Friday, March 31, 2006

Academic Papers Part Deux

So, here are some lessons I've learned from writing this paper and abstract:

  • LaTeX is your friend. It really isn't that much more difficult than regular word processors to use, especially after you've learned it. I find that there are many things, especially equations and symbols, that I can do much easier than in Word. I really didn't want to learn it at first, but I picked it up in January and I'm extremely pleased that I did.
  • Start early, and be prepared to throw away several drafts. I actually started writing this paper in January and February, but the current version looks barely anything like those versions. The first version tends to just be a way to get your thoughts down.
  • Taking breaks is productive. During part of my paper reviewing with my instructor we pushed her son and his friend on the swings. It was a great stress relief, and helped keep us focus (as oxymoronic as that is). Taking an hour without reading it will also help you to see the errors in your paper.
  • Shortening really is easier than writing it short to begin with. We have a 2 page abstract due, but we wrote most of the 10+ page paper first. Since writing more is usually easier than writing less, this approach let us organize our thoughts and be sure we had everything covered. Then we took the most important parts to make the abstract. I tried to just write the abstract before writing the paper, and I think this way was definitely easier.
  • Always check the conference website multiple times. For instance, the deadline is usually extended. Also, if they have a template they want you to follow it is probably a good idea to follow it. It sucks when you've gotten it to a good length and then find out your font is too small.
  • Previous work is almost more important than your own. I may be exaggerating a bit, but having a weak previous work section will kill you. Previous work mostly showed that you understand the field and acknowledge that you are not the only person involved in it. Eventually you may be able to mostly cite yourself, but as a grad student you need to prove that you understand that you are only a grad student, no matter how totally awesome you are.
  • There will always be a word or phrase you overuse. Find it, and exterminate it. My advisor pointed out that I used the phrase "our system" too much, and then realized that she used the word "typically" too often. There will always be a word that comes quickly to mind as you revise, and even if you use it sparingly each time those usages add up. Always read over your paper looking for those words and phrases, and fix it before you submit!
  • Be concise and precise, and you will go far. Writing blogs unfortunately can kill your conciseness, but when writing papers it is crucial! If you can say what you want to say in fewer words than planned, your audience might actually understand your point. But don't sacrifice necessary explanations for shortened length.
  • When playing freeze tag, be sure to be frozen near where your advisor is frozen so you can discuss the paper she's editing while you wait for the kids to unfreeze you. Sure, this probably doesn't apply to most of you, but I find this advise very useful. It's also good to make sure that if your advisor trips over a hole and falls that she's OK, even if her kid jumps on her afterwards as if it was planned.

OK, that's all for now. The abstract will be done later today, and I may have a 3rd part to go along with the 2nd one after we're done. But hopefully not.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Academic Papers

Academic papers are interesting to write. I'm in the process of writing my first academic paper on my work in graduate school (I had a paper published last fall from my undergrad work), and it's been busy. I have an abstract due on Monday for a conference in Switzerland this summer that is perfect for the type of work I'm doing. So, we were writing the paper first and now we're going to pull the abstract out of it (2 page maximum). We still have a small amount of work to do on the project itself, but we have enough results so far to have a mostly finished paper. The goal is to have the project done by the end of the school year, so the final paper will be ready in time for the conference if necessary. If my abstract is accepted, I'll either be asked to submit a final paper or a poster. If not a paper then we'll try to publish the paper elsewhere.

So my last week or so has been finding references, writing, re-writing, and doing runs to get results. Writing an academic paper is definitely an art form, and I'm glad I have a good advisor to help me with it. As she puts it, you have to learn many skills in grad school and how to write scientifically is one of them. I am not quite up to par yet, but we have been keeping my original organization as well as a lot of my wording so it's not too bad. I really can't wait until I'm good enough to be able to chug out a paper much easier. Granted, writing research papers is never quick, but the first few are definitely harder to do than the later ones.

Writing this paper has made me feel like a real graduate student; I've been staying up until about 1AM an then getting up around 7AM, whereas I used to go to bed around 12AM and get up around 8AM. I feel energized, and am happy about my progress. I'm not sure how long this schedule will last, but now that it's light out in the morning I find it easy to get up, so it might last at least a few months.

I've learned some good things about paper writing and the life of an academic this week, but since I'll be truly done writing tomorrow (at least for the current deadline) I'll wait and write about that in a few days to make sure I don't leave out anything good. I should be up rather late tonight finishing up this abstract, so we'll see what sorts of insights lack of sleep provides.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Let the good times roll!

So, I think the best way to start off a new blog (besides the mandatory welcome, of course) is with good news. So here's mine:

I am now a recipient of the Google Anita Borg Scholarship for 2006-2007, for $10,000!!!!

Yep, that's rather good news I would say. Apparently it gets broken up between the two semesters which is disappointing, but it's great anyway. Funding is rather tight for me, so every little bit helps. I applied to a bunch of fellowships and should be hearing from them soon, so hopefully I will get something that will cover my funding for a year or two as well. Let the good times roll!

Also, Google is going to pay for me to go to the Grace Hopper Convention next October, which is fabulous! I've been really wanting to go and funding was going to be the only thing holding me back, then viola! I have funding. Once again....let the good times roll!

On the same note of good times rolling, I am also going to be attending a retreat for all of the scholarship finalists next weekend (April 6 - 9) in beautiful sunny CA, hosted'll never guess....oh, you did guess! Yep....Google! Once again, let the good times roll...only this time they'll roll with sunny beautiful days, an all expense paid trip, and free food. I do love food.

So, despite the long day of theory homework and research I've been experiencing (and tend to experience a lot this semester), I'm in an extremely good mood. Hopefully my luck will continue with my other funding endeavors of the year....

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The usual "welcome" message

I've decided to start a blog, but not one directly about my personal life. I will incorporate my experiences and opinions, as the vast majority of bloggers do, but I would like to focus on ideas in my field of Computer Science. I enjoy politics, music, and many other topics as well, so if I find something of interest I'll post it here.

The part of the blog that will actually be personal in some sense will be about my experiences in grad school, as I'm currently a graduate student. Set backs and successes in my research (without giving away details of my research, of course) and other research I encounter will be saved here, mostly for my own use, although I'm sure someone else will find it interesting as well.

I have a personal "this is how my day went" blog elsewhere, which will not be linked to or hinted at besides this one paragraph. That blog will house the personal details of life, whereas this blog gives me a chance to discuss other interesting topics.

Hopefully I'll be modifying the template soon if I have time, and posting at least often enough to keep it interesting.