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When Will I Use Math?

The Williams Math Department links (approvingly?) to the When Will I Use Math? webpage. For 95% of Williams students, isn’t the answer to that question “Never?”

1) Almost no one who is not in a numbers-related field uses calculus, much less anything beyond that, after college. How many of our readers have used the math that they learned at Williams after graduation? Have you had to do any real analysis recently? Topology? If you aren’t a math professor (or an academic in the mathematically orientated subfield of some other discipline), math is irrelevant.

2) Even those who go on to be math teachers, like my roommate Chris Jones ’88, now head of the Math Department at Horace Mann, spend almost all their time teaching the math that they knew before they arrived at Williams.

3) Even the geeky people in finance and business (like me) almost never use anything beyond calculus. In a decade of applied work, I have used calculus no more than a handful of times.

As always, I am a fan of the Math/Stat Department and think that being a math major is almost always a great idea. And everyone who wants to increase their chances of success in the business world should take every statistics class that Williams offers as well as a computer science class or two. But, only a handful of students will actually use the math that they learn at Williams after they graduate.

Q: When Will I Use Math?
A: Never


Not To Be Missed

100 office public affairs

(graphic copyright Williams Office of Public Affairs)

Three members of the Class of 2009 (Hillary Betchelder, Donald Molosi, and Amanda Montano) compiled a list of things their classmates recommend that current and prospective students do before leaving Williams. The Office of Public Affairs has made a poster posting. There are plenty of things visiting alums can catch up on, too.

You’ll see a lot of EphBloggers’ favorites: adventures on Stone Hill, apple cider donuts on Stoney Ledge on Mountain Day, taking a math class, playing broom ball, and taking a tutorial.

What would you add?


How to Get A Job

Looking to get a job post graduation? According to the New York Times, you should take David’s Winter Study Course. Students taking this class are much more likely to get desirable internships/jobs than students, all else equal, who do not take this class.


Atkins ’11 in Fortune

Fortune magazine profile of Gordon Atkins ’11 (via Sports Info).

At the beginning of his fall 2008 semester at Williams College, Gordon Atkins made a list of all the baseball teams in cities where he knew he could find a place to crash. There were only five.

He contacted them all, and by November, he’d landed a gig with the Minor League Baseball’s Daytona Cubs as one of 15 unpaid interns. (To make the trip possible, he secured a grant from his school.)

As glamorous as working for a professional baseball team may sound, Atkins’s gig isn’t all fun and games. The economics major does spend some time making sales calls, organizing promotional events, and choosing music to play during games, but he also picks up trash, hawks concessions, and sells tickets. He now even knows what it’s like to visit bars dressed as the Cubs’ bear mascot, Cubby.

Good stuff. Kudos to Atkins for showing such initiative and to the generous alumni who have provided summer internship funding.

My advice to Atkins (and anyone else interested in professional sports) is to learn some statistics at Williams. (Taking my Winter Study class is a good idea, too.) Although spending one summer picking up trash is a character building experience, Atkins probably has higher goals for his future career. Read Money Ball. For the vast majority of Williams students, performing data analysis in order to predict the future performance of players is their comparative advantage.


Kids these days, part XVIII

From a WSO discussion thread:

Hey guys,

I’m looking to buy the iphone, but I’m concerned that some of the apps won’t work due to the lack of “3g service” in the area. How necessary is this for the iphone’s function? Also, if you have the iphone could you tell me about your experience with it in Williamstown? How’s the Internet connectivity, reception, access to apps, etc?

btw…i know at the moment all the service is screwed due to the towers, but i’m asking in general, thanks!

As a confirmed Crackberry addict, my first response to this is to say: you’re in Williamstown! What do you need apps for? Come on! You’ll have plenty of time to commune with your smartphone when you have a job and a commute. Don’t waste your youth (not to mention your money).

I’d also just like to take this opportunity to link to and quote from this 2002 Record editorial (thanks to Mike for pointing it out in this thread):

May we, then, beg a question of the student body, particularly the freshman class, whose members have yet to fully learn the ways of Williams?

Could you please turn your cell phones off?

We will not for a minute pretend to be sappy nature-loving environmentalists yearning for a return to yesteryear and an end to global warming and the ills of the industrialized world. But please, to preserve our college’s tranquility, could you at least put it on vibrate?

Whether in the Snack Bar, in class, or walking around campus, an undeniable fact exists: cell phones have invaded Williams and, outside of the dorm room, they are miserable objects.

We realize that communication in Williamstown is difficult; indeed, Billsville boasts a bustling Main Street, and Water Street is arguably an urban thoroughfare as well. The nearest e-mail stations are far away – at least a five-minute walk from any location in town.

There are also handy blue-light campus phones, which can be located by turning 360 degrees from any location on campus. Unlike cell phones, these phones provide free weekday, weekend and night service. Thus, it seems that most students on campus could survive without tormenting their fellow classmates with Britney’s latest on their ringer.

Undeniably, there are practical reasons for owning a cell phone. The long distance rates are cheaper than College rates and if students own cars, cell phones may be used to contact people in case of an emergency.

