Archive for November, 2009

Movies of the week

Yesterday was an official holiday at UCSB. I went to see the new Cohen brothers movie: A serious man.

It is about a physics professor in the late 60’s who is facing tenure and is besieged by all kinds of things that make life not worth living. It is a very dark comedy, in a sense about the meaning of life (or the lack of it). For some strange reason I felt at home in the movie (never mind the fact that I belong to the category of people who can spot errors in the uncertainty formulas as they’re being written on the blackboard, or maybe I didn’t spot it because afterwards it was ok). I recommend that if you are physicist that you go see the movie. You might also feel at home there.

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Turning of the seasons

Time keeps on passing by. Right now, apples, pumpkins, squashes and persimmons are in season, amongst other vegetables and fruits. The fall weather has settled in nicely, and the usual seasonal events are happening. For example, this is the season when postdoctoral applications are made, and I find myself writing a lot of letters of recommendation. In over a month, I will be reading these applications with the rest of the folks here, to make decisions on who we are going to hire.

Imagine my surprise this week when going to a grocery store, they are already setting up their Christmas decorations. Isn’t it a bit early for that? I was hoping that they wold be setting up the `Turkey day’ decorations after Hallowe’en. This is not the only place. To me, it’s too early for the end of year Holiday decorations. Seems to me they want to rush the end of the year. Or maybe they have nothing to be thankful for.

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Yesterday night I attended a reception for the international scholars to UCSB. This was the first time that such a celebration took place in Santa Barbara, thanks to an anonymous donor. It was a lively event, and various important people from the UCSB campus showed up. I won’t bore you with the details.

Amongst the interesting facts that I collected yesterday, was that most international students in the US come to study in the science and technology fields, while very few people from the US go out to study and when they do, the statistic is mostly on humanities. I also found out that there are about 640000 students from abroad in US Universities, and that US Universities graduate about 30000 PhD’s annually.

Not surprisingly, current cuts in US University funding (especially state Universities) will hurt the efforts to get the best (graduate) students to the US, with the consequent deterioration of the pool of people with talent contributing to the US economy. An interesting article regarding this issue can be found here.

If you couple all of this progressive lack of investment by the states into the education system, the future starts looking pretty bad, not just for education, but for the US economy.

This year I am working on a University committee in charge of international education. So I have to learn quite a bit about this stuff.

Simple observation: if you loseĀ loose the people from abroad (who are extremely good students), and you loseĀ loose the local people (because they can not afford to go to school any longer), where is the human capital investment in the future development of technology going to come from?

Remember, modern economies depend on having the best and most innovative modern technology in order to compete. And, new ideas for technology come from people who know what the current technologies are, what they can do and how to make them. Ideas are not born from thin air.

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