Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas, try 3

On our second day trying to get to the Hub's parents, we were on our way to smallish airport (1 hour drive) Nearly there, we received a call... our flight from smallish airport to airline hub was delayed, and we would miss our connection at airline hub. There was no way we could make it that day. We waited to get to the airport, so we could talk to a gate agent in person. Yes it was true, no chance of getting there that day. Fooey. We got a flight for 7am the next day (the 27th).

So even though we were only an hour away, and even though Hub drives two hours to work, and even though it was not good on our budget, we got a hotel for the night near smallish airport. We ate, we shopped a wee bit, and we went to bed early.

And the next day, though it seemed like we left in plenty of time, we ended up still in security when the called the final boarding call for our flight, even calling us by name. Luckily, we made it onto the flight. And the next flight. And we arrived!!! Three days late, but we are here.

Then I got a nasty sinus infection and haven't left the house, but no matter- we made it.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas, try 2

Yesterday Hub, Boy and I were to drive an hour to a smallish airport, board a flight for Airline hub, and then board another flight for Hubhometown. The weather was predicted to be nasty, nasty. So Hub and I decided to leave early for the airport, because the nasty nasty weather hadn't arrived yet, and we wanted to beat it. So we left quite early (8:40a) for a early afternoon flight (1:00p). Only one generation back, my family lived in harsh conditions/ geography, and I was brought up to make sure the car was full of gas, there was salt, a shovel, rope, water, food and many layers of extra clothing in the car in case of being trapped in a blizzard. So Hub and I even packed a box with these things to take with us.

Luckily, the road conditions weren't as bad as forecasted, and we arrived at the airport safe, but in no way relaxed. I envisioned these smallish planes building ice up on their descent (or ascent with us on it), and horror resulting from that. So even though we made it to the airport, the danger wasn't over.

Now we had the job of entertaining a young toddler for hours. I discovered Boy likes to ride the escalator up, and down. Up, and down. Up, and down. Up and down. Up and down. Up and down. You get the picture.

He learned how to drink from a fountain, more or less. Mommy used one of the rolling, swivelling office chairs at the internet booth to give him a fast, spinney ride through the tiled terminal. I also discovered how extroverted he was: he approached many people and shouted a primitive hello to them, and in one circumstance went running into a strange young woman's arms. Good thing she was Spanish and warm- and therefore unfazed by this burst of affection.

After being in the boarding area for about 3 hours, we received the message that the inbound flight had been diverted, and therefore our flight was canceled. There was a sudden flurry of activity in the terminal, as hundreds of people simultaneously activated their phones or devices and dialed reservations. Some of them even stood in line at the counter while talking to reservations.

Hub did so also... and we found the earliest flight we could get was the next day (26th). We had a tense, nail biting trip home through the worsening weather. The roads were still OK, though. By now we are famished, since we had breakfast at about 7a, nothing was open, and all we had the entire time in the terminal to eat were the snacks we brought for Boy (mmm- string cheese). We arrived home at 3pm, and I threw together macaroni and cheese. Our Christmas dinner never tasted so good. Hallelujah, amen.

Today, we try again. The weather looks better and hopefully the turkey will still be awaiting us at Hub's family home. We won't care if its not fresh out of the oven.

Happy holidays all.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Recruited; want a teaching job?

I got a call last week from someone I did not know, and when I returned the call, I had a huge surprise: it was a gentleman who was retiring from a small college in the Midwest, and he was actively recruiting for his own replacement. He found my vita on the internet and called me, wanting me to apply for his position! It was only slightly tempting; it would bring Hub and I closer to both parents, its a slightly larger school, and it was a huge compliment to receive the call. However, it would not solve our two-body problem. Aside from being separated, which sucks, we are relatively happy professionally and pretty ingrained in our community. And now that we are expecting right at the beginning of the Fall semester, its a no-go anyway.

But I really want to help the gentleman. He seemed very invested in his department/college, which suggests that it is a nice place to work. Any of my readers interested?? They need a physiologist. It is a small, private, liberal arts university in the midwest USA. It IS a CCCU college, so applicants need to be Christian in faith. If you want to know more, e-mail me at PUIprof at gmail dot com. If you remind me to check that account in the comments, I'll get to it faster...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Stop the presses!

My summer is decided for me and my load needs to be adjusted for next year. I peed a plus.

Mandate: rigor

This is in response to two comments about my failing class from Erin and Chall (thanks, for your comments!), regarding passing my students.

I was hired as a replacement to someone who didn't get our equivalent of tenure. Apparently this was the nicest person ever and pretty popular with the students. But apparently this person was too nice in that they just couldn't stand to leave unprepared students behind, and aimed the class for the bottom half.

Even though SRU isn't that selective, in the sciences we have an excellent reputation about getting our students into professional schools and graduate schools and other semi-professional programs. Well, apparently the preparation of the students for these programs started to suffer, and complaints started to pile up. So after departmental gnashing of teeth regarding my predecessor, I was brought in with a clear mandate: RIGOR. This actually fits my personality well as I am a relatively intense and ambitious person who loves people and science.

Of course my job is not to crush students. And I certainly don't. I simply say "The bar is here. It ain't goin' anywhere. Now what can I do to get you there?" While I perseverate seriously about whether those students that will fail my class could have been helped in any way, usually the point is moot, since stduents that aren't that well prepared (bright?) don't get intrinsic rewards for studying, so they don't like to put in the effort either. It's a vicious cycle... I see myself digressing, more about that later.

In any case, I have the blessing (mandate) from my department and the programs that get our students (who make themselves VERY clear) to keep the bar high. Given that I have great evaluations too, I feel pretty secure in my job.

What I really care about is whether those failing students can be helped, and what I can do to get them to the bar. Moreover, I've decided that even if they can't hit the bar, I want them to still be educated citizens and consumers with critical thinking skills. I want these flunking students to bring their children up reading to them and instilling curiosity. I want to save the world by getting my flunking students as educated as I can, even if they fail.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Awful. Why so awful???

Here's the first level of analysis for Pet class: the histogram. It almost looks OK, if you ignore the leftmost column.

Lonely celebration

Yahoo, my grades are posted! I didn't make the deadline, I was an hour and 6 minutes late. At least the registrar didn't CHASE ME down the hall to get my grades!

A friend rescued me by taking Boy for a few hours this afternoon, and her house is close to my favorite restaurant. I decided after I picked Boy up that we should celebrate by going to dinner, my half-pint date and I.

If I were in the restaurant alone (without Boy), I would have felt rather awkward. Some people can dine alone with no problems. Other than traveling I feel weird doing it. Several years ago, I decided that it was sign of insecurity, and well, who wants to be insecure?!?! So I forced myself to go to a few restaurants and movies alone. I don't know if that helped, the point is pretty moot now anyway. Its rare that I don't have the Boy in tow.

This was a nice restaurant, not fancy, but I questioned bringing a food spitter, napkin tearer, and clear-the-table-with-a-quick-wipe-of-the-arm-er. I didn't feel awkward eating solo because I directed my attention to Boy, teaching him to drink from a straw for the first time, and giving him warm tea. He hated everything I ordered for dinner, but I was able to catch 80% of the food he spit, threw, or wiped on the floor. A few women came by during dinner and engaged him with smiles and coos- that was nice.

I have to say that I MUCH rather would have gone as a family. It felt like we were missing something on our dinner. And managing the Boy made it hard to really relax and enjoy my own dinner. Getting him in his coat, managing the check, my purse and the glasses case (that he would absolutely not release) was like stacking basketballs. I set the Boy down on his feet to sign the credit card receipt and he was grabbing for the keg behind the bar before I could scribble my first name. I guess I have to get used to going out alone (with my half-pint date, I mean), or staying at home all the time. Both feel lonely to me at some level. Right now I feel a little more sad than satisfied and celebratory. But only a little...

Phooey, I might not make it after all.

Hub has left town for work. The day care is closed due to the weather. The secretary that helps me enter grades is not in. I might not make my grading deadline. I worked so hard this weekend to make it, too. So disappointed.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Stats at a small school

I continue to grade my Pet course's work. They are doing terribly this year. The stuff they aren't getting is surprising. Poor class performance could be due to several factors.

1. Random variation. Most of my class sizes are 20 or less, which makes statistics for them difficult. This one is 60, though.

2. Entering Freshman class. SRU had a banner year of enrollment this year. One has to wonder whether we have somehow sacrificed quality for quantity. I'm not on the selection committee, so I can make no statements about that. Since Pet course is comprised mostly of Freshmen, it could be a factor.

3. Change in physical format. Since our enrollment has gone up, this course has had to move from a very cozy regular classroom to a big lecture hall. This changes the degree of engagement for the students.

4. Maturation of the Professor. The more I teach, the more I learn, too. That means the more I forget what it was like to learn it for the first time. While I may be getting slightly more demanding over the years, I don't think this is a major factor. The final I used this year is nearly word-for word as last year. Besides, I think what they aren't getting is some pretty simple stuff. When I imagine someone who goes out of my class and into their profession and not knowing that stuff, I shudder.

5. My absences. God, I hope not.

6. Wrong impression. I'm not done grading, and haven't run stats on all of it. So I could be wrong that they are doing worse this year than previous years.

