Author Archives: GEARS

If you can’t tell from the title or the picture, the semester is over! I’ve made it through a 4-month whirlwind of activity, craziness, anxiety, and, not to toot my own horn, success. Going into this semester, I thought I had a good idea of what it took to be tenure track material (I mean, I got the job didn’t I?!?). That last month though, was a little rough at times. All in all, I think everything went about as well as it could go for my first semester teaching. I’ve read some of the comments from my class survey (I’ll discuss more in a later post) and many were of the flavor, “I was a little apprehensive about this class with a new prof and given that this was his first time teaching, it was a lot better than expected and things went well.” That’s encouraging for the future. While…

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A few weeks ago, I had my first proposal rejection and it wasn’t pleasant. I definitely had to break out the scotch. This was a huge proposal with many universities involved and while I counted myself fortunate to be a part of the team, I’m still disappointed. My part was a supportive role for the overall proposal ideas, but it still would have been a significant chunk of money to jumpstart my academic career. The one thing that’s really disappointing, especially since this was my first proposal, is that the entity holding the purse strings is not one that gives you feedback but just says “thanks but no thanks”. When I started writing my first couple of proposals, I dreamed with delusions of grandeur (hitting my first 5 in row or something stupid like that) but I definitely feared striking out. My startup funds are available for the first two years so I basically…

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One of the skills that engineers are required to have is critical thinking and the ability to quickly assess and analyze a situation. [Good] Engineers are often brought in to situations because they have a certain background or have worked on a particular topic before but this new situation is slightly different than their previous experience. However, the time to get immersed in a topic is limited and often, they’re asked for their opinion the same time that they’re learning about the new topic. This is difficult situation because the engineer often doesn’t have all of the pieces to put together a complete puzzle. However, they often have enough to get a clear picture of the situation to assess accordingly. Because this is a skill needed by engineers, one question for engineering educators is “how can this skill be taught?”. The best method that I can think of that can…

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One of the things that I’ve been doing lately now that I’m at SnowU is carrying papers back and forth between work and home. I was using a small (and pretty rough looking) Dell laptop bag from about 5 years ago. Because that only held the laptop and a few minor things, it was a pain to travel with and I could not take many papers with me. As a present for the holidays, DrWife decided to get me a new work bag, which is fantastic. Now, it wasn’t a complete surprise because I helped her pick it out because features, looks, and functionality are depend on the individual using it. Some of the things that I may like may be things that other people don’t like (and vice versa). I wanted my work bag to meet at least three functional requirements (and a fourth, if you count looks). 1)…

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Now that I’m back from a conference and the semester is winding down, I have a little more time to spend with my graduate students. One of the things that I’ve tried to get them to understand is the importance of getting results [quickly, if possible]. Now, I’m not one for uppity, self motivating, happy-go-lucky theories like the seven habits of highly effective people or market research mumbo-jumbo (although I did steal their picture). However, I am a true believer that, in research, success breeds success. One of the most motivating times for me is when I’ve just had a paper published. I feel a sense of accomplishment and, like any drug, I want more. To come full circle back to grad student mentoring, I’m trying to get my students to understand that if they get some positive results [hopefully quickly], then they will be motivated to get more. And…

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Last week, I didn’t manage to post because I was uber busy for two reasons: 1) there is an engineering society that I am heavily active in and it was the annual meeting and 2) I fractured my right fibula doing a Tough Mudder on the Sunday morning before I had to flew to the conference. Considering DrWife, NanoGEARS, and the InLaws were in conference city and my heavy involvement in the conference (planning committee, session chair, presenting, and poster), I had little time to rest and ice my foot while still making the necessary contacts at the meeting. Check back to my normal blog for details (and maybe some gruesome photos) on the Tough Mudder. And with all that going, I come back to find we have a Theme Week: Engineering things that I’m thankful for. And rather than harp on some cool gadget, or proclaim my magnificence describing…

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As you can see from the mean (47) and standard deviation (22) of my comprehensive exam results, the numbers are a lot lower than I expected. I thought the exam would be tough, fair, but tough. I did get comments from students saying things like that but nevertheless, the numbers are lower than expected and basically show more than 23rds of the class would be failing. I mentioned a few weeks ago at GEARS that grades in engineering programs are skewing towards the 80-90 range. I would prefer a system that grades 0-100 (0r 0-10) where above a 50% is passing. While that won’t fly academically, it’s probably a true representation of the material learned by the average student. But because educators must deal with this grade inflation and dissatisfied students in a course are more likely to write negative reviews than satisfied students writing positive reviews, this presents a significant problem.…

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Currently, I’m out of town attending a workshop with some very specialized people in an area in which I’m trying to make inroads. And while I won’t bore you with the details (I knew people could have such levels of nuance), I will share with you a comment that I heard over drinks. Let me paint the picture for you a little bit first. I was having a discussion with someone very high up in the food chain about current/potential/future projects. This person asked a very specific technical question related to the problem, something that would mean significant money for the company that person represents if possible. I, wanting to hold on to my ideas, remained steadfast with a response like “Talk to me in 18 months when we have it working in the lab.” This is basically a nice way of saying like hell I’m going to let you…

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Lately, I’ve been wondering about my research group and if I’m bringing the right people on board in the right order. It’s not that I have specific doubts about a person or anything to directly point at. Rather, I think everyone in the research group should operate, well, like a well-meshed gear set (pun intended, [photo credit]). Mentally, this makes perfect sense to me. I just wonder if I’m suffering from delusions of grandeur and they’re going to mix like oil and water once we get past the initial phase. I’m currently up to 5 students with sufficient overlap on projects to ensure they have a reason to work together and I have reiterated it in almost every group meeting. My students seem to want to work together and are open/friendly with one another, so that is a very good sign. But more importantly, what are the key mechanics of running a…

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In engineering, great ideas are often found when the current trend is going one direction and someone decides to take a completely different approach to the problem. While I’m going to use running shoes as an example, this thought process is analogous to many situations that engineers deal with on a daily basis. For years, running companies have been devising new gimmicks technologies to increase sales enhance the running experience. I’m only going to mention a few major instances (read: commercial). When I first starting running in high school, Reebok came out with the DMX foam which is supposed to be a lightweight, cushioning, yet long lasting foam for shoe midsoles. I never could afford a pair of DMXs in HS but I did buy a pair in college and they were meh. They didn’t seem to cushion more or less than other shoes, nor did they last longer. In college, it was…

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