jump to navigation

May 3, 2014

Posted by mervatabuelkheir in Uncategorized.
add a comment

امبارح كان آخر يوم محاضرات في السنة الأكاديمية دي، وده في حد ذاته شيء مبهج، لإن معناه إني مش هانكفي على مراجع علشان أحضر واعمل presentations لمدة تقرب من التلات شهور. بس زي ما عملت نهاية السنة اللي فاتت، أحب أعمل للسنة دي كشف حساب باللي اتعلمته واللي ممكن أكون غلطت فيه أو قصرت علشان أحاول أصلح واطور السنة الجاية. الحقيقة إن اللي بيميز السنة دي تلات حاجات (علشان هما كانوا تلات كورسات): إن دي كانت أول سنة أشتغل فيها مع أعداد كبيرة (~700 طالب في سنة تانية)، وكانت أول سنة أشتغل فيها تمهيدي ماجستير (يعني ناس ناوية تكمل دراسات عليا)، وتاني سنة أشتغل فيها مع دفعة شايلين مني علشان قرصت عليهم السنة اللي فاتت في كورس

كل حاجة من دول كان فيها مساويء وفوايد. تدريس الأعداد الكبيرة ده مأساة بالطبيعة، لإن نص المحاضرة بيضيع في البحلقة في الكتل اللي بتتكلم وتشوش على المحاضرة لحد ما يتكسفوا ويسكتوا. طبعا أنا معنديش احترام للي بيدخل محاضرة وهو مش ناوي يسمع، لإنه هو نفسه مش بيحترم اللي واقف بيتكلم، ولإنه واخد حيز مكان ممكن اللي ناوي يسمع يستفيد بيه، بس قلتلهم من الأول انشغلوا زي مانتم عايزين بس من غير كلام؛ فيسبوك بقى جيمز قراية نوم (آه والله في ناس بترمي راسها على البنش وتنام عادي)، براحتكم، بس من غير كلام، ولو عايز تتكلم وخلاص الكلام لو ماطلعش هاتطق وتموت تقدر تتفضل تتكلم بعلو صوتك بره المدرج، ليه تدخل عندي وتيجي على نفسك ليه؟ الحكاية دي اتقالت مرتين أول الترم، وفضلت تتقال كل مرة. حقيقي مش فاهمة الحكمة، ومش مهم أفهم، هما في الآخر حرين يسمعوا أو مايسمعوش، لكن ليه يشوشوا على اللي عايزين يسمعوا ياربي؟ عندي تفسيرات بس مش لطيفة.

الأعداد الكبيرة بطبيعتها مش بتسمح للي بيدرس إنه يركز مع الطلاب بشكل فردي، وطبعا دي حاجة بتعرقل محاولات تكييف المحتوى مع القدرات أو معرفة أوجه القصور في القدرات علشان أتعامل معاها بشكل فعال، لكن برضه قدرت في وسط الزحمة دي أتابع وشوش بعينها فيها سمات اللي حابب يفهم وعايز يستوعب، ومش شرط بهدف النجاح والدرجات. دي الوشوش اللي حقيقي كانت بتصبرني على متاعب المحاضرات اللي تخص سنة تانية، واللي كنت أستنى منهم دايما تفاعل مع التساؤلات والملاحظات اللي باقولها في المحاضرات، واللي أتمنى أشوفهم تاني في ظروف منضبطة أكتر علشان أقدر أركز في إني أقدم لهم أي مساعدة تخليهم يفضلوا متحمسين للمعجزة اللي اسمها الفهم والتنوير.

كورس الاتصالات اللي درسته لسنة تانية ده كان محتواه بالنسبة لهم تقيل، ومع كل محاولات التبسيط والتدرج إلا إنه بيعتمد على مفاهيم في الرياضة هم إما خدوها ونسيوها أو للأسف مخدوهاش، وكل اللي قدرت أعمله في السياق ده إني أقدم لهم المفاهيم دي وأكررها كل ما سنحت الفرصة بدون ما أُخل بِالْكَمّ اللي كنت عايزة أشتغله (واللي برضه اختل في النهاية نتيجة القص المفاجيء لمدة التيرم). طبعا في طلاب وجهة نظرهم إن مش مهم الكم وإيه يعني لما ناخد كم قليل بس نفهمه كويس؟ الحقيقة إن دي مغالطة ناتجة عن إن الطالب متخيل إني لازم أفهمه كل حاجة واحدة واحدة وتاتة تاتة. وأحب أقول للي ده تفكيرهم إنه حضرتك طالب جامعة، كبير وعاقل وفاهم، مش تلميذ ابتدائي والله، وصدقني انت عندك القدرة انك تقرا لوحدك وتمسك ورقة وقلم وتفهم، وكمان عندك إنترنت مليان طلاب زيك بيتبادلوا معرفة ومشاورات في اللي بيقف معاهم، ومليان كورسات مجانية من جامعات كبيرة، ومليان tutorials وشروحات وفيديوهات. يعني المفروض لما تقف معاك حاجة في المحاضرة تقراها لوحدك تاني على رواقة، وترجع تلف الويب وتشوف كل طريقة اتشرحت بيها الحاجة دي وتختار اللي يساعدك على الفهم، وتسأل الدكتور المرة الجاية لو بعد ده كله معرفتش توصل لحاجة (ولو إني ده احتمال ضئيل جدا). الكم مهم جدا لأسباب انت ممكن ماتقدرش تستوعبها غير لما تدخل سوق العمل، ويسألك واحد في شركة IBM والا Google والا Oracle تعرف كذا؟ فترد انت بكل كسوف “ماخدناهاش في المحاضرة”، وتلعن الدكتور اللي ماشرحلكش الحاجات اللي بيسألوا فيها دي لإنه ضيع من طاقته وجهده علشان يفهم الناس حاجات مش جوهرية كان ممكن هما بشوية جهد يفهموها على حساب الحاجات المهمة اللي الناس في سوق العمل متوقعين إن حضرتك متخرج وانت دارسها. الكم ده هو اللي بيقيم حضرتك عارف قد إيه في مجال معين، علشان كده في مبرمج كويس ومبرمج ممتاز ومبرمج ربع كم؛ كل واحد فيهم بيتقاس بمقدار اللي بيعرف يعمله بلغة البرمجة وقد إيه هو بيعمله كويس، وقد إيه عنده معارف زيادة من كورسات تانية عارف يطوعها في خدمة التاسك اللي بيتبرمج.

