Recommended reads #104


It’s been two weeks already!? Here’s some reads for what remains of the long holiday weekend, for those of us in the US.

In mentorship, a sense of belonging may be most important

Getting past Bloom’s taxonomy in a way that focuses on the minds of the students

This online comic as struck a big chord with a a lot of women I know. It explains how many men don’t share the burden of parenting and running a household by simply thinking that doing stuff when asked is enough. The cognitive load of keeping track of domestic affairs is not a trivial matter.

What actually helps poor students? Human beings.

Daniel Llavaneras is a Venezuelan entomologist who recently moved to Chile to enroll in a graduate program. On his blog, he explains what he was leaving behind in Venezuela. I can’t possibly summarize this in a nugget, please, just read it.

The Antikythera mechanism is a 2,000-year-old computer. This is seriously amazing to me on multiple levels.

From 2012: using ecosystem modeling to understand why women are driven out of research careers.

A professor gets fired for sexual harassment.

Microsoft is blaming girls for not becoming scientists. This could be none more full of crap.

A tenured professor was fired after complaining that the university hid a threat of violence from the minority faculty members who were targets of the threat.

Christian Ott is a sexually harassing professor at CalTech whose suspension from campus expires next semester. He came back for prematurely for a one-day visit, under close supervision, and this led to protests. When there is no shortage of highly qualified astronomers out there who can readily fill Ott’s shoes, why is CalTech sticking out their neck for this guy who fired his own graduate student because he couldn’t control his own crush on her? On one hand, there’s absolutely no excuse for tolerating sexual misconduct. On the other hand, if they let him go, then it’s likely that some other less discerning institution will pick him up, and he’ll receive a free institutional pass on harassment for the rest of his career. What is the place for education and reform for an inexperienced junior faculty member guilty of harassing his students? Then again, Ott has demonstrated a lack of remorse or understanding since he was removed from campus to date. I know if I was working on campus at CalTech, I wouldn’t want him on campus at all, and if I were an administrator at another university, I wouldn’t want CalTech to pass the buck. But I wouldn’t want any measures taken that would damper the slowly rising tide that is outing some of the most egregious harassers.

Is your syllabus student-centered? Here’s a tool to figure that out.

What I didn’t realize then (but seems painfully obvious now) was that universities have a diverse tapestry of priorities that can’t be easily defined by teaching vs. research labels. There are universities in the muddy middle, and those schools may be a wonderful fit for thousands of graduate students who don’t know they are there.” (I think this might be the best piece I’m linking to today that I also disagree with. I think there are campuses that purport to fill that middle ground, but I now have worked in three of such places, and when push comes to shove, are they either about the research or the teaching. A lot of places that say they value teaching and research equally will have a hard time validating that with evidence once you look at resource allocation and hiring/retention decisions. Yes, there are teaching places that are more research friendly, and research places that are more friendly to teaching. But true middle ground is quite sparse.)

Stop asking for permission.

A commencement speech by Richard Lenski

A high school valedictorian didn’t get admitted to UT because her high school was too small. Reading this whole story is worth it just for the kicker at the end.

What makes call-out culture so toxic

Faculty at the University of Illinois do what they can to remove the pedestal from beneath James Watson’s feet. Kudos.

I had no idea that noncompete clauses are becoming a regular thing for regular jobs. This is rather crazy, I think.

University rankings are fake news. How do we fix them?

Here’s a blog post about the mock review panel of Canada’s NSERC Discovery grants. One thing that strikes me here, relative to NSF, is that the process explicitly emphasizes the “excellence of the researcher,” whereas in the US, it’s about making sure that the research is highly qualified to do the work.

Interested in diversifying higher education? Please read about how Rutgers University-Newark is finding success, this is a path that many more universities can take.

Maybe colleges should cut costs instead of investing in marketing gimmicks. On the other hand, the proportion of full-tuition payers is what keeps universities afloat and they can afford to choose campuses on the basis of superfluous amenities.

If you haven’t seen that feature in the NY Times where people in the US attempted to pinpoint North Korea on a map, this might be instructive.

Tips on conducting yourself at an academic conference

WorldClim 2 is out, people!

An embarrassing moment for the skeptical movement

A sociologist calls for getting rid of social fraternities. I can’t say I disagree.

What kind of field scientist would last longest on a hostile alien planet?

In these recommended reads posts, I’m going to add something new: I’m going to briefly mention the novels and other non-technical things that I’ve been reading. Sometimes I’ve been including them in the images, but not mentioning it in the post. Now I’ll play a bit of catchup: Zadie Smith’s Swing Time was good – like everything she writes, the prose is gorgeous, evocative, and spare. I’m almost finished with the new George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo, which took a long while to sink into but is paying off. I’ve stopped reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new Black Panther comics after the third collected volume. The art is great, the story has a lot of drama, but it’s both dense and moves quickly, and I feel like I needed to have known a lot more of the mythology of Wakanda before diving in. I’ve benefited from reading The Spark of Learning by Sarah Rose Cavanagh, which is about understanding and using emotions in teaching. (I’ve heard folks say that we need to keep emotion of out of STEM teaching, and it’s now clear to me that this just isn’t best practice.)

3 thoughts on “Recommended reads #104

  1. Just a quick elaboration on your brief comments re: NSERC Discovery Grant evals for readers who may not be familiar with the system: NSERC Discovery Grant applications are scored on 3 equally-weighted criteria: excellence of the researcher (over the past 6 years), merit of the proposed research, and training of “highly qualified personnel” (all trainees, including undergrads doing summer research/independent study research/honors research, lab techs, grad students, postdocs, etc.).

    • Thanks for the clarification! And for those who aren’t familiar with NSF (which is smaller fraction, I’d guess) the two main criteria are “intellectual merit” and “broader impacts.”

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