Monday, April 25, 2011

Presenting Powerpoint

Presentation is everything in today's society.  So naturally, the education system tries to groom the presentation skills of young students from when they are 7 years old through college and beyond. Today, this morning actually, I gave two final project presentations for my graduate level courses (Particle Design and Computational Chemistry) and now that I am finished with the craziness of preparing for said presentations, I thought about how my presentation skills have changed over the years.  More specifically, I realized how different my presentation was from the undergraduates in each course and different from the grad students who are almost finished with their degrees.  So, I am going to attempt to outline the evolution of presentations, with great emphasis on Powerpoint, because only God knows how we would communicate anything without Microsoft's crown jewel application.

Stage One - Your first presentation.

Like taking your first steps or saying your first words, the first oral presentation you give in school is a huge deal.  It usually occurs somewhere in grades 1-3 depending what you consider a presentation.  The earliest "presentation" I remember was a diorama of a Walrus I made from modeling clay.  We had to present our diorama and to tell a little bit about the animal.  Very basic, but I remember my mom writing a few facts on a note-card for me so I wouldn't forget.  Basic but terrifying.  Overall, nothing too elaborate thus it needs no further explanation.

Stage Two - The First Powerpoint.
Not long after teachers get tired of trying to read kids handwriting for assignments they begin to have you type out some assignments in a Word document.  And like the curious kids we all are, we click on the magical orange icon next to word, Powerpoint.  The ability to choose colors, fonts, boxes, shapes, and possibly animations was mesmerizing.  So, every kid found their favorite animal, sport, or food and made a quick slide show.  The backgrounds were usually brightly colored gradients that outlined multiple, non-uniform boxes of crazy looking text.  And the clip-art, what would we do without the little stick figures and smiley faces Microsoft kindly gave everyone.  When I was first introduced to powerpoint, it changed my life and those few friends of mine who spent hours playing Duke Nukem and typing our Christmas lists out for our parents.  Additionally, there should probably be a standard slide for these presentations that reads; "Caution!  Slide Show contains bright colors and irregular shapes.  If you are prone to seizures or are pregnant, please do not watch this presentation!"

Stage Three - The Rules

Sometime in that weird pre-teen stage of school, everyone has at least one teacher who wants you to give a presentation over something quite trivial.  However, the teacher is a quirky control freak and gives you a two-page outline of what the presentation needs to have (usually the outline has a word count that is higher than what is expected for the presentation you have to give).  Here is an example list of rules or how I remember some of the rules.

-Specific Length of Slides (~2 slides longer than you have information for)
-Choice of three fonts (Times New Roman, Times New Roman, or Times New Roman)
-Font Color must be darker than background color
-Background color must be a neutral color (aka white)
-No more than 2 animations per slide
-No more than 2 sentences and 1 picture per slide (what were we suppose to put on the slide)
So it looked like this...

And you never know the ending to any report because of the limitations.  Imagine if Romeo and Juliet ended when they fall in boring?!?

Stage Four - Creative Liability

High school was a time to express yourself.  Thus the universal thing to do was go all out for every presentation.  Posters, visual aids, pictures to pass around, costumes, skits, and powerpoint slide shows with every animation known to man. They were like watching a go-kart race of words and pictures.  And the more advanced the presentation, the better the grade and popularity regardless of content...because if you were good at Powerpoint, you were cool (lol).

Stage Five- Utilizing the Themes (aka Laziness)

College.  The most vivid presentations in my mind are from college.  And they all look the same.  Dress shirt and tie and a themed powerpoint.  Yes, themed.  The lazy way to add a different font, color, and design to an entire presentation.  These were more about content and staying within the time limit for the presentation, which again is always 5-10 minutes less than what you need to adequately meet all the requirements for the project.  Also, themed slide shows allow for groups to make different parts of a presentation and bring them together in one seemless style.  For example...

