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Comment Unpaid research? (Score 1) 234

I am now a research physicist, doing experimental condensed matter physics, but when I was an undergraduate physics major, I got a research job in my sophomore year working for an astrophysicist, for what was nominally 10 hours per week. It is true that getting a Ph.D. in grad school probably requires about 20,000 hours of work, and this is if you start with a physics/astrophysics undergraduate degree, but I was able to start contributing to research with very little background. This was in the early 1990s, and it largely involved writing Fortran programs to analyze time series data from an X-Ray observation satellite. I was directly supervised by a grad student with whom met once a week or so. I can't say that, at the time, I actually understood much of the astrophysics, but it did eventually result in a publication (a conference proceedings paper, that the grad student wrote and on which I was the second author). Although developing an understanding of exactly what's going on with a set of observations, and further, knowing how that understanding fits in with the major unanswered questions in astrophysics does likely require a lot of advanced coursework. (And as someone else pointed out, to learn physics you need to solve hard physics problems, much the same way that to learn to program you need to write code.) But the actual day-to-day carrying out of research does not always require such deep understanding.

It'd be a long shot, but you might be able to find a researcher who would let you be a sort of unpaid equivalent to an undergraduate researcher. Some professor might have a data set lying around that nobody in his/her research group has had time to tackle. Or there might be a professor who mostly focuses on teaching and whose research program has largely come to a halt but who still is interested in some research questions. It'd probably be more feasible if you were also taking (or took) as a non-traditional student. It's not entirely straightforward: the research output of undergraduate-level researchers is often quite low, and faculty largely do it because it's understood to be an important part of undergraduate training, which would not apply in your case.

Comment Re:Citation Needed (Score 1) 373

The wealthy-Googlers-forcing-the-99%-out-of-SF problem is exacerbated, if not entirely the result of, a darkly ironic twist on zoning and development. There is too little supply and much demand, for housing, so prices go up.

But let's compare SF and the Bay Area to NYC. SF itself has a population density (17k/mi^2) that's less than half of Brooklyn (36k/mi^2), which is NYC's second-most dense borough and which itself has half the density of Manhattan (70k/mi^2). The suburban counties south of SF, San Mateo (1.6k/mi^2) and Santa Clara (1.4k/mi^2) have roughly a third of the population density of the nearest suburban counties to NYC, Nassau (4.7k/mi^2) and Bergen, NJ (3.9k/mi^2).

So it's not like it couldn't be possible to house everyone, to increase housing supply to match demand. But many (but certainly not all) of the same voices who are now complaining about the influx of rich Googlers came of age in a time when developers and development were destroying so much that was good and building much that was bad, and so the only mode of civic-minded activism which makes sense to them is to STOP THE GREEDY DEVELOPERS. Stop them from upzoning, stop them from increasing population density, stop them from building enough housing for everyone.

Transit in the Bay Area is a mess, and Google and the other tech companies using the Muni bus stops isn't helping. But with so many employees who wish to live in SF, Google really ought to abandon the outdated suburban office park campus idea and build itself a large building in San Francisco itself.

Comment The University's interests (Score 1) 689

At the undergraduate level, there's no "problem," as none of the US government-backed or university-backed financial aid programs support nonresident foreign nationals. Our universities take their tuition money and provide an education.

The issue would be at the graduate level in the sciences and in engineering. But we need to be extremely careful about exactly what is being paid for. First set aside fellowships, which also don't apply to nonresident foreign nationals. The absolute standard practice is that Ph.D.-level graduate students in the sciences and engineering have their tuition, and a small living stipend, paid for by a combination of teaching assistantships and research assistantships.

In the case of teaching assistantships, then the grad student provides some number of hours per week of teaching, and in return gets his or her tuition paid for and a modest stipend. This is in turn funded by the tuition that undergraduates pay. The University is, in essence, simply hiring someone to do a job. The grad student spends some of his or her time teaching and uses the rest of his or her time, and status as a University student, to further his or her own education. Although there can be issues with non-native-English-speaking foreign graduate students and their ability to communicate in English, that is beside the point, and there's no investment in the grad student, on the part of the government or the University, that's being "lost" if the grad student returns to his or her home country after graduation.

In the case of research assistantships, these are offered by individual faculty members to graduate students working in those faculty's research groups. The faculty, in turn, get the money from research grants, almost all of which are funded by the government. However, the funding agencies are not directly funding specific students, rather, they are funding particular projects. To get a research grant, the faculty member submits a grant proposal that details what they expect to learn, and how much it will cost in terms of equipment, materials, labor, and so forth. When such research leads to interesting results, it is published, and the funding agencies are acknowledged. What funding agencies want to do is fund successful work. In this case, the funding agency is paying to have a particular scientific question investigated. Invariably, the people who are actually in the lab doing the labor to produce the results are either the grad students, or postdocs, or sometimes undergraduates. Their salaries, and grad student tuition, are paid in exchange for this labor. But fundamentally, the government funding agency pays for, and hopefully gets, scientific results, without concern for who does the work to get the results. But again, there's no investment that's being "lost" if the grad students or postdocs who did the work decide to leave the US once the work is done, because the investment was in the scientific work, not the individual students.