تقييمي الشخصي لنفسي، ولو إنه مش موضوعي، هو إني بذلت مجهود على قد ما قدرت علشان الأفكار الجوهرية في المادة توصل لمعظم الطلاب، وإني أستعين كل ما أقدر بشروحات فيجوال علشان يقدروا يربطوا المفاهيم المعقدة بصور ذهنية بسيطة تخليهم على طول يقدروا يفتكروا جوهر المفاهيم دي، وإن في الأول أديهم كل ال hints and cues اللي أقدر عليها علشان يعرفوا يحلوا بيها المسائل، وإن أي ضعف في الخلفية الرياضية بتاعهم حاولت أعوضه بإني أركز في إن الخطوات المنهجية هاتوصلك للحل، وإن المعادلات وحفظها مش هو جوهر الكورس، وإن تكرار استخدامنا لمفاهيم رياضية معينة في المسائل بيخلي استيعابنا ليها أسهل مع الوقت. ومانساش أوجه كل الشكر لزميلي العزيز د. عبد الحميد طه لإن رؤيته وخبرته في الكورس ده قبلي ساعدوني فوق ما أتخيل على إني أعدي بأقل قدر من المشاكل، وأي مشاكل اتبقت كانت تقصير مني في إني أستعجل على مفهوم معين أو أختصر في شرح مفهوم معين نتيجة إننا مش هانلحق نتوسع في الأجزاء اللي هاتستخدمه في آخر الكورس، وطبعا تقصيري في شغل العملي ناتج من إن كان مفروض من الأول أنتبه إن الجزء العملي من الأفضل يتاخد في معمل اتصالات تحديدا، وكل اللي قدرنا نعمله مع زمايلي المعيدين والمدرسين المساعدين هو انهم يشتغلوا على سوفتوير يمكن الطلاب من إنهم يطبقوا بعض العمليات اللي اتشرحت بشكل كود، والوقت ماكفاش إننا نتوسع في ده.

أنا شخصيا سعيدة بإني اشتغلت الكورس ده، وكسرت الرهبة القديمة من المفاهيم الرياضية اللي في الاتصالات، وأتمنى أكون نجحت في إني أكسر جزء من الرهبة دي عند الطلاب، والجميل إن طول مدة الكورس كانت ناس تجيلي وتسأل في أفكار معينة ممكن الاتصالات تكون مفيدة فيها، وأتمنى الرؤية دي تتبلور عندهم أكتر كمان السنة الجاية وكل ما نقرب من مشاريع التخرج.

بالسبة بقى لكورس الدراسات العليا، فأنا مش سعيدة بالطريقة اللي انتهى بيها مآل الكورس. المفترض إني قبل التيرم ما يبدأ كنت مقررة إن الكورس يكون مجموعة أبحاث في موضوعين أساسيين أنا شايفاهم الغالبين على الساحاة البحثية في مجال تخصصي، وكانت الفكرة إن الناس تقرا أبحاث، وتفهمها، وتحللها وتعمل لها critique، وتشرحها في المحاضرة من خلال presentations، ويبقى المجال مفتوح لحلقات نقاشية نتكلم فيها عن أهم المشاكل البحثية في الموضوعين دول وما يتفرع منهم، بحيث إن الطلاب يقدروا يكونوا فكرة عن مقترحات للحل تمهد الشغل للي حابب منهم يكمل دراسات عليا في الموضوعين دول. وتسهيلا مني عليهم قررت أختار لهم أبحاث وأرتبها وأديهم فوقها أبحاث زيادة للاطلاع، وهما لو عايزين يستخدموا حاجة تانية كان ليهم مطلق الحرية. طبعا المشاركة كانت خايبة ومؤسفة، ومعظم الطلاب كانت حجتهم إنهم مش بيفهموا من بعض، لإنهم عايزين حد يفهمهم على الجاهز علشان يدخلوا الامتحان يحلوا وينجحوا. نفس الفكر. مفيش تطور. دراسات عليا وماجستير ودكتوراه ولسه مش عايزين يقروا بنفسهم ويشتغلوا بإيدهم. وبغض النظر عن عدم الاحترام اللي أظهروه بتجاهلهم المتعمد لتنبيهين متواليين أني مش قابلة العذر ده وإنهم يختاروا المواضيع ويقروا فيها ويشرحوها، فكسلهم ده عكس لي رؤية سلبية عنهم، وبقيت باسأل نفسي هم فعلا جايين يعملوا إيه، ومتخيلين البحث العلمي ده عبارة عن إيه، وهل هم واخدين الموضوع تسلية وتضييع وقت بدل القعدة في البيت والا مجرد وسيلة للترقية في الشغل؟ باسأل نفسي يعني هم لما قدموا دراسات عليا فكروا في إيه وكان هدفهم إيه، لإن الموضوع مش لعبة وتسالي وتضييع وقت. أنا ممكن أفهم الأداء المتواضع من طلاب بكالوريوس المجتمع بينتجهم بكثافة ويفرض عليهم ياخدوا شهادة، لكن مافهمش حد جاي يضيع وقتي في دراسات عليا مش إجبارية عليه والمفترض إنه بيحضرها بمزاجه، ومع ذلك مش عايز يبذل أدنى مجهود فيها غير المذاكرة اللي هاتنجحه. مش لاقية إجابة لتساؤلاتي، ومش مهتمة أحصل على إجابة، لإن برضه مصلحتي الشخصية مش متضررة قوي من اللي هم عملوه، وكان ممكن أقول لهم خلاص كل المحاضرات مشروحة وشكرا ليكم، لكن أنا مش الشخص اللي يرد الإهانة المعنوية والإهمال بالعند، وهم شايفين نفسهم مش خسرانين، لإن اتشرح لهم المحاضرات، والنقاشات والأفكار غير ذات وزن بالنسبة لهم من الأساس. بس بالمقابل أنا باتعامل مع الدراسات العليا والمنتج بتاعها بجدية مش بتهريج، ومش هاستسلم لفكرة إن السيستم ميديوكر ولازم يفضل ميديوكر ومنتجه برضه يكون ميديوكر.

