Friday, December 9, 2011

Married up, scientifically.

My Father-in-law was acknowledged (in a slide, with a picture) during one of the Nobel prize lectures this year.

This is exciting, as you can imagine. It also shows the familial expectations on my husband.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Research presentations

My two research students from the summer are prepping for their required research presentations. I am so excited for them. One is more engaged that the other, but they are both doing well. During a discussion with the more engaged one, we looked hard at the data and came up with an alternative interpretation of the data. Though the idea was mine primarily, it was a very fruitful discussion. I am very proud of her and convinced that a REAL research project is what takes the brightest students to their max.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

meeting great

Attending a meeting. Poster was today. Was well attended and very helpful people came by. Was VERY pleased to meet a bloggy friend. Thrilled, delighted, ecstatic!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dude, I'm blowin' you off.

Because this is waaaaaaaay too late and very half-assed. Sorry, man.

Hi Mrs. Prof, [I hate when they call me Mrs. Prof]

My name is Stu Student an i just recently changed majors from [gym] to [science] major with [pre-doctoral health]. I need to schedule and appointment with you to see what my classes should be and what options i have because i just found out that the important semester is fall and that i cant take some of the big classes in the spring because everything is cumulative and since i didn't take any required courses this fall then i need to take certain classes that will help me prepare for next fall. let me know when i can meet you and schedule a meeting so i can register for next semester.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Critical period; priorities and gender

Saturday I complained becuase I had to work "on the side" on my poster for an upcoming meeting. I wanted to have it printed by Lab Meeting (a gathering of my research students) Wednesday 12:00p. I was also scheduled to give exams in my 2 courses at 10:00a and 1:00p Wednesday.

Monday I was working on the poster and the two exams. Tuesday became crunch time for the exams, since they had a very clear impending deadline and there would be NO delegating of exam writing. By Tuesday afternoon, I had an exam written for the 1:00 class, but it was about 40 questions too long. I hadn't touched the 10:00 exam. The poster had one more MAJOR flaw; the references were messed up beyond recognition (long story). I conceded defeat and e-mailed my lab that there would be no poster presentation at 12:00. I spent all evening post-kid-bedtime working on 10:00 exam. Then between 11:00a-1:00p I spent fixing and printing the 1:00 exam.

Now I can work on my poster.

Last night, I called hub, who was still in his office working on his poster. In my frustration I said, "You want to know why women are doing worse in science?!?! Here's an example: I am here cooking dinner for the children, and you are there perfecting your poster. If I could spend this time on MY poster, then I would be doing better in science!"

I didn't say it in a nasty way, but it wasn't taken well. He was completely "guilted" and keeps asking me if there is anything HE can do to help me with MY poster. So I found something. He can write the new citations in my "literature cited" block, while I cook dinner tonight for the kiddos. Thanks, Hon.

I will fuss with the details of the poster tonight post-kid-bedtime, then call it done and send it to the printer first thing in the AM. I know that there are flaws in it that will have to stay. I need to spend the next few days reviewing all the literature, since that will be my Achilles's heel (no time to read literature during the teaching year!)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

gonna be the worst day of the semester

two exams to give tomorrow. both need to be written.

waaay overdue study guide for one class, taking impossibly long to make.

3-hour lab in afternoon.

poster to go to printer today. many small but important mistakes to correct. did get help from hubby who found detailed mistakes (like misnumbering of references), also elicited help from a professional mentor in another institution who found some important errors and asked cogent questions (e.g. about my statistical tests).

sent the kids to daycare without breakfast today. closed door, put a sign that says "I'm hiding from you. make an appt by e-mail" that might cost me on my teaching evals. gonna take the risk.

my body is responding to the stress in a way that is entirely incompatible with being able to work in a focused manner. I'll spare you the details.

addendum: even though it is crunch time, I'm still FEELING 100% better than last spring when I was fighting depression. I actually feel good right now. I'm happy to have all this stuff going on.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Bitching about the poster I'm making...

Poster Poster Poster. All day. I am jealous of my husband and his research professor butt who gets to make his poster while he is at work. Not me. I have to do mine on evenings and multiple weekends. Like a hobby scientist. Which is how I feel today, like a hobby scientist.

At a small liberal arts college that has under 10 faculty in the sciences, you can bet I'm the only one in my specialty. In fact it was culture shock to go from my post-doc to faculty here. In my post-doc there were as many scientists in my SUBspecialty as there are faculty at this entire school. So the problem isn't just the poster editing, its an overall problem of no feedback or collaboration on my work in general.

I DREAM of someone qualified check over my poster (or my work) like, oh, professional scientists do in their lab meetings. But no, I'm out here flappin' in the breeze. Hub will find the detailed mistakes for me like font mismatch-he's good at that- but can't help me with the big picture, such as logical flow. So I will do my best by myself, and pray that I don't embarrass myself or those who have invested a lot in my training (who will be there).

I've had a brilliant scientist (dean of a top med school) look at my work this month, but he is in the phase in his career where he is encouraging young scientists, not helping find the flaws in their work. Otherwise, my colleagues (great as they may be) have no time or clue to critique me. So I get to critique myself. See any problems with that?

I'm wishing that some of my blogosphere friends will come by my poster and give me a true and tough critique of my work, shred it to pieces (politely) before I submit a manuscript. I know you can't help me before I head to the printer. But if you are reading this and going to a very big meeting in the next few weeks (mid-November), then send me an e-mail and I will send you my poster number. Bring your shredder carried in your kid gloves :)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

a little chemistry

this has been modified from its original version.

