Work Life Balance!

Recently hashtags such as #Find_Away and #EscapeNormal have recently became inspirational hashtags for taking a break, doing something new, and breaking the routines. Reading a blog post on the Inside Higher Ed reminded me of how my work-life balance in grad school is also largely dependent on the stage of degree that I am in. To maintain your work-life balance, try to remember the following tips:

-Prioritize your time and say no.

-Mix up your routine to reset and recharge. Start small with mini goals and deadlines, as well as mini rewards and breaks. See #EscapeNormal.

-Surround yourself with people who also aim for a balanced life.

-Get outside. Exposure to nature can improve memory and attention, among numerous other health benefits of nature and being outside.

– Be nice to yourself and take care of yourself.

This is your life right now. Work-life balance is not only important to avoid burnout in grad school but also your future career(s). Practice makes perfect!

 

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Redesign Your Syllabus!

I think that many of us have experienced the frustration of reading a course syllabus. Why not make it more readable, interactive, and visually engaging?  A very interesting Blog Post from Inside Higher Ed mentioned the following techniques for integrating our teaching style into our syllabus.

Having Your Syllabus Reflect What You Value Most

  1. Foreground what’s essential by asking ourselves about the most important thing that we want our students to get out of our class.
  2. Anticipating pitfalls and designing around. An example of this is writing about levels of class participation in a narrative that was set against the metaphor of “diving deep” which helps with putting expectation for participation in very concrete terms and assisting students in understanding how this translated into a grade.

Other great practices can include:

1. Starting from a Template: There’s no shame in using a template in order to start your new syllabus with a solid layout. I’ve personally had a lot of success adapting two-column newsletter templates in Microsoft Word and Pages (Mac). Templates can include great options like a table of contents to make your syllabus easier to reference.

2. Getting Visual: To the right is a page from my redesigned syllabus explaining my grading philosophy and expectations for class participation. Since my writing class factored participation as a significant portion of student grades, a visual metaphor (in my case, a scuba diver) helps to reinforce the larger outcomes of the class, especially in how students were expected to collaborate in peer review. A visual doesn’t have to be elaborate, but strategically using images, shapes, or flow-charts can be an equally effective way of drawing attention to the most important parts of your syllabus.

3. Being Accessible: While it’s great for your syllabus to make an impression, you also want to make sure it’s readable for all students. This can include providing your syllabus in multiple formats (both analogue, digital, color, and grayscale), and also using easy to read fonts and high contrast colors. If you don’t have the resources to spring for color printing, make sure to preview how your syllabus will look in grayscale.

4. Building Your Design Knowledge: Taking on a design project can be a great way to educate yourself on effective design practices and visual rhetoric. If you’re just starting to dip your toe, you might want to consider taking a look at The Non-Designer’s Design Book and Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students.

Beyond the First Day of Class
If you devote time to making a thoughtfully designed syllabus, make sure you keep using it after the first day of class! Below are two suggestions that can help you reference the syllabus so you can keep driving home important concepts and outcomes.

1. Using the Syllabus at Key Moments: A great time to ask students to take out the syllabus is when you transition between major units or assignments of the course. You can lead students in a conversation about ways the work they just completed addressed some of your broader course learning outcomes. You can even turn this into an in-class activity such as having students write a short reflection about how their work in the previous unit helped them develop competencies or achieve course outcomes.

2. Reinforcing Concepts from Your Syllabus in Assignments and Grading: You can reinforce the concepts from your syllabus by using them consistently in other course documents including assignment prompts and grading rubrics. For example, it’s great to reiterate course outcomes, especially as it provides context and purpose for the work students will be doing. In my case, I reused my “diving deep” metaphor when I wrote my grading rubrics.

GrandySyllabus

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December 22, 2015 · 12:00 am

How to Automate Your Teaching

A very interesting blog on Inside Higher Ed regarding automation in teaching mentioned the reconsideration of grading practices, hiring your own TA, and though-full use of technology as areas that can be improved using automation for increasing the class effectiveness.

