Sunday, January 21, 2007

NRC survey of graduate programs

Like the Female Science Professor, I just participated in the NRC's once-a-decade survey of graduate programs. Since I'm nominally in charge of Rice's Applied Physics graduate program, I got to fill out both kinds of the survey - the faculty version, and the "program director" version. Double the pain. As the FSP observed, the survey is interested in both compiling objective statistics (graduation rates, admissions rates, funding levels for specific faculty involved with a program, publication information), and in getting the opinions of faculty (and others) on what constitutes a good basis for ranking a graduate program. For example, one of the "faculty" questions asks you to pick four things that you consider most important in evaluating a graduate program, with such choices as publication rate, citation rate, external funding, gender diversity in faculty and students, race diversity in faculty and students, etc. The problem with a question like this is that the way it is posed forces artificial choices. Obviously a strong graduate program needs good publication rates, good citations, good funding, etc. Just as obviously (to me, anyway), I'd like it if all such programs made sure that they address concerns of gender and ethnic underrepresentation. I don't see why this needs to be an either/or choice. It is possible to excel in both. (BTW, frequent commenter and ardent skeptic Sylow - it's clear from her post that the FSP filled out the faculty version of the NRC survey; that's as good a proof as you're likely to get that she is, in fact, an actual faculty member.)

20 comments:

Dan M said...

I also filled out that survey just recently. I was annoyed by several things, including the issue you mentioned. Another one was the place where they want the titles, journal names, and co-authors for every paper I've published in the last N years (where N = I forget but larger than a few). I emailed them to tell them no way was I going to waste three hours typing in all that information. I've yet to get a satisfactory answer. But I have gotten their "you didn't fill in our survey" nag email three times. Makes me think that they don't actually read their email very often over there at the NRC.

Ok, I'm just whining.

sylow said...

I noticed she is a professor somewhere. So far, my investigations showed that she is not at UT Austin, Berkeley or Harvard. I have to remind you it is quite possible she is a professor at Wichita State University or another junk place like that...
I am trying to narrow down the list. I should be able to nail it down soon with my analytical skills.
I was grilling and putting her down while you were taking time off from your blog. It is a lot of fun...

sylow said...

BTW, I read your response to my comment in FSP's blog. The woman claims to be a professor at a "large state university" and you are telling me MIT asks you to pick advisor when you apply.. I did not know MIT was a "large state university", Doug... That is news to me..
You are wrong about MIT too. I dont know what they were doing when I was a kid but right now, you only have to specify your research interest when you apply for admission like theoretical condensed matter or experimental particle physics etc. If you do not believe me, you can check MIT's online application. Once you get in, you can work for any professor you want.
The only reason why some departments match students immediately with a professor(like FSP says) is because the department does not have funding to pay grad studnts therefore the professor's research grant kicks in right away. Exact same procedure exists at Rice mechanical engineeering too, for instance because that department has no funding of its own. FYI..

Doug Natelson said...

Dan - The survey gives you an option to upload your CV rather than type in all that stuff. Much faster, with no harassing emails.

BhpG said...

I'd have to see the exact wording, but I don't think it's unreasonable to ask you to weight the different criteria of a "good graduate program". Yes, it'd be nice if a program has lots of publications of serious impact, well-respected faculty whose teaching is valued as much as their research, energetic students who tackle the deepest issues, and a well-balanced and diverse mix cutting across ethnic, national, and gender lines. It'd be even better if they rescued puppies and solved the Mid East conflict.

But in reality, no program can do all of these things. Priorities have to be set and choices made. So it's not unreasonable for the survey writers to ask you to decide: Exactly how much is gender balance worth to you? How about teacher prep?

Now, maybe this survey doesn't measure that particularly well. I couldn't say without seeing the survey. But asking for people to map out parameters is a good way to get a handle on the opinion(s) of the community.

Doug Natelson said...

Bernie - I know what you're saying, and priorities do have to be set, of course. However, it's not a zero sum game. It's far from obvious that the time and resources spent, for example, on recruiting traditionally underrepresented students actually hurt a department's ability to publish or get funding. Heck, it's probably easier to get funding if you're doing that stuff well. Anyway, it's an interesting problem how to do such a survey and really have it measure what you want to know.

Doug Natelson said...

sylow - Your statement The only reason why some departments match students immediately with a professor(like FSP says) is because the department does not have funding to pay grad studnts therefore the professor's research grant kicks in right away. is not correct. That can be the reason, but I'm pretty sure that when MIT was doing that, that wasn't why. Your level of interest in somehow trying to "out" the FSP is beyond the ordinary. Why do you care so much? First, you assumed that she was lying about who she was. Now you seem to be out to find her, and seem to want her to be lying about whether she's at a first-tier school, too. Again, why? What has she ever done to you? Why does her anonymity bother you so much?

sylow said...

