“ You met me at the peak of my career when I seemed to you to be concerned with problems close to the gods. But at the same time I had another Ph.D. Student (Albert Hibbs) was on how it is that the winds build up waves blowing over water in the sea. I accepted him as a student because he came to me with the problem he wanted to solve. With you I made a mistake, I gave you the problem instead of letting you find your own; and left you with a wrong idea of what is interesting or pleasant or important to work on (namely those problems you see you may do something about). I am sorry, excuse me. I hope by this letter to correct it a little. … No problem is too small or too trivial if we can really do something about it.

You say you are a nameless man. You are not to your wife and to your child. You will not long remain so to your immediate colleagues if you can answer their simple questions when they come into your office. You are not nameless to me. Do not remain nameless to yourself – it is too sad a way to be. now your place in the world and evaluate yourself fairly, not in terms of your naïve ideals of your own youth, nor in terms of what you erroneously imagine your teacher’s ideals are.

How to Advise

There are three main different types of advising you’ll do as a faculty member: academic advising, ad hoc advising, and researh advising. These are very different, but doing one well can sometimes lead to opportunities to do the next type.

How to Be Helpful (Academic Advising)

When I started at UVa, all new faculty in the Engineering School were required (footnote: this is before I realized faculty cannot actually be “required” to do anything, and any activity which administrators label as “mandatory” is a good signal that the people doing it realize no one would go to it “voluntarily”, so it is almost certainly a waste of your time, so I mindlessly went to it) to attend a two-hour long meeting about advising.

How to Be Accessible (Ad hoc Advising)

Ad hoc advising is one of the most important (and hardest) things you can do as a faculty member, even if it doesn’t show up anywhere on your school’s mandated annual report.

Most college students are at a stage in their lives when nearly all of their interactions so far with adults (other than hopefully their parents) have been of the command and control variety. Adults tell them what to do, and if they do it satisfactorily they are rewarded (or at least avoid punishment).
Entering college students naturally find the notion of talking with a professor intimidating - by closest frame of reference, you a less-well dressed, better paid and more powerful version of their high school teachers except instead of inhabiting in the same classrooms as they do, you occasionally stop by a well-hidden office somewhere in another building. So, it takes some effort to come across as accessible enough so students will talk with you about anything important. Until becoming professors, most people who do spent the majority of their life being the intimidee rather than the intimidator (i.e., not to stereotype, but with rare exceptions, very few of the professors I know are physically intimidating) so the hard part is to gain the perspective to realize most students find the thought of talking with you terrifying. Once you see that, there are various ways to come Òde-intiminizeÓ yourself, most of which are fun and worthwhile for their own sake. (

If you succeed in tricking students into finding you accessible,

Research Advising

How an Why to Advise Research Students

  • Klinsi quote ÒI felt proudÓ

How to ÒMarryÓ Your Students Do you, wise advisor, take this student to be your hopeful and eager advisee, To fund and to guide, Through setbacks and breakthroughs, So long as you still believe she has a chance to become an independent researcher. (I do) Do you, eager student, take this advisor to be your — - - – mentor, To work and to

How to Teach

Given the ridiculously poor quality and low expectations of nearly all university teaching, following two simple rules will be enough to make you an exceptional teacher: 1. Respect your studentsÕ time. Both the time they choose to spend in your classroom when they could otherwise be catching up on much-needed sleep, and the time they spend on any assignments you require. Remember most university students still have the high school mentality of doing everything their teachers tell them (after all, if they werenÕt good at that they would have no chance of getting admitted to your university), so will mindlessly do whatever you assign no matter how worthless it is for them. 2. Care more about how your students will be different for having taken your class five years from now, than what they can do while sitting on an uncomfortable chair for three hours on one particular day in December or what boxes they will check on some administratorÕs course evaluation form.

