Quote: Vicki Wilson

If you always do what you’ve always done you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

Australian netballer Vicki Wilson, as quoted by Rugby League coach Wayne Bennett in “Don’t Die with the Music in You”.

Categorized as Quotations

About this blog

This is an experimental weblog.

At least initially, it’ll run in tandem with a weekly discussion group on how to do effective research in physics. I’ll post notes, essays, quotes, and so on, to stimulate further discussion of the ideas arising out of our meetings, and to maintain a record. Hopefully this will also enable people not directly involved in the discussion group to become electronically involved.

Categorized as General

On the air!

The first real post to this blog. The “earlier” posts were accumulated prior to installing the blogging software, and were ported over by hand.

Categorized as General

Tough learning, part 3: Critical comments on the first draft

Why on Earth would anybody be interested in somebody else’s essay revision?

This post is a bit of an experiment. In any case, I’m posting not so much in the hope that anyone is interested in the revision of this specific document, as in the belief that some people may be interested in the general process of how to go about revision, and this post may be of interest to those people.

Tough learning: first draft

Abstract: The natural sciences have a reputation for posing special challenges to the way we think and learn: they are a form of “extreme thinking”. In this essay physicist Michael Nielsen discusses some of the challenges facing researchers in the natural sciences, and how those challenges shed light on other tough learning situations.

This essay is the text for a presentation delivered by the author at the “Tough Learning” conference held in Brisbane, Australia, September 7-10, 2003, organized by Learning Network Australia (www.lna.net.au).

3600 words, available in ASCII, PDF, and Microsoft Word formats.

Running on empty

Ever find yourself staring dumbly at your computer screen, realizing that your “hard work” of the previous two hours has consisted mostly of web-surfing, writing and deleting poorly thought-out emails, and half-starting a couple of projects that, upon reflection, you don’t actually need to do?

Being very clever, you decide that what is needed is to work harder. You may work late, or at least try to work intensely, fueling yourself with caffeine and sugar. You leave work several hours later, having done virtually nothing effective, and absolutely exhausted. You’re irritable at home, don’t eat well, and have difficulty sleeping, in part because of the caffeine.

The next day is, presumably, unlikely to be a rousing success.

Sadly, the above paragraphs aren’t exactly based on hearsay.

Categorized as General

Networking on the Network (NotN), Part 2

Update: This post (and the previous post) used to contain a link to a local copy of the essay “Networking on the Network”. I’ve taken it down in response to a request from the author; it can (probably) be found by searching online.

Notes inspired by sections 1 and 2

Professional networking is an incredibly useful skill. The direct impact of effective networking is to improve both your own and others’ research. As an indirect benefit, by being more useful to your professional community, and by making that fact known, networking has implications for your career – jobs, promotions, grants, and so on, that can help ensure both your security, and successfully accomplishing your goals.

Networking is, however, a complex skill that needs to be learnt. Phil Agre’s essay, NotN, is primarily about learning this skill, especially in the context of electronic networking, although many of the same ideas apply also to other forms of networking.

The concept of “networking” is widely reviled amongst physicists. People speak of “schmoozing” or “playing politics”, often with a slight sneer, or with a feeling that it is a necessary evil. The underlying feeling seems to be one of shame – it is something to be hidden from sight, not celebrated, and certainly not practiced, or thought about in any deep way.

In my opinion, this feeling has much in common with the sense, shared by many, that occupations such as lawyer, stock-trader, manager, or banker, are somehow less virtuous than occupations which directly produce a tangible good, such as medical doctor, farmer, engineer, or factory worker.

This is to misunderstand how our society functions. Our society engages in many truly amazing forms of co-operative behaviour. A town of a few thousand people may well have a fire station, ambulance, school, library, post office, supermarket, petrol station, and many other amenities. Each one of these is an amazing phenomenon, involving an enormous amount of co-operation – think of how many people are involved in producing goods in the supermarket, and how many levels of co-operation there are!