I'm sure this has been thought of extensively in the professordom, but working around 18-22 year olds means that your entire work day is spent with people at their most beautiful and most fit. So finding your students attractive seems natural. Young adults are attractive, full stop. Being attracted to some of them, I suppose, is understandable. Have you ever felt attracted to one of your students? This question does NOT ask if there was any change in your behavior due to the feelings.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Job Search trickle

Our department is currently conducting a search for a full-time, one-year position. I referred to it here. We only have 5 applications so far. We advertised in the Chronicle, too. Whaddup widdat?

Other news; foreign exchange student will babysit. Solves this prob.

Also, on a committee reviewing another faculty application for tenure. Sat down with superstar colleague who is on this committee and mine.  He says to me: I read your application. Wow! Makes me glad to be here.

Well, that makes ME happy.

Busy prepping for meeting. Cheers, y'all.

Friday, October 21, 2011

"Proud of" redux

I learned that our Alum that received a very impressive award did his/her award winning work before enrolling here. Pride goeth before the fall.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Can't compartmentalize from Facebook

Writing a recc letter for professional school for a student who did OK in my classes. He/she made Facebook friends with me and constantly posts about how glad he/she is to be out of classes, is tired of school, is doing something fun instead of studying. After several years of frequent posts on this theme, I'm afraid that I'm having trouble thinking of him/her without the impression left by Facebook and writing a letter based solely on his/her performance in my class. I'm very close to writing the "is not reaching full potential" sentence, but can't distinguish whether I have that impression from Facebook posts or from his/her above average but not stellar grades. Your thoughts?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Meet 'em where they are at this year?

I was hired to be a rigorous teacher. My predecessor was not granted tenure because of lack of rigor in his/her courses. Since the students I teach eventually take standardized exams (professional licensure, MCATs, you name it), I expect a lot and support a lot.

In a large (for us) course I teach every single year, I almost always get a 74-78 average on the exams, exactly what I'm shooting for. This year, with nearly the exact same material and very, very similar exams, my first two exam averages have been nearly 10 points lower.

Other colleagues have complained about the quality of the incoming students this year. When I interact with them, my impression is that they are just like previous classes. But they are bombing my exams!

The first exam came back very low, and I re-examined the test thinking perhaps there were some "stinker" questions on it. I will even admit that I wrote the second exam easier than usual just to encourage them. And they bombed that one too. For example, the second test had 15 fewer questions. The questions were all multiple choice. I even had one question of 4 possibilities in which two were obvious throw-aways, and yet nearly 1/3 of the class missed this 50-50 shot for material that I thought was very clear in lecture.

Either my ability to be sensitive as to what they are "getting" or not is suddenly wrecked or this class is a really bad one. Do I make the course easier and easier until they start passing? Maybe just for this year so I don't flunk half my class (and receive the kind of evaluations that go with that)? Or do hold my standards, according to my mandate and let the chips fall where they may?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Um, could you make that a decaf?

From an e- mail this morning;

Got stress? Join us for free coffee, cookies and min-cinnamon rolls on certain time, certain place to meet the peer mentors from certain office and learn about coping with anxiety and stress!!

Something to be proud of

One of our alums just won a very, very big award for work that our institution trained this person for.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

My Tenure Application is in!

I turned in my tenure dossier. It had the following components;

  • A cover letter- mine was relatively brief, with a table of contents-like format.
  • A section on novel material for this review
    • a self-evaluation from in which I had to place myself  on a scale from complete dodo to ubermench and justify why. I put myself at the second-to-highest ratings for all three areas, teaching, service and research. This form was long and included things like:

      I receive comments on my evaluations such as

      ·         “Thank you, Prof! You set the bar high and then do everything you can to make sure we reach it”
      ·         “Prof is probably the single most competent professor I have encountered at U. She really knows her stuff!”
      ·         “Great simulations and demonstrations to go along with challenging concepts”
      ·         “all of the different teaching methods used to help us understand the material-good!”
      ·         “I think Prof is an extremely challenging professor, but she is also the most willing to help you. I greatly appreciate that because it helps and makes her a great professor.”
      ·         “connecting what we were learning with real life examples”
      ·         “that Prof did not just allow us to memorize definitions but she actually made us learn the material. I personally struggled in the class not because Prof was a bad teacher but because she was an excellent teacher that challenges her students”
      ·         “I learned a lot from her style of teaching, esp w/ her sense of humor”
      ·         “demonstrative  activities that allowed us to go a little deeper than the PowerPoints in class”
      ·         “This text was the first textbook I’ve read cover to cover. Your scientific knowledge combined with the text and subject matter make this class very interesting and thought provoking”

      Comments such as these are evidence that I am reaching my goals to create a learning environment which is simultaneously challenging and supportive.  I use many demonstrations and analogies relevant to students’ lives to explain complex concepts, and the students seem to appreciate it.

      I also included my "how I integrate faith in the classroom" paper here. It was 5 pages long with 7 citations including heavy reference from David I Smith (Calvin College) and Nancey Murphy (Fuller Theological Seminary) 
      The theme was embodiment. 

      More soon.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

CRAP! A two-body problem problem I never imagined.

