that we took for granted the method we were using and gave a very succinct explanation.  It obviously wasn’t enough: we gathered from the comments that they resulted in a complete misunderstanding of what we were showing.

In other words, I screwed up because I didn’t explain clearly enough what we were doing.  This lead to some huge misunderstandings by the reviewers, and some of the more…ummm…cynical?  Yes, cynical is a good euphemism.  Anyway, this explains some of the more cynical comments we got from reviewers.

The good news is that, with more explanation, I think we’ll have a much better paper when we’re done.  However, this has made me realize that I really can’t take for granted what my reviewers may or may not know.  It’s best to be as explicit and detailed as possible.

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