Month: January 2016

Meeting the hosts

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It was my first time to be in the set of the Pinoy Scientist program (Sundays 5-6pm, Radyo Agila DZEC 1062) last week, which was when I finally met Dr. Custer Deocaris, the main host, famous in the Philippine scientific community for being actively involved in numerous projects and having a really high H-index. From what I have observed and heard, he is usually overflowing with ideas and has enough drive to make them happen (he is dubbed by my mentor as the “ultimate nerd” :D). I recognized in him the same symptoms of mania that I manifest, but his are well-managed and contagious and that amazes me. I shall strive to be as enthusiastic about my life projects as well. 🙂

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Dr. Custer, Dr. Guido, and Dr. Heidi (the guest speaker on my first day)

Today I met Dr. JD Agapito, a biologist who happens to be the spouse of one of my favorite professors in my institute. Her special Tulaan Segment, wherein she gives a teaser of the two topics and what relates them and introduces the guest speakers in poetic form given life by her sweet lyrical voice, is one of the things that make their show unique. She often recounts how she feels rushed with her poetry writing, and it’s amazing how she can put together something good despite that (even her facebook posts rhyme!). Unlike the other hosts (and very much like me), she prefers to follow a structured flow during interviews and in project implementation, which is a cause of stress for her sometimes. She made quite an impression to me by being an avid birthday collector, even giving me a “birthday cake” as a token of our acquaintance.
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EDIT: One of Dr. JD’s poems

What I like about their program, and what inspired me to volunteer for them in the first place, is their mission to promote the importance of science and technology and relevant issues among the youth and non-sciencey folk. Aside from my frustrations brought about by not getting to pursue a more scientific degree, the main career path that I plan to take terribly lacks a public service component, so I want to subvert that fact. I appreciate that this program provides avenues to take further the interests of the guest speakers by helping them collaborate with a large scientific network. I personally benefit from this commitment by annihilating the usual dysfunctionality out of my sundays and getting to spend some quality time with Dr. Guido (the other host, my mentor and crazy teacher in dark glasses). I’m currently on hotline and moral-support duty since there’s nothing much for me to do yet, but once they implement their upcoming projects maybe I’ll be able to contribute more to their cause. Definitely something to look forward to. 😀

 

Learning how to learn

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One of the online courses I took recently was about learning how to learn, hosted by Dr. Barbara Oakley. Theoretically, if a person knows how they learn best, they will be able to maximize their learning. I was right to finish this course first before the tougher ones! My only regret is that I hadn’t come across it before high school, I would’ve done a lot better with my studies way into college. But I’m glad that I’ll be able to apply what I learned into my preparations for my SOA exams in the future.

Here are my main takeaways:
  • There are 2 modes of thinking. The focused mode is responsible for concentrated (as the name suggests) and sequential approach to thinking, while the diffuse mode is for holistic and creative thinking. When a person is focusing on something, the focused mode is activated. And during relaxation when one’s thoughts drift and the mind wander, the diffuse mode is at play. From my understanding of the Myers-Briggs type theory, people are predisposed to have one of these modes as their default approach to thinking and problem solving (Judging = focused, Perceiving = diffuse). To learn something effectively, the mind must switch back and forth between the two modes of thinking.
  • The working memory is limited, and it can only hold 3-4 items at a time. Chunking is tying up multiple ideas/information using a common use or meaning into a compact “chunk” that can be recalled more easily. A chunk is formed little by little, and can get bigger with practice (as the neural connections get stronger). To form a chunk, one must focus intensely on the information, understand the basic idea and gain context, then repeatedly practice using it. One can also compare chunks across different topics to find a common ground and use it to build analogies and metaphors.
  • To master a material, one must make it persist in memory. Testing and retrieval practice produces deeper learning. Re-reading from a material should be utilized during practice, not during the information absorption stage itself, as it might lead to an illusion of competence (thinking that one has a solid grasp of the material/solution just by looking at it).
  • Sleep and exercise is important. It is in sleep that the brain flushes out toxins, information are consolidated into the long term memory, and when ideas are rehearsed/played around with subconsciously to better prepare a person to respond to it in the conscious state. Exercise improves blood circulation of the body (and consequently, to the brain), promotes neurogenesis (birth of new neurons), and allows the diffuse mode to take over (which makes it a good brainstorming activity).
  • Einstellung (mindset in german) is the concept in which a perceived mastery over something becomes a roadblock to the formation of better ideas. One must avoid a confirmation bias and always be open to new ideas (under scrutiny, of course).
  • To learn better, it is recommended to practice interleaving (mixing up different ways of learning) to build flexibility and creativity. My mentor is a fan of this and makes it a point to apply it to the courses he teaches for the benefit of his students.
  • No matter how introverted you are (I’m talking to myself, haha), you’ll learn better with a study group. You’ll benefit from sharing academic resources with others, and more importantly, you have people to brainstorm with to overcome blindspots in your thinking. From experience, simply having a study buddy (hi Ron!) gave me the motivation to stick to a study plan and work on problem sets regularly.

 

Working smarter

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On an ordinary day when I have to go through a personal to-do list, I tend to do the mindless work first in the belief that productivity with small things will snowball into productivity with bigger things. Taking a course on working smart presented me with the idea that this isn’t the optimal way to act. These mindless tasks are referred to as “unproductive work”. It seemed counterintuitive at first because how can work be unproductive? But it merely suggests a shift to a more efficient working system. Unproductive work is a category of tasks which aren’t essential or related to your main goals. I realized that I should tackle on the biggest and most important/urgent tasks first while these resources are at their maximum. Once they’re at their lowest and I would need to mentally slow down, that’s a better time to do the mindless tasks. By adopting a perspective that emphasizes priority, I have become more meticulous with how I manage my time, focus, willpower, and energy (especially mental energy. with the growing list of challenging items on my checklist, it’s the most precious attribute to me right now). The other main takeaway from this course is the importance of self-imposed discipline. This should be obvious: without it, it’s hard to see plans through to the end and the inner resources are wasted instead of invested into things that serve a greater purpose.

Let’s work more efficiently towards our goals this year! 🙂