Grasshopper's Guide

C. Pozrikidis


Forthcoming in 2019

A wise mind jumps quietly and deliberately from thought to thought, like a grasshopper

Table of Contents (preliminary)

The author collected in this little book grammatical and stylistic advice, established and subjective writing procedures and rules, and miscellaneous commentary, observations, thoughts, and truths. The intended audience includes students, professors, researchers, and anyone interested in the modern world of research and academe or else seeking behavioral guidelines.

Random excerpts

Remain humble and meek

While attending a national meeting, a prominent professor who was an elected member of multiple national academies was asked why he chose to stay at a cheap motel that also served as a homeless center. He reluctantly explained that staying at an expensive hotel in spite of the surrounding poverty at the taxpayer expense did not seem right. Note that the professor did not criticize others who stayed at the sparkling hotel where the meeting was held.

Another prominent professor retorted that he would have paid from his own pocket instead of his grant to stay at a sparkling hotel (doubtful), and stated that spending the night at a second-rate hotel was beneath his standards (the professor was a legend in his mind.)

If he stayed at the cheap hotel, perhaps the professor would have noticed that the part-time receptionist is a brilliant graduate student working on an improved ``pancake sorting'' algorithm studied by Bill Gates and Christos Papadimitriou, and would have learned something new that day (he has not learnt anything in years.)

Realize that your importance does not depend on how you perceive yourself, but on how you are perceived by others.

Do not engage in trivial debates (great taste v. less filling)

Do not let others drag you through the mud and into a snake pit. Evaluate the level of the debate and decide if you should literally or figuratively stay or walk away.

How to prove a theorem

A professor worked for two straight weeks to prove an important theorem in relativistics. He skipped meals and showers and slept only for a couple of hours each night. On his way home from the office late on a Saturday, the professor stopped by a grocery store to pick up some yogurt and bread for dinner in his sparsely furnished apartment. The professor noticed with curiosity that most customers in the grocery store were smiling at him sympathetically as he was pushing his shopping cart through the aisles.

As the professor was checking out at the cashier, the store manager approached him and offered him the yogurt and bread for free, a place for him to sleep at the back of the store at night, and a job unloading the lettuce delivery truck in the morning. The professor thanked her for her kindness and politely declined.

The theorem was proven in a scientific epiphany at 2:00 am the very same night.

Most people and institutions are apprehensive of new ideas

Because they know that most new ideas are good and true.

The bearers of new ideas are first regarded as cranks, which is typically not enough to discredit them. At the second stage, the bearers are marginalized and deprived of essential resources. None of this works, and the bearers are finally treated as visionaries, innovators, or saints. An array of sycophants show up to sign up.

You don't have to be a professor to be an expert

An enlisted officer spent years at a time in foreign lands. He made a point of learning the recent and old history and cultural heritage of each land. By the time he retired, he had acquired an impressive body of knowledge in world history, comparable to that of a bona fide professor. The officer was probably the only person in the country with such vast expertise to be loading as a part-timer concrete bags at Home Depot.

You can follow this intellectual paradigm by studying the history of your community or state. A mind occupied with good things is a healthy mind.

Other interesting and curious people have mastered automobile history, conceptual physics, classic car restoration, linguistics, cognitive and popular psychology, construction technology, nutrition, gardening, computers, and other random subjects. Many computer administrators have developed their expertise as a hobby while pursuing college degrees in such irrelevant subjects as cruise boat hospitality and pest control administration.

Use your free time to become an expert on a subject that interests you. Consider self-publishing an indie book.

Forgiveness is overrated

Contrary to conventional wisdom and religious or spiritual directives, forgiveness is neither desirable nor mandatory. Do not empower further those who have hurt you or loved ones by struggling to forgive. Classify the offenders as inferior states of the human condition, avoid running into them or hearing about them, and move on or move away.

Glue your souls

The sole detached from one of my shoes, and I glued it back

The other sole also detached, and I will glue it back

Why waste a perfectly good pair of shoes just because two souls detached?

Avoid hyperbole

The frequent statement ``Professor A. V. Erage is beyond excellent'' is meaningless. The state of excellence is an upper bound not to be exceeded by any human being under any conditions, except under the auspices of the paranormal. Hyperbole negates, diminishes, and cheapens the quality of the person of object that is meant to extoll.

