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Monthly Archives: September 2012

A Theory of Procrastination

Two months ago, I was looking for participants for my psychology research. It took me six weeks to convince 50 people (students) to fill out my questionnaire. Not a great success, if you ask me.

A new semester started. I sent out new invitations. BOOM. Five new participants in two hours. Three more  in another hour. And again. Wow. What was going on?

Believe it or not, I think that the most important part of data collection is timing. I think that since students like to procre– procrastinate during the semester (especially if they have some homework due!), they are many times more likely to participate in studies (and fill out questionnaires).

So what?

Quite honestly, I am not sure. On one hand, it might be interesting to look at volunteering and participation at studies during the holidays vs. during the semester (I would LOVE to write a paper about that), on the other hand… yeah, you guessed it. Homework. Essays. Compulsory readings. Sometimes I wish *I* didn´t procrastinate…

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Posted by on 30 September, 2012 in Education

 

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Team Assignments – When Two Plus Two is Really Four

Dear teachers, tutors, and professors. I am sorry, but there is no such thing as a free lunch. Similarly, there is no such thing as “magical synergy during team projects”. Just – no. Trust me.

Team assignments are the second worst invention one sometimes involuntarily encounters (beaten only by Hannah Montana games – no, really). The idea that “if you put students together, it will make it easier for them to come up with amazing ideas and enable them to do more than each person individually” is unrealistic at best. It would work only under very specific conditions, namely that:

a) all students are equally motivated to do the assignment (i.e. you don´t have one hard-working student and three slackers)

b) all students are equally skilled (i.e. you don´t have three students with an average of D and one with an average of A+) and

c) the group actually works as a team (i.e. you don´t have four control-freaks who prefer to do everything on their own and then be accountable for their own mistakes)

Unfortunately, these conditions rarely hold in real life. So, in contrast to what many teachers believe, 2+2 is not “5” (yes, I am counting the extra magical synergy/creativity/what-have-you), but can be equal to 1, or 2 – if you are lucky (depends on how many ambitious students that particular group has).

However, there IS a way out for all those unhappy high-flyers who always did the team assignments on their own because “they had a terrible team”: It is called “division of labour”. Let me give you three simple steps how NOT to do a whole project alone:

1. Find a (reasonably) good team. Find either smart people, or at least the hard-working ones. Avoid party-goers, irresponsible guys and demotivated do-nothings.

2. Divide (and rule). Split work evenly, try to give everybody a part he or she feels comfortable with (i.e. do not force someone who hates maths to calculate monopoly profits or do not force a shy IT-guy to prepare a presentation). Make sure you control if people do what they were assigned in a timely manner, so that you don´t have to redo something in a rush just because somebody forgot.

3. Meet before the deadline, put everything together, all people check that all parts are of good quality. If you are all happy, submit it; otherwise correct it together.

There. Done. You might not get the mystical “creativity boost” in this way, but at least you won´t have to carry the world (project) all on your shoulders. Good luck!

 
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Posted by on 23 September, 2012 in Education

 

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Stream of Consciousness

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One book, a dozen of equations, a few scattered proofs. Matrices, vectors, eigenvalues. One big headache, if you ask me.

Sunrise. Early Monday morning. A warm cup of coffee and a dark blue scarf around my neck. Me, my thoughts, my calculations. My crusade. My sleep deprivation. Why am I doing this to myself?

And yet, the sky (life?) is not dark anymore. It gradually turns pink and orange, a new day is here. Birds start to sing.

Cute, fluffy and orange. A squirrel!

Linear combination of research and study. A graduate school prospectus on the table. With question marks. Blue question marks.

My eyelids are starting to feel heavy. Blink. Once, twice. Suddenly, my alarm goes off. Oh, so here we go again. It´s a brand new day…

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Posted by on 16 September, 2012 in Random

 

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Bicycle Race – Destination: Morality

If you´ve ever been to Holland, you probably know that every Dutch(wo)man more or less lives on his/her bike. They eat, drink, play console games, kiss or even play musical instruments (!) while cycling on the busiest road in town… as if it were as easy as taking a candy from a baby.

Fine. I (just like any other foreigner living in Holland) can live with that. Unfortunately, there is one more peculiar thing concerning bikes present: Yes, you guessed it – stealing bicycles is (almost) a national sport!

Two days ago, my shiny, 3-month-old bike was stolen. I was furious, but the only condolence I got from the Dutch was along the lines “So what? Just go and steal one for yourself!”

So I stopped whining, took a deep breath in and thought: What if everybody stole bicycles from everybody else? What if really everybody joined this craziness? How would that affect the societal morals? How quickly would this spill over to other things (like stealing your super-expensive pen – the Czech president would probably know)? And finally, what makes a crime socially “acceptable”? (If it is just “enough people doing it”, could fraud one day become ok?)

Any thoughts?

 
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Posted by on 9 September, 2012 in Traveling

 

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Getting a Research Internship

There are certainly days when nothing goes as planned: your alarm clock goes on strike (weird, mine says “made in China” but acts as if it was made in France), you’ve burned your breakfast – so far things are going great… Anyway. If you want to get to Grad school, I have a bit of heads-up advice: There are things that actually work!

Since almost all Graduate schools require at least some research experience, this is something you should probably be aiming at while doing your Bsc./MA. Here’ s a short list of tips how to get a research internship – read on!

1. Make sure you know what you want to do. If the answer is “economics”, for example, this is not good enough. Is it micro, macro, finance, behavioral, labour, econometrics…?

2. Find a professor (at your university) with similar research interests. Take his/her class (if possible), approach him/her and ask about the possibility of an internship.

3. If you are asked for an interview, prepare your transcript (just in case) and your CV (at least in your head) – and of course your grad school plans.

4. This professor can become your “secret ally” – he or she probably knows which school would be nice for you, you get get a good recommendation letter if your internships turns out well… don’ t underestimate these benefits.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask. Ask about what exactly is expected from you, ask when you don’t understand, ask about your possible wage. There are important questions – remember, it’s always better to ask than to omit something because “it didn’t occur to you”.

So, that’s about it. Simple, eh? Happy job hunting! 🙂

 
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Posted by on 3 September, 2012 in Education

 

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