Pretty much everything else follows from those two rules, but to save some time figuring out the technical aspects here are four simple things I have found most useful: - DonÕt be afraid to bring the world into your classroom [danny lewin lecture, android 1B, etc.] or to bring your classroom to the world [cav daily, cs3102 videos, etc.] - If you use projected slides (which sometimes is a good thing to do, but often not), invest $30 in a remote presenter so you can walk around the classroom and advance the slides and blank the screen without needing to find and fumble with your laptop. If you are projecting slides, at least do it from a device where you can scribble on the slides dynamically so your presentation isnÕt completely static and canned. - Yes, I said Òblank the screenÓ in the previous point. It is one of the most effective and least used features of nearly all presentation software. Nothing stops people from being transfixed into oblivion by looking at a projected image than having it suddenly disappear. - When you ask your class a question, wait for what seems like an eternity to you before giving up on getting a student response. What seems like an eternity to you when you are standing in front of a class, is probably barely enough time for the students to finish parsing your question, and certainly not enough for a slightly shy student to muster the courage to offer an answer. Get someone to time how long Òwaiting for an eternityÓ actually is for you, and if it is less than 3 seconds figure out some trick to wait longer. (I used to bring a capped water bottle for this, and would make sure to unscrew the cap, drink, and rescrew the cap, after asking a question.) - DonÕt worry if you donÕt cover everything you planned to cover in class. It is an awesome experience when you have a coherent lecture planned with a clear ending goal and it fits perfectly into the class time, but when things take longer than expected thatÕs usually a good sign that you have managed to engage students well! Rather than trying to speed up to reach your target finish line on time, stop when the class is supposed to end. If things go faster than you expected, donÕt feel the need to add filler as you get near the end of your prepared material. Give the students a chance to ask questions about anything they want, and donÕt be afraid to end class early. (I have yet to hear of a case where a student went to the administration to complain about not getting the full value they expect for the tuition they paid because their professor ended class before the agreed upon 75-minute length was completed.)

How to Succeed in Research

This is probably the area in which other people are giving you the most advice, but the one where you least need it. If you didnÕt already know how to do good research you wouldnÕt have been hired.
(ignominy of writing any journal papers

administrate administrators quote about football from time In the military, people rise to the level of Generals by being telling parents of the 19-year olds who died as a result of their bad promotion decisions why their daughters wonÕt be coming home from Iraq.

do they share your values? - some do - best evidence is making some effort to continue meaningful teaching (John Guttag, Ed Ayers, Terry Sullivan) - most don’t - even those who start with similar values to yours, are quickly corrupted by their sniffs of the trappings of power

later in your career, you might find you have to spend more time administrating administrators because youÕve taken on some administrative task yourself. This requires a certain level of insanity, of course, since it involves giving up some of your idyllic life as a professor to do things that require administrative meetings, working with people that you donÕt get to choose yourself, and dealing with the stress and petty politics of administration. Nevertheless, they may be occasions where the required suffering and time sacrifice is worth it if you think there are opportunities to have a lot more impact on something you value highly as well as to have some new experiences. When evaluating the cost-benefit of such opportunities, donÕt minimize the expected time and suffering they involve, but also keep in mind that a small and focused amount of administrative effort can have ongoing impact long after youÕve stopped doing anything for it.

How to Avoid Stress Like the Plague

The first (and last) step here is to realize stress is the plague and act accordingly. The physical health consequences of each day you are stressed are probably comparable to smoking a pack of cigarettes that day. [I needed heart surgery when I was 35, despite having never smoked and being in semi-decent physical shape (at least by the standards of typical professors). Other than genetics, the only risk factors my doctors could identify that might explain my condition was ÒstressÓ.] Beyond the physical health consequence, stress will also destroy your mental creativity and productivity since instead of thinking about the interesting problems you care about with a clear mind, your mind will be distracted by the external stressors.

Find ways to prevent yourself from getting stressed out about things that arenÕt that important (which is pretty much everything related to your job as a faculty member). When you have opportunities to do things that you know will cause you a great deal of stress, weigh carefully if the benefits of doing them outweigh the stress it will cause you (and donÕt underestimate how much that will be). Its only worth taking on a stressful task like [organizing a major conference], [launching a new academic program], or [teaching a large class] if you think the long-term benefits of doing it will be really substantial (that is, substantial enough to reduce your overall stress level over the many following years) or the stress it would cause you to decline such an opportunity is more than the stress youÕll suffer by accepting it.

stress about class lectures vs. visiting talks

How and Why to be Open

How to Write Letters

One of the most important opportunities you will have to advocate for your students (as well as for faculty) is to write letters.

