Help Me Plan My Education?

post by EchoingHorror · 2010-12-25T09:57:01.365Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 10 comments

I'm planning independent studies and choosing a concentration for my bachelor's degree, so I'm looking for shiny things on which I can base the next year and a half of my life. I get to do all independent studies for the 3 semesters worth of credits remaining, and I'm pretty happy about that. So it shall be, that the wheel of akrasia shall turn, and what was once procrastination shall be productive. And things that were productive but got in the way of unnecessary coursework shall be double productive, maybe triple.

I'm looking for good ideas or texts to base classes around. I feel like there was recently a relevant discussion on texts, but couldn't find it (and feel like an idiot posting a help-the-noob related article after failing to find recent ones. Links to them are appreciated). Are there others in the same spirit as these (old post)? What should I prioritize, given that Less Wrong has been my first external source of rationality?

Then there are other marginally less shiny, but still reflective subjects like economics, computer programming, any of the sciences that engineers would care about plus quantum mechanics, things most people reading this think matter. Awesomeology. My problem with this is prioritizing. I have about 12 classes worth of independent study to get through, minus any credits from equivalence tests I may take for commonly tested things. There's a right answer to the extent that filling in the blank of a "B.S. in Science, Mathematics, and Technology with a Concentration in ____" with something in particular matters, since 6 classes have to be directly related to the concentration, but I don't know how much that will actually ever matter. Horribleness would make a great concentration, but I don't want to rigorously quantify human suffering enough to do it just for that novelty. It also might help if my degree sounds real. Something about probability or statistics would be reasonable and Bayes would approve, but I want the name of my degree to pop, since I get to name it. Is that wrong? Am I overthinking this?

I might not be cool enough to pull off my best-sounding idea for a concentration, in Cybernetic Heuristics, but it has an elegant meaning worthy of study and googling it in quotes returns no results. By "best-sounding", I mean that people who don't know and can't be bothered to look the words up will think I'm from the future. There's a chance my utility function is broken, but I think that's an important thing to look for when choosing a degree.


Thoughts? Ideal curricula? Focuses for how I should spend my time? Suggested readings substantial enough to make a course? Scratch that--none of the required classes have content anyway. Really, there's nothing I can't do with this, but I don't know what I should do with this, and would much rather do correct things I wouldn't think of than incorrect things I would do on my own, so asking is a good idea. If it matters, assume I have no interests or aspirations that don't coincide with practicality. Because I shouldn't. Those suck.

What I need are fun things I can turn into independent studies to make my life awesome and a concentration for my degree. Suggestions for extracurricular activities will also be helpful, but I've got to say upfront that I don't know what I could do with the Campus Crusade for Bayes with an online campus. That's like...this.

All advice, recommendations and musings will be greatly appreciated, even if they're not serious and were given out of spite.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Manfred · 2010-12-25T10:35:07.668Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Much as I hate to be a spoilsport, I recommend prioritizing usefulness over shininess. Understand what you want, and the courses will follow, at least to a certain extent.

The best way I know of understanding what you want is to write several essays on the subject over a period of two months or so. While you're doing this, make your options explicit and rank them by a few different methods. Keep revising your essays until you're comfortable making your final ranking. Choose the top option, and dabble in something else.

This isn't something someone else can do for you. Which is, I think, one of its virtues.

comment by CronoDAS · 2010-12-25T19:45:51.083Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you've never taken an introductory economics course, I'd recommend one.

(It probably helped that the professor I had for my required Econ course had the same kind of "amusing bastard" persona as the fictional Dr. House.)

Replies from: sketerpot
comment by sketerpot · 2010-12-28T18:39:54.209Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Introductory economics is actually a very straightforward subject, so I would recommend getting a recent introductory econ textbook from the library, and reading through that. Definitely worthwhile, and a very efficient use of time.

