Monday, August 31, 2009

Evenings in our house

When Hub was home with da Boy, I was free to go to the gym and workout or go shopping etc in the evenings, especially after 7 when Boy was asleep. Going to the gym was especially condoned by the Hub since he knows that the workouts do me a little physical good, but have huge psychological benefit. Yoga, spinning, etc. were great for releasing the happy hormones (sorry for the scientific terminology there), and allowed me to handle stress better. Absolutely necessary for the workload I carry.

Now that hubby lives far away, and I am solely responsible for da Boy's (10 mo) welfare evenings are much harder, MUCH harder. A typical evening consists of me picking Boy up from the day care... absolute latest 6pm, getting him home and fed in the high chair. A little snuggling and playing, then we skype Dad so Dad can see the Boy on the monitor. The Boy smiles briefly when Dad is on the computer, but I don't know if he actually recognizes his Dad on the computer or is just amused by a smiling waving happy noise-making image there. We talk for about 5 minutes solely about Boy while he wiggles and plays, and grabs incessantly for the keyboard of my laptop. How was daycare? How much did he eat? Still has sniffles?

Then I go through the nite-nite ritual of changing, storybook, prayer, song. This takes about 30 minutes. Then I return to Skype with the Hub myself. By now it's usually 7:30 or 8p, and now that the Boy is in bed, there is no leaving the house. No gym, no friends, no errands, no quick trips to the office. I am stuck here. Frankly, its isolating and lonely, even with the 2-an-evening Skypes to Dad.

How could I fit the gym in at all if not the evening? With travel time and changing, etc., I count on 2 hours for a trip to the gym, especially if I swim (mmmn, sooo relaxing). There is a nursery at the gym and it is perfectly OK. Actually the Boy is very popular there since, I dare say, he is truly cute and good natured. I digress. So to get to the gym before I get Boy out of daycare in the evenings, I must leave work at 4pm, and I can't seem to manage that. I could pick him up and take him to the gym let's say 5pm and put him in the gym nursery. Then we get home at 7-7:30, and that really pushing bedtime if we include the whole ritual. Moreover, the guilt of picking him up at the day care to drop him immediately off at the nursery, then put him straight to bed is more than I can bear. It seems like the only way I can fit the gym in in the weekdays is to leave the house promptly at 7 am, drop him off at the daycare the moment it opens, get a workout and showered to be into work at 9am. Whew. I'm going to try, but its so hard. And that eats away at my workday.

Unloaded Courses

I actually have more students in an unloaded course than I do in a course I'm loaded for.

Because of a colleague's sabbatical, I will be teaching a couple of courses he normally does and one of the courses I teach will not be offered this year. Except that students really want to take it. So we are offering the course as directed study, which means the students will be doing a do-it-yourself course with supposed little input from me. There will be no lectures...only the lab portion will be offered. A member of the department who has experience, but is not credentialed will be supervising the lab section of the course. I would like to turn over the organization of the course to him, but he is nervous about how that looks for our accreditation. He has done a lot of organization, but apparently I still need to amend the syllabus, and write online exams, and hold an organizational meeting, and I guess show up every once in a while to make sure it is all ok. For this I have no benefit (beside the pure pleasure of seeing the students learn, and learning more myself). It is over and above a heavy teaching load otherwise. There are 5 student signed up. Ironically, I have a course (for which I am loaded) that has only 3 enrolled.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


I feel like I am basically teetering on the edge of disaster every day. Today the day care called and said my son had vomited and had diarrhea. So, I had to pick him up. Day over. Missed a meeting with the provost about a grant we are submitting. Missed a half day of work at a critical time. May or may not be able to make up for that at home... What happens during the semester when I have to cancel classes because of a sick kid? That's only excusable the first few times. That and its so easy for things to FEEL like they are spiraling out of control when one little thing slips up.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Teaching Load

