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Ask Slashdot: How Should a Liberal Arts Major Get Into STEM?

tylikcat Re:Ph.D. Program? (279 comments)

If you're looking at going this route I can make a few suggestions. I did something similar.*

First, off, the breakdown is something like: just take classes as a post-baccalaureate, either towards a degree or not / go to grad school (and if you do go to grad school a PhD program is more likely to be funded, even if you leave early with a masters. Do not pay for a stem PhD yourself. It's wrong.)

So, when I started looking into heading back, possibly to grad school, I did two things: First, I contacted a few potential programs, and talked to their admins, and got an idea what they were looking for. I thought I'd be a hard sell, they were mostly all "You can code? You should apply right now. Or really soon." But I still got them to give me a list of useful classes to take - I had a bunch of money from stock options and wasn't I liked research. And I started taking a few classes.

Next, I started looking for a lab where I could volunteer and get research experience. There are also paid positions, obviously I was in a super privileged place here. Again, I expected this to be hard, and instead something like 3/4 of the PIs I met were all "And if you come work for me, this is the desk I'd like to chain you to." Generally, paid work is, well, paid. Volunteer work is easier to get and more likely to be entertaining. I ended up spending a couple of years in that lab I picked, ended up running a project with grad students and post docs reporting to me, and got my first first-name publication out of it. Oh, and wrote and got my first grant funded. (Okay, I'm told this whole experience is a little non-standard. But hey, things like this do happen.)

Eventually I got around to applying for grad school. And by then, getting in was super easy. (Okay, I was wait listed at one place :-( ) But, y'know grad school is all about having serious research experience, far more than it is about having the right classes. So good letters of recommendation from people who knew me as a researcher and a publication history was just golden. Also, by that time I'd acquired a lot of the right classes. (Enough so that I got excused from the required first semester classes for my grad program.)

So... okay, I realize not all of this is replicable, but a lot of the parts are. It is easy to get research experience. (I spend a lot of time helping folks find labs to volunteer in - the ones who aren't working for me already, I mean.) I mean, it takes persistance, but it's not like it takes talent. I recommend contacting PI and asking if you can sit in on lab meetings - this is a pretty much no commitment thing for them, so they're a lot less likely to blow you off.

Similarly, you can just call grad programs, and the people there will be happy to talk to you, and you can start figuring out what you need to do to make yourself a viable candidate. (Of course, once you get research experience, you'll also get the inside scoop, which is often substantially different from the outside scoop.)

Finding research related jobs - again, more persistance than talent. Check out the online boards, but also show up on campus in person, as some things just get announced via a piece of paper. Talk to folks. Ask around. Think about how you can use the skills you already have.

And if you can't code already? Go up to Python.org and start working through their tutorials. Really. Python loves you and wants you to be happy (this was more or less the motto of the summer python club a few of my students twisted my arm in to running. Well... really, they ran it, I just showed up and had skills.)

(and if you want to talk about any of this, happy to chat)

* Sort of. I did my undergrad work in Chinese and PoliEcon, then worked as a software engineer. Then I went back to see if I liked research - hey, guess what? Research is awesome, at least if you're broken in the specific ways I am. So, substantially different goals, but some overlap of potential approach.

3 days ago
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Ask Slashdot: How Should a Liberal Arts Major Get Into STEM?

tylikcat Re:Ph.D. Program? (279 comments)

*laughs*

Well, it does depends on where you want to be hirable. PhDs have extremely low unemployment rates. And if a place thinks you'll be bored there? Hey, maybe that's a good thing to know! ('Course, I like running my own lab.)

3 days ago
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Ask Slashdot: How Should a Liberal Arts Major Get Into STEM?

tylikcat Re:Going back (279 comments)

I'm actually betting on better jobs - and maybe better skillsets to get those better jobs. Disappointment breeds bitterness.

(Of course, the question would be whether it's mostly folks who have stem jobs but just lousy ones, who have lousy non stem jobs... or are highschoolers hanging out here griping as a way to blow off steam. And for the latter group, well, on the one hand, better manners would be nice, but from what I remember of my teenager years* you really do need to blow off steam.)

* I didn't really go to highschool, I gather that's even worse.

