Thursday, March 31, 2011

Random Advice for an Undergrad

I recently wrote an email with a bunch of advice based on my own undergrad experience and thought, 'why not share!' So here it is, my random and somewhat long list of what helped me be successful in undergrad:

  • For math classes, I took notes the whole class, and I worked in the library on the practice problems.  The only way to do well in math is to do all the assigned problems.  It's so easy to let it slip but it's important.  Especially with today's distractions, going to one of those study desks in the library and putting on music on headphones will help a lot.
  • In computer science classes (which are likely similar to a lot of your technical classes), I didn't really take notes because there were always slides, but I did try to read the textbooks in many (but not all) cases.  When reading or when in class you end up getting to the point of thinking "ugh, I've seen this before."  But that's exactly where you want to get! Without ever reaching that point, you never truly know the topic.  If you read the book and go to class and don't get to that point, you can find other ways to get there.  There are TA's, profs, online resources... (Though one tip is to learn to recognize when little details are less important and when it's a core topic you really really have to know.)
  • Speaking of TA's and profs, learn how to use them to your advantage.  It's a bit intimidating at first, but seeing the profs and coming with well thought-out questions will actually impress them, and you will get a ton of help.
  • Study groups can be good, but they can also be a bit of a time suck if it doesn't stay on focus, or if you work on problems you don't need help with.  I recommend getting together with the right people to work on particularly difficult assignments.  Take notes during these sessions but don't write the whole answer.  This will force you to think about it for yourself later on.
  • Here's what I do for studying for an exam and sometimes larger tests:
    • Make a hand-written summary sheet of all the important details.  This is very time consuming so it can't be left to the last minute, but just the act of writing is the first step to remembering it.
    • Go through the sheet and try to memorize what needs to be memorized, and understand the rest.
    • Ask a friend or parent or roommate to ask you questions based on what's on the sheet.  If you wrote it right, they don't even need to be all that knowledgeable of the material.

  • I guess the last major thing will be time management.  This is always tricky, but if you are having a hard time with it, you might try the time-sheet technique - I did this in my Masters and it was useful.

Another great resource from the CU-WISE archives is the Advice for Undergraduates document.

What else do you do to study and make the grade? Share your wisdom here!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

World's greatest paper rollercoaster

Who needs expensive plastic toys when you can build marble rollercoasters out of paper? This coaster is over 12' high!

Here's a picture of a shorter one:

and the video to go with it:

For more pictures and videos of various paper coasters, check out his website, It looks like he does a lot of school visits -- maybe this would be a great outreach activity!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Celebration of Women in Science and Engineering is Just Around the Corner!

Last year's Celebration was pretty awesome, but this year is going to be something special.  You see, we've made a big effort to ensure our talks are fun and exciting no matter what your background is.

So, for example, if you're in biology, you'll understand what the computer scientists and engineers are talking about.  Even if you aren't in science or engineering at all, you will enjoy what we have to offer!

Even better, we've invited a group of high school girls to be in our audience this year.  We've already got more than 25 signed up.  We're hoping that we can ignite a love of science and engineering in these students, and show them the awesome choice that Carleton is for post-secondary education.

The full schedule with talk titles and descriptions is now posted online, so go check it out and we'll see you on April 6!

What's it All About?

The link above describes it like this:
The Carleton Celebration of Women in Science and Engineering is a showcase of graduate students, faculty, and alumni of Carleton University. The number of women who enrol in many science and engineering programs is quite low, so the amazing things they do can easily go unnoticed. This day puts them in the spotlight.

The goal of this event is two-fold. First, we aim to provide networking opportunities for all female science and engineering students. Second, we would like to see members of the greater Carleton community and the general public attend these talks and learn about some of the great things happening in science and engineering. We want the world to know that there really are successful women in these fields!

This year's Celebration will showcase research and projects done by female students and faculty from Carleton in a way that is accessible to the general public, including high school students.

Everyone is invited!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Scientific Tuesdays on Wednesday: Colourful Milk

For this week's Wednesday fun video, we've got a video from Household Hacker's Scientific Tuesday series. It's a neat trick to do with milk, food colouring, and soap:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Do video games have to be about combat?

By the time this is posted, I'll have just come back from PAX East, a huge video game convention. So here's a video game related video, but something a little more educational than the standard trailers. The question here is "Do video games have to be about combat?" Extra Credits says no, so here's their video on the subject for a bit of Wednesday meta-fun:

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Disturbing stuff happening at the University of Waterloo

Normally I try to focus on the positive for this blog, but I think it's important to be aware of this story:

For just under a month, women at University of Waterloo have been terrorized by an anonymous propagandist who claims that women’s “defective moral intelligence” poses a serious risk to the planet. ... [The communications] have bit by bit advanced the thesis that women should not be educated as highly as men, and that universities should not teach gender equity, because woman’s deceptively weak exterior hides her evil interior. When women are educated and treated as equals, according to the propagandist, they pose a real danger to the planet.

While everyone hopes these are just delusional rantings and will stop at that, women at UW are understandably worried that this is a precursor to violence like the massacre at École Polytechnique in Montréal.

Having been the target of such ravings in the past, I really feel for the women at Waterloo. You try to convince yourself that it's not a threat to your safety so you can continue your life, but you really can't be sure. They've had to shut down the university’s volunteer-run Women’s Centre and LGBT student centre out of concern for the volunteers' safety, and that seems like the right choice to me but must be frustrating at a time when women might want more support available to them, not less.

