Category Archives: College

CS skills across China, India, Russia, and the United States

Source: PNAS, Apr 2019

“We assess and compare computer science skills among final-year computer science undergraduates (seniors) in four major economic and political powers that produce approximately half of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics graduates in the world.

We find that seniors in the United States substantially outperform seniors in China, India, and Russia by 0.76–0.88 SDs and score comparably with seniors in elite institutions in these countries.

Seniors in elite institutions in the United States further outperform seniors in elite institutions in China, India, and Russia by 0.85 SDs. The skills advantage of the United States is not because it has a large proportion of high-scoring international students. Finally, males score consistently but only moderately higher (0.16–0.41 SDs) than females within all four countries.”

Einstein’s Creativity & Yale’s Decline

Source: Manifold Learning, Jun 2020

What’s interesting is you find people, Einstein, who he had this view, which was he wasn’t committed to anything. He would simply argue every perspective he could until he’d just adopt the strongest one, which is often some combination. It’s that flexibility I think that often allowed him to be as creative as he could because he simply could get outside of an existing paradigm and view it from a very different way.

Corey: This is actually one of the active debates in academia this time about Yale’s trajectory over the past 20 years or so.

Steve: Down.

Corey: Well, many schools have made a big bet on science to a large degree, and Harvard in fact has built an engineering college.

Steve: Correct.

Corey: Stanford’s built itself up through technology primarily, and Yale took a very different path.

Steve: Yep. They’re paying for it.

Corey: I think even schools like small liberal arts colleges where I’m from, I think people really realize it’s extremely important to have both, for anyone who graduates, have both a technical and a humanities background. I think that’s where that power actually comes, and we share this. It’s good to have a humanist perspective and a scientific perspective.

US Colleges: From Onsite to Online

Source: WSJ, May 2020

Post-Pandemic Challenges for Colleges

Source: NYMag, May 2020

The post-pandemic future, he says,  will entail partnerships between the largest tech companies in the world and elite universities. MIT@Google. iStanford. HarvardxFacebook. According to Galloway, these partnerships will allow universities to expand enrollment dramatically by offering hybrid online-offline degrees, the affordability and value of which will seismically alter the landscape of higher education.

Galloway, who also founded his own virtual classroom start-up, predicts hundreds, if not thousands, of brick-and-mortar universities will go out of business and those that remain will have student bodies composed primarily of the children of the one percent.

The value of education has been substantially degraded. There’s the education certification and then there’s the experience part of college. The experience part of it is down to zero, and the education part has been dramatically reduced.

You get a degree that, over time, will be reduced in value as we realize it’s not the same to be a graduate of a liberal-arts college if you never went to campus. You can see already how students and their parents are responding.

There will be a dip, the mother of all V’s, among the top-50 universities, where the revenues are hit in the short run and then technology will expand their enrollments and they will come back stronger. In ten years, it’s feasible to think that MIT doesn’t welcome 1,000 freshmen to campus; it welcomes 10,000.

What that means is the top-20 universities globally are going to become even stronger. What it also means is that universities Nos. 20 to 50 are fine. But Nos. 50 to 1,000 go out of business or become a shadow of themselves. I don’t want to say that education is going to be reinvented, but it’s going to be dramatically different.

The strongest brand in the world is not Apple or Mercedes-Benz or Coca-Cola. The strongest brands are MIT, Oxford, and Stanford.

The most value-added part of a university is not the professors; it’s the admissions department.

They have done a fantastic job creating the most thorough and arduous job-interview process in modern history, between the testing, the anxiety, the review of your life up until that point, the references you need. If I’m applying for a job at New York Magazine, I’d give you a list of references and you’d call them. You don’t ask the references to write a two-page letter. Universities now do background checks to see if you’ve ever had a DUI or been accused of a crime. They look at your social media to see if you’re abusing alcohol or if you’ve made racist or bigoted statements. We’re screening people like crazy.

When you go to Penn, you know that your classmates are solid citizens who are qualified and have good EQ [emotional quotient]. There is an opportunity for new companies to figure out testing and research methods to certify people around certain skills or EQ.

So far, no one has really come up with the ability to certify to the same extent that universities do. To a certain extent, Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook are also in the business of certification. If you get a job at Google, there’s a certain belief that the HR department has vetted you enough to certify that you have very strong skills. There will be opportunities in certification that aren’t universities.

In the case of MIT, Harvard, Stanford, and Cal, people will say they’re sacrificing their standards to enroll more students. The reality is these schools can double or triple their enrollments without sacrificing anything in terms of their brands.

Right now, their admissions officers are choosing between Magic Johnson and LeBron James. Every superstar in high school — and there are a lot — wants to go to these universities. We’re going to see schools slicing and dicing programming and product management, and they will have a new weapon: remote learning. The best universities are going to be able to expand enrollment dramatically, which will result in chaos for the tier-two and tier-three school. Nobody’s going to enroll in Pepperdine if they get into UCLA.