3 days ago
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Google Suggests Separating Students With 'Some CS Knowledge' From Novices

tylikcat Re:Just let them test out! (307 comments)

My favorite set of interactions was in third year - right before the heritage students all dropped out - when we had debates. The heritage students were far more fluent... but had lousy logic skills and their arguments tended to be along the lines of "I'm against abortion... because it's wrong! Because god said so!" The non heritage students might have been stumbling a little more in speech, but we cared! And we knew our subjects! And we were tenacious! And all of the shyness that was the biggest barrier or improving our verbal skills fell away, because we were not going to lose the damn argument.

Every week.

(If there's one thing I could tell my younger self, it would be to work on losing the shyness earlier. Doing Taiji and gossiping in Chinese every morning with an elderly Chinese gentleman at my old apartment building was the best thing that ever happened to my speaking skills. Hanging out with bored senior citizens would be right up there as well.)

5 days ago
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Google Suggests Separating Students With 'Some CS Knowledge' From Novices

tylikcat Re:Just let them test out! (307 comments)

I guess to be fair, I should fess up that I took my first year as an eight week summer intensive, and while there may have been a few people there with some marginal background, we were all pretty swamped.

5 days ago
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Google Suggests Separating Students With 'Some CS Knowledge' From Novices

tylikcat Re: Screw you white boys (307 comments)

I realize this might be hard to follow, but there are in fact multiple links, not a single article. And, in fact, you are conflating two different programs, one aimed at college level courses, and another aimed at high school teachers.

about a week ago
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Google Suggests Separating Students With 'Some CS Knowledge' From Novices

tylikcat Re:Screw you white boys (307 comments)

Again, my background wasn't in CS (nor in Neurbiology, my current field, or anything even close) but in my experience this approach will get you far. There may be times when you want a laid back review - otherwise, why waste your time and money? Push yourself, take a more challenging course, and get more out of it. I got into all kinds of courses without the pre-reqs, just by speaking to the instructors ahead of time and convincing them I'd be okay. Similarly, I convinced my department to let me substitute interesting upper level classes for boring lower level requirements in a number of cases. And had a much more interesting education because of it.

The idea of whining because you can't get into an introductory class because you already know much of the material strikes me as pretty silly - sheesh, breeze through the online class and go and do something more productive with your time.

about a week ago
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Google Suggests Separating Students With 'Some CS Knowledge' From Novices

tylikcat Re:Win-win (307 comments)

The amount of furor in the comment along the lines of "Oh noes, people who don't already know how to code won't be given the traditional beatdown!" is kind of horrifying. Yeesh. Having a beginning class that's for actual beginners sounds like an awesome idea. Let the folks with some background test out, or if they're not quite ready to do that, put them in something like an online course where they can fill in the gaps at their own pace.

Ideally, having some kind of acclerated intro (maybe two semesters crammed into one?) for folks with some background might be a great alternative if you have the time and faculty. The impression I get is that they don't. It also might be useful to train profs on how to manage students who are being assholes to their classmates - but seriously, CS profs who are already overcommitted? I can at least see why this is not the route they're going.

about a week ago
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Google Suggests Separating Students With 'Some CS Knowledge' From Novices

tylikcat Re:Screw you white boys (307 comments)

Of course, since they're talking about sorting people on the basis of being CS knowledge, not skin color, what you're saying doesn't really make sense. A dirt poor white male who doesn't have a CS background gets in - whereas a hispanic girl who's been winning hackathons through highschool doesn't. Sure, there will be more white and asian males who don't get in, but it's not about race or gender.

The introductory classes end up being for actual beginners. Is that really so terrifying?

about a week ago
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Google Suggests Separating Students With 'Some CS Knowledge' From Novices

tylikcat Re:Just let them test out! (307 comments)

"There were plenty of people who go Comp-Sci degrees in the late 90s who had very little interest in computers and programing."

Ye gods, yes. I thought of them as the crowd who in most times would have been PoliSci majors as pre-law. One could have an interesting discussion about whether they lacked interest or programmer disposition, but yeesh, yes, whatever it was, they didn't have it.

As an aside, whether intro classes are used as weeder classes depends on the college and on the discipline (though I suppose CS is implied here.) In many of places they are more annoying and uninspiring than actually difficult because they are unpopular with the faculty. (Whereas one of my research students has been doing really ridiculous amounts of homework for discrete math, say. It's kind of adorable, even if it cuts into his lab time.)

about a week ago
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Google Suggests Separating Students With 'Some CS Knowledge' From Novices

tylikcat Re:Just let them test out! (307 comments)

And it just makes for a miserable experience for everyone.

