Category Archives: Academia

…and it’s kicking my ass, as you can probably tell from my lack of posting. Last October, I posted on how I was diving right into the deep end (see: What’s the difference between 18 and 27?) because my feeling was that academia is sink or swim and those that can cope will, and those that can’t cope won’t. I was most decidedly in the camp that thought they could cope and things would be easier once I got a grant or two under my belt. This led to a, shall we say, promiscuous year applying for any and all proposal solicitations that were remotely in my area (~10 NSF-length proposals, and ~10 smaller opportunities). I wanted to make sure I got some funding in the first year to get off to a good start. It turns out that when you get more than 1 or 2 grants under your belt,…

Read more

I’ve been pretty down on higher education lately. Rising costs that don’t seem to equate to raising educational levels, a large amount of mismanagement of funds and schools’ increasingly brazen one-ups-man-ship in terms of building larger buildings and offering unnecessary perks to students. I don’t like it. But I’m a bit hypocritical. I’m a graduate of an engineering program that taught me quite a bit, in buildings that were just a touch larger than they needed to be. Further, I encouraged my wife when she expressed a desire to go back to school this semester to try out a completely different field. So why was I ok with that? Access. In my case, access to facilities. Access to faculty capable of teaching me difficult concepts. And most importantly, access to co-ops and potential employers. Similar reasons abound in my wife’s case, though she’ll be taking many of her classes online,…

Read more

Last week, I complained on my own blog about how I wasn’t looking forward to school starting.  In the meantime, it has started, and I’ve made it through the first week of classes.  Now that I’m starting to get back in the groove, I’m looking at things a different way. First, as much as I love summer, I like the fact that my life is now moving back into a predictable, albeit busy, routine.  I have certain days I’ll be teaching, certain days where I take my dogs to class, certain days I’ll be running my kids to events, and certain meetings that I simply cannot avoid.  Taken as a whole, I really like having a schedule and knowing where and when I need to be a certain place.  Summer, with it’s lack of structure, sometimes leaves me feeling a bit lost. Second, I’m happy to be teaching again.  I…

Read more

  The new school year is rapidly approaching, or has perhaps already arrived for some. As one of the resident graduate students here at EngineerBlogs, I thought I’d offer some advice to anyone embarking on the quest that is the US doctoral degree. On my own blog, I’ve offered advice about questions to ask on visits. So now that you’ve matriculated, what’s next? Accept that everyone is going to have advice, and much of it may be completely irrelevant to your department and situation. Learning to parse large amounts of information to find something relevant is a critical skill in graduate school, so consider this practice. Make sure you have all of the requirements for candidacy/graduation written down in one place. What courses do you need to take? How are your qualifying exams structured? When are you expected to achieve candidacy? In the beginning, you’re still going to have courses, but you’ll want to…

Read more

One of the things that I was totally oblivious to (and unprepared for) prior to starting this tenure track position was how critical timing is when dealing with proposals. I’m fortunate enough that I do have some money coming in from proposals, so that’s a good start. However, now that I have money coming in, I need students to work on projects. Unfortunately, my funded projects are on topics that where none of my current students are working. And the topics for my current students are sufficiently different that it would be unwise to switch them to a different project. Thus, I’m in a time crunch where money has been funded but there are no students around to support. This is one of several issues with timing that I’ve seen. I’m going to point a few issues below but feel free to comment below and add some more. Are there…

Read more

I’m not sure how many academics read EngineerBlogs, but I’m curious how many have run into the problem of false results.  I personally spent a lot of time trying during my MS trying to reproduce data from various papers only to find there were problems with the results or the set up.  I can remember one paper, in particular, that showed an antenna design published by a fairly prestigious group.  I used exactly the same software and tried to replicate their design only to find that the results were considerably different than what was shown in the paper.  I finally broke down and emailed one of the authors.  Their response was that the dimensions given on the design were not correct.  The problems are multiplied, of course, if you’re dealing with different software as you may not be able to even get your simulation results to match up.  How do…

Read more

Next week, I’ll be finalizing the syllabus for my fall classes.  I am again teaching the university studies classes for the electrical engineers.  My goal in teaching last year was to help my students develop good study skills and awareness about their learning preferences.  I also attempted to teach them some STEM specific skills, like keeping a lab notebook and learning some basic programming, along with helping them try to understand what they were getting themselves into by pursuing a major in engineering. However, in the past two weeks, I’ve been inundated with requests from various people around campus.  “Can I give a presentation on X?” where X may or may not be of interest to campus students, especially engineers.  I have to admit that this is getting rather annoying as I have a mostly full curriculum.  There are times here and there where maybe I have 15 minutes where…

Read more

As a new faculty member on the tenure track, I don’t have the luxury of saying no very often. It’s not that I can’t say no at all, but rather, I’m worried that if I don’t say yes, it will be misconstrued that I don’t play well with others. That could potentially damage my case for tenure when that comes up or make it more difficult to work with certain folks because I will seen as being in the camp of one faculty faction instead of another. A lot of the advice you read on the interwebs about this topic is that you should say no as often as possible because you need as much time to advance your research as possible. When offered other committee positions or responsibilities (journal editor, conference organizer, etc), you’re supposed to avoid those like the plague for as long as possible. I can totally…

Read more

I’ve been wanting to post on the topic of Open Ended Questions for some time but haven’t been able to formulate my thoughts properly. One of the things that I think defines a person as an engineer is the ability to put forth potential solutions to open ended questions which may have several answers. I am particularly discussing questions where there is not one ideal solution but rather a series of tradeoffs and the person answering the question must justify their choices. One of the things I tried to do in the classes I taught this past year was to keep some questions open ended to see how students would formulate their answers. In some cases, this was successful but in others, not so much. The other thing that struck me as strange is there wasn’t always a connection between a student’s standing and their ability to answer open ended…

Read more

Yesterday on Twitter, Chris Gammell, Carmen Parisi, and I got into a conversation about how we solve engineering problems.  Chris said: Do what the rest of us do….keep adding caps and resistors until it works… And my response was:  I need to simulate everything first before I start changing anything. To which Chris responded that we were both stereotypes of the academic and industrial engineers. Of course, I can’t disagree because those stereotypes are somewhat borne out by observation.  I’ve seen engineers of both types, and the worst are the extremes: the thinker or the tinkerer.  You have the engineers that run in and start changing things, not really thinking about what they’re doing, and then find out that what they did was rather ineffective.  Then there’s the ones who sit there and never commit to anything until it’s time to finish things up because of decision paralysis.  Most of…

Read more

10/61