We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Research paper and movie making

Writing a research paper is like making a movie. How? I explain here. 

Great movies are a product of great storytelling. First there is a script with a great story. The director is the person in charge of molding the script, making real life scenarios out of the story passages, controlling the actors who enact the passages with suitable dialogues, and makes sure that the entire flow of the story telling goes smoothly. If the entire process goes well, the result is a product which is loved by the audience and attracts both financial and critical success. 

A research paper has extreme similarities to the process of movie making. Great papers are those, which tell a great scientific story. The core theme is centered around a central idea around which the entire paper's narration revolves. There could be multiple directors here instead of a single one like movies. However, different directors have different roles and importance. The main author is many times like an actor + 
sub-ordinate director, while the main professor maintains the core focus and making sure that flow stays coherent with the story line. 

Experiments are  like different movie scenarios which help reveal the beauty of the story, convey why the story matters, and why it should be cared about. There is an introduction, there is a middle ground and there is a climax. So it all matches in tune with a movie's flow.

The editing process in movie making and films is often very similar. The director repeats and retakes multiple shots of the same scene until he is satisfied. Similarly an experiment is repeated till one gets expected results. The passages in a paper are re-written and edited continuously to make sure that they fit the story line. At the end when the complete movie is ready, it goes into post-production phase where different digital effects, dubbing, voice synchronization, editing is done. A research paper also goes into a post production phase once its first complete draft is ready. Lot of cuts are made in the texts, extra verbose text is omitted, paragraphs are re-aligned to make sure that they fit in the natural flow, presentation of figures, graphs etc is adjusted to make the representation as simple and as precise as possible so that the focus is not lost. 

And finally both movies and research papers are submitted in the market. A movie goes to a wider audience, a research paper goes to conference reviewers, where the fate of both is sealed. A good movie certainly is going to get good acknowledgement, however if it is bad in some aspects, it never gets a second chance and dies quickly. In contrast the conference paper reviewers (3 mostly), decide the fate of your papers publication solely. Many times the process seems unfair where papers get rejected on trivial reasons with irrelevant comments. However, unlike movies there are multiple chances. A paper once rejected could be resubmitted by improving on the feedback from the reviewers to another conference where its chances of acceptance could be higher. And the process continues until it is accepted. Even good papers could take around 3 rejections to get finally accepted. However, after that if the paper is really bad, it dies a natural death as there is a limit to which you could sell your idea in different dimensions to cater to reviewer comments. 

So I feel every PhD student should understand the process of moving making if he / she wants to get better at the art of research paper writing. At least there will be some useful new insights to seek, and new knowledge of any sort is always good.

On the leaving note here is an excellent piece of advise on why writing a good paper matters

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Social acceptance (In Research) and the inequality

How easy it is for a new comer to be a part of an already established social group or hierarchy? The social group / hierarchy could be in the form of groups in academia, industry, cultures, etc.

Some time back I watched a documentary "The lion Ranger - Attack of the teens"

The main narrator in the documentary is an owner of a wild animal shelter park in Africa. He explains with examples how when a new animal (Lion) is brought to the park, the already established groups of existing animals treat him. The different methods he uses to make the new member get used to the new life, and the new park mates. To explain in a single sentence, "Its complex and unpredictable".

How does it apply in humans? I try to think from the perspective of academic groups and provide my perspective.

Often during research conference visits I find a common scenario. People tend to do things in groups. Students from established research groups attend conferences and tend to stick together instead of mixing with others. Be at the talks, at the lunch tables, dinners, there is a strong affiliation of staying together. Those who know each other well, keep on talking with each other rather than mixing with those unknown faces, who are trying to learn new things. Getting into such groups is tricky, because unless you have proven your mettle, nobody is interested in talking with you. Well, to a certain degree it is correct because nothing comes free in this world, and each person is trying to get most out of their presence in the surroundings. So if you do not have anything to offer, why waste time on you? Why not try to make that extra impression on that other person whom you met in the last conference, so that it works in your advantage?

