Monday, March 30, 2009

A Lot of Tomato

I have earlier gone on record saying that while perhaps it was possible for a person to have planted too many tomato plants by some objective measure, I find it hard to feel that any number would be too many, given that home-grown tomatoes are among the yummiest things ever, particularly with a splash of high-quality balsamic vinegar, and everybody will be your best friend forever if you share your bounty with them (unlike, e.g., zucchini). However, hearing that the number RB planted for this summer is 21 plants...well, that really is a hell of a lot of tomato.

It's even more tomato in other languages:

twenty-one tomato plants
vingt et un plantes de tomate
veintiuno plantas de tomate
einundzwanzig Tomatenpflanzen

Of course, this is just another way of saying to readers in places like Colorado and Oklahoma who had snow this past weekend: Yep, the tomato plants are out; it's already completely and utterly spring here in Austin, baby. I saw scads of blooming bluebonnets next to the parking lot at school today, which has been one of my own personal signs of spring (since we don't have things like "the first robin of spring" here).

I am still trying to convince Leo of how fun it would be for him to pose for the obligatory central Texas "sitting in the bluebonnets" photograph as a good-bye gesture to Austin, but he doesn't seem very interested. (Last time I mentioned it, I thought at first he was nodding, but he was only nodding off.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

It's Official!

I have just accepted the offer at Most Favored University. I am moving to North Carolina this summer, and, economy willing, so are Robert and Leopold.


(It occurs to me that I will need to figure out another name for this place, since MFU is most decidedly not an appropriate pseudonym.)

Quote of the Day: Vulture Edition

"Although children had opportunities to learn something about a number of topics [on food producer web sites], the distinction between advertising and education was not always clear. ...Approaches that use a brand character to convey educational material (e.g., Twinkie the Kid describes how much vultures like Twinkies and then lists facts about vultures) are examples. In this particular case, there is the potential that children will learn incorrect information (i.e., that vultures eat Twinkies)."

Moore, Elizabeth S. and Victoria J. Rideout (2007). The online marketing of food to children: is it just fun and games? Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 26 (2), 202-220.

When you think about what vultures actually do eat, it's not clear to me whether including this accurate information would tend to make children more or less attracted to the Twinkies brand. I mean, carrion is pretty nasty, but don't kids often like nasty things? (For instance, remember this?) Perhaps the company is missing out on a great opportunity to fascinate/disgust kids with photos of vultures eating dead stuff.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Cost-Benefit of an Advanced English Degree for Future Teachers

One thing that is commonly discussed on the Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) grad school forum is the wisdom of getting an MA or PhD in English, given that one is primarily interested in teaching. There is also much discussion about how hard it is to find full-time community college work with an MA and how even a huge proportion of PhDs have trouble getting a tenure-track position in 4 year college and instead end up teaching community college, high school, or leaving academia entirely. A lot of people appear to view the MA (and to some extent the PhD) as a way to get into teaching without having to deal with high school students or the K-12 bureaucracy. The number of people who want to do research rather than teaching appears to me to be rather lower than I am used to in other disciplines (but there are so many biases affecting this perception that I can't vouch for its accuracy at all).

Yesterday, I mentioned to Robert that people talk a lot about this topic, but I've never seen anyone run the numbers on it to see if and under what conditions it makes financial sense to pursue an MA or PhD in English if one's goal is teaching. But surely the data exists to attempt to quantify the effect on one's lifetime earnings of getting one of these degrees. And following a line of fairly traditional microeconomic thinking, one could look at the differences in lifetime earnings of people who took their BA directly to the high school market and those who have an advanced degree and try for the higher education market; if an MA or a PhD is a losing proposition financially, you could think of that difference as the amount of money people are willing to give up (on average) to teach college students and not high school students (or to get the "prestige" of being "Doctor Somebody" or a "professor" even if it means teaching at Crapola County Community College in Crapola, North Dakota).

So we (read: mostly Robert) ran some numbers comparing different teaching outcomes following a graduate degree versus going immediately into high school teaching with a BA, which I consider the "default" career path of an English major who wants to teach.

