West Coast Trip 10: UC Santa Barbara


When I arrived in Santa Barbara, I had dinner and ice cream with the Frosh from the Internet, who’s in chemical engineering grad school there. We went to a quite tasty Oaxacan restaurant and I had a Oaxacan mole dish. Afterward, she gave me a tour of the neighborhood around campus. The next day, I walked to campus and she gave me a tour of her lab, after which we went to a taqueria for lunch. We also stopped at an Eastern European grocery—surprisingly, there is one in Santa Barbara—and I bought makowiec and pierogi to take to Los Angeles.

Marathon Bombing Change of Venue


It seems that the Marathon Bombing suspect’s request for a change of venue has been denied. This doesn’t bother me as much as it probably should in the context of this case, mostly because I think that it’s unlikely that they got the wrong person (evidence I wouldn’t qualify to be a juror, anyway). That said, the precedent being set here really bothers me, because if this case doesn’t merit a change of venue, it’s hard to see what would.

As I understand it, the Eastern District of Massachusetts, where the trial will be held, consists of all of Massachusetts east of Worcester County. With the exception of Cape Cod and the southern shore, this is essentially all metropolitan Boston. All of this area is in the Boston media market, which means that this whole area was subject to the essentially constant media coverage, not just of the bombings themselves, but of the hysteria that the police—possibly intentionally—induced with their absurd lockdown overreaction. Locking down the whole city of Boston and most of its suburbs for a day over one loose fugitive with a gun was fairly rediculous. However, it did a really good job of inducing people to panic and believe that the threat was much worse than it was: after all, the police wouldn’t react this way unless the threat merited it, right?

Other than perhaps in the southernmost parts of the Eastern District of Massachusetts, it’s going to be quite hard to find people who weren’t influenced by this government-induced hysteria, so it seems a bit strange to think that a change of venue is unjustified in this case.

West Coast Trip 09: By Train to Santa Barbara


On Tuesday, 5 August, I woke up early in order to catch the Coast Starlight from Jack London Square in Oakland to Santa Barbara. As I headed to the 24th and Mission BART station I finally got around to photographing some of the many murals that line the streets in the Mission. I also stopped for breakfast at two separate taquerias, and was reminded of just how good fresh corn tortillas taste and convinced that I needed to try to learn to make them myself.

From 24th and Mission, I took BART to Lake Merritt and walked to the Jack London Square BART station. I arrived about half an hour early, only to find that the “Coast Starlate” was living up to its nickname. (This turned out not to be its fault in particular: apparently there were major delays at Sacramento and all the Capital Corridor trains were late as well.) I ended up spending a couple of hours waiting and had a second breakfast at a fairly cheap restaurant across the street from the station. Unfortunately, though, my baggage and uncertainty about when to expect my train discouraged me from doing any sightseeing.

Although this wasn’t the most scenic of my train trips on the West Coast, some of the scenery was fairly impressive.

West Coast Trip 08: South Bay Adventures


On Monday, 4 August, I finished off my first visit to the Bay Area with a trip to South Bay to visit the Papist’s Twin and Santa Hat Frosh in Sunnyvale and Los Gatos, to see the Politician in Mountain View, and to eat dinner with the Traveler, Fish, the Tooth Fairy, Error Function, and the Lieutenant in Palo Alto. It was a fun trip, and somewhat more adventurous than you might expect.

Since I wasn’t to arrive in Sunnyvale until noon, I got up somewhat early—as had been my habit—and, after eating tasty Mexican food for breakfast on the Mission, rode the Muni Metro M line from Balboa Park through the Sunset—I’d never been there before—and to Embarcadero, where I changed to another Muni Metro train to get to the 4th and King Caltrain station. Honestly, I was kind of disappointed by how suburban the Sunset seemed, especially given that San Francisco really needs more density. However, as the Traveler pointed out, the fact that it’s behind the Twin Peaks, and the slowness of Muni Metro, mean that a lot of East Bay is effectively closer to downtown by BART than it is by the Muni.

I met the Papist’s Twin at the Sunnyvale Caltrain station and we immediately went to a book shop, where I ended up buying a used copy of the Discworld book The Last Continent. We then went to her house to see the two cats and three kittens that were living there. (They need to give away several of the kittens to get under Sunnyvale’s limit of three cats per house.) She then mentioned that Santa Hat Frosh, who I’d completely lost track of, was living in Los Gatos, and we arranged to meet her for lunch there, which was quite amusing, and didn’t involve anyone being set on fire.

On the way back, we got lost, partly due to bad directions from me, but we were able to get to Mountain View in time for the Politician to meet me for a tour of the Mountain View library. He told me a lot about his current political work, as well as explaining how Obama’s campaign revolutionized the ways in which political campaigns organize their data-processing work.

For dinner, I met up with the a number of people in Palo Alto, none of whom normally live on the west coast. Fish was in town visiting his parents and writing up a paper, while the Traveler, the Tooth Fairy, Error Function, and the Lieutenant were in town for the summer due to internships. The Traveler and Error Function took us to dinner at Palantir, where they were working, and we ate a lot of tasty free food. There were even legumes!