I'm really hoping that its ether 1 or 6. I won't be able to tell this until next year, assuming the other factors don't vary also. I would hate to be a social scientist that does longitudinal studies. Just waiting until next Fall is too long for my impatient, curious mind!!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Job security

Uuuuufff. I just got finished grading the finals for my pet course (60 students). I wasn't able to review with the students the last week of the semester due to my grandmother's death, so I guess the baby birdies were academically shoved out of the nest. Looks like a lot of them hit the proverbial ground. Scores were abysmally low despite a study guide.

I only missed one lecture (which they weren't tested on anyway) and a separate study session that we typically have with about 15-20 of the students who show. Well, I guess I can't be replaced by just reading a textbook or working off a study guide. Seems like the baby birdies still need me to shove worms down their throat for a while.

I'm going to do it.

I'm determined to get all my grades in completely and accurately this semester. ON TIME. T - 52 hours.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Physics Quote.

A quickie, because I am in the heat of grading (puns not intended, but in retrospect appreciated):

"Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that's not why we do it." -- Richard P. Feynman

This was the first line of a letter Hub received today.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


I regularly teach a course which isn't offered this semester due to a sabbatical and loading rearrangements. Nonetheless, some students wanted to take it independent study. We hired an adjunct instructor and he did all the rearrangements for the course. But I am the point person simply because its normally my course.

They were given a VERY GENEROUS offer that they the instructor would take the 100 best points of 168. Basically they would have to get less than 59% of the answers correct to get less than an A+ on the test. They said "but I can't take that risk, I have to get an A in the class, so I don't want to take it" Unbelievable.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


My grandmother's mother died giving birth to her, and her father blamed my Grandmother for the death of his wife. They were poor and he decided he couldn't farm and raise the babies by himself, so he sent my Grandmother and her elder siblings to an orphanage far away. When she was able to help around the farm, Grandma and siblings were allowed to return to their Dad's farm. When she was 17, her Father died in an accident.

My grandmother tells tales of how she took in others' ironing to put herself through high school in the depression. She married my Grandfather right out of high school. Grandma had my mother and uncle and went to work shortly thereafter as a nurses' aid.

When her kids were teenagers, Grandma finally went back to the local Junior College and got her nursing license (LPN). She worked as a nurse until her retirement.

My Grandpa (her husband) came from a large family (11 kids- 9 survived) of poor farmers. Many of my relatives, especially those from Grandpa's side are still poor. Poverty is inheritable and a cycle very hard to break out of.

I looked around at my relatives during the funeral, and realized that Grandpa's and Grandma's descendants were the only ones able to become successful in life. My uncle got a bachelors degree and is now an executive. Though my Mother flunked out of college, she eventually got an RN. My Dad got his degree thanks to the GI bill, since uncle Sam "encouraged" him to fight in Vietnam. Even though Mom didn't get her degree, the legacy of my Grandmother was that hard work and education were the key to success. I was then granted that opportunity and given that worldview.

I try so hard to understand my students, especially the ones that need my understanding, by relating their lives to my experiences. I was lucky that my Grandmother was so stubborn, and somehow from somewhere got the idea that education was important. I just got lucky that I am the child of the union of my Granddad, who was probably headed to poverty, and my Grandmother, who was determined to escape it. Many of my students don't have the luck that I did. While it's true that I had to earn my degrees all by myself, I was born into an environment that was determined to get me to college. So many of my students come from environments that don't value a college education. Moreover some of my students have families who think a degree is a good idea, but don't have a clue how to get their student there including raising them with the reading skills, curiosity, discipline, or attention to detail it takes to succeed.

Thank you, Grandma for your legacy. You are why I am here today.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I cried in class today.

I received word late Monday night that my Grandmother, with whom I am very close, had been airlifted to the regional medical center with a ruptured abdominal aorta. She underwent emergency surgery where they patched her aorta back up. The family was relieved to hear that she was stable and on pain meds by yesterday morning. This morning (Wed), the nurse informed me that she had not made any urine in the last 24 hours. I know enough to know that is very serious. They may have "killed" her kidneys when they had the aorta clamped off. It was looking like renal failure was a possibility.

I have three classes today. The morning class, I was OK for. I did not share with the class the status of my Grandmother, thinking it was TMI. The afternoon class I was grading group presentations (with my co-teacher) when a call from my uncle came in on the babyphone. I left the room and took it. He was asking if Grandma and I had ever had a talk about end-of-life issues, because a decision needed to be made ASAP as to whether to put Grammaw on dialysis. She was heavily sedated with pain meds and in and out of alertness.

She's 85 and has had a long life. She was a nurse, and pretty savvy to end of life issues. I told my Uncle to ask the renal specialist if we could get her awake and alert enough with a short bout of dialysis to make her own end of life decisions, (and allow me to get there to say goodbye). So then I went back to class while my Uncle waited to talk to the renal specialist. I apologized to the students for missing part of their presentation, and explained, because I felt in necessary to make clear that it was absolutely necessary that I walk out in the middle of their presentation.

My last class on Wednesdays is seminar style with 3 students. I informed them at the beginning of class that I had an urgent family situation that may affect my availability and their final. Then during class my Uncle called. I left and headed to the lobby, asking them to present the figures to each other in my absence. My uncle then informed me that there wasn't much hope of her getting better and that if I wanted to say goodbye I needed to book a flight right away.

I cried in the lobby and tried to pull myself together. I went to the bathroom and splashed my face, and went back in to lead them through the last figures. As class was ending I said, "I have to go to Homestate. I will be available by e-mail." But I couldn't make it through. No sobs, but clearly choked up, red faced, with tears. I apologized, and slipped out and down the hall.

I feel like that was really unprofessional. I would have rather not it happened. I've never had a professor "lose it" in one of my classes, and I would probably be really wigged out. On the other hand, students cry in my office all the time, and it doesn't faze me. I empathize with them (mostly). It just doesn't bother me one way or the other.

I'm a bit if a softie anyway, something I hate, but my husband says he loves. I hope, hope that maybe it made me more human to my students in a good way. Can any good come of this?

Off topic, but man, a trip right before finals is soooo ill-timed. Maybe that's a post for next time....

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Getting loaded.

Course loading for each semester is a puzzle-like process in which everyone in the department gets assigned his or her teaching load for the upcoming year.

See my previous post about the language of loading.

Goals to be achieved: 1. All the courses offered those semesters have to be taught by SOMEONE. 2. All the faculty should get the time they request; i.e. whether they are full-time or 3/4 time. 3. The courses, of course, need to be taught by someone qualified to teach them. 4. Resources such as research courses (where you "teach" a course on research primarily by having a few students in your lab) need to be rotated fairly among the faculty.

This is not a trivial puzzle to solve. Moreover, there are faculty that have pet courses (I am one), and that's generally taken into consideration.

My load for this year
My pet course = 6 hours
A co-taught Gen-Ed course = 3
Adv. Cool Science = 4
(13 hours total)

My pet course II = 5 hours (one less lab section, therefore one less hour load)
A course I'm teaching as a sabbatical replacement = 5 hours
A co-taught lower level Cool Science course = 1
(11 hours total)
= 24 hours for the year = full time status.

Since I am only loaded for 1 hour for the Cool Science course, that means I will be responsible for about 1/4 of the work. My co-teacher and I carefully plan so that happens.

Next year, the co-taught Gen. Ed. course is being dropped, and the Advance Cool Science course is only taught every other year. So we have to replace those courses in my schedule.

Next year, I will have:

My pet course I = 6
Adv. Interesting course = 5
Total = 11

My pet course II = 6
Research Course = 3
Non-science majors fru-fru course = 4
Total = 13
Year totals = 24, full time.

This is the edict that my Dept. Chair gives. He's considerate when he does loading. Moreover, I always try to be accommodating, even as I get more experience and feel like I can ask for more. Frankly, I'm not so enthusiastic about the non-science majors course. However, I'm cogitating (meditating?) on the fact that many of the students who take this course are Education majors, so I am really ensuring the quality of my child's future education, right? Don't change my mind, I'm trying to be positive.

Looks like this is getting long, so I'll have to leave "release time" for another post.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Yay, Me-- Boo you, Jerk.

Yay Me, I got up in enough time to swim a mile (1600 m). It took 49 minutes. I'm very proud of myself. That's a pic of me, really!

But then I got into my office and was ripped out of my reverie by an e-mail that would have been better left unsent.

A professor with whom we had made arrangements to visit his lab canceled at the last minute. He had been incommunicado for a few months, so its not like I had already picked up the car from the motor pool, but still...

Is there some sort of academic unwritten rules, like dating? Am I the one who can't get the hint that I was blown off long ago? Please, in professional correspondence as in dating, just shoot straight, dude. Please say, "I can't fit you in, I'm sorry." And not THE DAY BEFORE OUR SCHEDULED TRIP!!! I feel like I got stood up to the prom.

Am I the victim of some guy's low view of PUIs?

Was my biggest mistake choosing an Assistant Prof. to correspond with, when providing such a "community service" doesn't count toward the tenure dossier?
Or is this guy just inconsiderate? I wish, I wish, I wish I was on his tenure committee!!!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

My first data-less student.

