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Office Hours

Q&A with Professor Rojas, 2015′s My Last Lecture Award Recipient

Randall Rojas’ teaching ability may inspire students in a way beyond the scope of most instructors at UCLA, but the decor in his Bunche Hall office is as unexciting and ordinary as most professors’: a shelf of books, a metal filing cabinet, a desktop monitor. Awarded this year’s My Last Lecture Award, the only faculty award chosen by students, Rojas is famous for his varied academic interests: from pursuing a doctorate degree in physics at Drexel University to teaching statistics, cosmology and currently, economics. His biography states he enjoys canyoneering and spending time with his family, and it also gives an overview of his educational pathway from beginning college at 15 to the completion of his doctorate degree at Drexel University.

At the same time, biographies don’t capture everything. Curious to learn more, I sat down for a quick chat with professor Rojas to go beyond what a quick skim of the My Last Lecture page could gleam. How did this man who moved easily between the subjects of physics and economics, but still made time to be an excellent teacher, come to be?

Is there anything about you that you feel isn’t accurately represented in your autobiography? I am actually very accessible, and I feel like students don’t realize that until they come to office hours. With 400 students in a course, it can be very difficult to feel comfortable (in speaking to me). I do ask and do try to remember names. Students are often surprised when I remember little details, like them getting their wisdom teeth removed the week before. All in all, I am quite approachable and actually pretty silly. Maybe they get some of that from class too? (In class), I try to not be as serious and make for a relaxed learning environment.

Who was your memorable lecturer throughout your long university education? How has that impacted you? Well, I had two. First, I had a professor (at Universidad de Costa Rica), Antonio Madrigal. He always believed in distilling complex things to the core and presenting things in a very simple fashion. I think it’s a great thing to be able to do this, and it’s not always easy. I’ve definitely inherited his teaching style. I find myself teaching a lot of different concepts like econometrics and time series. (With Madrigal),  I saw the value and beauty in bringing things down to a simplified level.

In a more comical fashion, his approach was to make it seem like something seemed fun and light-hearted, even if the concepts were incredibly difficult. Adding a humor element distracts the students and then they can enjoy the process of learning more. In graduate school, my quantum mechanics professor, Lorenzo Narducci, (at Drexel) taught me that you truly need to have a passion for teaching. He was an expert in the field, but he also had a passion for teaching. He cared about every single student, showing genuine concern for students. It was really an eye opener for me. I could go to him and ask any question, and he wouldn’t trivialize them.

How do you feel about your shift from a focus on physics to economics? Do you still feel like physics is part of your life? I’ve tried to reconcile what I’m doing now with my love for physics. If I don’t understand something in economics, I have to translate it into physics for it to make sense, as strange as that sounds. In that regard, even if I don’t teach physics,  I exercise it everyday. Just because you don’t teach it, the training and skills I have learned  still help me daily.

I never would have imagined I would be teaching economics today. Back then, I thought that my lifelong passion would be physics. As you grow older, you eventually realize that things happen differently, and that you really have to be open and flexible to those changes. I saw this as an opportunity to teach new material. This reconciling (of my interests) is where my research lies currently, the intersection of physics and economics: econophysics. (Econophysics is the application of physics theory to financial markets.)

Dr. Rojas gives his “last lecture” on Tuesday, May 12, in De Neve Auditorium, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tickets are free through the Central Ticket Office, but seating is limited. To read a recap of Rojas’ lecture, pick up a copy of Wednesday’s Daily Bruin.

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Office Hours

The Perfect Podcast

Podcasts have become an integral part to my walks to class, fueling me with information, news, motivation and sometimes even a laugh. Listening to podcasts is the ultimate form of multitasking, allowing for selectivity of content at the touch of a button.

In fact, our beloved iPhones come installed with the podcast app, so all you need to do is open it up and pick a podcast. Picking the right show can be overwhelming, though, so here are some recommendations to get you started.

 Science/Society: Invisibilia

Invisibilia is an NPR podcast that discusses the invisible forces that control human behavior. The show incorporates scientific evidence with stories from individuals, creating an understanding of the application of science in society. One of my favorite episodes is titled “Our Computers, Ourselves,” which explores the impact that technology, like computers and cell phones, have played on our lives in recent decades.

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 Business: StartUp Podcast

StartUp is a show about Alex Blumberg’s mission to start a podcasting company of his own, building his business from the ground up. It is an unconventional and blatant account of starting a business with no previous experience. There is something refreshing about the entrepreneur leveling with listeners and presenting himself as a student taking a course on the ‘real world.’