Hub and I are in the same field. We go to the same meetings. When we go to out of town meetings, how do we take care of the kids? For an upcoming meeting, I was taking for granted that we would use the meeting-provided daycare and stay together as a family in a hotel. You can get morning, afternoon or all-day slots for your kids, therefore we must figure out our itineraries to determine when we can tag-team and when we will need to hire coverage. If we choose to put both kids in the meeting-provided daycare, for all day, that is
2 kids * $100 * 4 days, or $800!!!!
If we can put them in half-day, by tag-teaming then its
2*$55*4= $440.
Still very expensive out of our pockets. And probably very exhausting to be both babysitting and meeting all day.

The options I see now are 1. Tag-team the meeting. Pay the $440. In the case there is a conflict, keep equity as to who has to sacrifice a session. 2. Leave the kids at home and ask the exchange student to stay alone with them for 4 days (compensated, of course). 3. Fly in the single underemployed Uncle who has very little child care experience.

Can you help me think of other options?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Tenure App countdown- 4 days

See here and here for more about my upcoming bid for tenure.

I need to:
  1. Update my CV
  2. Arrange for two colleagues to sit in on a class and evaluate your teaching. I did, they haven't visited yet, though
  3. Find my statement of faith and revise at applicant's discretion.This is an essay I wrote during the hiring process to see if I was a good "institutional fit", aka one of their denomination or somebody who doesn't thoroughly disagree with it. Not revising; too low on priority list.
  4. Include my annual progress reports from the last three years. We have to write a "Did I meet last years' goals? What are this year's goals?" report every spring. I have only found two, had to embarrassingly ask the Provost's office to scan the third. I must have saved over it in using it for the following years' update.
  5. Finish my "How I include my faith in my teaching" paper (UGH)
  6. Collate all of my course evaluation summaries. What a hassle! They're all paper except for the last year. So that's six courses a year, three sections for some of those courses, and six years of courses... I'll need to photocopy (or delegate) all of those. Update; a work-study student did it for me in about 20 minutes.
  7. Rank myself and justify my rank on a rather squishy scale from incompetent to outstanding. This is tricky, since you don't want to shoot too low, but your colleagues must also review your rank and agree or disagree to it, so you can't be arrogant.
  8. Write a cover letter
  9. Accumulate any supporting evidence at my discretion, such as syllabi, pubs, letters of recommendation, etc. We'll see what I have time for.
My goal is do do the best I can with what I've got (energy-wise) in the time I have. And be satisfied with what I hand the evaluation committee. I may have mentioned this before, but I'm not afraid to lose my job (see this article about tenure at a PUI), but I do not want to negatively impress my colleagues, the dean or the provost.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fatalism Epiphany

Please see here and here for backstory. I am trying to triage the help I give to floundering students because I need to know for whom my help will be effective and for whom my efforts will be wasted. I don't want to give up on anyone, but this work must be personally sustainable.

Wednesday was the students' first exam. I busted butt and got the exams graded and back to them on Thursday, their lab day. During lab, I noticed that the students whose grades were the worst on the exams had turned in the worst work on the labs. No surprise there. I also noticed that of all the students who were doing poorly before the exam but were able to pull their scores up after my warning had a qualitative difference in the details of their lab work. If you asked a student who didn't improve their score, "Why is the sky blue?" they will answer, "Because it is blue", which will get them a poor score in lab.  A student who could at least answer, "That's the color of the light coming through", would still get a poor score, but would be trainable to learn more in depth --- that "the atmosphere filters all colors of light except around 470 nm, which enters your eye and strikes your retina where it is converted into neural impulses that is perceived by your brain as blue", which is the expectation for a good grade.

This is my new working hypothesis; that students who can do the lab write ups (which are open book) to a minimum degree are trainable, but that if they are failing the lab write-ups, AND they avoid my help otherwise, I cannot spend enough effort to rescue them from their own failure. I know that in the large state school where I got my undergrad, there would be no such discussion because there would not be any "chasing" of the struggling student by the Prof. But here I do a little. The standards are very high to pass, but the support is there for students who want it. Not all students want it, and the students who need it the most are unwilling to seek it. I want those non-seeker students to succeed too, despite their fears or background. But you simply can't do it for them.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Your reading assignment

For discussion soon:
Small School Science (published in Nature Jobs)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fatalism Followup

This is a follow up to this post in which I e-mailed students in grade trouble in my freshman level course. Several of the students I e-mailed "snapped-to" and showed up to office hours, signed up for tutors, and asked for study tips. That was rewarding. I paid special attention to one of the students I did not hear back from in lab. Though I did not explicitly address her by saying " Did you get my e-mail?", I sat down with her and directly but kindly offered her a critique of the work she was doing at that moment, saying she could improve her grade by doing such, and this, and adding more detail right here. She basically said "mmn, hmm, sure, whatever". And made no changes at all.

You hear these stories about students who achieve despite difficult circumstances because "they had a teacher that believed in them". The weighs on my mind though the easy route would be to classify this student as "uncorrectable". I am especially concerned because she is of the demographic that has poorer outcomes in college and I want to lessen the achievement gap in my own tiny little way. So I don't want to "give up on her" but the practicality of the matter is that I have limited time, and those who ask for my time will get it. I won't be able to chase the students who don't come to me. I really am rooting for her, but she'll have to do it on her own.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fatalism Denied (sort of)

I just did something I've never done before: I sent notes to students and their advisers (separately) if they were getting a D or F in my class after a couple of quizzes and labs.

These are mostly Freshmen. There are students out there who have no clue what college demands of them, and if caught in time, can turn things around, although those students aren't the majority.

