Monday, November 9, 2009

New Style Blogroll

Instead of a blog roll, I decided to share blog posts that I find interesting. I created a section on my blog called "Ioana shares..." that contains items shared in my reader with a quick note. You can access the full stories by clicking on the "View all" link. You may need to scroll for a while to get to it. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Supervision Philosophy

Student supervision is an important component of the academic job. I believe there is a correlation between the success of the research (individual and as a group) and the supervision style. How about having a supervision philosophy/statement as part of the "job package", along with the research and teaching statements?

Update: Departments usually ask only for research and teaching statements.  Maybe this will change with time. For example, I noticed that the ECE Department @ Cornell added this to their job announcement:
Personal statements summarizing teaching experience and interests, leadership efforts and contributions to diversity are encouraged.
 On a different note, there are professors that have their supervising philosophy linked on their web page. You can find one example here . Talking to students around, I understand that they like as much transparency as possible. Stating upfront your take on supervising  (more than hands-on/hands-off) can help students make better decisions when shopping around for supervisors. Mutually advantageous, IMHO.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Life Lessons in Bullet Form

I recently attended a "President Panel" event organized by the IEEE Toronto Women in Engineering and IEEE Toronto Student Branch at UofT. Two of the invited speakers were Janet Holder, president of Enbridge Gas Distribution and Shannon O'Connor, IBM Canada Business Partners. The two hours were packed with life lessons, funny stories, and insightful conversations. 

There were a couple of points that stuck with me and I'll paste them here in bullet form:
  •  Four essential career lessons:
  1.     Define happiness - what kind of career makes you happy
  2.     Be true to yourself - decisions will be easier to make when you know your value system/your list of priorities
  3.     Work smarter - no need to work 12 hours a day if you learn how to work smarter
  4.     Build your network - advance faster in your career with your network support
  • Be responsible for your own skill development. Apparently, IBM has a name for the new type of skills that technical people need: the "T-shaped" skills. Just like the T letter, you need both technical depth and broad business skills (e.g., communication, negotiation, presentation).
  • Focus on the outcome and think backwards on how to get there.
  • Anything worth doing is worth doing well.
  • To whom much is given, much is expected.
  • Your boss is your mentor. She/He probably knows better both your weaknesses and your strengths.
  • Your values should be aligned with your company's values. Otherwise, move! Don't put yourself in a position where you're stuck!
  • When building your team, look for sharing values, but also complementary set of skills.
  • Mentors with same background/values can help you pull it through and advance in your career faster. But mentors with different views on the matter can help you see things from a different perspective. Have both kinds!
  • Understand what the metric for success is and deliver! You'll be asked to do 30 little things along the way, nobody will remember you for the little things. The metric for success is essential, so prioritize for optimizing that.
  • Innovation and creativity doesn't need to be big. Even smaller things can make a difference.
  • Ideas in itself are not worth a lot. Ideas with implementation and realization... now that's something!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Mansbridge One on One: Cancer Research at University of Toronto

Back to Toronto after a long internship in US, I'm re-discovering the few Canadian shows I like watching on TV. Mansbridge One on One runs on Saturday nights for half an hour. The show features interviews with renowned personalities from all walks of life. Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Bill Gates were among the guests on the show. 

Last night's show was quite surprising. The guest was Dr. Shana Kelley, professor at University of Toronto. A multidisciplinary research group lead by Dr. Kelley developed a microchip that can scan molecules and determine the type and the severity of cancer. The prototype was already tested on several types of cancer. Dr. Kelley anticipates a five year period until the device can be used in clinics for early cancer detection. You can read more about this on the UofT news website

Dr. Kelley moved to UofT from US in 2006 and was surprised to see that obtaining funding for this project was easier in Canada than in US. Since she got to Toronto, the project took off with support from different governmental agencies. On the other hand, she mentioned that getting funding for basic/initial research steps is not as easy. She emphasized that lack of funding for fundamental research precludes breakthroughs later on. This funding issue is a chicken-and-egg problem: you can't get funding if you don't have a promising project going on, but it's hard to get (any) research going without funding. 

As a fun note, Dr. Kelley moved to Canada as a result of a two-body problem :) 

Update: You can find the recording of this show online here.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Chronicle - First Time on the Market

The Chronicle (on Higher Education) has a special collection of articles dedicated to those who enter the academic market for the first time. I think it's a good starting point for preparing for the job hunt. You can find the collection here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Equal vs. Fair and Quantity vs. Quality

MacLean recently had a three-part article about higher-education in Canada. Apparently, the presidents of five "big" universities in Canada started a discussion about what can be done to improve higher education in Canada. 