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 Fitness: Healthy Mind Fit Body

This show focuses on the connection between the mind and body and how that effects the health and fitness choices of individuals. Presented from more of an informative standpoint than a motivational one, the podcast does not come across as cliché. Instead, it debunks myths about certain foods, explores macro intakes and analyzes the emotional connection humans have to food.

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Motivation: Happier with Gretchen Rubin

Created and hosted by the author of The Happiness Project, which is an inspirational and lively read in itself, Happier is an advice podcast that explores happiness in a practical, funny and thought-provoking way. With her sister as the co-host of the show, it has a great dynamic that keeps you listening and motivates small changes for the purpose of practical self-betterment. Sounds cheesy, but it’s an entertaining way to boost your mood.

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 News: Global News BBC

The BBC Global News podcast is pretty self-explanatory, as it is the podcast version of BBC radio. The only difference is that you can choose the news story that you wish to listen to in 30-minute segments. It is a great alternative to watching the news on television or reading stories online for students who are on the go and want their daily dose of global happenings on their walk home from class.

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Tweet @dbmojo and let us know what your favorite podcasts are!

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Office Hours

The Best and Worst of Going Back Home

Living on campus is large part of the “quintessential” college experience. Or at least that’s what all the classic college movies tell me. After about two quarters of living on the Hill, I feel pretty adjusted to communal living. However, going home has reminded me of all the best and worst parts of living at home.

The Best

1. No headphones

I consider myself to be a respectful roommate, so I always plug in my earphones when I want blast some tunes or binge-watch my latest Netflix obsession. Apple claims that their earphones are specially designed to “the geometry of the ear.” I call shenanigans. There is no way shoving hard plastic into places it should not be shoved feels comfortable to anyone. Over-the-ear headphones are a good substitute, but after two and a half episodes of “Friends,” they become just as uncomfortable. Spending time in a room I can completely call my own is music to my tortured ear canals. Nothing is better than hearing a cheesy ’90s laugh track echo freely off the walls.

2. Walking around barefoot

Dorm floors have definitely seen some bad times. Years and years of students have occupied the same place long before you called it home. The amount of food, juices, bodily fluids and unidentified substances spilled on the carpets call for 24/7 footwear. Feeling the soft squish of clean carpet under your toes is a luxury only found at home.

3. Abundant, quality toilet paper

I think all of us can agree that the toilet paper in the dorms sucks. It has the thickness of tissue paper combined with the texture of unused sand paper. Every time I use the bathroom, it’s like playing a game of chance. Will this stall actually be properly stocked with toilet paper, or will I have to awkwardly ask the person next to me to help a girl out? There’s no worries back at home. Moms, bless their souls, have the toilet paper rotation on lock. Plus, the added layers of beautiful soft cotton is enough to make even the toughest of men shed a single tear. #threeplyordie

 

The Worst

1. Loneliness

Surrounded by tons of other students, living on the Hill makes finding a study buddy, an eating companion or just someone to talk to easier than ever. Coming home to a full-sized house filled with the same amount of people I squeeze into my tiny dorm room is definitely an adjustment. Of course, it is nice to get some actual peace and quiet, but is it weird that I missed the noise of people running up and down my hallway?

2. Food assembly

Coming from one of the best dining hall systems in the country, it is hard to go back into making my own food. My swipes are completely useless here; I can’t just swing by my counter and pick up a pre-made plate and move on. There’s actual preparation involved. You might actually have to boil some water. Ew.

3. Embarrassing childhood memorabilia

Parents love you no matter what, that’s part of their charm. They love you through the awkward brace-face years, the terrible, mismatched outfit choices and the array of choppy, bad haircuts. Even better? They absolutely love to commemorate these wonderful moments by displaying them in picture form throughout their homes. Honestly, going back home serves as a reality check. If you are feeling pretty good about your young adult self, taking some time to peruse your parents’ museum of embarrassing moments can bring your ego back into perspective. Really gives a new meaning to “started from the bottom, now we’re here,” huh?

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of going back home? Tell us about it in the comments or tweet us at @dbmojo!