Stage Six - Regression

Today I realized that grad school will begin my regression stage.  The regression stage is where your presentations become more and more minimalistic.  I believe that as the content becomes more complicated, the slides become more simple.  I have noticed that every grad student and post-doc student presentation looks like they forgot how to use powerpoint and just copied and pasted his presentation from the academic publication they just finished.  And I feel that stage coming because last night as we put the finishing touches on a group presentation, my few sldies were completely redesigned by the 3 undergrads in the project.  Not necessarily a bad thing, I just felt my time was best spent on anything else. Like, golf or watching "The League."

Stage Seven - The Never Ending Presentation

The seventh and finals stage is that of the tenure professor.  These presentations take the minimalistic approach from stage six and create monster slide shows.  Most lectures are 20-30 slides, but once you get past a time frame for teaching a certain subject, you can create slide shows of 50, 75, 100 slides.  The biggest slide show I have ever seen was in high school during an AP Biology field trip.  The speaker spoke about new medical advances in a slide show of over 300 slides.  Wow!  And as if we needed a constant reminder that we were an eternity from finishing the lecture, the slide numbers are placed in the right hand corner.

All and all, every academic will go through these stages in one form or another.  So don't resist and just try to remember what it was like to sit in the audience for all the other boring presentations while you finish your presentations.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Something's Missing

The rain is slowly coming down outside the McDonald's I am sitting in near campus.  As I look out I can't help but feel humbled on the last year of school.  I vividly remember feeling like I was on top of the world about a year ago and even though I have seemingly gone onto bigger and better things, I feel much less significant at times.  I didn't realize how hard it would be going from "the" go-to guy for so many things to someone who's biggest concern is the quiz on Monday in my chemistry class.  My phone use to explode every night, but now it sits on the charger every evening as I read about crystallization and watch basketball.  And the ironic thing is this is what I always wanted.  I always told myself that if I had no other obligations that I could get straight A+'s and be the best friend I could be to everyone. And I justified that part of the sacrifice of being a well-rounded person is being just an A/B student who has to say no to people because of obligations.  In high school I tried to do it all; baseball, intramural sports, marching band, jazz band, any kind of band, academic super bowl, Latin club, AP classes, and have a social life and girlfriend.  It worked and I loved it, but I felt as though I was missing out on somethings because I was so busy.  I am not sure what but something was missing.

In college I gave up band in order to celebrate football games and basketball games as a student.  I still was in a few clubs and eventually became an RA/SR.  That again took up a lot of time and I still kind of wished I had more time to spend with friends and do "college" things while I could.  But now, as a grad student I am expected to devote all my time to school, and I have.  That's what I wanted.  I love to learn and I have found such a cool niche in the world to study.  I really haven't done much other than school this year and I have tried to devote time to friends that I may or may not ever get to spend time with again.  All this as been a humbling experience.  Being busy and needed is hard-wired into the person I am.  And still I feel like something is missing.

Don't get me wrong, things are looking up and I have a lot going for me in my life.  I am a college graduate who has a Fellowship for grad school.  My resume is well-rounded and I feel like I could do anything in this life.  Some days I walk home and think to myself, "I am bound for greatness."  And I believe everyone needs to be a little arrogant at times.  If you don't feel highly about yourself, how is anybody else going to?

I know everybody listens to music and that can be inspirational or just a good way to help express your feelings when you can't find the words.  So the best I can describe how I feel is like the song Something's Missing.  The song, by John Mayer, basically goes through depicting how he has everything he thinks he needs in life but still something is missing.  That's how I feel.  And it is motivational.  If you think you have everything you need in life, what is left to live for?  I have always had that "Somethings Missing" feeling but I was able to suppress it because of all the things I did.  I even thought not being as busy was my missing something.  Now that I have experienced both sides of the spectrum, I have had to face my missing gap head on.  At first it is unnerving and disheartening.  But I have begun to relish the idea and the best thing I do, and I believe everyone should do, is to keep dreaming of something bigger and better to fill your missing gap.  That gap will never fill as long as you keep dreaming bigger.

