Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Academia's Dirty Little Secret

Do you still want to get a Bachelor's, Master's, and Doctorate in order to become a professor? Think again. Not only does it take a lot of time and resources, and while money may not be everything, you most likely will find yourself living in poverty, That's right, not poor, or lower middle class, but living in actual poverty.

Here's academia's dirty little secret.

Those professors that you respect and admire (hopefully), and who spend hours planning, grading, and teaching your classes, are most likely part-timers. Over half of all college instructors today are adjuncts. That means that they are not entitled to full-time pay or benefits even though many of them teach four, five, six, or even seven classes a semester in order to make a decent salary. 

Do you have any idea how much time it takes to teach five courses? Let's think about it. You need to get to those courses, which may be at one, two, or even three different campuses. You need to prep for those courses, you need to hold office hours for those courses, you need to grade all homework, papers, and exams, and, finally, you need to teach those courses (that's the easy part).

Do you find that hard to believe? Want to see for yourself? Check out TransparentCalifornia.com and you can see how much all California public school teachers make. Look me up, my latest figures for 2015 show how much I made teaching five classes a semester.

Here's some hypocrisy for you, something that Academia loves to gripe about is WalMart and how they teach their employees to go on welfare and unemployment. Well, guess what? The institutions of higher learning where I teach taught me the same thing. If this were Walmart they'd be marching in the streets.

Why is this secret? This trend has been slowly growing over the years, and if you shine a light on this epidemic, the powers that be, namely the bureaucrats, admin, and full-time, tenure tracks, might lose a piece of their pie. Academics love to blame the "corporate model, " but this seems to be more about greed and like corporations those at the top are making more while those at the bottom make less. Do you see any administrators or full time employees at your school protesting this phenomenon? Do adjuncts have any power to change things? Not really, they are more fearful of losing what little they make now.

Don't get me wrong. I love my job - anybody who is a professor has to love their job. It just seems like the people who are among the highest educated and most respected members of our society are not treated very well (to say the least).

There is a tipping point, as Malcolm Gladwell points out, and this is something to consider as you contemplate your majors. Again, while money isn't everything, you need to be able to survive, so you must consider if your future career will pay your student loans, home mortgage, car payments, and food. Do you think you will have to delay adulthood and postpone marriage, homes, and families?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Fast learning artificial intelligence

One of the things that have kept some experts from freaking out about Skynet and the takeover of human existence by artificial intelligence is that AI takes ten times longer to learn than humans. Well that is until now.

Google's Deep Mind just created an AI that learns at about the same pace as humans.
"If you’re unfamiliar with how deep learning works, it uses layers of neural networks to locate trends or patterns in data. If one layer identifies a pattern, that information will be sent to the next layer. This process continues until all the information is collected."
The new way of AI thinking imitates the way human and animals learn, "replicating what happens in the prefrontal cortex and then, as a backup, in the hippocampus."

But not to worry, no AI has reached a true human level of thinking, at least not yet.

Robotics may soon take over all of our jobs, but "as AI gets better at learning, it can be taught more and more ways to improve our lives." What is it with futurists? They are such an optimistic bunch.

Do we freak out now?

Should we resurrect extinct species?

Harvard says it's two years away from cloning a woolly mammoth. But maybe the question, should be, "Should we resurrect extinct species?"
"Advocates, like Vanessa Adams from the University of Queensland, hope that this resurrection will be beneficial not only for extinct species, but also for modern species and our environment. Adams studies how applying economic concepts, like bringing back an extinct animal that people would pay to see, can increase the effectiveness of on-ground conservation action, like raise money that can be used to conserve other endangered animals."
But there are detractors. If we decide to bring back dinosaurs, mammoths, and dodos what will that do for animals currently on the endangered species list. Will we just forget about them because of the novelty of these "new" animals? Conservation budgets are already stretched pretty thin.
"In modeling the reintroduction of some recently extinct species, the scientists discovered that funding the conservation of just 11 focal extinct species in New Zealand could instead be used to preserve 31 species that are not yet extinct. While the idea of bringing back extinct species is exciting, that trade off simply does not make sense for our environment."
So what do you think? Should we resurrect animals and stretch conservation budgets even thinner or work towards preserving the species currently inhabiting our globe? Is there are happy medium?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Teamwork according to Google

Google has five tips for effective teamwork as discovered by their People Operation's Group. They asked 200 people in their Project Aristotle a series of questions hoping to figure out the proper mix of tech nerds to physicists to scholars to come up the proper ingredients for the perfect team.

But what they found was not what they expected. It wasn't the mix of PhDs that made a good team, but how they worked together. Is it just me but doesn't that seem obvious?

So what are Google's five keys to a successful group:

1. Psychological Safety. Are you free to safely take risks in your group or will you be ostracized or punished. Hopefully, your teammates are supportive and don't see risk takers as ignorant or disruptive.

2. Dependability. Anybody who has done a school project knows exactly what this means.

3. Structure and clarity. Does the group get the assignment (task), have a plan to accomplish the assignment, and will it be successful? If you can answer "yes" to these questions, you are on your way to success.

4. Meaning. This can really only be defined by an individual, but it basically boils down to "Do you like what you are doing?" In the case of Google (or any other employer), this can be a lifetime of drudgery or delight. In the case of student groups, it can amount to how valuable the project may be to your landing a job. Did it help you make a decision (do you really want to do this for the rest of your life?).

5. Impact. For Google employees what "impact" amounts to is does your work make a difference? For student groups you might think it applies to the grade you received, especially in those groups where you get to grade each other. There is ALWAYS that one person that didn't do anything (or very little).

Do you like working in groups? You will be working in groups when you get into the working world, how do you think you will handle that? What do you think makes a successful team?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Student Loan Forgiveness

There is a lot of confusion about student loan forgiveness, so let's try to clear things up a bit.

In 2014, 37 million Americans had student loan debt that averaged $23,200. Depending on where you live and where you go to school your student loan debt may be larger - a lot larger.

I bet most college students are aware of student loan forgiveness programs, but they probably have no idea how they work.

Over at Student Loan Hero, Eric Roseberg has outlined the basics of student loan forgiveness - and it's something to think about.

Here's some of the basics (disclaimer: this stuff changes all the time, so stay caught up with new or revised forgiveness plans):

Student forgiveness plans apply mainly to federal student loans (Perkins loans are another matter), so all those loans you took out with Wells Fargo will NEVER qualify for forgiveness. Most banks are private institutions out to make money, so avoid taking a loan with them at all costs.

Federal loans for certain kinds of degrees, mainly public service (social workers, etc.), qualify for some type of forgiveness after ten years. You have to work in the field to qualify for forgiveness.

Some teachers with federal student loans qualify for forgiveness after as little as five years depending on where you teach. For the rest, they have to wait for ten years.

Loan holders with income-driven payment plans will qualify for forgiveness after twenty to twenty-five years.

Something to keep in mind, most forgiveness programs only apply to loan holders who have maintained good standing, meaning you have made all your payments on time and are not in default.

Sounds good? Well, think about this. Yes, you can get a big chunk of your federal loans forgiven, but the government treats that like regular income, with an exception for public service and teachers who will not receive a tax bill. What does this mean? If you have $100,000 of your student loan debt forgiven, you can expect to pay taxes on $100,000 worth of income. That's right forgiven loans are treated just like regular income and are taxed at whatever rate you fall into. On $100,000 for some that could mean a tax bill of $25,000.

As Rosenberg points out student loan forgiveness is not "all rainbows and unicorns." Do you have any student loans? Do you plan on having any student loans? How can you avoid borrowing as a student?