Thursday, October 27, 2011

Even your mom can write this blog post

For those of you who subscribe to IEEE Spectrum email alerts, you may have seen today's snafu where there was an oopsie headline for one of their articles - "With the Arduino, Now Even Your Mom Can Program."

The article and headline were quickly revised post-publication, though I noticed in google's cache that the original article contained the following quote, "'Now, even my mom can program,' Banzi says."

The editor of the journal, who is a female engineer, was Not Amused, nor were the dozens of commenters on the article. I'm glad they fixed it.

But I think this journalistic error raises a larger societal issue when discussing ability and technology. We seem to more quickly ascribe technological inability to female elders, and technological ability to male youths.

For example, I tend to hear, "Even my grandma could use it." far more often than, "Even my grandpa could use it". And I recently saw a comic in a magazine where mother calls technical support and says, "Normally my toddler son would help me fix the computer, but he's in time out." Why wasn't that a female toddler in the cartoon?  Why in movies is the clever geek / scientist who saves the day always a man?

I really would like the media to make greater strides in not playing to tropes, because it tends to reinforce these tired ideas that women are unable to be technologically savvy.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Advice for new professors

A summary of advice I have for new professors.*

1) Delegate

Graduate students were invented for a reason. Delegate everything. Data analysis. Literature reviews. Writing. Teaching prep. If you don't have any graduate students, find some undergrads. A task you might find mundane can actually be "research experience". 

One of my colleagues laments that their students often mess things up, causing even more work than just doing it themselves. For some things this may be true, but thus far I've been pleasantly surprised with what happens when I challenge my students. Even if they don't do a perfect job they are still doing useful work for both of us.

For CS-type folks -- get someone else to manage your machines. I know it's tempting to spend hours and hours tweaking your linux box to play fur elise backwards every other Tuesday at 2:22pm and building That Perfect Windows Manager config file and whatever other fun hacky things you do, but try to resist the urge. Shell scripts won't get you tenure (damnit). 

2) Ask

I read Boice's advice for new faculty, and he implied "quick starters" ask everyone for help on everything - research, teaching, grant writing, etc. This is helpful to remember. Spending three hours trying to find an arcane policy statement on NSF's website isn't worth the time when a quick email to your university's research support office will suffice. 

3) Network

Don't forget to water your social networks, both in your department, at your university, in your town, and in your professional community. This is something you shouldn't delegate or put off. 

Of course you don't want to spend all of your time networking; I think Boice suggests about 2-5 hours a week. YMMV.

4) Dry Clean

Best. Thing. Ever. Absolutely worth every penny. To just wake up in the morning, go to your closet, have cleaned and pressed professional clothes ready to go is just about the best thing since fur elise.

(*)  To be honest I just had one piece of advice ("Dry cleaning FTW!"), but I thought I'd throw the other ones in too while I was here. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ada Lovelace Day 2011

I just realized I nearly missed Ada Lovelace Day (ALD) which is today. (I'm bad with dates, so thanks to Beki for reminding me.)

The person I'd like to honor for ALD is my best friend, who I'll call Sarah. Sarah is actually the person who got me into computers when we were kids. She was always tinkering with electronics in her basement, taking her computer apart, and writing programs. She took all the advanced level science and math classes our school offered, and got top grades. And she was also "cool" - into underground bands, fashion, etc. I tried my best to copy her, though I must admit I got a C in Physics and still don't know how the hell eyelash curlers work.

Sarah was my first female technical role model, and I'm happy to say we're still close friends, and both still working in technology. If this blog wasn't pseudo-anonymous I would brag about what she's currently doing. Suffice to say it is *fabulous*!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Scary Professors

When I first started graduate school, I was sometimes scared to talk to my advisor. It wasn't anything in particular about him, it was the role he was in. In pretty much every job I've ever had I've always felt a little weird around my "boss". It's just not someone I tend to feel chummy around. Maybe it's just how I was raised, I don't know.

But toward the middle / end of my PhD, our relationship shifted to being more peer -like instead of student/teacher -like, and I felt much more comfortable with him.

It's been very interesting shifting to the other side of the desk. I met with a graduate student recently, and during our meeting I noticed their hands were shaking. I tried everything I could to put them at ease, but no matter what I tried they still seemed terrified.

Now, it's true I'm mean and uber-scary looking (like Miss Viola Swamp), but I wonder if there's anything I can do to make students feel less scared when they come visit. Maybe I need a gigantic stuffed animal in my office. ("Hug me if you're scared!").

Heck, some days I need one of those...