Monday, August 17, 2015

Dual faculty redux.

Meeting number one of "meeting week". Useful, 45 minutes long. How to differentiate instruction for grad students enrolled in dual courses (a mix of grad and undergrad students).

After, the faculty began to chat and I was affirmed that an effort to begin a untenable cross-disciplinary program was also not well received by my colleagues. 

I was also affirmed that the others hate the idea of "visioning" and are dreading it too.

Either I'm not as much of a curmudgeon as I thought or we are all curmudgeons.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Being UG + Grad Faculty: Joys and Annoyances

My department has a new graduate program, a few years old. It joins the other departments and programs in the university that have grad programs. I'm happy to be a part of our little and thus-far successful graduate program. The students are great and  I get to teach more in-depth material (which I was missing) and do more research project critique. I get TAs that I never had before and we have a revenue stream for our scholarship. But really: grad students rock.

However, as school starts (and the onslaught of meetings that take place prior), I'm realizing there are some serious disadvantages to being dual faculty. There are now three picnics I have to (really should) attend, and they overlap with each other (and I have to find a babysitter for). I now have an eight hour meeting and 2 four-hour meetings whereas before I "only" had the 2- 4 hour meetings.  That's on top of the faculty staff retreat, which is generally great but time consuming.

What's worse, this grad program 8-hour meeting is "visioning", which causes a practical person like myself to crawl inside her skin for the entire time. The agenda includes things like "How is the world changing and  how should we develop ourselves into the future?" (paraphrased to protect the innocent). Group discussion in circles. "Circle process" means you have no option to check out and let those who have needs speak, and those who are content, well, be content (and answer e-mails surreptitiously in their contentment). You are forced to share (and be vulnerable- whatever).

Are you seriously going to ask me to help shape the future of the entire graduate program, even though I am under-qualified and un-invested in, for example, the masters in counseling program? How about instead of spending hours brainstorming by ALL faculty- a bunch of specialists in something else, and each with extremely different programmatic needs and desires, that we have a consultant come in and find our weaknesses and present a practical plan for us to decide on? 

This is the price we pay for having such an extremely democratic, "we all do better when we all do better", consensus-based, even-the-janitors-are-our-colleagues, culture. Hey, I love it, completely, until we do the "circle process". Blerch.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Prep Time: tips for new profs.

Hi Readers,

I love it when you ask me to write more, thanks. Classes will begin again soon, so what's a prof to do with about 1 month to go? I will tell you what I am doing. 

1. Scheduling classes in an excel spreadsheet. I start with an excel spreadsheet that has every class period written in it. Here are the headings: 
Block, Week, Day, Date, Note, Pre-class prep, In-class, In Lab, Due before lab
  • There are 4 blocks in my class, and there are 4 block exams. There are about 3 chapters per block and they fit together schematically. This is pretty traditional, and the chunking really helps me and them.
  • There are traditionally 14-15 weeks per semester, and I list these. Holiday weeks, such as breaks aren't counted as weeks.
  • Putting both the day and the date helps clarify things and prevent disastrous mistakes.
  • Notes include seminar series speakers (not in-class time), drop dates,  break days, etc.
  • Pre-class prep includes the chapter reading, etc. I keep it simple for this particular freshman level class, so only text readings.
  • In-class includes both lectures and POGILS (this year I am implementing quite a few of these group-discovery-based activities).
  • In-Lab describes which lab activities from the lab book we are doing. I also supplement or replace these occasionally. These are fairly traditional labs, but I used a different lab book last year that was "visual based", and it bored the hell out of them, because it just asked them to look at pictures and respond. I've gone back to the more traditional experiment and dissection based labs.
  • Due Before Lab includes lab reports worksheets, mini-papers, etc. For this class it's mostly lab book based worksheets. Even though what's due before lab is exactly what we did last week, this needs to be explicitly written out for these first-year students.
The spreadsheet allows me to enter and change lectures and activities with an overview picture. It helps to balance competing goals such as keeping an even number of chapters per test and not scheduling exams right after breaks, etc. 

