Saturday, May 31, 2008

Beginning to Review for the GRE

I have previously complained that the GRE was not being revised for testing this year, but now that I have spent some time with my Kaplan review guide, I am not quite as upset about this as I was.

I have now read the "strategies and practice" sections and worked the problems for the quantitative (math) and verbal sections of the exam, and I feel I have a better handle on what the test will involve. I still find the idea of the computer-adaptive element kind of nerve-wracking, but at least the question types like quantitative comparison and analogy are less weird-seeming.

Aside from familiarizing the student with the test, making the student comfortable with the kinds of questions on the test, and giving the student practice questions and exams to work on, the primary thing the book attempts to do is give students a methodological approach to the problems (aka tips and tricks to get the answers the exam writers were looking for). My attitude toward this has varied from skeptical to disparaging in the past, but I admit that having read this stuff, I can see its value.

I found that the discussion of the analogy questions in particular was very useful. Historically, I have used my typical intuitive approach to answering these questions, and that has worked pretty well for me, but it's nice to be able to confirm to myself that my answer is correct, or have a place to start working toward an answer if nothing jumps out at me, by using their explicit method.

This approach involves finding the "bridge" that links the two parts of the beginning of the analogy (e.g. LUCID:OBSCURITY) at the correct level of specificity so that you can determine which of the answers have the same relationship. In this case, the bridge would be "lacks" because something that is LUCID "lacks" OBSCURITY. The correct answer would be ECONOMICAL:EXTRAVAGANCE. Perhaps this seems entirely obvious to you, my dear readers, but actually being told the mechanics of how these analogies work did de-mystify them for me.

I liked that they warned us of specific analogy traps that the test writers like to set for us (e.g. the Cliche Trap - putting together two words like "faithful" and "servant" that go together in the English language but that do not have a logical relationship). They also gave us an extremely nice bit of advice for when we can't figure out the answer: eliminate all answer choices that share the same bridge. For example, if you have the options of PLIANT:YIELD and IRKSOME:ANNOY, both of these have the same "bridge" so neither answer can be correct; eliminate them and choose from what remains.

My worst question type in the Verbal section was reading comprehension, especially for passages that involve hard science topics (I mean astronomy, chemistry, etc., not science topics that were difficult). I don't think this is because of any weird testing artefact, either, but fairly appropriately reflects that my weakest area is understanding science material well enough to answer (moderately difficult) questions about the implications of the passage, etc., under time pressure. I've always been relatively bad at science so this doesn't surprise me. (On every standardized test from early childhood, science has been my Achilles heel. The science section of the ACT blew my 36 score.) I can continue working on this area, but have to acknowledge that it's a legitimate problem (with, in my view, little obvious impact on my ability to excel at graduate studies in the behavioral sciences, of course) and accept that my score will suffer for it.

I have determined that my vocabulary basically already kicks ass, but will shore up my weaknesses in things like "not being able to consistently remember what the word 'prodigal' means because I know that people misuse the term a lot but I can't remember which of the two common uses that relate to the Bible story is the right one." (Note to self: he was the prodigal son because he spent all his money, not because he came back.)

I did surprisingly well on the practice Quantitative section, missing 4 of 60 questions. Considering that I had done no review of geometry and such before sitting down with the test, that was a good performance for me (especially since two of the missed questions were at the very end, when I was trying to finish up the last several before talking to Robert, who'd just gotten home - my concentration was shit at that point).

I have yet to spend any time looking at the Writing section of the test, which I have never encountered before.

Although you would expect the writers to believe/say this even if it is not true, I believe them when they posit that the GRE is not really a test of one's verbal and mathematical abilities. (I mean, really - math studliness cannot be measured by a multiple choice test that does not venture past 9th grade geometry and focuses only on getting the "right" answer by hook or by crook without making you demonstrate how you got it.) Nor is it a measure of one's intelligence or moral worth or any other grandiose thing. It's just a standardized test. It gives admission committees some kind of common "objective" yardstick to use across various applicants to their programs, since grades and recommendations have to be viewed in terms of the school the student attended and admission essays are evaluated in such a subjective fashion.

Ultimately, it is not clear to me that the GRE even has predictive validity, at least for psychology graduate students. My knowledge of this research is ten years out of date, but at that time, my understanding was that GRE Quantitative and Verbal scores do not predict success in graduate school for psychology students, although that may be a restriction of range issue - at the very least, for people who scored well enough to be accepted into the programs, getting a good versus extremely good score does not make a difference in predicting your grades, whether you complete the graduate program, your prof's rating of your dissertation or thesis, etc. (Needless to say, even "for science," psychology programs seem uninterested in performing genuine experiments in this field by, e.g., bringing in people across the entire range of sucky to awesome GRE scores and seeing if they perform at different levels.) The GRE Analytic section (which, ironically, has been abandoned) did have some predictive power for some groups of graduate students - I believe for men, but not for women.