When I took Chinese,* 80% of the class spoke some dialect of Chinese at home, and were there to a) learn Mandarin b) learn to read and write c) get an easy language credit. Okay, I'm enough of a masochist that I kind of enjoyed the challenge of trying to keep up in this environment as someone who came in speaking no Chinese at all, but it could be pretty depressing, and for someone with a less twisted disposition than I it would probably have been pretty awful. (These days they separate out heritage and non heritage students. Because, y'know, people who don't speak the language maybe need their own class.)

* I've spent more time teaching coding than taking CS classes. *shrug* Partly because I grew up with it - dad was a CS prof - partly because my school was still making Ada a prerequisite for everything and hell no. I've made some effort to fill in the gaps, but hey, I'm mostly a hacker.

about a week ago
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James Watson's Nobel Medal Sells For $4.1 Million

tylikcat Re:Here's an idea for him (201 comments)

I don't really know if there's much point in trying to reply to this, but I'm going to try to, anyway.

Rosalind Franklin is a figure that an awful lot of people, especially scientists (and especially, but certainly not only, women) feel pretty strongly about. She did extremely good work, and managed to work in the field at a time when it was socially quite difficult to be a working scientist as a woman. She played a pivotal role in our understanding of DNA, and meanwhile, the best known account of her, from a professional colleague says stuff like this:

I suspect that in the beginning Maurice hoped that Rosy would calm down. Yet mere inspection suggested that she would not easily bend. By choice she did not emphasize her feminine qualities. Though her features were strong, she was not unattractive and might have been quite stunning had she taken even a mild interest in clothes. This she did not. There was never lipstick to contrast with her straight black hair, while at the age of thirty-one her dresses showed all the imagination of English blue-stocking adolescents. So it was quite easy to imagine her the product of an unsatisfied mother who unduly stressed the desirability of professional careers that could save bright girls from marriages to dull men.

...strangely, he never brings that kind of focus to the appearance of any of his male colleagues. (Nor does he give them spurious nicknames or otherwise belittle them. Or expect somehow that they would "bend" rather than behave as peers. Though there does seem to have been some poor communication on behalf of the department head that set up some of this conflict.) Keep in mind, this isn't his diary or anything that was quoted out of context, this is from a book that he published.

Meanwhile, her data was taken from her, without her permission, and shown to people, one of whom would eventually describe her that way after her death and was one of those who eventually got the Nobel prize. So, yeah, a lot of people think Watson owes her, and a lot of people think she still deserves more recognition.

Watson has a pretty long history of mouthing off in public. His comments about Africans and IQ are only the latest of many (this is fairly well documented on internet, and from a certain standpoint, especially taken as a collection, somewhat amusing. If you have a dark sense of humor.) But a lot of the eye-rolling in the scientific community rests first on the misappropriation Franklin's data - and then, if perhaps to a lesser extent, following up that scientific malfeasance with writing such a sexist smear of her. It's not that uncommon, though unfortunately, for famous scientists to mouth off in public, especially outside of their area of expertise. But you don't fuck with someone else's data.

about two weeks ago
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James Watson's Nobel Medal Sells For $4.1 Million

tylikcat Re:Here's an idea for him (201 comments)

Are you even familiar with what we're referring to?

He used Franklin's data, obtained via underhanded means, without her permission, and then smeared her in his book, The Double Helix, after her death. (The controversies referred to above, while particularly outré, are hardly the first that Watson has engaged in.)

(It's fairly likely she would have shared the Nobel, but it is not granted posthumously.)

about two weeks ago
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James Watson's Nobel Medal Sells For $4.1 Million

tylikcat Re:Here's an idea for him (201 comments)

Yes, if he's trying to finance his way into redemption, that at least would be a first stab at reparations. What a creep.

about two weeks ago
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Chinese Government Moves To Crack Down On Puns

tylikcat Re:Don Quixote, anyone ? (156 comments)

Oh, come on, the Qin emperor, bless his tiny meglomaniacal heart managed at least two successful ones. His standardization of the written system and massive book burning were both hugely effective and influential to this day. (One could probably make some kind of argument around the great wall for a third, though casting something which was a massive defense project AND a means of disposing of malcontents as cultural engineering would at least take effort.)