The cruel truth of what pretends to be a meritocracy but is a caste system is that your degree largely indicates or signals your lifetime earnings.

When kids get out of business school, they say, “I have an offer from Amazon and I have an offer to go to work for a regional bank, and I’d much rather go to work at a regional bank.” I just tell them, “Stop wasting my time. You’re going to work for Amazon.” Because when you go to work for Amazon out of business school, your career launches at a much greater angle. Going to UCLA versus Pepperdine starts you at a 10 to 30 percent higher salary coming out of school, which, over the course of your lifetime, when you add in salary increases, just creates a different life.

You think MIT and Google will be able to put out an online curriculum that will be worth paying tens of thousands of dollars or hundreds of thousands of dollars?

Yeah, because they’ll have some sort of hybrid model that will involve some in-person work. MIT’s certification — and that education that it’ll be able to string together using its faculty and its brand and the technology of a place like Google — will still be worth that kind of money. The reality is an MIT degree is still worth a quarter of a million dollars in tuition. 

Is there something about the campus environment that exposes young people — who are more creative, greater risk-takers, and more fearless — to the world and our problems and gives them the opportunity to craft better solutions? Will big tech’s entry into education reduce our humanity or create a net gain in stakeholder value?


Harvard Profits from Continuing & Executive Education

Source: The Crimson, Apr 2020

Executive and continuing education programs — a growing source of revenue for the University — have been stymied by campus closure, the latest in a mounting number of financial challenges Harvard will face as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Executive and continuing education — non-degree granting programs aimed at mid-career professionals — netted $500 million in revenue for the University last year, equal to 9 percent of its total revenue, per the University’s 2019 Financial Report.

Harvard earned only slightly more from its “degree-seeking” undergraduate and graduate programs, at $504 million.

Executive and continuing education revenues also increased substantially more in the last fiscal year than undergraduate and graduate revenues, at 12 percent and 4 percent growth, respectively.

Related Resource: Harvard Magazine, Apr 2020

For context, in fiscal year 2019, HBS had revenues of $925 million, with principal contributors including:

  • $262 million of publishing revenue (the sale of millions of teaching cases to institutions around the world; advertising in and subscriptions to Harvard Business Review; books and reprints; and so on);
  • $222 million from executive-education tuition (about half the University total, and a consistently growing business of late);
  • $162 million from the endowment (plus $68 million in current-use gifts); and
  • $140 million in M.B.A. tuition and fees.

Berkeley Physics Professor Prepares to Teach Quantum Mechanics (even if there’s a nuclear apocalypse)!

Source: Twitter, Mar 2020

Teenagers’ Career Aspirations

Source: Quartz, Feb 2020

“The future that students see for themselves does not square with the future of work,” said Andreas Schliecher, head of the education directorate at the OECD.

He said that schools and teachers should do more to make sure kids know about the diverse range of careers that exist, noting that kids who are exposed to more kinds of work, either through internships or job fairs, tended to like school more. “The more time they invest in career activities, the more they see the value of school,” he said.

Buying Your Way into Harvard

Source: The Crimson, Oct 2019

Getting into Harvard is hard. But it’s a lot less hard if your family promises to pay for a new building, according to internal emails presented in court on the third day of the Harvard admissions trial.

The handful of emails — most of them sent between administrators and admissions officers — hint at the College’s behind-the-scenes fondness for applicants whose admission yields certain practical perks. Hughes referenced the emails as he quizzed Fitzsimmons on the “Dean’s Interest List,” a special and confidential list of applicants Harvard compiles every admissions cycle. Though the University closely guards the details, applicants on that list are often related to or of interest to top donors — and court filings show list members benefit from a significantly inflated acceptance rate.

Apart from a few Harvard insiders, no one knew that list existed until summer 2018, when it bubbled up in court documents released as part of the suit. The filings showed that College applicants who make the list are frequently related to “high-priority” individuals who boast close University connections — people such as top donors or “other influential alumni.”

Harvard has been tight-lipped about who earns a spot on that list and why. On Wednesday, Hughes pressed for answers. He asked Fitzsimmons whether the list includes the “children of donors” and “other relatives of donors.”

Fitzsimmons said the University Development Office — an office that solicits alumni donations — sometimes offers names to the dean. Summer court filings suggested the dean regularly sits down with Development Office employees and senior admissions staff to discuss specific high schoolers.

Fitzsimmons defended Harvard’s special treatment of applicants linked to top donors as “important for the long-term strength of the institution.” He said this tactic secures funding for scholarships, among other things.