We used the salary information for Austin ISD and Austin Community College to represent typical incomes for high school and community college/4 year college teachers respectively. Interesting to note was that the pay for English teachers at Austin CC is higher than the average salaries reported in the CHE's own research on pay for professors in 4 year colleges during 2007-2008. Austin CC instructors make 17% more as assistant professors, 9% more as associate professors, and 13% more as full professors than do 4 year college instructors at those ranks, on average. Robert suggests a couple of reasons for this: Austin CC is known to pay well relative to other community colleges, and community colleges typically use a single payscale for professors in all departments. In 4 year colleges, pay differs a lot based on the department and English professors tend to be at the lower end of this pay scale. So in our analysis, the salary numbers for college teachers is in the range of fair to generous.

***Finding 1: Getting hired by a "good" community college like Austin CC may be more lucrative for an English professor than getting hired by a typical 4 year university.

To generate the lifetime earning numbers, we made the following assumptions:

People will work (or be in grad school) for 43 years following their BA, then retire (assumes people get their BA at the standard age of 22).

The discount rate applied to the income stream to calculate the present value is 3%, a conservative estimate, and is used for all scenarios.

Masters degrees take 2 years to complete. (There are a few programs that let you do a BA/MA in five years, but we are focusing on those people who are graduating with their BA and contemplating grad school. And the number of those five year programs is small enough to ignore.)

Doctoral degrees take 8 years to complete. Doesn't this seem high? Well, it does take a long time to finish a PhD in the humanities. Data on 2000-2001 doctoral students in English says the average time to the PhD is 8.2 years.

Significantly, we assume that both MA and PhD students are funded with full tuition waivers and assistantships/stipends of $8,500 and $14,500 respectively. We could easily change these numbers to reflect higher stipends or people having to pay for their own education.

The average MA or PhD holder takes 3 years of adjuncting at the CC or 4 year college level before getting a full-time tenure track position. A study from 1995 reports that the average time on the non-tenure track before getting on tenure-track is 2.8 years. (If anything, I would expect that number to be higher now.)

Scenarios with lifetime earnings in present value:

People who go directly from their highest degree into high school teaching:

BA to H.S. - $1,450,000
MA to H.S. - $1,380,000
PhD to H.S. - $1,140,000

***Finding 2: As many K-12 teachers have noted, getting a graduate degree does not pay for itself. The small increase in annual pay does not make up for the two (or eight) years of lost earnings while working on the degree. A teacher who pursues a masters degree part-time, while teaching, will face a different cost-benefit. They will not forgo their teaching salary, but will probably have to pay for the degree (since they will not be available to earn their keep by teaching English 101 at their university).

People who go directly from their highest degree to a tenure-track CC or 4 year college position (aka The Luckiest Ducks):

MA to CC/4 year - $1,510,000
PhD to CC/4 year - $1,410,000

People who adjunct for 3 years before getting a tenure-track position (The Relatively Lucky Ducks):

MA 3 year adjunct - $1,460,000
PhD 3 year adjunct - $1,350,000

People who adjunct full-time for their entire career (The Unlucky Ducks):

MA adjunct - $1,000,000
PhD adjunct - $890,000

***Finding 3: The MA or PhD who adjuncts 3 years before landing a tenure-track job or gets a tenure-track job immediately will be better off financially than the MA or PhD who goes directly to high school teaching.

***Finding 4: However, an MA or PhD who does not get on the tenure-track but adjuncts full-time will make less money in their lifetime than their counterpart who goes to high school teaching. A full-time MA or PhD adjunct will make a lot less than if she had taken her BA directly to high school: an MA adjunct makes only 69% as much as a BA high school teacher and a PhD adjunct makes only 61% as much. And that's after going through the hell of writing a dissertation.

Whether it makes financial sense for the typical English BA to go to grad school depends on how likely they believe getting a tenure-track position with their advanced degree will be.