2. Running through each lab and making a list of supplies needed for it. THIS MUST BE DONE EARLY, believe-you-me. Delegate or order the lab materials.

3. Ordering equipment for my research lab that will be added or replaced due to the renovation. Currently my research lab is in a pile of boxes in a teaching lab until we are granted occupancy to the research suite.

4. Reading up an a new subject to help revitalize and old course. In case you are curious, I am currently reading "Neuroscience in Education: The Good the Bad and the Ugly". This book confirms some of my suspicions about the "Neurowashing" of the subject of Education. The course I am rehabbing is taking place next semester, but now is the time to do the heavy lifting. Now also is when I have the salary stipend, an additional 3 weeks on my 9-month salary (I wrote and won an intramural grant).

That's it for now, keep telling me you are reading. Thanks for your input.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Feeling MUCH better

Hi Readers,

Things are going much better these days. Though Hub did not get either or the jobs he applied for that would have brought us together, he has gotten into the application process, which provides hope.

Last semester's hellish course is going well. I am doing it on my terms, and the students are responding positively. Our interactions are productive and they trust me. Their grades are definitely improving, and I don't go into lecture afraid of them. 

I had a period of anger, depression, hopelessness, helplessness and overall stress... on my way to my "Spring Fall Apart" - a yearly short mental health crisis as I get worn down from the school year.  And then over about 24 hours, I realized that I had a spiritual problem, not really a workload problem (which exacerbates it). I asked myself and God, what am I afraid of? What exactly is is going on in my heart that wears me down so much? I made some half-formed realizations about being afraid of the students, not trusting in myself and God, nothing ever being good enough, being afraid of my colleagues' opinions about me, feeling let down by myself, etc. Somehow, somehow, over about a week, God just released it from me (if I could have done it myself, I would have long ago).

I have regained my confidence, and feel OK about my work. Other things that helped: my sabbatical work is now published and I feel more legitimate as a scientist. Moreover, I submitted a manuscript from my very own lab last week. This kids are so much easier to take care of this year, too. They dress themselves.

Now, I don't have heavy service obligations, nor am I running my lab right now, but I'm going to keep the faith that God will "equip me in every good thing" to keep going (Hebrews).

Friday, January 23, 2015

SQUEE! Hub gets an interview!

I reported that Hub interviewed for a position here in town. He also responded to a request sent to his PI from a colleague at another institution looking for someone exactly like Hub, did PI know anyone who would be willing to apply?

Hub got a skype interview at application #2, a university much closer to the grandparents! I will call it the Four Hour Drive U (4HDU). 4HDU is in a medium-small sized city, bigger than our current city. The schools are good, the nature is beautiful and close. It is quite far away from any major urban centers, unfortunately, but the cost of living is good.

I feel ready for a change. I do like my institution, and majorly good things have been happening, for example, a stunning renovation that makes my workplace 400% better. However,  I recall several spring semester "fall-aparts" indicating that I am working and living above my capacity. I would be happy staying here, but I am amenable to change

A preliminary search on the internet showed nothing for me at 4HDU. It is a relatively large state R01 institution, but does not have any posted openings a professor, instructor, or research associate in my area.

We have decided NOT to make it a non-negotiable dual hire. I was not included in the cover letter. The university's website addresses spousal hires by linking to major employers in the area (giving me the impression they don't have a strong policy).

I have read:

What other resources of suggestions do you have?