When I was hired, I was so glad to have a job and a little research money that I didn't think about or negotiate teaching load. I carry 24 Semester Hours per year, full time, as does everyone in this institution that are full time. Many of my colleagues are three-quarter time, financed by themselves. There's another language that Universities use and that is a "4-4" load. It took me a bit of bravery to ask what that meant. It assumes that your courses are 3 credit hours each, therefore 12 SH for two semesters is 4 classes + 4 classes. Since scientists teach labs (at least in my institution), it doesn't break down to 4 classes. I am teaching 1 course that has lectures twice a week and 3 lab sections= 6 SH. And I teach another course with twice a week lectures and one lab section = 4 SH. And then a three lecture a week course, no labs = 3 SH. So next semester, I will have 11 SH to make a total of 24 SH. This is a relatively heavy load compared to other institutions. And I'm involved in stuff I don't get loading for. For example, a course is not being run this year that normally runs in the fall. But students want to take it independent study. Guess who will none-the-less be active in assessment for that course. Yes me. I give myself 1 pretend SH for that. It would be nice to scale up my salary according to all of my pretend SHs, then I'd be rich! Hold, on, if I could do that, I would just finance a load reduction for myself!

Liberal Arts Curriculum

One thing I certainly didn't learn in any of my education was about university curriculum.

I remember when I was talking to my undergrad advisor (before computers), he offered me the BS or BA track in Hardscience. I asked what the difference was, and he said, more language in the BA. I thought that the idea of a BA in Hardscience was an oxymoron, and no use for that boloney. Now I'm at a liberal arts institution, and still don't completely understand what the heck a liberal arts education IS. I hear its good, I hear it makes the students more well rounded, I hear that they have a better feel for the problems of life than otherwise. Ok, I'll buy it. But what I'm trying to figure out is if I don't have that stuff...since I didn't get the BA, I opted for the BS.

Small Religious U is working hard to change the curriculum back to the "distributive model" from the "I never learned the name of this" model. The former model has several gen. ed. requirements that try to involve many fields in one topic. Those classes, in my opinion, are a bit squishy, and the students dislike them intensely. If they accomplish their goals, the students learn critical thinking and synthesis, etc. Great cross-disciplinary action there. But pretty shallow in any one discipline. Hard to teach analysis when you can't go into depth about any one thing.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Stay at home Mom

Met a stay-at-home Mom today, wife of an equivalent of mine. Plenty has been blogged about how men with a stay at home wife can succeed much easier than women in a similar situation, because they don't have the added burden of the domestics... and I've always agreed. In our conversation, I couldn't help thinking the whole time, "You know, I do both yours and your husband's jobs on my own". I hope she didn't hear me screaming inside while I had a smile plastered on my face. Must remember never to drink around her. Never, ever.

The Freezer

OK, this is a great example of a small college issue. Where I was trained, both for my PhD and Postdoc, the -80 degree freezer was the holy grail. The material in there (plasmids, glycerol stocks, brain samples, competent cells, you name it) represented months if not years of work. They had backup systems for their backup systems, and they were the first thing to check in a power failure. Not only that, but they were clean. RNA, bacterial stocks, etc., were all sensitive to contamination and treated that way.

Today was the annual freezer clean out. We only have one for both the biology and chemistry departments. An e-mail went out: do you need anything in the -80? It will all be thrown out if you don't respond. I was surprised that I was the only one who responded... I have competent cells, which are very sensitive to temperature changes, RNA kits which can't be touched, and bacterial glycerol stocks which cannot be cross contaminated. When I opened the freezer, there was dirt from the freshman chemistry project, ----DIRT, soil, earth--- strewn everywhere, and some had gotten through the tiny holes in my freezer boxes for my bacterial stocks. Moreover, the clean-up crew (who really are competent, no complaints, but don't understand what the fuss is about) had only gotten a handful of dry ice to put the competent cells on while they let the freezer come up to room temp. Luckily, my RNA kits had been moved. There also were dead animals and cut up squash (critter food) in broken baggies all over. I'm trying not to be a drama queen, but DIRT??? DEAD ANIMALS??? MY IRREPLACEABLE PLASMIDS?!?!?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Faculty Staff Conference

The faculty staff conference was last week, lasting officially 1.5 days, but I participated in more that that. Previous to the conference was a teaching in service that was hosted by a department and featured the invited speaker. It was an all day affair involving things to think about when setting up a course and modifying a course. This is mostly big picture stuff, but some of it was helpful. In addition was a quick view of learning styles: two versions. This was most helpful to me. I'd heard the learning style thing bandied about, but not really ever defined explicitly. Like many other things about teaching, I was not trained for these things in my Ph.D. program at Urban Med Center or Prestigious Foreign Postdoc. The learning theory vocabulary was pretty foreign to me, or at least I had a very shallow understanding of it all when I arrived. Like someone who types a lot, but has never learned explicitly to touch type, I have been using a form of these things, but never understood them fully. And ironically, I probably don't need the vocabulary to improve learning in my classroom, at least for now, but I do need it in all of the reports I write to admin and for promotions, and discussions I have with people who could make a difference in my career.

