Confessions of a researchaholic

November 30, 2015

How to write papers

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 7:55 pm
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Just like many other skills, the more you do, the better you get.

Writing anything is better than writing nothing. It is an iterative process. The readers do not care (and cannot tell) how many iterations you have made, or how crappy the earlier versions were.

Read good papers, and learn their styles.
Look at suggestions (books, articles, online tutorials, etc.) on how to improve writing.

Aside from telepathy and telekinesis, any other form of external communication has inherently narrower bandwidth than your internal brain circuitry.
The challenge is to figure out what you know that others don’t, and effectively communicate these.
(I used to think that teaching is orthogonal to research. Now I realized that both rely on the above, after being a prof.)

What you want to write might not match what you really have written. To detect this discrepancy, flush your brain cache as follows. After having a draft, leave it there until you have forgotten most of it. Then look at it again.

When you have only minor updates between revisions, show your draft to other people for comments. Ask them to be honest and brutal, like reviewers.

July 29, 2014

Teaching assistant

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 10:40 am
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TA is a great training for presentation, communication, management, and personal skills. You have to be able to describe course materials in a way that the students can understand, and you have to balance their learning and happiness. Naturally, students want to minimize workloads while maximizing grades. Dealing with a large class (hundreds of undergrad students) is not unlike managing a mob.

It is great if one can focus exclusively on research. That is what I prefer then as a grad student and now as a prof. But without sufficient communication and personal skills, one cannot succeed even with great research skills.
To start with, a great idea is of no value if it cannot be understood and appreciated by people.

Thus, I do not consider TA a waste of time. Quite on the contrary, it is an indispensable part of research training.

June 3, 2013

Final year project

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 2:08 am

HKU has this course called final year project (FYP) for undergrad students. As the name implies, it is a two-semester projected oriented class. The offerings change every year. Each class is designed by a CS professor, and matched with potential students.

Out of pure experimentation, I offered ray tracing for FYP. Five students, divided into two teams, took the project.

It appears that I might have underestimated the workload a bit. They all crunched their tails off; one guy told me he wrote 35000 lines of code, and I did not try to ask others.
As a reference, 2000 is about the medium number of lines of code written by undergrad applicants from mainland China to our PhD program.

Fortunately, one of the ray tracing teams managed to win the champion of the grand competition among all FYP teams. Congratulations to Ng Sui Sang, Lui Ho Kuen, and Pa Tat Ki. I am very proud of you guys, despite the fact that none of you actually finished the whole thing (a fact probably unknown by the judges), I never learned how to pronounce your (Cantonese) names, and I forgot to attend the competition and ceremony. (It is not that you guys are not important to me; I also forgot to attend department meetings.)

Now, about the experimentation part: I wanted to see how well the HK kids can code, compared to other places that I have been to (e.g. SF Bay Area, Seattle, and Beijing). (I could not get the answer from the introductory programming class I taught in HKU because, to avoid student complaints, I have to water-down the programming assignments to be no more than what I could do in junior high.) The FYP results indicated that there are indeed talented young computer scientists in HK. Unfortunately for them, the local economy and job market are geared too much towards rent seeking (e.g. real estate) and moving things around (e.g. finance and business) than innovating (e.g. technology).

It remains interesting to see if technology can eventually fix this. In theory, any individual smart enough can already conquer the world with a laptop and internet connection from a bedroom. Already, I do not need a physical lab in HKU.

May 3, 2013


Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 12:00 am
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Dear student:

I am totally cool with skipping all the classes as this is also what I did in school. But at least I never walk up to a professor in the final session and ask: “are you the TA of this class?”

(True event occurred in my mobile computing class today. All students have to show up for their final project demos.)

January 25, 2013

The teacher is responsible for engaging the class

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 7:24 pm

When students start to chat to each other during the class, they are either surprised by something (e.g. announcement a heavy homework assignment) or they are losing interests in the lecture.

The latter happened to me on the first class of this semester. I forgot to eat lunch before the lecture, so my mojo was fading halfway through. And the students sensed this.

I did ask them to quiet down because other students complained about the disturbance. But later on I realized I should never have to ask anyone to quiet down if I had not sucked.

So, in the second lecture of the class, I made sure I eat enough lunch to maintain my mojo. And I performed some live demos to support the lectures. No chitchat this time, and I know I got their attention.


Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 7:23 pm
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My attitude towards teaching could be reflected by how I would really like to write my teaching statement (for faculty job applications).
There will be only one sentence: “smart enough students can pick up everything themselves”.
(Note1: I know this is entirely doable because I pulled this off since I was 10 years old, and I did not consider myself to be very smart.)
(Note2: Of course this is not how I really wrote my teaching statement.)

With this backdrop, it should not be a surprise that I have never blogged a single entry about teaching, at least not mine. I do not even have teaching as a tag word.

I have considered teaching as a chore rather than enjoyment (unlike research), and my basic stance has not changed too much. (One main reason why I think it is better to start a research career as an industry lab scientist rather than a university professor.) But not until I really taught full-semester classes, especially large ones, did I start to appreciate teaching can be a fun thing to do, for two main reasons.

First, it can actually inspire my research ideas.

Second, and probably more important, teaching provides a great chance for massive mind reading and human studying, with moral justification for effective teaching. It is even more fun and challenging than reading individuals, one of my most favorite pastimes.

More posts to follow.

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