Fed Up

Our presentation in the process mining “compulsory choice” module went well, or rather, nobody cared. The professor was not even there, the assistant nodded, nobody had any questions, after two hours the whole practicum group was done, and the assistant assured us we would all get the PVL. More or less the same happened with the fourth and final presentation in the architecture practicum, the one I didn’t attend because I was acting as the group’s proxy in the exam preparation meeting of the distributed systems lecture: The assistant wasn’t there (and he’s the one who is torturing us with all those technical assignments), the professor didn’t care, and we all got the PVL, me included.

But in fact this is the only PVL we did actually get, so far; in the sense that shortly after it was entered in the campus system. For all others we’re still waiting. That’s sort of explicable in the cases of process mining and distributed systems (where, as you may recall, my programming partner and I earned our PVL already before Christmas), because the two final practicum groups won’t be meeting before today. But on Monday we gave our final presentation in the adaptive agents project course, before next term’s students and a few interested professors to boot; and even though the professor afterwards said all was fine and the course is over, he still hasn’t entered the “passed” (for there is no grade) in the campus system. Whyever not? He must know any such entry takes a load off our mind, for at least one thing’s home and dry. You never know.

The same day I met with the process mining processor because I want her to be the supervisor for my bachelor thesis. I have no idea yet what I will do, except I want it to have something to do with process mining, so there. You see, my team manager at work has agreed to let me work on project from that area that I can then summmarize as a thesis. Something that a customer actually requires, so everybody is happy: My company benefits, I get a real life subject for a thesis, and I am getting paid for completing it. And business intelligence (reasonably close to process mining) is a specialization of my team at work, while process mining is close enough to machine learning to fall in my own area of specialization or at least interest.

The devil’s in the administrative details though, which is why I met with the professor. For instance, does it make sense to have my boss at work be the second supervisor, and if so, what are his obligations, and what the legal ramifications? Does it matter how I am employed? My team manager thought so. There is a special status at my company for people doing a bachelor thesis, and while they earn less than a regular working student, they are contractually protected from being employed anywhere but within the context of their own thesis project. But then, since I am going to choose a subject that has a business value for my company, and since my team and business unit leader have a vested interest in my completing my studies and getting a good grade, I feel I need no such protection. But is there any relation, as my team leader hinted, between my legal status and my having a second supervisor from my company rather than my university?

Another question was: Will the thesis be public, and what if it uses sensitive data owned by my company, or worse, one of its customers? And will it interfere with the academic status of the thesis if my company uses the results commercially?

On all these accounts the professor basically said not to worry. She has done this often before, and nothing was ever a problem. And of course the university couldn’t care less how I am employed, and my choice of supervisor had nothing to do with it. So I said thanks, and I would be back with a suggestions for a subject of the thesis after the exams, once I will have had time to figure this out with my bosses at work.

Then I met my practicum partner from process mining. She, too, will be doing her bachelor thesis at work. I told her what the professor had said, and she was astonished. Her supervisor (our software engineering / architecture professor) had told her almost the exact opposite on practically every account, down to the minor details. For instance, my professor had said the academic requirement for a second supervisor was his holding one academic degree higher than the one he was supervising. Which might mean I would have to choose not my team leader, but his boss who holds a Sc.D. from UHH. The other professor however says the same degree suffices. More to the point, my practicum partner has signed a regular contract between her company, her supervisor, and herself concerning the status of her work, including the table of contents, the relevant literature to use, and including a formal confidentiality agreement, while my prospective supervisor made this all sound rather informal.

I was baffled. Of course, my supervisor is of the easy-going kind, which is exactly why I chose her (I need someone who doesn’t bother me with needless reporting duties and in fact any unasked-for supervising), whereas my partner’s supervisor is a formalist, as evident for instance from his insistence on exact terminology in our oral exams. But then he is also one of the student’s advisors of the department and should know the formal requirements. I am not so sure about my own supervisor there.

Still, there is no reason to worry right now. This will, no doubt, sort itself out one way or another.

For now I have to concentrate on the exams. Problem is, apparently I have again started studying too early. Oh sure, with the contents of all those lectures being basically boundless, particularly in architecture, which covers no less than everything to do with the high-level design of software projects (plus NoSQL databases in a lot of detail, a hobbyhorse of the second professor), there is always more and more you can read and do. But there are practical limits to what you can cram into your head. Particularly since with three exams in as many days, it has all to be in there simultaneously.

And right now I am already badly fed up with studying. My feeling is that I have at least a week ago reached the point where the marginal benefit of going further becomes meaningless. Alright, on Saturday I sat lonely in the huge, cold foyer of the neighbouring economic science building while my oldest daughter was attending a math test at UHH (they have a program for particularly bright grade schoolers), reviewing a book and my flashcards for architecture. And there was at least one moment of “getting it”, when I finally understood the top-level hierarchy of the various architectural styles we have to memorize. That’s what last-week studying is mostly good for: putting things in perspective, structuring the details already memorized. Particularly useful for an oral exam.

But then again yesterday I wrapped up distributed systems, and that mainly consisted of reading the recommended book (Distributed Systems, by Maarten van Steen and Andrew S. Tanenbaum, 3rd ed., 2017) yet again and seeing if there were any additions to my crib necessary. But there were hardly any, and I ended up doing the laborious old thing, getting my crib to fit on the authorized two pages by compacting sentences and abbreviating any words I still could without making the thing incomprehensible. I did the only two Altklausuren yet again, and still made only miniscule mistakes. What else could I do? Once you know the answers by heart, Altklausuren become rather meaningless.

Today I am meeting with my practicum partner for practicing process mining algorithms. That, at least, could be marginally useful. But other than that, I am mostly done.

And there are still six days before the first exam.

Shouldn’t I rejoice over being so well prepared so early? I probably should, but then you really never know just how well prepared you are. Truth is, right now I feel rather pissed. I am hopelessly on edge. Because for all being well prepared, there is no telling how an exam really will go. The questions could be quite different from those we expect. Things could come up that I didn’t think of preparing for. Yet there is nothing I can do about that now. There is no sense in trying to read and memorize more and more. I’ll just confuse myself. As I said, there are limits to what you can remember. Probably best to let well enough alone right now. Still, I can’t help but think I am wasting valuable time by not doing more, but I really don’t know what. Re-reading the same things over and over makes me want to throw up.

But mostly I worry about other things. I could get sick just before the exams. Say I get a fever Monday night, then I’ll spoil not one exam, but all three, they being so close together this time. In fact, that three in three days thing is a major cause of worry in itself. I will almost certainly sleep poorly before Monday (as everyone in the world does, apparently) and then again before the exam on Tuesday, so I will already be tired out before the first exam, and then there’ll be two more without time for recovering.

Truly, I haven’t felt stretched so thin in any exam phase since the notorious second term.

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