أما الطلاب اللي في الكورس التالت واللي بيشوفوني لتاني مرة خلال سنتين، فدول أنا باديهم كورس باشتغله هو كمان لتاني مرة، وباحبه جدا وباشتغله بمزاج. كورس التنقيب في البيانات (data mining) ده مفاهيمه برضه متقدمة، ومحتاجة إحصاء كتير، ومع ذلك اشتغلنا منه أقل القليل علشان وقت التيرم اتقص. طبعا كان في أجواء سلبية بعض الأحيان، وإحساس من كتير منهم إنه اذا كان كورس السنة اللي فاتت اللي كانت مفاهيمه سهلة نسبيا ماعملناش كويس فيه، هانعمل إيه في الكورس ده؟ وبدون مبالغة، هم ست محاضرات، واحدة منهم مقدمة عامة عن الكورس، يعني المحتوى ذو الشأن ينحصر في خمس محاضرات، ومع ذلك كل اللي بيقولوه “كتير” و”كفاية” و”احنا ضيوف وآخر سنة” و”ناس كتير منا بتشتغل ومش بتحضر أصلا” وحاجات من اللي بتنرفزني دي. مش هاعيد تاني نقطة الكم، لإني زي ما عملت في الاتصالات عملت هنا، وحاولت قدر جهدي إن الأفكار الجوهرية تكون واضحة وتتعاد اذا لزم الأمر، لكن فعلا هنا الكم قليل ولا يرقى للي اتاخد النسة اللي فاتت، اللي هو لا يرقى للي مفروض انه يتاخد في كورس زي ده لسنة البكالوريوس. دي ناس طالعة من عندي على الشغل على طول، مش لسه ف سنة تانية. هايروحوا يقولوا للشركة اللي هايشتغلوا فيها لما يطلبوا منهم شغل “اعتبرونا ضيوف” و”بالراحة علينا”؟ والا هايقولوا “ماخدناهاش في الكلية”؟ أنا فاكرة كويس إن أيامنا مكانش كده، وكنا عمرنا ما نسأل إيه معانا وإيه مش معانا في المنهج، ونكتب محاضراتنا بإيدينا مش ناخدها مكتوبة جاهزة من الدكتور، ونقرا المراجع ونصحح أخطاء فيها (آه والله صححنا أخطاء في مرجع كبير في قواعد البيانات!). أكيد مش عايشة جو الزمن الجميل ومقارنة الأجيال ولا متخيلة إنهم لازم يعملوا زينا، بس المفروض يستغلوا كل الإمكانيات الجديدة ويتبعوا أساليب جديدة علشان يحققوا مستوى معرفي أفضل مننا كمان. الجيل ده متاح له مصادر معرفة كتير وفي متناول إيده بمعنى الكلمة، في موبايله والتابليت واللابتوب. كنت راجعة من كندا بتصور ساذج هو إن مادام السمارتفونز انتشرت يبقى هادخل المحاضرة واشوف الطلاب بيدوروا ورايا على الحاجات اللي مش فاهمينها ويقولوا لي لأ دي كده مش زي ما بتقولي ويصححوا لي ويناقشوني. اتضح إن أنا كنت عايشة في اللالا لاند لما فكرت ف السيناريو ده، وإن الحاجة الوحيدة اللي باشوفهم بيبصوا عليها في موبايلاتهم هي فيسبوك