From my own life, I know several things; 1. The lies we tell ourselves about our own performance can be whoppers indeed. 2. We have far less power to change our own behavior than we think (and what our American culture tells us).

I hope that my intervention can help dispel 1. For number 2, I feel pretty hopeless sometimes, about myself and my students. Kinda fatalistic, I guess. If you've got great behavior-changing power, please e-mail me and tell me how you do it!!!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Wish I could be that guy that half-asses the stuff of little consequence.

I'm on a committee that evaluates the results of intramural grants given for scholarship. At the end of my colleagues' grant, they must submit a report. I just read one that had about 6 sentences in it. I guess he fulfilled his obligation to submit a report and didn't waste a second on it. Clearly he didn't take the report seriously becuase he assumed (probably correctly) that there will be little consequence for his uber-succinctness. Wish I could do that.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Lettin' Em Have it at the Daycare

Went to pick up Boy and Girl at their day care. Boy was delighted to see me, but was really involved in the book that was being read. So I went to get girl, and came back. I sat and listened to the (new) teacher read a book about germs, and at a point she stopped and asked her audience of 4 girls and one boy, "Have you ever been to the doctor? Did he give you shots? Did he give you medicine?"

A little girl said, "My doctor is a girl"
Teacher said, "No, that was probably the nurse. If its a girl, its the nurse."
Perhaps the teacher realized suddenly her error, or perhaps she heard my sharp inhale. Then she said, "I guess some doctors are girls".
The story ended and we started to walk out. I probably still had a stunned look on my face, because one of the staff asked if I was ok.
"Well, no, I just heard something I really don't like." and I relayed the story.

In the middle of my story, out walked the teacher on her way home. I was caught mid-sentence and it was clear what was going on. I could either hush, or give her my thoughts to her face.
I chose the latter. With a smile, and a kind touch on her shoulder I said, "I was just relating to her the story about the doctor." At this point she jumped in and vigorously defended herself and her version of the story had a lot of emphasis on her correction. Then Boy walked out of the office into the parking lot which required a quick run and grab from me. Story over.

But actually I'm still steamin' about it, and am very anxious to give her more of my opinion, and introduce myself as doctor Prof. And to ed-u-mi-cate her. I knew that when I changed day cares, I gave up a little quality educationally, but I didn't think it was significant. Now I realize what a huge difference it makes to have college-educated caregivers as opposed to uneducated ones, even if the curricula were exactly alike. The huge difference doesn't come form a single tangible thing, but tons and tons of small ones.

9-12-3-6 in, 9-12-3-6 out

Night in- night out, Girl (1 yo) still wakes up several times in the middle of the night. It was a rock-solid schedule of wake-ups at 9p, 12a, 3a and up for good at 6a before we went on vacation at the end of July. The schedule has wobbled a bit since then, especially since we moved the kids together into one room to accommodate our exchange student (more here). But last night was another nearly on-the-dot 9-12-3-6.

This has been tough in the past, see here and here. Realizing that I have had 3 nights in which I slept 8 hours uninterrupted in an entire year (or more) was discouraging. But what was really discouraging was that I haven't really had more than three hours at a time for the same period.
And I NEED sleep.
And its not getting better.
And she's a YEAR OLD!
I reported here a blissful night where Girl slept all the way through. And seemed hopeful here. It was not to last, though, and in retrospect it felt like hitting the lottery, probably becuase the chances of it happening are equivalent! AUGH!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Dopamine shot to my reward pathways

Dear PUIProf;

Blah blah about finding resources for class

"Also, on a different note.  I just wanted to say thank you for being so willing to help us and for your enthusiasm about the subject matter.  Your involvement and excitement make it much easier to understand and be apart of the class."


Keeping Young

This morning I got dressed and put a scarf on. I thought, how should I tie this scarf? My MO is to tie a scarf like I learned in the 80's, but today I remembered that many of the students are wearing scarves and they tie them in a circle with the ends hanging down symmetrically in the front. So that's how I did it.

Who knows how many little behaviors of mine are influenced by being around 18-24 year olds all day. Luckily I haven't, like, picked up the "like" interjection.  Otherwise I hope the students' influence serves to keep me "young".

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I saw that coming update

Read the previous post first. The animal perished. And though Stula seemed upset, she didn't apologize. She said "That's unfortunate that it happened" So either Stula didn't do it herself OR she has some interesting ideas about apologies or guilt or fault. Fine, there are a lot of worldviews that are acceptable to me. Hopefully it will come out soon what she is thinking. I won't push it now, but at a more comfortable time perhaps.

Addendum; Sept 8. Stula didn't do it, her partner did. No funky things about apolgies or guilt, just trying not to obviously point the finger.

Monday, September 5, 2011

I saw that coming

New semester equals a new batch of research students. This semester I have an "old pro" (my excellent student from the summer) in place to teach the new students the techniques. I have never seen it happen, but there is a point in our surgery in which one could mix up two bottles; one of which is meant for the animal, and the other which will seriously harm it. I wrote in the protocol, hanging above the surgery table, MOVE "BAD" BOTTLE TO OTHER BENCH WHEN FINISHED WITH IT, because mixing the two bottles up seems like something I could do. I have never mixed them up. No one in my post-doc ever did, none of my previous research students have ever mixed them up- until today.