***Finding 5: From an economic standpoint, the typical PhD college instructor will make less than the typical BA high school teacher no matter what the chances are of getting into an average university. Even if the PhD has a 100% chance of getting a tenure-track job immediately, she gives up $38,500 over her lifetime relative to being a BA high school teacher. If she is like the average person and takes 3 years of adjuncting before getting tenure-track, she gives up $99,400 over her lifetime. A 1995 study of English PhDs found that after 10 years, 20% of college instructors are adjuncting; with an 80% chance of adjucting 3 years then tenure-track and a 20% chance of full-time adjuncting, she gives up $191,000. Of course, a person might feel that sacrificing this amount of money is worth it for the lifestyle/prestige advantage over being a high school teacher.

***Finding 6: MA college instructors will earn more than BA high school teachers if they get onto the tenure-track but will earn less if they do not. If she has a 100% chance of immediately getting a tenure-track job, she will earn $62,100 more than if she had become a BA high school teacher. But for the more realistic scenario of 80% chance of 3 years adjuncting then tenure-track and 20% chance of adjuncting the entire time, she will give up $81,200.

My take-away from this (admittedly quick and dirty) analysis:

Both the MA and a PhD are losing propositions for the typical person relative to skipping grad school and becoming a high school teacher. Getting the MA (esp. if fully funded) might make financial sense if you can get into a community college relatively quickly (or, possibly, if you can get into a well-paying "prep" school that prefers teachers with grad degrees). As for the PhD...well, I hope that you get a large stipend (say, over $30,000) or attend a particularly strong program that gets you into a much higher-than-average paying university or you really place a large value on having a PhD or teaching college students instead of high school students because the typical person pays a premium for opting out of the high school teaching career.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I Just Want to Scream

I found out today that my latest "brilliant" masters thesis idea has been specifically pointed out as an interesting and important area for future research in a February 2009 journal article by a certain professor at a certain top 10 marketing department. In the discussion, he even mentions the exact same other line of research that had me thinking of this particular idea as a likely improvement on current methods. (I am not willing to be specific because I still hold this glowing, fragile idea protectively against my chest.)

Maybe I should be happy, since this publication sort of validates that it was a good idea. But you know, I already knew it was a good idea. Apparently, it was too good for me to get first crack at it. Not that I know that he is already working on this follow-up project that is almost exactly like the thesis I had in mind, but I feel totally scooped nevertheless. (I mean, god, I was talking to Robert about an affiliated idea to this one just this past Saturday!) I guess I needed to get off my duff a couple of years ago to get to this idea first. Of course, within minutes of reading this introductory paper I had thought of various ways to follow this up and some potentially interesting offshoots, but ... it doesn't feel like my idea anymore. I hope that this feeling of disappointment (bordering at moments on rage) passes soon.

You know how I sometimes like to say that there is nothing wrong with being a researcher who doesn't do ground-breaking work but rather contributes to the science by testing, refining, defining boundary conditions of, etc., other people's big theories? That this is valuable and satisfying work that I would be happy spending my life doing because I just love doing research? Well, that is still my official position, but the punch-in-the-gut feeling I had seeing my idea in print provides evidence that I really do want to do innovative work and have ideas nobody else has thought of yet. And while this idea was never going to cause a paradigm shift a la Martin Seligman, it was something different from what other people are doing in the general field. And yeah, maybe it's somewhat silly to think that one's masters thesis is going to be very competent, let alone inventive, but I still hope that it is both.

Well, my undergraduate psychology advisor assured me that eventually I would have many more ideas than I could ever follow up on myself. So I am going to keep adding to my list of research ideas. Maybe when it's thesis time, one of them will not have been looked at by someone else yet.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What I Did on My Spring Break

(1) But I'm feeling mostly better tonight.

(2) Put in my full hours on my job. Discovered that the data is going to be trickier to analyze than I expected. Realized my experience with GLM is kind of longer ago than I remembered. Remembered that I have an in-house statistician. Grinned.

(3) Discovered the Chronicle of Higher Education forums. I've been reading the archives of the 'Grad Life' forum this week and am really appreciating the insight from these people (grad students, professors, and applicants) on the various realities of the grad student experience.