وبالنسبة لنقطة الناس اللي بتشتغل ومش بتحضر، وبغض النظر عن كون شغله ده لتطوير نفسه أو غصب عنه لإن ظروفه بتضطره يشتغل ويوجد دخل لبيته، فأنا ليا وجهة نظر، مفادها إنه مادام قررت تمشي في سكتين بالتوازي، يبقى لازم توزع جهدك على السكتين بالقدر اللي يخليك تعديهم هم الاتنين من غير ما تقع. الشهادة اللي بتاخدها ممكن كتير في مجتمعنا بيعتبرها ورق وخلافه واحنا بلد شهادات وكل ده كلام له وجاهة، لكن الشهادة دي اكتسبت سمعتها السيئة من منظومة مش بتدي جودة تعليم كويسة وبالتالي مش بتقيم مدى استفادتك من الجودة دي بشكل موضوعي وعادل زيك زي أي حد بره في دولة تانية، وانا مش حابة أكون مساهم لا في الجودة السيئة للعلام اللي حضرتك بتاخده ولا في التقييم الصوري لعلام ماخدتوش أو خدته من على الوش. أنا لحد دلوقت ماعملتش امتحانات مفاهيمها مش موجودة في الكورسات اللي اشتغلتها، ولا بتتحدى طرق التفكير بتاعة الطلاب، ومع ذلك الناس بتشتكي وتقول كتير وصعب والرحمة، أمال لو قرصت شوية هايحصل إيه؟ ماينفعش حضرتك تختار تكمل تعليم جنب الشغل وتتوقع إني علشان حضرتك بتشتغل يبقى أنا أنجحك من غير ما تجاوب زيك زي زمايلك في الامتحان علشان ظروفك ماتسمحش بالمذاكرة. لو مش قادر توجد وقت تذاكر فيه زيك زي زمايلك وتحصل الحد الأدنى اللي ينجحك، يبقى الأفضل ماتمشيش في السكتين، لإنك لو في مكان تاني برضه هاتبقى قدامك نفس الاختيارات، ومش علشان احنا في مصر كتير مننا بيعدي الحاجة من غير تدقيق وحرص يبقى كلنا هانعمل كده والنظام يتم استغلاله في انتاج شهادات لا تعبر عن التحصيل والفهم والتطور اللي حصل في المفاهيم. يا شغل ودراسة بكفاءة متناسبة مع أهميتهم، ياشغل، يادراسة. واقع قاسي، بس هو ده الواقع.

خلاصة التجربة السنة دي إن في حاجات كتير محتاجينها تحصل علشان نتطور، وإن على عكس الشائع إنه المشكلة في الإمكانيات، المشكلة الحقيقة في البني آدمين. الإمكانيات الوحيدة اللي ممكن ألوم عليها هي المواصلات وتأثيرها على الجو النفسي العام، وهي مشكلة مش موجودة بره لإن الطلاب دايما بيسكنوا جنب الحرم الجامعي علشان يركزوا في دراستهم (وينبسطوا برضه والله). غير كده المفروض الناس تجمد شوية وتشتغل على تطوير مهاراتها. خلاصة كمان هي إني لازم ألاقي طرق جديدة وناجحة للتعامل مع الأعداد الكبيرة، تخلي الهدر في الوقت والطاقة أقل، وتخلي عدد الناس المتأذية من التشويش والتايهة في الزحمة يقل. الحاجات اللي كنت ممكن أعالجها بشكل غلط لازم أشتغل عليها، والإعداد لازم يكون أفضل السنة الجاية، لإن في حاجات باقصر فيها نتيجة إن في حاجات كتير لازم تتعمل، وفي أولويات، وفي وقت محدود.

السنة اللي فاتت كنت سعيدة وانا باشتغل تنقيب في البيانات. السنة دي أنا كنت سعيدة وانا باشتغل اتصالات. يارتى السنة الجاية ممكن أكون سعيدة وانا باشتغل كل الحاجات؟

 

Ontario Celebration of Women in Science April 20, 2010

Posted by mervatabuelkheir in Uncategorized.
add a comment

When Wendy Powley of the school of computing at Queen’s University asked for volunteers to work on the first Ontario Celebration of Women in Computing (ONCWIC), I wanted to join, and saw this as a chance to meet new faculty and colleagues. What I found is a group of women with an inspiring passion to pull off an event that would not only promote the get together of very intelligent and inspiring women role models, but also provide the chance for young women scientists to present their research ideas to academic faculty from almost every university in Ontario, and prove their capabilities to potential recruiters from top corporations in the computer science field.

ONCWIC is organized by Queen’s University Women in the School of Computing society (WISC). The conference will be held on the 22nd/23rd of October, 2010, at the Radisson Hotel in Kingston Ontario.

We want to spread the message about this conference and make it a real celebration of women success in the computing field.

Want to keep up to date with our latest activities and updates? Join our fan page on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter.

Many thanks … January 13, 2010

Posted by mervatabuelkheir in Uncategorized.
add a comment

Before I embark on the lengthy process of detailing my time in Canada so far, I just wanted to thank so many people for so many things; all contributing to keeping me sane and well these past two months:

Thank you professor Hossam, for your warm welcome the moment I stepped into your office, it made me feel home again, it made me feel safe. Thank you one more time for welcoming me to the group on the first group meeting after I arrived and in the term’s final luncheon. I felt among friends.

Thank you Anne, the lady who welcomed me at my first night in Kingston. It was after midnight and I was scared that I’d spend the night in the airport, but you stayed up late and provided me with a warm welcome, a warm room, and a safe place to spend the ten most critical days of my stay until I found my foot.

Thank you Ed, for being the first member of the lab to come and strike a conversation with me, just to welcome me over, and for taking a part of your time whenever I come to your lab to talk to me and ask how I’m doing. You’re a very good man.

Thank you Gehan, for coming all the way to the laboratory and welcoming me, then getting me a warm meal when all I had since I came here was crackers :)) and for asking about me all the time, and for being such a funny and friendly girl :)

Thank you Mahmoud Ouda, for being such a stand up guy, together with Hatem, you took me on my first tour in the bus and supermarket, you provided me with invaluable information that saved me a lot of embarrassment and confusion; the things I hate the most in life. You came to the lab wanting to do anything, like a dear dear brother indeed.