After dinner, the Traveler, Fish, the Lieutenant, and I walked to Menlo Park by way of El Palo Alto, providing me with my first visit to San Mateo County. From there, I’d planned to take Caltrain to Millbrae and then transfer to BART to return to the Mission and Pointless Topology. It should have been a simple trip, but it became overly complicated due to Caltrain problems. My Caltrain heading north was on time, but it terminated at Hayward Park due to a pedestrian strike ahead and the conductor told us that it was unclear whether the train would continue on that night or just return to San Jose. Since I really needed to get back to Pointless Topology—I was taking a train to Santa Barbara in the morning—I got the Traveler to direct me to El Camino Real, where I caught the SamTrans bus that runs parallel to Caltrain in San Mateo County and took that to Millbrae. The bus was quite crowded, presumably because of the Caltrain delays, but it was also very comfortable. I suspect that they used unusually nice buses on that route, based on the softness of the seats. In any case, I did eventually make it to Millbrae, and thence to Pointless Topology, but with slightly more of a story than I’d expected.

West Coast Trip 07: Driving through Marin County


We drove back from Muir Woods by a scenic route through Mount Tamalpais State Park, which surrounds Muir Woods, and then along the cliffs of the coastal highway back to San Francisco. It was a very beautiful drive, with lots of fog seen from above as we drove on mountains too high to get the regular fog that coast redwoods need to grow.

West Coast Trip 06: Muir Woods


On Sunday, the Robot’s parents drove us to Muir Woods to see one of the last stands of old-growth coast redwood forest in the Bay Area. It was an incredibly neat trip, as I’d never seen anything like a redwood forest before. The trees were amazing, and I enjoyed seeing the huge meadows of ferns that grew on the forest floor. The park was very crowded, but we continued along a trail into Mount Tamalpais State Park, which was much quieter and more peaceful. Unsurprisingly, I took a lot of photos. I hope you don’t mind how long this image gallery is!

West Coast Trip 05: Along the Embarcadero


When we got back downtown after lunch in the Richmond, the Robot took BART back home while Fish and I walked down to the Embarcadero to meet up with the taller God and some other Caltech friends. Actually finding each other turned out to be rather more difficult than expected, particularly as people’s cell phones kept dying and our message that we’d meet at the Ferry Building at the end of Market Street got lost. We walked down the Embarcadero some before I headed back to the Mission to eat a quick dinner and get some sleep.

West Coast Trip 04: Land’s End and the Richmond


After spending some time at Ocean Beach, we ascended the dunes to Sutro Heights, the former estate of Adolph Sutro, a Nineteenth Century mayor of San Francisco who had opened his grounds to the public. After walking through it, we continued to Land’s End (the park at the northwest corner of the city) proper. When we reached the end of that, we walked east through the Richmond to see the Internet Archive—unfortunately we couldn’t go in—and then to get lunch in a Chinese neighborhood. Lunch was impressively cheap: $5 including tax and tip for a sit-down meal of pork porridge and a plate of bok choy. After eating, we took a 38L bus down Geary—apparently one of the busiest bus corridors in the country—back to downtown.

Some Statistics on the 2014 MIT Career Fair


Today is MIT’s annual career fair. I haven’t decided if I’m going to visit it or not, but it’s likely that I won’t. Doing so last year gave me a fairly bad breakdown by reinforcing the basic message of life at MIT: If you aren’t a programmer, or maybe a mechanical engineer, there are no jobs for you. Meanwhile, computer science majors are essentially guaranteed high-paying jobs with great working conditions in Boston, San Francisco, or most other places they might want to live.

When I attended the fair last year, I found that virtually none of the employers present were interested in hiring physical chemists. Even when I talked to several companies that I know do research related to my field, there was invariably no one at the booth who knew anything about that part of the company, and often no one who even knew that it existed.

Last year, the MIT newspaper ran an article on one possible contributing factor: it is much more expensive for companies to attend the MIT career fair than to attend career fairs at other schools.

According to the MIT Career Fair 2013 website, the highest level of involvement — platinum sponsorship — costs $18,000. The package offers maximum publicity through a catered information session on campus and publication in the career fair booklet, The Tech, web, and Infinite Display. This is followed by Gold, Silver, and Bronze sponsorship which cost $9000, $6000, and $3000 respectively. The lowest level of involvement, Copper sponsorship, which covers only a booth at the second floor of the fair, costs $1250.

These numbers are on the high end when compared to the price of attending career fairs at colleges. For example, a full table at Stanford’s Fall Career Fair costs 945 dollars, according to Stanford’s Career Development Center. Comparatively, a table at General Interest Career Fair at Princeton costs $550 for corporate organizations, and a table at Harvard’s On-Campus Interview Program (OCI) costs $750, still $500 cheaper than MIT’s cheapest option.

