Fall 2013 ENGL1101, The Concluding Lecture: Advice from a Georgia Tech Alum to Future Alumni

The end is just the beginning.
The end is just the beginning.

During today’s class, I will present a final lecture titled, “The Concluding Lecture: Advice from a Georgia Tech Alum to Future Alumni.” There’s a lot of things that I wish I had known when I was an undergraduate at Tech. On reflection and through experience, I gained insights that I wanted to make available to my current Georgia Tech students. I am making the PowerPoint file and my notes available below.

Download the lecture’s PowerPoint presentation here: ellis-jason-final-lecture2.

Notes to accompany “The Concluding Lecture: Advice from a Georgia Tech Alum to Future Alumni” follow below:

During today’s lecture, I wanted to talk about one big idea that’s been implicit in the readings and discussions that we’ve shared regarding the brain. That idea is: “Who you are today is not who you will be tomorrow.” What I mean by that is our biology, experiences, thoughts, and choices shape who we are and who we become each moment of our lives. Sometimes these changes can be small and sometimes these changes can be large.

Another way to think about this is that we are like patterns. Our lives, thoughts, and memories are patterns that form, reform, and change based on a number of variables. Some of those variables, like cats, are outside of our control. These things include our genes, disabilities, economic situation, and past. While there’s a lot about our lives and pattern that we cannot control, there’s also a lot of things about our pattern that we can control. These are the conscious choices and decisions that we make in life.

In this lecture, I would like to talk about those choices that I think are particularly important to Georgia Tech undergraduates but that are often pushed aside, ignored, or forgotten in the forward rush to a degree. Choosing to focus on these important things will lead, I believe, to a more robust, meaningful, and enriched undergraduate experience that will prepare you for success in the next stage of your life.

Learn: Feed your curiosity. Gain as much knowledge in your field and others as possible. Form connections between the many things that you learn. Be interdisciplinary in your thinking and learning. Pass on what you have learned to others–in doing so, you will gain a deeper mastery of what you have learned.

Connect: Form connections with faculty at Tech. Seek out mentors to guide you in your progress. Your advisors and mentors will become your colleagues one day when you enter the field as a graduate of Tech and professional. Learn from your mentors and advisors.

Explore: Explore the spaces you inhabit and work. Explore your major and connected disciplines. Explore how you can connect your major to other disciplines. Open doors and find out what’s going on (as long as you won’t be breaking laws or entering a dangerous space). Exploration is another kind of learning.

Travel: Visiting other places is a special kind of exploration and learning. However, it is also a kind of education that you cannot receive in the normal classroom setting. You will learn new perspectives from those you live around. You will gain new insights from the history, economy, and politics of the places you live. My strongest regret was not taking advantage of the study abroad programs at Georgia Tech. There are many, many study abroad programs here–find out about them and take advantage of them.

Meet: Go out and meet people! Meet famous people. Meet smart people. Meet people in your community. Meet other students at Tech. Meet people in the Atlanta area. Superficial connections are not what you want. The important thing is to expand your network of friends and colleagues and form meaningful relationships with those people. Talk with people. Learn from others.

Help: Make the effort to help others. Help your classmates. Help people in your communities. Help your family and friends. If you contribute to building stronger communities through outreach and doing good deeds, you will build a stronger community that will in turn help you in the long term.

Make: Create things. They can be digital, physical, or abstract. The important thing is to never rest. You should always be engaged making things–professionally or for personal enjoyment. The things that you make will in turn make you through the experience of creating.

Do Good Work: Make things that you are proud of. Put the time and effort into making things that you can stand behind. This is hard to do sometimes in classes, but you should think about how to turn assignments to meet your needs as well as the needs of the class’ outcomes. This means think about how you can create things that will earn the grade you want while also serving your uses outside of the class–such as adding a new document to your professional portfolio or using an assignment as an excuse to learn a new skill or software.

Reflect: Above all else, reflect on your life, on the things you do, and on your successes and failures. Learn from the choices that you’ve made before so that you can make better and stronger and more effective decisions in the future. Reflect on all aspects of your life–not just on your writing or major-specific work. Reflect in writing–public or private–for the maximum effect on your thinking and brain wiring. Make your reflections a part of your daily practices. It takes time and energy, but the results over time to improving your likelihood for success is tremendous!

