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Where credit is NOT due… March 23, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, papers, research.
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My husband wrote a paper based on some of his dissertation work, and it now finds its home at IEEE Xplore.  I was listed as a co-author along with our advisor.  However, when it was entered into the database, apparently someone glitched up the authors: it had me listed twice (once with full name and once with first initial and last name) and he wasn’t listed at all.

He found this a few days ago, and now we’re waiting for them to correct the listing.

It certainly doesn’t look good, and I hope it gets fixed before someone thinks I’m trying to take credit for his work!


Review me, critique me, pan me, print me March 14, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, papers, research.
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One of the first things I remember asking my MS advisor was how much detail should I include in a paper for publication.  He said to make sure there was enough for someone else to replicate the work.  When reviewing papers myself, I also look at this as one of the major criteria for publication.

I have tried very hard to stick with this rule of thumb, though there are things I overlook.  Given most of my work is simulation, I sometimes forget that there are certain things which I tend to always do in my work, and not everyone does.  Or maybe there’s a setting I never use and so the default stays in place.  However, someone else may have a different default for that particular setting.  And on and on.  Regardless, I do my best.

The past couple weeks, I’ve been working on a new set of simulations.  I’m basically taking widgets that other people have designed and seeing if I can use them for a particular, and somewhat unusual, application.  I think it’s a rather interesting approach to the problem, but I keep getting mucked up.  The reason is that several of the widgets I wanted to use are not described adequately in the papers.  I’m not talking about some esoteric setting: some of these papers show widgets that don’t give physical dimensions of any of the parts!  I have come across three different papers, all suffering the same problem.

I have decided that these papers are going in the round file.  I was, at first, inclined to write to some of the authors of these papers and see if I could get some clarification.  However, after encountering the third one, I decided it wasn’t worth the effort and decided to use papers from people who are more careful.  I’m lucky in that there are several approaches to making these widgets, so I can be picky.  That isn’t always the case, however.

I’m sitting here wondering first why the authors didn’t think to include this information and, second, what were the reviewers doing?!  It’s not like these are complicated widgets with a million parts.  Is it just my field of research?  Am I the only one who replicates other people’s work?  As much as I think peer review is awesome, I kind of feel like some people have fallen down on the job.  It makes me appreciate those third reviewers that much more.

The socialization question, homeschooled and gifted children March 9, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, papers, research, teaching.
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A very long time ago, I was asked to teach a workshop for the Homeschool Association of California annual conference.  It had to do with computers, though I don’t remember what.  What I do remember, however, was expecting that I’d be dealing with a bunch of antisocial technophobes.

I couldn’t have been more off the mark than I was.  I only had a handful of kids, but they were definitely not technophobes.  Admittedly this is probably a self-selecting group because, after all, no one was forcing them to go to the workshop.  But what surprised me even more was that they were very sociable.  Unlike other high school kids I’d worked with, they didn’t seem intimidated by me or afraid to ask questions.  I remember coming out of that workshop and feeling like I’d been slapped upside the head.

The thing I realized from that is my assumption that children schooled at home were anti-social was due strictly to my lack of imagination.  I had assumed that if you didn’t spend all day in a room with other kids that you wouldn’t learn to interact at all.  It’s not that I’d ever met many homeschoolers.  In fact, it was probably my lack of exposure to the culture that made me construct my own version of how they must behave.

Interestingly enough, I find that it’s the one thing that most non-homeschoolers key on: in order to be ‘properly’ socialized, you have to go to school.  After spending time around homeschoolers, and recounting my own school experience, I have always been extremely skeptical of that argument.  It didn’t help when my older son spent a year going to middle school full time only to come out of it incredibly angry because of the horrid bullying, by students and teachers alike, that he’d encountered.

It’s interesting to me that this question also brought up in response to doing anything different for gifted children in normal schools.  That is, there is the argument that grouping children by ability or accelerating their academic curriculum means that kids won’t learn to appreciate diversity and get along with other people.  Most people assume that putting gifted kids in different groups or classrooms is bad for everyone.

I hate assumptions, though.  I have, over time, come across studies here and there saying that, in general, these assumptions were wrong.  I can only think of one study that said ability grouping had negative consequences, and one study on homeschooling that showed a neutral outcome on homeschooling.  The topic came up in a discussion with someone, and I thought it was high time for me to make sure I wasn’t blowing smoke.