Hyperbole can be positive or negative; the latter can be unusually cruel. An example of a cruel hyperbole is: ``Dr. U. N. C. Orrupted has the credentials to be a post-doc, but is certainly not qualified to be a tenured Associate Professor.''

Some colleges require that student evaluations of each faculty member are above average (true.) Any reasonable person will agree that this is possible only at Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon Community College (LWCC).

Uploaders and downloaders

The world of scientific computing is divided into uploaders and downlowders; the rest of the world is divided into givers and takers. Consider becoming a giver and an uploader.

Respect the adjuncts

A poorly paid adjunct professor accepted a job on a campus with shortage of affordable housing. Landlords require an outrageous non-refundable application fee in addition to ``first, last, and security deposit'' (disgusting), which amounts to several thousand dollars for a roach-infested apartment. Unfortunately, since most landlords also double as faculty members, the university has no interest in enforcing fair housing practices.

The adjunct professor ended up renting a room at the basement of her Department Head who still required a letter of employment from his own department to satisfy insurance requirements, in addition to first, last, and security deposit. The Department Head saw no conflict of interest in this practice and continued renting his basement to adjunct professors, graduate students, and large groups of undergraduate students who were taking his class.

The word ``suggest'' is too soft

Soft words that leave room for ambiguity and doubt are not acceptable in the hard sciences, especially in engineering, physics, and mathematics.

Soft words are used extensively in soft and qualitative sciences where arguments and suggestions instead of assertions and proofs are typically made.

Avoid soft and suggestive words and use strong words, such as ``show, demand, follow, demonstrate, chose, prove, lead to.'' Instead of saying ``the veracity of Theorem A implies the validity of Equation B,'' write ``Equation B follows from Theorem A.''

Never use canned code, including molecular dynamics code

Do not publish research papers with results obtained using computer codes that you have purchased or downloaded from the Internet without having studied, understood, and verified the source code. Language compilers and computational environments, such as octave, are exempt from this golden rule. Scientific code is neither a spreadsheet nor an ``app'' that should be downloaded and run on a smart phone. No professor or researcher has ever built a good reputation by running canned codes. Write your own code.

Do not worry about your legacy

The world does not need to remember you after you have expired. Only those who have fundamentally improved the course of our civilization and contributed to the understanding of our essence or Universe will be remembered in the far future; examples are Aristotle, Newton, and Einstein. Those who have changed the course of our civilization for the worst will be ultimately forgotten or ignored.

Adjust your prism

You cannot change the way most things are, but you can change the way you view the world and your own presence on the planet.

If one day you decide to regard your undergraduate advisees as your spiritual children, it will bother you much less that you spend a few days each year offering them academic and professional advice (time taken away from writing three-page papers to pad your resume or presenting your precious research at marginal conferences.)

Do not reject or ridicule what you don't understand

Few people have a clue on how their car engine or smart phone works, yet most people feel qualified to recite arguments on the existence of God. Does a limited amount of rational intelligence provide us with a license to debate every possible subject in a conference room at the top floor of the Babel Tower?

Wait for two weeks

In making a conscious effort to improve your writing, character, behavior, relationships with others, health or anything else, make a plan and stay with the plan for a period of two weeks.

Like a course of antibiotics, two weeks appears to be a necessary length of time before substantial progress can be observed or achieved. Do not monitor your progress in the meanwhile, but take inventory at the end of the two-week period and repeat, if necessary.

Roughly two years are necessary for adjustment or habituation to a profound or life-altering change. Learn how to ignore and ridicule the pain.

Habituation is a natural biological and psychological process expedited and facilinated by the tincture of time.

Do not set out for the land of no-return

A professor who decides to pursue the administrative path typically envisions life as an administrator as getting up in the morning, wearing nice clothes, and attending a chain of pleasant meetings interrupted by nice lunches and dinners where he/she will be heard. Most important, the professor envisions plenty of opportunity to wield power and make decisions that affect the life and welfare of others.

The professor does not realize that his/her decision will take him/her and his/her loved ones for a long ride on a broken bus, increasingly bitter and unmistakably frustrated in pursuit of further authority in a higher, better-paid, and more powerful position. His/her academic skills will fade away within a few months. In a crisis, the professor-turned-administrator will respond in a cowardly way, shielded by a team of counselors who specialize in gaming a broken system.