Naturally, higher costs will select for more lucrative firms—presumably why such a large fraction of the companies at the fair are either software companies or finance/consulting companies—and particularly for fields like computer science where MIT has a particularly good national reputation. (Not that the physical chemistry program here, for example, isn’t one of the top five in the country.) This year, though, I thought it’d be interesting to see how the balance of companies matches the balance of majors. I got enrollment data from MIT’s website (I excluded freshmen and other undergrads with no declared major from my total number of undergrads) and used company field data from the career fair handbook.  Most companies indicate which majors they are interested in recruiting students from; I only included those companies in my tally.  There were also 36 companies that said they were recruiting all majors; these were mostly consulting firms, but also national labs and some very large engineering companies.

Major # Companies # UG # G % Companies % UG % G
1 (Civil Engineering) 16 68 221 4.6% 1.5% 3.3%
2 (Mechanical Engineering) 64 546 593 18.3% 12.1% 8.8%
3 (Materials Science) 31 126 204 8.9% 2.8% 3.0%
4 (Architecture) 1 35 222 0.3% 0.8% 3.3%
5 (Chemistry) 13 56 219 3.7% 1.2% 3.2%
6 (Electrical and Computer Engineering) 184 1000 820 52.7% 22.1% 12.1%
7 (Biology) 4 142 266 1.1% 3.1% 3.9%
8 (Physics) 35 199 243 10.0% 4.4% 3.6%
9 (Neuroscience) 5 106 102 1.4% 2.3% 1.5%
10 (Chemical Engineering) 27 198 241 7.7% 4.4% 3.6%
11 (Urban Studies and Planning) 1 11 192 0.3% 0.2% 2.8%
12 (Earth and Planetary Science) 3 19 160 0.9% 0.4% 2.4%
14 (Economics) 20 58 125 5.7% 1.3% 1.8%
15 (Business) 28 79 1360 8.0% 1.7% 20.1%
16 (Aeronautical Engineering) 15 186 241 4.3% 4.1% 3.6%
17 (Political Science) 4 10 65 1.1% 0.2% 1.0%
18 (Math) 75 225 117 21.5% 5.0% 1.7%
20 (Biological Engineering) 5 178 134 1.4% 3.9% 2.0%
21 (Humanities) 4 18 26 1.1% 0.4% 0.4%
22 (Nuclear Engineering) 4 25 109 1.1% 0.6% 1.6%
24 (Linguistics and Philosophy) 1 17 73 0.3% 0.4% 1.1%
CDO (Computation for Design) 13 0 23 3.7% 0.0% 0.3%
CMS (Comparative Media Studies) 3 13 18 0.9% 0.3% 0.3%
CSB (Computational and Systems Biology) 3 0 35 0.9% 0.0% 0.5%
ESD (Engineering Systems Division) 27 0 178 7.7% 0.0% 2.6%
HST (Health Science and Technology) 5 0 113 1.4% 0.0% 1.7%
MAS (Media Arts and Sciences) 5 0 146 1.4% 0.0% 2.2%
OR (Operations Research) 7 0 72 2.0% 0.0% 1.1%
RED (Real Estate Development) 0 0 26 0.0% 0.0% 0.4%
SDM (Systems Design and Management) 17 0 148 4.9% 0.0% 2.2%
STS (Science, Technology, and Society) 23 0 35 6.6% 0.0% 0.5%
349 4528 6773

Looking at this data, some things surprised me.  The fraction of companies looking for CS majors was kind of ridiculous—52.7%—but so is the fraction of MIT undergrads who are CS majors—29.5%—though the grad student CS population is only 12.1%.  I really wouldn’t have predicted that math was the second most popular major at the career fair, though this is less surprising once you realize that almost all of the places interested in hiring math majors are either computer companies—MIT’s undergrad math program has a track that is essentially a cross between CS and math—or finance companies.  Physics’ position at number four—10% of companies—is also inflated a bit by finance and programming companies, but there are also a lot of engineering firms that presumably actually want to hire people to do physics.

I was surprised to see that the number of chemistry companies was actually proportional to our graduate enrollment, which is somewhat small compared to some of the engineering departments, even though we’re big for a chemistry program.  The breakdown of the twelve companies that were hiring chemists for full-time jobs was also interesting, and more physical chemistry focused than I’d expected:

  • 3 pharmaceutical and healthcare companies
  • 2 semiconductor companies
  • 2 chemistry/technical consulting companies
  • 1 oil company
  • 1 nuclear engineering company
  • 1 consumer chemical product manufacturer
  • 1 law firm specializing in IP
  • 1 private high school (though they don’t hire PhDs)

Some quick observations from the “Chemistry Committee on Graduate Student Climate” proposal…

  • Their first suggestion was to have a department retreat!  And they want grad students to pay to go to it.  Besides the fact this is unlikely to help, do they really think that emphasizing the difference between grad students who can afford to do so and those who can’t is a great idea?
  • They want to make us do annual self-evaluation.  Do they really expect accurate answers from this?  My impression is that if admit uncertainty about my project or chances of success, it’ll make my advisor lose confidence in me.
  • The department apparently thinks it would be “inappropriate” for them to set guidelines about what an appropriate number of hours a week to expect grad students to work is.


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