My new faculty orientation four years ago offered NO help in learning theory / pedagogy, because I suppose not all new faculty are new teachers. It was "big picture issues" and college / church history, and that we are to integrate our faith into our teaching (but not how). We read a lot of philosophy, rich with the vocabulary of the humanities (I have NEVER seem so many isms in my life), which I found isolating and frustrating. Its seemed like much to do about nothing. ugh.

OK, so the fact that I've been here 4 years and FINALLY this year, I was able to attend a session on "how to teach" AND a session on " how to use the electronic tools at the university like Blackboard" was wayyyyy over due, so I was very glad for them. Both sessions were optional. It seems backward. Now I care more about institutional goals and integrating them into my teaching, whereas my first year, I just needed to survive the lectures, labs, grading, and institutional paperwork. Now I want to shape students for the future.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Recommendation Letters

One of the things I have to accomplish today is to write some recommendation letters for professional schools. One is for a good student, and the other is not. Here at pretty small U, we get to know the students well, so their recc letters can be very personalized. Unfortunately I know the weak student well enough that I have a lot of negative material at the ready for his letter, but not a lot of good material. Its my first letter for a weak student, and it will have to be crafted with care. The letters for the strong students are so much easier! I wish that while I was teaching I took notes about remarkable things that go on with specific students. Because even though I do pay attention, my memory fades pretty quickly that "Jamie" made a spectacular dissection of the sciatic nerve or that "Pat" was very patient in explaining a concept to a lab mate. However, some of the negative incidences are seared in my mind, especially those that deal with disrespect given to me or other students by a particular student. When those students come up for letters, I often ask to be recused from their committees. That's a real problem at a Really Small U, that if you lip off to your prof your freshman year, and that prof happens to be the head of the letter writing committee, you are screwed. I try to be as fair as possible with all my students. But I'm still working on the forgiveness thing. This weak student in particular wasn't disrespectful, just disengaged, so that don't fall into that category.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Weekends with Dad / FS conference

Hubby comes home tonight from his relatively faraway job. I look forward to Fridays so much. It's not that when the Hub comes home, we have grand times, nor does he hit the ground running helping with chores and such. he comes home tired from a week at work like we all do. But there's just some sort of burden that is lifted when he arrives. I am clearly an extrovert, and I gain energy from the company of others, so I suppose that when he arrives, a burden of lonesomeness is lifted. Its a light burden, since I do avail myself of the wonderful community that we are surrounded by (and another reason we would find it difficult to move to Big Suburb where Hub works). But nonetheless, there's a reason I married HIM in particular. His company is like no one else's. And that's why Friday's are so great. I suppose that for people who dislike their jobs, their Friday must also be a temporary relief of a burden, too.

But I don't understand that. Next week is Faculty Staff conference. There's usually a message from the Prez- a state of the University talk- which is helpful and not dull. There are a few mostly low-density (useful info/ ideas, but nuggets are interspersed throughout an otherwise un-useful talk) talks about other things going on in the University, and then we have a guest speaker. Last year the speaker talked about educating spiritual beings. Since this is a religious university, that's our mission to think of these things. And I like the bigger picture of that. Not only was it very insightful to hear about our students in a fresh way, but this guy's use of powerpoint was absolutely brilliant. He used a split screen with images on both sides and a few words of his main points (not bullet points, picture words). One side of the screen remained while the other one changed, so you saw his last point and his new one simultaneously. It was asthetically gorgeous. I loved his talk. In general I like the Faculty Staff conferences. They certainly aren't a total waste of time. Besides, I like the social aspect: seeing and talking to likable colleagues from other departments. I'm quite happy with the "community aspect" of this little University.

Now to contrast that with the things I read in the Chronicle, and hear about going on at Huge Teaching U in town, I guess I will take my lower salary with out remorse, since I consider myself content to "pay" an "anti-Machiavellian tax"

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ahh, the end of summer.

