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

Shared via AddThis


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

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cool lab

Today I had a teaching lab with three students for My Absolute Favorite Subject. We did the lab in my research lab, since I research, well, My Absolute Favorite Subject (duh). With three bright students, we can teach class in the research lab. We can design several teaching labs to take advantage of the research lab since it is directly relevant for a few weeks.

The students really seemed to be having a good time, and a pair of speakers for one of the student's iPod seems to be a helpful element in the lab (student provided). I could never concentrate with music, but its sure does make undergrads happy, especially during the slow parts of the lab. Perhaps I can attract and keep the best students if I make the lab environs "cool". Discoball, perhaps? :)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Saturday, September 12, 2009

You can see it early.

Today was a children's fair. I took a cool sciencey thing to show, but sciencey thing is not a toy, even though it may look like one. It costs as much as a very used car.

Ideal situation: child approaches, I introduce sciencey thing and allow child to touch and experience in a controlled manner. Child wonders in amazement and laughs at my jokes. I feel like I'm saving the world through science education.

Frequency of ideal situation: 45%
Frequency of children who approach sciencey thing aggressively and grab without permission, often under the direction of parents: 15%
Children completely uninterested in s.t.: 20%
Children grossed out by or afraid to approach s.t. 10%
Frequency in which child approaches aggressively bringing hand directly out of a food item to touch s.t. under observation of parents: 10%

And here's my favorite. Son approached s.t. with wonder in eyes and begins exploring nicely. Mom yanks son away to next booth saying "Hey! Is that one of them snap bracelets?!!? They're free!!"

I spend many, many synapses wondering/worrying about the importance of early childhood education, the achievement gap, etc. Why do some kids arrive on campus grossly undercurious? Why are some of my students so underprepared intellectually? Is it too late to help them by college? And a heartbreaker: highly motivated that simply can't retain information at a high enough rate to succeed. It seems that I got a glimpse into the "nurture" aspect of the phenomenon today.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Priorities %^@$#%$!

Very typical day here, yesterday was the same. Very strong conflicts in my time between teaching and research and family.

If you want to teach 12-13 SH, the only way you can do research is to 1) stay all night in the lab 2) rely very heavily on undergraduate researchers to be very competent, dedicated, and to learn stuff the first time you show them and display great judgment in situations that differ from the one time you showed them.

I choose 2, to varying degrees of success.

Here's a great example. The research we do, like everything that relies on living things, requires a schedule and one step depends on timing from the last step. We have a schedule, and unfortunately that involves one student doing surgery on a certain day, collecting data on a different day. There are three students and we set up a schedule so each gets a shot at doing surgery and collecting data through the week.

Student 1 does surgery on Monday and collects data on Thursday.
Student 2 does surgery on Thursday and collects data on Tuesday.
Student 3 gets out of surgery but has to do treatments on Friday afternoon, and collects data on Wednesday afternoon.

On Thursday I teach a lab from 9:30-11:30, have a meeting 12:00-1:00, teach more labs from 1:00- 5:00. Student 1 is flying solo collecting data on Thursdays. Data collection is not trivial, there are a multitude of things that can go wrong. Luckily, student 1 is highly competent, but nonetheless is a rookie in the lab. Student 1 works to his/her limits of knowledge and interrupts my class as necessary for help suggestions. I cannot go to the lab and help student 1. I can only give one sentence suggestions as to what to troubleshoot before returning to my teaching. Though student 1 does not interrupt while I am addressing the class, but only while I am circulating, the interruptions are disruptive to the labs, and most importantly, I feel as though I am doing neither job well.

Student 2 is also a rookie, and is competent, but is quite early in his/ her college career, so student 2 is not completely facile with things such as pH-ing solutions. Thursday night student 2 needed to do his/her first solo surgery, but was not confident enough to do it completely in my absence. So student 2 asked me to stay until 5:30 pm when s/he got out of his/her classes and a mandatory meeting to be present while s/he tried the surgery. S/he was late coming out of the meeting, so I set him on the prep, went to the daycare and picked up da Boy, brought da Boy into the lab while student 2 did surgery. I was blowing up gloves to make balloons to entertain da Boy while student 2 missed his/her target, and needed to start over again. I went home, got a babysitter, and returned to the lab to help student 2 with the second surgery. That was highly unusual. I will NOT do that often, but it seemed like a critical one-time investment.

Today, Student 2 needed me for some simple stuff, but there were students in my office for office hours. Again, the interruptions were quite disruptive and I was frustrated with my inability to do either job completely.

I could write on this at length (note I haven't even mentioned student 3), but will conclude this one for now. Pop in the comments so I know you are reading! :)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

May I be excused?

Wow, I think I forget year to year about the first few weeks of college for first year students. Today I had several students ask me permission to go to the bathroom. There were others who asked if they could leave if they were finished with the lab.

I typically say, "of course, this is college, man."

Today someone asked if they could leave and I gave the response, "of course". They said we wanted to check if you were going to say anything more before we left. How nice and respectful. I said "Quick, run! before I come up with something to say"

The adjustment from "May I be excused?" to "Oh I guess I'd better show up to class in case I miss something important" to "My friend takes good notes, I'll just stay at home" is very fast, however.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Home schooled students

We have a fair number of students that attend Small Religious PUI that are homeschooled either in part or completely until they arrive here. I had a few prejudices about homeschooled kids previous to this job, and those prejudices probably arose from a very low N from which I based my conclusions. I can say now that I cannot tell the homeschooled kids from their peers in either social adjustment or academics, however that is an unscientific observation.