The recent standardization of the spoken language is young enough that the jury is still out, but it switch to mandarin has been pretty startlingly large even just in my lifetime, and it's huge even in the overseas communities. I've watched Seattle's Chinatown go from being primarily Taihanese and Cantonese to mandarin overwhelmingly dominating. Which is handy for me - I speak mandarin - but... weird.* Especially with the influx of new people and new money. And a lot of the families that have been in the area for generations and speak Cantonese at home are choosing to send their kids to school to learn Mandarin because they see it as advantageous for business. And, of course, you have the recent reworking of the written system, which is also huge, and incredible influential. (And a pain in the ass when you essentially have to learn them both, but I digress.)

Or... what about the end of foot binding? Because, seriously, it's gone.

Puns, though... yeah, I just can't see that happening. Far too much a part of the languaguage and culture. Far too commonly used in protest - and frequently anonymous protest. I'm remembering the little bottles in '78, when people were calling for Deng XiaoPing to return... (XiaoPing is a homophone for "little bottle.")

* Much of this is me being grumpy. There are places I've been going since I was five that aren't there any more. And the new places don't make pineapple custard buns as well. I have a pretty long list of new places I'm entirely in favor of.

about two weeks ago
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In UK Study, Girls Best Boys At Making Computer Games

tylikcat Re:Sample size (312 comments)

The paper is about the use of the flip graphical language and their experiences with it as a teaching tool. The gender findings are just mentioned by the by, and have been seized upon by the popular press. (For obvious reasons. Certainly no made less obvious by the super defensive "But that certainly must not be true!" response from so many people here. Oh, /.)

Mind you, the primary issue isn't one of sample size (though yeah, ideally more would be a plan) but selection, and it appears that the difference between the two groups is pretty large in that class. The problem is that it is a class, which makes it a seriously non-random population. Not a big thing when the point of the paper is "We built this cool teaching tool, and this is our experience using our teaching tool," but if you wanted to make a more general statement about learning, you would want a differently chosen population.

Or a number of different classes, which doesn't sidestep all of the problems, but is a lot easier to implement.

about three weeks ago
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Pianist Asks Washington Post To Remove Review Under "Right To Be Forgotten"

tylikcat Re:Sparks but no flame: Pianist Dejan Lazic at Ken (257 comments)

The problem of course comes not when you download it, but when it's placed on a /. server so that people can dowload it from there, rather than from the WaPo site. This is, like, remedial piracy.

about a month and a half ago
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Pianist Asks Washington Post To Remove Review Under "Right To Be Forgotten"

tylikcat Re:As many have pointed out... (257 comments)

Providing a link to the review was genius.

about a month and a half ago
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The Inevitable Death of the Internet Troll

tylikcat Re:Semantics (571 comments)

I was pretty appalled that he grabbed me - even in terms of Cleveland, where* having random construction workers call out to bring my ass over there so they can stick their dick in it** - campus was usually free from the overtly obnoxious crap. I didn't perceive it as particularly physically threatening, but many, perhaps most women might have.

Getting police involved? It really didn't occur to me, and I wonder if I'd be taken seriously - he grabbed my arm, I shook him off and was clearly really mad, he backed the hell away. OTOH, philosophically, if someone, say, tried to attack me on the street I would call the police even were I easily able to resolve the issue without injury to myself - I don't think being a martial artist means that it's okay to attack me, and I don't think me having humiliated an attacker means that they shouldn't then have to deal with the police. But in this case, even if it had occurred to me, my gut sense is that I wouldn't have been taken seriously. Escalating it through the university would have been another matter though... ugh. That just sounds like such a probable clusterfuck.

If someone groped me at a conference, even one which I was attending on my own time, yes, I would report it, both to the conference staff and the local police. And frankly I would be prepared for it to blow up in my face. Because I am a woman in tech, and that happens a reasonable proportion of the time. (And while I wince to think of some of the crap I've taken - or, rather, slapped down but not reported - I also know it's partly because as a woman, getting a reputation as someone who calls harassment is career poison.)

If someone groped me in a purely social setting, I'd consult my hosts, first. Depending on the circumstances, having the offending party thrown out of the event with prejudice might be a satisfactory option,*** and inviting the police to a party in progress might be more trouble than it's worth.

* Well, when I still had hair - when I arrive I had hip length hair, though it was always either tied up or braided back. For a number of reasons I ended up trimming my hair down to a couple of mm, which has cut down on the catcalling a lot.
** Seattle so very much did not prepare me for this.
*** This is a pretty well established option, too.

about 2 months ago
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The Inevitable Death of the Internet Troll

tylikcat Re:Semantics (571 comments)

The professional colleague? I broke his hold - more or less reflexively, and stingingly - and wondered whether I needed to introduce his face to a nearby wall. Not that I said anything, and I doubt he had the background to really read the stance change, but he clearly got the "that was a really terrible idea" and backed off. It honestly didn't occur to me to press charges.* He's in a different department, and so he's not someone I have to deal with on a regular basis, which helps. (This was just a couple of years ago. Though I think he might have moved on, as I haven't seen him in a year or so.)

