Nontrivial Pursuit

Life, liberty, and the nontrivial pursuit of science.

Author: Katie

GHC15: It’s Okay to Fail

This session focused on growth mindset versus fixed mindset, and how to acknowledge the failures in our own careers that have been disguised opportunities for growth and advancement.

Growth mindset is the idea that ability is not innate, but is rather developed through hard work and dedication, and that failure is a learning opportunity. The flip side of growth mindset is fixed mindset, is the belief that intelligence and ability is innate or static, and that success is an affirmation of inherent skill. Fixed mindset often leads to the belief that you fail because you’re inherently not capable or not good enough.

“If you aren’t failing on a weekly basis, whether you’re doing research or software engineering, you probably aren’t going far enough.”
– Julia Ferraioli

Of course, growth mindset can be difficult to implement in daily practice. It’s the kind of advice I always give to other people who are feeling down or frustrated about their experiences at school or work, but have a hard time implementing myself. I often build up my mistakes in my mind and it snowballs until I’ve made a mountain out of a molehill.

The panelists and session attendees gave great advice for how they keep a growth mindset. If something goes wrong, get some outside persepective ask someone else about the magnitude of what went wrong. Focus on the good stuff. Email a friend about three things you did well every day.  Think of the people you work with who inspire you, and how they’ve used their failures to their advantage. Remember cases where your colleagues failed but didn’t get fired. Take a deep breath and remember that this too shall pass.

The panel gave another great piece of advice — failure is not the opposite of success, it’s a part of success, and often a very necessary one. We practiced telling our professional biographies and our “failure biographies” in which we reflected the failures we’ve had in our careers and how they helped us get to where we are now.

While a failure biography may not be a great elevator pitch or introduction in your next interview, it was a great way to reflect on the highs and lows of my experiences and how the molehills that seemed like mountains years back were some of the most inspiring and transformative experiences of my life.

When I return to Salt Lake City after GHC and settle back into my research, I’ll do my best to maintain a growth mindset and recognize challenges and failures for what they are — opportunities to grow and learn about myself and my field.

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”
– Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

The panelists recommended two resources for additional information on this topic, Thanks for the Feedback! by Sharon Hess and Douglas Stone and Growth Mindset.


A Glimpse of the Future: Emerging Technologies at GHC15

This was a lively and insightful session  featuring Kate Boeckman, Obi Felten, Asta Roseway, Jess Kimball Leslie, and Vida Ilderem, who are all immersed in different aspects of emerging technologies. The discussion that touched on a lot of interesting emerging technologies, from smart homes and the Internet of Things, to self driving cars. Full notes from the session are available on the GHC15 Wiki page.

I want to highlight just a few topics and themes that I found particularly captivating.

Virtual Reality for Education and Policy

There was a discussion on virtual reality technology, which Vida pointed out is an older technology that has been around for over 20 years, but remains largely focused on gaming applications.

But what other uses of virtual reality will be used in the future?

Asta hopes that virtual reality technology will be implemented in schools for educational purposes. How cool would it be to recreate history in virtual reality so that students could land at Plymouth Rock,  walk down the streets of Paris in 1850, or see the pyramids in Ancient Egypt. Students would be able to see history through someone else’s shoes, and history would come (virtually) alive.

Virtual reality video is also maturing, with widespread implications from entertainment to journalism, and even policy. Obi highlighted a case where UN policy makers wore a virtual reality headset to walk through a refugee camp from the perspective of a young girl, and the experience helped to change and shape their opinions in the matter. In a world where policy makers seem more and more disconnected from the problems of their people, this transformative technology can be used to enable informed decision making.

The ability to virtually experience scenarios throughout space and time has implications far beyond video games. This technology is capable of changing our world for the better, and women can be a big part of this shift by bringing a new perspective.

Wearables, Emotions, and Bringing People Together

Wearable technologies are still in their early stages and the technology is still trying to catch up to what people want to do with their devices. Obi likened the gap to the differences between the early Apple Newton platform and the iPhone.

She also highlighted exciting opportunities for applications in healthcare, such as a contact lens for continuous monitoring of glucose levels in tears for diabetics, which would replace repetitive finger pricks for blood testing. While these are not the common fitness-related or “quantified me” devices most people associate with wearables, they are devices that can have a significant impact.

