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February 22, 2008

Returning to the alma mater

Next week I'll be visiting my old stomping ground Haverford College, as well as nearby Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr Colleges. A couple of years ago I went to my 5 year reunion there, but this will be my first time back in an "official" academic capacity. It promises to be an exhausting experience (largely because of how many things I've packed into the 4 day visit), but also a slightly surreal one as I'll be on the other side of the teacher-student divide at a place that was really important in the grand scheme of my intellectual career.

To start, I'll be giving a research talk at Swarthmore on Monday (4:00pm in the Science Center, if any of you are local) on some of my recent work on modeling evolutionary trends in species body size. I'll also be chatting with students over lunch about graduate school and jobs in the industry. The next day, I'm giving a guest lecture in a computational physics course at Haverford (I'll be talking about statistical method for network analysis, including an introduction to MCMC in the context of fitting models to data). Lunch that day will be a chat with students from the CS department. Wednesday, I'm paying an early-morning visit to the Emergence discussion group at Bryn Mawr, followed by lunch with physics students. To wrap things up, I'll be briefly returning to Bryn Mawr on Thursday to chat with CS students, before heading back to New Mexico. Sprinkled throughout these events will be meetings with faculty, some I knew from my time in college like Jerry Gollub and Suzanne Amador, and some who are new to me like Steve Wang.

One of my friends here at SFI mentioned that my schedule for next week sure sounds a lot like I'm interviewing for a position at these schools. Fortunately, it's not. Otherwise, I'd be a little more stressed about it... On the other hand, I remember the last year or so at Haverford and the first few years of graduate school thinking that it would be a great job to be a professor at a small liberal arts college (SLAC) like Haverford, where the students are smart and hard working, and there's both space and support to do interesting research. I still mostly agree, although I've also become completely enamored with doing cool research, and you certainly don't have as much time at a SLAC to do research as you do at a bigger, more research-focused university. At this point, though, it's not clear to me how I'll feel when the time finally does come to get one of those tenure-track jobs.

Update 3 March 2008: I've now posted a pdf scan of my lecture notes. Obviously, these omit the narrative and the bits that I added on the fly to make the lecture more coherent. Also, in my lecture, I didn't have time to explain the last several slides of results from using the HRG model in an MCMC context. If you find any mistakes in them, please do let me know.

posted February 22, 2008 09:02 AM in Self Referential | permalink


Congrats on the tour! It's nice to know that Haverford, Swat, and Bryn Mawr are supportive of complex systems ideas, or at least open to receiving talks by someone who studies those ideas.

For the record, I'd love to teach at a place like Haverford. Research is great, but it feels less meaningful to me if I'm not educating people at the same time.

Posted by: Ben at February 25, 2008 11:43 AM

can i download your computational physics guest lecture (statistical method for network analysis, including an introduction to MCMC in the context of fitting models to data) presentation?

Posted by: dikshie at February 27, 2008 10:53 PM

Possibly... it was a chalk talk with a couple of overhead slides, so I'll have to see about scanning my lecture notes to pdf that I could post online. And, obviously, it won't include the narrative or the stuff I added on the fly.

Posted by: Aaron at February 28, 2008 07:14 AM