Graduate: Certainly, keep your eye on the prize. It might take you four years, five years, or even longer. No matter how long it might take you or how winding your path might be to graduation, be tenacious in your progress to completion. In the words of Commander Taggart from Galaxy Quest (1999), “never give up–never surrender.” If you find that you need to take time away from school, there’s no reason not to return later. I did that and I believe that I am the better for it. The experience that I gained during those years away from Tech were tremendously useful to me. Anyways, if I can do it, I know that you can, too.

Science Fiction, LMC3214: New Wave Lecture and Three Story Discussion

Today’s class was like an exclamation point in two ways. First, there was the long stroke of lecture. I lectured on the origins of the New Wave in New Worlds, Judith Merril’s England Swings SF, and Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions. I gave my students background on semiotics, modernity/postmodernity, and modernism/postmodernism to anchor the New Wave (alas, arguing for a grand narrative while saying there ain’t such a thing). I talked more in-depth about the writers whose work we had read for today: J.G. Ballard, Harlan Ellison, and Samuel R. Delany. It was a long lecture, but it was material that I felt was important. Then, the hard dot fell after the pen raised from that long stroke! Students loved, “Repent Harlequin, Said the Ticktockman.” Other students hated it. Students loved, “The Cage of Sand.” Other students hated it. We had a knock-down drag out discussion. It was a beautiful conclusion to a week of lectures, readings, and film viewings. Next week, we continue the New Wave. I will talk about other New Wave writers and we will watch the original Star Trek episode, “The City on the Edge of Forever.” Looking further ahead next week, we will discuss Feminist SF and watch James Cameron’s Aliens (1986).

Free Public Lecture at Georgia Tech, April 1, Jorge Martins Rosa Talk on Philip K. Dick

For those science fiction oriented folks in the Atlanta area, I would encourage you to check out this free public lecture at Georgia Tech’s Library on April 1. I wish that I could be there, because I definitely would have some questions for Professor Rosa. Here are the details:

The School of Literature, Communication, and Culture

and the Science Fiction Collection at Georgia Tech present

science fiction studies scholar

Jorge Martins Rosa

Thursday, April 1, 2010, 11:00 a.m.

“Stars in My Pocket”


The Neely Room

Georgia Tech Library and Information Center

The trope of space exploration, which has attracted so many writers of genre science fiction, still remains one of its hallmarks. Professor Rosa, however, questions the true centrality of this trope within science fiction as it has evolved beyond the space operas of the so-called Golden Age. Perhaps, as David Hartwell argues in Age of Wonders in regards to the Moon landing and other achievements from the American space program “When it comes true… it’s no fun anymore.”

While establishing the truth of Hartwell’s hypothesis may be difficult to undertake within the limitations of a single talk, Professor Rosa will look at the peculiar way Philip K. Dick approached the trope of space exploration in his own fiction. In particular, he will explore how Dick anticipated the exhaustion of this trope—or rather, its substitution for a more inner (should we say “virtual”?) approach to space.

Jorge Martins Rosa is Assistant Professor of Communication Sciences at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal, where he teaches courses including the post-graduate seminars “Fictional Modes:  Fiction and Technology” and “Cyberculture.”  His research interests involve the connections between literature, science, and digital culture. His visit to Georgia Tech is part of a research project on “Fiction and the Roots of Cyberculture.”

Sir Fraser Stoddart Nanotechnology Lecture

Sir Fraser Stoddart of Northwestern University delivered a lecture on “Chemistry and Molecular Nanotechnology in Tomorrow’s World,” as the Plenary Lecture of the Kent State University Chemistry Department Honor’s Week.  I attended the lecture, because I have a healthy interest in the world of the very small and its utopic possibilities lauded by scientists and engineers, as well as Science Fiction authors.

