supply and demand for US PhDs

I saw article in Inside Higher Ed on a new paper on the “Internationalization of U.S. Doctorate Education”. From the abstract:

Students from outside the U.S. accounted for 51% of PhD recipients in science and engineering fields in 2003, up from 27% in 1973. In the physical sciences, engineering and economics the representation of foreign students among PhD recipients is yet more striking; among doctorate recipients in 2003, those from outside the U.S. accounted for 50% of degrees in the physical sciences, 67% in engineering and 68% in economics.

Anyone in an engineering program (graduate or undergraduate) knows that there seem to be more foreign grad students than domestic students, but I didn’t really know the numbers until now. The paper claims that these increases can be explained by factors such as the expansion of undergraduate programs in the rest of the world and how

… the size of the college-aged population in the U.S. peaked in the mid-1970s and declined through the early ’90s. So while the fraction obtaining undergraduate degrees in science and engineering rose by about 2 percent a year in the 1980s and early ’90s, according to the paper, the raw number of science and engineering B.A.’s barely budged.

It’s a bit of a long paper (I haven’t had the time myself, but I might on the way back from Hong Kong), but seems important to read for those of us interested in academic engineering research programs.


Visiting CUHK

I’m visiting the Chinese University of Hong Kong for the next 16 days, hosted by Sidharth Jaggi. I got in at 7 this morning after a 14 hour flight from San Francisco, and while jet lag has not completely overwhelmed me, my brain is a little slow. The bus ride from the airport to Sha Tin was quite beautiful, as the sun was just starting to burn off the fog. I’m staying on campus with a nice view from my window:

View from the guesthouse at CUHK

View from the guesthouse at CUHK

Blogging may be light or medium, depending on how loquacious my fingers feel. Probably light until I give my talk on Friday…

Cedar Creek Falls

I went hiking with a friend to Cedar Creek Falls last weekend. It’s in the Cleveland National Forest (so you need an Adventure Pass to park). The first part of the trail winds down into a valley. Spring is approaching and there were some nice wildflowers blooming and new growth.

Flower on Cedar Creek Falls Trail

Flower on Cedar Creek Falls Trail

The trail isn’t too tough if you just want to see the bottom of the falls, but we went to see the top first:

The top of Cedar Creek Falls

The top of Cedar Creek Falls

The short way down to the bottom is steep and required some squatting/crab walking. Definitely a bit more than I was expecting, but it’s a pretty view:
Cedar Creek Falls

Cedar Creek Falls

You can follow the creek back to meet up with the trail leading back up out of the valley. We saw some families with little kids, so they probably didn’t go to the top. On the way back we saw a number of fire-blackened trees:
A tree that looks a bit like a rook

A tree that looks a bit like a rook

It’s not a dramatic waterfall (this is arid San Diego county after all), but the advantage of the hike is that on the way back you can stop by the famous Julian Pie Company. Next time I’m out there I’ll try Mom’s.

sansai udon and variations

I made this recipe up after reading about udon dishes online and also consulting Harold McGee’s masterpiece On Food and Cooking, which had this great tidbit on katsuoboshi:

The most remarkable preserved fish is katsuoboshi, a cornerstone of Japanese cooking, which dates from around 1700, and is made most often from one fish, the skip-jack tuna Katsuwonus pelamis. The fish’s musculature is cut away from the body in several pieces, which are gently boiled in salt water for about an hour, and their skin removed. Next, they undergo a routing of daily hot-smoking above a hardwood fire until they have fully hardened. This stage lasts 10 to 20 days. Then the pieces are inoculated with one ore more of several different molds (species of Asptergillus, Euroticum, Penicillium, sealed in a box, and allowed to ferment on their surface for about two weeks. After a day or two of sun-drying, the mold is scraped off; this molding process is repeated three to four times. At the end, after a total of three to five months, the meat has turned light brown and dense; when struck, it’s said to sound like a resonant piece of wood.

Why go to all this trouble? Because it accumulates a spectrum of flavor molecules whose breadth is approached only in the finest cured meats and cheeses. From the fish muscle itself and its enzymes come lactic acid and savory amino acids, peptides, and nucleotides; from the smoking come pungent phenolic compounds; from the boiling, smoking, and sun-drying come the roasted, meaty aromas of nitrogen- and sulfur-containing carbon rings; and from the mold’s attack on fish fat come many flowery, fruity, green notes.

Katsuoboshi is to the Japanese tradition what concentrated veal stock is to the French: a convenient flavor base for many soups and sauces. It contributes its months of flavor-making in a matter of moments in the form of fine shavings. For the basic broth called dashi, cold water is brought just to the boil with a piece of kombu seaweed, which is then removed. The katsuoboshi shavings are added, the liquid again brought to the boil, and poured off the shavings the moment they absorb enough water to fall to the bottom. The broth’s delicate flavor is spoiled by prolonged steeping or pressing the shavings.

I found the ingredients at one of my many local Japanese markets, but they may be harder to find elsewhere. Sansai means “mountain vegetables” (edible bracken and other fun things) and is sold as a mix in the market. I made this twice in the last week, adding other ingredients that I had in the fridge. The first time I made it with enoki mushrooms and the white part of the scallions, and the second time with caramelized onions, oyster mushrooms, and some komatsuna that I got from Be Wise Ranch at the farmer’s market. I had never tried komatsuna before. It’s delicious!