But cell phones can also be the bane of a professor’s existence. There is nothing more embarrassing for all students, and particularly the student who owns the phone, when a cell phone starts ringing in the middle of class. Or even, worse, when the student answers the phone, as has happened in some classes. And, goodness, how can a professor compete with a classic such as Beethoven’s Seventh blasting at maximum volume as you try to find the phone and dig it out of your bag to turn it off?

I don’t think the Record editors saw the iPhone coming. Ringtones were bad enough, but now you can tweet and Facebook (is that a verb?) from the palm of your hand. No way will professors be able to compete with that.

PS: Not that I mean to turn this into Craigslist’s Casual Encounters Missed Connections section, but to the young woman wearing a Williams t-shirt and Williams jogging shorts in midtown this morning: please don’t run through busy intersections in Manhattan with your iPhone earbuds in your ears while staring down at your iPhone. It is extremely dangerous. Unlike the courteous drivers you may be used to in Billsville, you might actually get run over here. Also, when weird alumni shout “Hey!! You went to Williams?!” across Sixth Avenue at you, the earbuds might prevent you from hearing me/them.


Quarry Info

Our friends at WSO are looking for information on local quarries. Could someone please post this link there?


Academic Sorting Hat

Appropriately, given that this is graduation season, when a young person’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of grad school, Dan Drezner ’90 posts a Sorting Hat mechanism to determine whether or not one is suited for academia:

There is a certain type of mindset that is well-suited to the academy, and will be happy even if they live a life of post-doctoral fellowships, adjunct positions, and visiting positions.  And given that higher education might be the next bubble to burst, it would be good if we had some kind of Sorting Hat mechanism to inform people before they entered a doctoral program whether they’re doing the right thing.

For those academic wannabes out there, here’s a simple three-question survey to help guide you through this very important choice:

A)  You are happiest when you see your name:

  1. Mentioned on television.
  2. Tagged on Facebook.
  3. Listed in the acknowledgments of an obscure article written by a former professor for whom you were an RA.

B)  It is 2 AM on Saturday morning.  You are:

  1. Asleep.
  2. Still out partying.
  3. Feeling an odd compulsion to catch up on Arts & Letters Daily.

C)  Which of the following phrases gets you the most excited?

  1. “This job offer comes with a 401(k).”
  2. “I scored two tickets to the Red Sox game.”
  3. “Your paper has been accepted without revision.”

If your answer to all of the above was (3), then yeah, you’re pretty much doomed fated to trying out academia.


Things learned during freshman year

Juliana Stone ’12 has a list:

Things I learned during my freshman year of college:

1. How to do laundry.

2. How to use a mass spectrometer.

3. That WebMD is dangerous.

4. You need to go to the snack bar before 11 a.m. because they’re usually out of grilled honeybuns by then.

Things I didn’t learn during my freshman year of college:

1. How to read a map.

2. The right tour route — I think I’ve accidentally been making up my own.

3. How to unlock my door.

4. What squash is or how to play it.

Add your own in the thread below. I’d say laundry ranks pretty high on my list, along with the realization that I would, sadly, never master a highly inflected language.

Oh, and go read Juliana’s article here.


Adjusting for gunshots

As the academic years comes to a close, Wick Sloane ’76 writes a powerful encomium to his students at Bunker Hill Community College. A few snippets below, but please, go read the whole thing, and share it with anyone you know fortunate enough to be a graduate:

Adjusted for gunshots, my student retention rate for this semester is 81 percent, my all-time high. I teach College Writing 1, an entry-level course. The graduating students signing up for their caps and gowns down the hall from my Bunker Hill Community College office now are two years and more ahead of my students. The national policy spotlights are always on the completion rates for community college students. Beyond “a lot more than today,” no one knows what the completion rates ought to be for this struggling, diverse, multilingual, mostly part-time population of 6.5 million, about half the undergraduates in the nation. […]

By “adjusted for gunshots,” here’s what I mean. I did not count in the starting total Cedirick Steele, who was shot and killed in Dorchester on Thursday of spring break 2007. I did count the mother this semester, who could not complete an assignment about a month ago because her son was shot.

I did count the 20-year-old man whose work and home life barely give him time to read the assignments. I spent an hour with him this morning. “I’ve had a bad weekend. Thursday, a week ago, there was a shootout in front of my house,” he said. “Then, Saturday night, one of my friends was shot in the face. I think he’s going to be eating through a tube for the rest of his life.” This student and I revised his plan for completing the semester. He and the mother agreed to complete the assignments over the summer. […]

I start each semester explaining that the national expectation is that only half of them will complete the course. The reason is the complexity of their lives, whether grueling night jobs at Logan Airport or gunshots or sick children. I give them my name and my cell phone and my e-mail. I tell them they can call any time. No one has abused that. “We’re only all going to make it if we help each other. I want you to get the name and phone number and the e-mail of the person to your left and to your right.” They do. “Now, I want you to shake hands with the person on your left and on your right and say, ‘I am committed to you being here in May (or December).’ ” I ask them to walk around and shake hands with everyone in the class, with the same commitment. The students humor me. […] Students have reported two pieces of (anecdotal) evidence, according to colleagues. The first is that I am “crazy.” The second is that they make strong new friendships in my sections. […]

Eighty-one percent made it, adjusted for gunshots. The economy may be stabilizing. Federal tax policies, which offer tens of thousands to students at the schools I attended, Williams and Yale, and nothing to Bunker Hill students, are the same. Those colleges will try to regain what they lost by taking their endowments to the dog track. My students don’t know if they will have enough money to enroll in the fall. That’s a jeremiad for another day.