Despite its low profile, the dean’s interest list has helped shape Harvard admissions for at least the past half-decade.

Documents published in June revealed that 192 current Harvard seniors — more than 10 percent of the Class of 2019 — are members of the dean’s list or the “Director’s List,” a similarly select group of applicants compiled by Director of Admissions Marlyn E. McGrath ’70 every year.

The June filings also show that students on the twin lists make up 9.34 percent of Harvard admits across six years, ranging from the Class of 2014 through the Class of 2019. The admission rate for members of the dean’s and director’s lists during this time period clocked in at 42.2 percent, more than nine times the overall acceptance rate for the Class of 2022.

A 4.1/4.0 for his Stanford PhD!

Source: Ed Boyden, Oct 2019

Related Resources:

Huffington Post, Sep 2016

Synthesize new ideas constantly.

Never read passively. Annotate, model, think, and synthesize while you read, even when you’re reading what you conceive to be introductory stuff.

That way, you will always aim towards understanding things at a resolution fine enough for you to be creative

Conversations with Tyler, Apr 2019

we don’t actually have theories — detailed knowledge — enough to make predictive, interesting models, for example, of how we form emotions, of how we make decisions.

… questions about attention-focusing drugs like Ritalin or Adderall. Maybe they make people more focused, but are you sacrificing some of the wandering and creativity that might exist in the brain and be very important for not only personal productivity but the future of humanity?

I think one of the things that I really love about the space of ecological diversity is, if you think of brains as computing things, then ecological diversity might provide many ways of computing the same thing but in different ways that actually yield interesting computational insights or aesthetic outcomes.

I think architecture is very important. I find architecture to be very inspiring for scientific ideas.

My group started at the MIT Media Lab, and now we have half our group over here in the MIT McGovern Institute, but I used to wander the halls of campus late at night to just look at stuff, the posters in the hallway. I get inspiration by trying to connect dots from different fields or disciplines or even entirely separate, unconnected topics. I find a lot of productivity from inspirational environments and connecting dots between random things.

COWEN: Now, you were first hired here by the Media Lab, is that correct?

BOYDEN: I was.

COWEN: They were a different ecosystem, and they saw some reason to hire you, where other groups didn’t see the same reason.

BOYDEN: Yeah. I was writing up these faculty applications to propose to set up a full-time neurotechnology group — let’s control the brain, let’s map the brain. At the time, the majority of the places that I applied to for faculty jobs actually turned me down.

So I went to the Media Lab to talk to people there. I’d been an undergrad researcher there. That’s when I was doing work on quantum computing, for example. It was just sheer dumb luck. They had a job opening that they couldn’t fill, and they said, “Why don’t you apply?”

COWEN: A job opening for what?

BOYDEN: I can’t recall the details. It might have been a professor of education or something. I forget what it was. But they said, “You know what? We’re the Media Lab. Maybe our new mission is to hire misfits.”

It’s a great place for people between one field and another where there’s sort of some space. But you know what? It could be an entire new discipline. Now, flash forward 12 years later, we actually started a center for neuroengineering here at MIT that I co-direct.

I think I learn more from individuals and their variability than from categories of people. For example, in our group at MIT, I have two PhD students. Neither finished college, actually. I can’t think of any other neuroscience groups on Earth where that’s true.

COWEN: And you hired them.

BOYDEN: I did, yeah.

COWEN: Knowing they didn’t finish college. And that was a plus? Or, “I’ll hire them in spite of this”?

BOYDEN: Well, one of them had been a Thiel fellow and then decided that it could be good to have an ecosystem in academia to support a long-term biotechnology play, and it’s hard to do biotechnology all by yourself. The other was a college dropout who was working as a computer tech support person next door, and both of them are now leading very independent projects.

Again, I try to look more at the individual, and I try to get to know people over a long period of time to learn what they’re good at and how they can maybe make a contribution based upon their unique experience. That’s different from what people have done traditionally.

BOYDEN: I think there’s so much crosstalk nowadays. I read a statistic that 40 percent of the professors at MIT trained at one point in their career at Stanford, Harvard, or MIT. So there’s a lot of crosstalk that goes back and forth. I think one of the themes in science is that you end up learning different things and bringing multiple things to bear.

COWEN: How should we improve the funding of science in this country?

BOYDEN: I like to look at the history of science to learn about its future, and one thing I’ve learned a lot over the last couple years — and it’s even happened to me — is that it’s really hard to fund pioneering ideas.

The third thing I would do is I would go looking for trouble. I would go looking for serendipity.

One idea is, how do we find the diamonds in the rough, the big ideas but they’re kind of hidden in plain sight? I think we see this a lot. Machine learning, deep learning, is one of the hot topics of our time, but a lot of the math was worked out decades ago — backpropagation, for example, in the 1980s and 1990s. What has changed since then is, no doubt, some improvements in the mathematics, but largely, I think we’d all agree, better compute power and a lot more data.