Interdisciplinary endeavors can be ridiculous

Do not combine diverse expertise into ridiculous projects for the purpose of keeping busy, scamming funding agencies, getting by, or getting rich. You may know how to prepare sushi and you may have learned how to milk a cow. Do not propose preparing sushi while milking a cow.

Look for good ideas

In developing your work or research projects, or evaluating someone else's work or research projects, look for good ideas. Mundane and busy work that lacks novelty may serve a purpose but will not cross the significance or publication threshold.

As a graduate student, look for an adviser with a good and consistent record of good and novel ideas. Do not sign up to work with a hands-off adviser who spends most of his/her time traveling to conferences or for the purpose consulting and googling reasearch projects. Learn how to recognize and dismiss derivative ideas.

Do not agree to become a coauthor in a paper with more than two other authors

Your publications should be single-, double, or triple-authored at most. Reluctantly agree to be a coauthor in a paper with more than two other authors.

Consider with suspicion and dismiss any paper in someone's resume with more than three authors. Count as negative (anti-paper) any paper with more than four authors.

Exceptions are granted to undergraduate students working in a lab, or in rare cases where a project requires a multitude of expertise that cannot be easily acquired. Examples are sophisticated experiments in particle physics.

If you publish papers routinely with more than three authors, ask yourself whether you have become a research manager, a paper-generating machine, or a coercive coauthor.

If a good manuscript is rejected, do not get discouraged

Just get the manuscript out there through some reasonable and reputable venue. Give up only if a manuscript has been rejected more than five thousand times, and then think of going indie.

There is absolutely no stigma associated with vanity press and indie. Do not worry about what sanctimonious people will say. Consider paying a hundred dollars or so to have your paper published and available on the Web.

Irrational and thoughtless rejections by journal editors can dispirit bright graduate students at a vulnerable stage of their career. Most reviewers and editors are not fully aware of the collateral damage they inflict on innocent bystandards. The science community establishment needs to understand that being a journal editor is not a resume or self-assertion item, but a service to the profession comparable to priesthood.

Some editorial boards and proposal review panels can be traced to academic family trees planted by influential professors. They will say that, because they are the best, their students and grand-students are the best of the best (ridiculous.)

Remember and use the word ``consistent''

The word ``consistent'' can be used to convey agreement, disagreement, or conflict without prejudice. For example, you may say that ``the findings of a computational experiment are not consistent with Furcolo's lemma.'' Either the experiments, or Furcolo's lemma, or both could be wrong.

A defense lawyer may ask a forensic expert during a trial: ``Are the teeth marks at the butter stick consistent when the jaw size of the grizzly bear who has confessed to eating the broccoli?'' The bear will roll her eyes and ask for continuance due to boredom-induced hibernation.

Put no more than ten sentences in one paragraph

Long paragraphs are practically unreadable. Force yourself to make a complete and compelling argument in less than ten sentences, even when reviewing a lengthy bibliography. Few subjects is too complex to require more than ten sentences, with a few exceptions; one exception is Einstein's general theory of relativity.

Always keep in mind that you write to be read by others. The maximum number of sentences encapsulated in a paragraph is dictated by your audience, not by you.

If a cogent argument cannot be made in a few sentences, the entire presentation must be revised or rethought. Only two sentences per paragraph are allowed in non-investigative journalism.

Pause and apply the ``removal test'' to each sentence, passage, or paragraph: if the material is removed, does everything else make sense? Strip down everything to its eseential elements.

Avoid idle and pretentious words

Pretentious words include ``wherein, thereof, leverage, transpires, indeed'', and others. Would you ask your grandfather to leverage his furniture making ability? Avoid words that are not used in everyday conversation.

Do not write to impress. Impress with your good nature, intelligence, character, broad knowledge, and skills. Work every day to improve your good nature, intelligence, character, broad knowledge, and skills.

Build interest in the Introduction

Talented writers reveal only as much information as necessary at the moment, offering suggestive clues to build the audience's interest and antipication for what follows. Build your Introduction following this paradigm. Guide the reader through the mental steps you have followed to develop or carry out your theory, physical work, or communicated narrative. Describe successful and unsuccessful attempts.