The Ones Who Made It To May [Inside Higher Ed]


Portrait of a Moderate: Lincoln ’09 on Claiming Williams

One of the rarer dispositions among 18 to 21 year-olds and beyond is moderateness on compelling topics. Not apathy, but a considered moderateness.

I enjoyed finding an example of this kind of thought in the WSO discussion on Claiming Williams. Matthew Lincoln ’09 writes:

Reading through it, I was surprised to find that almost none of the dozens of posters there expressed the conflicted view that I found myself taking – I felt for Shayla’s frustration at the same time that I felt no small indignation at some of the gross generalizations being made about the “rich white crowd”.

[. . .]

Dan, I was hearing shades of that either/or tone during the final forum on CW in Paresky when Kim Dacres sort of shot down your very reasonable observation that some of your friends felt, rightly or wrongly, alienated by the language surrounding the whole day. I’m really glad you brought up that point, just as I sympathized when Kim said she almost didn’t want to be at a place where some students didn’t even bother to come to the table. Does it sound weird to somehow think both of those things at the same time? I regret that the panel didn’t seem willing to dig into it much.


As Useless As You Thought?

Matt Swanson ’97, who writes the estimable Barnstorming blog (we recommend stopping by regularly for a baby fix), and a few of his friends will be hosting this event at Brooks Rogers on Feb. 9:

Basically, we’re going to have a panel in which we will describe for current students our various routes to lives in the arts, explaining that being an artist sometimes means finding a way to pay the bills by non-artistic means as a way of subsidizing the creative habit. We will then eat dinner with any of them who might enjoy the proposition before returning to the stage for a performance that will include music, literature (variously defined), and images.

Sounds like fun.

By the way, you might note from the poster that “Psych. Prof. / Drummer” Kris Kirby will be there. In case you’ve never seen him in action, here’s his band playing Stacy’s Mom (which is probably the 8th biggest hit Williams can take some credit for, next to West Side Story and half a dozen of Lee Hom Wang’s singles) in a video taken by EphBlog editor Diana Davis:

From this we can conclude that a) they rock and b) absorb all light in their immediate vicinity.

(h/t SophMom)


Everyone Goes to White Castle

Change is coming to Williams in 2009!  Or, rather, wafting in.  Come January 20, marijuana will be effectively legalized in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  Berkshire County DA David Capeless admits as much to the NYT today, in the process of bitching about the insuperable enforcement challenges presented by the recently-passed decriminalization measure.

To recap: anyone caught with an ounce or less of weed will owe nothing more than a $100 civil fine.  No arrest.  No criminal record.  No criminal anything.  But it gets better!

A complicating factor, said Mr. Capeless, the district attorney in Berkshire County, is that state law bans the police from demanding identification for civil infractions.

“Not only do you not have to identify yourself,” he said, “but it would appear from a strict reading that people can get a citation, walk away, never pay a fine and have no repercussion.”

That’s one way to hit Johnny Lawman where it hurts.  A further complication affects Williams less than, say, MCLA in nearby North Adams.

Mr. Capeless said that in particular the department needed to address a clause in the new law that said neither the state nor its “political subdivisions or their respective agencies” could impose “any form of penalty, sanction or disqualification” on anyone found with an ounce or less of marijuana.

“It appears to say that you get a $100 fine and they can’t do anything else to you,” he said. “Can a police officer caught with marijuana several times get to keep his job and not be disciplined in any fashion? Can public high schools punish kids for smoking cigarettes but not for having pot?”

Either way, pot-smoking Ephs are likely to feel a lot more comfortable by the end of Winter Study.

The decriminalization measure passed about 65-35 back on Election Day.



I was shocked and disheartened to read this in a WSO discussion thread about the (probably mythical) “South of the Border” sandwich:

Way back in the good ‘ol days when snackbar was in Mission it was some combination of grilled chicken, ciabatta bread, avocado and some kind of cheese. From what I understand they don’t make it anymore, and I know someone who is very upset by this fact.

Kids these days.

Those who remember the real good ol’ days will probably recall the Mission snackbar as a dingy and forgettable temporary exile for the snackbar from its rightful location at the center of campus. The place had very little personality (except a tiny bit gained through the addition of the original Baxter snackbar chairs), and making the long hike out to Mission on a wintry night was a terribly depressing experience for those of us who lived on the other side of campus.

I think the class of 2007 was the only one to experience all three iterations of the snackbar during their time at Williams (Baxter -> Mission -> Paresky), and I personally am still prejudiced in favor of the first one. The Paresky snackbar might acquire some of the personality and charm of the Baxter snackbar in a decade or two (if it lasts that long).

I realize that the paragraph above makes me sound like a crotchety old man, and yes, it does feel good.

In another snackbar item, current students should note that no, you should not be paying any tax at the snackbar. We used to pay tax, but Godfrey Bakuli on College Council got it repealed – and students should be watchful for any backsliding on this issue.


