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Minutes of iMechanica get-together at McMat 2007

Teng Li's picture

On 6 June 2007, about 50 mechanicians attended a special session at the McMat 2007, "iMechanica.org get together". The attendees of this special session came from various job sectors, such as academia, industry as well as government agencies. The session was chaired by K. Ravi-Chander and Rui Huang, who also served in the organizing committee of McMat 2007.
Following an opening remark of the session by K. Ravi-Chander, Zhigang Suo gave an introduction to iMechanica, such as its mission, brief history and some statistics. Teng Li then briefly demonstrated the popular uses of iMechanica, and Xi Chen delineated the operation of Journal Club , the most popular activity in iMechanica so far.
The session was then led to a dynamic, open discussion among attendees. 
Here listed are some of the discussion topics and issues raised by the attendees:

  • Yongwei Zhang from National University of Singapore raised the concern of copyright when posting research papers. As pointed by Zhigang Suo, most journals allow authors to post self-prepared preprints, and permission of any given journal can be checked here. The discussion was also echoed by Dean Eastbury, senior publishing editor at Elsevier.
  • Dean Eastbury also mentioned that all articles published in IJSS will be freely accessible 24 months after publication. More details on this can be found in a recent post.
  • Robert Kukta asked about the use of RSS feed, a question shared by many iMechanicians. While RSS feeds can efficiently facilitate tracking the conversations in iMechanica and a detail instruction on how to subscribe to RSS feeds has been provided in the right side bar of iMechanica, the wide spread use among iMechanicians seems still a long way to go.
  • Demitris Kouris asked a question: how senior faculty members can use iMechanica to integrate resources and tips to help their junior colleagues succeed in their early career?
  • Biswajit Banerjee raised a question on how to get top scientists in the fields motivated to participate in iMechanica, through which more mechanicians can benefit from those great minds, meanwhile junior mechanicians can find new venues to have their work appreciated by their senior colleagues.
  • After Teng Li did a demo of the video channel in iMechanica, K. Ravi-Chander described his thought on a data and image repository,
    an archive of high fidelity data sets, images, videos, sounds, etc for use by members of the community for both pedagogical and research applications.
  • A mechanician from IBM raised the common issue for industry practitioners: they can not post or comment as freely as academic researchers, for obvious reasons.
  • A mechanician from government sector shared with us their experience of dealing illegal posts in an online platform similar to iMechanica.

The purpose of this post is to document the helpful discussion initiated during this special session. The incomplete list above can serve as a list of topics for further discussion. All iMechanicians are welcome to comment on any of these topics, or raise more questions.  For the attendees of this special session, please help complete the above list by posting your question and discussion as comments below.  Such discussions will be helpful to shape iMechanica into a sustainable form to serve our community better .
Thanks for your input. (Special thanks go to K. Ravi-Chander and Rui Huang, who made this session possible and provided plenty of ice-cold beers and texas-style chips.)

 

Comments

Demitris Kouris's picture

The iMechanica forum has the potential to become a very effective tool for our younger colleagues, at the early stages of their career in academia.  Portals that include discussions on teaching, research and tenure issues come to mind right away. In addition, senior colleagues can be very helpful by posting and sharing their class notes. I recently became aware of the notes that Prof. Nix has made available through iMechanica. His class notes on thin films will be very valuable for those among us who teach a relevant class or are simply interested in the subject.
I am sure that we can collectively think of a variety of ways to make iMechanica more attractive to our younger colleagues and forward our ideas to Teng Li and Zhigang Suo.

MichelleLOyen's picture

some of the information and resources posted previously in the iMech thread about finding faculty positions is equally useful to young faculty, including the resources on the Howard Hughes website that are far more generally scientific than just medical in nature.

Teng Li's picture

The issue raised by Demitris is particularly important to young researchers, which are actually the majority of iMechanica users.  While junior faculty like myself can share with people looking for a faculty position by sharing our own observations, it will be extremely helpful if senior faculty can point out resources and share useful tips on issues like exploring new research directions, grant application, effective teaching, and tenure process, etc, what are common concerns shared by most junior faculty.  Many senior people are probably doing this locally through mentoring their junior colleagues within their department.  The difference in local dynamics aside, many mentoring issues are generic to every junior faculty. Since iMechanica provides an open platform to exchange useful information of any kind, our senior colleagues may consider mentor a much broader range of junior faculty through this online platform.  Furthermore, the collective wisdom of the mentoring from senior colleagues can also be much more effective.  I'm sure any efforts along this line will be much appreciated.