One big take away for me? God I'm more glad than ever that I do not have any desire whatsoever to enter a humanities/soft social sciences field and instead want to do something as practical as a business PhD. Too bad I don't have the background/desire to become an accounting professor (though my financial accounting professor tried to recruit me into their masters of accounting program after my A+ grade) because man, those people make out like bandits. I'm hoping that a marketing PhD will set me up to make out like a slightly crooked tax collector. I'm hoping that a well-regarded masters degree will set me up for that. I am even more thrilled that my masters program is funded.

Other take aways center on the importance of one's advisor, the need to be strategic about applying to grad school and selecting one's area of concentration to position oneself for the job market, the priority of research over coursework in the PhD process, and stuff like some pointers for useful yet cute-looking backpacks.

Hey, this trivial stuff is important! For instance, I am drooling over this one - a laptop bag. If the computer is free, I can justify a pricey bag for carrying it around, right? And wait, I'm employed now. I could pay for this with one good work day. This is a sort of scary line of But actually, I am sort of looking forward to getting a new bag(s) for grad school. My current backpack is a hand-me-down from Robert that is shredding such that the zipper gets stuck on the plastic unless I zip it very carefully and use two hands.

(4) Had a very long, satisfying discussion over iced tea and under sunny skies with my in-house economist with a concentration in labor economics about the many and varied reasons that a job like K-12 teacher does not and probably cannot pay like other careers/professions.

(Note: I know that it is important to many teachers to consider themselves "professionals" rather than some other kind of worker, but I question the wisdom of setting oneself up to be disappointed that one's chosen career does not have the pay-off that the professions like law, medicine, accounting, etc. have. I mean, yes, teaching does require a credential, but so does cutting hair. I say this not to demean teaching, but merely to point out that a great many smart, industrious people doing important work - that requires more advanced training than teaching does - nevertheless do not make lawyer/doctor/CPA salaries.)

This conversation also made me think of an idea about a pilot program that could be tried for reducing teacher drop-out among new (say, first and second year) teachers. I hope to have the time/energy to blog about this later in the week. It is not a cunning plan that cannot fail, but is an idea that I have not yet encountered and that I think would be acceptable to current teachers (unlike most ideas). Stay tuned...

(5) Oh, and I almost forgot, sent emails/letters to the un/under-funded masters programs. I haven't yet officially accepted Most Favored University's offer, but I am almost positive now that I will in the next couple of days. I really need to do this. If nothing else, I am holding on to funding offers that the next person down the list is really going to need to make her own best decision. (At least one of the programs for which I got the highest funding package does not fund all of their students, so this matters.)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Mental Accounting and Me

When I got my official acceptance letter and funding information from Most Favored University, I was pleasantly surprised that in addition to the tuition waiver and teaching assistantship money, I am also getting a laptop computer (which I keep when I graduate).

Of course, this made me pleased, but I realized that it actually made me more pleased to find out I would get $X for the TA and a computer worth $Y than if I had been given a higher than expected assistantship in the sum of $X+Y. I have been planning to buy a laptop computer anyway when I start school so maybe I'm glad I won't have to invest the time in researching different models to make that decision for myself? No, I don't think that's it - I mean, I am happy to outsource the brainy work of investigating the various options to my tech-geek friends. I also am not especially happy because I think there will be some kind of benefit to having the same kind of computer as all my classmates (that may be true but it doesn't account for my reaction to the news).

I think this is just one of those simple situations in which getting a product valued at $Y seems better than getting $Y in cash.

Perhaps in my case, getting a computer from the university puts the computer purchase decision outside of my general purchase framework (i.e. Operation Cheap Ass) and means that I will get a nicer computer than I would have comfortably allowed myself to buy. Or possibly my reaction just reflects how painful it is for me to spend my own money.

Googling suggests that the laptops are Lenovo (once IBM) ThinkPads (which is hilarious to me for reasons that should be obvious to the informed reader).

In any event, this deal gets sweeter all the time.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

An Alternative Academic Universe Explored

I am extremely lucky that Robert enjoys exploring certain useless hypothetical possibilities as much as I do. The other day, when we were talking about things related to my obsessive consideration of the educational enterprise, I wondered whether one reason Rice undergrads so commonly have double-majors while students at state universities (it seems to me) generally have one major and possibly a minor is that state schools have more stringent core curriculum requirements, leaving fewer hours available to pursue another major.

