Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How Recruitment Should Work

"We're kidnapping you for your own good. Promise. Write the code and you'll get flatbread."

Yup, the fall term's about to start. It's probably about time to start working on that fancy recruitment campaign for iGEM that we keep dreaming about... but don't worry non-iGEM people who read this blog (hi family!), I'm planning on writing about something else here.

And that something else is...

Things That I'm Going to Rant About to New Students

I don't really see myself as the ranting type in general, but there's something about getting a fresh, naive, relatively uncynical, and slightly puzzled batch of new students that brings out the old curmudgeon in me. So, in list form, the things I'm going to be giving today's generation of youth an earful about are:
  1. The definition of engineering. It perplexes me how many people get to third year engineering and then act surprised when they find out that engineering is the profession of applying scientific and mathematical principles to practical problems. Even in systems design, which is basically the study of distilled engineering ideology abstracted away from specific domains, there are still people who think it's all about hard hats and accounting. Yes, that's a part, but... well... if that's your image of engineering, you are a personal pet peeve of mine.
  2. Time hoarding. There's time management and then there's being a wuss. I know you've heard the failure rate statistics. I'm sure you've been told it's wise to cut back on extra-curricular activities until you get used to the workload. That's garbage. The easiest way not to fail out is to keep trying to maintain your stupidly over-acheiving lifestyle that got you into university in the first place. If you lower your standards down to "just trying to pass" in first year, you'll never recover. This is a somewhat controversial point and your mileage may vary; nonetheless, you don't have much to lose in first year. Now taking on extra work halfway through second year is a different story.
  3. Ability to write. I know, I know. Given the poor standards of this blog, this point's a bit hypocritical, but I stand by it. My standards are not high: just catch the blatant typos and missed articles and use apostrophes more or less where they should be used. You can throw in semicolons, commas, and colons wherever you want. Deal?
  4. Stop whining. You only get to make lists like this when you're at least half done your degree and even then only once a term. Grad students are allowed unlimited whining, but they've earned it.


  1. I would like to point out the difference between whining and complaining. Complaining is a legitimate process where you point out the faults in something with logical reasons and quantification of how much they annoy you. Everyone gets to complain about once per subject/reason/quantification tuple. Whining is the process by which one expresses dislike through moaning. Complaining is something everyone should get to do, in moderation. Whining is something that no one should do if they want friends. I admit the line might seem fuzzy, but it's easy to differentiate: complaining involves the word “because”. (e.g., whining: “This lab is horrible. I hate it.”; complaining: “This lab is horrible because it takes forever and teaches us nothing.”)

  2. I contend that the whining/complaining boundary remains fuzzy due to the qualifier "in moderation". There comes a point when saying "this lab is horrible because it [...] teaches us nothing" stops being useful social commentary and starts being annoying, particularly if its directed towards people (like other people taking the lab) who won't be able to change the lab-suck situation.