On her very first surgery, one of my new students did. I think the animal may be seriously harmed, but we will observe the animal overnight and euthanize if necessary. Stula seemed quite upset. I told her that yes, the animal was probably hurt, and we could have prevented this. I think she feels very bad and does not need a rough time from me for it. I hope this does not portend the rest of the semester...

Faculty Congress

Somehow I got elected to be on the faculty congress, which is only a few years old.  The first meeting of the year was today. The thing that amazes me is that the faculty went so long without any representational form of governance. Apparently all decisions were made at the administrative level or with the ENTIRE faculty involved. Wow.

The second thing I find amazing is that it has really NO power, but everyone buys into it. Apparently the administration does listen to the issues brought up by the congress, but the congress cannot override any decisions that the administration makes that go against the faculty congress' recommendations.  

Some issues we are tackling
  • get REAL tenure (with review) see here
    • not stating "tenure track" on job ads eliminates good candidates
    • not having a "tenure track position" makes it harder to apply for certain grants 
  • make explicit grievance procedures in the case faculty are let go
    • policies for faculty personally fired
    • policies for faculty grievance in the case of serious institutional financial hardship
  • try to get resources for more scholarship (time and money)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Keeping the pebbles down

This year, I am willing to accept that all I need is 45min-1hour uninterrupted time before each class to prep. And that's all I'm giving it. Sub-ideal, but passable and temporary. What I DO have to do is make sure that I make all uploads and other arrangements intermediately after classes as promised to keep my to-do list down. All the tiny little promises I make (usually starting with, "I'll check into that") turn into"burden pebbles" that can get very very heavy with a sufficient number.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Interdepartmental conflict blowup surprise

I advise a lot of pre-health science majors. Today was advising, and I was sitting with a pre-med freshman who wanted to double major in music. We've had people do this successfully but there are a lot of conflicts in the schedule. This year, our foundational first year class for our majors and their foundational first year class for music majors were scheduled at the same time. By foundational I mean a pre-req for nearly everything else. As in, if you don't take it this semester, you won't take your MCATs in time to matriculate into med school after you graduate.

I tried to convince Stu that they can do the double major if they decide to do a "gap year", take a year in between graduation and med school. Stu looked at me like a deer in headlights. Then I thought, I'll just go over to Music's advising table with Stu and try to work this out.


Apparently I found a music faculty who must have a huge beef with our department, completely unbeknownst to me. I asked basics about which of the music courses could be put off and what her options were as far as delaying which courses, etc. Next thing I know, the music faculty lets it rip.

"Stu can't put that course off, its absolutely required for all other music courses!" And then 3 minutes about you couldn't possibly learn to read without learning the alphabet first. I joked and said "Too bad Studette isn't here, she did this successfully", still in a friendly tone, as I was not yet upset. "Studette did it because she never showed up to class. She had to learn everything on her own. You wouldn't just unlock a laboratory and tell Studette to go in there and do it by herself!" And more about specifics of what she will learn in what class an how that class depends on the class I'm trying to get Stu to delay. All in the tone of "How dare you propose that she doesn't do this properly."

OK, now I'm upset, not only because she is ranting, but because she is doing so in front of this poor freshman, and moreover referring to Stu in the third person as if they aren't even there.

I got quietly more and more upset because there was no discussing with this faculty member, and mostly because this was entirely inappropriate. I warmly looked the student in the eye and said, I'll be right back, and got the hell out of there for a few minutes, letting Stu talk to her alone (yup, I'm a conflict avoider). I went back to my advising table to take on a different student giving myself a two minute break. I thought, I'll settle down for a bit, and go back and check on Stu.

Stu 2 sits down in front of me and says "Hi. I want to double major in pre-med and music."
*THUNK* I drop my forehead directly on the table.

Conflict redux

I am determined from now on out to simply ask the Music/ Pre-Med double major wannabes a question, "Do you want to be a doctor that is good at music? Or do you want to go for concert pianist and fall back to medicine if you don't get a break?" This will help them prioritize accordingly. I have a feeling that many will choose the former.
If the music department loses 3-4 majors a year because pre-med is discouraging them from majoring also in music, they might notice. Perhaps they would like to cooperate with us more then.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Put another strike in the "way too casual first interaction with your prof" column

Hello [mangled first name],

So like I am in your class and I ordered my textbook and I got it today and supposedly its an international edition and it has a pic of a [object] on it but its the Xth edition and its by [Same Authors].  Will this book work?

--Stu Student

Let me add; I find these annoying, on occasion amusing, but completely inconsequential. After I read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, especially the section about Chris Langen, I try to treat all of my students as if they are budding geniuses, savvy or not.

Syllabi Specifics.

When I first started teaching, when making syllabi, a left a lot of things vague. I was under the impression that it was unnecessary to list everything we were going to do at every moment. In my mind, this would allow some flexibility for the class to pursue its own interests. I also was confident in my ability to "wing it" and make unplanned details work. I realize now that it was more of my weakness as a thorough planner.

The syllabus should contain some flexibility, of course, but what its purpose really is (to me, now) is to make sure that I have a solid enough of a plan that any "winging it" or departures will take place at a much higher level that transcends the basic foundations of the course. It also forces me, against my nature, to plan details MONTHS ahead. I draw comfort now in having it all in place. 

One area that a syllabus should not be overly detailed (IMHO) is in the risk management and consequences section. I had a colleague that would basically use her syllabus to forbid- in writing- all of the things she found annoying the last time she taught the course. Yes, you need to have sections about academic integrity, but surely you can refer the reader to another place where the policy is written in detail. Please don't elaborate how students should NOT write in their lab notebooks.

