I Don’t See Stuff

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I’m a web developer…and I really enjoy it. That means things like:

function doStuff(){
for(i=0;i<3000;i++){
var countdown = 3000-i;
alert(“Number of times you’ll see this again: “+countdown);
}
}

are fun for me. For the longest time I wondered why that was…but I think I recently figured it out.

As a business management major, I had the opportunity to take pretty much every personality test in existence. I’ve been Myers-Briggs’d, Jung typologied, Kiersey Temperament Sorted, True Colored, Risk Aversioned, Strength Found, Five Factored and that red/blue/green stress triangle thing’d. I learned a lot about myself through these tests, especially in the areas of my tendencies and proficiencies. They really can help you understand yourself. I would strongly encourage any of you who have not taken such a test to try out one.

That said, a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to take a test that I’d never taken before: a “learning style” test. I took the test during a workshop for web designers and developers. The purported purpose (hey look…I’m alliterate) of the test was to aid you in understanding the ways you learn (pretty obvious). The test rated you on five different sensory learning styles: visual, logical, physical, auditory, and verbal.

The learning styles that I scored highest in were logical and verbal. I scored mid-range in auditory. I scored low on physical. However, the most notable result was that I scored zero points in the visual learner category. I took the test in stride at the time, attributing it to the fact that I’ve never taken an art class in my life. However, I spent some time really pondering it in the days following the workshop. This pondering led me to the determination that a suspicion I have had about myself for a long time is indeed true: I don’t see stuff.

What do I mean by that? Well, whether you’re a brief acquaintance or my closest friend, chances are highly likely that I have no idea what color your hair or eyes are. I couldn’t tell you what type of car you drive (not just the model…I don’t even know who made it) or what color it is. I couldn’t describe a single piece of clothing you’ve ever worn. If I have visited your house, I can’t tell you anything that is on your coffee table or describe any pictures you have. I have no idea what your cabinets look like, whether you have moulding on your walls, and couldn’t tell you one book on your bookshelf. Yeah…weird, huh? The single factor tying all of these things together is that they are primarily visual experiences…and I just seem to miss them. I just don’t see stuff.

In order to provide some contrast, here are a few other facts about myself. I can recount word-for-word entire conversations from high school, and most any conversation I’ve had in the past month. I can tell you exactly what songs were played (assuming I know the song) at pretty much every worship service I’ve been to in the six months. I remember the slogan of nearly every product I’ve ever “seen” a commercial for…though I couldn’t tell you what the product package looked like. I can explain to you how Catholic soteriology (view of sin) is the source of everything from the veneration of Mary to the selling of indulgences from a class I took three years ago. I could have walked you through every verb tense in Spanish by the end of my first semester in it (including the alternative imperfect subjunctive – ending in –ese instead of –iera). The main difference here is that these experiences/lessons were all auditory, verbal, or logical. Basically, if I hear, speak, or ponder something…I’ll remember it.

These were pretty interesting observations for me. However, as I pondered this more and began experimenting, I discovered that my ability to remember visual information is massively improved if attention has ever been drawn to those features verbally or logically. If you or someone else has ever literally spoken to me your eye or hair color, recounted to me a story about a specific coffee table item, or explained to me why you bought that shirt, I’ll almost never forget it. In essence, by simply having my attention drawn to a visual experience through a non-visual method, the whole game changes. This was a fascinating discovery for me…and it has helped in many areas of life as I’ve began to put it into practice.

In college, I would try to memorize things (be it scripture, programming functions, or spanish words) by simply reading them silently over and over. The reason, I feel, that this never really worked for me is that passive reading is a nearly 100% visual process. Given my tendencies…I retained absolutely nothing from it. In comparison, I remembered nearly every lecture I ever went to. For this reason, I rarely missed classes…but I also rarely read textbooks…and I always did pretty well in school.

So, recently, I’ve taken to trying to come up with a logical explanation or a verbal cue to help me when learning new things. If it’s scripture, I try to work my way thought not only what the words on the page are…but what they mean. I try to ponder synonyms with individual words to help me put a logical framework around the meaning of the passage. If nothing else, I’ll read out loud what I’m trying to remember. It’s been remarkable how much this has aided my retention. Along with this, I’ve forced myself to begin really looking at things around me. As I’ve done this…I began to notice all kinds of things I never had before: stickers (I’m the only person I know with absolutely no stickers on my guitar case or car), posters, graffiti, the little tree in the windows 7 logo on my desktop, earrings, dust, hubcaps, the different kinds of tree leaves, the fact that the headphones that came with my iPhone have a mic on them, and a host of other small details in the things around me. It’s really been weird for me to being seeing all the things I never really noticed in the least.

