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"?

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

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??