Although the amazing kasuoboshi makes this non-vegetarian, I bet you can make a vegetarian version which will also taste good.

Sansai udon

6 cups water (ish)
1 4″ square piece of kombu (dried kelp)
1 5g packet of katsuoboshi (dried bonito shavings)

1/4 – 1/2 cup utsukuchi (light soy sauce) [less is more, often]
1-2 Tbsp mirin (sweet cooking sake)

cooked udon (thick Japanese noodles)
sansai (mountain vegetable mix)
sliced green onions for garnish
nori (dried seaweed) for garnish
whatever else you want to put into the soup

Rinse kombu and put in water and bring to just under boiling (I used a lower heat, medium-ish, to help the steeping). Remove kombu before boiling, then add katsuoboshi. Bring to just under boiling and then turn heat off. Let it sit until the katsuoboshi sinks. Strain out katsuoboshi. This is your (ichiban) dashi.

Heat dashi, soy sauce, and mirin to just before boiling. This is your tsuyu. Lower heat and add udon, then add sansai (they are generally pre-cooked). Heat for a little bit, then pour into a bowl and garnish. I would say this makes 3 servings of udon, but it depends on how you like your broth/stuff ratio.


  • (with enoki and more green onions) Reserve white parts from the green onion garnish and chop finely. Heat some oil, add onions, cook until a little softer, then add enoki mushrooms and cook briefly. Add tsuyu and then proceed as above.
  • (with caramelized onions, oyster mushrooms, and komatsuna) Heat oil and caramelize sliced onions. Add mushrooms and cook until they start to give up their liquid, then add broth and cook noodles. As the noodles are finishing getting heated up, add the komatsuna and wilt, then remove from heat and serve.
Sansai Udon with Enoki Mushrooms and Scallions

Sansai Udon with Enoki Mushrooms and Scallions

Sansai Udon with Oyster Mushrooms and Komatsuna

Sansai Udon with Oyster Mushrooms and Komatsuna

tax hikes and tax preparers

There’s been a lot of hullabaloo about Obama’s proposed tax increase on people earning more than $250k. The fact of the matter, as Daniel Gross points out, is that the increase is on the money made above $250k, so that you get taxed at the higher rate only on (your income – $250k). Nevertheless, there has been some handwringing (reported on TV) from people who are near this magic threshold, saying they are going to try to earn less so they fall below $250k, which leads to thing like this:

That dentist eager to slash her income from $320,000 to $250,000 would avoid the pain of paying an extra $2,100 in federal taxes. But she’d also deprive herself of an additional $70,000 in income!

I was puzzling over why these people seem to have no idea of what the tax change means for them when I heard Jeremy Hobson (who went to Uni High with me!) on the radio this morning:

About 60 percent of Americans still go to a professional for their tax needs. That includes chains like H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt — and CPAs. The other 40 percent do their taxes manually — with the majority of those people heading online.

I’m betting the percentage of people making above $250k who don’t do their own taxes is even higher than 60%, which explains it all — those people don’t need to know how the tax system works. And so they all go running to Grover Norquist.

from my inbox : the Swedish conspiracy

I got an email from the the postdoc list intended for “Swedish and Swedish-American Postdocs” saying a local businessperson wants to get in touch with them “for special projects and assignments.” Finally we have evidence of the grand international Swedish conspiracy! IKEA was only the start — now they are infiltrating our elite cadre of postdocs! Where will it end???

Managing science funding

Inside Higher Ed has a short article on how the additions to the NIH and NSF budgets in the stimulus pose a challenge for program administrators:

One need only look back to the aftermath of the doubling of the NIH budget, Cicerone said, when we “got into a pickle now where they’re oversubscribed [in terms of demand for grants] now that we’re back to level funding.” The agency arguably financed too many projects that required longterm funds to sustain, and many universities built up their research programs in ways that put them in a bind when the flow of funds slowed.

Also worth looking at is a book review of How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment by Michèle Lamont.

Green trucks at the LA port

As a great example of how state investment can really spur the development of better technology, take a look at this story from Los Angeles:

On Tuesday, the first of 25 heavy-duty all-electric trucks rolled off a new Los Angeles assembly line. All are slated to work at the Port of Los Angeles or to make short hauls to and from the harbor… Balqon Chief Executive Balwinder Samra received $527,000 from the L.A. port and the air board to fund development of the electric truck. As part of the deal, Samra moved his company from Orange County to Harbor City, near the port, and he will pay a royalty of $1,000 to the port and the air board for every truck he sells that isn’t used at the port. “We had made equipment for trucks and buses before, but we could never afford to build a whole truck before this,” Samra said. “Now, we’ve proven we can do it.”

The city had the money, invested it, and although they aren’t getting the kind of return that a private investor would ask for, I doubt this technology would have gotten off the ground otherwise. Some more details on the specs are available. The company is run by a desi! Sepia Mutiny should do an interview or something.

Searching for the tomb of Genghis Khan

I went to a talk today by Dr. Albert Lin about The Valley of the Khans Project, which is a project going on in my building at UCSD in collaboration with Mongolian archaeologists and the Mongolian government. It is quite fascinating — the Burkhan Khaldun is very remote, and the entire process has to be non-invasive, so he is using satellite imaging (visible and multispectral) to locate anomalous (= man-made) structures in the target region. This summer he wants to go back into the field to get more close-range readings.