Asta highlighted another interesting perspective on wearables — how they will affect how we emote and how we interact with people. She hopes (and believes) that when we know more about the people around us, we will be more empathetic. If a coworker is stressed and has an elevated heart rate, we may be compelled to be more patient in our interactions.

As a silly diversion, the panel discussed a version of this that is currently available is the wearable cat ears  that respond to EEG and reflect your emotions, but as technology advances Asta can foresee a future where a fashionable headband or piece of jewelry may serve the same purpose more effectively.

Does anyone else think this sounds like a way cooler version of an old school mood ring? But I digress…

In a world where technology gets blamed for making people more isolated, it’s encouraging flip things around and consider the ways that wearables could bring us together and help drive a more compassionate society.

Emerging Technology Our World Needs

Asta used her closing remarks as an opportunity to shift the focus to the important topics of climate change and sustainability. We’re living in a weird bubble of extreme self indulgence, she said, while the world is facing a real impending crisis. People in Silicon Valley are busy in their offices writing code to meet every profitable self-indulgent whim, while the water in their own backyard is dwindling.

We need to refocus our technical skills and passions to solve these impending problems before it’s too late. Whether that means tackling renewable energy, electric cars, or engineered beef, as technologists we need to be thinking about these problems before it’s too late.

It will surely be a huge fall from grace when you can order your pizza by tweeting an emoji , but you can’t get a glass of water from your tap. And it may be coming sooner than we realize.

Gearing up for GHC!

I’m excited to attend the 2015 Grace Hopper Celebration in Houston! This is my first time attending GHC and from what I’ve heard, it will be an incredible experience! As the trip quickly approaches, here are a few of the things I’m most looking forward to:

1. Meeting the other 2015 GHC Scholars
I am fortunate to have been selected as a 2015 GHC Scholar sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Over the past few months I have been introduced to many of the other scholars via Facebook, and I look forward to meeting the members of this vibrant cohort in person.

2. Participating in Open Source Day
On Wednesday I will participate in OpenHatch’s Open Source Day project. I’m looking forward to learning about open source projects and becoming a part of the open source community. It’s time to dust the cobwebs off my GitHub account!

3. Taking it all in!
From what I hear from seasoned GHC-goers, the event is an whirlwind of networking, interviewing, inspiring talks, and swag aplenty. I look forward to enjoying all of these aspects of GHC and relishing in this unmatched opportunity to learn and grow as a part of this dynamic community.

See you in Houston!

Hello, World.

Hi there! I’m Katie.

I’m a graduate student studying bioengineering at the University of Utah.

I grew up in Newtown, Connecticut, before moving to Virginia for college where I studied biomedical engineering and engineering business. After 22 years on the eastern seaboard, I truly thought I was an east coast girl through and through.

That all changed when I flew to Salt Lake City for my interview at the University of Utah. I was instantly hooked on the mountains, the science, and the people, so when I graduated from the University of Virginia in 2012 I packed up and headed west to pursue a Ph.D.

I’m currently starting my fourth year of graduate school. By day (and a lot of coffee-fueled nights) I study genomic signal processing. We draw from mathematics, biology, and medicine to analyze large-scale genomic datasets using matrix decompositions. By using this kind of mathematics, we can gain insight into the genomic features of various cancers, such as brain or ovarian cancer, and how they relate to clinical outcomes. Our goal is to provide clinicians with a personalized prognostic and diagnostic laboratory test that can be used to predict both the patient’s survival and response to treatment. You can read more about all of that here.

In between debugging code and analyzing patient data, I love to spend time outdoors in the beautiful Utah wilderness — hiking, biking, and rock climbing in summer, and skiing in the winter. I also have budding interests in cooking and photography.

I’m starting this blog primarily as an effort to document my journey through grad school. I’ll record the ups and downs of research, offer tips that I’ve learned (usually the hard way), and maybe even some comic relief.

My hope is that it will also be a way to stay connected with my family back east and my friends all over the country, a source of camaraderie for my fellow grad students, and an outlet to write something other than abstracts and technical manuscripts.

I’m passionate about science, strong coffee, outdoor adventures, and friends, and this blog will include elements of all of those things. Join me on my journey through grad school as I document the ups and downs of this crazy adventure.

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