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Office Hours

Useful Pitches for USIE Seminars

March 4 is the last information session to learn more about the Undergraduate Student Initiated Education program. USIE allows interested juniors and seniors to design a one-unit lower division seminar to teach to other UCLA students. That’s right, you, an ordinary UCLA student, could add “teacher at the 12th best university in the world” to your resumé. Past seminar topics have included “Comic Books as Literature,” “Sociology of Facebook and Online Social Networks” and even “One Course to Rule Them All: Exploring J. R. R. Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings.’” In case you’re dying to create your own course but blanking on what your topic should be, here’s some suggestions:

1. Navigating the Endless Staircases of UCLA

Aimed at the newest additions to the Bruin family, this course teaches the skills needed to tackle the hills of campus. Learn the proper breathing techniques to use while powering through the last two flights of the classic Café 1919 “death stairs.” Analyze the proper geometric angles to position your legs, so you look like less of an idiot going down the “awkward stairs” by Covel. Discuss the proper icing procedures to soothe your newly enlarged calves. Explore alternative routes that cut down on staircase usage. You may have to allot more time for walking to class, but you’ll avoid the signature freshmen “I can’t believe I just climbed 250 stairs to get here” sweaty and distressed look.

2. The Science of Creating the Perfect Tinder Profile

Made obvious by the plethora of creepily too-close selfies and overused quotes, some people just don’t know what they are doing on Tinder. The class would be broken into small groups to evaluate the profiles of each individual student. Once you determine your strengths and weaknesses as a potential match, experts would come in to give guest lectures on a range of relevant topics like the “Do’s and Don’ts of Group Photos” and “How to Convey You’re Looking for Something Causal Without Coming Off Like a Creep.” By the end of the 10 weeks, you’ll have so many matches, you won’t know what to do with yourself. Be warned: you’re on your own for the actual date.

3. The Sport of Binge Watching

It is hip to claim to be a Netflix fanatic, but does everyone really know what it takes to watch an entire series in three days? One of the more active seminars, this class tackles the athletics behind laying down for hours on end. Students will be taught various exercises and stretches to avoid common injuries, such as eye strain and hand cramps. The second half of the course will highlight the essential food groups of a binge watcher’s diet: candy, chips and cookies. Final assessment includes watching 15 episodes of the student’s choosing while exhibiting all of the techniques learned throughout the quarter. This course really does bring a new meaning to “survival of the fittest.”

If you are inspired by any of these ideas, or have a few of your own, swing by Ackerman Union Room 3516 Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. to hear more about the USIE program.

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Office Hours

The Paper Process

The quarter is coming to its final weeks, you’re feeling good because midterm season is winding down, and BAM: The professor drops the dreaded words, “Your paper will be due in two weeks.”  You sink a little in your chair thinking about the six pages that you will, no matter how badly you don’t want to, eventually write.  Everyone has been there, so don’t feel alone. Here are the relatable steps of the grueling paper writing process:

Step 1: Denial

The paper gets assigned and you cringe; this is going to throw your stress-free plans for a loop. But, you shove the assignment sheet into your bag and push it to the back of your mind. “That’s so far in the future,” you think. “I have so much time, it’s all good.”

Step 2: Realization

About two to three days later, you finally realize the implications of this dreaded assignment. Your next week flashes before your eyes: hours at the computer, writer’s block, probably some tears and definitely a loss of sleep.

Step 3: Procrastination

But, nonetheless, you still decide there is all the time in the world to write this paper. I mean you still have 10 days; what’s the fuss about? So, you watch an entire season of “How I Met Your Mother,” have a Harry Potter marathon, pretend you’re as good a dancer as Beyonce, do anything you can think of … except your paper.

Step 4: The “One Week Left” Freak Out

Then finally after your week of blissful ignorance, you find the assignment sheet and have the classic “one week left” moment of panic.  You can’t help but feel stupid for not thinking about the assignment at all.  So you finally take a moment to look at the assignment prompt and do an outline of the paper.

Step 5: More Procrastination

You feel better about yourself for writing that outline, so you reward yourself with EVEN MORE procrastinating time.  AKA reruns of your favorite shows on Netflix.

Step 6: The Struggle

You get down to business finally when you’re three days out from the due date.  Your brain just doesn’t seem to work, but you still force yourself to sit there trying, just so you can say that you tried.

Step 7: The Intensely Motivated Stage

Two days to go. Enough said.

Step 8: Proof Reading and Complete Exhaustion

At this point, your paper is written, you’re exhausted, you’re on the 24-hour countdown and it’s a matter of perfecting those pesky citations and checking to make sure you sounded literate when you were on a roll (see step 7).  You gotta push through and get that paper perfected, which calls for a lot of caffeine.

Step 9: Celebration & Relief

After weeks of hardships and stress, you have done it!  You’ve conquered the battle of the paper.  This calls for celebratory dance and a sigh of relief.

Step 10: The Promise to Never Procrastinate Ever Again

…LOL, it so will happen again.

 

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