Wednesday, April 30, 2014

conservative inference

I went to see a physical therapist this week after finally figuring out that I still have a torn tendon in my elbow after a rollerblading accident last September, and our conversation makes me think that I've become too conservative about statistical inference, based on my economics training, to converse effectively with other humans. He asked me all kinds of questions about what makes it hurt, and I couldn't really commit to any answers because it mostly gets sore after doing things, so I never know exactly what causes it, although there are some clear correlations, but we all know correlation doesn't imply causation. Then he asked me a bunch of questions about whether the cortisone shot, tennis elbow band, or avoiding backhanded maneuvers is helping, and I couldn't answer that either, because all three began at the same time after seeing the orthopedist, so who knows which is making it feel better? Finally he just said "Ok, but it did feel better after you got the shot, right?" "Yes" "Alright then."

I suppose I should have known better - doctors are regularly bombarded by people who have googled their symptoms and are convinced they have crazy diseases and convinced that ridiculous homeopathic cures have had certain effects. They're used to having to scale back what they hear, not the other way around. (This also makes it incredibly frustrating when I do know what's wrong and they don't believe me. Like when I had bacterial bronchitis and went in as soon as I had symptoms and they made me wait another 10 days for antibiotics since the viral variety is much more common, even though I obviously got it from Matt who was responding to antibiotics finally prescribed after two weeks of suffering...)

This also reminds me of the time I was pulled over for speeding in Texas and he claimed I didn't signal when changing lanes, and I said of course I did, so he asked me how sure are you that you did. I said about 99% because I didn't consciously remember pulling the lever at that exact moment (it's just muscle memory, after all) but I'm sure I don't fail to signal more than 1 in 100 lane changes (not signaling a huge pet peeve of mine). Whoops. Most people claim absolute certainty when they're nowhere near 100% confident, so claiming only 99% confidence was interpreted as obvious lying. And then again when someone came around a corner and hit me when I was pulling into the lane, and I told the insurance company I realistically thought the liability split was approximately 80/20... big mistake. You'd think your own insurance company would advocate for your side a little instead of immediately acquiescing as soon as you admit to anything.

From now on I'll consider the equilibrium.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

unusual job market advice

Oops I forgot I had one more job market post.

Miscellaneous advice for the job market that I haven't seen on the many other compilations of job market advice, and is therefore surely less important, but hopefully less redundant:

  1. Among the miscellaneous possible questions you might get asked on top of the standard fare, "When and where are you planning to submit your job market paper?" was very common. (I think I had a good answer, luckily.)
  2. In hindsight, it was very dumb of me to not include a line on my CV saying I graduated from the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics. Having gone to Caltech and Berkeley, almost everyone assumed I was a California native who didn't want to leave the state, which surely hurt me. Schools care a lot about how likely they infer you are to want to move there; being American is bad enough on the international job market and being exclusively Californian is so much worse.
  3. Along the same lines, definitely definitely include any information about why you want to go to a particular school that isn't a top department or isn't in your country in the first couple sentences of your cover letter! Ok I slightly lied, because this is something I have seen in other advice lists, but I also saw the opposite advice several times, and many people said cover letters don't matter at all. Several schools specifically mentioned these things that I wrote about locational motivations. This is probably mostly important for students from top departments, because lower ranked places are really insecure about their chances of recruiting someone from Berkeley, so you have to convince them you want it.
  4. I lied again, this is another thing I read beforehand but there was a small degree of conflicting advice and I really, really don't think people take it enough to heart. Apply broadly! Apply anywhere you would accept if it were the only job you were offered. And when establishing that, you should be open-minded geographically! Even if you have to move to Podunk North Dakota at first, you have the rest of your career to move somewhere you prefer; it's much harder to re-enter academia if you leave it to stay in a nice city.
  5. Elaborating on the above point, here are some statistics that you can infer what you like from: I applied to 263 places, which led to 26 interviews, 15 flyouts, and 7 official offers. Of those four numbers, the percentages inside the U.S. were 68%, 50%, 40%, and 29% respectively. Clearly, being open to moving to other countries was very very helpful! (The last number is misleading, however, since of the offers I was likely to get if I hadn't cut them off by accepting one, a majority were in the U.S. Although a couple more flyouts I likely could have gotten if I'd still been jobless in March were outside the U.S., so who knows.)
  6. Expounding further... there is so much randomness and inefficiency in the matching process, applying broadly is the only way to get a distribution of interviews/flyouts/offers that is truly appropriate for you, and hopefully a couple in the upper tail.
  7. Schools often state a particular field they are targeting, but don't trust them. I got several interviews and even several flyouts (including the job I accepted!) from places that did not appear at first glance to be open to hiring someone like me.
  8. Don't just bring one extra pair of pantyhose, have two in your briefcase and another several in your suitcase. I went through about a dozen all told, and my all-time record is three uses for a single pair; these stupid things should be priced much more appropriately for the disposable items they are.
  9. Get a travel iron. Hotels outside of the U.S. often don't provide them.
  10. Leg warmers. These make skirt suits wearable when it's 11 degrees outside.
  11. I was utterly clueless about attire-related matters, and this article (mostly specific to women, but some stuff relevant to all) is very helpful. Over the top, but hey, I'd rather be safe than sorry.
  12. Get several small spray bottles that will pass airport security and refill them with downy wrinkle releaser. This will be useful when you have to go straight from the airport to an interview. (Several, really! I used several ounces at a time before it was truly effective.)
  13. Get over your imposter syndrome before you go on the job market.
  14. And have fun!!! This is very very important, not just for your sanity but for your job prospects. This was the main advice my adviser repeated to me several times and he was completely right.
  15. If you're dealing with a two-body problem, Do NOT accidentally watch "The 5 Year Engagement" when there are no better options on an international long haul flight...
  16. Schedule international flyouts adjacent to weekends so you can explore the area. I was dreading the job market, but not only did the actual interviews end up being more fun than I expected (which every former candidate says, but I was skeptical because I'm much more than averagely introverted), the (free!) international travel was awesome.

Monday, April 21, 2014

conformal cyclic cosmology

I forgot to post this a few weeks ago, but I saw one of the best lectures in a very long time at Matt's work's lunchtime colloquium, with Roger Penrose. Who is, as I'm sure I don't have to point out to very many people who might read this, a pretty awesome dude. (How convenient to have a boss who was a PhD advisee of one of the greatest physicists alive!)

Anyway, he's developed this alternative model of cosmology called conformal cyclic cosmology, and gave a fantastic presentation on it that even I could partially understand. The basic idea (as I understand it, ignoring the more confusing stuff about entropy and the black hole information paradox) is that in the far future of the universe, all mass will decay, resulting in universe described by special relativity, which can then be conformally mapped to an infinitely smaller universe, which then undergoes a new big bang and starts the cycle over again. And since bosons from the previous aeon/universe can be observed in the current universe, we can detect events from the previous aeon in the cosmic microwave background. He claims to have found concentric circles in the CMB that correspond to energy released during sequential collisions of supermassive black holes, and says the b-mode observations that were recently all over the news as a smoking gun for inflationary theory are also consistent with CCC (although he didn't get into explaining that more completely.)

So, go read about CCC if you wanna learn some really cool stuff.

Also, I'm totally adopting his presentation style. He actually used hand-drawn transparencies (ok, I would at least scan mine into a pdf) with bright colorful text and skillfully-drawn diagrams of spacetime. No overcrowded powerpoint slides, and lots of colors! I love.

And while we're on the topic of Penrose, Matt is currently very excited about this book by him on an overview of the laws of the universe. It's definitely on my list.