Thursday, February 24, 2005

Time Management: Research

Time management is something I think about every day. How should I
allocate my time to maximize my happiness and positive effect on the
world? In this essay I'll talk about research only, and save my other
endeavors for another time.

In terms of research I have several classes of activities I can work
on.

1. Depth Theme research.

Depth research is work on my research theme, which is that the
a major function of representation change is to resolve ontological
mismatches.

Representation change is something very important but rarely worked
on-- this is the scientific function of this class of research. The
practical function of this class of research is that I need a depth
area to get a job, tenure, etc.

The depth research breaks down into a few subcategories:

1a. Visual Analogy of Protein Folding

This is what I was hired to do here, and I'm making it a part of
my theme. Career-wise, it's also bioinformatics, which is a hot
area.

1b. Publishing my dissertation work

1c. Neuroinformatics

This is a new field to me that I'm thinking of moving into. I
don't know much about it and I need to know more before I can
decide if I want to move into it. I cannot move into it if it is
not compatible with my depth theme.

2. Great Work research.

This class of activities endeavor to understand general
intelligence. Activities include reading about theories of cognition
that cross sub-disciplines (I will call these big theories), planning
how to motivate my classroom students to contribute to the great work,
building my own big theories, thinking big, motivating others to work
on the great work, etc.

3. Art Science research

For over five years now I've been very interested in the psychology
and AI of art. It used to be my grand ambition. Since I've moved to
Canada and done some reflection, my grand ambition has turned more
toward the great work. Nonetheless, something loved for five years
should not be thrown away lightly, and by gum I'm still interested in
it. But right now its importance seems to pale in comparison to the
great work. That is, I feel like the great work will better help the
world.


--end list

Anthony Francis introduced me to the concept of mentons, which are
units of mental energy you have to spend on various projects. I'm
finding that I have the mentons to do about six hours of work, six
days a week. How do I allocate these six hours to my research
endeavors? This is the question I'm thinking about constantly, so I
thought if I just wrote it down I might figure it out.

I think the great work is the most important thing, scientifically,
however it's kind of necessary for me to get tenure if I'm going to
make any real progress on it in my lifetime. And getting tenure means
work on the depth theme. So we can posit, as a first heuristic, that
the depth theme gets the highest priority in my work day.

Right now my Great Work research is reading cognitive science books
while thinking about the broad implications. In my leisure time, I
read four books at a time: a fun book, a hard book (every other one is
a cognitive science book-- right now I'm reading Neurophilosophy by
Patricia Churchland), a soothing book (usually Buddhism), and an AI
textbook (Russel and Norvig.) For this time in my life, I think the
cognitive science book and the textbook I read are giving me
satisfying progress on the great work, so I don't have to allocate
hours of my work day to it.

So what's left for my workday is the depth theme and Art Science
research. Since right now I'm feeling that the Art Science should get
a low priority, I'm only willing to give it about a half an hour a
day, if and only if I get everything else done. Which means I've got
5.5 hours to allocate to depth.

art science reading: 0.5

I am making satisfying progress on the dissertation publishing working
one hour per day on it.

dissertation publication: 1.0

Neuroinformatics feels very risky to me, so I think I will give it a
half an hour a day, if and only if I get everything else
done. Neuroinformatics gets priority over Art Science.

neuroinformatics: 0.5

That leaves 4 hours per day to work on Protein Folding, which breaks
down into programming, writing, reading about protein structure, and
reading about bioinformatics in general (I may be asked to teach a
class on it, and I want to market myself as a bioinformaticist, so I
feel I should have some general bioinformatics field knowledge). I'm
working through a boring bioinformatics text, and I can't stomach more
than half an hour a day reading it.

bioinformatics reading: 0.5

That leaves three and a half hours for programming, writing, and
reading about protein structure. I try to read about an hour a day, so
that leaves two and a half hours left for programming and
writing.

reading protein structure: 1.0

programming and writing protein folding AI: 2.5

So, the breakdown, in order of importance:

hrs topic
---------
2.5 programming and writing protein folding AI
1.0 reading protein structure
1.0 dissertation publication
0.5 reading bioinformatics
0.5 neuroinformatics reading
0.5 art science reading

What's great about being a postdoc is that I can use all of my time
for research. When I'm a professor my research will have to share my
workday with teaching, lesson planning, grading, and faculty
obligations. The good side is that things like meetings I find rather
engergizing, and I may have more than six productive hours a day when
I'm doing more than just reading, writing, and programming, which is
what I do all day now. Actually, the idea that I could even get by
working only six hours a day as a faculty member sounds ridiculous,
but I'll re-evaluate all this when that time comes.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Neuroinformatics

I've been reading about bioinformatics and there's an interesting subfield I've discovered: Neuroinformatics (related to computational neuroscience)http://www.neurovia.umn.edu/INC/Research/NI/Portal/ni_resources.php

This field is basically the bioinformatics of the brain and neurons. That is, applying computer science techniques (of which AI is just a part) tothe huge amount of brain data being generated. To link it, formalize it,make sense of it. A big part of neuroinformatics involves "The Human BrainProject."http://www.nimh.nih.gov/neuroinformatics/index.cfm

Think the human genome project but... harder.

Right now I'm doing bioinformatics/AI/Cognitive Science. That means, in mycase, that I'm primarily trying to make contributions to cognitive science, secondarily to AI, and third to biology. I am trying to avoid doing things with my AIs that are not innovative AI techniques, even if they might be best to solve the biological problem at hand, which is, inmy current case, protein folding. Further, I'm not all that interested in new AI techniques unless they are cognitively plausible either.However I really do care about solving this folding problem, even though it's third on my list. What makes me excited about neuroinformatics,though, is that, unlike protein folding, neuroscience is actually kind of a part of cognitive science. My AIs and theories would be contributing to our understanding of the mind while what those AIs think about is trying to contribute to our understanding of the brain. I think this could be good (or better, anyway) for my career, partially because
I'm more interested in Neuroscience than protein structure. And who knows how the knowledge I'd gain from having the brain as my subject matter will helpmy cogsci and AI level theories?I would be making AI that understands neuroscience. How cool is that?

Certainly this isn't something I'm going to start during this postdoc, but I want to think about my long-term plan. I like the idea of having a real domain, and bioinformatics is very hot. Perhaps I can segue into neuro once I take a faculty position. I want to keep this in mind as I look at schools to apply to next fall-- who is doing human brain project stuff with whom I could potentially collaborate? Also, if I fail to get a sufficiently good faculty offer, I could potentially look for aneuroinformatics postdoc.