Thank you Hatem, for being such a good guy to talk to, about life and science alike, and for inviting me over to your lab for a very delicious meal with Ouda at my first week, and for teaching me the word ibid :))

Thank you Layan, for being an instrumental party in finding me my current residence, for this I cannot even thank you enough, and thank you for keeping my company and introducing me to your great friends who welcomed me with such good grace and openness, and for your rounds with me to buy stuff when you had to work on your own tasks.

Thank you Khalid, for being such a rock to lean on during the hard days of settling in the lab and moving my stuff to my new residence, and for coming back and forth so many times to bring all kinds of things, and for cutting me a great deal on such great stuff :))

Thank you Dina, for being so nice to me and offering me to talk to my family from your own phone, and for being such a smiling face and asking how I was doing even in your hectic term finale, and for being the first one to see me cry and pat on my back saying it would be ok.

Thank you Ashraf, for being so nice to me, and for keeping my company during the luncheon in a setting that would have been overwhelming otherwise, and for giving me hope that together with Wesam, you set an example of an aware family who want to plan for their child intellectually as much as physically.

Thank you Sherief, for being a descent and funny and dependable guy, your emails were really assuring and gave me confidence that I could do it, and your oh-so-Egyptian sense of humor was so refreshing, and your continuing advice regarding my work and my attitude are indispensable.

Thank you Dr. Abd ElHamid, for being the first one who talked to me about my fears of under performance, and for telling me to take it easy and just do my best with ease, and for being such a talented artist and scientist because this is something I aspire to be, and for being so friendly in a serene way because this makes me feel comfortable and confident that things will eventually be ok.

Thank you Ahmed Hasswa, for responding promptly to my emails, and for your nice and friendly correspondences.

Last but not least, thank you my dearest friend Omneya, for keeping my company with your lovely voice and your lovely kids almost every night since I got my Internet connection at home, although you may be tired of all this, you were so great just by being there.

Related to the previous entry September 6, 2009

Posted by mervatabuelkheir in Research.
add a comment

If you check this link:

http://www.moheet.com/show_news.aspx?nid=296668&pg=1

You’ll find some of the ideas I talked about :) pretty nice…

To return or not to return September 4, 2009

Posted by mervatabuelkheir in Research, Revelations.
add a comment

One of the most discussed issues among my small circle of colleagues is travelling abroad to get a PhD. The issue has many aspects; beginning with how to get funding, and ending with how not to return home! I don’t know the opinion of the majority of teaching assistants who do want to travel abroad, but I’m guessing it’s pretty much the same with a few exceptions: We will make every effort not to return. This resolution is not carried out by most of the researchers who do travel because of many reasons; family ties, not impressing the academic people in the hosting country, and not adapting to the western life style.

But that doesn’t mean that most of us don’t want to return! What concerns me here is the reasons why these people don’t want to return home, and what should be available to make the return home more enticing. Most of the researchers who want to go to western countries are impressed with how things are done there; there’s no red-tape, the lifestyle is comfortable, and everyone is entitled for a good and respectable life. They either want financial security or research quality or both, and we all agree that the financial and research quality in our country isn’t impressive; it’s even negative sometimes and in some places! The needs most of us want regarding our job are a supportive environment for teaching and research, and academics who know what they’re supposed to do and have a clear vision and a clear strategy to execute that vision. That’s a rare occurrence around here, and we have the impression that these needs ar the norm in western academic institutions. What makes people not willing to return then is the vast chances available for them to improve their finances with no restrictions, and the positive and productive academic atmosphere. But the most important reason in my opinion is their belief system which revolves around two ideas: Things will never get better here, and we don’t want to make the effort to make things better because it will be wasted! Mostly, they want a society that’s already civilized, organized, appreciative, rewarding, and profitable. I admit that it’s very very hard for us to change our society into all those things in our lifetime; my society is one that’s so full of corruption, dirt, and clutter that it needs more than a lifetime task to fix it. BUT here’s the thing, in all our struggles with daily frustrations in our job (not just us TAs, but parents and families too), we reflected that negative image to the young people who see us every day, and they gradually became more and more ignorant, negligent, self-absorbed, and careless as a result. I said before that every academic year I find less and less students who have that inner light of love for knowledge and science and achievement, and I believe that all these young people need is role models who BELIEVE they can DO. A couple of days ago I read an article about a professor I respect very much and interacted with personally in my pre-Master studies; Professor Hisham El-Mahdy. I’m not saying that all of us should do that and think like that; some people just can’t take the lead and act, but I’m saying that people with vision and who can inspire should think beyond financial gains or ideas of “ready-made” societies. I’m telling this to myself as everyone else, because I too have the dream of living in that ready-made society and not having to participate in cleaning my society’s clutter. But when we all leave, where does that leave home? And where does that put us in that ready-made society? Do we become members? We can, but how would it feel to look upon Egypt and find it filled only with dirt and clutter and historic monuments?

I was never a patriotic, and my friends know that very well, I wasn’t raised in Egypt and never felt it was my home, but I never felt Libya was my home too though I very much wanted to. It just can’t be! I need a place to belong to, and we all need that, so I need this place to be great, but most of all, I need to be a part of its greatness! I need to make a small fix that’s named after me! I need to write a sentense in my country’s history, and I need to inspire others to write their own sentenses, so that the home we all contribute to would be a great one.

