La Profesora Abstraída

Weblog of Michelle Dion, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, at McMaster University. My blog has moved to Visit my other website.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Plan to throw one away

I've been reading this book that combines a little history of computing with a discussion of the open source software movement. Brian has a stack of other books he's reading for a research paper that I'll probably wade through, too.

Among the several tidbits that struck me as interesting was the advice: "Plan to throw one away; you will, anyhow," which apparently first appeared in this book. You can read ESR's discussion of the advice here (halfway down the page at #3). In any event, the short version is that you should plan to throw out at least some of what you code because you'll end up doing so anyway.

This seemed particularly interesting to me last night just after I answered umpteen emails and class discussion board posts from my graduate students as they busily sought to finish the drafts of their first regression papers for my methods class. If I could get students to understand this principle, perhaps their research projects would be less stressful. Perhaps they would also really re-write rather than superficially edit their drafts before turning in their final papers.

In my experience, the paper I first write for a conference and the paper that ultimately gets published in a journal are often very different. Parts have been substantially re-written and even some of the data analysis re-done.

Students, however, seem to cling to their text and results and won't let go, even when they need to. They just can't bring themselves to delete a whole paragraph, even though it doesn't belong in their paper. I suspect that the paragraph may have been difficult to write in the first place, and that's why they are so attached to it. The same thing happens with their regression "models." They resist letting go of a bad model sometimes because they've gone to all the effort to write it up.

In my methods class, they turn in their projects in parts (first the lit review, then the data description, and then the data analysis) before they revise and complete the final product. In my experience, students seldom do the amount and type of re-writing necessary to turn very rough drafts into solid final papers. And, though I provide extensive comments, they still can't or won't re-write. My comments often ask them how a paragraph relates to their research question, or to explain how the critique they are making is important to their overall argument. I tell them that such questions are part of a dialogue we are having about their argument/paper and that they should work on making sure their papers are coherent wholes.

To many students, revise seems to mean, "fix the obvious grammatical errors." In some cases, it may be a question of time. In other cases, I suspect it's because they really don't understand that revise means substantially rewrite , or knowing when you write something the first time, you should plan to throw some of it out. So, how can we get our students to be less wedded to what they write and more willing to re-write, especially when they are learning a new method and way of writing? How can we convince them that it is to be expected that they'll "throw one away."

posted by Michelle @ 1:05 PM, 0 comments

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Not a good sign of things to come

As the time nears for the swearing in of Mexico's new President, the PAN's Felipe Calderon, the situation is not looking good. Earlier this month, the PRD's Lopez Obrador had himself sworn in as President in an unofficial ceremony. Yesterday, a small fight broke out in the Congress (for the leftist version of events) when members of the PRD tried to take control of the dais and the PAN stepped in to stop them. This is not the first time there's been a tussle in the Congress, though I can't find the link to my earlier post about another shoving match that occurred during the desafuero period.


And now, in a display of.... what? determination? stubbornness? Members of each party are planning on camping out on the dais until the swearing in.

posted by Michelle @ 11:08 AM, 3 comments

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I admit I was skeptical

I wasn't too crazy about the choice for the new Bond. But I have to admit I was wrong.

posted by Michelle @ 9:59 PM, 0 comments

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Am I really so alone?

Various anonymous bloggers have been discussing why they blog anonymously, or why their blogs do not reveal their identities. Greg points out that men tend to blog under their names and women tend to do so anonymously. Then, he suggests that I'm the only non-anonymous, female political science blogger. (Say that three times quickly.) Perhaps.

I wouldn't dare speculate as to why others blog, and some political scientists explain for themselves why they blog.

For myself, I've discussed why I blog and the pros and cons as I see them regarding the ways that I blog.

posted by Michelle @ 3:37 PM, 3 comments

Monday, November 13, 2006

A related public service announcement

I don't get as many hits as Chris from folks looking for the political science rumor blogs, but I thought I'd provide a related public service announcement in the interest of political science productivity.

It seems that the rumor blogs can suck a lot of potentially productive time from candidates and faculty. If you find yourself checking the rumor blog comment threads more than once a day, I suggest using either co.mments or co.comment to track the comments. I prefer the former, but understand that the latter has more market share. Each will require a little time to set up your comment tracking but not nearly as much time as obsessively re-checking the rumor sites for new entries.

posted by Michelle @ 3:08 PM, 1 comments

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Life on the tenure track

I just finished this really short book. Though some of the experiences are more specific to those at predominantly teaching schools, many of them (such as figuring out how to get students discussing or how to understand department dynamics) are more universal for new faculty. I'd recommend the book to new faculty or advanced grad students. Some parts might also be good for senior faculty, some of whom can easily forget what it's like to be a newbie.

posted by Michelle @ 12:35 PM, 3 comments

Monday, November 06, 2006

Going downhill fast

The situation has been deteriorating in Oaxaca over the last several months, though the news is reporting that negotiations have begun again today.

Last night, in Mexico City, three bombs exploaded. One each at the PRI headquarters, the election court, and a bank. No one was hurt, but this is not good news. As far as I can tell, no one has claimed responsibility yet, and it's not clear if it's related to the protest in Oaxaca or the incoming administration. Visit the front page from the leftist daily in the DF.

posted by Michelle @ 11:17 AM, 0 comments


I haven't posted in almost a full moon cycle because I have been super busy with research (and grading lit reviews and data descriptions for my grad students' methods papers). In the last month, I've written a chapter for an edited volume on pension reform in Latin America that will be published with Oxford UP, and revised two papers to submit them to journals. By the end of the week, I expect to be on my way to having 3 papers under review and a book manuscript only a couple of weeks from being 90% done, as all harding working untenured folks should. All this while also trying to recruit students for my new summer study abroad next summer in Monterrey.

This year has been a good one so far, I've written three new papers that are all under review (or will be soon), revised one other, and written (100+ pages) or revised almost all of my book manuscript. This semester has been especially hectic, but I am also very excited about my research and what I'm working on. I've got a couple of new projects with co-authors slated for the spring, and I'm looking forward to those, too. In the spring, I'll have a one course reduction (much to the dismay of some of our grad students, I understand, since a rumor had been going around that I would be offering a course they could take), and it'll be great to focus even more energy on my research. I haven't felt this optimistic about my research in a while, partly because I've usually had new preps or responsibilities coming my way.

Things are good for me. Now, a post about how they are not good for Mexico....

posted by Michelle @ 10:56 AM, 2 comments

Mexico City slideshow

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