Recent News

Let the Writing Begin

posted Aug 5, 2014, 7:42 PM by Nicole Nichols

The beginning of this year has been full of exciting conferences, particularly the Oceans 2014 MTS/IEEE conference in Taipei, Taiwan.  It was an excellent venue, and I enjoyed the opportunity to meet so many interesting students and researchers.  More recently, I participated in the 2nd IEEE Women in Communication and Signal Processing Workshop.  It was an interesting contrast to the Grace Hopper Conference.  It was significantly smaller, perhaps 40-50 people, in contrast to the 6,000 people at Grace Hopper.  I felt the technical work was closer to my own and, because of the small size, we had more opportunity to connect with the other participants.  

The end of this year will be full of writing as I finish my dissertation.  A colleague recently recommended a book about how to be a prolific academic writer called "How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing" by Paul Silvia.  I admit, I only read about 1/3rd of the book before deciding the strategies were useful but my time would be better spent implementing his advice rather than reading further.  The main strategy he advocates is creating dedicated weekly writing time.  There is some corollary advice such as don't listen to your excuses for why you should skip your writing session, track the number of words written to provide positive reinforcement of your progress, and create a meet-up with other writers to provide external accountability.   At times I have felt that for every situation in graduate school, there is an equal and accurate PhD comic.  I'm hoping there are exceptions to the rule; let the writing begin!

Grace Hopper Conference

posted Sep 26, 2013, 5:50 PM by Nicole Nichols   [ updated Sep 26, 2013, 5:55 PM ]

I'm excited to attend next week's Grace Hopper Celebration of Women In Computing.  I have heard great things about this conference but never had the opportunity to participate until now.  The conference is designed to " bring the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront.  It is the largest technical conference for women in computing and results in collaborative proposals, networking and mentoring for junior women and increased visibility for the contributions of women in computing. Conference presenters are leaders in their respective fields, representing industry, academia and government. Top researchers present their work while special sessions focus on the role of women in today’s technology fields." (GHC2013)

I appreciate that the conference organizers seem aware of the importance of including men.  This article which summarizes the most effective ways men can help advocate for women in tech, highlights the conference specifically.  It states, "Male advocates stressed the importance of requesting invitations to technical women's meetings, participating in women-in-tech groups, and making sure that other men, especially top leadership, attend as well. Men also described the benefits of sending male colleagues to conferences like the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing."

Time to pack my bag and see what all the hubbub is about.

From the news

posted Dec 4, 2012, 10:37 AM by Nicole Nichols

There have been many recent and interesting news headlines about marine mammals.  One story I found most interesting was the petition to re-classify the transient killer whales as a separate species.  Even if you are familiar with this science, it's a well written summary of the discussion points. 

I was also interested to hear that the Navy is replacing their dolphins with AUV's.  I enjoy learning about the complexities of marine mammal acoustics, and replacing their acoustic sophistication with AUV's is a fascinating challenge. 

There was of course the Beluga whale making "human" sounds, that was all over the web.  It's an unusual sound, and if you don't listen to marine mammals, perhaps it is not the sound one would expect.   Marine mammals make all kinds of interesting vocalizations! I'm glad to see it getting some press, but dig deeper, there are so many interesting sounds in the sea!

In other news, I was surprised to hear that many of Boeing's VP's are women.  I usually have an ear for that kind of news, but this went under the radar.  Other big tech company executives  such as Marissa Meyer, Julie Larson-Green, Sheryl Sandberg etc get a lot of press, why hasn't Boeing advertised this more? 

Software for Science

posted Oct 10, 2012, 11:12 AM by Nicole Nichols

I think it's true that many scientists and engineers are expected to write code for a significant portion of their jobs but rarely given training on how to do that efficiently.  Recently a colleague passed me a paper entitled "Best Practices for Scientific Computing", which is a great introduction with practical suggestions and links to further reading. Even if you "know how to code" there are some useful tips.  I've decided to create a new section in my links resources for just this subject since it seems to be a common challenge in research. 

Thesis Proposal Defense and ICASSP2012

posted May 18, 2012, 2:23 PM by Nicole Nichols   [ updated May 18, 2012, 3:52 PM ]

I was fortunate to be able to attend the ICASSP 2012 Kyoto Conference.  I always enjoy the spark of ideas which comes from meeting so many different researchers and learning about new research findings.  It was my first time to Kyoto, and I really enjoyed the city.  The transit was easy to navigate once you figured out the procedures for getting tickets and transfers. The conference was very well run, and I particularly enjoyed the poster sessions.  Immediately after returning from the conference it was time to prepare for my thesis proposal defense.  Every department and university seems to call it something different, prelims, quals, thesis proposals, etc.  Technically the EE department here at UW calls it the general exam.  In practice it is the formal review of your proposed thesis topic by your thesis committee members.  A written document is circulated to the committee members in advance of an aural presentation.   At the conclusion of the presentation, there are open and closed question sessions after which the committee makes their verdict and recommendations.  I'm pleased to say it all went very well, and I'm excited to be moving forward with the research. 