I wonder a bit more about the groping in social situations, to be honest. I mean, at the time - this was mostly a decade or more back** I had a fairly well established reputation as someone to treat with respect, and it was socially considered kind of funny that occasionally someone would push the line and I would firmly and somewhat painfully explain to him the error of his ways. It was downright hilarious that there was one guy who was such an idiot as to try it twice. This was back when I still worked in industry, and seriously, while I rarely dealt with coworkers with inappropriate touching issues, dealing with (mostly mild) inappropriate behavior from male coworkers was really common, I was good at it, and saw that kind of toughness as part of doing well as a woman in software - especially in a leadership role. (And yes, I'm skipping back and forth between social and work responses - but then, I worked a lot, most of my friends were also in software, and each response shaped the other.)

Now, looking at that all, I think my approach doesn't port and doesn't scale. I mean, I'm tall, muscular, socially confident, a trained martial artist***... and mostly what the more clueless guys seemed to get from our interactions was not to push the line *with me.* Most of my fellow geek women are smaller, shyer and not as well trained for these situations. (And less used to having to get into people's faces on a regular basis. One of the things I enjoy most about not being in software is that research gives me so much more room to be a nice person...)

Other than refusing to have anything to do with social contexts that don't throw folks out for that kind of behavior, though I'm not entirely certain what to do. I mean, when is it appropriate to press charges? When will you be taken seriously (considering how hard it is to get taken seriously for a rape charge much of the time "someone grabbed my tit at a party" seems like a non-starter). And, of course, there are all the semi-social things - say, geek conferences that one attends on one's own time.

BTW - on that whole "Men are expected to make the advances..." So, I know there's generally speaking an expectation there (and I know that a number of my female research students don't follow it). But personally, I've initiated the majority of relationships (and, for that matter, one night stands) I've been in. So it's really frustrating when I hear this kind of thing brought up in the context of bad male behavior (especially since considering my generally social affect it's hard to imagine anyone convincing themself I was playing the coquette).

* Okay, truth, I was more thinking of things like dislocating his elbow. And whether I was going to survive my time in Ohio, which has a lot more rampant street harassment, without doing someone serious bodily harm. And I don't tend to hurt people as a first response, and de-escalation is pretty deeply engrained, but yeesh - I mean, clearly I want people calling obscenities at me, I went out wearing my breasts.
** I don't get out much, between the research and martial arts, and most of the parties I do attend will throw people out for that kind of behavior and make sure they're never invited back.
*** And I still run into some of this shit, and doesn't that say something right there?

about 2 months ago

Submissions

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Satanists dramatize distribution of religious materials at schools

tylikcat tylikcat writes  |  about 3 months ago

tylikcat (1578365) writes "In response to a ruling allowing Christian groups to distribute bibles and other Christian oriented materials in schools, the Satanic Temple has decided to distributed their own The Satanic Children's Big Book of Activities. Let the games begin!

To be fair, the Satanic Temple is is forthright in stating that they would not have sought the right to distibute such materials on their own, but point out that most children will already be aware of Christianity, but this might be the first time they encounter to the practice of Satanism."
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This American Life takes on Patent Trolls

tylikcat tylikcat writes  |  about a year and a half ago

tylikcat (1578365) writes "This American Life aired a show Friday following up on an earlier segment about patent trolls. In the original segment many of the producers' questions could not be answered. Now they can, and the story that comes out is quite different than the one originally presented by Intellectual Ventures. Fascinating listening by any measure, and it's particularly nice to see these issues discussed in a venue aimed at a broader audience."
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Alleged Romney Tax Data Thief Demands Bitcoin Ransom

tylikcat tylikcat writes  |  more than 2 years ago

tylikcat (1578365) writes "It will be interesting to see if the alleged theft actually occurred — after all the fuss about Romney's secret tax data, it does seem like an obvious target. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the story is that demand that a ransom for the data be paid in bitcoins. (Though the demand for ransom seems to push this from potentially interesting data activism to rather dreary conventional theft.)"
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