Confessions of a researchaholic

August 19, 2013

Ashton Kutcher Acceptance Speech – Teen Choice Awards 2013

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 8:35 am
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Or try this link if you are banned from youtube.

August 7, 2013

Father’s day haiku

Filed under: Imaginary,Real — liyiwei @ 7:10 pm
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A Y-chromosome
passed from dad to son
unchanged across millenniums.

August 5, 2013

Thesis and oral defense

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 5:44 pm
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My PhD adviser once told me that the most difficult part for graduation is scheduling the oral defense.

I thought he was joking, but realized he really meant it after doing it myself. It is basically a NP-hard, if not non-computable, problem.

I consider this as part of the ritual for graduation, so I will let the candidate schedule his/her own oral defense. People who cannot even get this done do not deserve to graduate.


I never understand the rationale for hundreds-page thesis or hours-long oral defenses (PhD or other research degrees); it is probably residue from some ancient practices. But I think it is a big waste of time to write or read (or print, for heaven’s sake).

Here is my proposed thesis format:
Part 1: a concise summary of what the thesis is about, and why people should care about it.
Part 2: simply staple (via Latex, not physical papers) the relevant publications together to explain how it is done.

And here is the corresponding format for oral defense:
Part 1: a (sub) 5 minute elevator pitch telling people what the thesis is about and why they should care about it. There is a short break after this stage. The candidate fails if (s)he cannot convince the audience why they should continue to listen.
Part 2: a (sub) 25 minute presentation of more details, which can simply be a re-compilation of past conference talks. What follows is a usual break for committee discussion.

If the candidate does not have solid publications, (s)he should not be able to graduate.
If (s)he does, it should probably take at most a day to prepare the thesis and oral defense, on top of the existing materials.
The committee members can just spend as much time reading the published conference/journal papers instead of bloated mumbo jumbo in hundreds of pages.

If the candidate knows what (s)he has been doing, (s)he should be able to articulate a clear elevator pitch.
Otherwise, (s)he does not, and probably should come back to think and work more.
The committee members can quick see the quality of the research work instead of having to sit through hours-long slug about some technical details.

I plan to implement these for my internal students. And please, just send me the pdf file of your thesis. Spare the trees.

August 3, 2013


Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 11:36 am

Through my open mentoring program I got to experience many students with diverse backgrounds and characteristics. Some of them can be quite strange. Here is a recent case study.

I asked this guy to implement a standard software system in computer graphics. Instead of doing that, he kept on reciting on a daily basis what he read in graphics textbooks, none of which is remotely related to the target task. I tried to clarify the assignment repeatedly but he could not seem to comprehend. Finally, he told me that he wanted to appear being “productive” to get my attention.

[He did get my attention, but only the negative kind. The result is a prompt termination of our external mentorship.]

By definition, productivity means things other people want and care about, such as research papers or industry products. Reciting what you have learned is not productivity – no one else cares about that, and it cannot be measured. It is actually more like anti-productivity – a waste of time for everyone either to write or to read.

On some level this is probably related to the fundamental distinction between study and work. Learning is necessary for eventual productivity, but it is not producing anything by itself. Instead, it is anti-productivity, sucking away time and resources that can be used for productive work.

This is a key reason why I only teach undergrad courses, because courses (especially non-seminar, non-project-oriented ones) may trap the grad students in the undergrad mentality. The right way to learn is by an active on-demand basis – seeking what is found to be necessary during the research work, instead of a passive batch process – reading entire books or taking entire courses without really knowing the relevance.

Doing the good thing versus doing the right thing

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 8:57 am
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My grandfather, during his school professor days, once spent a lot of efforts bringing up a not very talented student into success beyond anyone’s expectation. My father liked to tell this story as how much passion and skill my grandfather has in people development. I agree on that part. However, I also think my father’s argument – and my grandfather’s action – is irrational: with the same amount of time and efforts, my grandfather could have helped several more talented students succeed, who collectively would have made the world an even better place. (Read: opportunity cost.)

There is a difference between doing the good thing and doing the right thing. And there is a choice between becoming a good person or a great person.

PS: I never had a chance to settle this debate with my grandfather; I started mentoring students just around the time he passed away.

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