Unfortunately, the research on both groups is relatively sparse.  I suppose it’s not a compelling interest for the majority of the population, so not a lot of resources are put toward it.  I am kind of a fan of summary papers, mostly because they save a lot of time by summarizing the results from several different studies while noting the drawbacks of each.  In that vein, I managed to come across one for each group, although both are rather ‘old’ by my standards.  The paper on gifted socialization was from 1993, while the one on homeschooling was from 2000.  (Social science progresses far too slowly for my tastes.)

For the gifted group, Karen Rogers wrote a synopsis of a paper which talks about several different forms of grouping and acceleration.  The paper looks at 13 different studies on gifted accelerations methods.  She found that academically, almost all methods had positive effects.  If you look the psychological and social effects, the were probably neutral.  Some forms of acceleration resulted in positive outcomes, some in negative.  Her conclusion was:

What seems evident about the spotty research on socialization and psychological effects when grouping by ability is that no pattern of improvement or decline can be established. It is likely that there are many personal, environmental, family, and other extraneous variables that affect self-esteem and socialization more directly than the practice of grouping itself.

The studies that discussed homeschooling were covered in a paper by Medlin.  Surprisingly, there were a lot more studies covered in this paper than on gifted education.  Medlin broke down the studies into three groups, each addressing a different question.  First, do homeschool children participate in the daily activities in the communities?  The results indicated that they encountered just as many people as public schooled children, often of a more diverse background, and were more active in extra-curriculars than their public school counterparts.  The second question was whether homeschooled children acquired the rules of behavior and systems of beliefs and attitudes they needed.  (I keep feeling like there’s a comma missing in that…)  While detractors may be pretty upset at this, the conclusion was that, in most cases, homeschool children actually fared better in these studies.  Admittedly, though, the studies were hardly taking large numbers of students into consideration.  There was speculation on this set of results:

Smedley speculated that the family “more accurately mirrors the outside society” than does the traditional school environment, with its “unnatural” age segregation.

This particular view stands out because it’s a view I see reflected a lot in analysis of gifted education, too: age grouping is unnatural and ability grouping is more likely to occur in real life.

Finally, Medlin asks whether homeschooled students end up doing okay as adults.  There are very few studies in this section, but the conclusion from those studies was that they not only do fine, but tend to take on a lot of leadership roles.  (I do know there was a study commissioned by the HSLDA a few years ago that came to similar conclusions, but I find a bit of conflict of interest in that one given who paid for it.)

If there’s anything people should be taking out of these studies, it’s that our adherence to age-based grouping of random kids really doesn’t provide the beneficial socialization we think it does and may, in fact, have some pretty negative impacts.  In fact, I recently came across and article called, “Why you truly never leave high school,” that talks about those negative effects and how they may actually be carried with us into our adult lives.   (Yes, I do realize some of the conclusions make the title a stretch, but it’s food for thought.) Given the presence of issues like bullying that have gotten more air play over the past few years, I’m very surprised people haven’t realized that it could, in fact, be detrimental.

Projects as papers August 22, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, papers, research, teaching.
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While I was working on my MS, I read the book Getting What You Came For. (I highly recommend this book to anyone going to grad school, BTW.) I remember one section where the author suggested trying to take a class project or paper and making it into a publishable paper for a journal. At the time, it was a suggestion that totally made sense as I was in the process of deciding whether I should do that for one particular class project.

Now, however, I’m not so sure it’s always doable. I have a few reasons for this. First, I compare the quality of the projects I did when I was starting my MS versus finishing. (For reference, I was only going part time as I was also homeschooling one child and had a baby along the way. My MS, therefore, took me five years.) When I first started my MS, a lot of my projects involved finding a paper from a journal and attempting to replicate the results. In one class, for example, I built an antenna and tested it. At that point, it was rather overwhelming to learn how to use this new equipment alongside the process of learning about the specific topics we were studying. I honestly think there was no way I was ready to produce something that would eventually be publishable.

Toward the end of my degree, I started doing ‘seed projects’. These were things that probably couldn’t be published based on what I had accomplished in the class but, with work, would definitely result in something noteworthy. I attribute this to progression in my understanding of the topics I was working with, more proficiency in the lab, etc. A lot of that competence came from doing previous projects, so I was building on a lot of the stuff I’d done before.

I find it interesting, therefore, when I recently heard about professors who use class projects as a way to generate papers. That is, the outcome of a student project is to be a publishable paper, and the student needs to do this in order to receive a passing grade. Looking back at my own experience, I think getting research of that caliber out of a class project would have been dubious, at best.