Research students are usually asked to spend two semesters in the lab. At the end, they are required to give a public 10-minute talk, and depending on their advisor, write a paper. I have not required the paper so far. This is really the first student I've had give the presentation, and she didn't get any data. So we are crafting a presentation of the background including previous data and future directions.

She didn't get data for a variety of reasons.
One is that she was entirely over-involved and overloaded her first semester and the project kept falling to the bottom of her priority list. After sitting down with the research rubric and showing her that she would not get a passing grade (according to the rubric), she lit a fire under it and has been doing quite well this semester. She now is very good at the technique which we do, but the experiments failed each time.

Another is the unfortunate circumstance that she was only free to gather data on the day that I had teaching lab from 9:30a-5:00p. So she was flying solo most of the time. Due to this, she got pretty good at troubleshooting; her jury-rigging was quite clever. But I never really had time to mentor her in the lab, and lend helpful subtle suggestions that may have made her success.

So I blame myself for part of this, too. I didn't stop her from making the mistake I made in graduate school. Namely, if something didn't work enough times, to stop repeating the experiment and go back and check all the prep steps leading up to the experiment. She did do some of that, but because of a lack of great equipment in our department, we were never really sure about one aspect of it. We should have made a trip to the neighboring institution to use their equipment. I didn't make that happen. I also didn't repeat her measurements to reassure us of their validity.

I want to tear my hair out sometimes because when I am sitting down to my list of things to do, and it includes the CHOICE BETWEEN prepping for lecture- where I have a definite deadline, 60 people judging my success, and an instant reward- or doing something in my research lab- which may or may not work, has no definite deadline, and I am only responsible to one or two people- I choose lecture prep.

I'm getting more and more ready to buy myself a load reduction, so I can spend more time in the lab.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Major-ish purchases.

I guess it's time for another two-body post since that is the name of my blog.

Hub and I need to upgrade the car seat for Boy. He has outgrown the Baby-Bucket we had previously. So like the scientists that we are, we did extensive research on the web, and chose the perfect one for our needs. Then we looked for it in Small City That Tries At Least, to no avail. One thing I find irritating about small city life is that you have only the options available to you in Target, Walmart, or K-Mart. There are few boutique anythings here, let alone a locally-owned place that sells car seats for toddlers whose parents have a non-SUV.

Nothing we found at the C-sized chains was acceptable to us.

So, I sent Hub to find it in big city. There he found a small chain that had exactly what we wanted. The problem is that Hub had to do all the buying without my input. Now he has to schlep what he bought back here (Car seats are in a biiiiiig box), and then we try to install it here. If it doesn't work, he has to schlep it back and return it there. Kind of a hassle for a carseat, methinks.

Cutting losses.

More this year than any other, I have several students that are just giving up on my class. One actually called their advisor to tell him the plan. The others have just stopped coming to class. I typically find the opposite behavior... that there's a futile teeth-gnashing, office-crying last ditch effort. And its futile. Did I mention they don't succeed?

I have to say that half of me really regrets the "BAIL!" plan of action, because unless you change your major, my class is required. I'll see you again next year, so you might as well stay for those last 6 lectures. But I would be lying if I didn't admit to being relieved of the obligation of grading terrible exams and work for no purpose other than the obligation to grade all that is given to me.

Actually, a small part of me is jealous of them. I am VERY tenacious. I quit NOTHING. There are some things I follow through on that are not good uses of my time, not worth the effort and attention, or are futile. I would do poorly as a stock trader because I wouldn't sell. These students are actually smart. They know when the effort is futile, and they cut their losses. I guess we both benefit from that.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

I find this very exciting!


They are sectioning H.M.'s brain right this very moment. I can't wait until they get to the damaged part!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

in-school suspension

Apparently one of the students referred to in yesterday's post has received an in-school suspension. The letter said that Stu may be on campus only to go to classes, but may not participate in any campus life... i.e. no sports, no rec center, no swimming pool, no coffee shop, no choir, nothing but going to class. Interesting solution.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Updates on troublesome students

I spoke earlier about two students with academic integrity issues. One has numerous violations, and the other got belligerent when I accused this person. I would have liked to see both of them gone. no mo skoo fo yoo! buh-bye.

They are both still in school (so disappointed in the Dean's office). But they never show up to their prospective classes, so they won't pass and I don't have to see them. Ok, I guess that the least of all the undesirable solutions.

Comment to PhDamned

Here's the link to the original context

This person asked whether we considered the student body (and their attitudes) when interviewing for our current jobs. I replied:

I wasn't thinking of the students when I interviewed. I was pretty single minded, canihavethisjobcanihavethisjobcanihavethisjob????

But now that I have the job I am thinking two things. 1. I have a bunch of really smart students mixed in with some really unprepared or un-abled students. Its hard to teach to both. Impossible, no. Hard, yeah. If I had a homogeneous group of super students my life would be easier but duller. It does keep me driven to improve my teaching skills. But its heart breaking when someone you like very much who is busting butt in your class just. can't. make. it.

2. One thing I really like about the culture of my current institution (a religious U) is that the ratio of honest, good intentioned kids is higher than at other schools. Yes we have cheaters and jerks, but less of them. My students treat me in general with respect. That really makes it a nicer place to work.

I went to a conference with someone who teaches at a "Potted Ivy" and she said she has a disturbingly high number of female students with eating disorders and other emotional issues. That was sobering.

Another friend who teaches at a large state school says she had a student come into class drunk and disruptive and had to have them removed.

Those could happen to me, too, but haven't yet. The chances of me dealing with stuff like that is LOWER though.

I think of moving to a more selective school, where I would have brighter students but I stay put because I really like the culture. And a big part of that is the students.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving cooking every week.

Did you spend hours in the kitchen preparing a Thanksgiving meal?

I do that every weekend.

Hub doesn't have a stove in his little basement apartment, so he can't really cook when he's away at work at suburban MRU. Moreover, he's not inclined to cook a full meal for only himself. For budgetary, dietary and environmental reasons, we have decided to cook all the meals for the week from scratch at home, box them into portion sized containers, and send them with him when he returns to his work city. He carries a cooler full of ice packs and food with him.

A few months ago, a neighbor in our development approached me and asked if I would like to join a "supper club". Its a communist plot to not cook every night. :) There are four households (8 people) involved and basically we take turns cooking supper for each other. My night is Monday (since I am cooking on the weekend anyway). Then on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday a hot delicious meal magically arrives at my door- brought by smiling neighbors.

So Hub and I sit down on Fridays and plan about 2-3 dishes for Hub and a big dish for the supper club. And I/we cook it all in an evening. Hub can cook, and helps, but I have a natural draw to the kitchen, so usually its me in there while Hub keeps Boy out of danger and works on other household projects.

Though I do a lot of the cooking, Hub certainly carries his weight. That's not just my impression... we quantify that by using Chore Wars. And I get lots of points for that huge cooking session. Moreover, I'm getting to be a better cook every week. We try to clean the dishes, but if that doesn't happen, thank goodness our help comes on Monday. So by Monday night, after I deliver the food to my neighbors, I'm home free for the rest of the week, cooking-wise. Additionally, each week I try to cook just a little more than Hub will eat. This way his freezer slowly fills, and if there's a weekend we want to travel (yeah, right), are sick, or just don't wanna, we're still OK.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Small City Life

Today I went to the gym to swim. As I was in the locker room getting dressed after, a woman I'd never seen in my life said," Hi! How are you?" in a very familiar tone. Maybe she mixed me up with someone. Maybe she was weird.

I replied with some general chit-chat that cost me nothing- waiting for her to realize that I wasn't the friend she was thinking of, but nothing changed as we went on chit-chatting. She asked me how my Thanksgiving was, and I replied. Again, it cost me nothing to talk to her, I wasn't revealing any personal traceable details, but I was telling her the truth and the conversation was more in depth than the usual stranger talk. She asked me if I had any kids, and that's when I realized that she wasn't mixing me up with anyone. As she talked, she seemed perfectly normal, just very friendly. Apparently, she just didn't like being in close proximity (and naked) with a stranger and intentionally ignoring each other.

It was nice, actually. I'm an extrovert, so I feel uncomfortable being in someones presence for extended periods and avoiding eye contact. I like to at LEAST acknowledge the other human being with a smile or nod. On the other hand, I have lived in bigger cities enough to be uncomfortable with starting up a conversation about personal stuff with a stranger. During my postdoc overseas, silence in each others' presence (and no eye contact) was the norm, even with people you worked with. Frankly, it was cold socially and lonely for me, but I adjusted to it. Looks like I need to re-adjust to life here in "strangerless" land.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


I have so much to be Thankful for.
I have a little Boy who gives me joy almost every waking moment. I never imagined how happy he would make us.
I have a husband who loves me, is a great companion, and who absolutely worships our son.
I have never been more happy professionally.
We have a great community of interesting and solid people who take care of us when we are in need.
We have enough financial and material resources to live a good but not lavish life.
and we have health insurance.