Dr. Stoddart’s presentation was rich with detail and heavy with science.  My B.S. from Georgia Tech facilitated my following along with the molecular mechanical operations enabled by reduction and oxidation, as well as the nano-switches flipping between open/ground states and closed/metastable states.  However, I was clearly not the audience for this talk.  The audience was full of real chemists and chemistry students who fully engage the technical aspects of the presentation that were lost on me.  That being said, I did come away from the talk with a better understanding of the particular nanotechnologies Dr. Stoddart described, and I particularly enjoyed the personal stories and anecdotes he shared with the audience.

He began his presentation with images from his youth on a tenant farm outside Edinburgh.  Growing up, he enjoyed working on machines, but it’s fascinating that his household didn’t receive electricity until he was seventeen (around 1955).

His interest in nanotechnology and molecular machines comes from three non-scientific sources, which include:  jigsaw puzzles (NB:  pieces), crossword puzzles (NB:  words and phrases), and Meccano/Erector sets (NB:  building complex models from simple pieces).  Obviously, Dr. Stoddart has a thing for solving puzzles with finite building blocks, and he further illustrated this through his technical, yet approachable, presentation on recent developments and future potential of nanotechnology and molecular “building blocks.”

His presentation had a “future” component that touched on two nanotechnology applications.  One being nano-mechanical memory storage, in which Intel and HP are both very interested.  Using molecular switch tunnel junctions (MSTJ), computer memory can be advanced beyond the DRAM specs of 2020.  This means that MSTJ based memory will occupy a smaller space, have a greater memory density, use less power, and have unique physical properties (Stoddart didn’t elaborate on this, but I’m guessing better thermal dissipation or some other aspect that’s problematic for DRAM memory and increasing memory access speeds).    An interesting fact that he gave the audience about memory density is that 10^12 bits of memory can be stored in a space the size of a U.S. First Class stamp!

The other interesting future nanotechnology incorporates nanovalves to release targeted medicines within cells.  He, and three of his colleagues, started a company, Nanopacific Holdings, to pursue this technology.  He let the audience know that this is something close to his heart, because it has the potential in the treatment of cancer, which claimed his wife after a protracted illness.

Dr. Stoddart ended his presentation with the story of his knighting ceremony with Queen Elizabeth.  As he was kneeling in front of the Queen, the Lord Chamberlain introduced him to the Queen as, “Sir Fraser Stoddart is honored for his achievements in chemistry and nanotology.”  Stoddart choose not to correct this misstatement, but the Queen broached the subject after knighting him.  She leaned over and asked, “He got that wrong didn’t he–It should be nanotechnology, shouldn’t it?”  This lead to a short conversation between Stoddart and, as he calls her, the “Nano Queen.”  Apparently, she knows a bit about nanotechnology!

I thoroughly enjoyed the lecture, and I’m eager to read up on some of the things that I included in my notes of the event.  I didn’t have a chance to ask (okay, the technical questions during the Q&A made me reconsider asking this) him he enjoys SF, or if SF had any part in his development as a scientist.  I’ll have to track down his email address and ask!

Kim Stanley Robinson at Georgia Tech

The eminent SF utopian/heterotopian author, Kim Stanley Robinson will be at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Georgia next week for a radio interview, a public lecture, and book signing.  Georgia Tech with its Bud Foote Science Fiction Collection (Bud Foote interviewed Robinson for Science-Fiction Studies #62, here) curated by Professor Lisa Yaszek is a nexus of significant work within academia as well as providing public events involving leading figures within the field.  Robinson, the author of the Mars Trilogy and the Three Californias Trilogy (which I find compelling and enjoyable), is the most recent SF author to make an appearance at Georgia Tech following other notable authors such as Kathleen Ann Goonan and Paul Di Filippo.

Here’s the schedule for Robinson’s visit to Georgia Tech:

Thursday, March 6

11AM-12PM – WREK FM 91.1 Interview and Author Q&A in the Library East Commons

4PM-6PM – Lecture on “Representing Climate Change in Science Fiction and the Real World” in the Clary Theater, Bill Moore Student Success Center (reception follows)

Friday, March 7

12PM-1:30PM – Book signing at Barnes and Noble on Spring Street in Tech Square

I’m insanely jealous that I can’t make it to the event since I’m snowed-in up in Kent, Ohio (and that I have a lot of fucking work to do).  Pass along my best to Mr. Robinson!