Major Decisions

 As the mom of an Eph who has not yet decided on a major, I thought the subject might make for a worthwhile discussion.

  When first applying to Williams, one of the things my son noticed, was that he didn’t need to declare a major. Since he had no clue as to what to put in that blank space on the application, this was, in his opinion, a plus.

  There seem to be people who know from an early age, exactly what they want to do with their lives. He is not one of them. And in his case, the old adage, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” does indeed apply. His parents have spent a lifetime in search of what they want to do when they grow up. Thank goodness all of our endeavors have been fairly interesting, as well as lucrative enough to pay the mortgage.

 But he will need to declare eventually, and though he has not asked my counsel, I am trying to prepare myself to be of service should he seek it. There are endless sources for advice on this subject, and in my opinion, EB might as well be one of them.

 How many of you are of that ilk who knew from an early age, what their life’s work might be? If not, were you inspired by a professor, or a particularly great class? What kind of guidance did the college provide in your quest? 

 And the other thing I’d be curious to hear, is how many of you ended up in careers that were closely associated with your majors? It seems more typical, that one hears otherwise. Was that the case for you?

  In the hopes of inspiring some levity, I close with the words of Dave Barry. According to Mr. Barry…

“Basically, you learn two kinds of things in college:

1. Things you will need to know in later life (two hours).

2.Things you will not need to know in later life (1,998 hours).”

 So, since I am paying the tuition on all 2000 of the hours of which Mr. Barry speaks, I am hoping that your stories will convince me that the subject matter on which you chose to focus those hours, was well worth every penny.



David Foster Wallace on the liberal arts

From a commencement address given at Kenyon in 2005:

Probably the most dangerous thing about college education, at least in my own case, is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract arguments inside my head instead of simply paying attention to what’s going on right in front of me. Paying attention to what’s going on inside me. As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head. Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal-arts cliché about “teaching you how to think” is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: “Learning how to think” really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.” This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in the head. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger. And I submit that this is what the real, no-bull- value of your liberal-arts education is supposed to be about: How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default-setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out.


CC has $35,000 to spend – ideas?

The following was sent to students yesterday:

We hope everyone is doing well and successfully adjusting back into class mode.
College Council is writing to get your advice and give you a chance to help make a major financial decision for the campus.

College Council raised $35,000 by closing the college accounts of defunct student groups.  We now want to use that money for a large campus improvement project and we are giving the student body the power to decide how to spend it.

Read more


Good People of Williams

I was poking around on EphBlog looking for something, when I realized I’d never really looked at the Ephblog Quote Wall. Looking over it, I saw this:

In some respects what we say may never matter, yet history has proven time and again that there are sometimes cases where one voice has made a difference. The most successful of these though were always the ones who were compassionate in their cause and careful with their words. — M. Esa Seeglum ’06

I’ll be honest that I have no idea what inspired this quote or who the author is (the link on the page was broken). But it lead me to reflect on my time at Williams and some of those who had inspired me. It also made me contemplate Larry’s suggestion that we might discuss people at Williams that had great influence on us, be it professors, fellow students, townsfolk, staff, or otherwise. I suppose this could be for the better or for the worse, but I’m hoping better. For any recently admitted students who have stumbled upon us, I hope this can give you a flavor of why we Eph Alums are so involved (sometimes overly so) in our alma mater. As you can see from this blog, our fierce loyalty involves sometimes equally fierce criticism because we want Williams to continue to improve. But I think it is safe to say that Williams has had a great impact on the lot of us, and it is good to periodically step back and remember why.

For me, there are quite a few people who had great influence on me, but I’ll start with one here. Professor Bill Darrow, Chair of the Religion Department and all-around great guy. Of course, he is a brilliant professor, but I had a number of brilliant professors at Williams. There was something extra in the way he managed to welcome students to explore complex questions, to challenge us and yet make us feel “safe” in some way to do it. He taught tutorials in his cramped office in the Stetson maze with books surrounding you on all sides, wearing what can only be described as “Cosby sweaters.” He was like a caring uncle or grandparent – but a really, really smart one. For those of you out there who know him, you’ll also recall his particular manner of speaking where his voice dropped when he made a point and how he would kind of look upward as he reached for words sometimes.

I came to Williams as a little overachiever, as most of us did. I didn’t do so well in my first Religion class – at least for me – and my confidence was shaken. Indeed, my first semester grades were my worst by far at Williams. But I was lucky enough to have Prof. Darrow as my advisor. He was encouraging, gently pushing me to still take his 300-level tutorial as a freshman the way I had originally planned (coming in, I had quite big plans for myself). What possessed me to think I could handle it, I don’t know. What possessed him to encourage me to keep going with it, I don’t know that either. It was remarkable. I was challenged every week, struggling with texts that I only partially understood, trying to put together a 10-15 page paper or critique another student’s each week, and I’m sure looking like a complete idiot. But it was one of the most valuable experiences of my time at Williams. I got through it, proved to myself I could stack up with other students despite the immense self-doubt I was feeling at the time. It also lead me to major in Religion, the subject where I, on average, had some of my lowest grades. But Professor Darrow convinced me that was okay, he was one of the first people to help me realize the value of just thinking, and thinking hard about things. There didn’t have to be a problem to solve, the pursuit itself was worthy – and the grades, while important, were not the best judge of a successful course.