Of course, if I end up with a 1580 or something crazy high like that on my exam, that will be further evidence that I am a GENIUS!

Friday, May 30, 2008

South Austin Motorists Take Note

Dear Other Driver,

It is unfortunate that the department of transportation only puts up the one sign, but every time you see Sign #1, you can assume that Sign #2 is also implied. I hope this helps.

The Person in the Car Behind You

They both need to be posted, Burma Shave style

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Airline Critters

(Dated Saturday, May 24)

The flight attendant on Frontier Airlines was really good about thanking us. At the end of the flight, she thanked us on behalf of herself, the other flight attendants, the pilot and first officer, the ground crew, their immediate families, their ex-wives who depend on their child support checks, any brothers-in-law who may be about to get their car repossessed, middle management, upper management, executive management, the janitor who is right now reading Hustler instead of cleaning a men's room in Concourse B, and "Humphrey the Bison who rode with us on the tail and winglets" of the plane. OK, I'm serious about the bison.

I'm flying!

Basically, I like Frontier's "whole different animal" schtick. It's a fun thing that they have different animal pictures on the planes and have given them names and all that. From the window seat of Row 15, I was perfectly aligned with the Humphrey the Bison that was at the wind of the wing.

But there was something very weird to me about the phrase "who rode with us on the tail and winglets" to refer to a single bison. I had this feeling like, So they put Humph's head on the right wing - what's on the tail? His big shaggy ass? It doesn't seem right to me that they should perform some kind of dissection just to spread the joys of Humphrey around the plane. Southwest did not put Shamu through this kind of ... pain? Indignity? (And arguably, it's about time someone did give him a taste of his own medicine there.) Flagrant disregard of their own conceit that these pictures are actual creatures flying along with us on the plane?

(On more than 5 hours of sleep, I suspect I could come up with some comparison to the wisdom of Solomon and not chopping the disputed baby into two parts - which, by the way, always sort of makes me wonder whether the "one person divides, the other person picks first" rule can be made to work in this situation. It would almost surely have to be a lateral bisection, since the two ends are so dissimilar. I will leave applying the Biblical reference to the Frontier Airlines situation as an exercise for the reader.)

I am also well-disposed to the name Humphrey (which I also encountered this week as a blue macaw on the show Wonderfalls*) - my sister has a white Persian cat named Humphrey (brother: Fred) who has such a strong natural facial expression of self-satisfied, disparaging pomposity, especially when in repose, that I often think of him as "Harrumphrey."

(* In case you are wondering whether I have eschewed blog ads for the alternative of charging money for product placement, I have not. No doubt these frequent mentions of the show will stop once I have forgotten how good (and surprising and satisfying) the last several episodes were.)

(Note: handwriting this blog entry at Tam's desk, I realized that the way I form my capital H appears to have bee changed due to my linear algebra class. When studying for the tests, I came to write my H in the more efficient manner of left vertical line, then horizontal line that swings up to form the right vertical line because I found myself writing H a lot in the context of subspace H. I wonder if the change is permanent.)


The entire group of Frontier animals can be found here. (Note that they named their mustang Sally and their cougar Sal.) I had wondered whether each plane in their fleet has a different animal, and that does appear to be the case. I rode home on the grey wolf plane.

Friday, May 23, 2008

I Dedicate This Observation to Jerry Seinfeld

(I just watched the 2002 documentary Comedian, which follows Seinfeld after he has thrown away all his old material and is building up a new standup comedy routine piece by piece.)

So what's the deal with those gigantic scissors that politicians use at ribbon-cutting ceremonies? Where do they even come from? Is there some kind of Wal-Mart Supercenter for Giants where they sell the scissors on the next aisle over from the huge thimbles that some people collect? And most importantly, do they make the big scissors for lefties? Because if they don't, that could really be closing some people out of an important part of the political process. I wonder if they make ceremonial safety scissors for use in dedicating schools.

$219.77, big dork not included


So on this note, I will leave you for a time. I am visiting Tam in Denver this weekend for that random-seeming holiday that Memorializes the Independence of Labor or whatever it is called. Blogging will resume Tuesday-ish.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

TV Shows Lasting One Season

OK, I will finally agree with Tam, based on the final five episodes, that the TV show Wonderfalls was, indeed, hilarious. The episode "Totem Mole," which takes place on the Satsuma reservation, is especially great - but maybe that's because I know from my dad's experience as an accountant for the Cherokee Nation that tribe member Bill Hooten, who starts the episode feeling un-special as just as accountant and not a spiritual leader, is indeed an important person for the group.