1. Three methodologies have been presented for reconsidering some of the current  grading practices:

  • For large writing assignments, rubrics are helpful (as are Travis Grandy’s suggestions for how to prioritize your feedback). You can also save time by keeping a Microsoft Word document of the comments that you most frequently use, so that you can copy and paste your feedback to students instead of transcribing longhand it every time.
  • For multiple-choice quizzes and other straight-forward assessments, like reading checks, have students grade their own before giving them to you. They get instant feedback on their performance and you save a lot of time, even factoring in the extra minutes you’ll need to give them a once-over to ensure students’  honesty.
  • You can even optimize how you grade class participation: for example, in my language classes, instead of relying on more subjective evaluations of class participation (some of which are inevitably skewed towards more talkative students), I use random cold calling and group activities almost exclusively. My classes are small enough that I can make sure that I call on all students in a single meeting, but if you have very large classes, you can use an app to keep track of who you’ve called on. When I call on students, I expect a good faith attempt to answer the question accurately; as long as students make a concerted effort in that respect, their participation grade doesn’t suffer. In my years of teaching, I’ve never had a student abuse this policy, and it makes my evaluations of their class participation much more straightforward and less time-consuming, since I don’t spend hours racking my brain to figure out how often each student has contributed to class discussions.

2. Consider appointing one student per section to serve as your TA in exchange for extra credit. “This student can do a number of tasks that will streamline your administrative work: take attendance, alphabetize any papers that students hand in (or organize them by randomly-assigned ID number) to speed your grading process, and hand back graded work. Having your TA take over these tasks, provided that he/she is reliable and trustworthy, frees you up to spend the first few minutes of class developing your relationships with students by greeting them and checking in, instead of wrangling papers. Hint: some especially kind students will do this even without receiving extra credit. It’s worth asking.

3. At last the use technology for optimizing classroom time can be addressed by adopting the three practices mentioned below:

  • Buy a large accordion file (or two). Create in/outboxes for each day and each section that you teach, and keep students’ papers in those. Never spend time rifling through your bag/briefcase again.
  • Free up mental energy by creating checklists for anything that you (or your students) need to do for your class on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. You can thank Atul Gawande for this suggestion.
  • Employ social media/apps to remind students of upcoming assignment due dates or exams to study for. Remind and WhatsApp are highly recommended to send group texts. You can also create Facebook groups for your students and have them post questions about assessments there. They can even answer each others’ questions—and you’ll never have to spend five minutes of class time reviewing due dates again.

 

I think that it is obvious that more technology will be invented. However the most important factor is how this technology will be used to improve the learning experience for the students. The main challenge for the future faculty the effective use of technology. We all know how technology can enhance or worsen the learning process. Moreover, we all know professors that use their slides very ineffectively by either reading directly from the slides or presenting concepts that are not aligned with the slides. I believe that technology is not always beneficial, depending on the type of course that we are teaching. As an example I think that Ted Talks are very much effective because the presenter is directly in contact with the audience and the slides are just in the background for showing some related pictures or content. This also applies to teaching…The future faculty should not be resistant to change. The other factor that will impact the future faculty, is globalization and the fact that universities will not be localized anymore. For this reason faculty should be prepared for designing online courses. This will change the structure of the class and how the in class activities etc. are designed since we need to make sure that we are keeping the participants engaged. In online and broadcasted courses the possibility of losing the listener’s attention is very high due to the lack of physical presence of the professors in class.

 

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The Correlation Between Higher Education and Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics within the United States Department of Labor has conducted a study on persons 25 an over with respect to full- time wage and salary workers.  It should be noted that this analysis was conducted in 2014 and does not take into account the completion of training programs in the form of apprenticeships and other on-the-job training. The results of this study show that the weekly earnings and the unemployment rate relatively increase and decrease as the educational degree enhances.

Moreover U.S. News and World Report have stated that those holding a bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, and professional degrees relatively earn $2.27, $2.67, $3.25, and $3.65 million during their life time. People with bachelor degrees regardless of their fields earn considerably more than people with college or higher diploma degrees which relatively earn $1.55 and $1.30 million in their lifetime. This means that regardless of the level of attainment and the files of study, earning a four-year degree will potentially lead to a financial success later in life (U.S.News and World Report, 2011).