Replies from: Vaniver
comment by Vaniver · 2010-12-28T18:53:41.084Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also consider reading The Wealth of Nations by Smith, available for free here. It's not that hard, it's pretty insightful, and the street cred is fairly significant. You can get a pretty good modern text- Economics in One Lesson by Hazlitt- for free on the internet here.

If I remember correctly, both it and The Wealth of Nations are both predominantly qualitative. That strikes me as a bonus because the math involved in introductory economics is rarely more complicated than reading a graph (and sometimes you have to... intersect lines!), which is a giant shame because it often serves to confuse rather than clarify. It's worth reading through a standard text to have seen the equations, but the concepts are generally presented better by Smith and Hazlitt.

comment by XiXiDu · 2010-12-25T12:12:04.532Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is a lot over here: References & Resources for LessWrong

comment by sketerpot · 2010-12-28T18:54:28.446Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you're interested in computer programming -- surely an important part of "cybernetic heuristics," whatever that may be -- then you're in luck: thanks to the internet, there are fantastic resources for learning this stuf. My advice depends on your current level.

If you don't know how to program: Start with something like Learn Python the Hard Way, and build from there.

If you know only one programming language: Learn a different one. If you don't know either Python or Ruby, learn one of them; they're good, practical languages. Learning a Lisp is always a good idea; Racket and Clojure seem to be the ones with the most momentum right now. If you want to understand low-level programming, C is always in demand. Then there are weird, mind-blowing ones like Haskell and Erlang.

If you know more than one language, and seek enlightenment: Read Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs. This is a timeless classic, and if I had my way, it would be a required part of every computer science curriculum. The downside is that enlightenment is hard, so you'll have to actually devote some serious effort to this. Totally worth it, though.

If you would do battle with real-world problems: There's a lot of miscellaneous stuff to learn. Databases, and how to use them. Text mangling, and the clever use of regular expressions. Version control, and using things like github to work with other people. This stuff has a shorter shelf-life than anything in the sections above it, so be warned.

comment by nhamann · 2010-12-25T12:39:08.197Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm looking for good ideas or texts to base classes around.

Fine, but what are your interests here? "Science, Mathematics and Technology" is incredibly broad. I could certainly start suggesting textbooks to read, but they won't do much good if you don't particularly care about the subject matter.

comment by Costanza · 2010-12-25T12:36:35.667Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I want to say one word to you...just one word:


comment by waveman · 2011-01-02T03:41:30.195Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You may need first to revert back to thinking about what are your goals in life. Spend a couple of days on this. What really gets you excited, what do you really want that's important?

Then work forward to subjects.

Depending on your priorities:

For making money consider: Accounting 101 (it really helps to be able to read a company's books), Economics (though you may be able to get away with reading Adam Smith and a standard modern text instead), MBA type stuff (as seen in the portable MBA), Sales and Marketing, Project Management.

Practical no matter what you do: a decent course on risk management (that does nt ignore black swans and unknown unknowns) and one on statistics focused on how you use and abuse stats. Psychology with an emphasis on human non-rationality.

Hard subjects: It can be useful to have tough subjects on your CV eg Math, Physics, Philosophy excluding post-modernism/feminism. Good also for your brain.

Hot areas in the next 20 years: Artificial Intelligence, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Robotics, Nanotechnology.

Computer Programming 101. The risk here is picking a softball course that teaches you nothing, or finding you have no aptitude and cannot do it. read the essay "The Camel Has Two Humps" for more details - see .

If you don't know history that can be very useful especially ancient history.

comment by magfrump · 2010-12-29T19:41:47.781Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here is a relevant thread.

If I were to have the opportunity to pursue another bachelor's degree, I would aim for xenopsychology. Studying linguistics, psychology, game theory/AI, and biology, especially marine biology, to deal with whales, cephalopods, etc.

This seems (a) to contain the mind-bogglingly exciting possibility of having a conversation with a non-human animal; (b) to have the useful property of teaching "us" a LOT about "modal mind-space" and the types of minds that evolution can give rise to.