November 19th, 2008


Kelley School: Come Get Some

Meaning: My recent post about the GECCO/AAAI workshop paper made me think of various assertions of liberty, and Leonidas of Sparta's famous epithet, "come and take them" (Molōn labe, Μολὼν λάβε) came first to mind. Since I maligned Frank Miller so recently, 300 has specifically been on my radar. The title of this post comes from Evil Dead.

This is part of the David E. Kelley School of Advising series.


The Power of Convenience

As I advise my students, I often find myself reviewing "nifty tools" and time-saving tricks of the trade with them.

Examples of these include:

  • Citation Indices and Bibliographic Services: Google Scholar, CiteSeer, DBLP

  • Search tricks: Googling for authors by name, doing a breadth-first search of a citation index, using synonymy, using Google define for acronyms, etc.

  • Content management systems (CMSes): TikiWiki, MediaWiki

  • Communication tools: SkypeOut, Trillian Basic (and Trillian Pro), and IRC (XChat, Adium, Irssi)

  • Unix and Linux commands: find/whereis/locate, sort/grep/uniq/cut/join, df/du/free, etc.

  • Scripting: Shell scripts using the above, sed/awk, Perl, and Python

  • Microsoft Office 2007 tricks: Everything from how to use the new Word 2007 ribbon to how to write simple automation scripts in Excel (and VBA)

Among the tools you use, what do you find to be the biggest time-savers? I'll compile a categorized list, summarize it in a later post, and follow up to maintain it on our Tiki.


FaxZero, eFax, and Other Free Fax Services

Speaking of conveniences, does anyone use a "free" fax receiving service such as eFax or a "free" transmission service such as FaxZero?

eFax is advertising-driven, but there is a paid version without ads if I recall correctly. FaxZero is all advertising driven as far as I know. Most of the time, when I need to send a fax rather than attaching a document by e-mail, the recipient is a business getting a filled-out authorization or information form from me.


ABET: The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology

Is your institution accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET)? How about North Central? What do you think of these agencies, and of accreditation in general?

When I was at Johns Hopkins as an undergrad, the Mathematical Sciences department (now Applied Mathematics and Statistics) was just going through ABET accreditation for the first time. Since I came to K-State in 1999, we've had two ABET visits and two North Central visits. As you may know, some of the top American universities, such as MIT, Stanford, and CMU (which happen to occupy the top three slots among CS Ph.D. programs, according to the Computing Research Association, U.S. News and World Report, and several other ranking agencies) don't even bother with accreditation, on the principle that their reputations stand for themselves. While I think this is true, I was just curious as to people's stances on the matter.


Black Friday: Excelsior

As some of you know, we've been revamping our system of preliminary exams for the Ph.D. in Computer Science from more of a pure comprehensive exam system to one of written comps (breadth exams) plus oral quals (depth exams or "research proficiency exams"). The first offering of the breadth exam was in fall, 2006.

Is this really the best system, though? I've heard recently that many top universities have moved completely away from comps and quals, to a "progress review" system. We had heard of this practice, first used in CS graduate education by Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science, where it was called "Black Friday". I set out to examine this alternative system and consider its pros and cons.

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Conclusion: My view is that Black Friday can be a good thing if we have basically turned exams into formalities. It can also ease the strain to something more equitable if we've made things too competitive (which was the rationale for moving away from pure comps in the first place). I don't think standards are intrinsically "too challenging" or "not challenging enough"; rather, I feel that we need to let students "rise to the level of expectations", in the words of Jaime Escalante. We also need to feel some personal accountability for showing them how to achieve this objective. As long as they think they are just jumping through hoops to satisfy us "as a faculty", there will continue to be people who just fall through the cracks. That includes passing without really getting to the next level! In the end, the tasks and milestones we set should challenge students to get better, rather than strike them immobile with the fear of failure. It should be not "up or out", but excelsior.


It's A Swamped Thing

I'm perennially swamped. It's interesting to see how students react to it.

Some go off and choose other advisors, because they feel they want or need have more one-on-one attention and face time. I wish them well, generally. One hopes they find what they are looking for and in any case are not embittered. I believe the Wiccan expression is "merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again".

Some hover in my doorway, hesitant to come in, and ask "are you busy?". (The answer is that I am always busy, but I would not take someone on as an advisee if I wasn't prepared to spend time with him or her.)

Some barge right in, even when other students are sitting in my office, or jiggle the handle even when the door is closed and locked and they have already knocked. (This last one is a pet peeve of mine, especially because it's disturbingly loud from inside the office.)


The Many Grabbings of Banazir

How many of you have been "grabbed in the hall" as a teaching assistant or instructor?

I don't mean literally seized, but rather "tapped on the shoulder" or just called as you are walking somewhere (when it's not your class time or office hours). How did you respond?

Perhaps your students respect your personal space. Nowadays, students approach me anywhere, any time, and ask me to give them a moment's attention, which I always do, unless it's going to make me late for class. (It's certainly made me late for everything else, though!)

Back when I was a TA for CS 125, Introduction to Computer Science, at the University of Illinois, students used to literally grab me from behind. One time, I shrugged it off reflexively, and the student recoiled, realizing it was something he shouldn't do. I said as much. Another time, a (male) student followed me into the men's washroom to ask a question, and I had to explain that this was not quite fair to some of the students.

Maybe I'm not being emphatic enough...

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