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It’s a mistery October 30, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering.
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I get asked to do a decent number of conference paper reviews, and surprisingly, some of those conferences have asked me to review in subsequent years.  One such conference didn’t just ask me to review again, but bestowed the honor of making me part of their advisory board.  I accepted, and they sent me a nice letter as an official statement.  Except they sent it to the wrong person.  They addressed it to Mr. Cherish.

So…what to do?

I at first considered responding and pointing out their error.  (Hey, they had a 90% chance of getting it correct, right?)  However, I’ve decided instead that I will keep it as is and frame it.  I think it’s funnier that way.

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.

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.

Ambassador for the engineers May 22, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, feminism, humor, work.
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After writing about my experience manning a booth at a conference (geez…even how you work a booth at a conference can be phrased in male-centric terms), it has slowly dawned on me that there is another way to view the experience.  I was rather frustrated that people seemed surprised when they found out I was an engineer.  I have realized, however, that I need to look at it in a different light: such a reaction, when not accompanied by an obvious derogatory or sexist statement (as has happened), could potentially be viewed as a compliment.  Maybe in expressing surprise that I’m an engineer, what they were really saying was: “Oh my!  You can talk to me without using technobabble or looking at someone’s shoes!  Nor do you have male-pattern baldness!”  It’s a good thing to go out and destroy those stereotypes, right?

Booth Babe May 3, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, feminism, work.
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Last week, before leaving for a conference, I posted the following on Twitter:

Now that I’m back, I realize that comment should’ve been taken as a bad omen.  I actually didn’t expect there to be booth babes (and if you’re not sure what I’m referring to, please read this), but I was very wrong about that.  There were, in fact, booth babes at the show.

I went to this conference because I was invited to give a talk about my research.  However, my employer said they would provide my room and board for the trip if I helped work a booth at the trade show promoting our services and capabilities.  We frequently work with private industry, and it was assumed that having a handful of intelligent people showing what we could do is good for the bottom line.  I’m in favor of having an income and love talking about my work, so this seemed like a reasonable deal for me, as well.

But back to the booth babes, I’m sad to report that this was not the most disturbing part of working our booth.  The most disturbing part was interacting with some of the people who came to visit us, many of whom apparently have interacted with them.  I was chatting with a fellow, and toward the end of the conversation, I gave him my card.  He read it and said, “Oh!  You’re an engineer?”  I responded I was, and he then asked, “And you actually work at the center?”

Then there was one person who was talking to a colleague about one of my demo projects at the booth.  When the guy asked this colleague for a card, he said he didn’t have any but said it was my project.  The visitor looked at me for a moment, open mouthed, and said, “This is YOUR project?”  I nodded and introduced myself, and gave him my business card.  He looked back and forth between myself and my colleague a few times, looking like he wanted to give me back my card.  Then he said thank you and walked away.  He apparently didn’t want to have a conversation with me.

Admittedly, these were some of the worst cases, but it was obvious that about half of the people who came to talk to us had no desire to talk to me, asking to talk to someone who was “in charge.”  Others, when I approached them while they were reading our posters, would say they were waiting to talk to an engineer or faculty.

One colleague, when I complained about the situation, said I need to just “prove them wrong.”  I agree that this is the right spirit to have, but it is overwhelmingly frustrating when you’re sitting there, and someone obviously comes to the conclusion that you’re an idiot by virtue of your sex while the people around you are obviously competent for the same reason.  It’s a horrible experience, and I seriously doubt most men really understand how hard it is to be motivated to ‘prove them wrong’ when you have to do it with every single person you meet.  Men, in similar circumstances, are accorded this respect simply by breathing.  It certainly doesn’t require the equivalent effort a female would have to put forth.

I will say that it is somewhat understandable that people would make the assumption that I’m a salesperson given that most of the women on the trade show floor were, in fact salespeople…or booth babes.  In many cases, it ended up that once people got over the surprise that they were talking to a living, breathing, female engineer, we were able to move on and have some extremely interesting conversations.  Unfortunately, the shocked look every time I was introduced as a researcher got old very quickly.

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.