Zhigang Suo's picture

Of thousands of users of iMechanica, most are graduate students and junior faculty members.  This demographics surprises nobody.  Representative explanations include

  • Young people grow up with computers and the Internet.
  • Young people like to explore new ways of doing things.
  • Young people need to make themselves known to the community.
  • Young people are have more time.

As Teng pointed out above, senior mechanicians have a lot to offter to the community of mechanics by becoming active users of iMechanica.  I've tried to invite senior mechanicians to participate, and have not been very successful.  Reasons that people give me include

  • "I'm too old to blog."
  • "I have no time."
  • "I've got nothing worthwhile to say."
  • "This is just a fad."
  • "I hate to make a fool of myself."
  • "What's benefit to me?"

I have some ideas to address the first few concerns, but not the last.  Indeed, the reasons that motivate young people are not applicable to senior people.  To sustain an interest in such a community activity, one would like to answer this question, "What's benefit to me?"  Until iMechanica can articulate reasons for senior mechanicians to participate, on their own terms, we will not likely to have many senior people among us.

Your thoughts on this? 

Pradeep Sharma's picture

Zhigang,

Your post is interesting....I have faced uncannily similar responses from senior mechanicians I have contacted. My arguement has generally been on the following lines:

we are finally united as a community. the best chance we have to keep the field of mechanics alive and vibrant is iMechanica where senior, junior and everyone in middle or the fringes has the power and the opportunit to reach all of us instantly. In short, the benefit to the senior mechanicians is the impact they can potentially have on the growth of the field and the career of the next generations. By definition, most senior mechanicians do not need to "blog" for personal benefit or visibility.

On a pragmatic note, we need to identify some key individuals among this "shy" generation and twist their arms---this requires identification of the ones who can be persuaded. Those selected few, once they start engaging, may have better luck in persuading their peers to participate. For example if Professor Gurtin begins a discussion, say on the principle of objectivity in continuum mechanics, may be better able to induce Professors Steigmann or Fried to participate in the discussion (I am just picking names at random in this research topic---hopefully no one will take offense).

Demitris Kouris's picture

 Zhigang, I really enjoyed reading the first reason you mentioned: "too old to blog." It reminded me of a Jethro Tull song, "too old to rock and roll, too young........" I think some senior colleagues might still remember it.

Kidding aside,  we could introduce a theme say, every month, and ask one or two of our senior colleagues to comment. It is equivalent to giving a lecture to a very large audience.

I was also thinking of whether a section with profiles of new PhDs and doctoral students who are close to graduation could get some attention. Senior people are certainly interested in hiring the best available faculty and research associates.

I am getting ready to go to Greece and I promise to think about this some more. The sea, the beach, and the food should probably help me come up with something useful.

Regards,

Demitris 

A separate section on new PhDs and doctoral students close to graduation is a great idea... Even if one graduate student thereby receives a remark like "I believe that it involves more than a mere analogy," it would worth it!

(About the quote: That is what Einstein is supposed to have said about the PhD thesis of de Broglie.)

1. About themes per month: Demitris has a really nice idea here... But think of the other way around... First convince senior mechanicians about participating here, and then leave the selection of the theme completely up to them. ... That way, they would feel both freer and honored.

Personally, I would rather have at least two themes / month or so. (Also see below in this post.)

2. About "I'm too old to blog" and "I have no time": Introduce  the concept of limited time blogging (LTB)... The senior members don't have to be bothered about the "log" portion of "blog," i.e., they don't have to commit themselves 24 X 7 to the Web. They just have to be ready to answer questions for a limited period of, say, a month or so... Also, encourage volunteer graduate students (or assign them) to help the senior mechanicians deal with the technicalities of blogging, posting replies, etc.

3. About "I have got nothing worthwhile to say." Leave these people alone!

4. About "This is just a fad." Even if they think so, they don't have to be bothered with it for more than a month. (See above. At least at iMechanica and for them, the fad will pass after a month or so.)

5. About "I hate to make a fool of myself." But they can have graduate student/junior faculty help them out. (See above.)

6. About "What's the benefit to me?" Here, really speaking, Pradip has already said one important point: Their participation can help them make the kind of impact they desire. They can help define the future of mechanics, so to speak.

Another important point. There is supposed to be a different sort of pleasure when a specialist interacts with other specialists (others also of uncommon achievements over a long time). Even simple questions then help think about one's own field in a different light...

Further, it should be possible to invite practising senior engineers, even engineering managers from industry as well. Thus, the senior people don't have to come from academia and research alone. ... See, Prof. XYZ may not be ready to interact if he figures everybody is going to be a junior faculty, post-doc or PhD student, i.e. from academia, and so, everybody will be out to impress him. Yet, Prof. XYZ may welcome the opportunity if he knows that Mr. ABC, MBA, V/P of Super Duper Engineering Ventures also is going to be "on board."