Distill your decisions

Subject any pending decision to a chain of questioning in order to assess the balance of its overall merits: does the decision make anyone unhappy? does it infringe on animal welfare and rights? is it consistent with the good of the society at large? does it interfere with the good of the Universe? will it erode your morals or ethics and will it possibly degrade your character?

Take as much time as necessary to find the balance and do not rush into making a decision. Go ahead only after you feel comfortable that the answers provide you with a clear consensus.

Accept and embrace your scars

When wounds heal, the scars become part of your skin or psyche. Accept the scars and embrace them as reminders of a tough fight.

Do not be ashamed to pray

If you proclaim to be an atheist, ask others to pray for you.

Do not throw anyone under the bus

Wikipedia informs us that ``to throw (someone) under the bus is an idiomatic phrase meaning to sacrifice another person often a friend or ally, who is usually not deserving of such treatment, out of malice or for personal gain.''

Aggressive administrators, crooked professors, and miscellaneous unhinged professionals are notorious for throwing each other and innocent bystandards under the bus in their ascend to administrative, academic, or corporate nirvana and on their way to a high-pension retirement. Those who throw others under the bus have a special place in the Inferno.

The feeling of being thrown under the bus is one of the most painful and distressing feelings one can endure. The loss of trust and friendship inflicts deep wounds that are slow to heal. Anxiety and fear similar to those developing after a sudden traffic accidents (e.g., read-ending) commonly arise. The associated phobia makes a person be afraid that something bad will happen unexpectedly at any time.

If you got thrown under the bus, make a consistent effort to overcome the psychological consequences and not let it change your broader views and perspectives in life. Classify the thrower as an inferior state of the human condition. Consult with a friend or professional, if necessary.

Remember who hired you

Once hired, some professors tend to forget that they were hired by the existing faculty and treat them with indifference or disrespect. Some new faculty regard existing faculty as obstacles in their ascend to academic nirvana. Other young in age or mind faculty exhibit teenager-like know-it-all arrogant attitudes. Isaac Asimov wrote that people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.

Beat them in their own game

An academic department used a formula for faculty salaries that weighed heavily fellowship to professional societies and much less scholarly activity, such as publishing books and papers and posting interesting documents or essays on your web site.

The use of such salary formulae are commonplace in second- and third-tier institutions. First-tier institutions wouldn't care less about fellowships in professional societies and are interested exclusively in raw intellectual presence or achievement. When you walk down the hall of a first-rate academic department, you sense the IQs spilling out from ajar doors and underneath closed doors.

A professor compiled and studied the requirements for fellowship to professional societies pertinent to his field and identified the one with the minimum requirements. After a couple of phone calls, the professor was elected a Fellow of that society. His department had no choice but raise his salary. The professor explained his technique to others.

In beating a flawed system in their own game, make sure you don't compromise your own ethics.

The more things change, the more they stay the same

A new administrator is hired at a university at a high salary that is equivalent to a quarter of the budget of the Physical Plant Services (weeds start growing through cracks on sidewalks.) He or she announces a brilliant half-baked plan involving thrust areas, initiatives, and focal points that may be fifteen years too late (tedius materials science), defy some laws of physics (design a car that runs at 100 miles per gallon), or does not make sense (merge the entomology with the political science department.)

Pertinent faculty and center directors are hired, a melange of associate deans are appointed, faculty that do not fit in the plan are made to feel miserable so that can voluntarily leave or retire (they cannot be fired thanks to tenure), and a fortune is spent at taxpayers' expense. Perhaps a state or federal bond is issued to support the brilliant plan.

In five years or less, the administrator has moved to a higher position or, in some rare cases, downgraded to a plain professor to join their spouse who was hired gratuitously when the administrator joined the institution, and the plan has been hardly implemented. A new administrator with another brilliant half-baked plan is hired and the cycle repeats.

The University endures thanks to the hard work of mainstream faculty and staff who survive relentless streaks of emails (institutional spam.)

The staff are not your servants

Make your own coffee, schedule your own meetings, do not walk into their offices without knocking on the door, do not burden them by sharing your personal problems (they have theirs), invite them to your house parties along with faculty you want to impress. Do not regard your social interactions with them as proof that you are normal.

Errata and supplements