Also, I was amused that with the subtitles on, we were told explicitly that the totem was speaking specifically with a Liverpool accent. Subtitles rock.

In the final analysis (well, not really the final - I never let these kinds of issues go), I think I preferred Wonderfalls to Firefly. I felt that the larger universe the crew in Firefly operated in was never adequately limned, the characterization was somewhat poor, and that there was little in the way of either internal or external forces compelling the story. Wasn't it just a bunch of people (of varying levels of annoying-ness) flying around on a ship to no purpose? (I mean, other than being amusing sometimes.) Also, I detested River (though not passionately in a "love to hate" kind of way) and thought that the chemistry between the captain and the courtesan was like watching two inert gases interacting. I was crazy about the character Jayne, though.

Firefly / Wonderfalls connection: the actress playing the savant mechanic girl on Firefly played the bartender's wife Heidi on Wonderfalls.


I like the Leonard Cohen song "Alexandra Leaving" as KSAL Radio listeners are aware. The lyrics are thus:

Suddenly the night has grown colder.
The god of love preparing to depart.
Alexandra hoisted on his shoulder,
They slip between the sentries of the heart.

Upheld by the simplicities of pleasure,
They gain the light, they formlessly entwine;
And radiant beyond your widest measure
They fall among the voices and the wine.

It’s not a trick, your senses all deceiving,
A fitful dream, the morning will exhaust –
Say goodbye to Alexandra leaving.
Then say goodbye to Alexandra lost.

Even though she sleeps upon your satin;
Even though she wakes you with a kiss.
Do not say the moment was imagined;
Do not stoop to strategies like this.

As someone long prepared for this to happen,
Go firmly to the window. Drink it in.
Exquisite music. Alexandra laughing.
Your firm commitments tangible again.

And you who had the honor of her evening,
And by the honor had your own restored –
Say goodbye to Alexandra leaving;
Alexandra leaving with her lord.

Even though she sleeps upon your satin;
Even though she wakes you with a kiss.
Do not say the moment was imagined;
Do not stoop to strategies like this.

As someone long prepared for the occasion;
In full command of every plan you wrecked –
Do not choose a coward’s explanation
That hides behind the cause and the effect.

And you who were bewildered by a meaning;
Whose code was broken, crucifix uncrossed –
Say goodbye to Alexandra leaving.
Then say goodbye to Alexandra lost.

Say goodbye to Alexandra leaving.
Then say goodbye to Alexandra lost.

I was surprised a couple of months ago reading a book of poetry to come upon the poem "The God Abandons Antony" by Greek poet Constantine Cavafy; it looked eerily familiar.

The author of the website writes: "Anthony, in Cavafy's poem is, of course, Marcus Antonius, Cleopatra's lover. The poem refers to Plutarch's story that, when Anthony was besieged in Alexandria by Octavian, the night before the city fell into enemy hands, he heard an invisible troupe leaving the city. He heard the sounds of instruments and voices making their way through the city. Then, he passed out; the god Bacchus (Dionysus), Antony's protector, was deserting him." [Note: Fellow Rome watchers will note that in history, Octavian and Marcus Antonius do indeed have a falling-out.]

Cohen changes the focus from a city called Alexandria to a woman named Alexandra.

I prefer Cohen's version, though it may partly be a matter of translation. For example, I like the line "Do not stoop to strategies like this" better than "Don't degrade yourself with empty hopes like these." And lines like "Your firm commitments tangible again" (that do not correspond to lines from the original) are classic Cohen.

This song is a spectacularly successful adaptation of a good poem.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Summer Begins in Earnest

I mentioned to Robert that our visit to the state park on Sunday morning might be our last chance to get out and enjoy before summer really started.

It's after 6:00 p.m. The temperature is 97 degrees. It got up to 101 this afternoon (a record high for the date).

Welcome to hell.

But this will be our last (full) summer in Austin. Winston-Salem, NC, where it is currently 75, or Blackburg, VA, where it is currently 61, are sounding better all the time.

Women in Science and Tech

Here's yet another article on the topic, but it's perhaps a bit more interesting than most.

I thought that the findings from the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth brought a somewhat new angle to the discussion.