For example, state universities in Texas are legislatively mandated to require students to take certain government and history courses and have other university-specific requirements as well. Rice has extremely limited requirements outside of the student's major. There are three areas (humanities, social science, and science/engineering) and in addition to meeting the requirements of your major, you need only take 6 hours in each of the other two areas. For instance, a chemistry major will need to take 6 hours of humanities and 6 hours of social science. People will often do this by taking the two-semester "huma," "soci," or "nsci" (pronounced: Nazi) interdisciplinary sequence created specifically for non-majors.

So this raised the question: if I had attended UT, would I have been able to be a psychology and economics double-major in a standard four-year degree plan? Robert and I looked it up.

I would have needed to take two additional courses to graduate in four years, which is doable since I only took 12 hours each semester of my senior year instead of 15. I would have needed to add economic statistics and vector calculus. This assumes that I can use economics as the "minor" for my psychology major and vice versa; I don't know whether that's allowed. In any event, I would have had to substitute 9 of my electives for other required classes, as follows:

Do not take:
English 101,
Religious Studies 202 (Atheism and Its Critics),
Psychology 202 (Social Psychology) -- wait, but this was my interest area for grad school!,
Psychology 231 (Industrial-Organizational Psychology),
Sociology 203 (Intro to Sociology),
Sociology 386 (Sexuality and the Social Order),
Ling 200 (Language),
Accounting 305 (Financial Accounting),
Econ 445 (Managerial Economics)

Instead, take:
UGS 302 or 303, which I don't even know what it is,
Rhetoric 306 (introduction to writing and argumentation),
Government 310L (Introduction to American Government),
Government 312L (The Politics of the US and Mexico),
1 course in US history,
1 course in Texas history,
1 course in visual or performing arts,
1 more course in German,
1 more course in science.

Ugh. So it appears that it is possible (subject to my understanding of the requirements) that I could double-major in these fields at UT but it would not be nearly as fun.

Another hypothetical scenario: Both Robert and I would be qualified to teach high school math in the state of North Carolina, since only 24 hours in the subject is required. (I will have 27 hours of math by the end of this semester; Robert has something approproaching a gazillion, to put this in rigorous mathematical terminology). It's interesting that the hours do not have to come from specific coursework; I would be much better prepared to teach high school math if I had taken a modern algebra and a geometry course, for instance, rather than linear algebra and differential equations. This being said, I do feel that I could teach at the level of high school math without those courses.

Another way to be qualified to teach a subject involves passing the Praxis exams from ETS (the GRE people). The ETS website has sample questions for each of the roughly 69 subjects they offer. Robert and I tested ourselves against a bunch of these tests and found that we were able to individually get a surprisingly high percentage of the questions right in fields where we have zero to very little educational experience - fields like agriculture, biology (Robert moreso than I), business education, and physical education. Of course we killed psychology and economics, and fields like math are straightforward. But even our scores in theater were much less dire than I would have expected. These tests must be pretty easy. I mean, yeah, we are overall knowledgeable people and multiple-choice test-taking ability comes into play, but seriously, I know almost nothing about agriculture.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Last Programs

OK, everyone, I now have spoken to all the programs I applied to.

Yesterday I got a call from a professor at Less Favored University's psychology program and because I was not expecting it to be such a person (R answered the phone) and because I was both distracted with getting ready to walk out the door and a little brain-fuzzed with medication, I was more abrupt with telling the person I am accepting an offer from another program than I would normally have been. I will email the department and re-iterate my status but also, I hope, I will be a little nicer. It's not that I sounded exactly like I was telling a telemarketer that I wasn't interested in his product, but it was definitely more like that than I would have wished.

