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I can't often talk about the research I do at Lincoln Laboratory, but sometimes the curtain parts for a brief instant and allows a quick peek:

Four innovative technologies garner 2012 R&D 100 Awards for MIT Lincoln Laboratory

And while I'm at it, let me reiterate the fact that we're looking for more great people to come help solve important cryptographic problems:

That's just a sample. Many, many more positions here. (Hint: search for jobs associated with Groups 06-61, 06-68 and 06-69.)


On consulting

26 Jul 2011

I made a promise, a few posts back, to answer a reader's question about consulting. In particular:

How do you get started in consulting? Do you wait for someone to approach you, or to you actively advertise your interest in taking on consulting work?

Dear reader: a good question, but not the most important one.


Why do I blog about the gender gap in computer science? I am not a research psychologist, and so don't care about the underlying mechanisms for their own sake. Likewise, I do not think of being a computer scientist as a privilege and so do not care about the social justice issues. No, my interest is pragmatic: more computer scientists means more technological progress, which means a better standard of living for me and my children. So to me, everything in this topic boils down to two questions:

  1. Are we losing potential computer scientists to other fields?
  2. If so, what can we do about it?

The answer to question (1) seems fairly settled by now: yes. In particular, we're losing women.1 Now, most of my posts on the topic have focused on a question not on the list above: why? This is not because I find the question of 'why' interesting in its own right (I don't) but because it might help me answer question (2). So, I'm very happy to report I've found a glimmer of hope in a paper that verifies the effectiveness of a specific, easily-implemented strategy to keep women in CS.

  • 1. We might also be losing other minorities, such as racial minorities. In fact, I'm pretty sure we are, but I haven't found any good papers on the topic yet.

Via Sociological Images (who in turn got it from Kieran Healy) I stumbled across the eye-opening chart below:

Yes, this blog is still alive. In fact, I just spent the past hour or so doing some major behind-the-scenes upgrading. (To the latest Drupal 6, not Drupal 7. The Drupal 7 update is for another day.) All changes should be invisible to you, so please let me know if you see anything odd or broken.

(Update: edited first sentence to include previously-missing words.)


I'm giving this its own top-level post as I suspect it would otherwise escape most people's attention:

Remember our previous discussion of the 'ambient belonging' study? The one about how environmental cues alone (Star Trek poster, comics, video-game boxes, pizza boxes, etc.) can influence how much people (don't) want to pursue computer science? In a stunning display of generosity, the contact author for that study (Prof. Sapna Cheryan) took the time to answer some of our questions on it. I've posted my mail to her, and her response (with permission) in the comment-thread to that post:


If anything, it looks like the published paper understated how much of an effect these environmental cues had...


I couldn't talk you out of it, huh? Best of luck to you, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. To help you on your way, though, here are a few resources I found helpful and which I suggest to you. (Note: all links are affiliate links.)

  • The most important skill I can recommend to you, as a new professor, is time management. This boils down two to two things: managing your commitments & projects, and focusing on your long term goals. For the first of these, I can recommend no resource higher than Getting Things Done by David Allen. Essentially, this is just a collection of 'tricks' for collecting and managing requests/information/ideas/etc as they are thrown at you, but they work. And furthermore, they continue to work even if you implement them piecemeal, tweak them to suit your own particular way of doing things, etc. I cannot recommend it too highly. (In fact, I try to re-read it once a year or so just to see if there's anything more in there I can use. There usually is.)

    Right. So with that one book, you've got the commitment/project management side covered. I wish I could recommend a similarly strong book for the other side, focusing on your long-term goals, but I haven't found one yet. David Allen has written a follow-up book on this exact topic (Making It All Work) but I haven't read it yet. A lot of people seem to find inspiration in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, but I found it a little insipid. Your mileage may vary.

    If anyone has a good book on the topic they'd like to recommend, can they please leave it in the comments?

  • Teaching is a skill. It helps to have talent, but everyone's got some learning to do before they get good at it. Now, you can learn from your own painful experience, but I prefer to learn from other people's painful experience instead. And the best book I can recommend for in-classroom teaching skills is The Torch or the Firehose by Arthur P. Mattuck, a pamphlet published by MIT for its TAs. Everything I learned about working a classroom, I learned from that book. (And every time I deviated from its good advice, I regretted it.) It's good, and it's free. Go download it.

  • As for everything else, I recommend Advice for New Faculty Members, by Robert Boyce. In particular, I especially appreciate that this is not a collection of tricks. Instead, it tries to instill a specific mindset to have-- one which focuses on maintaining equilibrium for the long haul. From the table of contents: "Wait" (Chapter 1), "Stop" (Chapter 4), and "Let others do some of the work" (Chapter 7). The book does have its share of specific advice and tricks, but the thing that sets it apart from other books on the topic is this zen-like mindset of moderation in all things. Like Getting Things Done, above, 90% of this book will go over your head the first time you read it. I suggest you re-read it every year or so until there's nothing more in it to be gained. (And if you ever get to that point, you've made it well past me.)

Do any of the other professors out there have other suggestions to throw in?

This post is really a follow-up to my last post, in which I tried my damnedest to talk people out of going to graduate school. The rationale there was that grad school is a serious commitment with some very high hidden costs, and that while those costs may be worth it for some people, they would go to grad school no matter what I said. If I could possibly talk you out of grad school, therefore, you really shouldn't go.

When writing that post, I was planning to take the same position in this one: that if I could talk you out of being a professor, you shouldn't be one. But between then and now, I gave it more thought and realized two things:

  • There is absolutely no way that I would be able to talk anybody at all out of taking a professorship.
  • My feelings on professorships are more mixed than they were about graduate school.

So, I'm not going to try to talk people out of professorships after all. In fact, I'm not even going to try to answer the question in the title of this post. Instead, I'll just lay out my observations on the matter and let people decide for themselves.

We're been recruiting like mad at my place of work, which means that I've been interviewing a lot of people recently. Many of them are just graduating college, and are trying to decide whether to join the Real World or to continue on to grad school. Many of the others are just finishing grad school, and trying to decide whether to join the Real World or pursue a professorship. I've actually been on both sides of both decisions. I did go to grad school, but only after working in the Real World (well, real-ish) for three years or so. And while I did serve as a Professor for a while (two years), I left it to return to the Real World. So I've seen both sides of the fence, for both grad school and professorships, and have some advice I'd like to share with people facing these decisions. I'll leave the professorship-question for the next post, and focus here on the decision whether or not to go back to grad school.

So, should you go back to grad school?