I stuck with it, and “Papa D” continued to challenge me, and comfort me, through my time at Williams. During our senior major seminar for religion, the group of 10-12 of us spent Wednesday afternoons together at the top of Hopkins Hall discussing birth and death (yes, the actual topic of the seminar), and often staying late after class still discussing the issues. We also managed to use the Sixth Sense, Bladerunner, and the Neverending Story in our presentations in that class, showing the sense of humor he also exhibited toward us! He encouraged us to gather for lunch beforehand (and came to my co-op once for it, to my great thrill), to continue these discussions, to explore the flights of ideas hatched in the mind of 21-year-olds late in the afternoon.

It was his office I cried in the spring of my junior year when everything seemed for the moment to be falling apart around me. I was trying to serve on the JASC, had a suicidal first-year in my entry, a paper due in his class and another, some other student-activity related issue happening, and it was the first anniverary of an old friend’s death. I went in to ask for an extension on the paper (which he always gave to anyone), and ended up spending part of the afternoon there with him, the stacks of books, and a box of kleenex. He probably doesn’t even remember it, but his compassion reflected all that was good about the close student-faculty relationship at Williams to me.

I had the good fortune to serve as his TA in my final semester. When we talked about the job, he mentioned the value he saw in going back to those texts from Religion 101, the ones that he knew had given me so much trouble at the beginning. It was a way to complete the circle of my time at Williams. He actually thought about things like that – the full cycle of education and growth, and how it impacted his students.

Going forward in my life, I have sought to model that combination of encouragement and support – with a little push to challenge oneself. I also have to pause sometimes and remember the value of things that aren’t so task-oriented. Reading important books and thinking important thoughts are good things. So there is my (somewhat sappy) anecdote for you all about someone at Williams who influenced me. I hope that others will add their own posts in the commentary. And if you don’t, I’ll be forced to add more of my own!


Alternate Spring Break

Bloomberg reports on students using Spring Break to do community service:

Williams College, in Williamstown, Massachusetts, has seven public service field trips this year, involving about 65 students, said Rick Spalding, the college’s chaplain and community service coordinator. The ranks of student volunteers swelled after Katrina, and the numbers have remained high because of students’ awareness of their own impact on issues such as climate change, he said.

“This is not a selfish generation,” Spalding said. “If their parents — people in my generation — had been as conscious, we might not be in the mess we’re in.”

I was drawn into my first such trip during freshman year because I was told that dorms would be closed over spring break, and I needed an inexpensive way to spend two weeks 8000 miles from home. Cabo was not an option, but going on a service trip was free. It turned out to be one of the most worthwhile things I did during my time at Williams.

I would be extremely wary of for-profit companies such as STA Travel who “market community-service themed trips”. Given the generosity of existing institutions at Williams, you really shouldn’t have to pay much out of pocket in order to do community service; our trip was funded entirely by a combination of an alumni gift and the Chaplain’s Office.

I also found a tremendous amount of help from Rick Spalding in getting funding to spend a summer working for SOME in Washington, DC. As this was a mostly-unpaid position with a small charity, I remain grateful to Rev. Spalding for his support. Students interested in doing similar projects, whether over spring break or summer or during the academic year, need only approach the Chaplain’s Office with their idea.


Continuing Discussion on Textbook Use

What began as a follow-up comment to our recent discussion about textbooks at Williams got rather long. As I confessed in that thread, this is a topic near and dear to my heart: I was a student on hefty financial aid, and while my parents would have paid for books or I could have afforded them myself, the cost of books had I bought all new and all “required”
editions would have exceeded the sum of my spending on all other things over the same period of time. This includes travel, entertainment, restaurant meals, whatever. Once your room and board are paid, it is possible to live frugally at Williams, and I did.

That’s not some kind of crazy boast(?), it is just an effort to put this discussion into perspective. Knowledge is nearly priceless. A good, unduplicated reference in a subject you care about is worth its weight in gold, and it would be crass of me or others to argue that I and other students scrimp on books in order to, say, go snowboarding over Winter Study. But should we, as Uible suggested, regard buying the newest editions a “petty matter” to be “treated by the students as merely a surcharges on tuition”? I answer, emphatically, no.

Below the break are my thoughts on this matter, derived from an experience with the topic that is arguably as broad as a student could have, beginning literally before my first day of classes, when I went to the 1914 Library seeking my first textbook: Saul Kassin’s 3rd edition of Psychology.

Read more


Note to current Ephs who’ve signed on with Bear Stearns

I know there’s usually a few seniors who get a job there, and a similar number of summer analysts; for them, here’s some unsolicited advice from Dealbreaker:

who needs summer [analysts] when they don’t know if they’ll make it through spring? your best bet is to dress up the resume and restart your search process. if you managed to get an offer from bsc, I’m sure you’re still marketable – however, the field just got a lot more crowded. ditto for full time offers. back in 2001, banks deferred or withdrew offers outright. this is no different

I don’t mean to panic anyone, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.


