In my general research field, there are various methods for data acquisition and organization that can be accomplished with technology of various levels of complexity, time, and cost. For some methods, the technologically most advanced methods are definitely the best or only way to go, but there are at least some situations in which there is a choice between a lower-tech and a higher-tech method. This latter situation can set up a bit of a conflict between professors and students/postdocs.
- An MS student has repeatedly questioned why he/she has to use a low-tech method to acquire, somewhat tediously, some data that could be acquired more rapidly with a higher-tech method. I say 'more rapidly' because the actual acquisition time once the machine is on and ready for analysis can be fairly rapid, but this technique becomes much less rapid when the substantial (and tedious) preparation time is considered. In any case, with the low-tech method, you can get data any time you want, and the amount of data one gets is limited only by your time. This technique also has the pedagogical advantage of not being a 'black box' that magically gives you numbers. In the higher-tech method, in which this student is not trained and is unlikely to be trained on the timescale of the degree program, the student has to rely on other people to get the data and will get a much more limited dataset. And then there is the issue of $$. The low-tech method is essentially free; the high-tech method is not. The student is working on a project with limited funds available for research expenses. You do the math, either on an abacus or supercomputer. The plan I worked out is that the student will get some high-tech data (with assistance from other people) using the limited available funds, and will supplement these with however much low-tech data can be reasonably acquired. I think that is a good plan, but the student does not yet see the awesome professorial wisdom of my plan, despite my attempts at explanation. Perhaps the student has been reading too much mythology, in which people are assigned endless useless and tedious tasks as punishment for random things?
- There is another technique that my and other students have a tendency to use for a certain data organization method. This method involves complex and expensive software that doesn't talk to any other software and that occasionally is updated to new versions that don't work with older versions. In some cases, you lose the ability even to see your data ever again. I hate this software. What is more, even if you do everything right, this software does not produce a result that is immediately usable -- you end up copying parts of it to a cheaper and more accessible program anyway. I've had quite a number of conversations with colleagues in which we share stories of all the time and data our students have lost in this software black hole, and how difficult it is to convince them to use simpler but less cool software from the very beginning. My preference is that the data be stored in more than one place -- if some of it has to go into The Software From Hell, it should also be saved in some other, more accessible format as well. Some students react to this as if I'd asked them to enter their data in a ledger using a quill pen and ink made from lampblack.
With reference to mythology again, there are stories of humans being given eternal youth, a mixed blessing if the people around you age and die. Professors rather famously have the opposite situation: we get older and older and our students are always young. And as we get older, it becomes more likely that our youthful students will think we are asking them to use antiquated methods just because we used these methods when we were students.
10 months ago