Given what I’ve learned, it’s obvious to me why I enjoy programming. It is one of the few disciplines that is perfectly suited to my learning styles. It is a highly logical discipline made up of (programming) languages that follow highly standardized linguistic patterns. This directly engages my two strongest learning styles. It also explains to me why I don’t enjoy the design side of the web. I simply do not currently have the propensity (whether through nature or nurture) to “see” or “pick up on” visual cues. Maybe it’s because my father and mother are both very logical. Maybe it’s because I’ve never taken an art class. Who knows? In any case…to anyone I’ve ever given a compliment on an outfit, accessory piece, paint job, etc…congratulations! You somehow managed to break through my 0% visual nature and truly stand out. To all the guys and girls out there who put in the extra time to really make themselves or their stuff look good…I’m starting to finally appreciate it.

How to Not Pay for Your Graduate Degree

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I work for a college within a public university. My primary job is to advertise the college and its programs to a variety of target markets. One of my primary target markets is students…both current and potential. As such, I’m always trying to find ways to make our degree programs more attractive.

One of the most marketable aspects of our college is the fact that we offer a number of graduate assistantships to our students. These positions are quite common at colleges around the country. However, I find that many students don’t understand what, exactly, these positions entail or how to get them. I had no idea what they were until I started working for the college. So, here’s an insider’s look at how assistantships work and why you should do everything in your power to get one.

The Benefits of Graduate Assistantships
Graduate Assistantships are, without a doubt, one of the sweetest deals out there. For an average of 15-25 hours of work per week, a graduate assistant receives either a full or partial waver of all tuition for a semester. In addition, many graduate assistants also receive a monthly stipend. At Georgia State, policy states that this stipend can be no less than $5,000 per year ($2,000 each for Fall and Spring and $1,000 for summer). This means that graduate assistants at GSU usually make around $500/month on top of the tuition waver. This number can go much higher depending on the hours required, the difficulty of the work, the student’s program of study, and the departmental budget. Ph. D students usually receive the best stipends ($2,000+ a month).

Here are some numbers on assistantships. A graduate assistant that works 20 hours a week for the fall semester (17 weeks) works 340 hours total. A minimal assistantship at GSU would provide $2,000 in stipend + $3,840 in tuition waver (~$17/hr) for an in-state student and $2,000 in stipend + $14,400 in tuition waver (~$51.25/hr) for an out-of-state student.

Types of Assistantships
There are three basic types of graduate assistantships: Graduate Research Assistantships (GRAs), Graduate Teaching Assistantships (GTAs), and Graduate Administrative Assistantships (GAAs). GRAs are perhaps the best known type of assistantship. A GRA usually works under an individual professor assisting with his or her research. In the sciences, this often means working in a lab and writing part or all of a research paper. In the arts, it often means assisting with data collection through interviews, surveys, and trips to the library or writing part or all of a research paper. These positions are great for students looking to begin building a CV, as they can often lead to having one’s name on a published paper. However, they can often take up more than the “weekly allotment” of hours assigned, as papers and research tend to “broaden” over time.

GTAs, in contrast, help to instruct other students at the college. For more advanced students, this often means teaching a full course. For others, it means giving a lecture here and there or running a breakout group. Sometimes, it can mean simply grading essays so a professor doesn’t have to. Like GRAs, GTAs are great for building one’s CV. Teaching a subject often provides a deeper level of understanding of the subject matter to the student…aiding said student in his or her own program of study. These can also often take up more than the “weekly allotment” of hours assigned, as grading papers and tests by hand and preparing lectures can take a lot of time.

The final type of graduate assistant is a GAA. While not as well known and perhaps not as plentiful as GRAs or GTAs, GAA positions are great to have. The primary reason for this is that they basically have no boundaries on what they can entail. GAAs assist the faculty, staff, and administration of a college with its day-to-day operations. Responsibilities of a GAA can be as simple as helping to file papers or as complex as helping to code the college website. A GAA might create posters to put up around the college advertising events, or they might help to plan and run the events themselves. A GAA is basically a short-term part-time college staff member.