The article reports:

"Benbow and Lubinski also found something else intriguing: Women who are mathematically gifted are more likely than men to have strong verbal abilities as well; men who excel in math, by contrast, don't do nearly as well in verbal skills. As a result, the career choices for math-precocious women are wider than for their male counterparts. They can become scientists, but can succeed just as well as lawyers or teachers. With this range of choice, their data show, highly qualified women may opt out of certain technical or scientific jobs simply because they can."

So, among the population of the mathematically gifted (MG), a higher percentage of women who are MG are also verbally gifted, and thus women are more likely to choose non-scientific careers. They almost make this sound like MG women have a huge array of career choices and are even better off than MG men, who are stuck in the math and tech fields because they aren't good at anything else.

But really, doesn't how we think about this finding in the context of career opportunity depend on how the overall population of MG people breaks down between men and women? I think we are interested in the number of women who are in this privileged Super Brainiac, High Career Choice "MG and VG" category compared to men, not just the relative percentages.

Please see the (rather pathetic) figure below, in which the size of each box represents the size of the population and the total box represents the overall population of the MG:

If the population of the MG is relatively equally balanced between men and women, as shown in the first figure, then MG women are in a good place, with more women than men having the MG and VG chops to choose between a variety of lucrative careers.

But what if the world is actually more like the second figure, in which MG men outnumber MG women? Other research suggests that there is unequal representation of the sexes in the population of the MG, so I take this as a more likely scenario. In this case, even if a higher percentage of women are MG and VG compared to men, the actual number of women in the category may be the same, or even lower.

So it is quite possible that the world has a similar number of men and women who are MG/VG and have wide career choice, plus a small number of MG-only women and a large number of MG-only men. I'm not sure that this is compatible with the statement that "the career choices for math-precocious women are wider than for their male counterparts" when you are looking at women and men as groups, and I think that's the level where this discussion occurs.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Immature Behavior

Robert and I went for a nice hike-and-bird (or walk-and-gawk, as I call it) outing at McKinney Falls State Park this morning and saw a nice array of the usual Austin-area breeding birds. I was especially happy to get good looks at baby bluebirds and cardinals, who look quite silly - the bluebirds were only partly streaked with blue and the cardinals, who could not yet fly, were doing a good job of pumping their wings in expectation of later flight ability. We also saw a young dove who was still figuring out the flying thing; he made a few false starts before he finally got going.

But the best sighting to my mind was a group of about 6 immature red-shouldered hawks. At one point, we startled their big mama out of a tree, where she had been feeding one of her young, and she flew straight past us, very close, with a bloody rat in her talons. (It's a close look when you can so clearly identify the prey species.) Then we started hearing this call that Robert said sounded like a blue jay with the piano pedal pushed to soften it. I said, Maybe it's a baby blue jay. But no - we quickly discovered that it was one of the young hawks, mewing at mommy for food.

I want more rat waaaaah

This is all made the more ridiculous by the fact that young birds very quickly achieve a size near or equal to their parents. One of the goofier (and sadder) things to watch (which we did not see today) is a tiny parent bird feeding a much huger young brown-headed cowbird. (Cowbirds practice nest paraticism; instead of making their own nests, they remove the eggs from another bird's nest and replace them with their own. This is a major problem for endangered species like the black-capped vireo.)

I also particularly enjoyed watching a wren and a lizard on a branch; the wren kept moving around and the lizard kept trying to stay out of sight of it.

We saw one bird fly past us that completely boggled our minds. It is not obvious to me that there is any bird in the ABA bird area that looks like that. Of course, I am wrong, but it seemed so unfamiliar that neither Robert nor I even knew where to start looking in the book. My best description is that it looked like a miniaturized (perhaps large dove-sized) Mississippi kite.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

DVD Viewing Notes

I have now seen Punch-Drunk Love and 50 First Dates, and against all rational expectation, Adam Sandler has a curious plausibility as a romantic lead. I thought he worked especially well with Drew Barrymore, so suppose I should give in and watch The Wedding Singer, too.

The TV show Wonderfalls has been mostly enjoyable, but I have a lot of pet peeves with it. (It is a lot like Dead Like Me in this respect - well, in a lot of respects actually. And it doesn't have the saving grace of featuring Mandy Patinkin.) For instance, shouldn't a girl with a philosophy degree from Brown University have a little bit more on the ball intellectually when faced with talking objects? Also, I don't understand why 80% of the lead actress's acting is done by overextending her lips when she talks; it looks idiotic. I can only guess that we are to assume that she was a legacy admit at Brown; the other members of her family seem somewhat bright. (The college drop-out in Dead Like Me seemed vastly smarter.)