They also mentioned that all ethnic group minorities’ earnings were less than that of Caucasians in career earnings. Except for Asians with masters, doctoral, and professional degrees which outpaces white workers with the same level of degrees. Moreover Latinos and African-Americans with master’s degrees earn roughly the same as white workers with a master’s degree. This report also reveals that women have to attain PhD degrees in order to earn than men with bachelor degrees. Women with a PHD degree on average earn $2.86 million in their lifetime while men with a bachelor degree earn $2.60 million. Women with bachelor degrees earn about $1.9 million over their lifetime which is the same as men with no degree (U.S.News and World Report, 2011).

Considering these unbalanced paying fields the Professor and Director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce stated that women who want to earn more than their male counterparts will need to attain more degrees or select a higher paying industry. “You can close the gap by getting more education, and that does seem to be the strategy, at least implicitly, that women are following,” he says. “If you want to make more than lots of men, and you’re a woman, then go into engineering (U.S.News and World Report, 2011).” In additional studies the mean wages of adult employment has been found with respect to educational attainment. The results of this study reveal that the mean wages increase as the educational degree improves (Grahan & Paul, 2002).  Studies from other researchers reveal the same results stating that more education increases the average income (Strauss, 2012; Fry, 2013; Cheeseman Day & Newburger, 2002; Blaug, 1970).

BLS_chart_001

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Scholarly Integrity

Looking at some of the cases from the Office of Research Integrity (ORI), I decided to share three of their cases in this blog post. First I should mention that all three cases were engaged in data falsification. The first case is from the department of Health and Human Services. Based on investigation ORI has found that one of the a former Associate Professor of Medicine in Duke engaged in research misconduct by including false research data in published papers , submitted manuscript, grant application, and research record. Three misconducts has been reported:

  1. Respondent stated in grant application 1 R01 CA136530-01A1 that 6 out of 33 patients responded positively to dasatinib when only 4 patients were enrolled and none responded and that the 4 CT scans presented in Figure 14 were from the lung cancer study when they were not.
  2. Respondent altered data sets to improve the accuracy of predictors for response to treatments in a submitted paper and in the research record by:
    • reversing the responder status of 24 out of 133 subjects for the adriamycin predictor in a manuscript submitted to Clinical Cancer Research
    • switching the cancer recurrence phenotype for 46 out of 89 samples to validate the LMS predictor in a file provided to a colleague in 2008
    • changing IC-50 and R-code values for the cisplatin predictor in a data set provided to NCI in 2010
  3. Respondent reported predictors and/or their validation by disregarding accepted scientific methodology.

Respondent has entered into a Voluntary Settlement Agreement with ORI. Respondent neither admits nor denies ORI’s findings of research misconduct; the settlement is not an admission of liability on the part of the Respondent. The parties entered into the Agreement to conclude this matter without further expenditure of time, finances, or other resources. Respondent has not applied for or engaged in U.S. Public Health Service (PHS)-supported research since 2010. Respondent stated that he has no intention of applying for or engaging in PHS-supported research or otherwise working with PHS.

The second case is from the department of Health and Human Services. A former postdoctoral fellow in University of Maryland in Baltimore engaged in misconducting research by falsifying graphs supported by National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), National Institutes of Health (NIH), grant R01 DC010110. The “Respondent neither admits nor denies ORI’s findings of research misconduct; the settlement is not an admission of liability on the part of the Respondent”.

The third case is from the same department in University of California in San Francisco. A graduate student engaged in research misconduct in research supported by National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), National Institutes of Health (NIH), training grant T32 GM007810 and grant R01 GM109176. ORI found that the respondent falsified data in two publications.