Learning from History: The Social Honor Code Proposal of 2004

Readers may recall that I have made the point a few times that, when it comes to social issues, controversies, and student self-governance at Williams, there is a certain circularity that seems to escape the notice of most on campus. The last time I wrote on this it was to cover 2007’s resurrection of the idea to “lock down” campus dorms to non-residents after a certain hour, in the name of descreasing vandalism. This same idea had been almost foisted on students four years ago, nearly to the day. Thankfully, Security showed forbearance in 2003, and student voters showed good sense in 2007.

The present project of a large group of students to consider adopting a Social Honor Code is another case of nothing new, and as intrepid and proud of their work as today’s students rightly feel, I hope proponents and opponents alike are aware that their peer predecessors had the same concerns and solution. Once again, nearly precisely 4 years ago, a draft of a Social Honor Code was on the floor at College Council. Sabrina Wirth ’05 was its author and main proponent, and she brought it to the floor during the 14 January 2004 Meeting of College Council. The text of her draft and the debate over it are recorded in the linked minutes from that meeting, and included below the break for (highly) interested readers.

Back then, the project was allowed to be forgotten. A number of people including myself volunteered to work with Sabrina on the project, but it was never followed up on, due to a combination of timing, disinterest or suspicion by some in Council, including myself. Then and now, I did not believe in implementing such a code, largely because I knew it would be actually enforced by the dean, and not what I considered a true representative body of the community. The ability to “enforce community standards” is the most broad and vague source of disciplinary power for the Dean, and I had no desire to see it strengthened.

I don’t at all wish to impose my views or arguments on the students of today, though I do hope this:

  1. Students will read Sabrina’s work and the discussions of their predecessor peers.
  2. Students will not make the interpretation of community standards the discretion of a dean, who is already the executor and need not be made judge or jury as well.
  3. If they draft a code, students make it one amendable by students alone. The Academic Honor Code is amendable only by faculty and, in this way, is not a good model for a code of the community. Only a tiny percentage of the faculty are any meaningful part of the social community.
  4. The code be publicly deliberated and voted on, and written records kept of all deliberations. All of this will be crucial to properly implementing and revising such a code in the future.

Awful as scrawling “nigger” is, arguably worse incidents took place shortly before and after Sabrina’s code proposal, and it was not taken up by enough believers to continue her effort. I’d have to bet on the side of the idea of this code being eventually dropped—doing it right would take so much time and thought, and doing it wrong would be awful—but if a code is implemented, one thing is certain: administrators now and ever after will describe it as a mandate, as “the restrictions students convened to place upon themselves.”

They had better be smart ones. When you hand over the freedom to determine community standards informally—through public shame and subtler private mechanisms—no one ever hands it back to you.
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Undergraduates Everywhere Ignoring DDF’s Advice

The WSJ reports that, in spite of EphBlog’s tireless efforts, love is, in fact, dead:

Remember the movie “Love Story” and its star-crossed student lovers? Such torrid campus romances may be becoming a thing of the past. College life has become so competitive, and students so focused on careers, that many aren’t looking for spouses anymore.

Replacing college as the top marital hunting ground is the office. Only 14% of people who are married or in a relationship say they met their partners in school or college, says a 2006 Harris Interactive study of 2,985 adults; 18% met at work. That’s a reversal from 15 years ago, when 23% of married couples reported meeting in school or college and only 15% cited work, according to a 1992 study of 3,432 adults by the University of Chicago.

Gone are the days when sororities and dorms marked engagements with candle-passing ceremonies while men serenaded beneath the windows.

Seriously, when did people ever do that?

If you’re a parent, as I am, you may be wondering what all this means. Such sordid campus-life portrayals as Tom Wolfe’s “I Am Charlotte Simmons” aside, the news about students’ social lives isn’t all bad. To be sure, the “hookup culture” — the campus trend toward casual sexual behavior, usually linked with alcohol and no expectations of a continuing relationship — is rife. Some 76% of college students have engaged in hookups, which usually stop short of intercourse, according to a study of 4,000 students by Stanford University sociology professor Paula England.

And this is different from the ’60s, ’70s, or ’80s how? If anything, students are a great deal more prudish now than they were 30 years ago, and they’re much more concerned about staying safe than the generation that brought us the sexual revolution. Plus ça change…


Way to an Eph’s heart

As a practical follow-up to David’s exhortation, Bess Levin (Amherst ’07) at DealBreaker summarizes how to woo Erin Burnett (Williams ’98):

1. Buy me a vacation.

2. Let me pick a vacation, and then buy it for me.

3. Buy my parents a vacation.

4. Buy me a yoga instructor.

5. Buy me an expensive stationary bike.

6. Buy me a couple of famous authors to dine with (simultaneously).

7. Buy me a personal chef.

8. Buy me a vacation.

In case you’re interested, you can read Erin’s original list. And here’s Bess in a more forgiving mood:

There comes a time in every Amherst student’s life when she must put aside the feelings of hate that stir in her body for the vile weed that is Williams College and say, in the face of Williams alum Erin Burnett: this chick is hot.

And as a Williams grad, I must admit that Amherst alum Bess Levin is probably the funniest writer in the financial world. Here is a marvelous interview with Ms. Levin.


