Confessions of a researchaholic

February 10, 2016

It might not be good to be a good student

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 5:12 pm
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It is usually not too hard for smart kids to perform well in schools; just excel in what you are told to do, such as taking courses.

This is a deterministic process with well-defined goals and tasks that reward smartness and hard working.

However, real world is chaotic and ambiguous. You have to figure out what to do, with shifting targets and ever-changing environments.

This is why school performance does not directly translate to real-life performance: the required mentality and skills are not the same.

This is also why being a good student might not be a good thing for you. You are so used to this deterministic input-output process that you might be very frustrated by the non-deterministic nature of the real world, when starting your first job or research project.

In contrast, not-so good students might adapt better to the real world, because they already have enough failure experiences and are not yet cast into conformity.

PS
I was lucky to be a student who was considered good in performance and bad in behavior.
🙂

February 1, 2016

The cat experiment

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 11:07 am
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Once, when I was around 9 or 10, I was visiting my aunt’s place.

One of the cousins, X, and I were standing near the swimming pool. The family cat walked by. Cousin X and I got into the discussion about whether cats can swim. I have seen a few dogs and at least one horse swam, so I was pretty sure the answer is yes (cats seem more agile). Cousin X disagreed (he is older but not necessarily smarter), so we decided to have a bet.

Clearly, the only way to settle the bet is to experiment, so I grabbed the cat and threw it into the pool.
(That was before the age of YouTube and Google, BTW.)

What followed was amazing, and happened like within a few milliseconds. The cat sprang on the water surface like a trampoline, and immediate landed back near my feet. It was dripping, so it clearly fell into the water, but I had no idea how it managed to jump back. Meanwhile, our debate remained unsettled.

I am trying to come up with a very concrete way to tell a new PhD student how to decide whether someone is suitable for (scientific) research. So here is my try. Let me know if you have better ideas.

Do you like to ask questions that seem interesting at least to you (e.g. whether cats can swim)?

Do you enjoy finding the answers yourself through investigations and experiments (e.g. grab the cat and throw it into the pool, and observe what happens)?

Are you very comfortable with the consequences, regardless of the outcomes of the experiments (e.g. the cat neither swam nor sank and my aunt beat me up)?

Can you do this continuously as a career? Imagine it is Friday lunch time, and all the works you have done this week have turned out to be failures (e.g. no other ways you have tried can tell you whether cats can swim).
You have no idea what is going to happen this afternoon when you try your 101th experiment with that cat.

If you hesitate for any of these questions or you think I am crazy, you are probably not suitable for research. At least, you will not be happy or successful.

Talent and personality are important; you have to be sufficiently smart and tough for research. But passion is even more important; the only way to be truly happy and productive is to do what you really like.

January 29, 2016

School versus job performance

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 4:29 pm
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How predictive is the school performance for the eventual job (and life) performance of an individual?

This is a very important question. The schools are supposed to educate what is actually useful. (But clearly that is not the case in practice.)

This is also a very broad question under perennial discussion.

In my personal experiences on the creative side of computer science (e.g. research and development for the cutting edge of graphics and HCI), there is a weak positive correlation between school and job performance (around 0.2 to 0.3 if I have to be numeric).
Good school performance reflects positive traits such as talent and work ethics, but also negative traits such as conformity, lack of creativity, and risk aversion.

This is why standard statistics, like grades, schools, and rankings, are not enough and sometimes even misleading. We have to look at more practical evidence, such as publications, projects, and recommendations.

This is also why recruiting top students and employees is very challenging. Top schools and companies do have advantages in attracting top talents, but we only get what we look for. Many of the best people I have worked so far had been bypassed by the traditional screening standards. Conversely, I have also seen many weak people in top institutions.

Maybe one day data analysis and machine learning will solve this problem.
Before that, I rely on the good old way of people reading.

June 27, 2015

Our collective civilization is advanced by overcoming our individual ignorance

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 10:07 am
Tags:

Once, I asked a gay friend what it feels like if he is forced to make out with a girl.
His answer: it is like I am forced to make out with a guy.
🙂

If you are a straight guy feeling uncomfortable with gay guys making out (say 2% of all couples you see in your daily life), just imagine how uncomfortable they are with straight couples making out (98% of couples they encounter in their daily lives).

June 10, 2015

“Who you are” matters much more than “whom you are affiliated with”

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 11:29 am
Tags: ,

Birds of a feather flock together.
Our affiliation does reflect our own quality to some degree.

On the other hand, the prestige of institutions is becoming less important due to the internet and social media.
And really top people can transform a not-so-top institution into a top one.

April 14, 2015

To my future self

Filed under: Imaginary,Real — liyiwei @ 10:01 am
Tags:

Even if you are 88 years old with terminal cancer lying in the middle of the Gobi desert while being pointed at by an AK47, you can still overcome every obstacle just like we always do.

That is all you need to remember.

March 25, 2015

Kowtow

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 10:04 am
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If you are a university professor and you boast on social networks about sending your students to other schools for higher degrees, you are essentially acknowledging that you (and your school) are not as good.

March 7, 2015

Why living forever is probably a bad idea

Filed under: Imaginary — liyiwei @ 11:51 am
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Even if under optimal physical, mental, and social status:

. It will eventually become very boring.

. One cannot participate in evolution and thus becomes inferior (barring technology like dynamic genetic splicing).

. If the universe eventually ends it will drag you down to some unknown horrible state.

Reincarnation, or some form of jumping between different intelligent species, seems much more fun.
🙂

February 11, 2015

Jeff Bezos shares his best advice to entrepreneurs

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 11:11 am
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The whole article can be found here, but gist is to do what you really love.
It is that simple, repeated elsewhere, and applicable to different professions.

December 31, 2014

Frame of motivation

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 6:55 pm
Tags: ,

As a game of self-motivation, I used to frame and hang rejection letters on the wall and remove them only after getting even.

Today while cleaning my office I found the very last one sitting in a corner. Looking at it feels like a guy bumping into his high school crush who rejected him years ago but now appears totally fat and ugly.

With amused satisfaction, I threw the letter away but kept the frame. Time to fill it with another motivation.

Frame of rejection

A photo posted by Li-Yi Wei (@liyiwei) on

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