Friday links: history of the Fields Medal, optimizing grad student recruitment weekends, Frodo vs. your PhD, and more

Hard as it may be to believe given how viral Mark Vellend’s guest post went on Monday, other people did write other stuff on the intertubes this week. πŸ™‚ Read on to learn about student evaluations of teaching vs. student learning, the recent ASN meeting in Asilomar, how your choice of PhD program affects your prospects of a faculty position (in some fields), and more.

From Jeremy:

I’m a bit late to this, but here are Jeremy Yoder’s notes from the recent ASN meeting in Asilomar. It continues to kill me that I can’t go to this meeting (it’s always the first week of classes here in Calgary). Interesting tidbit I learned from new Am Nat EiC Dan Bolnick’s talk: ecology replaced genetics as a topic in Am Nat papers in the 1950s-60s, and genetics hasn’t bounced back in Am Nat even as genomics has taken off. Jeremy remarks that the rarity of genomic datasets in Am Nat actually means Am Nat is on the leading edge rather than stuck in the past. The novelty of genomic data as data is going to wear off soon, and it’s just going to become another tool for asking good questions–which is what it is already in Am Nat papers. I agree with this. I’m now in my third year of service on the ASN Jasper Loftus-Hills Young Investigator Awards committee, and one thing I’ve been struck by is the high proportion of applicants who use genomics as a tool to answer great questions; the genomic data are a means to an end, not an end in themselves.

The history of the Fields Medal. Very interesting. Gets you thinking about the broader question of what awards are for, and what should they be for.

Statistician Stephen Senn pushes back against the recent Deaton & Cartwright paper critiquing randomized controlled experiments as an approach in the social sciences. See also the comments, where Andrew Gelman argues that Senn is pushing back against the less important bits of Deaton & Cartwright’s paper.

What makes for a good grad student recruitment weekend? When you figure it out, tell me, because I have no clue. We don’t have a recruitment weekend here at Calgary. And back when I was looking at grad schools in the US, I never went to a recruitment weekend; prospective supervisors brought me out for one-on-one visits. For many years I naively thought that’s how it was everywhere, for everybody. I only learned a few years ago that my experience wasn’t typical.

Nine out of 12 members of the National Park System Advisory Board, a federally-mandated board, resigned this week. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke refused to meet with them or convene any meetings last year. By law, the Advisory Board is supposed to meet twice/year. Many other Interior Dept. advisory boards are unable to work because the department has yet to approve their updated charters, as legally required. (ht @dandrezner)

A new, high-powered meta-analysis of studies of student evaluations of teaching in multisection courses with different instructors in different sections finds no correlation between student evaluations of teaching and student learning. Previous meta-analyses finding moderate correlations were driven by small-sample studies and publication bias.

Quantifying where graduate sociology programs hire their faculty from. tl;dr: if you don’t have a PhD from a top-ranked sociology program, you’re not getting hired by a top-ranked sociology program. I know economics is the same, though I don’t have a link to the data. There are actually some good reasons for this (which aren’t mutually exclusive with bad reasons, of course); see this old post and comment thread. If you collected the same data for ecology and evolution in North America I’m pretty sure you’d find it’s also hierarchical but much less so (it’d be interesting to check, but also a lot of work). That’s in part because EEB hiring committees typically have lots of information about the applicants. The applicants typically are postdocs with more extensive track records of research and teaching experience than applicants for social science faculty positions usually have. The EEB faculty job market in N. America also is less hierarchical than the social science faculty job market because EEB PhD programs typically don’t involve that much coursework. So knowing which university someone got their EEB PhD from doesn’t tell you much about their training.

Forget about trying to change the minds of anti-vax parents. Just legally oblige them to vaccinate their kids if they want to send them to public schools. It turns out that very few parents are so strongly anti-vax that they’re willing to homeschool their children to avoid having to vaccinate them.

Here is the American Economics Association’s draft code of conduct for its members and an associated interim report. The background to this is that economics, a quite male-dominated field, is currently having a field-wide conversation about diversity, equity, and professional conduct. The conversation was kicked off in large part by a Harvard undergrad’s research quantifying the prevalence of sexism (and worse) on a popular anonymous economics forum. (ht @noahpinion)

Mostly just for my own and my Calgary colleagues’ reference: some discussion of the current state of play in post-secondary education policy in Alberta. And some discussion of the Canadian House of Commons Finance Committee’s recent report as it relates to science funding and post-secondary education. Argues that MPs aren’t convinced by the Naylor Report.

Your own learning ought to accelerate over time. Interesting, inspiring, cogent. (ht @noahpinion)

And finally, how doing a PhD is just like Lord of the Rings. Hopefully minus the Tom Bombadil bit. (ht @dandrezner) πŸ™‚

9 thoughts on “Friday links: history of the Fields Medal, optimizing grad student recruitment weekends, Frodo vs. your PhD, and more

  1. Re: Learning accelerating

    An interesting.piece, although I would express it differently: *knowledge* growth accelerates over time for.people who.understand the general.principles of learning and who to generalize from each new bit of knowledge they acquire. IMO if a person can’t effectively generalize from specific instances, the rate of knowledge growth would be

  2. Thanks for sharing all. I’m particularly intrigued by Mr. Wong’s post – lots to look into, but, more on point, the idea that learning can accelerate over time. To me, this is exactly what the constructivist perspective of teaching encompasses: the more we learn, the better we learn.

    Also: Tom Bombadil was the best part of LotR!! That he was left out of the cinematic trilogy proves my point – he can only be brought to life by the reader’s imagination, and any CGI rendition would fall flat on its face. That is, Mr. Bombadil (even with his insufferable songs about daffodils) occupies the margins of literature that film cannot breach.

    • Tom Bombadil is awesome, LoTR is so incomplete without him! But yeah, putting him in the movie would be weird.
      Did you know there’s a theory he’s actually the Witch King of Angmar?

      I’d add another reason why learning accelerates: we become better at absorving ou understanding stuff. By practicing, we start reading faster, inferring from incomplete sentences becomes simpler, etc.
      On the other hand, reaching the “next level” becomes harder even if we learn faster, because the complexity of what there is to learn increases also.,,

  3. Re: EEB being (possibly) less hierarchical than economics or sociology. Another thing that could help is the distribution of research-intensive programs in environmental science fields. Given the broad geographical distribution of well-funded programs in those fields across the states and provinces, there might a corresponding expectation that top researchers are less concentrated in a few elite universities.

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