I admit that I am looking forward to Joss Whedon's new show Dollhouse, which will star the actress who played Faith on Buffy. (Although I have to agree with the commenter who bemoaned her acting skills as less than wonderful.) Of course, I am already wondering how Nathan Fillion will be used in the show, since he was important to both Buffy (in a capacity to which I will not refer specifically so as to avoid spoilers for readers who are only now catching up with this show) and of course Firefly, as the captain.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Stat Class Grade

My grade has been posted on our website - 594/600 = 99%.

Quite satisfactory.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Bunnilicious Cupcake Video

Tam emailed me this video several weeks ago, but I forgot to put it here for everyone else to enjoy the bunny-ness.

I was pleased to discover that the actress, Amy Sedaris, is a real-life bunny-owner, rabbit rescue supporter, and cupcake baker. Her rabbit Dusty, featured in the video as the sprinkle-eater, is a mini-Rex (like Leo and Katy).

Thursday, May 8, 2008

An Odd Dawn Chorus

I went outside around 7:30 this morning to water my plants and heard the usual bird sounds - house finches, cardinals, starlings, ... and the continued bleating of the (presumably battery-operated) alarm clock somebody threw into the trash bin last night.

If the alarm clock were a bird, what would it be?
- It sings all night long.
- The song is three monotonous beeps, a short pause, three beeps, and so on.

A drugged-out whippoorwill (to continue our nightjar theme)? It is known for its "vigorous deliberate call...which it may repeat 400 times before stopping."

Hey, it could happen

A Little Bird List Competitiveness

Updating our bird lists last night to account for the chuck-will's-widow, Robert and I compared our ABA life counts - 446 for me, 447 for him.

I have a zone-tailed hawk that I saw driving home from work early one day, a bird that is seen in that part of Austin a couple times per year as Robert knows from the TexBirds listserve. I hadn't been sure what the hell I saw because it looked so much like a turkey vulture with a striped tail. If I hadn't gotten such a good look at him sitting on the wire, and Robert hadn't been able to assure me that other people have seen the bird too, I would have been hesitant to claim it. It's a damn good sighting for Austin.

He has two birds that he saw on Padre Island when he accompanied me to a work conference. It was pretty annoying to come out from the conference center, walk 45 seconds to the bird walk, ask Robert how the birding was, and for him to say "I just saw a Virginia rail." Of course the bird was no longer there. ARGH!

The common wisdom among birding couples is, "The only thing worse than missing the bird is seeing the bird that your partner does not." There have been times that one of has seen a bird and the other has not, but we make a serious effort to refind the bird for each other and this has usually worked out just fine.

For a while, I had a good lead on him with a few birds I saw in California and a bunch of pelagic (ocean) birds that Robert missed being seasick on our outing off Washington state. But he has visited California since then and I treated him as a birthday gift to another pelagic trip that I found pretty much utterly miserable (and did not see anything new) but that he enjoyed and that allowed him to catch me up.

Robert has at least one other bird - wood stork - that he has seen but does not technically have on his list because he has no record of the place and time. I saw a (female) white-collared seedeater when we were in South Texas (a bird with an extremely restricted US range, as you can see from this map - the green edge near Roma), but (1) I felt dissatisfied with my view that was only just sufficient to identify it (as much from micro-location, since the birds are well-known to hang out in that particular set of brush next to that library, as anything else - the bird is damned plain) and (2) Robert didn't see more than a completely useless flash. But I reserve the right, if I am 70 and have not seen another one, to claim it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Evening Walk Yields Unexpected Opportunistic Birding Event

On our late-evening walk at the local park, as dusk was turning into night, we saw a bird that clearly revealed itself to be a nightjar as it took off from the dead snag it was sitting on and flew around eating bugs in its characteristic way that is very hard to describe, but that Robert just called "flying around like a paper airplane almost" and "erratic and moth-like." It was not immediately obvious which nightjar, though it was very large, but I was very excited because I knew that it was a life bird, if only we could determine which one.

We power-walked the rest of the way around the trail in the increasing darkness and just as we got to the end, we heard a bird calling. Although I had never heard it in life before, it was immediately obvious what it was, and Robert and I grabbed onto each other by the arms with the shared happiness of knowing for certain that we had a chuck-will's-widow. A perusal of four different field guides confirmed that the bird we saw was also a chuck-will's-widow, due to its size and brown coloration.

I have needed a sighting like this for a long time - seeing a new bird totally unexpectedly and in a familiar local place - to get me jazzed up about birding again. It is precisely this kind of experience that makes birding so cool, how something amazing can happen to you totally accidentally. (It certainly helps compensate for those times when you miss a rare bird by 5 minutes, and yes I am talking about you, elegant trogon!) And my mom got a lifer (female) painted bunting in her yard this week, so it's been a good time for awesome and easy new bird sightings.

