Sunday, May 30, 2010

Fun Place weekend update

Please see my last post for our options to a logistical problem when the family gets together for a weekend away.

We chose option 2, we parked a car in the economy lot at the airport in Another City and rode together to Fun Place. The extra time in the car was very nice. Also having two parents when it comes time for potty stops is a huge help.

Fun Place was truly fun, and we stayed at a hotel with good services right on the premises of Fun Place. The convenience was soo worth it. What a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Another commuter marriage dilemma

So despite the hassle (read here), we are going away for the weekend. Wahoo!

We are all going to Fun Place (right). Dad is on top in Big City, Mom and Boy are left, and Another City is sort of in the middle. Dad can't leave until noon Friday, and Mom and Boy need part of Friday for preparations. Parking at Fun Place is expensive. My european readers; public transport is woefully inadequate, hence we have a two-car problem. This weekend is a big holiday weekend; I expect awful traffic coming out of Big City where Dad is leaving from. How do we solve the logistics?

Option 1. Dad drives 2 hours home, we all drive 4 hours to Fun Place. Then we reverse at end of weekend. This wastes gas, and is harder on Dad- 8 extra hours of driving, Dad would arrive at 2:30p at home, so the family wouldn't arrive until AT BEST 7pm (bedtime for Boy) at Fun Place. Likely later with traffic.

Option 2. Dad and Mom and Boy meet in Another City. We would have to find a place to park car, then drive together from Another City to Fun Place. Most efficient time and gas-wise, the return trip seems easier. It would require research to find where to park car (free is preferable). Another City has a high crime rate; I am worried about leaving a car unattended for the weekend there. We could meet together at about 3pm in Another City; in be in Fun Place by 5-6 pm AT BEST. If Dad gets caught in traffic coming out of Big City, Boy and Mom will have to wait in an unfamiliar place for an unknown length for Dad.

Option 3. Mom and Boy go directly to Fun Place early, and spend time chilling out until Dad arrives. Dad parks the car (for cost) at Fun Place. There would be no ability to ride in the car together, so we'd get less time together (which is precious; and less help with a potentially fussy toddler for Mom). This costs more in gas, parking and traffic hassle, but is simplist in preparation. Boy might be better rested and settled in before bedtime.

Hmmm. What to do???

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Do we teach evolution?

I teach science at a Christian college. Do we teach evolution?


Pure unadulterated, scientific evolution. Not intelligent design.

How do we handle the Faith vs. Science debate? Well first off, we reject the idea that there is a dichotomy between the two and they are mutually exclusive.

We discuss in several courses (freshman, senior, and a smattering in between) the philosophical underpinnings of various views that people can have everywhere from non-teleological naturalism (it all evolved accidentally and randomly) to non-overlapping magesteria (its really not the business of religion to explain science and vice versa) to seven day creationism (it all happened exactly as outlined in Genesis). And we DO NOT support one of these views in our teaching. The students must choose their own understanding of how scientific evolution fits into their faith.

Now the faculty are (by selection) Christian believers to varying degrees (see here about selection and here about culture at work). And, of course all scientists. I would say that most of my colleagues fit on the left hand side of this scale in their personal beliefs (evolution is completely true as science sees it, but God is somehow the creator), myself included.

It is interesting to see how students come into a Christian college having some pretty strong fundamentalist beliefs about evolution and (usually) leaving with a much deeper understanding of the natural world. I would say most of them find a good "place" that rejects dichotomous thinking between evolution and faith. I certainly wouldn't want to work at a place that did perpetuate the dichotomies.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Disadvantages to knowing your students well

Well, there's Bias.

When students are no longer anonymous to you- just numbers- you have to watch out for bias.

Students are relatively consistent with the level of their work throughout the semester. The problem lies when I realize that such-and-such is a B student then I unconsciously grade to a B. I become biased that such-and-such is a B student and then it becomes self-perpetuating.

As hard as I try to fight bias, it is always lurking. I guess I could get credit for acknowledging that I have biases and doing everything I know how to prevent them. But they are still there.

