ideas, grants & communities

Today is the last day I'm with Will for a couple weeks. But we'll be together (in Vienna) all July, and most of August. We were going to be together all August too, but he got asked to help a friend teach a political science methodology course for the EU in Slovenia, so we'll be apart a few days. I need to be in Vienna then, but will join him on the weekend.

I've given my Modularity & Cultural Evolution talk four times now -- KLI, then Manchester (center for policy modelling), Nottingham & Birmingham (computer science departments.) I thought the first & third time went well, but the second & fourth time that there wasn't enough structure --- too many new ideas and not enough proof. However, I got good feedback from at least some of the audience all four times, so I can't tell for sure if it went differently or I just felt differently about it. I feel like there are a lot of good ideas in the talk, but that it is better to give a clear, simple talk where you have proven something you know was controversial and you can see you've communicated that clarity to the audience. This talk seemed to inspire a bunch of people, but ultimately it may have helped me more than my audience, since the process of trying to be clear about something makes you clear.

This is why I have been so angry about Bath never letting me teach any courses anywhere near my own subject matter. Even if you are teaching just introductory courses, talking to new, bright students makes you question your assumptions and clarify your reasoning. It's such a waste to apply that process mostly to subjects that I don't research, where clarity doesn't help me or anyone else beyond the students. Helping the students is important, but it would be better to help them and some research communities at the same time. Especially since "research communities" can extend into businesses and the general public.

I need to get to work -- I am meeting with a collaborator working on that grant proposal. It is the first time I've written even a proposal about modelling people rather than non-human primates. Also, it may have direct application into public policy. But it's a lot of work and we have already hit some weird road blocks. Still, this is about the time of my career (maybe a little early) that I'd hoped to get into thinking about people & public policy. I know it can be very important, but I also wish I had time to work on some of the modelling I've got ideas for now that I've given my talks.

I've spent a lot of time this week worrying about my two almost-done PhD students and my one possible-new one. My existing students have made me decide I have to give more direction to my PhD students -- though I already do give a lot more than I ever got. But the UK forces them through too quickly (three years of funding, four years max.) and I'm not sure how typical I was as a PhD student. Actually, I was very typical for Edinburgh, and a lot at MIT were similar, but some worked more like postdocs / assistants even at MIT.

I had a bunch of colleagues at Birmingham I knew and we went out after my talk, but it was clearly unusual for them to do this. Some of them I knew from Edinburgh, and we were reflecting that Edinburgh seemed to have the best attitude about research of anywhere I've been, which is I guess surprising. But people really cared about what they were doing and understood what each other were doing, and everyone expected to go out with a speaker afterwards and really get to talk about the material all evening. I wonder if Edinburgh is still like that? Manchester I had never visited before but knew two people already (one of whom we had dinner with) and I met Scott Moss for the first time, who is the head of their modelling group.