Life Bird Update, ABA Region:
#446, Chuck-will's-widow, Austin, TX

The Contenders: Schools 1 and 2

I now have my tentative list of masters programs I am interesting in applying to. The list may change, of course - especially if I decide I do not need to apply to as many programs - but it seems likely that I will end up in one of these programs.

For purposes of this blogging exercise, I have also ranked the programs by desirability, but this is a very rough ranking and subject to potentially dramatic change as I scrutinize the professors' specific research interests by reading their journal articles and so forth.

The primary attributes considered for my ranking process were:
- Strength of research match between faculty and myself
- Selectivity/quality of the program
- Location (specifically for compatibility with Robert's needs)
- Coursework
- Thesis or non-thesis program

#1: I have already written about my first choice, the MA Psychology program at Wake Forest. One additional data point on Wake Forest is that is ranked very highly on the US News & World Report National Universities list, at #30. While I do not believe that this list represents any kind of gold standard for measuring school quality, the high ranking there is consistent with other measures of quality and selectivity that I have seen (for the MA Psychology program in particular). Given that most top-notch schools do not have masters level psychology programs, it's encouraging to find ones that do.

#2: MS Business Administration (Marketing Research), Virginia Tech University, Blacksburg, VA

This is an odd little program. And I do mean little; they admit 1 to 3 students per year. The existence of preparatory-to-marketing-PhD programs is extremely limited, as in, this is the only one of its kind that I could find. MS Marketing Research programs are unusual to begin with, and most of them focus on getting graduates ready for the job market, not further academic study.

The research match is excellent, of course, since it is a marketing program and they have consumer behavior people on board. I found 8 faculty members that would be compatible with my interests; that's huge. (In fact, when I did a ranking of the PhD marketing programs based on faculty research compatibility, Virginia Tech came in at #6 of the 46 or so that remain on my list.)

Selectivity and quality are likely to be high. It's harder to judge this, since I do not have the luxury of the APA's Guide to Graduate Study like I do for psychology programs. But I did find a ranking of PhD programs for consumer psychology and Virginia Tech came in at #30. So this would seem a solid jumping point for study in that area, especially given that to my knowledge, the schools ranked #1-29 do not even have MS programs. Of course, with a class size of one to three, the odds of being accepted are not great, so it may be too selective for my purposes. But one source (that I have seen elsewhere described as having varying accuracy) put the combined MS and PhD marketing programs at Virginia Tech at 22% acceptance rate.

I recognize that acceptance rates do not predict my personal likelihood of acceptance, but determining my personal chance is impossible. They also are not a wonderful measure of selectivity, since many factors (especially location in an area with high population or that is desirable for some reason) might lead some schools to get many more applications than their equally high quality counterparts, but I feel that knowing whether a program accepts 10% vs. 30% vs. 60% of their applicants says something about the program.

The location is frankly not that great. It's kind of in the middle of nowhere and while there will be some jobs available, Robert will not have a great set of options as he would at most of my other contenders. But the program is just too good for me to dismiss it at this point.

The coursework looks promising and directly on point for my purposes. It's a blend of marketing, statistics, and my choice of psychology, economics, and/or business classes. (And no risk that the "Advanced Topics in Social Psychology" course will end up being about aspects of truth-telling in romantic relationships or some such irrelevant content.) Because it's a market research degree, the number of research methods and stat courses is higher than most psychology programs. Of course, it is possible that a couple of the 3-4 "advanced marketing seminars" I will need to take will be more boring than the typical psychology class, if they turn out to be "marketing management" or "marketing strategy" or that sort of thing.

It is also thesis-based program, which I prefer.

In many respects, this is the best program for my needs as I see them right now. It obviously leads naturally to a marketing PhD program and seems like it will make the most sense to those admission committees. It will be easy and natural to do a consumer psychology-centric thesis and I will have good advisors on hand for that. It has the huge advantage of presenting me with a good alternative path if I decide that I really don't want to suffer through a PhD program because of the immediate employability of someone with this kind of practical-looking degree. But the location issue, combined with some nebulous basic preference of Wake Forest over Virginia Tech and the impression that a psychology masters keeps my options more open in the event I want to do a psychology rather than marketing PhD program in the future, keeps it from securing the #1 slot.

Survived Last Day of the Semester

I was up before 5:30 yesterday morning, which is really early for me, after a long, stressful dream involving a realization that I am totally unprepared for a very public presentation exam, disappearing notecards, disappearing Tam, confusion about suddenly finding myself at home instead of at the testing site, and so forth. It was something of a relief to wake up.