So I have started to put the Boy in daycare so I can work during the day. The work I do when he's in the day care varies, but its a whole lot of answering emails: can I use you as a reference? yes. Can you write a letter of reference for me to PT school? Yes, I'll try to get the committee together for that. You are behind in the process. Can I bring over my trade school class to see your cadavers? Yes, but I can only accommodate half of them at a time around the table.-What shall we do with the other half in the meantime? Oh, don't worry about that, I'll entertain them somehow. Hmmmmmn.
Some days I am glad to give him some novelty for a few hours. He has certainly grown bored with the toys around the house. Other days, I think, "I'm paying $160 a week for this?" I could be at home with my kid right now.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Introduction Part 2- Why hub can't easily work here

We moved into a little house here within walking distance of my work, signed a mortgage. For the first year that hubby was home from overseas post-doc, he worked odd jobs and volunteered before the baby came and then was full time Dad after the baby came. Small Religious U (my employer) offered him a course to teach each semester, and he took on the job. He did an ok job, got very decent teaching evaluations from the students, but never really enjoyed the teaching. In fact, I cringe when he tells people in social situations that he really disliked it, because 1. I don't want him to burn any bridges and 2. If he loved teaching, we wouldn't have this separation. Here in town there is a big University that is NOT an RO1, even though by size it ought to be. So this big University values teaching in their hires and they also don't have a lot of purely research positions for people of his experience. And certainly not in his Narrow Field. Here in town is also a decent research institute that hires purely research people, but it studies something completely different than he is trained in, and he is very reluctant to retool. So if he wants to work in his field, he has to go out of town to find something.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Introduction Part 1

I have been lurking on several other science related blogs, and am enriched by them. But I didn't find a lot about scientists who spend most of their time teaching, nor about couples who have a commuter marriage. Therefore, I start mine with the hope that this will be an anonymous outlet. I would love to hear back from others in this situation.

The hubster and I met when we were both at Urban Med Center. I was a PhD student in the same department that he was a post-doc. We should have known right there that we'd have the famous "two body problem" not of physics, but of scientific couples with similar fields who will need to find work in the same location. As I neared my defense day and started looking for postdocs, we weren't sure of the commitment of our relationship, and so I looked independently of him, and found a great post doc at International Prestigious Research Institute. Then the boyfriend started to look in the same country for his next post-doc. He found a job, not only in the same country, but right upstairs from me in the lab of Really Famous Guy. We both really enjoyed the overseas lifestyle, and had success in our post-docs. Not smashing success, but we both had relatively good papers. Year 2.5 of my postdoc, I noticed and opening on the web for professorship at Small Religious College of my religion. It seemed like my dream job, since even though I really liked working in the lab, my draw was to teaching. I asked the boss at that time if he thought I was ready to apply for professorships, and he said "It will be good practice". So I applied.

The institutional fit was so good, that I interviewed and was hired. The only job I applied for I got. And it is my dream job. I teach 3 courses a semester, lectures and labs, from a class size of 2 - 60 students. No TAs, I grade every shred I assign. No lab prep help. If I can rope a work-study into helping me set up labs, that's good, but I typically make all my own solutions, etc. for labs. It is definitely a heavy work load, but I love the lecturing and the interaction with students that I get from teaching the labs. I love to see them learn stuff and develop and grow. And when they have that "aha!" moment, I get a huge reward (release of dopamine!). I also have a little lab in which students work for a summer or a few semesters. We're doing fine work in there, and I hope to write a paper soon with a bunch of undergraduate authors. Hopefully more about that soon.

The boyfriend stayed international for my first year of teaching, and we commuted internationally a few times a year. When I was overseas to visit him, he surprised me with a ring over dinner, and I accepted. We married, and he commuted between his international job and here for 3-4 months. Then we learned we were pregnant. Hubby/ Daddy decided to come home, and applied to everything remotely related here in this Small Southern College town, to no avail. He worked odd jobs and volunteered to keep himself busy, and did the computer commute with his old lab for about 1.5 years. After applying to about 6-7 positions at Huge Teaching University in this town, without success, he broadened his search, and found a perfectly suited job in Suburban University. He got a small basement apartment there and comes home on the weekend. Now we have a small child (da Boy), whom I care for full time in the weeks. I am a single mom for 5 days, and I find it pretty tough. Will continue this story soon.