Posted in 2014

My Top 5 Academic Productivity Tools

Keeping up with school can be tough.  Everyone has their own study/organizational habits, but having the right tools is important too.  Notebooks and pencils are great, but there are ways to use technology to stay on top of work, away from distractions and make painful tasks a little more pleasant.  Here are 5 tools I use every day to keep up that I would recommend trying to anyone.

This is one I’ve used for quite a long time, I think I installed it in my 3rd or 4th year of undergrad.  It’s an extension for chrome, that blocks any sites you add to it (Facebook and Twitter for me) after a certain amount of time spent on those sites.  Of course, there are work-arounds, that I do occasionally use, but the small extra step makes sure that I’m cognizant of how much time I’m at the computer but not working. This is free, but if you go over time, and then try to visit a blocked site, the “Shouldn’t you be working?” page has a donate button.

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Kimball Union Academy TECHplusHack

This weekend I spent a little over 24 hours at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, NH for their TECH+hack. It was a hackathon for the high school students here, where they were encouraged to not only build apps, but also hardware systems or conduct an experiment. Essentially their challenge was to connect their other interests to anything Tech. Many of the students tackled problems they had no idea how to get started with. A few had some programming experience, but many were just getting started and relied on the tutorials offered during the hack. It was really cool to see how excited to learn and fearless about failing the students were. Their projects varied from hobbies, to improvements for the school, to just exploring curiosities.

After the twenty-four hours of work, at the end of Sunday Brunch at the school, the students presented the results of their projects. Two projects were related to arts-based capstones: laser cutting for a hand made guitar and designing a fire background that could be integrated with Kinect to give the effect of a dancer on fire. The school is located in a remote area, so the cell reception isn’t great; two students build a cell phone reception booster. One young woman built a website that could track cross country runners as they worked their way through the wooded course.

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Graduate Cohort Workshop

The past two days I’ve been in Santa Clara, California, for the Computer Research Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research (CRA-W) Graduate Cohort Workshop.  CRA-W is an action-oriented committee that exists to study and improve the status of women in computer science research careers.  The graduate cohort workshop is a two-day professional development workshop for women graduate students in their first three years of graduate school.  There are workshops and panels by senior women in the field from both industry and academia.  It’s also an awesome opportunity to connect with a larger network of peers who are all in similar research areas.

I got a lot of great advice and even more just timely reminders and refreshers of things I “knew” but weren’t at the front of my mind.  Most of the advice at this type of workshop isn’t life changing, a lot of the points are things you hear multiple times, but repetition is helpful.  The best part is the networking.  There was a poster session and ample breaks and meals together to get to interact and meet the 303 other women here as participants as well as the mentors.

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A week late, because NSBE Convention requires some recovery- it’s a lot of action all packed into a few short days.  March 26-30 was the 40th Annual NSBE Convention.  This was my eighth consecutive convention.  It was the usual great time connecting and reconnecting with my NSBE family.

At convention this year I wore several different hats- first I was recruiting for Northeastern Graduate Programs.  It’s funny to be on the other side of the table since it wasn’t that long ago that I was the student looking for opportunities.  Recruiting for the grad programs was less hectic than in the fall when I helped with corporate recruiting, but it’s still funny to be assessing students from the other side.  It was also weird because for graduate recruiting, it’s mostly just my job to sell the school; I can’t actually do anything about an admissions decision.  With corporate recruiting, the recruiters can make a recommendation, that is at least partially considered.

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Empowering African American Women in STEM

Last summer, I was invited to join a NSBE Task Force on Empowering African American Women in STEM.  The task force was established to identify appropriate strategies for NSBE to be most impactful as a society in improving the environment for AA women in STEM, especially engineering and CS. We worked throughout the summer and early fall to make an initial recommendation to the National Executive Board.  

One of those recommendations was to host a recognition month celebrating African American Women in STEM.  We chose to make this month run from today, February 16th through March 15th.  We’re celebrating African American women half in Black History Month and half in Women’s History Month.  Our celebration began on Sunday, along with Engineer’s Week and continues for four weeks.  We issued an eBlast announcing to the whole membership of our launched a [](”>page of content on the NSBE site. We’re running an [](” target=“_blank”>Awareness month and [](” target=“_blank”>photo challenge.