LaTex and writing references

posted Jan 6, 2012, 4:00 PM by Nicole Nichols

The typesetting program LaTex has a bad reputation for being complex and people are put off from adopting it because of the steep learning curve. It's arguable that taming a traditional word processing software to comply with complex formating requirements of a journal publication or thesis is also  quite complex. 

If you are looking to make the switch, I recommend watching Dr Robert Talbert's Introduction to LaTex video series.  There are a wide variety of LaTex editors available to make the task easier, popular ones include, TeXnicCenter, Kile, Latexian, and TexShop to name a few.  If you are a Google Docs addict, ScribTex is your LaTex answer, or at least until Google maybe-hopefully-one-day-wouldn't-it-be-lovely provides its own on line LaTex solutions. Having a command cheat sheet at hand helps too!

Lastly, if you are in need of scientific and technical writing guidance, this collaborative website has excellent resources for both students and instructors.  Happy Writing!

Welcome 2012

posted Jan 5, 2012, 12:16 PM by Nicole Nichols

With 2012 upon us, new opportunities are in the air.  I am grateful to be returning to RA status and devoting my full time to completing my PhD research.  Though I am no longer support staff for the UW Tegrity initiative, I continue to maintain my interest in the evolving technology of teaching and learning.  On this subject I was very excited to hear about MIT's latest innitiative to facilitate access to education through creation of it's MITx free online degree program.  I look forward to seeing the test implementation released this spring!  On a related note, I also heard a very interesting comentary on some new initiatives to break away from traditional college-lecture based teaching models.  I have a sneaking suspiction that in just 10 years college will be nothing like the education system I traversed. 

Reference Managers

posted Oct 26, 2011, 11:13 AM by Nicole Nichols

On the cusp of writing my thesis proposal and ultimately my thesis, this seems the best time to head off the nightmare of lastminute reference managment.  Many of my peers and I have been testing and comparing the two popular choices, Zotero and Mendeley.  The two programs have very similar features, both automatically sync references across multiple computers and any cloud based storage service of choice. Both can save highlighting, and notes associated with a reference, and output a variety of citation styles.  They additionally include a built in tool for  inserting citations in Word and OpenOffice documents.  Oh, and of course, both are free, which is always a plus for students.

Through our discussion and comparison of experiences I have decided that for now I will use Mendeley and here's why. Zotero was initialy built for Firefox.  They have recently released a standalone version as well as plugins for Chrome, Safari and IE.  I found the interface within Chrome and IE to be significantly different and harder to navigate menu options than in Firefox.  However, even when comparing Zotero's Firefox interface with Mendeley, it was not as efficient.  For  99% of my references  I want to save a PDF file of a journal article, and the associated reference for the article.  When taking this action from Sciencedirect, or some other publishing website, Zotero would frequently interpret this as a website citation and save it as such, without saving the PDF.   I also found that Zotero would not always correctly read the indexing or meta tags of an article, and the interface to manually input that data, used to create the citation, was clunky.  

Another major decision factor was the ability to read from an e-reader. I have recently become very fond to the ability to read on the go, and not be limited by the physical space of packing books and stacks of artcles.  Zotero can syc with a cloud server to read PDF's, and Mendeley has a native app for both searching for new articles and reading articles currently in your library.  I intially tried Zotero because of the flood of websites suggesting the Mendeley app was totaly worthless, and was only capable of crashing.  After talking with my peers about their experiences and my own disatisfaction with other aspects of Zotero, I decided to try Mendeley, and it's native app.  My initial impression was that the Mendeley interface was more intuitive and professionally built.  I have also tried the app, and though it has crashed once, it seems to be quite functional overall, and likely improve with further development.  For now I will continue to work with Mendeley, and is likely what I woud recommend to others, but neither program is perfect and with a little effort either can tame your reference management challenges.   

Summer Fades to Fall

posted Oct 7, 2011, 4:52 PM by Nicole Nichols   [ updated Dec 5, 2011, 9:17 PM ]

This summer was filled with diversions, academic and otherwise.  I participated in the NREIP internship program, and enjoyed the opportunity to explore other research perspectives for the summer.  Instead of individual recognition, the focus of my PhD thesis, we were investigating species classification, a related but slightly different task.  The end of summer was highlighted by the wonderful wedding celebration with friends, family and my now husband. 

Thought the vibrant events of summer are still awash in my mind, the future is ahead! I have just begun  my new position working for UW-IT  supporting and evaluating Tegrity lecture capture on campus.  In my own education I have enjoyed watching the video lectures of other universities such as those available at the MIT Open CoursewareUC Berkeley Webcast, and Stanford University.  I frequently used these as a source of review while studying for my qualifying exam this past spring and continue to review a lecture now and again to learn something new. 

The drizzle Seattle is best known for is in fine form and it returns one's mind to the  cozy thoughts of mulled cider, pumpkin pie and the research work ahead.  For me, this principally means  preparing my general exam/thesis proposal. Tally Ho! 

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