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Ails of a Student: Writer’s block (Part 2)

May 28, 2008 2 comments

Problem statement: Addressing some of the issues of why writing a (master’s) thesis can be so difficult, based on my own experience again…
Motivation: Since my last blog post, I think I have found something that can help me get motivated again. Clearly, a lack of motivation is a bad thing that can happen to otherwise productive people, so it is important to explore these issues in more detail.
Read more…

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Categories: General Academia

Ails of a Student: Writer’s block

May 8, 2008 Leave a comment

Problem statement: Addressing some of the issues of why writing a (master’s) thesis can be so difficult, based on my own experience.
Motivation: Well, I guess thinking about problems is a first step in getting them solved. Also, throwing out problems seems to be healthy. Making use of that outlet for negativity so positivity can take back the control again or something like that.

“You sound like an unemployed psychiatrist.”

Considering I am not an employed psychiatrist, I guess it is not entirely untrue. So…..over at Plausible Accuracy, I read the following:

I’ve got about 70 pages written on a document that I call “my thesis”. The problem is, I hate it. I’ve written it all in fits and spurts, jumping around from one section to the next. Some days I’ll write pages and pages and it seems like it’s going really well, and other days I’ll spend all day staring at emacs and not getting anything down. Lately it’s been much more of the latter.

I can relate to this. I have been working on my master’s thesis for quite some time now, much longer than I planned.

“I would nominate that for the understatement of the year award…”

Hey, at least it is almost finished, and I like my stuff, but it certainly has taken quite a bit of time. However, my problem is not so much that I hate writing it, but since I am skilled and creative with computers/Internet, I can think of a million other things that I enjoy doing more while I am sitting behind a computer.

“Actually, I believe the term and description for that is: a computer nerd with no (social) life who can only think of computers day and night.”

So I have been seriously considering locking myself up somewhere, with access to “Office” software and nothing else that could distract me from typing away on my thesis for hours and hours. I have heard of many students/people doing just that, with very good results. For the sake of productivity, I should be like that, too. I mean, I do have access to my university’s computer rooms and stuff. On the other hand, last time I was making use of one to work on my thesis, there were other distractive factors, such as other people typing, discussing whatever they were working on while typing and even using their cells for communication gibberish.

“Why, that is an excellent opportunity to practice your “shutting people the hell up” skills. It is crucial for people who want to be leaders one day!”

I guess. Another motivational issue is that the whole “documenting thing” is a lot less interesting than the “thinking about problems and working out (potential) solutions” thing. Yet, it is difficult to document it neatly straight away, while still in the mood to be productive after having done something “you perceive as” productive, because that normally results in incoherent notes/scribbles prone to drastic modifications overtime. I mean, I do not even want to know how many times I have (completely) rewritten my introduction, several paragraphs of my methodology and other chapters/paragraphs all over my thesis.

“Oooh, but I do want you to talk about it. As detailed as possible!”

And I was writing them quite seriously at the time, too. So imagine how much worse that would have been if I was just randomly jotting them down as scribbles instead. It is a serious hassle and it seems like I can always find a better way to put it every time I reread it. It almost makes me afraid to reread my own work again because I know I will modify it going “OK, this is much better!” and then do the exact same time the next time I reread it! But maybe it is just the mentality of being extra critical of your own work. Normally, when I am reading other people’s papers, I read through them as they are and go “OK, I am absorbing the knowledge of what it is saying here” without really paying attention to how they say it. However, when I am reading my own work, it is like I do not care what I said, but how I said it and how, if at all possible, I can say it better. It is not easy being a perfectionist!

“Actually, that’s just your pathetic lack of writing skills.”

In addition, working on a (master’s) thesis takes at least several months, from start to finish. And in many/most cases way more than that: it could takes years. For a Ph.D (concerning my research field anyway) it takes at least 4 years. I guess speed is one reason why I like blogging: writing a blog post usually takes just under an hour. OK, there are cases where I have spent longer than 1-2 hours working on one, spread out over a few days, but those are rare and then I have a “finished” product that I can somewhat be satisfied with.

“Speaking of blog posts: this is likely not the time to write one!”

Well, writing this blog post has inspired me to work harder once more! Over at Plausible Accuracy, as a “writing experiment”, some random thesis “snippets” were available in an attempt to get comments and boost his motivation. I tried to do something similar some time ago, actually. But after awhile, I realized that uploading an early chapter that I thought was considered finished was a bit too embarrassing after all. Especially after I had significantly improved it later (but locally) and saw how “crappy” unfinished the uploaded version was. So I decided not to put early drafts of a draft online like that.