Graduate Assistants from the College’s View

Having worked for a college for a while, I can say that our college (and I imagine many others) is run with a “skeleton crew.” There are just enough faculty and staff to get nearly everything done that needs to be done roughly a week to a month after it should have been done. We are simply short-staffed…and don’t have the budget to be able to hire more full-time employees. For this reason, graduate assistants are excellent investments to help us get work done without a large expenditure. We have a 3″ binder’s worth of paperwork that we have to fill out whenever we make a new full-time hire. In comparison, hiring a graduate assistant requires a few sheets of paper and a couple of signatures. Also, in our case, the tuition waver does not cost the college anything, as all tuition goes to the university itself. A graduate assistant that works 20 hours a week for the fall semester (17 weeks – 340 hours total) will receive $2,000 + a tuition waver. From the college’s point of view, that’s only $5.88 an hour out-of-pocket. Given the minimal cost and great benefit to the college of hiring a graduate assistant, they are very attractive investments.

Many colleges have a line in their admissions application that asks if you would like to be considered for assistantships. Some colleges even have a full application process just for assistantships. In my experience, faculty members aren’t always as “on the ball” as one might expect them to be. They are usually incredibly busy with the courses they teach and the research they do. This means they often don’t respond to (or even read) emails from the college administration concerning things like requests for assistantships. This leads to a lot of missed deadlines. That said, the assistantships that are advertised to incoming students may have been requested weeks in advance and are often positions that have been in existence for a while. As these positions are advertised to and usually applied for by the entire incoming class (who isn’t going to put “yes” on that question?), they are often extremely competitive. Once these positions are gone, many students just “give up” on an assistantship opportunity.

How to Get a Graduate Assistantship

As previously mentioned, the graduate assistantships offered to incoming students are quite sparse and very competitive. Faculty and staff often don’t have the time or the desire to seek out graduate assistants on their own. However, there is a great benefit to a college to hire graduate assistants. That’s where you come in. You’re a college student. You have a plethora of time on your hands. You have no money. What better way for you to spend your time than trying to talk every faculty and staff member you can find into giving you an assistantship?

The first step is to make sure you’ve got an accurate and up-to-date resume or CV that focuses in on the type of assistantship you want. Next, visit your department’s website and identify the individuals that you’d be interested in working under. For GRAs and GTAs, those individuals are probably faculty members. For GAAs, you’re looking for the department staff or administration. If you have noticed a glaring weakness in your department’s level of service in a particular area (e.g. – website not updated in 2 years, takes 4 weeks to see an advisor), target those areas specifically. They are probably under-staffed. Next, send an email to that faculty or staff member informing them that you are a student in their department and would like to meet with them. While faculty and staff sometimes don’t read emails from one another, they will rarely ignore emails from students. If you receive an email back asking for a reason for the meeting, be honest! Tell them you’re interested in talking to them about a potential GRA/GTA/GAA position, attach your resume, and sell your qualifications. If you do get a meeting set up, then go to the scheduled meeting and do the same thing. Make sure to emphasize what the tuition waver would mean to you. That provides a personal connection and will help get them “on your side.”

If you find that the individual you contact is staunchly against giving you an assistantship, ask them if they know of anyone else in the department who might be interested. Follow up with any leads they provide. If you exhaust the leads within your department, then look laterally to other departments within your college and do the same. Our college prefers to hire our own students as graduate assistants. If you find nothing at the department level, then move up and begin looking at the college or dean’s office levels. If you find nothing there and are at a university, then contact faculty/staff within other colleges (by now you should be getting good at this). They just might have an opening for you.

I’d wager that most graduate students never even consider trying to “sell their services” in the form of an assistantship. There’s really little to no competition for you if you’re willing to put in the effort to try to find an assistantship. Even so, it won’t always work out. Budgets are tightening on an annual basis. However, our college tends to do what it can to hang on to competent graduate assistants, as they’re not always easy to find. So, the sooner you find a position, the better!

I’m Not a Designer…but Even I Noticed… (Part 1)

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I’m a web developer. I dabble in the design world, but it just isn’t my strengh. However, even a simple developer like myself notices design trends on occasion. I recently stumbled on a few notable trends. I was so intrigued that I thought I’d share.