7. To conclude, things like limited-time-blogging, freedom to choose their own theme, participation from both industry and academia, availability of assistance to handle the technicalities of blogging, etc. all can go towards making iMechanica far more attractive to senior people.

 

iMechanica has the potential to become the resource of first choice for mechanicians.  Based on the comments I heard during the McMat07 session, among other things, here are some new features I'd like to see on iMechanica:

  1. A section called "Lecture Notes" displayed prominently in the header.   Lecture notes posted during the course of the past six months have become increasing difficult to find.  I suggest that we collect the notes that have been posted so far into categories and provide links to them in a way similar to what we have done for the software section.
  2. A section called "Questions/Ideas" in the header.  This will feature questions that are asked on iMechanica (with links to answers), unanswered questions (which essentially are lost over time), and ideas/unsolved problems that people (primarily students) can explore in their research.
  3. A section called "Faculty Resources" which will feature pointers for faculty/young researchers.  That way, the links that Michelle has provided will not be lost. 
  4. A section called "Data and Images" in the spirit of Prof. Ravi-Chander's idea.  This section will provide links to raw data and images that researchers can use and interpret.  I feel that such a section will be vital in making iMechanica indispensible to researchers.

I am willing to volunteer some of my time in organizing some of these sections with the help of a few other iMechanicians.

Regarding my comment on attracting experienced researchers/academics to iMechanica, I feel that such people will come if there are strong incentives.  One such incentive will be a data/image repository.  However, I don't think many have the time to read each post and answer questions.  Nor to they have the time to write their own posts.  

One way we can get them involved is to take questions that have been asked in this forum to them and get their response - a sort of mini interview.  This will require some effort of the active members of this forum.  I have done once when I asked Prof. Graeme Milton on his views regarding random composites.

Another way is to conduct interviews of senior researchers and post the transcript (or video if possible).  You can see examples of such an approach at Gene Expression where Razib goes and asks 10 questions to prominent academics - for example Cavalli-Sforza.

We will need more active participation from the iMechanica community and some significant effort on the part of our younger participants to bring these ideas to fruition.   What incentives can be provided to students so that they can make all this happen?

Temesgen Markos's picture

Hi Biswajit,

I think I can get some time to organize the Lecture notes part. So the imechanica organizers can call up on me if I can be of any use in that regard.

Hi Temesgen,

Thank you for offering to organize the Lecture notes.  Zhigang has already posted a few in the new Lecture notes section.  There are a few more that have been posted on iMechanica.  Please collect the links to those and post them as a comment to the Lecture notes section.   I'll then move them up to the main Lecture notes post.

Biswajit 

  

Temesgen Markos's picture

Hi Biswajit,

I have searched through notes posted in imechanica and it appears that Zhigang has done a good job of collecting them already. The only note posted on imechanica and I didn't see in his list was an 8 page note from Sukumar on FEM in one dimensions . http://www.imechanica.org/node/601

 

Thanks Temesgen.

I recall seeing links to e-books in some older posts on iMechanica.  Could you locate some of those links?  Also , if you know of non iMechanica sites containing lecture notes of interest to mechanicians, please include them in your comments.  This request is, of course, also extended to all others on this forum.

Zhigang Suo's picture

Following the suggestion of Demitris Kouris and Biswajit Banerjee, I've just added an entry called "Lecture notes" under the "Quick guide" at the right side of iMechanica.  At the moment, the entry only contains a few items that I'm familiar with.  All moderators can edit this entry, and all registered users can add comments.

Thus, if you find a set of lecture notes on the Internet, please leave a commnets below the entry "Lecture notes".  The moderators will examine the notes, and add to the entry.  The notes do not need to be posted on iMechanica, so long as the notes are of interest to mechanicians, and are openly accessible. 

Zhigang Suo's picture

Following the suggestion of Biswajit Banerjee and several other people, I've added a button "ask iMechanica" to the header of iMechanica.  The button is linked to the forum of the same name.

Robin Selinger's picture

Let's compare IMechanica to the e-print archive http://www.arxiv.org/.

The e-print archive started out as an upstart, independent means of distributing preprints of scholarly research papers with neither the time delay nor the quality control of a refereed journal. It was initially set up on a little Macintosh desktop at Los Alamos.

Now it is a highly valuable resource used by scientists all over the world with categories in Physics, Mathematics, Computer Science and Quantitative Biology. Some of these categories receive nearly 1000 papers per month. There is no fee to access the archive and once submitted, manuscripts stay available online with no expiration date.