It seems that this big five group (let's call it G5) proposes a differentiation among Canadian universities: some (namely G5) should focus on research and grad studies, and the rest should dedicate their existence to producing the best undergrads possible. Obviously, the smaller universities showed their disapproval. 

Well, the initiative to discuss the future of Canadian education is more than welcome, but I have to admit that some surprising points were (not) raised. I will try to refer to few of them.


Equal vs. Fair  - I'm not sure an imposed differentiation is a viable solution. The fact that it works for others (see US) does not imply by any means that it would work for Canada. I've seen "imported" ideas fail in my native country. Usually, if you want a borrowed idea to work, the backgrounds have to be similar, which is rarely the case. It's better if you address the real problem and propose solutions targeted at the existing situation, not to someone else's situation. 

This "differentiation" suggestion may come as a result of the "equal" way in which some funding is distributed across Canadian universities. I'm not 100% sure, but I think there are some "quotas", such that everyone gets a chance. This can result in a mediocre idea from university X getting funding instead of a good idea from university Y, just because university Y has too many great ideas, while there is less competition at university X. What about "fair" spread of resources as opposed to "equal". Ideas should be rewarded based on their merit, not based on where they originate. If an idea from not-so-big university X is great, then fund it. If it is not, then don't fund it. While "quotas" is much easier to deal with than "merit", I think it's well worth the effort.

Quantity vs. Quality - Here it is an excerpt from one of the articles
"[...] UBC’s Toope said, universities need to graduate more students with higher degrees. “Both at the level of a master’s but even more importantly at the level of Ph.D.s, we are not producing at the level of our American colleagues, and actually many others in the OECD,” he said. “I suspect that’s an indicator of a relative lack of overall performance at the highest levels.” [...]" 
Since when quantity = quality?! I would have liked a discussion about how competitive these PhD students are, and what Canada does to create jobs for the many PhDs it produces. What about the "retention" of PhDs in Canada? I have a hunch that quite a percentage migrates to US looking for jobs after obtaining their PhDs. Let's talk about my domain: I'm not aware of any research lab in Canada where my specialization in computer architecture would be sought after. I wonder if there is any research lab that can attract computer science/computer engineering PhDs. I'm not aware of any. Not to add that, for example, the Computer Science department at UBC hasn't hired in the last... hmmm...  is it 3 or  5 years? (I don't have actual stats, I tried to guess-timate this by looking at the UBC CS professors webpages - page by page).

Research, Research, Research - The G5 did raise the problem of transferring the research from academia to the marketplace.  That's good! But, is there anything that Canada can do to create/improve/encourage research in industry, not only in academia? Instead of using PhD grads for jobs for which - let's be honest - a Master is enough, can we do anything to create environments that challenge the PhD grads and maximize their potential? Otherwise, no offense, but we're wasting money keeping them in school if we don't end up using their skills... or, even worse, export them to US.

Canada - Second Tier? - Last, but not least:
"[...] The penalty for drift, Naylor said, is that Canada could be perceived as a second-tier destination for foreign academics and international students. [...]"
Spot on! My opinion is that Canada is perceived as a second tier already... So what can be done to change this?

To end in an optimistic tone, it is good this discussion started. The first step toward a solution is to be aware of the problem. I hope this initiative will lead to some interesting debate and some appropriate solutions will emerge.
PS: Thanks to Gail that blogged about this. That's how I first heard about the G5 proposal.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The First One

Today is the day! I've gather enough courage to write my first post. 
I would like this blog to be about anything related to academia. I'm currently a PhD student and I seriously intend to follow an academic career. Seth Godin has an interesting classification for blogs in his e-book "Who's There?": cat blogs, boss blogs, and viral blogs. I know I don't want to have a cat, nor a boss blog. Getting viral sounds unrealistic. So, for now, I'll post the reasons why I would like to blog and we'll see how it goes.
  1. I don't enjoy writing. I need the practice since writing represents a high percentage of the time you spend in an academic job. So, let's start with something more free-form than scientific writing.
  2. There are so few women in academia, specially in my domain (computer science and engineering/computer architecture). It would be great if we could connect online more than we do. 
  3. Since I got to North America, I'm losing courage to voice my opinions. I'm not sure what exactly causes this, but I need to get rid of it. 
I will be blogging with my real name for several reasons. First, I don't appreciate how the blogosphere sometimes transforms in a rant and rave place where you can say whatever because you don't really have to take responsibility for it. Second, there is a greater sense of connection when you know who you're talking to. I also believe we need to encourage female presence in academia by the power of the example, while assuming responsibility for it. 
As the title suggests, I'd like this place to be a brainstorming place, not a collection of set-in-stone ideas. I appreciate reflection and flexibility.
Someone famous said something about doing one thing that scares you every day. Here it is for today: I'm starting a blog!