Racism in academia – not surprisingly, it’s everywhere

Zuleyka Zevallos, an applied sociologist who does policy research in Australia, just wrote an excellent blog post about racism in academia.  While it speaks directly to researchers and faculty, it’s worth a read for anyone.

Racism in Research and Academia – The Other Sociologist  by Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos

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Number of Degrees vs. Job Openings

From the blog Mike the Mad Biologist comes a summary of a NY Times article comparing the number of degrees obtained to the number of job openings for different STEM fields.

Yes, We Have A STEM Glut | Mike the Mad Biologist

The takeaway message: if you’re interested in a science field, learn some computing skills along the way.

Ruth Simmons, President of PVAMU

I was excited to see that Ruth Simmons, former president of Smith College (1995-2000) and Brown University (2002-2012), has been named as the permanent president of Prairie View A&M University.

via Now in Her 70s, First Black Ivy-League President Finds a Third Act – The Chronicle of Higher Education

While I never met Ruth Simmons while I was at Brown, I saw images of her frequently on the Brown CS0931 page in 2012:

Screen Shot 2017-10-24 at 11.03.03 AM

The course, Introduction to Computation for the Humanities & Social Sciences, taught computational thinking to non-computational undergraduate majors.  Each year, the undergraduate TAs design the course page around a theme.  I was an instructor for CS0931 in the spring of 2012, when students created the page as an homage to Dr. Simmons in her last year as president of the university.  The Staff page is particularly fun.   Dr. Simmons clearly left an impression on the undergraduates at Brown University, and I bet she’ll do the same at Prairie View A&M.

 

 

Breakdown of CS faculty hires in 2017

Craig E. Wills of WPI recently wrote a report that describes the outcomes of advertised CS faculty positions across institutions in 2017. It was a follow-up to a previous report on the CS positions advertised in 2017.  The report contains a wealth of information about the number of faculty positions filled at different institutions.

In summary, 244 of the 323 advertised positions were fulfilled, giving an aggregate 75% success rate.  Not surprisingly, this success varied by institution type: 90% of the positions advertised by the top 100 graduate schools according to U.S. News Rankings were filled, whereas other PhD-granting institutions, Masters-granting institutions, and Bachelors-granting institutions had 67%, 66%, and 69% success rates, respectively.

Wills also looked at the faculty positions by research area.  I’ll focus on three:

  • AI/DM/ML: artificial intelligence, computational linguistics, data mining, machine learning, natural language processing, text analytics
  • CompSci: computational biology, computational life science, computational medicine, computational neuroscience (you get the picture…)
  • Security: cryptography, forensics, information assurance, privacy, security

The figure below shows the percent of faculty positions sought for each field on the x-axis and the percent of faculty positions filled for each field on the y-axis:

faculty-positions-fig3

Points that lie on the red x=y line indicate that the percent of faculty positions filled exactly matched the percent of faculty positions sought.  Let’s look at the three largest outliers:

  • AI/DM/ML was sought for 11% of the positions by area, but ended up filling 21% of the positions.
  • DataSci was sought for 16% of the positions by area, but ended up filling only 7% of the positions.
  • Security was sought for 23% of the positions, but ended up filling only 12% of the positions.

Wills cited many factors associated with these discrepancies, including the fact that nearly a quarter of the positions did not specify an area of interest in their ad.  Additionally, institutions simply did not end up hiring in the areas of interest, either because they could not find candidates in that area or they found better candidates in other areas.  Areas could also be satisfied with multiple fields (for example AI/DM/ML or DataSci accounted for 27% of the positions sought and ended up filling 28% of the positions when combined).

Another factor that Wills considered was the number of Ph.D.s produced by area (based on Taulbee Survey results):

faculty-positions-fig5

It’s good to be in Security, since only 6% of the Ph.D.s produced are in this area compared to the demand of 23% of the positions sought in this area.  It’s also good to be in AI/DM/ML because over 20% of the faculty positions were filled in this area, even if the job ads didn’t specify it.

Overall, the report was an interesting read – I’m looking forward to seeing these trends over time.

Fixing science, one researcher at a time

A recent column in Nature caught my attention today.  The piece, No researcher is too junior to fix science by John Tregoning, talks about the problematic competitiveness of science.  Tregoning ends the column with an appeal to combat this current scientific culture.

Let’s strive instead to stand together. One science historian called last month’s science march unprecedented in its scale and breadth. That energy and optimism need not dissipate — it should be funnelled into making the system function better. The pay-off might not be immediate, but let’s play the long game so that all can win.

I couldn’t have put it better.

Field Trip! Computational Biology on the Road

A few weeks ago I took my students to the Association Computing Machinery Conference on Bioinformatics, Computational Biology, and Health Informatics (ACM-BCB) in Seattle, WA.  It was a fantastic experience for everyone involved – the organizers did an excellent job running the conference.  I asked my students to reflect on the conference, and I figured I should do the same.

With such a large cohort of undergraduates at a scientific conference, my role shifted to encompass one of an educator as well as a researcher.  I honed in on the accessibility of the material in talks, feeling a bit of pride when the speakers showed an image or mentioned a topic I have taught in class.  I also had some moments of “wow, should have taught them that” when a speaker presented a fundamental concept we have not yet covered.  Many of my students came out of sessions excited about what they had just learned – they talked with the speakers, asked for their papers, and are now delving into this new material.  Graduate student attendees became mentors, fielding questions about why they went to graduate school and how they picked their research topic.

ACM-BCB was an ideal size – the conference had compelling talks and tutorials while being small enough to chat with the keynote speakers and conference organizers.  I caught up with existing colleagues and met some potential collaborators in the Pacific Northwest.  I also found myself in discussions with  graduate students about my position in a liberal arts environment.  Reed had a research presence, since three Reed students submitted posters to the poster session.  My students had garnered enough research experience — either through their thesis, summer research, or independent projects in class — to have engaging conversations with other attendees.

Finally, the trip to ACM-BCB as a class taught everyone (including me) the importance of logistics.  Some gems:

  1. Make sure the taxi to the train station can fit the entire group.
  2. Remember who you gave the posters to in your mad dash to find parking before your train departs (see #1).
  3. Make sure your PCard credit limit is set so it’s not declined at the hotel.
  4. Tell your students the correct time of the first keynote.

And the question of the day: is a (very detailed) receipt for a can of soda written on a napkin by a bartender reimbursable?

Ready, Set, Year Two

I have returned from summer break to begin teaching a new course this fall.  My break  included a hiatus in blog posts; now that classes have started up, I’m back to writing them.  Other lessons from my first true “summer break:”

  1. Yep, I still love research. Summer was a refreshing change of pace, where I was able to chip away at existing research projects and establish new collaborations here in Portland.
  2. Pacific Northwest summer weather is great.  No humidity + few bugs. I didn’t think that was possible.
  3. Feelings of preparedness are relative.  Despite having a year under my belt, there are enough new tasks and responsibilities that I still feel like a newbie.

Happy back-to-school for those who live by the academic calendar, and welcome to the Reed Class of 2020.

class-of-20

The Class of 2020 at Reed College’s Convocation.  Photo by Leah Nash.