Starting at 8:00, I had my two back-to-back math finals. I think I did well on both of them and generally believe that I had studied an appropriate amount. (Technically, I "overstudied" what I needed to eke out A's on the tests, let alone A's in the classes, but my goal was more like "score very solid A's on both exams.")

After that, I talked to my professor MW who is going to be my boss at my summer job, an algebra curriculum development program. The details of the job are still a bit nebulous at this point, but will involve laying out a book with desktop publishing software and learning to use the LaTeX program for writing mathematical stuff (which I have never used). (MW does not know about my relatively large amount of editing experience, but I will have the opportunity to put my mad skillz to work.) There are also summer math camps that I will help with. It sounds like it will be fun and different from my usual kind of gig. It's 8 weeks, 40 hours per week, $10 per hour, starting June 9.

Last night I went out to conduct experiments for my marketing department job. I was extremely tired and just about totally brain-fogged at this point, but it turned out okay. Two professors, the grad student who is the primary research assistant, and I put 20 Boy Scouts through the relatively painless process of picking food from mocked up fast food menus and answering questions. I drove myself and the grad student to the site, and having him in the car definitely helped keep me awake. The guy is a great example of the very best kind of extrovert - just naturally friendly, interested in other people, a good conversationalist, and pleasant to be around. He is an MBA student, focusing on sales; I can only imagine that he will be extremely successful.

He said that he has been always been extroverted, and related this story that his mom likes to tell: He was 4, and had been to one of those "Mom's Day Out" programs, and when he got home, his mom asked him what he had learned. He told her all about the "don't talk to strangers" lesson they had had. Immediately following this, they went to the grocery store together. While standing in the check-out line, his mom realized he was no longer standing with her. She looked over and saw him sitting on a bench with a totally unfamiliar old guy (about 75 years old) having an animated conversation. As they were leaving the store, she said, "Don't you remember that you aren't supposed to talk to strangers?" and he responded, "But Mom, he isn't a stranger. That's Charlie!" Even at that young age, he already had the "A stranger is a friend you haven't met yet" mentality, it seems. I wish that at 34 years old, I was a fraction this socially confident and adept.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Undergraduate Business Minor

Robert was postulating that along with the PhD in management that Rice would also introduce an undergraduate business major. Well, they haven't gone that far, but they do now have an undergraduate business minor that consists of 6 courses:

Business communications
Financial accounting
Leading people in organizations
Financial management
Strategic management (capstone)

I think this is very cool and makes for a nice offering to supplement the straight-up academic majors. (The reason that intermediate microeconomics is a prereq for the leadership class, which is basically an applied psychology course, is unknown, but whatever.)

Of the top 20 "national universities" (according to US News & World Report), the following schools besides Rice offer some kind of undergraduate business program:

University of Pennsylvania - Joint program
MIT - BS in management; minor
Duke University - Interdisciplinary certificate
Washington U. in St Louis - BSBA
Cornell University - Business minor starting in 2008
Northwestern University - Certificate program
Johns Hopkins University - BS in business and management
Emory University - BBA
U. of Notre Dame - BBA

Bachelors Degree Requirements

Today at brunch, Robert and I were discussing degree requirements at various schools.

Robert has taught micro and macroeconomics at two state schools; at one of these schools, every undergraduate was required to complete principles of macroeconomics, which was especially strange because they did not take micro first.

We were very lucky because the general bachelors degree requirements at Rice that every study had to satisfy were so simple:
- Complete at least 120 hours, with 48 of them upper division
- Maintain a 2.0 GPA in your major and 1.67 in all classes combined
- Complete 2 non-credit (3 hour) courses in phys ed
- Complete the course requirements for your major(s)
- Complete 12 hours of "distribution credits" in each of Group 1: humanities, 2: social sciences, and 3: natural sciences in which you do not have your major. For each group, the courses must come from at least two departments.

For example, if you are a major in the social sciences, you were only required to take 12 hours of humanities and 12 hours of natural sciences. These courses could be pretty much anything you wanted in those areas. Robert, for instance, satisfied his humanities requirement with 8 hours of Spanish and 6 hours of "huma" (the interdisciplinary classes designed for non-humanities majors). I satisfied mine with 11 hours of German, 6 hours of English, 3 hours of philosophy, and 3 hours of religious studies.

But the UT and Texas State bachelors degree requirements are much more defined. I understand now why the double major was so popular at Rice but is more rare at the state schools.

