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03 April

Today I taught in three different classes (one and a half hours each) back-to-back.and followed it by a couple of significant administrative meetings. Although we all know that standing up and performing is tiring, and teaching is a kind of performance, I was a bit surprised by just how mentally draining it was to do all that teaching without a break, and by the way in which that dysfunction was manifested (which was via a more boring presentation).

Usually after a lecture I am a bit exhilarated, and maybe even after two back-to-back lectures my eventual fatigue is balanced by the thrill of giving the lecture, but three in a low is just too much. Personally I like taking questions, reflecting on new ideas and improvising in class, but by the end of the third lecture I was doing things a lot more "by the book" than usual, in addition to being pretty hoarse. I am sure this kind of reaction depends on the material and today I gave one lecture in a class that was new to me, and another in a class populated only by PhD students dealing with a fairly recent research result.

Despite the fatigue though, there is a great sense of satisfaction one gets from delivering classroom material, assuming it goes at least moderately well.

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
21 May

Last week I went to the annual meeting of the Chairs and Directors of Computer Science Departments and Schools of Canada (CACS/AIC). It's a very sociable meeting where chairs exchange news, discuss strategic issues, new educational initiatives and also provide one another a sounding board for problems and concerns. In addition to the normally good company, I had a chance to hang out with my old friend and office mate from graduate school, Jim Hoover whom I had not seen for over a decade. It was also a treat to talk to Sven Dickenson who is now chair at U Toronto where I did my own gradate work.

Some of the news tidbits (and restatements of established phenomena) are that :

Computer Science enrollment is still rising almost everywhere, just as in the USA.

Propoective grad students can apply for an NSERC scholships to as many schools as they want, and take the offer at whatever school gives them one, but NSERC scholarships are no longer portable between schools. This has a substantial impact of the strategy to be used for graduate student who need a scholarship.

Postdocs are becoming much more commonplace as a prelude for a faculty job or top-flight research positions. The worrisome issue is that NSERC funding levels do not allow Canadian professors to hire postdoctoral fellows very easily.

The "Common CV" is becoming the standard application format for NSERC applications. This implies a lot of hassle and annoyance for most professors. For professors who apply for funding in a given year, the letter of intent and at least a preliminary (yet complete) version of the common CV must be ready by August 1st.

Several schools are using embedded systems, or some kind of mobile hardware, as a key motivational platform for introductory computer science. This is a trend I had expected but it is moving more quickly than I had ever anticipated.

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
03 December

Maclean's Magazine named McGill Canada's top medical-doctoral university for the ninth consecutive year. The medical-doctoral ranking category is for big universities with doctoral programs as well as medical schools. In another ranking exercise, McGill was ranked 21st in the world, but a bit behind the University of Toronto which came in at 17th. (Since I did my PhD at UToronto, I have divided loyalties, not that a few places means anything with great schools like Purdue at position 99, and U Waterloo, which is also very good, at 180th place.)

There are all kind so different ranking systems for universities, and all the measurement systems are subjective and debatable, but for McGill the fact it's almost always ranked high probably is a comfort. It doesn't completely compensate for the fact that they can no longer afford to empty empty my garbage can every day, but all in all it's good news.

While we're in the good news department, Montreal was separately rated (by QS) as one of the top 10 cities in the world in which to be a student, with Paris in the number one position. How Munich was rated in the top 10 while San Francisco was not seems baffling to me.

By Gregory Dudek at | Read (1) or Leave a comment |    
04 March

Cynthia Than reports: There is no gender gap in tech salaries based on a study from the American Association of University Women.

The study itself is quite complex and does find a difference in pay associated with gender when averaged across all disciplines, but not necessarily a cause-and-effect relationship. The study discusses differences in the hours worked, but also other factors such as the fact that student loan debt, choice of discipline, and other factors also vary by gender. The most important factor associated with salary outcome was the choice of major selected by university students, with computer science being a high paying area that (until recently) was preferred by men.

For women who do pick computer science, as well as math, engineering, physical science, health care, the life sciences and social services, the study found no pay equity imbalance one year after graduation (page 17).