Then today I got a call from Dreamy marketing program with a tuition waiver and research assistanceship offer. There are so many things I love about this program - including the "almost scary" (according to the program director) match between my interests and the focus of the faculty and the fact that they have a crop of newish junior faculty from seriously top programs (think: Wharton, Duke) who are "hungry" (she says) to work on publications, with which I could help and be a co-author. This might be the very best program for my purposes. Unfortunately the university is located in an area that, when I referred to it as "isolated" in our conversation, made the program director laugh. The university is the primary employer in the area, and though in a typical year, they hire a lot of instructors to teach classes, the downturn in the economy means that they won't be doing so much of that. She said, laughing, "It's too bad you love your husband and want him around." But yeah, I do.

Final update:

1 acceptance, no funding
1 acceptance, inadequate funding
3 acceptances, tuition waiver and assistantship
1 acceptance, funding unknown (because I didn't let him tell me the whole story)

I really did NOT expect that I would be looking at 3 fully funded masters degree offers. I love that I have so many good options that it's not a total no-brainer to choose.

At a minimum, I will send in my polite regrets to the three non-funded schools in the morning. I feel almost ready to make the final decision and accept the program that has been #1 on my list all along. We'll see if I'm ready to do that by tomorrow.

Oh yeah, have I mentioned that the way the timeline works, I will be applying to PhD programs about 18 months from now? That seems so soon!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Great Offer - Follow Up Thoughts

I started to write this in the comments to the previous, but wait, this is my blog; I can put it in its own post!

As a salary, the TA/RA offers correspond to about $18 - $25 per hour to do stuff that is pretty easy and fun (compared to any "real" job I've ever had). While I could certainly do better in the job market, it wouldn't be as enjoyable and certainly wouldn't be moving me toward the same goal. (If I get my way into and out of a marketing PhD program, I'm in really good shape, even considering the "opportunity cost" of having been in school for such a long time.)

Meanwhile, I am catching up with the grad-school forum on the Chronicle of Higher Education website and just now am in the middle of a very long thread saying "Please don't pay your own way for a humanities PhD! It's madness!" I feel good about being funded to get a degree that actually moves me forward a bit.

I have been skeptical of what would happen if I do an experimental psychology masters and then decide not to continue to a PhD. I don't think this will happen, but it's worth considering what the next step would be. While a lot of people would tell you that such a degree is borderline worthless (at least compared to a more applied or professionally-oriented masters, such as I/O psychology), I have been pleasantly surprised to see during Robert's job search that there are research openings in companies/government for people with psychology masters degrees. My last job was one that typically requires a masters degree but fortunately they put the advanced degree in "preferred" rather than "required" qualifications. Robert and I call my honors double-major B.A. from a top 20 university the "Rice masters" because it is so frequently equivalent to or superior to an actual masters degree from a less prestigious school in competing for jobs. However, I am seeing jobs that I would otherwise be qualified for (e.g. social science research jobs) based on skills and experience that I would not be considered for because I have "only" a bachelors degree and they specifically require a masters or higher. Of course, I have to assume that competition for such jobs is pretty tight and that even with the masters, they are tough to get. It's times like this that I am glad that no matter what happens, I will still have significant job experience and a well-developed skill set for re-entry into the non-academic job market.

Another Great Offer

I spoke with my potential advisor from the experimental psychology program (Program B) that I received an offer from in January but was waiting on funding information. They have offered me their top funding package, which includes a full tuition and fee waiver, a $13,500 research assistanceship (9 months, 20 hours per week), and a summer stipend of $2,500 to support an independent research project of my choosing. The advisor was really nice to talk to and I think the program in general and her lab in particular are wonderful. I would be very happy to go there.

But yeah, if the official letter from the other school (Program A) comes with the offer I have been given verbally, I am still going to choose that one. I think Program A sets me up better to pursue a variety of different theoretical research streams, while at Program B, I would be working in a more specific and applied area - I'm super interested in this applied area, of course, but (1) that could change, (2) it is more limiting when applying to PhD programs since it may fall more heavily into "health psychology" (and I don't want to get a PhD in that), and (3) I am primarily interested in the theoretical aspects of this applied area than the applications, if that makes sense. Program A also has three potential advisors with good research matches, while Program B has only the one. The coursework in the two programs is basically the same; both require a thesis but Program A requires a "major literature review paper" in lieu of the additional elective required at Program B.