Addendum; On the first day of class I explain to the students that this is not a packet of information that they can find elsewhere, but that it is a contract between me and them. If I say I'm grading you on this, I cannot add assignments. Also if we have an exam on this day, that day is when we have it. I am obliged to you to do this, and this, and this... and you have the following ways that you will be assessed with no surprises.

Almost lost the "lottery"

I knew it was risky taking on a exchange student, but decided to "buy a lottery ticket" by inviting one to stay with us. As posted here, she's enjoyable, mature, loves the kids, adaptable, and independent. She has been very helpful and has relieved my burden a lot. I think we may have won the "lottery".
However, we came very close to losing. Our student hangs around a lot with another girl from the same program who speaks her language. This other girl is high maintenance, demanding, already homesick (day 5), and disappointed with her living situation. Thanks Lord, is all I can say.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Faculty Search

We are starting a graduate program. For this, we will need to distribute the graduate load among the current faculty and hire a new full-time person. We are a department of 8-9 and are therefore all generalists, by necessity. I found it quite humorous today when discussing how we are going to advertise this position.
"We need somebody biomedical."
"Probably an infectious disease person, yeah."
"A real live microbiologist, as opposed to someone who uses microbiology as a tool  for other questions." "Especially someone who studies disease transmission particularly in humans, not just a cell biologist."
"Yes, but we also need someone who is doing quantitative work, since the MCAT will change soon to be more about quantitative methods."
"And we need someone who can teach our anatomy and physiology courses."
"Yes definitely. And Developmental Biology"
"You folks mean we need a human developmental microbioinformatoanatomist?"
"Sure. And they need to be Christian, too."
"Hey, the job market is really poor right now. We might find one!"

Friday, August 19, 2011

Lookin' good so far

We had faculty staff conference recently, SO much to blog about, but too big a' task for now. Can quickly report that our exchange student has arrived and
1. She speaks very little English
2. She speaks another language we have in common well, so no problem
3. She loves the kids and they love her
4. She pitches right in and and has ALREADY been very helpful. I haven't done any dishes since she has arrived.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Useful for Newbies- Textbooks

It's that time of year again, syllabus making time. It also involves me making calls to my textbook reps to get any final desk copies and ancillary materials. So if you are new to teaching I would make this suggestion:

When you choose a textbook, get to know your rep. They often will make themselves known to you, and will show you all of your options as far as custom books, e-books, online materials, online courses etc.

Textbook reps are to professors as drug reps are to physicians. You'll be showered with attention from them especially if you alone choose the books for your course. You will get free samples (trial copies) and ancillary materials in an effort for you to choose to "adopt" the text and require the students to pay up to $300 for a hardback copy. I had a colleague say once, "I haven't paid for a text since I became a professor".

The ancillary materials are my favorite. I just love getting a folder of CDs that has all the PowerPoint lectures for every chapter together with quizzes, game shows, clicker questions, and test banks. I actually rarely modify the PowerPoints for my introductory courses according to my unresearched hunch that seeing the same figure on the screen and the book helps the students retain the info. Other colleagues spend hours modifying or making new the PowerPoints (or God forbid, not using them ;-) ). Advanced courses are different. Would love to hear your opinion on that.

Of course, at the end of the year, the textbook buyers come around and you could sell your trial copy to them for up to $100. You could even ask your rep for another one the next year. I don't feel right about that and I don't. (I also hope there isn't a parallel here with the drug reps!)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Talk with the boss about the future

I did not blog about a very significant talk I had with the department chair this spring. I revealed to him that I had terrible semester (a total shock to him), and that I just can't keep going as status quo. It felt like a very long blog post, so I put it off, but there you have it in a nutshell.

In that talk I told him that I will fulfill all of my current obligations, but that next year ('12-13), I HAVE to go half time to survive. Today he stopped in to check on me since he was planning for a faculty search next semester (for other reasons). We laughed about the timing; ask me in the Spring, I want to be half-time. Ask me toward the end of summer, I can handle three-quarter or full- time. But after the laughing, I told him that I probably COULD do three-quarter time, and that it was important since I wanted to go on sabbatical soon.

So, a slight load reduction, but no drastic changes for next year.

Brief freakout wrt exchange student.

In yesterday's post I reveal that we are getting an exchange student (despite your advice), and this is a problem because we are already doing more work than I had imagined would be required. I received an e-mail informing me that the students will be ready for pick-up between 8-8 on a day next week from a location 4 HOURS AWAY. In my calculation of effort vs reward, the transportation of the students from their orientation to our homes would be the responsibility of the program, not the host families. It was unclear in all of the communications. I can't drive 8 hours on a weekday when Hub is gone to get this student. FREAKOUT!

I'm pretty pleased with what happened next. I just opened the address list. The program had the families and employers linked with the name of the exchange student. I recognized 3 families/employers in the area. So I sent them a mail asking if anyone could bring our exchange student back when they picked up theirs. Whew. Back to calm.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Satisfaction in the Lab

Two students working this summer. Both junior/ seniors. Both otherwise unemployed. Spent the first 6 weeks in the lab troubleshooting and figured out what was wrong- ALL the lab animals. Now suddenly that our problem is solved, in the course of two weeks the data have come screaming in! YAHOO!!!! All spring wasted, but summer brings satisfaction. Now I have an entirely new set of 5-6 graphs in preparation. So happy and proud... Kudos, Stud-os.