Other areas of bias I recognize
1. Cheating- I'm not sure if this is really a BAD bias, but once a student gets caught in my class for cheating, they will be scrutinized constantly.

2. Rude behavior in class- If a student texts constantly during lecture, or some other obnoxious behavior, they seem to get put into the "disengaged" category.

3. My general feeling of "got it". If a student does poorly in class, or more importantly, just CAN.NOT seem to follow directions repeatedly to save their life, I write them off as someone who's not going to make it.

4. Spelling- if you can't spell (especially in spell-check-able word processor documents!) it creates an overall impression that you aren't careful or uninterested in doing well.

5. You mess up my title repeatedly. More here.

Now, some of these may make a grain sense. But what I really want to avoid is preventing each student from having a clean slate at the beginning of each assignment, or worse, grading their assignment subjectively up or down according to my unconscious opinion of them.

For example, on an 15-point essay question, if given the same answer from a student who I thought was a pretty good student vs. a student who texts in class and doesn't seem to pay attention or follow directions, I could imagine (there's no way to test this) that I could give the texting student a point less. That's simply not fair.

The reverse is also true. If a student shows up in my office weekly, and I really want them to succeed, for the same answer I could imagine giving the student I was "rooting for" a point more for the same answer as a student who I never saw outside of lecture periods. Also not fair.

I'm human, and recognize that there is no way to completely eliminate bias in grading. It's true life is not fair. But I really want to be AS "JUST" AS POSSIBLE in the classroom.

I know the students well. By midterms at the latest, I know that names of every one of my students. I also have probably formed my biases by then, too.

Ways I have figured out so far to combat bias

1. Forced Anonymity. I give essays on tests. Because of this subjective part, I design the test such that I can't see the student's name before I grade the whole exam. This works pretty well. However, at the end of a two-semester course I can recognize some unusual handwriting. I try to cover names when grading worksheets or papers with the name on the front, but this is not 100% successful.

2. One-size-fits all- no exceptions. For example, if you miss a quiz, there are no make-ups. I don't care if its excused or not. You can make up the quiz by the longer alternative assignment, like everyone- no exceptions. This prevents me from: a. listening to some pretty crazy excuses and b. treating people I imagine as being less responsible with less mercy than other students. It's rigid, but it seems fairer.

3. My natural forgetfulness. Luckily for most students I don't walk around with their grade in my head. So if they bombed the last exam, I probably don't remember that. If I see them in the hall, I will greet them just like I did before they bombed my test. This really only pertains to the conscious part of the equation, not really eliminating many unconscious biases.

4. Your suggestion here.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Yoga class = college choice?

Warning, this is a bit fluffy.

I had an epiphany the other day during yoga.

Long before the discussion on FSP about the relative merits of a SLAC/ PUI to a BigU, (my response) I have been really pondering whether my students get THAT much more out of college to justify the increased expense of their college education. As I mentioned at FSP, I went to a Big U, so don't really get the idea of a SLAC / PUI from the STUDENT'S perspective. Hence the epiphany.

The prallels will be painfully obvious as you read this, but to me, there was an AHA! moment. Call me slow....

I am a member of a gym. I go to a yoga class there. The class is quite large such that when the lights are lowered, there are students in the far reaches of the class that are physically in a cave- like environment. Its hard to see and hear what the instructor is doing, but as long as between you and the instructor there is chain of two people that are doing it semi-correctly, you can manage something relatively close to what is being modeled up front. Moreover, the instructor NEVER comes around to correct your form. If you really care about your form, you will both pay attention AND you will either get closer to the instructor so as to do it right, or you will intuit from your peers the correct form. The better your abililty to intuit, the better yor ability to do it correctly.

Recently, the Yoga instructor has been out due to an injury and she has been replaced the pilates instructor. Class suddenly transformed from a mostly yoga class that had been hybridized a little to a class where club music was being played, the instructor commanded every breath, the moves slowed down considerably, and became far more pilates-like with a few yoga-ish moves included. The new instructor even theought that we would be insulted if he called the move "cow" (like its been called for centuries), and instead, changed the name of this combination of back stretches (belly up, belly down) to "cat lift" and "cat raise"- leaving everyone in the class to look up to try and figure out what the heck he was talking about.