All this being said, it was a fantastic offer and I feel great about getting it.

I still have not heard back from two programs, but as soon as I get the official letter from either of the psychology programs I have already talked to on the phone, I am going to withdraw my applications from them and turn down the two un/under-funded offers I already have. This is getting super-close to being a done deal.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thought Experiment #2: Overconfidence

From Russo, JE and Schoemaker PJH, 1989, Decision Traps: Ten Barriers to Brilliant Decision-Making and How to Overcome Them:

For each of the following items, provide a low and high guess such that you are 90% sure that the correct answer falls between the two. Your challenge is to be neither too narrow (i.e. overconfident) or too wide (i.e. underconfident). If you successfully meet this challenge, you should have 10% misses -- that is, exactly one miss.

1. Martin Luther King Jr.'s age at death
2. Length of the Nile River (miles)
3. Number of countries that are members of OPEC
4. Number of books in the Old Testament
5. Diameter of the moon in miles
6. Weight of an empty Boeing 747 in pounds
7. Year in which Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born
8. Gestation period (in days) of an Asian elephant
9. Air distance from London to Tokyo (miles)
10. Deepest (known) point in the ocean (in feet)

Once you have your low and high guesses, scroll down...................

1. 39 years
2. 4187 miles
3. 13 countries
4. 39 books
5. 2160 miles
6. 390,000 lb
7. 1756
8. 645 days
9. 5959 miles
10. 36,198 feet

How did you do? I missed two (books in the OT and weight of a Boeing 747), so I was a little bit overconfident, but not too terribly bad. But it was an effort even to do this well; I could easily have missed more.

"Less than 1% [of a sample of over 1,000 people] got 9 or more answers right. Most people missed 4-7 items (a surprise index of 40-70%), indicating a substantial degree of overconfidence.

...Calibration is the degree to which confidence matches accuracy. A decision-maker is perfectly calibrated when, across all judgments at a given level of confidence, the proportion of accurate judgments is identical to the expected probability of being correct. In other words, 90% of all judgments assigned a .90 probability of being correct are accurate, 80% of all judgments assigned a probability of .80 are accurate, etc.

...The most effective way to improve calibration seems to be simple: Stop to consider reasons why your judgment may be wrong."

Scott Plous, The Psychology of Judgment and Decision-Making

Monday, March 9, 2009

Head Start

This morning I got a jump on my future job as a research methods lab instructor - a guy in the library computer lab asked the lab student-worker if she knew SPSS and she said, sorry no clue. He said, that's okay, I'm just totally confused by this assignment. I offered to help him, and 30 minutes later, he had finished his assignment (which appeared to be for a macro econ course since the rows of data were economic and demographic indicators for various countries). I did occasionally have a crisis of "oh man, how does a person do this from the menu toolbar?" since I do most of my work in syntax. But we got it done, and I felt glad to have helped the guy out.

I was similarly utterly confused when I had to do my first assignment using R (an open source statistical programming language) and had nothing but an online manual and some example code from my professor to go on. Fortunately, after I figured out a couple of key points (write the commands in an editor, then paste it in; oops, don't modify the professor's code in Word because all the auto-correct things in that program make it a non-usable code editor - like the tendency to make a minus sign into a longer dash*) and Robert interpreted a bit of stat-speak into actual English, I was able to do it pretty easily.

*Note: the professor made this same mistake himself and it took him and one of my class-buddies even longer to figure it out during office hours than it took me at home, so I didn't feel quite so stupid.

Today I also had to hugely disappoint the marketing professor I am working for this semester when she asked me if I could continue working with her over the summer and next fall. This led the research group of three professors to talk about finding a replacement for me. "Perhaps we can find a clone?" one said. Another said, "There's no chance of that, but I hope we can find somebody who is basically competent." I hope they do actually find a replacement (unlike the "real" job I had before this one).