By Gregory Dudek at | Read (1) or Leave a comment |    
26 April

Almost every conference, especially academic ones, provides badges for attendees. After many years of conference attendance and organizing, I have developed some rather strong opinions about that otherwise obscure topic. Here are my thoughts on good conference badging approaches.

Example Badge: why is the banner and date on the top taking up 1/3 of the badge? We already know why we are here.
Example Badge: why is the banner and date
on the top taking up 1/3 of the badge?
We already know why we are here.
(Click to expand)

First, let me make a couple of observations on why we have badges. The primary purpose of a conference badge is (1) to allow participants to recognize one another, (2) remember each otherís names to facilitate conversation, and (3) help remember people for subsequent follow-up. At least at academic conference, the function of (4) validating that somebody paid his or her registration fee, although important, is secondary. Lastly, the registration process (and sometimes the badge) also serves to (5) record payment and registration for additional optional events like a side workshop or meal.

Based on the idea that name-recognition is the primary function of the badge, the name needs to be large and prominent. After the name, what people care about is the institutional affiliation (university, company, etc). The rest hardly matters. Thus a badge with 8 lines of text including a restatement of the name of the conference, the the date and other useless crap is really sub-optimal (meaning it stinks).

Sample Badge
Sample Badge

Badges worn too low, basically saying

"I don't care about meeting you"

Let's just consider how little space the important stuff uses, and what could be done. The badge below is from an event we organized, but due to the rush and limitations of the layout process name name is a ridiculously small part of the area.

Sample Badge
Example annoying badge:
why is the name so small, and surrounded
by so much white space?
(Click to expand)

Sample Badge
Preferred badge layout

make the name big and clear.
(Click to expand)

Keep in mind that people need to read these things from a few feet away while standing and chatting. Moreover, you often need to do it while pretending they remember the person's name and as if you don't actually need to read the badge to know who you are talking to! Naturally, the person who wears the badge needs to put is someplace visible for this to work out. There are always these people who think it's cool to wear the badge on their hip or belt, as shown above. This seems like a singularly affected (as in pretentious) and it makes them hard to recognize or remember by name.

While we are on the issue of where to wear the badge, note that there are at least 3 common ways to affix a badge to a person: a clip, a pin or a lanyard. These days lanyards have become very popular for some reason. In fact, many places including my own university sell souvenir lanyards! Really? Are these the last resort for people who can find absolutely nothing useful to buy for $2? People presumably like lanyards because you don't need to make a hole in your fancy clothing, and you can carry an arbitrarily heavy little pouch of paperwork around your neck, which some conferences provide instead of a badge. Well, for most men's clothing the little hole is not much of an issue, and the clip (instead of a pin) solves the problem quite nicely. The big problem with lanyards is that the badge hangs so low that it is inconvenient, or even embarrassing, to look at it to determine the person's name or affiliation. Scroll down to the 2nd image on this page to see an example of the problem, and not how the author had to select clothing specifically to assure a lanyard look good. Of course, the problem becomes still worse if the badge is poorly designed. I prefer a clip since it which won't damage a T-shirt by making a hole, and it can go on almost anything.

Sample Badge
Sample Badge

Badges that are positioned to make it awkward for men to read them
without seeming politically incorrect.
Lanyards almost always assure this.

(Photos by Tendenci.org and from
www.flickr.com/photos/howardlake/6427901531 licensed under Creative Commons Share Alike license).

If this too long an article about a silly minor issue? Maybe, but hundreds, or even thousands, of people can be inconvenienced at a single meeting by the wrong badge design, and their ability to network is degraded.

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
18 November

McGill leads Macleans ranking of Canadian universities

It's the end of the university ranking season, once again. While these rankings are quite variable and weigh various factors to various extents, it's nice to come out on top. Once again, McGIll was ranked first in Canada. Being number one does not mean that a school is literally the best, since that notion is hard to pin down in an objective manner, but placing first consistently certainly confirms that a school is "good."
Unfortunately, despite this good news McGill's budget problems remain very serious and that is reflected within the ranking as well (albeit evidently not enough to change the outcome at this point).

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
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