The graduate student has entered into a Voluntary Settlement Agreement and has voluntarily agreed:
 
  1. to have his research supervised for period of three (3) years beginning on August 4, 2015; Respondent agreed that prior to the submission of an application for U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) support for a research project on which his participation is proposed and prior to his participation in any capacity on PHS-supported research, Respondent shall ensure that a plan for supervision of his duties is submitted to ORI for approval; the supervision plan must be designed to ensure the scientific integrity of his research contribution; Respondent agreed that he will not participate in any PHS-supported research until such a supervision plan is submitted to and approved by ORI; Respondent agreed to maintain responsibility for compliance with the agreed upon supervision plan;
     
  2. that for period of three (3) years beginning on August 4, 2015, any institution employing him shall submit in conjunction with each application for PHS funds, or report, manuscript, or abstract involving PHS-supported research in which Respondent is involved, a certification to ORI that the data provided by Respondent are based on actual experiments or are otherwise legitimately derived, and that the data, procedures, and methodology are accurately reported in the application, report, manuscript, or abstract;
     
  3. to exclude himself voluntarily from serving in any advisory capacity to PHS including, but not limited to, service on any PHS advisory committee, board, and/or peer review committee, or as a consultant for period of three (3) years beginning on August 4, 2015; and
     
  4. to retraction or correction of the following papers:
  • Science Signaling 7:ra114, 2014
     
  • Chemistry & Biology 21:453-458, 2014

 

 

 

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Future of The University

I think that the main thing that all of us agree on is the fact that future universities will not be as centralized as they are now. They will be more globalized by means of being more accessible from other parts of the world. I think that it is obvious that more technology will be invented. However the most important factor is how this technology will be used to improve the learning experience for the students. As an example I have a grad level course this term which is broadcasted from Texas and I think that they are doing a good job in keeping the class interactive. There are about 10 other universities in this class and University of Texas has their in class exercises designed in a way to have each university contribute to a part of the exercise. However students are not encouraged to participate since you do not feel included or seen when you are being broadcasted. For this reason at some point almost all the students at least at Tech lose focus. I think that the only time that we feel the need to contribute is when they call our University and we feel the need to contribute something. I think it is best to have more in class exercises and make it even more interactive so that we do not lose focus. This class is also very long (4 hours!) so both the duration of this class and not having too many in class exercises has led to us losing focus half way through this class. At some point we just feel disconnected since generally is it not very easy to stay focused in classes which are broadcasted. Such examples might also exist in the future with respect to the future technology. I think that the pathway to a bright future can be constructed by making sure that technology is enhancing the learning process and is not just being used. I also think that there will be more interdisciplinary work and collaboration among various majors. An example of this is the building construction program here at Tech which I think is a brilliant idea since I always had in mind that it would be great to have Civil Engineers and Architects collaborate more. Such programs will exist even more in the future and even new majors may be developed. As we stand now, I think that we are working towards interdisciplinary for sure. The NSF project that I am working on is absolutely fascinating since it includes students and faculty members from Business Administration, Architecture, Construction Management, Structural Engineering, and Geo-technical engineering. This is great example of how we are working towards interdisciplinarity.

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Taking College Teaching Seriously!

I very much believe that we should take college teaching seriously. These students are the future generation of the world. I read an article on the INSIDE HIGHER ED which talked about the need of having a vast momentum for improving college completion rates and how good teaching has a critical role in improving student success. This article also talked about the fact that pedagogy is neglected in higher education and how colleges emphasis on “what is taught” rather than “how it’s taught”. Moreover students bring many complex issues into their learning environment. Faculty require teaching skills far beyond content expertise to deal with some of these issues. This does not need a standard teaching method. It requires self-reflection in practice for improvement. “Teaching is both art and science, and we are able to place technological tools in the hands of faculty that enable them to excel in both.” Some of the solutions presented for this problem included finding professional learning structures for doctors, architects or accountants which require constant upgrading and updating skills. In addition to understanding the fact that improving college teaching cannot be imposed on faculty. For this reason the best and most effective improvement initiatives must engage the faculty in design, implementation and assessment. Having scholarships for teaching will also positively impact this process. These scholarships can help in conducting research on technology and curriculum development. By these scholarships we can nurture the growth of excellent teaching faculty. Last is developing a data pool where we capture what is happening in each class with different faculties around the country. These faculties can work together to refine techniques, and question strategies.