OTOH, I can spot from a mile away students that come from a local private high school. They have a rockstar science teacher, and they are VERY well prepared for our classes.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Where does one keep a doctor?

Hubby, Da Boy and I all enjoyed going to the same family practice before the Separation (when hubby took the faraway job; see intros). We liked the idea of seeing the same doctors and the Drs. knowing us pretty well. Hub needed a few specialists, but they are here in town, too. But now that Hub works two hours away, we have a few options:

1. He can change his GP, Specialists, dentist, optometrist, the works... find new ones close to his work to accommodate appointments during the work week or
2. He can keep his Drs. and take only Monday morning or Friday afternoon appointments, which means scheduling very far in advance, or
3. He can keep his Drs. and drive back here the night before a midweek appointment, and take a day off work the day of his appointment.

I like having him home midweek, because well, I like having him around as much as possible. But that a lot of driving for him. I think Americans have a miscalculation of their risk of serious accidents when driving. I also don't like him taking the increased risk. It also means him missing more work than necessary.

In addition, we like the idea of having a long-term relationship with health providers, especially GPs. Since his job is as yet year-to-year contracts, the idea of swapping all of Hub's health providers is especially unattractive.

Monday, September 7, 2009

skeptoid perpetuates micro inequities...


Here's more if that link doesn't work:

Scientists Are Not Created Equal
Does calling someone a "scientist" mean that he knows anything at all?
Skeptoid #25
February 05, 2007
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe

google if necessary

An excellent example of micro(?)inequities as referred to by Female Science Professor. Notice how Brian Dunning constantly uses the male pronoun whenever referring to scientists. Even male scientists perpetuate the stereotype of scientists being male.


Looks like at least two of my research students are competent and engaged. Probably the third, but I don't see as much of that student. Our first procedure as a lab failed, but it's looking good this time around. I really need students that work well independently AND communicate. So far, ok.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Blogging and Work-study competencies

I'm nervous about blogging, even anonymously. I have been pretty positive in the blog, and honestly so. But I dread the idea that someone in my circles could discover my identity and misconstrue something in it.

I have a student who is working for me as a work-study. She sent me a note and on her signature file is a link for her blog. I read it. It was very informative, especially about the things that go on around campus under the radar. I feel like it really helps remind where the students are at emotionally, and the temptations they face. So for that reason, I don't feel bad about reading it. On the other hand, she describes her work with me in one word: overwhelming. Really? All I did was show her around the building and where things are hidden, and asked her to make what (to me) was a pretty simple teaching aid. Looks like I'd better remember who my audience is.

I've been spoiled a little by a work-study student who is a non-trad and highly competent. If I give him a general idea of what I want done, viola! Something very close to what I want happens. I have to remember that these 18 year olds don't have enough tools in their pocket to create something out of nothing, but that they need explicit instructions.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Triple Booked

Today was rough. I was supposedly supervising some independent study students in a lab working on an independent study class, although the very competent uncredentialed colleague was doing a great job without my help thankyouverymuch. Then I had three lab sections of my lab, and concurrently to that I was teaching my research students a surgery for the first time. Well, I lucked out. The independent study went fine without me. The three lab sections went pretty well, though I noticed the students seemed more tired in the later afternoon one. And the research students, with far too little direction from me, did a very nice job nonetheless on the surgery. Whew. Got away with it. But I will not triple book again.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

First heavy teaching day, and Boy didn't sleep

I went to bed at 9:30 last night because I was exhausted. More from being jazzed up than actual work, probably. But last night da Boy cried 4 times in the night for attention. He is just getting over the rotavirus, so we gave him bottles of Pedialyte and formula in bed for teh last two weeks. And now I am trying to wean him off of food in bed. This morning at about 4:30 he was wailing and the water bottle did him no good. I brought him into my bed (never do this DURING rotovirus!). And tried to cuddle, and that was also to no avail. Finally I relelnted and gave him formula in bed.

I have a huge day at work today. I teach all three of my classes, and haven't prepped FULLY for them. First class is syllabus day. I try to scare the Bejeezus out of them about the academic integrity policy and motivate them for the rigor of the class. I also introduce myself individually to the 60 of them. Not major prep there, I just need to be sharp so I sound confident and make a good impression. In the second class I co-teach. We have all the materials ready. I should review my outline, which is in PPT form to feel confident, and therefore sound confident. Last class will be the 3 students "in-the-round" and is really heavy in content including equations that may be new to the students. I still have to read that chapter and make an outline. I am happy to teach, but the first (full) day exhausts me becuase I get "activated" physiologically. I wouldn't call it nervous, the prep fixes that, but its something my body does that I don't control well. I'm not sure I want to be calm on this day. I want to convey enthusiasm, and be fluent. :)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

First Day of Class

Today is the day that my colleagues wear clothes so nice and clean that I barely recognize them. Me too.

Today I taught my first class of the semester. It was a new class in My Absolute Favorite Subject Matter. There were three students, so it felt goofy standing in front and using a laser pointer. Tomorrow in lecture, we have divided the chapter up and we will sit around a table and each person present a figure and the information that goes along with it. That seems much better. I have all three courses tomorrow with an hour in between each. I guess that's ideal. Better prep...