And that's only the beginning. Happy Thanksgiving all.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Social Pet Peeve

I hate it when people confidently predict a happy outcome for others, when they really don't know. It seems cowardly and shallow to me. Case in point: My cousin just gave birth to 1 pound twins at 24 weeks. I'm not their Dr., but I've been around enough to know that that's a pretty iffy situation. It chaps my hide all these syrupy congratulations "We just KNOW that they'll be coming home with you really soon" Uh, no, not real soon even in the best circumstances. And no, you don't know. How will your words stand if they lose these babies?

Besides, what do you say in these situations? It's a birth, so congratulations are in order, but its also a serious situation that may not just end happily with them going home. Those babies may have untold problems in the future. Is that still congratulations? I just said simply, "We are praying for you" (which is the truth) and nothing more. Is that insensitive or pessimistic? Hmmmph.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The talk at MRU part 2

I forgot to mention last post that in the conversion between my prepping the talk on my PC and showing it on the hubby's Mac, that a few symbols got messed up, and they were discovered too late to fix. I made a joke about us being a "house divided" which garnered some chuckles.

After the talk, the students were left to have pizza, and I went to lunch with the Big Boss and Questioner #1. On the way there, I ran into Questioner #2 (the one I had been warned about) and this person said, "So what this really means is (bigger implication that I hadn't said). Very interesting." And then they said "Oh, and another thing you said that made me happy was about (specific way to look at second half of the talk). I just taught that concept in my graduate school blahdy-blahdy-science course. I hope my students were all there."

Now this person used a phrase I had never really heard in all of my talk giving, and not from a super-serious scientist: "That made me happy". Well, that felt great and and made ME happy for a nice long time. Moreover, they said "You've done a LOT with undergrads". That was the clincher.

At lunch I asked Questioner #1 directly "Did I answer all of your questions to your satisfaction?" "Oh, yes" they said, and explained their last question, saying that they were really concerned in general about people who don't present controls. I explained that his question wasn't really a control question in my case, but an avenue for further study. If it could happen in my data, it could very well happen to other situations (that they thought were controls for my stuff).

I felt like I had done a good job of communicating scientifically, and received validation that the volume and quality of my current undergrad-driven work is good. Moreover, I didn't embarrass my husband in front of his colleagues (not a driving fear, but nonetheless present). Before you give me a feminist-ic rough time, I would feel that way if I was in the same situation with ANYONE I cared about.

The students, however, were relatively quiet and didn't interact too much with their hosts, even though they reported that they loved it. I asked the students what they had thought of my talk. One student said that I had done it all wrong, that I read too much from my slides. Granted I did read from my slides a bit, but I was really asking about the science in the talk. I think that student had really missed the point. Oh, well...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The talk at MRU part 1

I haven't worked in such a focused manner in a long time. There was a month of dissertation writing where I was like a laser, and this was the same but only for 2 1/2 days. As I was prepping for the talk, I always felt like I was in triage mode. As a matter of fact there were a few stray lines on my PowerPoints, but I made sure not to point them out to anyone. No one mentioned it either.

The evening before the talk I e-mailed my presentation to myself and the Hub. Then I put it on a thumb drive. I called it finished and hit a "peace" because I knew that even though it wasn't 100% perfect (what I expect of myself in a job talk), it was 92%. The remaining 8% I let go of emotionally because 1. the effort to complete the rest was not worth the rewards 2. I just didn't have the time, anyway.

I did spend my last evening working on a convincing slide for the question I KNEW was coming: But is it relevant???? That was time well spent.

The trip worked perfectly (thanks Lord, for answered prayers). Students were on time, car was easily obtained from the pool, no traffic. Arrived early enough for a doughnut stop (student's ideas).

As the talk time approached, I grew a bit nervous, but put on my game face. Then the room filled and the intro began. The talk consisted of half of what I did in my post-doc (complex, innovative), and half of what I'm doing with my undergrads (thorough, but not innovative).

As I started my first paragraphs, I could hear my voice quaver from nervousness, and it took less than 2 minutes before a hand shot up from the back of the room. The question was in a curious tone, but worded as a challenge: "Wait that shows the OPPOSITE of what you are claiming" I panicked, took a sip of my water, and realized what he was saying. "No, no, look at it this way...." He: "Oh, ok, I see". About 1 minute later another hand, from the woman I had been warned about, was also challenging me. My chest tightened. She asked her question, and I couldn't understand it. It was posed clearly, and voiced loudly, but it was the temporary oatmeal between my ears and understanding that forced me to ask her to repeat the question. I sipped again, until the oatmeal cleared. This answer was more pragmatic... "This component of the system we assume to be functioning normally. We aren't tracking it, but we do see activation of the other component, its partner, the one we are interested in. Let me show you my data... " And then I did.

On thing I really appreciate about being a teaching scientist is that it is very important to me that all understand. I was sensitive to furrowed brows and lost looks. The data and systems were rather complex, but I was pleased with my ability to explain them thoroughly. I started to relax as I got non-verbal feedback such as nods. Then I started to sound more like myself.

When I reached the end of the complex stuff, I feel like I had the audience with me. Even the challengers. I even asked at the end of the first part: OK?

Then I began on my current stuff. I had pictures of all the students and in a brief sentence explained where they are now (med school, finishing up, etc). I did this due to PLS's suggestion to emphasize that it was undergrad research, and the pictures were funny. I could see that I was losing their interest. It dawned on me that they were really interested in the first half because at least for one group it was directly applicable to their less-reductionistic system. But as I moved down on the reductionism scale I lost their interest. I realized this as I was talking and ended up presenting 2 slides with a sentence or two fewer than I had rehearsed.

The questions were peppered throughout, and all good ones. There was one question where I could not come up with a very common word, and talked around it. That was a bit embarrassing, but I think it didn't detract too much. The one I was expecting came in the middle of this second section in two forms: One guy asked "is this relevant in people?" And I was ready with that 16-hour-old slide, which was quite convincing. Then the question "how well does your reductionistic system apply in animals?" By now I had my full teacher confidence and answered, "Good question HerName, because there are several instances when that is a particular concern (and named one that tied in). But my work, especially the first part was intended to be reductionistic to confirm what had been found in a less-reductionistic manner (something I had pointed out in a intro slide). Ah, yes, she nods. Every one seemed satisfied.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Feedback on my talk at MRU

First, I have to get this out, then later I'll write about my subjective experience.
From a colleague of the Hub to the Hub:
By the way, I thought your wife did an excellent job today and I really
enjoyed her talk. I was able to follow almost all of it (and I can't always
say that, being new to these fields). I also thought she handled all of the
questions really well in front of what is a tough crowd (as you well know).

(see, I told you they were sharks) :)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Why having nice colleagues isn't always good.

I love my colleagues. They are truly nice people who are quirky enough to be interesting, but normal enough to be easy to be around. I respect (for the vast majority) their status as scientists and their teaching acumen. So, I begged my colleagues to listen to me give a practice talk for the big presentation at MRU tomorrow AM. I wanted them to find the flaws and tear the presentation apart.

I guess its a lot to ask from people not in my subfield who also have scant time to read literature, produce data, write, and fight with reviewers. They gave me some helpful hints of clarity. They were far too nice to me. Boo!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dear Prospective Student Visit organizers

Dear Prospective Student Visit Organizers,

When your office was organizing tours and class visits for prospective students, I mentioned that having a prospective student in my lab today wasn't a great idea. Nonetheless, RIGHT during the most unappealing part (we were dissecting a cat that we found was pregnant, so we were taking dead kitties out of a dead momma cat in a room filled with the odor of preservative) IN walks one of the campus visitors.

I got the impression from her that she wasn't doing so directed by your office (was she just left alone on campus to wander around?), and came in to say hello to one of her friends that was in the class. She assured me that she wasn't grossed out, and stayed to watch some of the dissection. I hope she felt welcomed and we made a good impression on her.

But I have to admit to being a little irritated that someone could just walk into my science lab off the street without my permission. Not only do I spend a bit of time preparing the students for the potential of an emotional reaction (we all have pet cats and no one likes dead things), but I also prepare them for the use of their sharp tools and how to avoid contact with the hazardous materials that may be present in the preservative. In my opinion, "popping in" to lab today should not be condoned.

Sincerely, PUI Prof

Readers, am I overreacting, being overprotective or territorial here? Or should such a lab be relatively closed... secretive... hush, hush? Am I doing the students a favor by showing them what cool things were learn here? Or am I taking the chance that the lone animal rights activist is the one that ends up in my lab?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thinkin' Ahead to Summer Redux

Doing research this summer with REU students requires a 10 week full time commitment. I could supervise up to 2 students in my lab. It's a rockin' way to get some good publishable data with undergraduate co-authors (highly valued at PUIs).

The last two years I applied for- and got- a summer stipend for scholarship worth $1500. Pull out your calculators. 10 weeks * 45-50 hours / week = 500 hours. $1500/ 500 hours is *$3.00 / hour* WITH THE SCHOLARSHIP FUNDS.

I have a Ph.D. from a top-tier institution, am postdoctorally trained at a prestigious research institution, and would make more money working at the daycare I take Boy to. I could wipe snotty noses all day for more money than I would using a technique that about 400 people in the world have the skills to do.