First, lack of proficiency is not easily recognized by new learners, and quality research is going to be difficult for someone who’s never done research before. The whole point of doing a master’s degree is to learn how to do that, and usually get at least one publication in the process.  Second, doing research quality work is probably going to take longer than a semester. Third, and slightly related, most students should be spending their time working on their own research, which they need to graduate. (I am making the assumption that the work necessary to generate something that is publishable is going to be considerably more than that of a standard class project.) Finally, I’m not sure it’s beneficial to all students. In some fields, a lot of students go into industry upon graduation, and forcing them to publish research beyond their graduation requirements really isn’t going to be helpful for them.

I do see one circumstance where it might be appropriate to generate a paper from a class project. I can see this as viable if the whole class is involved in writing it such that each student or group of students contributes a small chunk. This would ideally be easier to handle for all of the students. In fact, I see that as a wonderful way to get students introduced to research without the pressure to do a whole project themselves.

What do you think? Do the benefits of writing papers outweigh the down side? Are there aspects I haven’t considered?

The art of citations August 15, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, papers, research, science.
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I had an art class in Governor’s school that really reminds me of how I feel when people look at my research.  Governor’s school, in North Dakota, is a six week program where you get to be immersed in a particular area of interest.  Usually this involves some in depth, hands-on experience.  I ended up spending six weeks doing research in a biology lab.  I came out of the experience knowing I loved research but hated biology, and that ultimately got me interested in a career in science.

Aside from all that, we had enrichment activities in the evenings.  My enrichment class was drawing.  I can’t remember the specific name of the project, but basically we were supposed to draw part of another image.  I chose to draw the Madonna’s face from Rafael’s Madonna de Foligno.  I was at a place where I didn’t have access to any good art supplies, so I just did the drawing on lined paper.  After I’d finished it up, I was terribly disappointed I’d not had any real drawing paper as it was one of the nicest drawings I’ve ever made.  I felt like the lines on the notebook paper really disrupted a beautiful image.

My art teacher was a college student, and even though the term hipster hadn’t yet been coined, that’s what immediately pops to mind when I think about him.  Rather than being impressed with my uber-awesome drawing skills, he thought the neatest thing about the drawing was that it was on lined paper.  I guess he thought it made it look modern or something like that.  I was livid.  I’d worked so hard to get the image right, and he only cared about how the paper made it look cool (which it didn’t).

This is how I feel when I get citations.

I really like Google Scholar’s profile option.  That being said, I’m almost always let down when I get one.  I don’t mean to be picky, but I’ve noticed that certain papers get a lot more citations than others.  The problem I have with this is that these aren’t my favorite papers: I think I have other papers that are better quality research.

What seems to happen is that one paper will be cited by someone, and once it’s cited, others will start using it as a reference.  Some of this obviously has to do with areas where research is more active, which is understandable.  I’m sure some of the papers are cited more simply because there’s more related literature coming out.  I have to admit, though, that it’s frustrating when a paper you aren’t all that fond of has far more references than the one you really poured yourself into.

It’s kind of like someone admiring your drawing because it’s on lined paper.

Pick something and go July 20, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, papers, research, work.
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I wrote up a list of things I need to be dealing with at work.  While it was helpful for me to have a list to reference, it was also rather disheartening.  I came up with over 10 things, and all but three were fairly sizable goals, like writing a paper.

I was rather overwhelmed, but happened to think about GMPs recent post on writing in a crunch.  Her method was to break things down into bite-size chunks until the project was done.  But what do you do when you have half a dozen big projects at the same time?  I guess I tried to take a similar approach.

The thing is, I’m not in a huge time crunch to get most of this stuff done, but if I try to tackle several of these things at once, I’m fairly certain that none of them will get done, ever.  So I picked off the easy things that I can work on here and there or that have definite deadlines (those first three).  Of the 7 remaining items, I prioritized the ones that would be easiest to finish as well as providing the least amount of conflict in terms of computational resources with my current projects.  I decided to just focus on the first one until I get to a point where I can’t work any more.  Once I reach that point, I’ll shift to the second on the list until I can get back to the first or it gets finished.