Given my lack of inherent design talent, I often turn to sites that I like the look of for inspiration when working on a project. I’m currently in the process of putting together a topical social networking site (more on that later). That said, the obvious first place to look was to the behemoths of that industry in the US…Facebook and Twitter. As I began to really look at their designs for the first time, I was intrigued by the huge similarities between the sites. I then turned to LinkedIn, another “big player” in the social networking market. It, again, had many of the same features. So, here are a few of them…illustrated through some miniaturized screenshots:

Splash Page




Overview & Header
The first thing I noticed were the basic layout components. All three sites are roughly 980-1,000 pixels wide. In all three sites, you have a header section with the logo top-left, as is the standard in most web sites. Facebook and twitter both have a sign-in section on the right side of the header that are carbon-copies of one another. They feature the standard un/pw fields, as well as “Remember me” and “Forgot password” buttons in identical places, and a standard submit button. Linkedin chose to omit this for some unknown reason…requiring a user to click a “Sign In” link to get to a login form.

Body
Following the header, all three sites have a main body section consisting of two columns. The first column is roughly 60% of the width of the site, while the second fill out the remaining 40%. All three sites utilize the left column for a “sales pitch” of sorts…a very short explanation of what the site is used for. They all use the right side for a “sign up” form. Interestingly, none of them feature a Captcha…so they apparently have other anti-spam features in place. Also, none of them have a password or email confirm box. Apparently, they trust their users to not make typing errors.

Footer
Finally, all three sites have a footer section with every link one could possibly need. Interestingly, all three have this footer section separated off and with a generic white background.

One last of-note item. Facebook and Twitter both throw a warning if you have Javascript disabled. Both recommend using the mobile version of their sites instead.

Authenticated User Landing Page



After signing in, all three services send you to a landing page with the most recent activity of your social network represented. Though the splash page above is technically the “home page” for these sites, this landing page acts as the “home page” as long as you’re signed in. Indeed, if you type the URL for one of the sites into your browser (e.g. – facebook.com) while logged in, this is where you will be directed to.

Header
All three sites have a header section that features a logo, a menu, and a search box. This section never changes as long as you’re signed in to the site. Twitter and Facebook’s header sections feature a solid color background that stretches 100% of the screen width. The logos all link to this landing page, but all three sites opted to include another separate “Home” link that takes you here as well. All three sites feature a button to allow you to change your account settings or sign out. Twitter’s button features your username, Linkedin features your actual name, and Facebook simply has the word “account.” Interestingly, all three sites use a drop-down menu to present your options to you once if you click this button. The search box present in the header of each site is intriguing in that all three of them use a magnifying glass icon as the submit button. This icon has been showing up more and more over time, and apparently is becoming the norm. Twitter and Facebook have the search box pre-filled with the word “Search”, while Linkedin features a dropdown to choose what to search for. All three sites feature direct “messaging” features between users, and a link is included in the header. Finally, all three sites have a “Profile” button that takes you to your personal page.

Body
The design of the body section of this page varies significantly between the three sites. Facebook uses a 3-column layout while Linkedin and Twitter use a 2-column. The extra column serves as a secondary menu for Facebook, containing many of the links that Linkedin placed in its top menu. Twitter’s menu is not centralized, but links are dispersed throughout the content itself.
That said, there are still many similarities between the sites.

All three sites feature a prominent input box for quickly posting an update. Interestingly, Twitter is the only one of the three that does not pre-load the input box with some help text (“Share an update”). Facebook and Linkedin utilize a thought-bubble-style box with a small protrusion pointing toward another section of the page. Below this “update box” is a list of recent updates from other members of the social network that you are connected with. Each of these updates features a square photo of the individual/group ranging from 48 to 60px square. Each update is separated by a single pixel light grey line. Each update includes contextual buttons that appear when you mouse over the individual story. Twitter and Linkedin use tabular-style buttons to allow these updates to be filtered (though Twitter’s buttons also feature other things).Facebook and Twitter dynamically load more content if you scroll down to the bottom of the page. Linkedin offers a button to do the same, meaning they have the capability but do not want it to be automatic. Every textual link on Facebook and Linkedin is formatted with the generic blue link color and receives an underline when you mouse over it. Twitter opts for dark grey (#333) links that turn blue and are underlined if you mouse over them.

The right column on all three sites features a “widget” section. All three sites have a widget suggesting other users or pages to “connect with.” Facebook features a widget for its event feature, as well as a targeted ad or two. While I’m on ads…Linkedin has a single text ad at the very top of the main content section, as well as having ads before the footer. Twitter opted to move the footer to the right column since it auto-expands the content. Facebook did not, and it can get old trying to get to the footer since the content keeps bumping it down.

Conclusion

Part 2 will come at some point…in which I’ll look at the profile section, messaging, and the post-logout screen.