I hated this class, and slowly stopped going. I hear the normal instructor is back, but now I am going to a pre-natal Yoga class at a private studio.

The Yoga class at the private studio is 100% pure unadulterated Yoga, even using the sanskrit names for all the moves. There is a spiritual component to it that is entirely absent at the big gym. There were 4 women in my class the other night and we had a moment where we shared about our pregnancies, and though we weren't making friends, at least we had some form of solidarity (albeit, we were a homogenous group). The instructor was very knowledgable, and took the time to adapt moves in an individual basis for each mother. At the end of class, I felt fabulous inside and out, and felt like I had advanced my practice by a lot.

I pay $35 per month at the large gym and $15 a SESSION at the studio. I jusify the studio as a special need for pre-natal Yoga (which the big gym does not offer). I know that I could go to the big gym, sit up front, and remind my instructor (though its obvious by now) that I am pregnant and need special attention and modifications. I could guess on my own what moves are not a good idea for me and simply adapt without the help of the instructor. Sure. Exactly like I did as an undergrad.

In the studio class I get taken care of by an instructor who is an expert, and I directly benefit from her training without me having to guess (act as independently?). Just like my students here at SRU.

In the big gym, for $35 per month I also have available to me free weights (which I never use) classes such as spinning (which I don't need now, but will later), nautilus (never use), and treadmills (not appropriate for me now). There is also a vending machine of sports drinks (uh, no thanks), a swimming pool (a GREAT boon to me), and towels (which I have plenty of at home).

At the Yoga Studio, for $45/ month I have everything I need to do Yoga but nothing else. No extras that I do need, like a swimming pool, and no extras that I don't need, like a sports-drink vendo.

So in Yoga class the other day, while I was lying in savasana rest pose letting my mind wander, I suddenly and dramatically understood why students (or their parents) would want to pay the extra money to come to SRU. And depending on many factors, not that much more money. I guess I came to the conclusion overall that you can get what you need at a Big U, and even do well there. There are some definite benefits to the size. But the higher personal quality of the education at the PUI/ SLAC is very appealing.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Big U vs. Prestigious U vs. SLAC/PUI

Another juicy discussion at FSP on the relative merits of a Big U, etc. Go see it...

Here are my comments:

I went to a Big State U for undergrad because I assumed I couldn't afford anything else. I did graduate with no debt- yahoo!

I was brought up that "college is what you make of it" and since I am a relatively assertive and confident person, I did fine at a Big U, seeking out the resources I thought I needed. I found out in grad school, however, that my academic preparation could have been a bit better.

Hub went to MIT, and though he did well academically, he really floundered socially/ mentally/ spiritually, and it took a long time for him to recover from that. So I'm not sure he got the best education he could at a prestigious U. He was one that 'slipped through the cracks', even though he graduated with a good GPA.

When I applied to teach at at SLAC/PUI I really didn't know what I was getting myself into. I assumed that the students that were attracted to a small school like ours lacked confidence to make their way at a Big U. I was wrong about that. They come for many reasons, but I wouldn't say that a lack of desire to compete for resources is a general charateristic of SLAC/ PUI students. I do know that nearly every one of them benefits *greatly* from closer Prof/ Student relationships. Students in our department get a GREAT education. While there are a lot of students that do great at Big U's would say that the student population in general does better at a SLAC/ PUI. JMHO.

I haven't yet decided how I feel about Big U's vs Prestigious U's vs SLAC's If my kids had no preference where to go, I would recommend them to go HERE (SLAC) as long as they wanted to do so in one of our shining departments, and to go far away from here if they wanted to major in something we stink at!

But for grad school? Prestigious/ Big/ Resource-Rich ALL THE WAY.


There's some really good comments in this thread, many of which I agree with. unfortunately, there's also another that I agree with: that there's a certain degree of homogeneity among our student body. Looks like I need another post for that...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Let's get a little nasty!

