How Academic Fads Harm Research
Before Facebook, there was Friendster.
Human Relations for Math and Science Nerds
Welcome to MIT! You’ve spent long hours with Isaac Asimov books and hardcover editions of the Feynmann lectures, worked extra hard on that SAT Writing section, and now you’ve finally arrived at the premiere science and engineering institution in all of the known universe. Congratulations!
Welcome to Pre-Post-Racial America
The President of the United States does not typically publicly berate a local police department during a nationally-televised press conference. But at the end of his health care speech on July 22, Barack Obama went there.
As a young high school student in neuroscience summer camp, I was shown the results of a computer model calculation that aimed to simulate cardiac tissue voltage as the electric pulse that kept the heart beating passed through. After being told that the simulation took several days to run, we campers were eagerly expecting to be wowed by displays of incomprehensible complexity, wide-eyed and excited at the prospect of viewing such cutting-edge medical research.
Fifty Years of ‘The Two Cultures’
May 7 marked the 50th anniversary of C.P. Snow’s influential talk, “The Two Cultures.” In his lecture and subsequent book, the English writer and physicist described the widening gulf between the humanities and science.
A Research System Set Up to Fail
Thomas Friedman has a solution to fix the global energy problem and boost the economy. In his latest book, <i>Hot, Flat and Crowded</i>, Friedman presents it succinctly: “We need 100,000 people in 100,000 garages trying 100,000 things — in the hope that five of them break through.”
The Death and Life of Great American Newspapers
The <i>Rocky Mountain News</i> closed down on Feb. 27th, 2008, just 55 days short of its 150th anniversary. Having lost $16 million dollars last year and unable to find a buyer, the <i>News</i>’s owner decided to shut it down instead of letting it limp on with mounting losses.
Choose Wisely, Young Scientist
I can tell when someone is about to quit their PhD program.
A Broken Model for Energy Change
The past few weeks have seen a flurry of energy news, more than all the news from the last three administrations put together. What’s a cynical, snarky graduate student to do to keep up?
I Was There
I was at the Inauguration, and man was it cold.
Can One Man Really Fix Such a Broken System?
In deciding my vote this year, I decided to use my experiences during last eight years as my compass. Some defining moments for me:
The Next President’s Realistic Energy Policy
Representatives from both presidential campaigns met on campus last Monday and were asked how their candidates would define success in the energy sector at the end of two terms as president. In spite of the night’s rhetoric about oil-free, renewable energy ambitions, their responses were surprisingly subdued.
Dispatches From Alaska
I learned that it takes 3000 foot-pounds of energy to stop a brown bear.
What We Need from a National Energy Policy
In a season of record-high gas prices, economic instability, and a solidifying consensus that climate change is due to greenhouse gases, there has been much talk of a “price on carbon” in order to penalize carbon dioxide emitters and incentivize new, clean energy technologies. Massachusetts has decided to respond by becoming a part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, — “RGGI”, affectionately pronounced “Reggie” — a regional “cap-and-trade” program designed to promote renewable technology. RGGI does this by requiring permits for carbon dioxide pollution in the electrical sector. Both presidential candidates McCain and Obama have proposed similar regulation on the federal level, and other regional carbon markets are sprouting up throughout the country.
Kicking the ‘False Idol’
George Soros described his experience during World War II as a Jew as his formative year. In escaping from the Nazis, Soros’ father understood that “there are times when the normal rules don’t apply.” As described in the title of his talk last week, “The New Paradigm for Financial Markets,” the world is entering one of those very times. People haven’t a clue of the value of assets that serve as the foundation of the world economy, our leaders are fumbling their way through the dark, and the world is entering uncharted territory. As a result, the markets yo-yo like a cheap kid’s toy.
Watch the Baseball Playoffs
It’s October and the most exciting time on the sports calendar has arrived — baseball playoffs. For the first time in a long while, of the two teams I’m a fan of, neither are playing for a title in the fall. To the non-baseball aware, this means I am not a fan of the Boston Red Sox, who are sneaking into postseason play as the American League (AL) wild card. My situation is like many students in Boston, who come to school with a team (or three) to cheer on. Many of the uninitiated will leave Red Sox fans, and while that saddens my heart, at least there’s another baseball fan out there.
A Tale of Woe on Wall Street
This past week, the country sat in awe as the financial institutions of Wall Street tumbled into bankruptcies and takeovers. Lehman and Merrill Lynch are gone as we know it. AIG, once the world’s 18th largest corporation, is about to be owned by the government, effectively nationalizing much of the insurance industry. The surviving financial institutions sat around the remains to reluctantly begin cannibalizing their peers in the form of easily-digested portfolios. The US government stood on the sidelines heaping great mounds of tax-paid monies where they could to ensure the banking system didn’t collapse upon itself. To hear the possible outcomes — “world-wide economic collapse,” “day of reckoning,” and “probably once-in-a-century type of event” — is to imagine a future where we drive through modern-day Hoovervilles and surf the internet while sipping our hobo soups.
Go Out and Get a Job!
As the MIT Career Fair approaches, the sound of my classmates polishing their résumés becomes a constant roar, and the semester’s worries are temporarily replaced by career anxieties. It is that time of year when students are already thinking about the next one, and undergraduates and graduates alike try to determine where their stepping stone into the “real world” is. As someone who has been through both an undergraduate and graduate job hunt, there is just one important tidbit of advice I would like to impart.
The Gender Gap in Science and Engineering
During my first run at graduate school, nearly half the students in my engineering research lab were women. My newly appointed and tenured adviser, a decorated researcher from Bell Labs who was eventually awarded a MacArthur “Genius” Grant, was a woman. And looking back at my time there, most of the friends I made were women and the same was true of my undergraduate experience studying electrical engineering. As a result, I feel that even as stereotypical (Asian) male engineer, I well understand the problems that women in science and engineering experience.