I'm almost done with my lit review for our project, and am now having that sort of crazy, sort of dripping-with-power feeling of being extremely knowledgeable about a narrow line of research. I'm quite excited that I am going to start doing the hypothesis testing analysis next, probably starting by next week. It's been too long since I've worked with analysis of variance techniques, and I'm looking forward to getting back to my analytical roots with this after living in the land of the regression analysis for so long. (OK, there will be regression also, but that's sort of inescapable when there's survey data involved.) Overall, I'm enjoying working on this project a lot and am feeling good about the quality of work I'm doing. I could really see myself doing this for a living, you know?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Call That Changes All

I got "the call" today, offering me a spot with full tuition waiver and 10 hour per week TAship at my preferred program!

I was not expecting to hear by phone, but was glad to have the opportunity to talk to the program director, ask a few questions, and generally be told that they are as excited about me going there as I am. It had basically the same effect as Ed McMahon showing up at the door, only I waited until I was off the phone to spin around in my office chair, half-screaming.

I will receive the official letter in a week or so, and then I will make my own official decision. (Robert's last chance to say that he can't face moving to Winston-Salem, North Carolina.) But I think this is basically it for me.

By the way, the TAship will probably involve leading an approx 15 student sub-section of the research methods lab, a pretty easy and low-pressure assignment (unlike, e.g., having to teach an entire section of some class on your own).

After all this time, planning, applying, waiting, strategizing, hoping, worrying, etc., it's sort of unreal-feeling that it's actually going to happen now.

Once I got off the phone, I found myself looking at their website, reminding myself how much I like their program. (Also, it's funny that I'm ending up at my second small university: total enrollment 6,862. Rice is 5,339.) After spending a while wondering whether I was going to end up at that other school, I need to get myself back in the right mindset here. I also wondered briefly if I will feel any slight regret about not going to the other program and was amused because the professor I talked to today has "post-decision regret" as one of her areas of research. (I'm not talking serious regret that makes me wish I could undo the decision, just that mild feeling of recognition that even choosing an overall superior option doesn't mean that you don't also forgo some wonderful things about the other options, too.)

I expect that once the unreal-ish feeling goes away, I will start having the "oh my god I'm moving halfway across the country and going to graduate school" flood of thrill and terror.

Of course, it's interesting that this is happening on the heels of just yesterday printing out the presentation schedule at the conference I am going to this summer and seeing my name and the title of my presentation on the same document as a bunch of professors whose work I am using in the obesity study I am working on. The fact that I am actually going to be presenting my research in a venue for "real" scholars is kind of mind-boggling. I'm not even a real grad student yet! (This is called "imposter syndrome"; it's a pretty common feeling among grad students and academics.) There's something about being on the same list as people like Brian Wansink that makes you realize that you are playing in the major leagues. This said, it's going to be awesome.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Good Mail

While it's not as great as acceptance with funding to my preferred graduate program, I'm pretty much thrilled that Netflix sent me a Jonathan Creek video I haven't seen before. It's the little things, people, that keeps one sane in these times. (Thanks, Mom, for making sure I knew about the newly-available episodes.)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

13% of $31,000 = Not Enough

I got a call (the machine picked up, not me) from the program I received the packet from a few days ago, with the information that I am being offered a $4,000 per year fellowship. Since the tuition is $31,000 per year, that's really not enough to make it economically sensible to go to their program, given I have other (much cheaper, even with no funding) options, one at a private school and one at a public school. But even that relatively small financial offer is better than their masters students usually get, so I can take it as further evidence that my application was looked upon very favorably.


1 admission, funding decision pending, $21,000 for two years with no funding (I think)

1 admission, definitely no funding, $32,000 for two years

1 admission, $4,000 fellowship, $54,000 for two years

3 programs: nada as yet

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Life Imitates Disney

The other day, I looked into the rabbit room and saw Robert holding Leo up over his head.

Me: "What's that all about?"

Robert: "I'm looking to see if his feet are okay."

Me: "I wish I had a photo of this."

Robert: "Actually, I'm just lifting him up like the Lion King."

Me: "Oh, you mean like Leo Rex?"

Kind of like this only with longer ears
But no one took advantage of the opportunity to start singing "Circle of Life," so that was that.