I KNOW I can’t multitask well (or even passably, for that matter).  The problem is that there are still these six other things that are sitting there, and it makes me uneasy to not even touch them.  There’s this little voice that says, “If you don’t work on it now, you might NEVER get to it.”  It’s really an irritating voice because it fails to recognize that I can only work on one thing at a time, and I’ll be more productive if I can maintain some decent focus.  It also fails to recognize that there is a significant reduction in stress every time I can cross one of those things off my list entirely.  And even if I start working on three or four of them, there are some that will have to get left behind as well.  There is just no way to work on all of them simultaneously.

I wish I knew where that little voice came from and why it doesn’t listen to reason.  Somehow I keep feeling like I could convince it that this is the sane approach.  Instead, the best I can do for now is to ignore it.

How do you deal with things when they seem overwhelming?

What have I done?! June 21, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, papers, research.
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(As I sat down to write this post, I realized I have a dilemma tangential to the point of the post.  The Minion is officially no longer a minion, given he’s finished his undergraduate education.  Formally, he’s been upgraded to a henchman.  However, if I start calling him the Henchman, I realize no one will know who I am talking about.  Therefore, I shall continue to call him the Minion, but please try to remember that his rank is officially that of a Henchman.)

A couple days ago, the Minion asked me for help on something.  He’s doing some work on a topic with which I have very limited knowledge.  (I consider this sad because it’s something I have interest in but little time to explore.)  However, what he needed help on was a mathematical aspect.  After finally getting a handle on what he was doing, we sat down and came up with a way to solve his problem.  Mike came in and overheard us talking and suggested there may be a paper in what we’re doing.  The Minion thought it would be interesting but wanted to talk with someone who has more knowledge of the field (as I obviously don’t), and he was going to check with someone he knows.

I sat down and spent an hour writing out the formal mathematics for the problem so that it would be easier to present this to someone.  It looks very pretty (especially since I did it in LaTeX).  However, I couldn’t help thinking, as I proofed it, that I managed to take what, to me, seemed like a straight-forward approach to solving the problem and obscure it with symbology.

I think I could potentially have a career writing textbooks.

Musings on research June 13, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, grad school, papers, research, science.
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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.

Incomplete instructions May 10, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in papers, research, Uncategorized.
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I know I’ve been talking a lot about reviewing papers, but I figured one more post on the topic couldn’t hurt.

I was very lucky that my MS advisor started us reviewing papers as soon as we took a class from him.  In all of his grad level classes, we were usually required to select 2-3 potential published papers for review and then to write up a critical analysis about 4-6 pages in length on one of them.  It was a good experience, but I don’t think I would’ve made a very good reviewer my first year or two into grad school.

My real critiquing skills came when I started getting into some of my MS projects and I had to reproduce some of the work already done in papers.  The first three I came across, it became very clear that the reviewers hadn’t done the best job: all three were missing critical details that required me to write the authors and ask how they had done certain things.  In other words, there wasn’t enough information to replicate the work.  That, therefore, became one of the first things that I look at with a paper.  It would be nice if, when reviewing, one actually had time to sit down and try to replicate the experiment.  Unfortunately, that’s not realistic…although I’ve also had papers with blatant errors that I’ve been trying to reproduce.  I hope it’s just an oops that is the result of last minute writing, but I am beginning to think there are a lot of careless authors out there.

I’m not sure why this is the case, other than the fact that maybe people get too far into their experiment and fail to realize that there are many things they do automatically that one cannot take for granted.  Even though most of the work I do is in simulations, there are a lot of things that appear superficially minor but can really change your results.

While there are other things one should look at it, I think the quality of most papers I’ve read follows along with the detail presented in laying out the process.  If the process is not clearly spelled out, then chances are the other aspects of the paper are going to need some work, too.

So, for those who review papers, do you have things that you really look for in a paper and, if so, why?

Review season May 7, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, papers, research, younger son.
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Both Mike and I have been getting requests to review papers, and this has led to a lot of foul language around the house…along with frequent reminders from the younger son that our language is inappropriate.

It’s really hard to restrain yourself, however.  As we’re sitting at the dining room table, occasionally one of us will turn our laptop toward the other and ask something like, “What does this look like to you?” or, “What do you think this means?” or, “What the hell were they thinking?”

I have to admit that I appreciate having a second pair of eyes to catch the things that I miss.  I’m sure the authors of the papers we’re reviewing probably will not appreciate it.  Not only do they have the third reviewer going over their papers, they have two of them.  I hope this will result in double the hair pulling and teeth gnashing on their end…because it sure has for us.

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