UT has a 42-hour undergraduate core curriculum:
- 3 hours of "rhetoric and writing" (specific course)
- 6 hours with "substantial writing component" (select from list)
- 3 hours of English lit (specific course)
- 6 hours of American and Texas government (specific courses) (req'd by state law)
- 6 hours of American history (select from list)
- 3 hours of social science (select from list)
- 3 hours of math (select from list)
- 9 hours of natural science (select from list)
- 3 hours of fine arts (select from list)

Texas State has a 43- to 45-hour core curriculum:
- 6 hours of college writing (specific courses)
- 3 hours of communications (specific course)
- 3 or 4 hours of math (select from list)
- 7 or 8 hours of natural science (select from list)
- 3 hours of fine arts (select from list)
- 3 hours of philosophy (two choices)
- 3 hours of literature (three choices)
- 6 hours of history (specific courses) (req'd by state law)
- 6 hours of government (specific courses) (req'd by state law)
- 3 hours of social science (select from list)
- Plus 9 hours must "writing intensive" courses (but can be from above list)

It was amusing to look at these requirements and see how long it would take me to earn a bachelors degree at one of these schools, even porting over the 120 hours of coursework I already have, because I took no government, history, or fine arts classes at all, and other courses in the subject areas may not match up precisely with their requirements. I looked at the specific requirements for economics and psychology majors and did (basically) satisfy them all. (For one of the schools, the psychology major requires a specific course that was not offered at Rice at the time I was there and thus I did not take it.)

At Texas State, you can choose between a BA or a BBA (Bachelors of Business Administration) in Economics. Being in the business school really limits your options because in addition to meeting the 43 hour core curriculum requirements, you have to satisfy the business school "basic body of knowledge" that is 57 hours (and the econ component you would be taking anyway is only 6 of those hours). For the BBA in Economics, the course planning sheet indicates "Free electives: 12 - 13 semester hours." So four classes are not dictated to you. That's not much!

I did not look at UT but I'm sure their business school has similar requirements, though I do not believe they offer a BBA in Economics specifically.

I also looked at the Managerial Studies major at Rice and due to being a psychology and economics double major, I had taken all of the coursework except for a capstone class and a specific statistics course. We did not have capstone classes back in my day. I'm not sure when this became so popular. (For those who have been out of undergrad as long or longer than I, a capstone course is a final course in your major that often has a project component.)

In other news, I just saw on the Rice website that they will be offering a PhD in management, including a marketing concentration, beginning in fall 2009. I will be targeting a fall 2011 start date for my marketing PhD. They have an encouraging number of consumer psychology and consumer behavior people on their faculty. Hmmm.....Stay tuned.

Friday, May 2, 2008


Slow-moving yet compelling, the movie starts to get interesting about an hour and half into it, when they attempt to move a 360 ton steamboat up a 40 degree slope in the Amazonian jungle. I sort of stopped thinking of it as a movie and became aware of the amazing, insane thing they were doing. I liked how it operated on two levels at this point - both a fictional story and an incredibly difficult task that people were actually carrying out in the real world.

It's odd to consider that the director (Werner Herzog) got a bunch of people to spend several years in the deep jungle and move a huge boat over a mountain so that he could make a movie about people moving a huge boat over a mountain. (Robert notes: That's meta.) Herzog must be even crazier than his protagonist, though not his leading man, since I'm not convinced it gets crazier than Klaus Kinski, who you may remember as the insane conquistador in Aguirre: The Wrath of God. I get the same feeling watching Kinski as I do someone like Katharine Hepburn - less that they are acting than they are simply being some version of themselves in every role they take. In Kinski's case, this is someone possessed by demons.

This guy is no fucking around crazy

(This quote from the wikipedia page on Kinski made me laugh:
When Steven Spielberg offered him the part of one of the Nazi villains in Raiders of the Lost Ark, he turned it down, stating: "[...] as much as I'd like to do a movie with Spielberg, the script is as moronically shitty as so many other flicks of this ilk.")

I was very surprised to discover that Kinski's character was originally to be played by Jason Robards, who got dysentery and had to leave the production. I am very interested now in seeing the documentary about the making of the movie, Burden of Dreams. I wonder how much Herzog hated the whole thing by the time he was finished.

I admit that the movie was often tedious to watch, but I did enjoy it. It's the kind of thing that you don't necessarily enjoy any specific part of while actually watching it, but you find it interesting overall. (I usually think of this as something that is interesting from hour to hour, but not from minute to minute.) And unlike many to most movies, the images really stuck with me and I kept thinking about it a long time after I finished it. I probably won't watch it again, however. Of course, considering the impact it made, I guess I wouldn't have to.