Over at FSP, she posted a poll that apparently struck a real nerve on stay-at-home spouses. I participated in the comments, and got a nasty little (anonymous) comment from someone who responds to mine by saying "talk about the me generation". Oh, Please! Check it out...

By the way, the "friend" I refer to as having "wife-as-household-staff" is none other than "Rock Star" from this post.

But this comment has gotten me thinking, do I come across as "whiny" in this blog? Is this person right in calling me out? Or is that just a nasty person angry about something that has nothing to do with me? I'm a sensitive person. I'll at least think about it before I blow it off...

I'm experimenting with polls anyway, so here's a fun exercise...

Do you find the "Two Body Problem" blog as being whiny and victim-y?
Yes, almost all of the time. Its a real turn-off.
Yes, every once in a while, but overall it has merit
Not really but I could see how someone else would.
Not really, in fact the "lifestyle" stories are very helpful
No not at all. I read it for the struggle/ lifestyle stories. free polls

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A completely unproductive day, save the chickens

Boy has some chest-something sick, and ran a fever yesterday. All night he was fine and into the AM, but he's banned from the day care for 24 hours after a call to fetch him has been made. I understand the policy, and agree in theory. But it makes things hard on me to not be able to work with such short notice. I still have not found a place/ person that will watch him while "sick". Besides, my babysitter budget is running out for this month.

I have no classes right now, how could I possibly be stressed out about not being able to work at the office?

Here are the things that demanded my immediate attention today:

1. E-mail from dean of students. A student has too low of a GPA, and will be put on academic probation. Student argues that a grade in my class will be changed as soon as I get the grading done (^%#&^!!!), therefore can't be put on probation.

2. E-mail from colleague running the summer school I will be participating in. Needs my course plans and description asap.

3. E-mail from dept'l chair wanting to set up a meeting to look at course evals together.

4. Phone call from local doctor wanting to donate samples to the school, but needs a decision this week.

5. Two phone calls from incoming students / parents. We (faculty!) call prospective students to help recruit them, and I did my calling last night. These students wanted to know about the status of their application for a program in which they have applied. This is info I don't have privy to, and will take communication with my other colleagues to solve for the incoming students. Moreover, I called these students from the admissions office last night (there was a "calling party") and don't have their numbers to call them back. More interdepartmental communication required to solve that problem.

So I felt a bit stressed about bringing the Boy into work for a few hours today, and he was in his finest form- very active and curious- making sure that he could not be left to play quietly while I got work done. Luckily, we have some animals around the science center that made HIS visit a particularly exciting one. He got to feed the chickens and was completely thrilled with his adventure. He even ended up clucking back at them several times. BOK! BOK!

So I went into work with boy for about 3 hours and got perhaps 20 minutes of work done. The rest of the time, we were having 19-month-old fun in Mommy's office and science building.

Monday, May 17, 2010

No Thanks for the Memories

Does every department have a forceful reminiscer?

Maybe you know of this common departmental character. A professor emeritus (or emerita), who comes in to "work" to hang out and socialize. This person will spend long stretches of time in the lunchroom (or any common area) engaging anyone in conversation who enters the area.

This person will direct the conversation relatively forcefully to "the good ol' days" in 600 milliseconds or less. They can not be dissuaded from the subject of the "good ol' days", despite your best polite efforts. Sometimes you hear the same story twice.

The "good ol' days" were always superior, no matter what the subject. Dr. Emeritus Reminiscer is not interested in your alternative hypotheses. And, he will keep talking to you as you walk out the door.

Refrigerator Humility

Here at SRU (a pseudonym) the entire Science Center shares a lounge, with a refrigerator and a big table, where many gather to eat for lunches. Its very collegial.

As in EVERY other workplace with shared resources, we have petty little conflicts regarding 'fridge etiquette. We don't eat each others' stuff, but we do leave stuff in there for decades, forcing the secretary to organize a cleanup day, in which only a few participate. This is very typical of everywhere I've worked (at least in the US).

Before fridge clean-up day, space in the fridge can be pretty tight. All those jars of relish that have been in there forever crowd out the cute little lunchboxes carrying the leftovers du jour.