Please see below for the link to this article:

Link to Article

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Engineering Code of Ethics and Diversity!

 

I looked at the code of ethics for the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The fundamental canons of their code of ethics is as follows:

 

  1. “Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public and shall strive to comply with the principles of sustainable development in the performance of their professional duties.
  2. Engineers shall perform services only in areas of their competence.
  3. Engineers shall issue public statements only in an objective and truthful manner.
  4. Engineers shall act in professional matters for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees, and shall avoid conflicts of interest.
  5. Engineers shall build their professional reputation on the merit of their services and shall not compete unfairly with others.
  6. Engineers shall act in such a manner as to uphold and enhance the honor, integrity, and dignity of the engineering profession and shall act with zero-tolerance for bribery, fraud, and corruption.
  7. Engineers shall continue their professional development throughout their careers, and shall provide opportunities for the professional development of those engineers under their supervision.”

I also looked at the code of ethics for the American Society of Sociological Association (ASA). Their fundamentals principles were listed as:

 

  1. “Professional competence
  2. Integrity
  3. Professional and scientific responsibility
  4. Respect to people’s rights, dignity, and diversity
  5. Social responsibility”

The general principles for both organizations are the same. The term “diversity” which is one of the principals of the ASA organization cannot be implied from the ASCE code of ethics. My major is in Civil and Environmental Engineering and the main focus in Engineering is upholding integrity, honor, and dignity of the engineering profession by:

 

  1. “Using their knowledge and skill for the enhancement of human welfare and the environment;
  2. Being honest and impartial and serving with fidelity the public, their employers and clients;
  3. Striving to increase the competence and prestige of the engineering profession; and
  4. Supporting the professional and technical societies of their disciplines.”

 

Although it makes since to have diversity as a core principle for the American Society of Sociological Association (ASA), I think that it is equally important to have similar guidelines for engineering based organizations.  The ASA clearly states that they do not discriminate based on  “age; gender; race; ethnicity; national origin; religion; sexual orientation; disability; health conditions; or marital, domestic, or parental status. They are sensitive to cultural, individual, and role differences in serving, teaching, and studying groups of people with distinctive characteristics.” It is understandable how sociologists need to acknowledge the rights of others to hold values, attitudes, and opinions. However, I think that is it equally important to have these values as principle guidelines in the Engineering code of ethics. Non-discrimination is important in all fields and organizations, and it should not be valued more in sociological organizations. All other fields, specially engineering highly impact the society and include the collaboration of diverse groups. I chose ASA intentionally to show how diversity and non-discrimination is an important part of such organizations and how it should also be listed as a cannon in all other majors and organizations specially in engineering which directly impacts the society. I am not sure about the job market for sociologists, however for Civil Engineers, I am certain that not having diversity as a principle in the engineering code of ethics has impacted the job market and how not all companies are obligated to hire new employees based on diversity and inclusion.

 

‘So we agree: having attained diversity, we must now categorize, coordinate and consolidate it.’

‘For some strange reason personnel want us to review our equal opportunities employment policies!’

 

'So we agree: having attained diversity, we must now categorize, coordinate and consolidate it.'

‘So we agree: having attained diversity, we must now categorize, coordinate and consolidate it.’

'For some strange reason personnel want us to review our equal opportunities employment policies!'

‘For some strange reason personnel want us to review our equal opportunities employment policies!’

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Open Access Journals are not Very Popular . . . !

Scientific Research Publishing (SCIRP) is one of the largest open access journal publishers. Since my major is in Civil and Environmental Engineering with a focus on Construction Engineering and Management, I decided to look at the open journal of civil engineering which is part of the SCIRP. This journal is currently publishing more than 200 open access, online, and peer-reviewed journals in a wide range of disciplines. SCIRP has over 5000 professional editorial board members which facilitate the publishing activities. Over 41000 articles have already been published with SCRIP. SCRIP aims to contribute to the progress and applications of science.  This journal is located in China and they believe that due to globalization, this is not an issue.