Clearly, I am not in science for the money. And I do love my job. Now, I don't want to be too dramatic: I have a livable monthly income year round even though it is a 9 month salary subdivided into 12 payments. Don't get the impression that I won't be making my mortgage this summer.

___BUT___ I was reminded today that for economic reasons there will be no summer research scholarship funds available for the next two summers. That means the miserable $1500 would will not be available. I would be making $0.00 / hour.

Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

Now the question is, will I volunteer my time in my lab for the good of my career and the university? If you want to look at it another way, will I pay the daycare $1600 to do research this summer?

I am highly motivated do the research, even though my career would not be harmed irrevocably by taking the summer off. For one, I really want to get my students publications! I lure them into the lab and keep them motivated with this "carrot". Moreover (perhaps the real reason?) if I ever become disillusioned with Small Religious U, I need the credentials to go elsewhere worthy, and that includes publications.

Should I say "Forget it! I'm going to take Boy to the pool, go to museums, work out far more frequently, bike-trailer the Boy on the rail-trails, meet with friends, play on the swings, teach Boy to sing!"? Or should I continue to put the boy in the dark daycare with all the other snotty-nosed, sticky-fingered kids, and make as Isis says, "hot, hot science"?

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Professor in Training: Undergraduate GPA as a predictor for grad school success

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Thinkin' Ahead to Summer

I have to nail my summer down right now. In beginning November. Its the last thing I wanna think of right now!

1. Teach a May or June course. 3 weeks intensive and about $2500. New course not in my field of expertise. Probably 5 students max.

2. Get 1-2 students from the local REU for research. 10 weeks full time for a very miserable $1500 (talk about unfunded mandate!). I need the students to get my summer research done. And I need the summers to get publishable data.

3. Both A and B, with caution not to overlap.

4. Take Boy and live with Hub in major city suburb. He doesn't have the summer off. We would save about $1600 in day care expenses.

Anyone have suggestions??

Friday, November 6, 2009

Freaked about Upcoming talk

I mentioned that I've been invited to talk at Hub's U. The day is approaching, and I am putting together the powerpoint. First I was a little freaked becasue I couldn't find the figures my summer students left on my computer, and now I am trying to select a few articles to read in the near future to review the literature and be ready for questions. When I started to go through my pile of papers to do triage, I was overwhelmed at the low ratio of

literature I know


literature I should know / I knew but have forgotten

YIKES!!!! I'm going to sink. The sharks are going to eat me.

Ok, I'm trying to shake it off now.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dept. of Exactly what I do vs Dept. of Everything

Father in law came to visit last weekend. He is a "way up there" endowed professor at Monstrous U. He was for a long the time the chair of the rather large department of Exactly What He Does (mango slicing, vertically). We don't even teach an introductory course in Exactly What He Does.

I suffered a bit of culture shock when I was first hired at Small Religious U, because I came from International Prestigious Research Institution in which there were more people in the department of exactly what I do (mango slicing, vertically, 1" separation), than there are faculty in the whole University here.

Our University has lumped several very broad subjects together and called it the Department of Everything. For example, I see other schools our size with a Department of Social Sciences that include Sociology and Psychology and perhaps even Education in one department...or lumping all of the Arts into one Department. What large schools have colleges of, we have departments of.

We have under 10 faculty in one basic science and under 5 in another, our two departments share a chair, meetings, and most functions. One reason we won't officially merge the two departments is because it will make us look, well, too small.

When there's only 10 people in your department, you can't hide from any you don't like. Thank goodness I like and respect all of my colleagues, because one goober could ruin the group dynamic for the whole bunch. Hiring is soooo risky!

There's a department in our building which has two faculty in it. We joke with these two about their department meetings: that they consist of one leaning on the door post of the other's office. And how do you determine who is the chair? Flip a coin? Alternate? Can you imagine what your life would be like if there was only one more person in your department and they were obnoxious?? and tenured???

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

30 minutes to prep for tomorrow

A 30 minute break from meetings and teaching was all I had today. ALL DAY.

I got into work at a reasonable hour: 8:30a ish, and prepped, albeit not thoroughly enough, for my 9:30 lab which lasted until 12:00p. Then a luncheon meeting 12-1:15, then I prepped from 1:15-1:45 (MY BREAK) for tomorrows lecture (1 of 3). The only reason I got 30 minutes instead of 15 is that a student was late for a meeting for help in my class. From then on, I had office drop-by advising scheduled and that was a constant stream of advisees interrupted by my research students until finally I escaped at 4pm to my lab, where I showed my student how to do a procedure with some nasty stuff. Didn't want him to figure that one out on his own from the protocol. We finished at 5:15p, and I went to pick up Boy from the day care.

That was just way too much, way too much. I still have several hours of work to do before 10am tomorrow, not including grading and talking to the Hub via Skype.

I don't see it getting better in the rest of the week. I am really stressing about the talk at Suburban MRU, and want to devote some undivided attention to it, so advising week and new procedures in the lab are very inconvenient right now. I'm reading everyone else's laments of packed days. Is there something about this time of year?

Monday, November 2, 2009

1-2 courses and E-mail first impressions

I teach a 1-2 course. Since Small Religious U is, well...small, we don't have the resources to offer options other than 1 in the Fall and 2 in the Spring. Every once in a while, I get a student who, for whatever reason needs to take 2 first, then 1 later.

This is an introductory level course, so its pretty important that you get the fundamentals in 1 before you go to 2. However, sharp students can do 2-1 with a bit of effort. So we entertain 2-1 requests on a case-by-case basis. I decide. Oh, the power....

Last student who requested 2-1 came from a school where I know their science teacher, and he is a rock star. Just on the basis of that I let that student in, and that student did very well.

Today I had a 2-1 request come in. The e-mail was written very badly, and didn't even get the name of the course right. The student called her advisor Mrs. Firstname, which always pisses me off but I take as a general level of cluelessness. Since she had incomplete sentences, the wrong name of the class, and an overall impression of cluelessness in the e-mail, I just flat out said no. I didn't even agree to meet with her to discuss it. I'm too busy for that. I said very respectfully see you next fall in 1.

I wonder if they have a clue the impression their careless e-mails give??

Friday, October 30, 2009

Why not visit the City?

I and a co-teacher took our gen ed. class on a field trip to Big City. Big City has some totally rockin' museums. This is the same city that Hub works in the suburbs of. The class chartered a bus, we gave the students itineraries, and set them loose.

I asked Hub to join me for lunch, but he ultimately decided not to. Even though Big City has a good light rail, it would have taken Hub 40 minutes in and 40 minutes back to get to the heart of Big City plus lunch would have taken a big chunk of his work day. Besides, we'd see each other at home in Little City That Tries at Least that evening.

I do admit that I would have liked to meet him. But more importantly as my co-teacher and I gal-evented around Big City, I wondered why our family didn't avail itself more often of Big City. I mean for God's sake, we kinda live there.

Hub really likes to come home on weekends. And I admit his apartment is not a great place for Boy and I to stay. So we spend weekends doing home work and meeting our weekend obligations. I want order in my environment imposed. Especially when I have help to do so. That's why we stay home and don't explore Big City more often.

As far as weekends ANYWHERE, Since Hub commutes, the last thing he wants to do is travel more for a fun weekend away. He lives away. He wants a fun weekend home. I don't want the hassle of preparing (by myself) for a trip for myself and a small child. And I'm just so tired all the time. I can't imagine that I would gain energy from going to an unfamiliar place and trying to manage a 1 year old.

Don't get me wrong, we aren't homebodies. We traveled all over the US when we were dating and lived overseas for three years. We explored foreign lands with a thirst for culture, language, culinary interests, and novelty.

But not now. Not with this lifestyle. I'd like to get it back. Have we lost our wanderlust forever? I hope not.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Call on my cell during lecture

I was lecturing today when the phone I wear around my neck rang.

I hang a phone around my neck because of one very scary day in which the day care couldn't get ahold of me (all day meetings, phone off) to tell me that day care had closed for an emergency and could I come get my child immediately? Since the hub is two hours away, I am the ONLY ONE that can take care of the Boy. I had no clue they were trying to contact me until the panicky moment when I arrived to pick up Boy and there were no cars in the parking lot, and the door to the daycare was locked. My heart was racing as tears welled up in my eyes!!!

That story ends with me heading toward my office to check my office voice mail to try to find my baby. On the way, I stopped by a neighbors' just in case, since they were on the emergency contact list, and there THERE HE WAS!! The moment I saw him, I sobbed. Then I really had to apologize to my neighbor...

OKAY. Since that day, I have gotten a phone on Verizon whose peerless coverage is the only one that can penetrate our building at work. The phone is always on and I hang it around my neck. Only the day care and the Hub have this number. I call it the Babyphone.

Babyphone rang right in the middle of lecture. I explained to the class that I had to check to see if my baby was bleeding or seizing. The day care said Boy was out of food. Ok, I'll be by in an hour.

I constantly bust the students for texting and I answer my phone in the middle of lecture!!