At the bottom of the fridge are the meat and veggie crispers, one of which I marked as mine with tape sometime last year: "PUI Prof's drawer". Well, aparently this caused some consternation, especially in the math department, populated with folks just slightly higher on the Aspie scale than the rest of us. One says to me, "How can you do that?!?! I could just take some tape and mark on the outside of the fridge door 'Aspie Math Prof's fridge', then would you be expected to respect my space?"

Ok, Fine. I came up with some lame neutralizing reply, laughed with him, but continued to claim my drawer until this morning when the fridge was found completely empty. Apparently the cleaning lady- at the behest of the secretary- just chucked everything and cleaned the 'fridge. She removed my tape, too.

So I took my tape and a sharpie and made a new sign: "With your permission, PUI Prof's Drawer" and then re-populated my turf. That should do it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Blip in readership

I feel so famous! Apparently "Inside Higher Ed" gave me my 15 min of bloggy fame by noting my blog extremely briefly.

I actually got pretty nervous, because I don't want a big readership such that I would have to censor what I write OR always wonder if any of my colleagues were reading. Apparently its not a problem, I got a little blip which quickly returned to status quo.

Good. I like it better just me and my homies anyway.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Oatmeal Brain

Regular readers know, I love my teaching-heavy job. I like the instant rewards, the social interaction, the broadening of my knowledge base, the excessive salary. I'm kidding about the salary. I feel as though with my "gifts" and propensity, this is a perfect career match for me.

But what I was *trained* for in research science- reading and parsing primary literature, identifying the most important research questions, creating alternative hypotheses, critical evaluation of experimental design, creation of elegant experimental design, troubleshooting, etc.- are NOT a major part of my current daily life. I was trained at a pretty high level for these things which did not come naturally to me, and from my graduation college to the end of my post doc was a *steep* learning curve.

And now it feels like despite all the progress I made on this steep learning curve, I am mentally sliiiiding, sliiiding back downhill from disuse of my training. Yes, we do some of these things in my research lab, and I try to teach my students at the highest level they can handle. So I try to impart on them some of the benefits of my training. That doesn't keep me very sharp. Working in my lab with undergrads is certainly not like interacting daily with highly successful scientists. No one is pulling ME up.

I have started working full time with my research student this summer, and we are currently having journal club every day, to really understand the background of our project (ok, I should say he/ his...). In the first hours of this exersize, I felt very sluggish mentally, as if I were thinking with an oatmeal brain. It's getting better, but ah, I miss the days in which I feel sharp... like the days leading up to my defense, or how I feel going to meetings and intensively learning a lot of new information and applying it to my research.

See here (in the comments) for more.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

3 students = all day

My entire (work) day was consumed by meeting with three students.

10:00a-12:30p: Met with a student whose aunt died unexpectedly during the semester and missed a whole section. Tutored her on questions she had from the study guide in preparation for her taking the final exam next week. Also listened to her and waxed philosophical a bit on why a good God would let bad things happen to good people.

12:30-1:30: lunch

1:30-3:00: Met with research student, journal club style. Discussed every detail of some seminal works in the area of his project. He really can't glean the big picture from just reading the articles, so the discussion is very helpful to him. I use a Socratic method, and either he is very intent on finding the answer himself if he doesn't know it, OR he is too stubborn to admit he doesn't know. In any case, there are VERRRRY long pauses after I ask a question while he skims the paper looking for the answer.

In discussing / teaching the papers I actually "process" them in a far more thorough manner than when I just read them, even if I do so painstakingly carefully. So the "teaching" really helps me understand the papers better myself. Everyone wins.... it is just very time consuming.

3:15-4:15 Met with an incoming student to advise the student on fall course choices. This is his very first impression of his new department. I work hard to establish a good rapport with these students. He's interested in Science and English. We got him two classes of each, and a nice schedule that has no early classes, no late classes and yet a lunch break. Victory.

Yes, its summer. My workday spanned from 10-4 ish. That's just fine by me. My colleagues are all at home making bread or putting in their gardens instead. I'm still "working".