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Timely Advice

Wednesday, I received a piece of advice labeled as “the one piece of advice  I wish I would have had day one of the graduate school process.”

What I realized was that a part of why it was so hard to organize the ideas and research interests I had was that it was way more than a PhD worth of work floating around in my head.  Some of the ideas are general enough that though my current work inspired these ideas, they probably can’t even be validated with the data that I’m working on.  When I reach the point of applying for jobs, having good ideas for future work will be great, but what I need to narrow down a dissertation, it’s not constructive.  For now, I need to narrowly work on what will get me my degree.

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A PhD is Not Enough: important choices

As in a previous post this is a part of a series on the book A PhD is Not Enough- A guide to scientific survival. This is the second post.

In chapter three, he focuses on two important early career choices: thesis adviser and post-doctoral position.  For selecting an adviser he focuses on what the advantages are of choosing a more senior person and what to be cautious of with a young, early career, advisor. He weighs what an adviser’s prominence can and cannot do for you.  It can give you easy access to connections, but it cannot be absorbed.

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A PhD is not enough!

I’ve been told numerous times that I should read the book A PhD is not Enough! and I recently finally decided to buy it and start reading. I posted on instagram that I was and was asked for cliff notes. My next blog series will be that.

The first two chapters are very introductory; he introduces the motivation for the book and gives a series of anecdotes of other scientists careers.  He focuses on bad decisions they each made, including his own.  He positions the book to focus on how to make sure you’re a good candidate for full time positions as a researcher in science. He acknowledges changes in the world since he was on the job market and since the first edition of the book and states why the core of his advice is timeless.  He notes that some of the details will change rapidly, but the same principles will apply.  The central themes will be: 1) know thyself, and 2) understand and respect the needs of your audience.

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WiML and NIPS 2013

Last month I attended the Women In Machine Learning (WiML) workshop and the Neural Information Processing Symposium (NIPS) for the second time. For a second year, the conference was located in South Lake Tahoe, NV.

The WiML workshop was started as a co-located workshop to the Grace Hopper Conference and moved to be co-located with NIPS, a premiere machine learning conference, after a couple years.  The workshop was started by a group of women in the field after noticing how few women were at NIPS each year.   In the workshop, women researchers and students give presentations, we have a poster session, and close the day out with a panel on career paths.   At breakfast and lunch we get to network wither each other and senior women in the field.  The organizers also connect attendees into mentoring groups based on career stage and research interests.   This year was nice that I got to reconnect with a lot of the women I met last year.

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Learning From Negative Results

I posted previously a little about my MS thesis.  It’s finally completely done and fully published.

My project started out with the objective to build better models for human emotion, using a standard set of features derived from peripheral physiology signals.  These signals are considered to be indirect, but still valuable, measurements of activity in the brain.  Having more detailed models for how emotion exists in the brain could have impact on research in psychopathologies.  Prior work with standard statistical analysis showed some differences in the measurements that correlated with the different emotions.  The problem that I was to address was that the measurements were only weak predictors of the specific emotions.

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Mentoring Works: By Proof

I first learned what engineering was from a mentor I had in my senior year of high school.    I had completed AP calculus already and wasn’t interested in AP Statistics.  Instead I took this ‘course’ of sorts that had been trialed a year before me when three students were in the same situation as me asked for a way to take more math that the district had planned for, without having to adapt their schedules to fit a college course.   It was a course in mathematical proofs and basics of set theory.

For the fall semester of my senior year, each morning I reported to the library instead of a “real” class.  I had a book to follow and a notebook to scribble in.  Once a week, an engineer from a company in town came and met with me for an hour.  This was actually an amazing mentoring experience.  He wasn’t really my teacher, I worked through most of the material on my own.  He was there to meet with me weekly to check on my progress some, but mostly to give me someone to discuss the material with.

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Million Women Mentors Pledge

Happy National Mentoring Month!

Mentors have shaped my career and experience greatly so far.  They’ve opened doors, provided insights, and helped me make connections countless times.  Some are direct, some are more distant, some advocate on my behalf, others just push me to do things I keep avoiding.  All are valuable.

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