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Comment: Re:Ph.D. Program? (Score 1) 280

by tylikcat (#48612829) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: How Should a Liberal Arts Major Get Into STEM?

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.

Comment: Re:Going back (Score 1) 280

by tylikcat (#48612631) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: How Should a Liberal Arts Major Get Into STEM?

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.

Comment: Re:Just let them test out! (Score 1) 307

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.)

Comment: Re:Screw you white boys (Score 1) 307

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.

Comment: Re:Win-win (Score 1) 307

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.

Comment: Re:Screw you white boys (Score 1) 307

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?

Comment: Re:Just let them test out! (Score 1) 307

"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.)

Comment: Re:Just let them test out! (Score 1) 307

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.

Comment: Re:Here's an idea for him (Score 3, Informative) 201

by tylikcat (#48547801) Attached to: James Watson's Nobel Medal Sells For $4.1 Million

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.

Comment: Re:Here's an idea for him (Score 1) 201

by tylikcat (#48545073) Attached to: James Watson's Nobel Medal Sells For $4.1 Million

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.)

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