So here's the kicker: right after lecture (and staving of the despondency of a student), I hop in my car, race to the grocery store, grab stuff off the shelf without reading the label (so unlike me) and show up at the day care. There's plenty of food in Boy's cubby. For a flash I was angry, but I let it go, since I had just done something like that myself recently.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Grading Hell

The registrar actually called me today at HOME to get my midterm grades in. I was grading a test that took entirely too long to grade. I seriously underestimated how long it would take to grade a 6 page paper test for 60 students with 2/3 multiple choice. Moreover, Boy was whacked out for some reason, and I kept him home from the day care this morning. I went to the administration building for a meeting with the Dean (more about that later), and someone from the registrar's office LITERALLY chased me down the hall to tell me I was the LAST faculty to get my grades in and they are waiting for me to finish before the send the grades out. Gawd, I'm so embarrassed!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sucked in

I am such a sucker!!! I should be grading!!!
But I must defend my Fluevogs. Bow to the superiority of my choice, all.

Turning Grades In

We have to turn midterm grades into the Registrar's office for first-year students and students that are on academic probation. And then, we have to turn in grades for everyone at the end of each term. Since I solo teach one of the largest classes of first-years in the university, plus other normal classes, that's a whole lot of grade turning in.

The grades must be turned in on a certain deadline, to which I aspire every time, and fail to reach quite regularly.

If you include midterm grades since I've been here...
3 years * 2 semesters * 2 half semesters
1 midterm
= 13 grade turn-ins
* approx 40 students (averaging small and large classes)
520 individual grades entered.

Well, I have been right on time for about %15 of those.
= 442 late grades


I strive for better. Let's see if I can continue to improve.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I met with the "threatening e-mail student" together in a "mediation" in the Dean of Student Life's office today. More about that soon.

Ok, that is just entirely too much drama these last two weeks. Did I also mention that the Boy reportedly took his first steps at day care? I haven't seen it at home yet, but not all the drama is bad.

Give me my boring life back (but the Boy can keep up his tricks)!!!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Dean called

The Dean (Undergraduate Division) called me to say the he wanted to be clear that I had his support in this matter. He also said that the Dean of Student Life will be contacting me and that this student has a previous pattern of similar behavior. Of course my thought at first was, "well then hasta la vista, abusive person". But apparently its more complicated than that. Can't wait to hear from the Dean of Student Life.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Threatening e-mails scare me.

One of the e-mails I referred to in the last post has led to a rapidly escalating situation. A student has sent me some nasty e-mails in a threatening tone. The threats were not physical, but I am still frightened.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Take it to the Dean

Wrapping up a nice weekend and I opened my e-mail.

In it are two e-mails, one with the subject line saying "I don't appreciate being falsely accused of plagiarism!!!" And goes on to rant about how student worked on it all by himself, is insulted, and will prove me wrong, despite the fact that it is creepily similar to a web page I found, and unlike student's writing style.

I told Student in very respectful terms to take it to the Dean.

The other was of a student who has had academic integrity issues who just didn't show for a test and made some excuses about the flu and no internet at home to contact me (hello? telephone?). Student states WHEN they will make it up.

I told student in pretty respectful terms nope- no makeup, and if you don't like it take it to the Dean.

Now we'll find out if the Dean is in my corner or not.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Happy Birthday, Boy

My Boy turns 1 today. I took him out of his crib this morning, told him Happy Birthday, how happy we were to have him, and just bawled and bawled tears of joy.

I am baking a bazillion cupcakes. More than half of the party RSVPds have called off due to illness, but that's OK because our house isn't that big. We still have a long list of things to do before the party- for example, we must have balloons. We haven't even bought him our present yet.

And we're hoping for a huge mess of the cupcake. HUGE.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Medical Trouble

Hub called while on his way to work saying he was having pain. Scary pain. He went to an emergency care hospital, and they transferred and admitted him to huge suburban hospital. They may have done this as a precaution because scary pain in the past has resulted in terrible things for Hub. So, I picked boy up from day care, didn't pack enough gear to take care of a baby, and hurriedly drove the 2 hours to see him.

Big suburban hospital had signs posted that visiting hours were curtailed and no one under 18 was allowed on the floors. I ignored them (what was my other option??). We waited while test after test came back negative. Let me tell you, a hospital room is a bad place for a squirly crawling Boy whose sole purpose in life is to pull tubes and cords out of walls (and IVs out of arms).

Boy and I spent the night in the very un-babyproofed apartment of Hub. We returned to the hospital as early as possible the next AM. And we waited and waited and waited on the final test. And waited for the results of that final test. And waited. And the final test came back. All clear. Well, scary pain has no explanation, but now its gone, and its not a recurrence of the terrible thing (thanks Lord!).

The two hour span between when I hear and when I can get to Hub is really problematic, and frightening. The reverse is also true. If anything happened to me and Boy needed taken care of, at LEAST here is where we have the Peeps. We have at least two sets of friends that are on the daycare emergency call list and they are only blocks from home. That doesn't mean that they will be able to help. But its part of the reason we call "Small City that Tries at Least" home and not Big Suburban area. Still, the thought of being hit by a Mac truck while on my bike with the trailer and the cops not knowing what to do with the baby for 2-3 hours weighs on my mind.

Because of the big adventure, I missed three lectures in one day... all my classes were canceled. Now I have to scramble to make up the material somehow, and that's tough. Well, at least THAT'S my biggest worry right now!

Monday, October 12, 2009

How not to have class discussion

Here are some principles that were reinforced to me recently that will lead to class discussion FAIL.

0. Have too big of a class for discussion anyway, and hold it in a big lecture hall.
1. Not require the reading assignment be done and not remind the students discussion is coming up.
2. Not set an expectation among the peers that the reading assignment be done in advance.
3. Let the one person who has done the reading assignment carry the entire discussion.
4. Allow entire groups in which no one has read to just "check out" (including texting because the discussion must not apply to them).
5. When the few who have read share, use it as a chance to explain to those who haven't read what the heck is going on.

What a drag. Next time we do this, draconian measures will be implemented. There will be a quiz at the beginning of class given over the reading. It will be short and no one will be allowed to take it late. Then maybe people will come prepared. Grrrr.

We have tried having the group members rate each others' efforts. They feel so guilty for their own failings that they can't judge anyone else harshly. So everyone gives everyone else As even though there were half assed efforts across the board.

I'm so glad I teach in science where really squishy measures aren't usually the assessment norm.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Flu 2; Our House 0

Annnnd the Hub is down with the flu. Please, please don't get the Boy!

Hub is a great man. But man, what a wimp when sick. *whine whine moan moan*. I am feeling much better however. Given that I had no fever, only vomited once, and only had very mild diarrhea, it is possible I got a blunted version of the seasonal flu, since I did have the seasonal flu vaccine. Hub, however, did not have the vaccine, and his flu is taking a very similar course. If you listen to him, its much worse, but he didn't even throw up- I'm the one who gets the whining rights!!

Either way, we're both getting better. But he WON'T drive the 2 hours back to his apartment until he's sure there's no diarrhea in the near future. Smart.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Think I have the swine flu.

8a swim, was exhausted, did half my normal length. 10:30 class, very very tired with a developing headache. Told them office hours were iffy. 11:30 lunch still had appetite. 12:30p definitely not feeling good, luckily guest lecturer. 1:30 went home. slept until 4:30 when I woke up and threw up. No fever. Nauseated, headache, and fatigue until 9:30p. Watched the Bridge, a documentary about people jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.

Since I had the seasonal flu vaccine several weeks ago, I think I have the H1N1 flu.

My aunt says that I need to treat it with an oinkment.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Dumbing Down Material

My response to Professor in Training: The Great Education Debate

My courses are tough and I am a very popular teacher. How does that correlate? Because students know when they've accomplished a "big thing" and they gain CONFIDENCE from COMPETENCE. No one should cheat them out of that!

I try to 1. convey my enthusiasm about the subject matter. 2. Hold a high standard for my students. 3. Support struggling students as much as they are willing to meet me. 4. Teach to all learning styles: I can make a lot of material stick by making sure there are analogies, demos, and an affective component or narrative. 5. Treat every single student with respect.

Remember that even weak students can take something away from your class, and develop skills and gain knowledge they can be proud of later.

When I was hired it was with a mandate to weed out weak students. Well, I don't have to do that directly, but simply teaching to the B+ (un-inflated) students takes care of that for me.

Students that are some combination of underprepared or undermotivated simply don't pass. Now students who are sharp as a tack and do some semblance of work can pass. No work, can't. Students who are underprepared but work their butts off pass. Keep Butt? Don't.

And I sleep very soundly at night flunking those students that are both underprepared and undermotivated, because everyone (esp. the students) knows that a good grade in my class really means something.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

To Wack or not to Wack? School spirit

Spirit Week is the prelude to the "big" homecoming game. Each day students and professors are to wear clothes along that day's theme: colors, PJs, Formal, "Wacky". I decided to play along with "Wacky Day", and wore a God-awful collection of wild clothes. I didn't think of the ramifications of such beyond the university community until I dropped Boy off to day care, and was looked at strangely by the people who watch my child during the day.

When I arrived to work, several colleagues had also dressed up. We joked about how each of us, leaving the house, had a strong fear that they had gotten the day wrong and would be wearing these clothes for no good reason. Though my get-up was entirely obnoxious, several other professors along the corridor had me beat. It was hilarious.