Florida or bust February 18, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, research.
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After my lamentation that I had nothing to write about, I realized I was actually wrong.  This week, I have to write up an abstract for a talk I was invited to give at one of the primary conferences in my field.  Amazingly, I’ve never been to the conference.  This is because the conference is always held in Orlando, and on top of the fact that I don’t tend to go to a lot of conferences, this one is particularly expensive.  I consider it every year and decide against it despite the fact that I’ve never been to that part of the country before.

However, I was invited this time.  Or I should say, both Mike and I were invited.  The project was mine, however, so I get to be the unlucky one to give the talk.  I’m not one that relishes giving talks.  Teaching is fine, but it’s a whole different ball of wax to give talks in front of peers.  I know I can’t be the only one that feels this way.

The up side is that the Minion will hopefully be there, and there are apparently plans afoot to hit Harry Potter World.  I may get to accompany him so that he doesn’t look like a creeper around all the kids.  Is it horrible to admit that might be more fun than a conference?

When I was at the conference… March 13, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in electromagnetics, engineering, physics, research.
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When I was at the conference last week, I had one fellow come up and look at my poster.  He is working on a similar problem but in a different application, and he made some comment about how he definitely thought what I was doing had merit.  (After seeing his talk, it made sense because he was trying something similar.)

However, we spent about 20 minutes arguing as to what we thought was going on in one of my plots.  He kept suggesting something that I had ruled out with experiment.

Tonight I’m looking at papers on some theory related to this project, and I think I have managed to find the answer to that mysterious plot.  Sadly, I was way off in my explanation, but I have to admit that apparently I wasn’t the only one.  The fellow I was arguing with had it wrong as well.

The real answer appears to be way cooler than either of us thought.  I love physics.

When I finally get organized… March 5, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, research, writing.
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I spent the day at the conference with a nasty headache.  I couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel so that I could take some (OTC) drugs, get a hot shower, and pass out.

Unfortunately, it was not meant to be.

I got back to find out that the toilet, which I had told them about this morning before I left, was still inoperable.  Also, the dishwasher apparently had a leak.  Their maintenance people were gone for the day, however, so my only choice was to move rooms.

Efficiency always bites me in the butt.  The one time I actually decided to unpack all my clothes and belongings in the drawers and closet, I end up having to pack everything up and haul it into another room.  Also, I have a kitchenette so I can do my own cooking, and this meant I also had to haul a couple bags of groceries and a couple bowls of refrigerated food up and down the hallway.  So that sucked up another hour of my already short evening.

The conference itself was very enjoyable.  I’ve been to conferences where people jump on you for the slightest error.  I was very impressed at how positive the dialogue was.  I also like the fact that it’s a smaller group of people.  There were about 100 people or so, and about six women.  I was thinking that was pretty awful until I remembered my signals class – 3 women out of 60, so I guess it’s about on par or even better than some of my engineering classes.

The down side is that everyone assumed that I was a grad student.  And no, I wasn’t dressed like a typical grad student.  When I corrected them and said I am a research engineer, half of them said I looked young enough to be a grad student and the other half wanted to know what a research engineer is.  (Best answer I could come up with is that it’s like a post-doc…but with a choice between benefits or flexibility.  I chose flexibility – working half-time so that I can work on a dissertation and haul my kids around after school is a pretty sweet deal in my book.)

I also had a lot of people, particularly industry folks, come and talk to me about my poster.  However, I was chagrined to discover that I put a lot more text on my poster than pretty much everyone else.  Most of the posters had a paragraph or two and were otherwise covered in pictures, plots, and equations.  I was surprised at this because my experience at other conferences is that mine was on par or even low on text.  Mike said that it was less wordy than a lot of them he’s seen.  I can’t figure if this is a shift that’s happened since I last went to a conference (it’s been about 4 years) or if it’s unique to this conference.  Admittedly, most other conferences only require you to spend a half hour or so at your poster, so they are unattended most of the time and that extra explanation is helpful.  This poster session was about 2 1/2 hours long and it was strongly recommended to be there the entire time as there are no talks going on during that time.  Anyone have any thoughts on this one?

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