“Can’t say I blame ya.”

One thing left for me to say then, for many things and regardless of reason: the longer you drag on with your work, the harder it becomes to finish it.

“Ehm, don’t you mean “lock yourself up in a library early in the process”? That sounds so much more productive, after all.”

Still undecided on that. Well, back to work it is!

THES – QS World University Rankings 2005 & 2006

November 5, 2007 Leave a comment

Okay, I ran into this site and I got a bit interested in their University Rankings. So I put the top 200 lists into Excel, and imported it into SPSS and then back into Excel with some formatting to create this.

“Huh?”

Don’t ask…

THES - QS World University Rankings Top 200 (2005 & 2006) Format 1

The first format (above) is sorted on Change, where it’s convenient to see which country has had the biggest growth. The second format (below) is sorted on percentage of 2006, to see how the top dogs are doing, so to speak.

THES - QS World University Rankings Top 200 (2005 & 2006) Format 2

Interesting statistics, heehee. Course, it would be even more interesting if I pulled the stats for population count for each of those countries. I guess I could get them from the CIA’s World Factbook.

“Why don’t you?”

Well, you know, I’m busy with my thesis and stuff. Serious person doing serious stuff and all that.

“But not busy enough to draw these sheets in the first place?”

Actually, these rankings are somehow related to peer reviews, as peer reviews are also used to determine university rankings, such as this one. How useful indeed! Anyhow, it seems we all have to work hard! But I’m glad the Netherlands is up there, not doing too bad if I say so myself!

For source data, go to the THES – QS World University Rankings site. And yes, there are actually 201 countries and not 200 countries listed per rankings. I believe this has to do with the fact that more countries can share a single spot/rank. I guess that makes sense, in an awkward way.

“No it doesn’t, since they skip every time universities share the same spot.”

Ah, well then it has to do with this I guess.

*Due to misinterpretation of supplied data, the published position at 165= of the Université Libre de Bruxelles was incorrect and the accurate position of 120 is reflected in this table. The originally published positions of any between 120 and 164 have been retained.

I still don’t quite get it, but I guess I don’t really care, as this error is seemingly consistent in both rankings. Relatively, it shouldn’t affect things.

A Real Genius: William James Sidis

July 29, 2007 1 comment

I finally managed to spell miscellaneous in one try! I feel so smart!

“Eh OK!”

Anyway, speaking of geniuses, check out this guy:

Mr. William James Sidis

I’ve actually read about this guy some time ago.

“Googling geniuses while you were fantasizing about being one, no doubt.”

Eh, well, anyway, this guy is really something else! A bit of a tragic story actually, as he was sort of born in a world where they weren’t very high on geniuses. A real shame really: this guy could have been so much more given his insane high intelligence and proficiency of, well, everything! A small gripe of his achievements:

  1. Given IQ is a purely anthropocentric means of assessing intelligence, Sidis’ IQ is crudely estimated at 250-300.
  2. Mastered higher mathematics and planetary revolutions by age 11.
  3. Learned to spell efficiently by one year old.
  4. Started reading The New York Times at 18 months.
  5. Read Caesar’s Gallic Wars, in Latin (self-taught), as a birthday present to his Father in Billy’s fourth year.
  6. Learned Greek alphabet and read Homer in Greek in his fourth year.
  7. Learned Aristotelian logic in his sixth year.
  8. At six, Billy learned Russian, French, German, and Hebrew, and soon after, Turkish and Armenian.
  9. Learned Gray’s Anatomy at six. Could pass a student medical examination.
  10. Total recall of everything he read.
  11. Wrote four books between ages of four and eight. Two on anatomy and astronomy, lost.
  12. Passed Harvard Medical School anatomy exam at age seven.
  13. Passed MIT entrance exam at age eight.
  14. Attempted to enroll in Harvard at nine.
  15. In 1909, became youngest student to ever enroll at Harvard at age 11.
  16. Billy graduated from Harvard, cum laude, on June 24, 1914, at age 16.
  17. Billy entered Harvard Law School in 1916.
  18. Billy could learn a whole language in one day!
  19. Billy knew all the languages (approximately 200) of the world, and could translate among them instantly!

(source: The Prodigy Review which got it from Amy Wallace’s book “The Prodigy”)

Reading about geniuses sure is mind boggling, but it truly is an interesting read about what potential humans have, and the affect they have on the masses.“Ah, I know how that feels, being one of those geniuses.”

Right, anyway that’s what I wanted to share today. Still working hard on my master thesis, but a bit difficult to elaborate on that. Will update that section soon, I hope!

Categories: General Academia