Two things I find interesting here. One is my willingness to do such a thing. Here's the perfect opportunity to not go along with the silliness, to be professional and leave that crap to the undergraduates. I also have a relatively strong resistance to blindly doing what I'm told. So I was surprised to find myself draped in such, um, finery. Moreover, it was interesting to see which of the faculty dressed up and those that did not. I will subdivide them into two categories: those that participate in spirit week, let's call them "Enthusiastic Profs" - EPs for short - and those that care nothing for it, we shall call these people "bah humbuggers" (BHs). The ratio of EPs to BHs was approximately 1:3. Which is surprisingly high. I could have predicted several of my colleagues would fit into the EP category, and a few I would have predicted as BHs. But many of the ones that did dress up were a surprise to me. New Prof found the middle of the road. Smart move. Last year, Young Temporary Prof wore something VERY VERY slinky, which probably wasn't a smart move.

The second thing I find interesting? The ratio of Wackily dressed profs to like-dressed students was 1:100. Clearly there are more EPs than ESs.

I wonder if there is a difference in these two ratios among institution type. In grad school (big urban med school), I had NOTHING to do with the undergrad division, despite them having a decent D1 football team. I certainly don't recall ANYONE taking part in school spirit-type stuff. Yes people would go to games, but it didn't intrude into work time. The local professional football team, well that's completely different(and highly pathological, but I digress).

Do professors at R1 institutions invest in school spirit? Much?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

ooh, pick me, pick me!

An addendum to the last post. Another good reason why I am a scientist and not a glorified teacher. I can't read the teaching literature easily!

New prof is doing a good job of asking for advice. However, NP never asks me for advice. Why? I am probably the closest to NPs field and having the same students as NP. Though I don't have time part of me really wants to mentor NP, especially since I am just now finding my way and am excited to share my experience. NP seems to go straight to the department chair as a defacto mentor. Is it political? I doubt it.

There has been a lot of blogging about being intentional in choosing a mentor and appreciating the mentoring that you get unintentionally. Choosing a mentor must naturally follow the same rules of homophilia* as other interpersonal interactions.

*looking for people like myself, not in the sexual context.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Something I DON'T like about my job.

Happy, happy, joy, joy. Nearly always.

Perhaps profs at larger institutions are shielded from the requirement to read the primary literature of other fields and suffer through belletristics and jargon. But since even the folks in English are my colleagues here, I cannot sit in my happy comfort zone of people who speak the same language as I do.

Here's a paper I'd better read before my promotion / tenure push, because I will need to discuss something like this for tenure:

Faith Integration and the Irreducible Metaphors of Interdisciplinary Discourse

Which has phrases such as, "Much-probably most-Christian scholarship that discusses academic discourse as such has focused on its fragmentation of its knowledge, its "Balkanization" as it is called sometimes".

Yes, my colleagues and I discuss the Balkanization of academic discourse all the time.

And, "The approach I take here will obviously be subject to my own disciplinary identity as an English professor, yet part of my argument is that no one academic discipline possesses the conceptual machinery to provide a comprehensive and definitive account of such a subject"


Friday, October 2, 2009

Separate abilities?

I teach a large science course, and a large gen. ed. non-science course in which there is a lot of writing (I told you you had to be a generalist at a small PUI)! I often have the same students in the science class that I do in the non-science class. Its interesting: every once in a while, a student will do not-so-hot in science and be a stellar student in the lotsa writing course, and occasionally vice verse. But mostly they track pretty closely together.

It pure personal observation, i.e. anecdotal. I know that the plural of anecdote is not data. But I had a world-view adjustment after teaching my first year. Previous to that year, I bought into that idea that street-smarts were different than book-smarts, or the classic: I'm really good at common sense stuff, just not school. But I slowly began to realize that at least in the setting I see people, many of the competencies that students have are all highly correlated. Students that do poorly on quizzes are also sloppy in the lab. Students that have trouble with the math needed for science often aren't great writers either. Students that do well in our rigorous science courses are good at music, too.

I'm still hashing out my own personal views of intelligence and learning theory. I wish that I could go to a crash-course for such, as long as it was evidence based. Woods Hole for learning and teaching? I simply can't fit in all the reading in a new field, when I am trying to keep up with my own. Or do I have to keep building my ideas from my own biased personal anecdotal observations over the years?

Academic Integrity

The Dean's office called because they had heard that I have an academic integrity violation report to file, and the needed it stat, since that student was up for other violations and they were having a meeting about Student very soon. Could I please hurry up and get the report done?

Well, its a new academic integrity policy. Yes, shocker of shockers, here at Small Religious U, students cheat. A formalized academic integrity policy was a bit overdue. Previously it was handled at the professor level. That means you can cheat your way through school as long as you never reached any one professor's limit. Reports would be send to the Dean's office, but then no one heard what happened after that. I know I haven't yet seen a student kicked out of school for cheating.

Student had taken one of my classes before the formalized policy, and was caught by me cheating. Student has failed at least 2 other classes for cheating. But NOW, we are starting with our new policy. And there are forms to fill out and deadlines to accomplish. In principle, a web form would be nice. But we have a non-fillable PDF, which asks for the student's ID. This requires extra time looking that up. And I have to have the students sign it. If they skulk away from class and / or avoid my requests for a meeting that makes it impossible to get done in a timely manner. All of these things make it quite burdensome to file the AI report. The last thing I need to do is spend my time chasing a cheater down, when I'd much rather be spending my time attending to the needs of, oh, students who actually want to learn and achieve!

I do believe that ideally students who cheat should be given restorative treatment on first pass. They should be confronted- and in Wonderfulworld they will apologize to the professor, realize the error of their ways, and turn from the cheaters path and take the high road to graduation *tinkle, tinkle*. I do believe that can happen.

OTOH, I also believe that for every time someone is caught cheating they've cheated several if many more times than the one they got caught for. Student, for example, was just totally jacking the system so they could stay in Student's social world and be Popular Student on Campus. The fact that they had been caught enough times that two separate profs had flunked Stu, means by my calculations Stu probably successfully cheated their way through at least 12-18 credits.

No restorative treatment for Student in my book. I filled out the bloody form, attached my evidence, let them look up Student's ID number, skipped the signature, and walked it to the Dean's office myself. I'm anxious to hear the results.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Hooray for the Dentist

Because she is closed on Fridays.

That means that if Hub wants a dental appt (see my bit about where to keep a doctor), he has to drive back on Wednesday nights instead of Thursday nights. An extra day.

Hub is now telecommuting on Fridays, part of our original deal when he took faraway job. He comes home after work on Thursdays which is after Boy is sleeping. Friday mornings, Hub takes Boy into daycare, freeing me up for a peaceful Friday morning. He also drives back on Monday mornings. So really, he's home 4 nights and three days a week. Apparently I am ungrateful, because I like it even better when he is home early for dental appointments. Here, Honey, more taffy?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Be vulnerable? Guard my Image?

Two things have made me really try to think about whether I should vulnerably open myself up for correction, or if I should guard my image and project confidence.

The first is, I have a de facto mentor whom I really appreciate. De Facto because I sought out this person and luckily they went along with it, there was no formal mentoring program. Mentor is in my field and tenured at Really Big Teaching U across town. And pretty cool, too. I have a feeling that Mentor thinks that Small Religious U is a lower quality institution than Really Big Teaching U. In fact the words "Have you seen your scores?" (meaning standardized test score averages) ring in my head. When I finally did look at them, ours were higher than theirs. I still have a bit of an inferiority complex. Occasionally when Mentor discusses what mentor is teaching to an equivalent course, I think really? That much info? I don't teach that now, I wait.

Another thing is that I am going to give a research talk at suburban MRU where hubby works. I know what they think about institutions like mine: a recent hire to their program said to me at a party, "Why don't you move here? We have plenty of community colleges around here." I'm not dissing CCs, but I am saying that faculty at suburban MRU have the idea that there's their job and then there's teaching... all lumped into one category. Reminds me of that map for New Yorkers where there's New York and New Jersey and the rest of the country is labeled "Deep South". I'm intimidated to speak there because the way Hub describes their seminars is that the PIs are like sharks and can really attack a speaker (their unbridled curiosity, no doubt), and that the culture is to pepper the speaker about all details of their talk.

Now I feel like I have the reputation of PUIs (SLACs) to defend in both of these cases. In the case of my mentor, at least, I would love to learn from Mentor about teaching style and time management, etc. But I have to be able to ask. And sometimes I'm scared to ask.

As far as that talk goes, geez, I am truly intimidated. My post-doc work (which I will present a bit of) is interesting and solid, relatively innovative. The stuff from Small Religious U is solid, but relatively expectable. I have simply not been able to keep up with all the new literature since the post-doc, and when we published, I really knew my scthuff. I have forgotten some details now. What if they find the chink in my armor and attack? I could bleed, bleed, bleed, and cement their stereotypes. And embarrass my husband. Of course their suggestions for the unpublished stuff could be helpful. I certainly don't want to throw myself out to the sharks, but I wouldn't mind some powerful minds giving suggestions / finding flaws!