(FYI: Materials Science is covered on the e-print archive as a subcategory of condensed matter physics. )

Most importantly, the e-print database can be cited easily in journal articles. Some people even "publish" papers exclusively as e-prints.

If the IMechanica community wants to achieve a comparable success, we have to make sure there's a standardized method by which information and ideas posted on IMechanica can be referenced in published work. That would also require that the contents of IMechanica be available in archive form for decades to come.

Or is the material posted on IMechanica meant to be ephemeral and thus more private, so people can express themselves informally without worrying that every word is archived for eternity?

I am interested in the comments of the organizers on this point. Thanks for listening! 

-Robin Selinger

Professor, Chemical Physics Interdisciplinary Program

Liquid Crystal Institute, Kent State University

Kent, OH 44242, phone (330) 672-1582

Dear Robin:

Good to hear from you!  Indeed, Paul Ginsparg's arXive was a great inspiration in early days of iMechanica and its predecessor Applied Mechanics News.  See the post, "What if all papers become openly accessible?"  As disucssed in your comment, as well as in the post of mine, a repository of scholarly work should embody two essential ingredients:  trustworthy timestamp and permanent accessibility.  Here is how iMechanica embodies the two ingredients.

Trustworthy timestamp.  The server marks the time when an entry is first posted.  The author can modify the entry as many times as she wishes.  iMechanica saves every version, and gives each version a distinct timestamp.  All users can see the history of revision by clicking the button "Revisions" beneath the title of an entry.  Here is an example

Permanent accessibility.  Each entry on iMechanica is given a unique URL.  In fact, each revision, as well as each comment, is given a unique URL.  This URL appears in the navigation bar of your browser when you click the title of the post, the revision, or the comment.  You can certainly cite this URL.  For example, the URL for your comment is http://imechanica.org/node/1543#comment-3144.

Regarding permanence, the IT offce at Harvard, who hosts iMechanica, assures us that posts in iMechanica will be as permanent as everything else online.  Several other instituations have expressed interests to establish mirror sites of iMechanica.

An author may as well regard anything posted on iMechanica, or on arXive, as published work. While it might be debatable whether an entry contains any original and correct idea, it is certain who said what and when.

I have discussed some of these issues in another post, "7 reasons to post your original ideas in iMechanica".

Zhigang 

Konstantin Volokh's picture

Robin's points are good. We have neither a clear citation procedure nor archives. We can probably join the arxiv.org with Solid Mechanics.

Besides, our front page presents too different blog entries. Perhaps, its contents should be more sorted. For example, the research topics should be more separated from the teaching stuff and etc.

Probably, a bit new design of the front page is required.

Teng Li's picture

Each post in iMechanica.org has its unique web link, or permalink . It can be used to define a clear reference citation, together with the title, time stamp, auther of the post.  For example, see a recent preprint posted in iMechanica, which cited many other iMechanica posts.

Dear Kosta:

  • Do you have any concern about citing the URL of a post?  For example, the citation for Teng's post can be Teng Li, 2007, Minutes of iMechanica get-together at McMat 2007", http://imechanica.org/node/1543.
  • Not sure what you have in mind about the redesign of the front page.  Please elaborate.  There is considerable flexibility with the software.  And some software engineers have expressed interests in working on iMechanica.

Zhigang

Konstantin Volokh's picture

Dear Zhigang,

Arxiv is very structured and makes impression of an online journal and archive. The latter attracts people to post their manuscripts. We do not have such firm archival structure (though I agree that the citation address is unique) and most posted papers are just copies of the journal accepted papers. In other words, people do not consider iMechanica as a reliable archival option. This problem is psychological - we need to persuade people that their posts are 'forever' and the journal-like format of the archive could be a good argument in favor of iMechanica.

Though a formal archival structure is desirable I would not like iMechanica to turn to a dead body - the live online discussions are necessary. I would redesign the front page similar to online newspapers where every department (journal-club, research, teaching, mechanicians etc) would include a couple of headlines. Probably, some senior people consider iMechanica as a student website in view of many discussions for the beginners. Such discussions a very important but they should not be the 'face' of iMechanica.

Best, Kosta

P.S. Are the earlier versions of the final posts really necessary? What for?

Zhigang Suo's picture

Dear Kosta:

Thank you very much for the note.  Of the two mission statements of iMechanica, we have made good progress toward accomplishing the first one:  to enhance communication among mechanicians.  The second mission, to pave a way to evolve all knowledge of mechanics online, is more ambitious.  So far we have not had serious discussion.  Should iMechanica become a repository, or simply be an online community for people to interact and make hyperlinks to repositories elsewhere?  Most likely iMechanica will be a hybrid of a repository and an online community.