Scientific Graphing Software- help?

I had Origin 6.0 all through grad school, dragged it to my post-doc lab on my laptop, and now my laptop is over, done. To buy Origin 8.5 for a single user license is $500. Ouch!! on my lab budget. I am looking at Graph Pad Prism ($450), and Kaleidagraph ($140, but can only be installed on ONE computer). I need it for graphing and fitting dose-response curves. Bringing traces in from pClamp seamlessly is a huge bonus, and why I started with Origin.

Do you know of any cheaper or open-source alternatives?  What do you use? Do you have opinions and suggestions?

I didn't listen to you. Now I pay.

A while back I was considering hosting an exchange student. See here. The responses from readers, for which I am grateful, were strongly "No". However, my friends' responses were overwhelmingly "Yes". We decided to say "Yes" to hosting the student, still holding out the hope that this person will make evenings in our home easier and the environment richer for my children (and us).

I spent at least 2 hours yesterday filling out the application to be a host family and finding references to vouch for us. This is despite the fact that our hosting is already a "done deal". The organization needs this application for their records. So there was a good chunk of unnecessary work right there. You can't say you didn't warn me...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


What happened to my template!?!? Ok, fixed it.

Power to choose speakers

Been on vacation. Was nice.

The year's science speaker series has been just released. Every year we have a special speaker on a Saturday morning for Homecoming festivities, and my colleague who sets up the series tries to find the best speaker for this day.

Because of its prominence, the Donor Relations department has been weighing in on choosing the Homecoming speaker lately. In a heavy-handed way sometimes, I hear. The speaker used to be an alum or alumna of whom we were particularly proud, now this person is a potential donor. Sometimes the two overlap, of course, but sometimes they do not. We had a Donor-Relations-pushed speaker a few years back that gave a really terrible talk. I think the department now eyes suspiciously the speakers that DR suggests, but we are pretty much powerless in the decision-making process.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Let 'em be, or shred 'em up?

I am on a committee that writes recommendation letters for students. The committee letter is so valuable to the system because it protects students from getting an single off-handed (but dooming) comment from a single prof. It also protects them from getting a letter from a prof that may be unfair or biased. It protects profs from writing a bad letter because of a insgle negative interaction with the student, and tempers the "favorite student" superlatives. Three profs writing a recc is a good number. It has all the advantages of having three reviewers on your paper but without the "third reviewer" veto power. We assign a primary writer then the secondary writers are to add their perspective and edit the work of the primary author. There are two ways to look at the editing role.

1. Make sure that doc is perfect in every way. This is in analogy to the way that co-authors of manuscripts will pick over comma and dash placement until everyone feels that the document is pristine. I call this the "shred 'em up" perspective. Advantages to this are that every letter that goes to a professional school is near perfect and that every document will reflect well on the institution. When you say she is an excellent student and we have a very rigorous program, then readers take you more seriously for the latter part of that statement. Big disadvantages are that this takes far more time than we really have to devote to it and it is politically fraught. I would love to shred some of my colleagues writing. They can make some pretty obtuse statements, among other things. I really don;t want to piss off my potential tenure committee and give the impression of being nit-picky. (BTW, the casual blog writing does not reflect my professional writing, just in case that thought passed into your head).

2. Trust your colleagues, and give them slack I call this the let 'em be philosophy. Quickest, kindest, least likely to piss of your tenure committee. I analogize this to how you may suggest revisions to your student's CV. You must not make it perfect for them, that's their job. You just may point out areas of unclarity. And if they send it out with mistakes, that's their problem.

Depending on how much time I have, I probably end up about half- way between these two philosophies. Today I just insisted that a colleague take out a sentence in which she said in effect, "this student is poor so she worked extra hard and took an accelerated schedule to save tuition." Huge GONG! from this corner. I tried to steer a colleague away from the "grind" language in which a work ethic is over emphasized to the point that it gives the impression that the student is not talented. But I also let go some adverbs that were repeated within two sentences of each other and some awkward phrasing.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Workin' It, Anti-feminist style.

I have something I'm ashamed of to admit to you. OK, ashamed is far too strong a word, but please, read on...the first part of the story is why I had to tackle this project alone and the second explains the __?___ I made to get help.

We are having new siding put on our house. To prep for new siding a lot of important but back-burner home improvement projects needed to be done. For example, we had to have replacement windows installed plus a bunch of other smaller things. This week, the "siding guys" told me that the "gutter guys" would be here and that if I wanted a diverter for my rain barrel installed by professionals, I needed to have the rain barrel in place. The rain barrel was purchased with good intentions a year ago, but due to project paralysis*, it has been sitting in the back yard uninstalled. What was holding up the rain barrel project was a rain barrel base**. Well, guess what? Today the gutter guys arrived. That meant I needed to get a rain barrel base ready in a hurry.

I did some quick back-of-the-napkin calculations and on the way back from day-care drop-offs went to the local hardware store and bought a bunch of masonry block. The staff loaded it for me in the back of my Golf hatchback (!).  When I got home, I realized that getting this block out of my car and uphill to my back yard was going to be very, very hard. I used to be pretty strong, but the two children I have borne have wrecked my abs, at least temporarily. This stuff was really too heavy for me, but I was going to do it, even if I had to lug each one very slowly around the back.