Lessons from the Lockdown Debate of 2003

Four years and three days ago College Council debated this very issue, and decided overwhelmingly against restricted card access. Direct input from a large number of students was the basis of the decision; we had an unusually high influx of opinions that week.

I urge the leaders of campus today to remember the debate of four years ago, links to its records are in the extended entry. I urge them also to remember that no decision that provides Security with a new tool that they feel prevents danger and damages can be easily reversed. In other words, restricted access in even some dorms this year is highly likely to lead to at least as much restriction in future years, and likely more, and even if no benefit from such restraints were to materialize the restrictions will remain in place.

We are looking at not just an inconvenience this semester but likely an enduring change in campus culture. Students may well have this forced on them someday, but they ought not to take it by choice.

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Where to go? How about joining our armed forces?

How many people missed this news?

Williams is an interesting place, where student athletes excel. I know David flogs hard and fast for the Corps, which is great. Given the level of talent and athleticism at Williams, perhaps some more of you may be interested in something like this?

Something to think about…. other Ephs have, why not you?


Listen To Me

I am giving a talk at Williams today on “How To Get a Cool Job in Finance” at 4:00 PM in the Rogers Room on the 4th floor of Hopkins Hall. All are welcome! Details below. (Bumped to top.)

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Course Selections for a Finance Career

I am occasionally asked by students which courses will increase one’s chances of getting a (good) job in finance and increase one’s likelihood of success in that job. Below are some thoughts. Other comments welcome.

1) It does not matter what major you are. As a concrete example, one of my summer interns from last year, Dan Gerlanc ’07, just started an excellent job at Geode Capital even though he majored in Comparative Literature. Geode did not care what his major was, but they did care (a lot) about his skill set. In particular, there is no advantage to being an Economics major (as I was). Very few of the economics courses at Williams have any direct application in the working world.

2) You must prove that you aren’t scared of math or computers. One way to do that is to take at a couple of classes in either, but that is not required. But few finance firms are going to want to hire someone that can’t deal with spreadsheets. It can be an advantage to take a bunch of MATH/CS classes, both to prove that you are numerical and to demonstrate your smarts. There are very few (any?) dumb CS or MATH majors at Williams. Employers know this.

3) The best classes to take are STAT. If you are even thinking of going into finance, or any sort of business, I urge you to take every STAT class that Williams offers. STAT 201 is a must. (Skip 101.) Courses like 341 and 346 will also be very helpful, although I wish there were more applied work in both. The best class to take this year, at least if you are interested in quantitative finance, is STAT 442T: Computational Statistics and Data Mining, a great topic, well-taught, with attention to all the messy details in the real world. I can’t recommend that class highly enough.

4) To take all those STAT classes, you will have to take some MATH. In particular, you need calculus through MATH 105/106 and linear algebra (MATH 211). The MATH Department is, as we all know, one of the best at Williams, but the vast majority of its other classes have nothing to do with a career in finance. But, if you like math, you should still take them all. Study what you love.

5) Before compiling this list, I had never seen MATH 373(S) Investment Mathematics. Is it any good? I think the world of the professor, Frank Morgan, and the topics covered are important. Highly recommended. Note that, if you are interested, you need to be taking Linear Algebra this fall.

6) Being able to make the computer do what you want it to do is important in finance and in business. While you do not need to take the intro CS courses (134 and 136), I recommend that you do so. It will help you get a job and, in all likelihood, make you better at the job you get. Then, if you like computer science, you should take more classes in the department, especially ones that involve building real programs (not theory) and getting your hands dirty with data. 319, 373, 315, and 374 all look interesting and educational.

7) What about economics? Well, I have nothing against economics and there are certainly many excellent professors. Despite my occasional digs, I am a big fan of professors like David Zimmerman and Ralph Bradburd. There are also many interesting courses. (ECON 458T(F) Economics of Risk and ECON 357T(F) The Strange Economics of College look fascinating. And, as always, you should take at least one tutorial every semester.) But are there any classes that will actually increase your chances of getting a finance job or your success in it? Not really. Being an Economics major does prove to potential employers that you aren’t scared of math, but an English major can do the same with a STAT course or two.

Other comments welcome.


To the Class of Oh-leven

This week marks the arrival of new frosh on campus, about to embark on one of the best times at williams: First Days. Remember that experience? Awkward first encounters, first entry dinners, surviving solely on name tags, thinking that 550 people in your class was a large number (hah.), walking around campus when the weather is warm and everyone is happy, just before schoolwork kicks in, the weather turns colder, and it starts to feel like, well, school. I like to think of it as Camp Williams: bonding, fun, new experiences- it makes me tingle inside just to think about it.

Being at Mystic this fall (WOOT) and having friends become proud new mamas and papas to their own baby entries, advice to these folk from those who’ve been there and done that is much appreciated, (and probably needed.) Regardless of whether you enjoyed your first days experience or not, there are many things to pass on to the next generation of ephs: here’s your chance. (Though I’m only going into my third year at school, here’s what I’ve learned to do, to avoid, and to love in Williamstown. Enjoy.)