Read more, including how poorly the administration has responded to the threats, at Hook and Eye: How we're 'celebrating' International Women's Day at the University of Waterloo

Fun uses of technology: "Just the way you are" cover video

Today's wednesday fun is a great example of creative use of technology. When Dawen decided to do an acapella cover of Bruno Mars' "Just The Way You Are," he did the video all shot in one continuous take with 4 iPads, 3 Macbooks and an 1 iTouch. How cool is that?

Found via Angry Asian Man (who made the screenshot used above).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Happy Women's International Day

Today is a very special day, it's the 100th International Women's Day and it's up to each country to pick their theme. There are 246 events in Canada alone, with Ottawa having their own version. Companies are reaching out to women and Google created a special doodle for the occasion.

The Washington Post did a brief mention of women in tech.

"The top tech women named in the list are Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz (recognized in the "Business & Trade Unions section), founder and philanthropist Martha Lane Fox and blogger Juliana Rotich. The list also includes seven scientists and doctors: Hawa Abdi, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Athene Donald, Fabiola Gianotti, Jane Goodall, Molly Stevens and Susan Wicklund."

There is a lot of focus on some very serious issues facing women however it is very hard to find info. on women in tech. Do any women in tech come to mind? If so can you share your story about them.

Till then, Happy International Women's Day.

Monday, March 7, 2011

How CEOs' daughters are helping close the wage gap

I found this quite interesting:

Father & DaughterA new, not-yet-published study that tracked 12 years of wage data in Denmark finds that when male CEOs had daughters, their female employees' wages went up 1.3 percent while their male employees only gained .8 percent raises. So the birth of a daughter effectively shrunk the male-female wage gap by .5 percent on average.

If the daughter was a first child, the gap closed by a whopping 2.8%!

The rest of the article: After CEOs have daughters, women employees’ wages go up

Friday, March 4, 2011

Can you accomplish more with a female instructor?

I don't get what the bit about Obama and Desperate Housewives at the start of this article from Slate entitled "Pscyh-out sexism" is trying to say, but the research summarized later sounds interesting. Here's a quote about the first study:

The psychologists asked female students studying biology, chemistry, and engineering to take a very tough math test. All the students were greeted by a senior math major who wore a T-shirt displaying Einstein's E=mc2 equation. For some volunteers, the math major was male. For others, the math major was female. This tiny tweak made a difference: Women attempted more questions on the tough math test when they were greeted by a female math major rather than a male math major. On psychological tests that measured their unconscious attitudes toward math, the female students showed a stronger self-identification with math when the math major who had greeted them was female. When they were greeted by the male math major, women had significantly higher negative attitudes toward math.

In the next study, they found that university-level women asked fewer questions in class and in office hours after a term with a male prof than they did after a term with a female one. And in the final study, they found that women had more confidence with a female teacher... even if tests showed that they were outperforming their male colleagues.

The latter two studies could be for reasons other than the gender of the teacher: previous studies have shown that although fewer women reach the level of prof, those who do tend to be exceptional so it might be their innate talents and not as much their gender that allows them to reach their students better. But still, it's an interesting selection of research, and really speaks to why it's so valuable for the women of WISE to teach others!

So next time you wonder if it's worth coming out to an outreach event, remember that your smiling face may be just what another young woman needs to get her to try that little bit harder!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Great Canadian Appathon

I wrote the following on my personal blog and thought the CU-WISE community might be interested in participating, too!

Carleton's Game Development Club is one of six host schools for the upcoming Great Canadian Appathon:
The Great Canadian Appathon is a chance for post-secondary students across Canada to showcase their skills in developing great games. Students can get together in teams of up to 4 people to hack their game together for 48 hours. The event is presented by XMG Studio and the National post. The Prizes are being sponsored by TELUS and the finale event is being sponsored by KPMG.
A few friends of mine were hoping I would join their team, and yesterday I finally decided that I would.  (I was a little worried about time because there are a few projects I have to wrap up in the next couple of months, but this looks like a really fun opportunity I don't want to miss.)

This is supposed to be one of those hackathon-type events where you work for 48 hours straight to come up with a game programmed completely within the allotted time.  I've never participated in any of these before.  The closest I've come is the one all-nighter we pulled for our school's notorious software engineering class project.  (And that's the only all-nighter I've ever done in my life!)  I'm a little nervous about it because that's not really how I work usually.  My eye problems alone make it impossible to work all night.

Luckily, it sounds like the plan is to design as much of the game ahead of time as possible, and maybe even prototype it.  Then the idea is to have us work in shifts with partners, so those who like working at night can.  According to the Appathon's rules, you don't even have to be on campus - you can work online if you want.  I don't know if it's a gender thing or just because we're getting older, but I personally really appreciate this flexibility.

The competition is happening March 11-13, so I'll post about our experience after that.  In the meantime, if you happen to be a student, consider giving it a shot yourself!

Top Women in Tech Lists

There has been a sudden increase in "top women in tech" lists lately, which is pretty awesome.  Just wanted to stop by to share some of my recent favourites:
Now if only the third hit when Googling "top women tech" wasn't "Top 10 hottest women in tech:"  :(

    The Speaker Orchestra

    Here's a cool little promo video involving paint, speakers, symphonic music and a conductor to tie the whole experience together. If you've got 3d glasses, you can watch it in 3d which is probably pretty cool, but I'll just embed the regular video here for some wednesday fun:

    DTS: The Speaker Orchestra from Ross Ching on Vimeo.

    Want to know how they set that up? Ross Ching has an amazing blog post on how the production was done including lots of pictures.