So take five minutes today and dream big.  I mean really big. I will leave you with an example of mine...

One of my biggest and wildest dreams would be to become one of the first people on Mars, and colonize it.  I would love to be a scientist who lives out the rest of his days on the martian surface.  It is very unlikely that it will ever happen to me, for lots of reasons, but if I am ever even remotely given the opportunity I will be ready to jump all in!  So dream big and relish your missing something!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Final Exam Theorem (or Postulate)

Wow!  It has been a while since I have written anything new.  I debated shutting down the blog but I really like writing on here.  I wish I could say I was extremely busy, but it actuality that's not the whole story.  Between this semester being nothing more than taking classes and reading literature, and a personal life which has been anything but smooth, finding the time and desire to write interesting stuff has been tough as of late.  However, I have been getting my ducks in a row and I really want to keep this thing going.  (Also, a couple friends of mine have rejuvenated their blogs and I felt inclined to follow suit.  Check them out; Mildly Competent and The Pit.)

Here at Purdue, finals are almost upon us again.  The air is warm, the trees are in bloom, I want to play golf instead of spending hours studying.  This leads me to my first theorem of my graduate career.  I present to you the "Final Exam Grade Theorem."  Now before I get to the carefully derived equation let me explain to you the inspiration behind it.  I felt that the amount of time spent studying can be correlated to your exam score but that as the more you study the less of an increase in you score (not a decrease in your score but a decrease in the amount you can improve your score).  With that in mind here is the equation...

Where EG=Final Exam Grade (out of 100), GPA=Your Cumulative GPA (or what kind of student are you; A student=4.0, B student=3.0, etc), A=attendance rate where 1 is attend all classes and 0 is attend no classes, and t=time spent studying for the final in hours.  Below is a graph of various degrees of GPA and Attendance rates.  It is quite interesting considering a 4.0 student who attends every class needs to study for about 4-5 hours to get a perfect score, compared to the 3.0 student who went to class with him/her who needs to study for 17-18 hours, and their poor 2.0 friend who went to every class with them but still needs to study for 37 hours.  

Now for my assumptions.  I am assuming that a 4.0 student who attends every class can get an 80 percent on the final if they study 0 hours.  And I honestly believe that if you go to every class and pay attention, do the homework and assignments, you can study nothing at all and get at least a C on the final (a genius 4.0 student should be able to do better than that, so I set that at 80).  Next, the attendance rate.  I used the 1/e^(1-A) because it if you attend every class (A=1.0) then it is directly related to how well you have done in school before (GPA).  But as you stop going to class it decreases in an exponential fashion.  At A=0 however, I did not want it to completely eliminate the GPA term, thus the e term to only fractionly decrease your base score. 

Lastly, the time spent studying term. I used my own experiences, GPA, and attendance rates to come up with the constant of 98.7.  And the square root comes from the idea that the more you study, the less of a change in your grade it will make. Overall, I have realized through explaining my theorem, that it is anything but a theorem and more of a postulate at this point.  Meaning it needs to be proven.  I would love to collect data from people and try and formulate a better equation that includes difficulty of the class, pre-requisites taken, and year in school (freshman, soph, etc).

Since I have either throughly confused you, annoyed you, or intrigued you, I ask for you to stew it over and plug in your own numbers to see where you stand.  If it is reasonable, great.  If not, sorry about luck. After I formulated the equation I tried it on my sophomore Physics class as it was my first all-nighter for an exam.  I had a GPA of 3.7 at the time, I went to almost all the classes (A=0.9).  With that, I remember having a 12 hour turn around between finals before my physics final.  I stayed up all night and got a 95% on the exam (I needed that score to get an A in the class, hence the motivation).  If you plug in the numbers to the EG equation it gives about 8 hours of studying to reach the grade of 95%.  If you assume that I ate two meals, and took breaks with my all-nighter that's about 8-9 hours.  Not too bad!