Students of Today May 24, 2009

Posted by mervatabuelkheir in Faculty Life.
add a comment

Let’s say hypothetically that a TA does this:
The students in his class ask him every week to hold the course textbook, read the chapter they took in the lecture page by page, explaining everything, and they can stop him ocassionaly if he skipped a paragraph or something.
Will this be right or wrong?
I’ve noticed that most of the students (with fewer and fewer exceptions over time) developed a tendency along the years to not work their heads in search for explanations and answers in the different courses they take at college, and I dare say this is a general phenomena among most faculties in Egypt. Most students want every single thing explained to them and want the minimum curricula possible to study, with no desire to explore for themselves to to ask for more to learn. They keep whining and whining if a professor told them to self-study a chapter or two, and they can’t efficiently summarize a chapter to pinpoint the important notes that can trigger questions. In short, most students of higher education in universities do not want to understand as much as they want to succeed.
I argue that this is the result of a screwed up high school system that has a frantic atmosphere of “you must succeed and get the highest grades” forcing the students to memorize and save time by going to teachers who tell them exactly what to say in response to each and every possible question in the final exams. This generation of “auto-response” students, which began around the nineties, carried his culture to the university life, which is a place to learn, discuss, analyze, and understand. This was translated into a higher rate of private tutoring that aims at helping the students memorize the answers to what the professors tend to ask at university exams. This in turn resulted in killing the abilities that are needed in academic life, abilities such as scientific reasoning, analysis, comprehension, and creative thinking. Students cannot write a research task if asked, the majority looks at postgraduate studies as a way to waste time waiting for bigger chances, which is ironic because I believe a good planning of postgraduate studies is one of the ways to get bigger chances at professional careers. The funny thing is these postgraduate students will succeed and get to do their Master and Doctorate studies using pretty much the same methodology.
An 18 years old student should be able to understand by himself most of the content of an academic course and be able to intelligently ask questions about the parts he or she does not get right or feel ambiguous in order to gain a clearer understanding. I don’t see this happening, and this will result (if this is not already the case) in academics who do not want to make a correct scientific research and will easily resort to forged research to get higher positions.

Explaining Scholarships: Part 2 June 18, 2008

Posted by mervatabuelkheir in Research.
Tags: ,
1 comment so far

In this second part, I’ll explain the other two categories of scholarships that researchers can pursue. As a reminder, I’ll list the four categories again:

  1. Egyptian-funded scholarships; or what we call “be3that” or in English “missions”. These missions generally involve specific research areas.
  2. Governmental scholarships funded by foreign countries; they’re typically a part of the cultural and academic collaboration between Egypt and other countries. They are called “mena7″ or in English “Scholarships”. Like missions, these scholarships involve specific research areas.
  3. Scholarships offered by foreign entities to promote higher education in developing countries. These scholarships don’t necessarily involve specific research areas.
  4. Scholarships offered by academic institutions abroad and announced by a specific research center, academic department, or school, and always are offered for a specific subject area.

3- Scholarships Offered by Foreign Entities to Promote Higher Education in Developing Countries

This kind of scholarships is offered by organizations that are willing to pay tuition fees for researchers so they can study in the countries of these organizations. The most important condition (besides applying and qualifying to be accepted) is that these researchers have to go back to their mother countries to serve there. Some of these organizations may send announcements to specific departments in universities, but mostly you have to work on you own to find these types of scholarships. Sometimes the scholarships are themed; for example promoting women in science or minorities or things of the sort. So it’s very important that once you find such a scholarship that you identify if it’s “themed.”

What to do: Here you have to do some work besides the routine checking of the department’s secretary. You need to develop a plan of extensive and thorough online search for such scholarships. You can use any of the following search terms:

  • Computer science PhD scholarship
  • Computer science PhD studentship
  • PhD scholarship + “Your general area of research; for example artificial intelligence”

Or any variation on these terms. Three Points to make here:

  • A studentship is similar to a scholarship but involves summer work on a research project. The financial amount paid to the recipient is normally tax-free, but the recipient is required to fulfill work requirements. Types of studentships vary among universities and countries. In the UK, studentships are rarely given out due to limited funding. In North American universities, studentships are more commonly known as teaching and research assistantships. Studentships are almost exclusively awarded to research students, preferably at the PhD. level.
  • You have to focus on the deadlines; announcements for old scholarships are sometimes found and extremely frustrating, so you may want to add the year you want to your search, preferably an academic year ahead (If we’re in 2008 then you want to find scholarships whose deadline is either by the end of 2008 or the beginning of 2009)
  • You HAVE TO prepare the language level required by the announcing organization or the institutions in that country. This may not be mandatory, but it sure enhances your opportunities in being elected for the scholarship. Did I forget to tell you these kinds of scholarships are also competitive? They are.

Useful websites that will be valuable in your search for this category are:

4- Scholarships Offered by Academic Institutions Abroad

Now this category is the most complex, but let me explain it a bit more. Basically there are two aspects to this category:

  • Academic schools or departments present scholarships every academic year for their national students as well as overseas students willing to pursue a higher academic degree. It’s a part of the school or department’s contribution to society.
  • Research centers (led by senior professors) have research projects that are funded by their governments. These professors want young researchers to work in these projects; each contributing a part to the total project and in the meantime obtaining his or her degree. Since these projects are funded in advance, the professors can pay for these young researchers to be on the project. Of course this involves getting actual performance and productivity out of the researcher.

What to do: Deciding to go for a scholarship of this kind requires extensive work. First of all, I’d like to refer you to this entry I wrote about establishing correspondence with foreign professors and academic departments. The first four steps will be done anyway (namely: identify countries of strong research status, identify top universities, identify faculties or departments or schools related to your field, and learn about the PhD research program they offer.) Once you’ve done that, you need to check the universities you chose for scholarship announcements, and make sure you check the PhD scholarships as these universities also offer scholarships for undergraduate students. After you put your hands on the scholarship announcements, you’ll find sufficient information about the application process and requirements, just make sure you check what costs the scholarship covers, because some offered scholarships are limited to only tuition fees, after that you have to cover your personal expenses. Not all of them are like this though, so you still have a good chance.