This journal describes open access as follows:

All original research papers published by SCIRP are made freely and permanently accessible online immediately upon publication. To be able to provide open access journals, SCIRP defrays operation costs from authors and subscription charges only for its printed version. Open access publishing allows an immediate, worldwide, barrier-free, open access to the full text of research papers, which is in the best interests of the scientific community.
• High visibility for maximum global exposure with open access publishing model 
• Rigorous peer review of research papers
• Prompt faster publication with less cost
• Guaranteed targeted, multidisciplinary audience

With regards to the open access movement, I believe that it adds a significant value to the body of knowledge considering that it can be accessed by anyone. However at least in my field (construction engineering and management), I have not found any open access articles which could guide me in my area of research. This is due to the fact that most researchers in my field choose to publish in other journals such as the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) journal since such journals have a higher H index value. Also, I have never referenced any open access journals in my research since the scope of the available research in such journals is very narrow.  As this is a cause and affect issue not many researchers are encouraged to publish their work in open access journals.  If the professors advising the graduate students encourage them to publish in such journals, in the future we may have a larger group of researchers interested in publishing their work in the open access journals.

 

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A Well Defined Mission Statement Will Keep the University on Track!

I got my Masters of Applied Science degree from University of Waterloo (UW) in Ontario, Canada. For this reason I decided to look at the mission statement from UW and compare it to another great university in Ontario which is University of Toronto (U of T).

 

UW was launched in 1957 by industries with a dream of changing the world through innovation and research. Currently UW has 30,600 full and part time undergraduates and 5300 full and part time graduate students. Teaching and research excellence remain core to Waterloo’s mission. Due to the emphasis of UW on research an innovation, it has become an internationally recognized leader in entrepreneurship and innovation. UW has been ranked as the nation’s most innovative university for the 23rd consecutive year and the best university in Canada for 19 of the last 23 years. UW provides a research environment where experimental learning can take place. Waterloo goes beyond the limits of disciplinary, institutional, and international boundaries by the aim of encouraging students to address challenges in innovative ways.

 

U of T was found in 1827 as the first institution of higher learning in the colony of Upper Canada. The mission of U of T is being internationally significant in research, with undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs of excellent quality. University of Toronto has 33,795 undergraduate students and 13,464 graduate students. This university is dedicated to developing an academic community in which individual human rights and principle of equal opportunity, equity and justice are the main values. Freedom of speech, academic freedom, and freedom of research are also known as the most crucial human rights. U of T builds on its past achievements in order to enhance its research and teaching. With scholarships in wide range of disciplines including humanities, social sciences, sciences, and professions, U of T makes itself attractive for scholarly activities.

 

Comparing UW to U of T:

First I should say that living in University of Waterloo for two years I would say that they are very much aligned with their mission statement. Not looking at their mission statement, I would have described them exactly as a research and innovation based University. While UW maintains diversity, principles of inclusivity, accessibility, and sustainability (LEED certified buildings), it stands for innovation and research. Whereas U of T introduces itself as an internationally significant research university, with a main focus on equal opportunity and justice. Also, UW commits to transparency by making its updated strategic plan, state of university report, performance indicator, financial statement, and salary disclosure open to the public. The main research, teaching, undergraduate, graduate, life-long learning, and university community guidelines seem to be the same for both universities. However, one thing that makes UW stand out in terms of performance is making its mission statement, strategic plan, value, and goals more understandable and therefore more achievable. The mission statement for U of T does not seem very precise and was last approved by the governing Council in 1992. Budget planning, data analytics and reporting, evaluation and accountability, policy enrollment planning, student surveys, university data and statics, and an updated recourse allocation model are factors which could help U of T in developing an updated mission statement that could be better aligned with its current objectives. It seems like lack of an updated, transparent mission statement is what is keeping U of T from performing better. Considering that U of T was Canada’s  first institution of higher learning in the colony of upper Canada in the 1820s, it could have used all this past experience and knowledge for being well aligned with its current mission. Since now it is not clear if they are in any way aligned with their mission statement. Although U of T is at an advantage due to its many years of experience, it is not performing as well as U of W in teaching and research. An outdated mission statement could be one cause of this problem.

 

 

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