I didn’t think about this enough until recently, but here’s the advice I wish I had followed:

  • Only agree to write a recommendation letter in situations where you genuinely would recommend the subject for the opporunity in question. It is easy to say “sure” when asked to write someone a recommendation, but painful to actually write letters for people you don’t think highly of, or at least know well enough to have formed a strong opinion. For your own research students, of course, you should only continue to advise them so long as you think highly of them and you should be working with them closely enough to know them well. But, you will often be asked to write letters for other students

  • Later in your career, you may get asked to write letters to support tenure cases of faculty. This is a much trickier situation since the person asking is not usually the candidate, but is the nominator of the tenure case (usually the candidate’s department chair or dean). The way this works at many institutions is the nominator can request some fixed number N of letters, and must include all of the responses in the cases. In such cases, merely declining to write a letter can be perceived as a bleak mark for the candidate (perhaps, even worse than a mild letter would be), so you should be careful to understand the implications on the candidate if you

How to Adminstrate Administrators

Occasionally, academic institutions hire administrators based on their successful track record as an administrator who come from other backgrounds so they actually have administrative experiences and are not immediately suspect for being willing to give up an idyllic as you might expect, though, this kind of rationality is exceedingly rare for an academy that hires its teachers based on how many ÒcountableÓ papers they are able to publish while grad students.)

How (and Why) to Be Different -may make your life harder

How (and Why) to Take Vacations

[see RandyÕs advice!] The main reason most professors (and other ambitious people) donÕt take enough vacations is because of the excessive fair that while they are vacationing, their rivals will be working hard so by vacationing they are putting the career at a disadvantage and if they are choosing problems to work on foolishly, perhaps even putting themselves in danger of being scooped.
The solution to this is to make everyone take vacations. The Puritans accomplished this by more national holidays including Qualification Day, (which is officially recognized in Russia!) Talk Like a Pirate Day Nikola Tesla Day (July 10), Grace Hopper Day Randy Pausch [sp?] Day Malala Day (November 10), Danny Lewin Day and Alan Turing Day. Romanian name days + publicly knowable + tradition of subject organizing and paying rather than a complex social burden for the friends and colleagues of the subject to negotiate.

How to be a Head (and not a Chair)

I was fortunate to have John Guttag as my graduate advisor. I also took long enough to finish my degree, that while I was his student, he was promoted from being a regular Professor, to an Assistant Department Head, and then Department Head for MIT’s EECS. Whenever anyone made the mistake of calling him the “Chair” of the department, he was very quick to object and point out the key difference: a department Chair is appointed by the Dean, wheras a department Head is elected by the faculty of the department. Unfortunately, very few departments select their administrators this way, but regardless of how one ends up in such a position it is good to think of it as being a ÒHeadÓ and not a ÒChairÓ.

This distinction has a big impact in how administrators behave, and applies more generally: a Chair is something that supports the asses that rely on it to keep them from falling on the floor, where a Head is something that provides leadership and direction for a large organism. Whatever role you have and whether you got it through selection from above or below, think of yourself as a Head and not a Chair. Instead of being the Chair of your research group who is burdened by the administrative decisions and reports you need to make about your underlings, be the Head of your research group who your students have selected to lead, advise, and advocate for them. Instead of being the ÒInstructorÓ (Chair) of your class whose primarily role is to evaluate your underlings to make it easier for the Dean to decide whom to put on his list, be the Head of your class whose primary role is to facilitate a good learning experience and environment for the students who have had the temerity to select you as the person they want to take a class from.

How (and When) to Manage

advising styles

nanomanage - grad school is not for you!





When to Leave Paradise

If that’s not enough to blow the mind of the typical person working, if you ever get bored or complacent, every seven years or so you can go do something else, safe in the knowledge that you can resume your university position after (oh, and try explaining to the Wal-Mart employee that your university will continue to pay half of your salary while you are off doing whatever you want somewhere else).

reading and writing

Spinach story:


huge amount of time -> ordinary result huge amount of time + epsilon -> extraordinary result For many activities, epsilon is actually just a quite small constant - that’s why the results are called extraordinary not EXPordinary.

from > Dr. Kolmogorov and his students, who included the top Soviet mathematicians, were responsible for keeping their country at the forefront of mathematics internationally in an era when other areas of Soviet science lagged. His students considered him an unusual guide.

“He never explained anything, just posed problems,” one of them, V. I. Arnold, once said. “He didn’t chew them over. He gave the student complete independence.”

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