Posts Tagged ‘writing’

The value of thesis intro/discussion

3 Dec 2014

Last week, Kelly Weinersmith tweeted:

Is any task a more monumental waste of time than writing an introduction and discussion for a dissertation where the chapters are published?

I think many (or most?) of my colleagues would agree with her. The research and the papers are the important things, and theses are hardly read. Why spend time writing chapters that won’t be read?

My response was:

Intro & disc of thesis get the student to think about the broader context of their work.

I’d like to expand on that just a bit.

In the old days, a PhD dissertation was more of a monograph. The new style is to have three or so papers (published or ready-to-submit) as chapters, sandwiched between introductory and discussion chapters. Those intro and discussion chapters are sometimes quite thin. I would prefer them to be more substantial.

The focus on papers is a good thing, as they will be easier to find and more widely read. But a thesis/dissertation is not just a research product, but also a vehicle to get a student to think more deeply and broadly.

The individual papers will include introductory and discussion sections, but journal articles tend to be aimed towards a relatively narrow and specialized audience. More substantive introductory and discussion chapters can help to make the work accessible to a broader audience. They also help to tie the separate papers together: what is the larger scientific context, and how do these pieces of work fit into that?

I don’t want students wasting time on “busy work,” and writing a thesis does seem like busy work. But I think a thesis deserves more than a ten-paragraph introduction. And the value of that introduction is not so much in demonstrating the student’s knowledge, but in being part of the development of that knowledge.

Emacs key bindings in MS Word

12 Feb 2014

Collaboration on grant proposals has forced me to spend a lot of time writing in MS Word lately. I find my self typing emacs key strokes and then getting annoyed when I have to move my hand over to the arrow keys. (It’s maybe not as bad as typing Markdown marks within a LaTeX document, which I’ve also been doing.)

A google search on the title of this post got me to this post. I should have looked before.

Following that suggestion, I was able to get these:

C-b – CharLeft
C-f – CharRight
C-e – EndOfLine
C-p – LineUp
C-n – LineDown
C-a – StartOfLine
C-v – PageDown

I can’t figure out how to have M-v for PageUp, though, because M-v seems permanently stuck to “√”.

The procedure, in MS Word 2011 for Mac, is:

  1. Tools → Customize Keyboard
  2. Select “All Commands” under “Categories:”
  3. Select the command (e.g., RightChar) under “Commands:”
  4. Press the keyboard shortcut in the “Press new keyboard shortcut” box
  5. Click the Assign button
  6. Repeat for the other commands you want
  7. Click OK

I needed two more, C-d and C-k; it took me a while to figure out how to do it, as there didn’t seem to be any built-in commands. But you can just record a macro. I created these:

C-d – [DeleteCharacter] (as a macro)
C-k – [KillLine] (as a macro)

Here’s the procedure, in MS Word 2011 for Mac.

  1. Tools → Macros → Record Macro
  2. Give it a name with no spaces
  3. Click the keyboard button to assign a keystroke to it
  4. Select OK
  5. Type the set of key strokes
  6. Tools → Macros → Stop Recording

Womacs is a really extensive set of Visual Basic macros that looks really useful, but I was getting Visual Basic errors and didn’t want to spend any more time on it; grants to write…

Positive comments on peer review

27 Apr 2012

We all complain about peer review, particularly when our best work is rejected by every journal from Nature Genetics down to that journal that will publish anything, so that it finally appears in a volume to honor some guy that only he will read.

However, sometimes an anonymous reviewer will identify an important flaw in a paper that you can fix before it’s published, thus saving you from potential public embarrassment.

That happened to me again today. I finally got the reviews back for a paper, eight weeks after it was submitted. I had become a bit impatient, but one of the reviewers identified a hole in our theory section, which we can now fix before publication (I think we figured it out this afternoon), thus avoiding public embarrassment, except for the fact that I’m currently pointing it out publicly.

Complaints about the peer review process are not unlike a common complaint about statisticians: that we are a barrier to scientists publishing what they know to be true. That is sometimes the case, but at other times, both reviewers and statisticians can help you to avoid embarrassing yourself.

More on open access

3 Feb 2012

I am quite persuaded by Michael Eisen’s recent comments on open access:

…it is simply unacceptable for any scientist who decries Elsevier’s actions and believes that the subscription based model is no longer serving science to send a single additional paper to journals that do not provide full OA [open access] to every paper they publish.

But how can I do that if Genetics isn’t fully open? Genetics charges an extra $1200 to make an article open access. Would it really cost $1200 per article to make the journal fully open?

Paying for scholarly publications

2 Feb 2012

I have a couple of papers that I should be writing, but recent discussion (the whole PIPA/SOPA thing [see Michael Eisen’s OpEd in the New York Times]; the Elsevier boycott) has turned my thoughts to publishing generally.

So I’ll take some time out (way too much time out) to comment on the value and costs of publishing and peer review, how to pay for it, PubMedCentral, etc.

Elsevier boycott

1 Feb 2012

I expect you’ve already heard about the Elsevier boycott, started based on comments from Timothy Gowers. While he focused on his own discipline (mathematics), the boycott site now has people broken down by subject. On 1 Feb, there were 2700+ signatories, including 600+ mathematicians (but only 15 statisticians). There have been a couple of articles about this in the Chronicle of Higher Education: here and here.

I signed the boycott, and will refuse to review papers for Evilsevier journals, and will try to steer my coauthors away from them. (I certainly wouldn’t send my own papers to such journals, but it’s hard to control papers on which I am one lowly author among many.)

Most important to me is that the journals are expensive and publishing companies are reaping an enormous profit. The former head of the library at UW-Madison mentioned recently that they spend $4 million per year on electronic resources (books and journals), and that they are “struggling to pay that Elsevier bill”.

I prefer society-related journals. These days, my own papers all go to my favorite journal, Genetics, which is associated with the Genetics Society of America.

Terry on communication

3 Oct 2011

Relevant to my recent comments on seminars, Terry Speed’s latest commentary in the IMS Bulletin focuses on communication (talks and papers).

He says: read others’ work (which I would expand to say, pay attention) and practice.