Now if you want to go the other way, which is to search for a research center’s scholarship offering, that would be your most flexible option. You can do this either following my guide here to the end, or by again searching the Internet for things like these:

  • PhD Student required (needed, wanted, and so on) in “your research area” + “preferably the next academic year”
  • PhD studentship + research center + “your research area”
  • Research Assistant required (needed, wanted, and so on) in “your research area”

Of course I’m assuming that people reading this know how to manipulate search parameters to find the best results. I use double quotes all the time, but some people prefer a more generalized form.

My personal thoughts on this last method is that it’s better and more systematic to search for academic departments and research centers in your research area and check whatever they may be offering. It will save you a long and painful screening process of the search results.

Finally some useful link for this entry in general:

I hope this entry would be of use to anyone reading it, and if anything needs more clarification, I’d be happy to respond to the request by e-mail or via comments.

Explaining Scholarships: Part 1 June 17, 2008

Posted by mervatabuelkheir in Research.
Tags:
add a comment

This is the third topic of its kind; previously, I wrote two entries about managing a thesis and establishing contact with a foreign academic institution. This time, I’m going to talk about the complex subject that is SCHOLARSHIPS, and how could anybody get one. A scholarship is an award of access to an institution, or a financial aid award for an individual student scholar, for the purpose of furthering their education. (Definition from Wikipedia.org)

The key to understand this topic is to realize that it has four branches:

  1. Egyptian-funded scholarships; or what we call “be3that” or in English “missions”. These missions generally involve specific research areas.
  2. Governmental scholarships funded by foreign countries; they’re typically a part of the cultural and academic collaboration between Egypt and other countries. They are called “mena7″ or in English “Scholarships”. Like missions, these scholarships involve specific research areas.
  3. Scholarships offered by foreign entities to promote higher education in developing countries. These scholarships don’t necessarily involve specific research areas.
  4. Scholarships offered by academic institutions abroad and announced by a specific research center, academic department, or school, and always are offered for a specific subject area.

I’ll explain the first two in this entry then the other two in the next entry.

1- Egyptian-Funded Scholarships

Missions are scholarships that are funded by the Egyptian government in order for researchers to acquire academic degrees in subjects for which the resources are not available locally. Of course, that’s a “rosy” theory, because in real life these scholarships can be for any subject the researcher may choose. The Egyptian government specifies a budget for research, a part of this budget is allocated to missions. This part of budget is distributed to the Egyptian universities, and each university in turn distributes its part of the budget to the faculties. I don’t know the exact mechanisms for this distribution or how the decision of the allocation is made (is it equal distribution? is it based on the number of TA staff? does it depend on the importance of the faculty in serving community?) But I heard that the process begins with the academic departments; they specify what they need in terms of missions, this goes all the way up until it reaches the university council, then the budget needed is determined and requested.

I don’t think young researchers have any say in the matter, they can however pressure the faculty administration for more missions, especially if it’s a faculty like ours with a young and promising specialty (i.e. computer science.)

What to do: Keep in contact with the department head and the faculty vice dean for postgraduate affairs. Constant nagging is a magical tool to get what you want from them. Also, you can go to the university’s cultural affairs department “Alsho2oon Althaqafeyya” and ask employees about upcoming missions. This will keep you up to date maybe even before the news reach the faculty. Another useful thing is to constantly check the web site of the cultural affairs hosted by the Ministry of Higher Education, in addition to the local newspapers. Announcements for missions can always be found there when such missions are available.

http://www.mohe-casm.edu.eg/

2- Governmental Scholarships Funded by Foreign Countries

These scholarships are announced by academic institutions on their web sites. These institutions send mail announcements to the Egyptian universities and these announcements can always be found at the departments’ secretaries. These scholarships have deadlines, meaning that if you have to apply before that deadline. There are three main problems with these scholarships:

  • They sometimes come from countries that we don’t fancy as research destinations (for example Malaysia or China or Eastern Europe.) That’s not always the case though.
  • The mail announcements from these institutions sometimes arrive just before their deadline due to poor postal service, this leaves the researcher with a narrow window of opportunity to successfully apply.
  • Applying for these scholarships does not guarantee admission, because they’re highly competitive. The institutions receive many applications and filter them based on academic merits and specialties.

What to do: Keep in contact with the department secretary, you don’t want to miss the deadline of a good scholarship by a day (exactly what used to happen to me!) Also, such announcements are sometimes available through the cultural affairs website: http://www.mohe-casm.edu.eg/ and also the website of the postgraduate affairs of Mansoura University: http://www.mans.edu.eg/arabic/pgs/. When you do get your hands on a good scholarship, pay attention to the details of the application process; you don’t want to waste your efforts because you did something wrong.

A heated debate June 16, 2008

Posted by mervatabuelkheir in Faculty Life.
2 comments

There’s an ongoing heated debate among some of my colleagues (including me of course) about the issue of whether we should dedicate more time to help students at the expense of our own personal gains. Of course, there are two side in this debate (three if we count the “silent” majority who don’t care!) One side believes that we must do everything we can to help students, and it’s our primary and most important responsibility. The other side of course believes that our most important responsibility is to do our research and get our academic degrees; provided we don’t neglect our duties in the classes we’re assigned.