The critical thing here is that one of you gets an offer, and you’re going to damage the chances of that happening if you disclose the spouse prematurely. I know that some disagree with this, but I stick to it. While discrimination based on personal circumstances is not supposed to happen in searches, the fact is, it does happen, and there are occasionally search committees that will reject a candidate early in the game to avoid the hassle of dealing with a spouse. - See more at:

The critical thing here is that one of you gets an offer, and you’re going to damage the chances of that happening if you disclose the spouse prematurely. I know that some disagree with this, but I stick to it. While discrimination based on personal circumstances is not supposed to happen in searches, the fact is, it does happen, and there are occasionally search committees that will reject a candidate early in the game to avoid the hassle of dealing with a spouse. - See more at:
The critical thing here is that one of you gets an offer, and you’re going to damage the chances of that happening if you disclose the spouse prematurely. I know that some disagree with this, but I stick to it. While discrimination based on personal circumstances is not supposed to happen in searches, the fact is, it does happen, and there are occasionally search committees that will reject a candidate early in the game to avoid the hassle of dealing with a spouse. - See more at:

Friday, January 16, 2015

Getting crushed by the popular girl, er, prof.

Well, that was a hellish semester.

There was an evening lab, a semester of entirely new labs, construction in the building, taking over a course for an extremely popular professor and getting lambasted in comparison, widespread cheating in my grad level course, and tumbling from one missed deadline to the next.

The worst was the popular colleague. This feels like junior high, all those social comparison anxieties...

 Popular Prof is young, energetic and extremely capable. She implements all the most recent pedagogical techniques. Her courses are full of blooms taxonomy, metacognition, flipping, case studies, portfolios, POGILs, concept mapping, learning styles assessments, etc. It's extremely complicated and I have no idea how she grades all the components of it let alone prepares her 12-page syllabi explaining all the tasks the the students do. Its all well thought out in advance. Her lectures are clear and kind-sounding, and it just all comes across as so understandable. I also don't understand how she covers all the details in these lectures.

Other colleagues think she's the bees knees, and to top it all off, she just got a sizable research grant.

Oh, junior high insecurity, I so thought I was over you!

When I returned from sabbatical, I felt ready to make a change in my traditional methods. I lecture, and use the books' powerpoints, but I also do a lot of think-pair-share and tons of demos in courses. I have frequent low-stakes quizzes and a few activities. I don't know how to use the clickers, am not entirely convinced that the POGILs really work (weak students blow them off and just text during group time). I sought her advice, and she generously gave it to me (she's not a mean girl), and I tried to implement some of her methods, but they felt awkward and wrong for me.

This was a bit comforting at the time:

But, then the students we shared LAMBASTED, SCOURED, PILLORIED me on course evaluations, worse even than my first year teaching. They specifically cited my "incompetence" in comparison to Popular Prof.  Reading the course evals caused about 20 hours of darkness, and I am still questioning my career choice. However, I am bouncing back from the darkness, and I can recover mostly, as my evals have been good for years in that exact class. Some of the damage has been done, however, as my chair wants to meet with me regarding my "morale". Apparently comments I made here and there were noticed by the chair, so apparently I set off some red flag (see here for our institutional culture).  

I want to change my classroom style to become more student-centric. I want to learn from Popular Prof's successes, but now I am so overloaded that I don't have the capacity to make a change: no time, no energy, no resources, not intelligent enough to learn new software...on the short time. I will have to dedicate a summer to it. I will probably need to go to a conference or something to get me going, cause I'm not managing to do it by myself. That will be a nightmare of child care. Oh, well. Stop the whinin', PUI Prof. Just get it done, like the adult you are.

Any baby steps you can suggest?

Oh, PS, my sabbatical work final revision was just sent in today. It should be in press soon. :)


Sunday, December 14, 2014

He did it! Hub applied for a job here in town.

Hub applied for a job at the big school here in town. It's hard to tell how competitive he is for the position. I'm impressed by his CV, but they may want another sub-specialty.

He had recently given a talk there, which apparently went very well.

When asking for a letter of reference, Hub's PI suddenly became very apologetic as he realized he had not properly mentored hub for the next stage in his career. He had not assured Hub a stream of publications, primarily because they have one big project which has taken years and years to get ready. There are lots of abstracts but no official publication. The project will probably go *CNS, though.

Send us your good luck wishes. Our two body solution could be nigh. Or not.

*CNS = Cell, Nature, Science. High impact journals.