(in no real order)
1) Flip-flops can be all-weather shoes.
2) Don’t go to the B during first days, especially if you’re a girl.
3) Sleepover in Sawyer library (preferably before they tear it down in 2009)
4) Just because the name has the word ‘yogurt’ in the title doesn’t qualify having fro-yo everyday.
5) Following suit, if you plan to avoid the freshman fifteen, don’t do the Mission park dining experience everyday for dinner.
6) Driscoll lunches= amazing. Driscoll dinners, on the other hand, are not.
7) Stargazing down at Cole field on clear nights is breathtaking.
8) Make the dining hall staff your best friends, and you won’t regret it.
9) Play hide-and-go seek in Paresky.
10) Go on the roof of Schow to watch the sunset.
13) Facebook is not a good excuse for not doing work. (Trust me.)
14) Keep track of your id! And make good friends with Kristi in security. That ten dollar replacement charge adds up.
15) Join Clubs. A lot of clubs. Meet people. Waffle club? Varsity four-square? Chinese yo-yo? Sports and a capella (!) and dance and meditation- you have no excuse.
15) Sleep is overrated- you’re only in college for so long (and that’s what summers & breaks are for.)

Feel free to add.


Monkey Business 101

I should applaud the nice alums from Morgan Stanley coming to visit.

Join Morgan Stanley for WALL STREET 101: A GUIDE TO INVESTMENT BANKING, Wednesday, April 18th, 7 PM, Griffin 3. Panelists will include John Greenwood, Josh Conner ’96, Chris Malone ’81, and John Kelly ’03.

But most of me wants to warn younger Ephs about the perils of life as an investment banker. Be careful what you wish for! Although dated and a bit over-the-top, Monkey Business: Swinging Through the Wall Street Jungle provides an not-too-inaccurate description of an industry that most Ephs don’t want to join.

I do think that these thoughts on hiring from Chris Malone ’81 are (mostly) accurate.

When we hire, we look for people who have the ability to be facile with numbers, but that’s not the only thing…The ability to convey your thoughts succinctly and persuasively is extremely important. That’s one of the things a liberal education teaches you to do…We also look for well-rounded people. Relationships are very important in our business. As you get more senior in the company you start dealing with CEOs and CFOs from other companies, most of whom tend to be very well educated. When you meet at a conference or in a non-business situation, it helps if you know something about the arts, architecture, music, history. You have to have a good product and be cost-competitive and do good work, but if you have all that and you’re also intellectually curious and able to talk intelligently on subjects other than business, you often end up becoming good friends.


1) The very best investment bankers are experts at making CEOs think that the bankers are their best friends. See The Accidental Investment Banker for an insider’s tour. Confessions of a Wall Street Analyst provides useful perspective as well.

2) Facility with numbers is key. Morgan Stanley doesn’t care if you major in philosophy or art history, as long as you demonstrate that numbers are your friend. They will not hire someone who “hates math” or who is frighted by spreadsheets. Do you need to be an economics major? No! 95% of the economics taught at Williams is useless in the business world. But you need to convince the recruiters that you won’t mind working with numbers, that you majored in art history, not because you dislike numbers but because you love art history.

3) Morgan Stanley isn’t really looking for well-rounded people. They are looking for personable people, people who can talk and charm and get along with everyone. Investment banking is a sales business. If you can’t get people to like you, you won’t succeed.

4) It helps if you “know something about the arts, architecture, music, history.” Hah! Give me a break. Newsflash: CEOS and their investment bankers do not sit around, drinking Merlot and discussing Debussy. They go to Red Sox games and play golf. Of course, if the client does want to talk about classical music, you should be able to nod your head at the right moments and fake it. But, no worries! This is unlikely to happen.

JP Morgan is also stopping this week.

Get a leg up on fall & summer recruiting. Join JP Morgan for How to Read the Wall Street Journal, Thursday, April 19, 7 PM, OCC Library.

Are there alums making the trip? Probably. Non-alums would have little interest in coming to Williamstown. It might just be the human resource people. If so, don’t bother.

Also, what a ridiculous topic! Does anyone need a class in how to read the Wall Street Journal (or any paper)? I doubt it. In fact, with each passing day, the WSJ becomes less central to the business world. What’s my advice for Ephs who want to get a “leg up on fall & summer recruiting?” Easy. Take intro CS CI 136 and as many STAT courses as you can handle. More on course advice some other time. Also, read a few of the items from Abnormal Returns each day. Highly educational and free.

If anyone goes to these events, please report back.


Let’s Not Forget It’s the Teachers and the People

This blog has been pretty weighty recently, what with posts about Diversity Makes a Difference, Where Have All the Poor Kids Gone?, and Merit Aid. In the face of those pointed arguments, the pros and cons, and the soul searching, it’s easy to forget amongst all these policy debates that Williams is about people: the teachers, the students, the administrators, the support staff, and the people of Williamstown.

This was brought back to me as I read through the post about Hodge Markgraf ’52’s passing. Prospective students, you should read that post. This is about a Williams graduate who returned to teach at Williams so he could educate legions of graduates with his knowledge, his humanity, and the twinkle in his eye. If you don’t believe me, watch this video of Hodge describing his view of what a professor’s life was like. As you read the comments to the blog post, it’s clear that to some graduates Hodge was Williams College.

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