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An observation March 1, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in societal commentary.
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Abstracting about human nature tonight, and I thought this rather interesting.

My observation is that people who are successful often attribute that success almost entirely to their own efforts without acknowledging the role that luck and the assistance of others have played in their success or others’ success or lack thereof.  I tend to find people who do acknowledge the effects of chance or a champion as being pleasantly humble.

Those who are not successful often attribute this primarily to luck (or lack thereof) as well as the effects that others have on them while downplaying their own role in such issues.

It seems to me that the perception of your own role has a lot to do with one’s longterm success (by their own definition, not mine), and I don’t know why so few people seem to take into account all of the aspects that determine their fate.


Motivation January 26, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineerblogs.org.
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This week’s theme at Engineer Blogs is motivation.  I have my post up where I discuss how I love to figure things out.  Please go take a look!

Engineers who don’t like to program November 15, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in computers, education, engineering, teaching.
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I admit that I’ve set myself up for some major disappointment.

My method of grading has been to basically grade assignments in a binary fashion.  Either it’s good enough or it needs to be redone.

The other thing is that I’m determining grades by number of assignments that are complete.  There are some required assignments which everyone must do to pass the class.  Then there are 9 optional assignments.  To get an A, you must complete 7 of those.  A B requires six, and a C requires five.  I didn’t mention the alternatives.

The last two assignments are Matlab assignments.  The one before that is writing up a technical presentation.

For me, I’d much rather do coding than write up a presentation.  (Yuck!)

Most of my students don’t agree.  In fact, based on my first two classes, it looks like less than 10% will be doing either of the matlab assignments.  I’m guessing this will be worse in my Thursday classes because of my cancellation of class last week.

I have to admit that I’m rather shocked…and disappointed.  It doesn’t matter what you’re doing in EE: you’re likely going to need to have a good handle on programming.

On the good side, I’ve introduced them to the material.  On the bad side, the horse is standing by the water and not drinking.

I’m trying to decide, assuming I teach this class again in the future, whether it’s worth it to develop a somewhat scaled down assignment.  Is it better to get them doing a small amount of coding, or is it better to have a bit more breadth in their initial exposure?

Maybe I’ll do an eval at the end of the semester so I can find out.  In the meantime, I’m still bummed out that most of them aren’t going that route.

Words of warning August 2, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, societal commentary.
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Over the years, I’ve heard two phrases that really scare me.

The first is, “I want to start my own business.”  What this usually translates to is, “I don’t want anyone telling me what to do.”  I’ve heard this phrase from people I considered really smart and people I thought were dumb as rocks (and that’s probably an insult to some of the brighter rocks out there).  Usually, it means they think they feel they’re capable of producing better decisions than people they’re working for and/or with.  When you ask what they want to do, they usually have only vague notions.  It’s not that they have a great idea that they feel the world needs, it’s more that they want to get out of a situation where they feel their talents are being ignored and squelched.

What bothers me about this phrase is that, if they paid close attention, the issues they’re having in the work place would probably be magnified if they were in charge of their own business.  Of course, knowing that, I can only hope they realize what they need to do if they ever do start their own business.  (And I say this as someone who *has* run her own business.)  But the real kicker is that starting ones own business has everything to do with being the boss without regard for whether or not you’re actually doing something useful.

The other phrase is one I hear from engineers and engineering students: “I want(ed) to become an engineer so I could make things.”

This one is pretty straightforward – except for the thing which is not stated but implied.  “I want to make things, but I don’t necessarily care how they work.”  Or sometimes, “I’m certainly not going to put in the effort to find out how they work.”  But the absolute worst is, “And I won’t bother talking to people who know how they work because they’re just a bunch of eggheads who live in a virtual reality.”

So in other words, they don’t care about theory or the foundations of engineering.  They don’t necessarily want to try anything new because that just might involve learning something.  It’s almost as if they became an engineer to make something, but they want to be told what to make, sometimes even how to make it.  And, of course, how it’s supposed to work is absolutely irrelevant.

I’m never sure how to deal with these attitudes, but I can tell you that it’s extremely frustrating.  I’ve dealt with it in people I’ve taught as well as people I’ve worked with.  I do realize that people do things for something other than intrinsic motivation (maybe they’re more interested in the paycheck), but I can’t help wonder if people who take these approaches to their careers have missed the point.

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