So how could we find the treasure that’s hiding in plain sight? One of the ideas is to have sort of a SWAT team of people who go around looking for how to connect the dots all day long in these serendipitous ways.

COWEN: Does that mean fewer committees and more individuals?

BOYDEN: Or maybe individuals that can dynamically bring together committees. “Hey, you’re a yogurt scientist that’s curious about this weird CRISPR molecule you just found. Here’s some bioinformaticists who are looking to find patterns. Here’s some protein engineers who love — ”

COWEN: But should the evaluators be fewer committees and more individuals? The people doing the work will always be groups, but committees, arguably, are more conservative. Should we have people with more dukedoms and fiefdoms? They just hand out money based on what they think?

BOYDEN: A committee of people who have multiple non-overlapping domains of knowledge can be quite productive.

But in economics and in other fields, it also seems like people are trying to make better maps of things and how they interact.

BOYDEN: One way to think of it is that, if a scientific topic is really popular and everybody’s doing it, then I don’t need to be part of that. What’s the benefit of being the 100,000th person working on something?

So I read a lot of old papers. I read a lot of things that might be forgotten because I think that there’s a lot of treasure hiding in plain sight. As we discussed earlier, optogenetics and expansion microscopy both begin from papers from other fields, some of which are quite old and which mostly had been ignored by other people.

I sometimes practice what I call failure rebooting. We tried something, or somebody else tried something, and it didn’t work. But you know what?

Something happened that made the world different. Maybe somebody found a new gene. Maybe computers are faster. Maybe some other discovery from left field has changed how we think about things. And you know what? That old failed idea might be ready for prime time.

With optogenetics, people were trying to control brain cells with light going back to 1971. I was actually reading some earlier papers. There were people playing around with controlling brain cells with light going back to the 1940s. What is different? Well, this class of molecules that we put into neurons hadn’t been discovered yet.

COWEN: The same is true in economics, I think. Most of behavioral economics you find in Adam Smith and Pigou, who are centuries old.

BOYDEN: Wow. I almost think search engines like Google often are trying to look at the most popular things, and to advance science, what we almost need is a search engine for the most important unpopular things.

COWEN: Last question. As a researcher, what could and would you do with more money?

BOYDEN: Well, I’m always looking for new serendipitous things, connecting the dots between different fields. These ideas always seem a bit crazy and are hard to get funded. I see that both in my group but also in many other groups.

I think if I was given a pile of money right now, what I would like to do is to find a way — not just in our group but across many groups — to try to find those unfundable projects where, number one, if we think about the logic of it, “Hey, there’s a non-zero chance it could be revolutionary.”

Number two, we can really, in a finite amount of time, test the idea. And if it works, we can dynamically allocate more money to it. But if it doesn’t work, then we can de-allocate money to it.

I would like to go out and treasure hunt. Let’s look at the old literature. Let’s look at people who might be on the fringes of science, but they don’t have the right connections, like the people who I talked about earlier. They’re not quite in the right place to achieve the rapid scale-up of the project. But by connecting the dots between people and topics, you know what? We could design an amazing project together.

China’s Conformity Challenges Innovation??

Source: NY Times, Nov 2019

Mr. Peng is one of a growing number of “student information officers” who keep tabs on their professors’ ideological views. They are there to help root out teachers who show any sign of disloyalty to President Xi Jinping and the ruling Communist Party.

“Everyone feels they are in danger,” said You Shengdong, a longtime economics professor at Xiamen University in eastern China who was fired last year after students reported him for criticizing one of Mr. Xi’s favorite propaganda slogans.

“How do we make progress,” Mr. You asked, “how can we produce inventions in this environment?”

The proliferation of student informers has raised concerns among scholars and students, who see the practice as another attempt to stifle classroom debate. All universities in the country are controlled by the party, which appoints the institutions’ top administrative officials and runs party committees on campuses.

Professors say the use of student informers is creating a climate of fear in classrooms.

Mr. You, the economics professor who was fired from Xiamen University, said students had reported him for questioning Mr. Xi’s trademark slogan, the “Chinese dream,” a vision of prosperity and strength for the nation. Mr. You said he told his students that dreams are “delusions and fantasies — not ideals.”

Mr. You, 71, who has since relocated to New York, said his students began referring to him as extreme and “anti-Communist.” His classroom was equipped with a video camera, which is standard at many Chinese universities, and the authorities warned that they could easily turn up evidence of inappropriate remarks.

“Xi’s goal is to reintroduce that element of self-censorship so that people start to think twice about speaking,” he said. “When political orthodoxy takes over, that’s how the collective mind of society begins to close down.”