Doug, let's say I am like Lev Landau, i.e. someone who believes women cannot do or understand physics therefore I would like to know she is a physicist or not.

As for this grad admission issue, committing students to an advisor the day they start grad school is very problematic especially in physics because

1.The professor pays stipend to this student for one year at least in that case and during this time he carries out no research since he takes classes and has to study for the qualifier. There is no guarantee he is gonna pass the qualifier. Qualifier pass rates are about 50% in schools like Illinois and Berkeley.
Why would any professor want to pay stipend from his research funds to a student before he gets his candidacy?? What will happen in this scenario if that student fails the qualifier and is kicked out?
2.You should remember there are lots of professors who have next to nothing research funds. Not all professors are like Charles Lieber. Those ones who have no funding will never have any student in that case since students are engaged to professors who have funding from day one. This is especially true for fields like theoretical particle physics where there is zero federal funding. Even at top schools like Caltech and MIT, grad students in theoretical particle physics stay as TA until the day they defend their thesis...

Long story short, everything is tied to money. Napoleon said "money, money, money"...

Doug Natelson said...

sylow - Wow. An unrepentant sexist. I can see why you prefer anonymity. I could point you toward several examples of brilliant female physicists (I restricted myself just to high energy theory), but presumably you're already aware of such people, and choose to hold your views anyway.

As far as money goes, you again generalize too much. Just because someone is directed to find an advisor immediately upon admission doesn't mean that the advisor is compelled to pay them from research funds from day 1. There are all sorts of ways that universities handle this stuff. And yes, it is not at all uncommon some places to have an advisor pay for a student for a year or two only to have that student wash out of quals. That is one reason why qualifying exams are controversial among faculty.

Dan M said...

So females can't do good science? Gosh, I have to remember not to invite this guy to my house, or he's gonna leave with a large cooking knife embedded in his inability to do science. Courtesy of a female scientist who has accomplished more than he has. And I say that not knowing who he is or what he's accomplished. Doesn't matter.

Just because Landau said it, doesn't make it true. Ty Cobb was a great hitter, but I wouldn't quote his views on race relations.

sylow said...

Doug and dan m, read this quote I got from wikipedia:
"Landau developed a comprehensive exam called the "Theoretical Minimum" which students were expected to pass before admission to the school. The exam covered all aspects of theoretical physics, and only 43 candidates ever passed. In this way his students became proper physicists, rather than narrow specialists."

That is why qualifier is needed in graduate education. BTW, can you guys show me a woman(dead or alive) who is a better physicist than Landau? If you can do that, I will eat my hat...

sylow said...

Do I have to tell you that none of those 43 people was female? Lol...

Doug Natelson said...

One last comment and then I'm dropping this thread like a hot rock. Sylow, I would hazard that Mme. Curie and Lise Meitner were both pretty damned impressive. Unless you actually think you hold a candle to Eva Silverstein or Amanda Peet intellectually, you'd better quit while you're behind. Both of those women have forgotten more physics than you know. Leave off the sexist claptrap. I'm going to try to steer things back to science....

Bernard said...

So... unless we can find a female physicist undeniably "better" than Lev Landau, then no woman can possibly be a good physicist? By that logic, it might well be that men can't be good ones either... As for why none of the magic 43 were women, I'd have to ask, to how many women did Lev Landau administer his Theoretical Minimum?

Gah. Anyone who can maintain that women "can't do" physics -- even in the face of Amanda Peet, Renata Kosh, Lise Meitner, Marie Curie, Annie Jump Cannon, ... -- well, that's someone who disregards staggering amounts of data in order to preserve a preconceived pet model. Hmmm, the very definition of a bad scientist...

landau said...

Guys, what are you talking about?? I never heard of this famous Amanda Peet. When I do google search about her, I find out sexy images of a Hollywood star. WTF??
What did this Amanda Peet or Eva Silverstein discover, by the way? I think you are referring to some string theorists. These people are charlatans. String theory is not "science". I think we discussed this issue here before and we agreed on it.
Please do not give me stupid string theorists as an example of good scientists. The definition of science is obvious. I am really out of this blog. I suggest that you guys join the losers' club in FSP's blog...
p.s: Marie Curie lived in 19th century. The year is 2007 now. WTF?

Dan M said...

I repeat my comment - just because Landau was a sexist bastard, that doesn't mean that it is a justifiable position. I think "not even wrong" applies here, in the sense of "I can't believe I'm wasting my time arguing with this moron."

Anonymous said...

I just want to add that another example of a brilliant female scientist in a field closer to condensed matter, if you don't like string theory, is Mildred Dresselhaus.

-Sujit

Austin Parish said...

Emmy Noether.

Anonymous said...

Only one woman passed the Landau theoretical minimum her name is Lyudmila Andreevna Prozorova...check out her research and profile in the landau institute of theoretical physics website.....

Reputation Managers said...

I have to remind you it is quite possible she is a professor at Wichita State University or another junk place like that...