Monday, September 28, 2009


I have a class of three that meets right after Mathy Class. Apparently there was an exam in Mathy Class today, and the teacher wrote a 2 hour test for the 50 minute class period. Nice. So I had one student show to my class today while the others spent my ENTIRE class taking Mathy Test. Very irritating.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Drop Date Deadline

Next week is the last day to drop a class without a record of enrollment. That means I need to have my first test given and graded by then. That way any students who are failing my class, certainly a non-zero number, will have the opportunity to drop the class with no record on their transcript. For some of them it would be wise.

However, I find that most underprepared or undermotivated students just can't do that. Either they have magical thinking about their ability to turn their grades around, or dropping my class brings them below the minimum of 12 hours needed to get federal financial aid. So they limp along, performing as poorly or worse on the final day as they are right now.

This year I tried a different tact than in previous years. I told them flat out, "if you are getting below a C with the few things you have turned in YOU ARE IN TROUBLE. Nobody improves their grades from the "little works" to the exams. You need to change what you are doing drastically or you won't make it." That warning couldn't be more clear.

Well, they looked whipped and then immediately...did nothing about it. So be it. Why do all humans, myself most of all, overestimate our ability to change directions?

Friday, September 25, 2009

How much to delegate? How to supervise?

I can do so much more when I delegate! But I can't delegate it all...

This year I have a work-study student assigned to me to help set up labs, demos, organize, etc. Whew. So helpful. I think that I have mentioned that she's pretty good and can construct decent results from relatively vague ideas. I had her set up a complicated lab, and didn't check it until a few moments before class. Apparently there are limits to her ability to construct good results from my vague instructions. A few things were not as I expected. I cannot, then, as I dream, just wave my hand and have it be so. Looks like I need to do some of the work.

Likewise, I have hired a housekeeper thanks in part to a suggestion from Michelle. Again, she is trustworthy. Our schedules don't really overlap that well, so I leave her notes and she uses the hidden key. There are also limits to her ability to turn my instructions into reality. For example, she carefully folded all our diapers, just the wrong way. If you'll pardon the pun, this isn't about being anal. They only fit into the covers one way. And if you have a very quick squirmy baby up high on a changing table, than it needs to be all within reach and ready. But how would I have expected that I needed to explain that to her?

I have gotten in such a mode lately, feeling very busy, that I look at people this way:

Come in, listen carefully, follow my instructions, and then report back to me that is is correct. Now go.

I'm exaggerating a bit, but I have been feeling this way since I have been supervising people more. Teaching is not that same as supervising, and even if you are a good teacher, that doesn't make you a good supervisor. This is particularly true of my research students. They need special encouragement and care, because this is their first research experience. If I treat them like mere machines, they'll hate it. And that does Science no good in the end. So *ohm, ohm* I need to chill on the busy-ness enough to make sure I am not just barking orders at people and disposing of them. There has to be a way to avoid unnecessary chatter from chatterers while still treating everyone like a human... Hmm... any ideas???

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Response to Prof-like Substance on Student Athletes

A response I posted to a blog about student athletes
Even D3 schools have this problem. Here's the kicker: at my school 1/3 - yes 33% - of the students are on varsity teams. The absences that irritate me are when teams pull students out of class to go to a tournament early because there is a BANQUET to kick off the tourney. NCAA rules state that students cannot miss class to attend a practice, but they can for a game. I'm not sure how a banquet fits in there.

I have blogged about how the faculty staff meetings here are somewhat worthwhile. One of the things that goes on is that the coaches explain to us every once in a while what they are doing to insure the success of our student athletes and what the NCAA rules say regarding them. It does a LOT to deflate tension between the coaches and the profs.

And as for field trips, sheesh, chill out! I take my students on fabulous field trips in which they learn more in one day than they do the whole semester. Done rarely and well planned, experience-rich field trips are very worth missing one day of class.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Postdoctoral Teaching: Savvy Career Move or Distraction From Research?

Science Careers on Teaching Post-Docs.

Postdoctoral Teaching: Savvy Career Move or Distraction From Research? - Science Careers - Biotech, Pharmaceutical, Faculty, Postdoc jobs on Science Careers

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Small Religious U is deep in preprations for the flu outbreak. There have been all kinds of educational this and thats to inform us about it. Apparently, we've (area) already had quite a hit for flu-like illnesses.

I've had one student inform me he was sick and wouldn't be able to take his test tomorrow. He's been to the clinic and they say there's no fever. I really must simply accommodate his request, as I must all the other requests for special treatment due to illnesses. I'm completely unsurprised that this particular student would request more time, but in the interest of public health, I must and will accommodate.

I have a deep fear that the predictions will come true and half my class will be out sick over the period of a few weeks. Worse, yet, that the University closes. Why this fear? Because I am afraid of getting sick? No. Out of altruism that I'd hate to see my students sick? Well, not really. Its the immense workload that could ensue. Re-writing exams online, fielding 80 bazillion e-mail requests (which in general are vague and many unnecessary), etc.

It makes me sick just thinking about it.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Oops, sorry man.

Yesterday works in the lab were were tested and the results of the test were to be available today. I had student 3 ask student 2 to check the test results today. Well, I couldn't wait so I went in today myself to check them. Good news.

But a dilemma: which would be worse, calling student 2 on a Saturday morning and disturbing him or letting him come in to do something God-knows-when that involved working with a potentially hazardous substance which he really hasn't been fully trained to handle. I called him. Sure enough, I woke him up at 10am. Felt pretty bad about invading his space, but...

Friday, September 18, 2009

A post-doc was still a good idea...

I wasn't meaning to "fish" last post, I was just trying to keep the post on track. Here's the sidetrack.

As I was considering what to do after I got my Ph.D. I actually started the application for an opening at a PUI while I was ABD. I talked to my advisor about it who, in retrospect, was only good at advising (careerwise) along the same path he took. So he advised me not to apply to the PUI right after graduation, but to take a research post-doc to "keep all my options open". He basically said that if I took the teaching job after graduation, I would be forever "stuck" in the teaching job or lower. Of course, at that time, I resented the idea of the teaching being a "lower" calling than being a "real" scientist. But I took his advice and bailed out of the application process and started looking for a research post-doc. I'm actually glad I did, and not for the reasons he advised me. This applies to me, and is not meant to be general advice...OK maybe a little.

I'm glad I spent time in a research post doc before taking a job at a PUI because:

1. I ended up competing with post-doctorally trained scientists for this slot.
2. I learned a technique in my post-doc that undergrads can do (and my institution can afford). The research I was doing in grad school was much harder to learn and the equipment more expensive. For example, are you getting your Ph.D. using fMRI? Fuh-geddabout a job at a PUI.
3. I needed more practice writing grants.
4. I learned a more about a slightly different subject. This makes me broader, and when you are teaching introductory courses, the more broadly trained you are the better.
5. I needed more in depth and broader knowledge to make me independent in my lab. Here I am the ONLY ONE in my subject matter. I cannot go down the hall and ask a colleague for help troubleshooting.
6. I loved living overseas and working in a different scientific culture. The science was done a bit differently there, and that gives me more scientific tools. In addition, the cross-cultural experience helps me understand people better, and that helps me be a better teacher (and better human for that matter).
7. I got to know a whole new set of research scientists with whom I can collaborate. My network is much bigger now.
8. My current institution was very interested in my international experience. This probably doesn't apply to all PUIs.
9. I spent time as a post-doc mentoring the undergrads in my lab (in a foreign language sometimes). That was important in my application.
10. My boyfriend became my husband because of it. And he had GREAT post-doc while we were there.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Why is my job an "alternative" career?

Wow, I have a lot to say about this, but well, let's just get started on the subject. I first heard about the job I have during an alternative career speaker series at Urban Med Center. I fell in love with the idea, and pointed my training in that direction for the most part, keeping all of my options open. E.G. I took a traditional post-doc, and boy am I glad I did. I probably wasn't ready for teaching right after my Ph.D. Ask, and I'll expound on that in further blogs.

I heard a 747 pilot say once that he was really just a bus driver. Of course we think being a 747 pilot is far more glamorous than being a bus driver, but functionally, they are somewhat the same. I feel the same way about being a teacher. Am I glamorized teacher with a more complicated job that requires more training? If I am in social situations that call for such humility, I do describe myself as a teacher and let them ask further to find out that I am a professor. But I really don't think of myself as a teacher primarily.

I think of myself as a scientist. So why I am I different "breed" of scientist than perhaps FSP, or anyone at an R01? Well, If I fail to get a grant, my technician doesn't lose his or her job (because I don't have a technician). But I still need to apply for grants. I don't sit on study section, so I will really only be on one end of the peer-review process. But I still need to publish peer-reviewed articles. I'm not finding the cure for cancer. Yes, but niether are you, R01ers (lighthearted fun poke. do not make nasty comments here). Yes, my research goes slower becuase my lab members can only spend 10 hours / week in the lab. And they are just learning. And I can't be in there with them all the time. But I still am doing original publishable research. The trick is I have to be even MORE clever to find research that undergrads can do (easy), in things that are interesting enough to publish, but not interesting enough for you R01ers to scoop me on. And it has to be cheap. I'll say that requires a special kind of intellect. Moreover, the time allotted for reading primary literature is seriously curtailed. But I still want to and do read papers.

more soon