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

An unexpected commuter marriage glitch

Suppose you have a normal marriage. You know, where both cars park together at the same address every night. Now suppose that your hubby accidentally drives away in the car that has the car seat, and the baby is with you. What do you do? Simple, you just don't take the baby anywhere you need to go in the car until hub comes home.

Now suppose your hubby drives the car seat to a place where he lives two hours away, and you can't get the car seat back for FIVE days (Hub is at a local important conference and can't take 4 hours out to bring you the car seat back)!

Here's what you do. Take your kid to the day care everyday in the pouring rain on your bike with him in a trailer. Endure the looks of disdain you receive from a few people for taking your poor innocent little baby out in the elements like that. Also receive congratulation and admiration from others who think of you as WonderWoman, braving the elements 6 months pregnant and pulling a loaded trailer behind your bike! And whatever you do, don't tell your admirers the full story...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Why do I feel so busy right now?

Well, classes are over. What do I do with my time now?

I'm disappointed to say that a collaborative grant written across several institutions did not get funded, so I won't be doing research that is FUNDED for several months. Here's what I need to do this summer anyway:

1. Finish straggler grading from one course (there's a lot). I can NEVER seem to get my grades in on time. Notes here and here and here.

2. Work with a research student independently. This is the student that got sick during the semester and needed to take an incomplete in research. More here and here.

3. Miscellaneous meetings, such as mock interviews for people going on to professional and graduate schools.

4. Various and sundry trainings, such as how to set up an online course, the faculty staff retreat, other committees that continue to meet beyond the school year.

5. Set up my one course for the fall, and do a lot of prep for the adjuncts we will be bringing in to cover my maternity.

6. Prep all my courses for the Spring, as I will return to full time in January, with a 2 year old, a 4 month old and an absentee husband. I CAN NOT develop two new courses after August.

7. Write my paper from several years of undergrad-powered research. I must first solve a major issue (at bottom) before starting to write it.

8. Is there any chance I'll get a research grant written this summer? Egads, I doubt it.

9. The home needs some major projects too. At MINIMUM, we have to rearrange rooms upstairs to accommodate another little resident in the home. Ideally we need to finish (erm, hire someone to finish) the basement so we can have an extra bedroom.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Eeeuw. The adjunct life.

Today we interviewed two potential adjuncts for my courses during my maternity leave. They both seem qualified and experienced. They are also both working part time for several different colleges that are in the area. When I'd heard how many courses they are already teaching now (basically more than full time) between all the institutions they are working at- AND interviewing for our slot- I just wanted to: 1. Stop bitching about my workload 2. Give thanks to God for my permanent position and 3. Be very glad that I never had to go through the part-time teaching phase before finding my job.

Discriminated for

I have my job in part due to discrimination. For a religious educational institution like mine, it is legal to consider my religion in the hiring process- by the same law that banned discrimination based on race, sex, etc. (Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII).

I have to say, it was a huge advantage for me. I am very qualified for my job and am doing decent work, don't get me wrong. But the fact that I am of the same religion as my institution put me at the top of the candidate pool. I simply had to compete with fewer (by far) people with the same qualifications as I had.

I recall a conversation with a person at a conference who was an Instructor at a huge, well known school. He had clearly been trying for many years to get on the tenure track, but ended up as an instructor. He looked at me (only weeks into my job) and said, how did you manage to get a T-T position? And I explained that it was a perfect institutional fit (read: my religion). He said, "That's not fair".

While I do feel bad for him and everyone he represents, and I am very grateful for my opportunities earned or stumbled upon, I do support the idea of institutional specialization in Higher Ed.

If you want to go to an elite college, and can get in, that should be your choice. The country where I did a post-doc did not have that option. If you want to go to an all-female college, you should have the option. If you want to go to an HBC (Historically Black Colleges), or to a school for the deaf- your choice. If you want to attend a college of a particular sect or religion, this should also be available to you.

Now the question arises: to maintain the identity of the institution, should a deaf college prefer deaf faculty? Should black colleges prefer black faculty? Should women's colleges discriminate by hiring female faculty over like-qualified men?

Weigh in, what are your thoughts? I would especially like to hear from the foreign readers...