Two things to pinpoint here:

  1. The first side of the debate is strongly supported by Waleed; one of the very few colleagues that I genuinely respect.
  2. No one supports balance. It has to be a total division of time between the two activities; no mutual partnership between both.

Well, for the first point, it’s almost only Waleed really who supports total dedication to students’ needs. Waleed has sincere integrity, and he practices what he preaches one hundred percent. He’s totally devoted to attending to students classes and giving them extra effort; especially in programming. I don’t see him doing anything for himself; even if he’s developing his programming and scientific skills it’s for the greater benefit of those kids at the faculty. Maybe I’m wrong because I don’t see him all the time, but when I do see him, it’s always like this.

The second point is mainly true because at our faculty we’re in a situation where we can’t really divide the day or the week. That’s because:

  • We have limited spaces to give lectures and sections, so we kind of use the entire day,
  • We’re relatively outnumbered by a large number of courses that most of us aren’t specialized in, so we must study in whatever spare time we have to make sense of these new subjects and outsmart the students. There’s no easy way for someone to hold on to three or four course every year because we tend to change from year to year; some of us leave, and some of us take time off, and new colleagues are enrolled.

Someone may ask me this: On which front do you fight? Well, I’m all for balance (I never did practice it because of the two points I just stated) but I certainly don’t believe (anymore) that I should give my 100% effort to students. I gave more than a 100% effort to the faculty; I spent days and nights thinking and obsessing about all kinds of things related to my work. It was only when I received a request to present a status report about progress in my Master thesis that I stopped and asked: What the hell am I doing? Actually, I’m kind of fond of faculty work; I love studying new courses and helping students understand them. I love administrative work like preparing the academic year’s timetable, preparing course specifications, and exams related tasks. I do these things well and that gives me confidence in doing them more. But the bottom line was these things aren’t enough to make me advance in my career. They simply don’t count! The university won’t promote me based on an excellent history of classes and faculty work, the ONLY parameter that’s measured is whether I’ve finished my Master degree (and later of course my PhD). The Egyptian universities law regarding the duties of the teaching assistants states clearly (and ambiguously at the same time!!!) that the first and utmost important job of a TA is to get his or her Master and PhD degrees. Then classes come second with no stress except the stress that they mustn’t hinder the TA’s efforts to get the academic degrees.

I strongly applaud Waleed for being the most helpful he can be, and I don’t dare to put myself in his league of the most helpful people in the faculty. I can acknowledge that I have helped a lot, but not as much as he did. Maybe it’s not just because I found out that I have to do another task and do it as well as I can; it could be age as well, but this isn’t the point. But still I believe that it IS enough to give my 100% effort in the sections, dedicate 3 or 4 hours each week to help my students (but I strongly stress that they should first be willing to help themselves), but other than that, I have another job to tend to, and it’s not less important by all means.

Long story short, I found out the hard way that actually by dedicating my efforts to the day to day tasks of the faculty I was actually not doing my job; my real job; which is RESEARCH. That doesn’t mean at all that I support anyone neglecting his or her sections to pursue personal gains of any kind, but we have to put in mind that getting academic degrees isn’t just a personal gain, it’s also dedicated to the students, and to the country in general. Instead of being “academic policy executors” we get to be “academic policy makers.” If we’re good enough, then we’ll fix the problems that we have today and will create a better tomorrow. There’s nothing we can do for today except work hard to help as we can, but we must never forget that we have yet another noble goal to achieve; which is to make a better future and help our country progress.

A well-planned, well-stated vision March 6, 2008

Posted by mervatabuelkheir in Faculty Life.
add a comment

My work place is currently the epitome of chaos! Nothing is going according to a plan, things and people are mixed up, and there’s no one who really cares! Why should I care then? I never belonged anyway! Not to Egypt as a country, not to my hometown, and certainly not to my faculty. I used to say to myself that I have a penchant for business venues, and that my love for studying can be always fulfilled by reading and research. Then why the hell should I care if students say they’re not given certain classes? Or if the faculty labs are a miss that has to end in sight? I shouldn’t care, because I don’t belong, and I keep drifting more and more away from the place and the mood. What really troubles me is that I want to be in the place and the mood, and I want everyone to work hard to make the place better, including me. The problem is I don’t have the stamina anymore, they don’t have the desire anymore, management doesn’t have the global vision for the place, and we all don’t know what to do with this situation! I want to be proud of the place I learned and worked in, and I don’t want the students to graduate saying they didn’t learn nothing. The real problem is that even with the staff that’s trying to deliver a message, the message is lost to students who don’t have a vision of what they should learn here, and how they should learn it. If I can talk about myself; then for example the distributed database systems course is a disaster waiting to happen for them and a picnic for me. They want to learn practical things (at least those who DO WANT TO LEARN!), and DDBS is a course more about design than implementation. But then, both departments are studying it, and designing a DDBMS is more of a CS department arena. IS department should be concerned more about setting policies and strategies for correct system functionality. What should I do? Give them SQL Server 2005 in the lab with no real point to make? Tell them how to make policy decisions? Or tell them how to build a query optimizer? I don’t have the grand plan, and even if I have it I don’t have the power to carry it out.
I spent 3 hours last nights rolling the subject in my head over and over, knowing that my colleagues – if they know what I was doing – would joke at how stupid I am and how my life is empty, but all I really want is to work according to a well-planned, well-stated vision. I don’t want to make the plan at this stage of my career because of two reasons; the first being that I too have a life and a research of my own to work on, and the second being that the stage where I’m obliged to make that plan will eventually come, and I want to learn from someone how to do it!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.