from the other side of things...
Post created: 2022-08-31
Earlier this semester, I joked that I was now truly a phd student TA (i.e., decorative, good for conceptual questions at best) because I kept forgetting about and showing up late to TA meetings.
Well, it is 6am and I have just spent a couple of hours reviewing a PR for BusTub.
I am also still answering Piazza, for whatever reason.
I guess some old habits take a while to disappear.
I am optimistic about BusTub's direction, both the current C++ version and the potential future rewrite.
We've come a long way from a tarfile with extremely grungy code.
Someone insisted on roping me into a conversation about TA pay earlier.
I did not particularly enjoy having the same tired conversation again.
Of course TAs are underpaid, I think nobody will disagree with that.
But where exactly is this money for increasing TA pay going to come from?
I think a lot about chesterton's fence when this topic comes up.
That said, it is almost never malicious -- most people just lack life experience, and ideally, we'd live in a world where it is ok to be naive.
That said, the truth IMO is that some TAs are very much more critical to a course than others.
I've seen this dynamic play out so many times in both my old courses and in other people's courses.
There are different ways of being critical -- there are people who do lots of office hours, there are people who make lasting contributions to course infrastructure, there are people who live on Piazza, and there are people whose enthusiasm in teaching significantly improves the student experience.
Well, by my own honest estimation, if I'm not going to do anything useful then I'm certainly not critical to 445 this semester.
But there also seem to be increasingly many people who TA to obtain some warped sense of social status, instead of, you know, to teach.
Of course, you can't really say that because people will get offended -- and chances are the worse the offender, the greater the offense.
So, instead, here I am talking to myself.
And the only reason I'm somewhat comfortable publicly criticizing useless TAs is because I've mostly become one (or plan to), at least by my old standards.
The complete lack of incentives for a phd student to be a good TA is tragic.
For example, today I put in 3 hours where I could have put in 0.
In exchange: I don't get paid, my advisor doesn't get paid, the students are unlikely to know or care.
Given that I have a paper deadline this week, am I not just feeding my old sense of pride in trying to do a good job of TAing?
This dynamic plays out throughout the various rungs of academia.
The professors don't get anything for teaching well either, which factors into why I respect those that try to teach well anyway.
A travesty of a system. If incentives were set better, you could easily 10x the quality of most of our undergrad curriculum.
The fact that our curriculum is actually pretty good anyway speaks to endemic rot all around.
I have a draft post that's been sitting unfinished for the past year -- in search of utopia.
I'm not really ready to finish it yet. It may sit until I'm done with my phd, one way or another.
It's about why I wanted to see the US personally; roughly speaking, in high school I was enamored by the idea of a country that seemed so accepting and advanced.
Well, many things happened during and after 2016 that provided a solid reality check.
Practically speaking, I agree with Perelman's characterization of people -- more or less honest, but they tolerate those who are not honest.
In addition to that, most people and organizations are somewhat self-serving.
I wonder if they've gotten rid of that clause in (redacted) that was supposed to prevent similar "ah but as (redacted coveted event) organizers we'll reserve slots for ourselves" shenanigans. I remember the room looking awkward when I brought it up. Anyways.
It was always too unrealistic to expect that my utopia already existed, though if it does somewhere, I'd still love to visit and could easily be charmed away.
But given the above and some other factors, I am increasingly warming to the idea of trying to do something bigger and long-term in SEA.
Thinking about our local universities at home, it is not too different from the old days of relying on a patron of the sciences, and I think you could still get away with being a good educator there.
If you want something done right, do it yourself, yes?
Well, in the meantime -- nap, then back to the paper.
I'm a little excited about where this could end up going.
Though seriously, who decided to count references towards the page limit?
Forget calculus, maybe what we all need is a course on mechanism design.