With the graduate population in the sciences and engineering at US Universities, you'll find the whole cross-section of American graduate students, plus the very best of the foreign graduate students. Only the cream of the foreign crop comes to the US, and this leads to the skewing of the graduate populations in which the best and most promising students are more likely to be foreign. And for the faculty researchers, its in their best interests to work with the best students, in order that their work be successful and lead to further research grants. So it can be in the best interests of faculty, and the Universities themselves, to welcome the best foreign grad students into their research groups.

Comment point of no return (Score 1) 540

How is it possible to demonstrate that there are any sort of psychological evaluations that can determine if a potential Mars astronaut is actually ready for this sort of mission? This mission promises to set up a sustainable and growing community, but for an individual astronaut, there is also going to be a complete and final separation from damn-near everyone they know, and everything they've known, and all the millions of things anyone has come to take for granted after living on Earth for at least 25 years. So there is a sense in which this is comparable to a suicide mission, because of the separation. We also know from survivors of suicide attempts that if there is time for contemplation after the point of no return, there is nearly universally regret of the attempt. Those who jump off a bridge, and survive, nearly universally report that mid-air they had immediate regrets of jumping. How can it be possible to ensure that, once the astronauts are past the point of no return in the mission, there won't be a similar feeling of regret?

Comment Space for growing food? (Score 5, Interesting) 540

Your FAQ, in the "sustainability" question, states

The first four will also be carrying a device similar to a portable greenhouse, that will allow them to grow their own food.

If we take 2000 calories per day as a baseline human need, that's 730,000 calories per [Earth] year, or about 3 million calories per Earth year per four-person crew, and the total need will grow by 3 million calories per Earth year every two years as more missions arrive. The diet would need to be varied, both to guard against catastrophic crop failure and to provide an appropriate spectrum of nutrients, and a reasonable estimate (e.g. based on a combination of corn, beans, and squash) suggests that 1 acre on Earth can provide such 3 million calories. But Mars gets, on average, only about 44% of the insolation as Earth does, so the first-order estimate suggests you'd need about 2.3 acres per mission-load of astronauts to grow a subsistence diet. This presumes that radiation won't negatively impact the crops, that the yield throughout the Mars growing season scales comparable to the Earth's, that your soil is comparable to Earth's, and many more things. You'll also need enough additional carbon and water to make the non-edible parts of the plants and soil, and you'll need to make sure there exists a suitable microbial community to decompose crop waste and turn it back into a useable food-growing medium (i.e. compost).

I don't see in your concept drawing anything that approaches the size of land that would be needed to come anywhere close to such sustainable food production. Do you even have a back-of-the-envelope plan for sustainable food production, or is the bulk of the astronauts' calories going to need to come in perpetuity from the Earth?

Comment Test score growth: don't trust it (Score 3, Interesting) 343

I realize TFA is more like the author's off-the-cuff musings and less like a rigorous study, but it does recommend looking at test score growth, and in the process fails to mention something that's both nearly obvious but almost always overlooked when discussing test score growth. When test scores grow, one is by definition comparing the scores that one group of students took on one test to the scores that another group of students got on a different test. With that in mind, there are 5 principal ways that test scores can "go up":

1. students cheat on the second test
2. the second test is easier
3. students who score low on the first test don't take the second test
4. students, who score high on the second test, were added to the testing group but did not take the first test
5. more individual students score better on the second test than perform worse on the second test

Cheating does happen, but it's probably rare. Tests can be psychologically validated to ensure constant difficulty, but this isn't done as often as it should. Nevertheless, #3 is by far the most common and least talked about way for test scores (particularly relative test scores) to improve. TFA recommends looking at the relative standing of a schools 2nd graders and 5th or 6th graders. We'd like to think that the students are being educated so successfully that their performance improves, but anyone making such a claim ought to be required to (rigorously and mathematically) prove that changes in the student population are not the primary cause. There is pretty good evidence, for example, that the high-profile improvement in the charter school that Michelle Rhee worked at was rather effective at "counseling out" the consistently low scoring students to have apparent test score gains that had little to do with their instructional program. I can well imagine the administrative staff of a school "working with" the parents to help find a school that's "a better match" to their kid's "unique learning style."

Artificial intelligence has the same relation to intelligence as artificial flowers have to flowers. -- David Parnas