So getting into such groups is possible only if you have something to show. Then they listen to you, talk with you. I many times see blank faces roaming around trying to find that somebody to talk to. This is also common among nationalities. For example Greeks have a huge presence in database research field. They form a strong society, and always tend to stay together. Visit any top schools database group. You will find at least 1 professor from Greece there.

So how to break this jinx and make your presence felt in these groups? Is this the real purpose of the conferences? Another thing that I have noticed also is, the travel awards go to students who already are rich enough to attend these conferences due to their prestigious affiliations. One hardly sees the presence of students from developing countries. Well, of course you need to have something to show at the conference else why would somebody fund your travel? And its not only about travel expenses but also the expenses on accommodation, registration cost etc. So a conference travel is a costly affair that only rich groups can afford. And that is exactly what gets seen at most of the conferences.

However, I attended one summer school in Germany where the organizers made a conscious effort to mix people at lunch table by randomizing the name plates on each lunch table. They made conscious announcements, like "Students from XXX group, do not stay together, break up and mix with others". That was a great way to show the concern for solving the problem I mention here. However, very few go that extra length to take these kind of measures. 

So the inequality stays even in the realm of research world, where only the strong get to have their say. Who is to blame for this? Governments for not doing enough to support research? There is no concrete answer, again because nothing comes for free.

So as long as the inequality stays, the social hierarchy stays, and so stays the groupism behavior. Many a social philosophers and economists have tried solving these puzzles for a long duration and established different theories, but there is no silver bullet solution.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Emotions and Ignorance

Is there a relation between emotions and ignorance? I often think on this question.

How to define emotions? In my perspective an emotion is the state of mind as a response to thoughts, and other stimuli.

What is ignorance? Ignorance is lack of knowledge about certain things. In a broader context ignorance is lack of awareness. The awareness could be either about surrounding subjects, or the self awareness.

So a good question to pose is, does the lack of knowledge / lack of awareness leads to emotions ? Or emotions are independent of knowledge and could be triggered no matter the situation. Does the self awareness helps to control them, so that you are aware when emotions start building?

Crowd mentality is a result of subjective lack of knowledge and resulting emotions. Nostalgia is again an emotion, however it is independent of subjective knowledge. However, by being self aware there could be definite control on being nostalgic. Anger is an emotion which arises mostly due to the lack of knowledge about the complete situation, and misinterpretation of the situation based on one's own perception.

And there could be plenty of such examples ... However, now that I have scribbled these thoughts, I see a good relation between emotions and the ignorance, which I did not see earlier. 

Philosophy and Technology

I often wonder could some relation be made between philosophy and technology?

In my opinion philosophy describes the world from an idealistic point of view. Philosophers believe in ideologies, a world where things behave by a set of pre-defined standards.

Technology is about the art of bringing to life the ideas that were conceived in the realms of philosophy. To make things happen in the real world, from the dreams of an idealistic world. To enable the realization of standards to improve the quality of living.

So in my perspective philosophy is the theory, while technology is the application of these theories.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Girl Inventors ....

I came across this company today which designs engineering toys for Girls so that they could be interested in Engineering since childhood. I felt like ...wow ....

Below is a note from their web-site.

GoldieBlox, Inc. is a toy company founded in 2012 by Debbie Sterling, a female engineer from Stanford University. Engineers are solving some of the biggest challenges our society faces. They are critical to the world economy, earn higher salaries and have greater job security. And they are 89% male. We believe engineers can’t responsibly build our world’s future without the female perspective.

GoldieBlox offers a much-needed female engineer role model who is smart, curious and accessible. She has the potential to get girls interested in engineering, develop their spatial skills and build self-confidence in their problem solving abilities. This means that GoldieBlox will nurture a generation of girls who are more confident, courageous and tech-savvy, giving them a real opportunity to contribute to the progress made by engineers in our society.

It’s 2013. It’s about time we opened our girls’ minds beyond the pink aisle at the toy store. It’s time to build a new story so our girls can help build our future.