The front page now consists of posts promoted by moderators from submissions by all users.  Do we want to try some other ways to update the front page? 

Whatever we do, we will have to gain the confidence of the users.  It took substantial discussions among users to get the jClub started.  Let us engage more people in this discussion of the steps that we should take.

P.S.:  Versions of an entry will establish the timeline of ideas in the entry.  Also, some entries are the collaboration among multiple authors.  For example, see the revision history of the jClub page.  

Konstantin Volokh's picture

"Most likely iMechanica will be a hybrid of a repository and an online community." Precisely! I think this is the best case.

Optimally, the new submissions to a firm archive should be mirrored at the front page...

As the number of authors in iMechanica increases it will become increasingly difficult to keep track of all the activity.  I agree with Kosta in that regarding the need for various sections on the front page.  An example of what could be done can be found in the Scienceblogs front page page at http://www.scienceblogs.com/.

Scienceblogs has a daily topic which is highlighted at the top of the page.  Below that there are channels such as Academia, Biology, Brain, Chatter ... which separate out themes.  There are RSS feeds for each of these an, strictly speaking and hence Scienceblogs does not need to be visually organized in that way.  However, I often visit the site directly and find the "headlines" approach quite convenient.  We could try something similar if Drupal allows it.

Teng Li's picture

Found Robin's argument thought-provoking. It raises a question: how iMechanica can learn from the success of arxiv.org?

The success of arxiv.org stems from its easy use, simple user interface, and most importantly, huge user base, some common features shared by many successful web services.

These features actually also serve as the guideline for us in designing, optimizing and evolving iMechanica.org. We've been trying to keep the user interface of iMechanica as simple as possible, provide help informatioin through FAQ and by answering questions from users.  The user base of iMechanica have been increasing in a steady state in recent months, after a certain period of rapid growth.

Another feature of arxiv.org important to its success is its simple function, an online e-print archive. Authors post, readers download. Done.

By contrast, iMechanica aims at a much broader mission : to use the Internet to enhance communications among mechanicians, and to pave a way to evolve all knowledge of mechanics online. So far, arxiv.org is a web 1.0 service, no user interaction enabled, while the most important feature of iMechanica is the active discussions among users.  Maybe we can learn from arxiv.org on effective archiving and combine with the power of web 2.0 services available at iMechanica. In long run, an arxiv-like channel can be designed to serve the mechanics community with the function similiar to arxiv.org, but  enabling subscription through RSS feeds, and author-reader interactions.

Mogadalai Gururajan's picture

Dear Prof. Li:

As you note, arXiv is a simple repository of pre-prints and is a web 1.0 service. More importantly, in my opinion, arXiv is less democratic than iMechanica; for example, there is an endorsement system to submit pre-prints, because of which, I could not submit the pre-prints of one of my papers to arXiv, while I found no such difficulties with iMechanica at all.

Finally, I am happy to note that I have cited iMechanica in one of our papers (Ref. 34 of this attachment ). As more users do that, like arXiv, iMechanica will also become a standard source of reference, I believe. 

So, let us keep up the good work! 

ericmock's picture

Over in my blog I posted about a proposal I am preparing.  You can read the latest version of the proposal here.  You can also edit the proposal if you register on the wiki containing the proposal.  The server is just the computer in my office so your email address, etc. will not be disclosed.  Although I would like ot know who is making changes and commenting.

The idea has been many (~10) years in the making and the success of iMechanica and the rise of the 'Web 2.0' makes me believe that it might actually work.  As per this thread, what I am proposing is essentially a cross between arXiv and iMechanica.  The system will build on the idea of a wiki where everything is editable.  Authors will post articles in editable form, and reviewers will be able to comment and even edit the article (all with consent from the original author).  Nothing will be anonymous so that reviewers will get credit of insightful reviews.  The hope is that this will prevent what I believe is the inevitable collapse of the current reviewing system.  I.e., the community has gotten so big that many authors are neglecting their responsibilities as reviewers because there is no professional benefit.  If you're really interested in playing the game and getting promoted, commended, etc. you should spend all your time writing and submitting papers, not reviewing them.  Hopefully an open system will reveal these poor citizens and encourage a much stronger community were reviewing is considered just as important as publishing.

Again, please take a look at the proposal (and feel free to edit it and contribute to the discussion page) for much greater detail about what I have in mind.

Eric Mockensturm

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