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.