Enter the "gutter guys". On one of my return trips around the corner I encountered the foreman carrying two of the masonry blocks. Clearly this guy wanted to help the "damsel in distress". OK, let's stop here. I did not ask him to help. This is a small town with a big sense of community, and people help strangers out all the time. I did not mind that this guy wanted to help me carry masonry. How nice. I thanked him for his help after the car was empty, making it clear that I expected no more help from him.

He helped me place the stone in place (something that would have taken me alone a VERY long time). The back-of-the-napkin calculations I made were not the most efficient plans once I saw  them in place. He was very interested in helping me solve the problem of how to build the rain barrel base. Now, I didn't know what task I was diverting him from, but I was willing to listen to his professional advice. Then it became clear that he wanted to help me rearrange the block. We rearranged the blocks and rearranged the blocks until a good solution was achieved. The he carried the extra block we didn't use back to the car to be returned to the hardware store. I can see that having the rain barrel actually in place would help him decide if he needed to install any more parts in my rain barrel diverter. But I also got the feeling that he was going above and beyond the call of neighbor helping neighbor.

At a certain place in the conversation he asked, "So where's your husband?" I found the question a bit creepy but answered in an incompletely truthful manner that made it seem that he was on his way home that moment from out-of-town (the truth, just tomorrow morning). He treated me in conversation as if I were a housewife and that I was doing the project to make a pretty little garden (well, yes, I am), and since I was the little gardening lady without a helpful husband in town, that I needed some help (partly true). I answered truthfully to his questions but never volunteered more. He asked what my husband did, and I replied that he is a scientist but did not mention that I am, too. I also did not mention that I am a professor on summer vacation (i.e. someone who gets to do pretty-little-garden projects whenever she darn well pleases, and isn't "working for a living" right now). 

The help he offered was invaluable. If I would have volunteered more personal information to this stranger I would have felt less safe, but I would have also communicated to him that I was not as "damsel-in-distress-y" as he might have imagined. But then again, it might not have made any difference. I did need the help right then when he was there. He saved me probably hours of work and a few mistakes.Alternatively, we could have made a rough estimate with the material we had, he could have put the gutter in place, and Hub and I could have finished the job this weekend.

So readers, what think ye? Did I accept the kind help of a stranger offered freely and guard my personal information judiciously, or did I selectively not disclose my status in order not to risk help that may have been offered under false pretenses, in effect "batting my eyelashes"? Or, meh, you worry too much , PUIProf!


* project paralysis; the imagination that a project is too big to tackle or too far beyond our skills, and avioding it subconsciously as opposed to informing ourselves, gathering resources, starting, and completing to the best of our abilities

** rain barrel base paralysis; this needs to be about two feet high, hold 500 pounds, and not tip over if climbed on by naughty children. Web info suggests post holes and concrete (eek!) or three layers of ground base, landscaping stone and concrete (gasp!) and probably a strap anchored into the stonework around the house (*faint*).

Friday, July 8, 2011

More Science Camp Reporting

Science camp concludes at our institution today. My last group was good in general, with a caveat. It had a group of guys who sat in the front who were pre-community college students. They were pretty rough in appearance and language, and I have to be honest that I didn't expect that much from them. They goofed around during our experiments and were messing with equipment which wasn't to be used at that time. After a bit I realized that they weren't just "goofing off", they were going on curiosity- based rabbit trails. They were investigating creatively the concepts I had introduced to them. I told them (without blowing sunshine, 'cause I DON'T do that) that I really enjoyed working with them because of their curiosity.

It also "fell to me" (to paraphrase a foreign expression) today that I had gotten used to teaching a relatively homogenous group of students, and that for that reason I appreciated being exposed to the other students in this program. To become a better teacher, I need to learn to meet students where they are, and to have more "ares" than I do, on both ends of the range.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Toxic Lab Group; Intervene

It Summer Science Camp again, so I have had mixed groups of about 12 pre-freshman from all the institutions in the area to do a lab. I wrote about this last summer and must say that I found the institutional differences again.

But in this case I was wondering what your thoughts were as to how much a prof/ teacher is to intervene when lab groups aren't working well together.

My example from yesterday is as follows:
Group D entered and arranged themselves in the chairs and lab benches. After an intro they were asked to divide themselves into small groups or 2 or 3. In a front corner were two individuals who did not get included in any other groups. The young man, "Stu" was by appearance unattractive, socially awkward, and had some pretty "icky" habits, such as grabbing his crotch from front and back regularly. I overheard his potential partner, "Sue", an otherwise unremarkable young woman say to me and him that she would rather work alone. As we did not have enough equipment for any student to work alone, I suggested that, no, they really needed to work together, please (Intervention 1).

The lab involved something that is shared between the students' mouths and so each student was given a mouthpiece of their own. Stu set his mouthpiece down on the bench by Sue's place, and it was covered with saliva (OK, a LOT) and left a samll pool of saliva on her bench. Sue looked at me and him and declared in a loud voice, "There is SLOBBER" and then everything halted until I came to intervene with a simple paper towel wipe and alcohol spray. I assured Stu and Sue that this was no big deal, and just keep plugging along, everything is fine. (Intervention 2) As the minutes went by, Sue's body language became more and more hostile, and everything on their bench would stop as she requested more and more assistance from me to intervene with equipment and instructions instead of trying to work it out together. At one point she said "Is it normal for him to suck this bad?!?" referring to the low readings he was getting. I looked at her in the eye and said, "That's just mean."

After about 30 minutes, she stopped acknowledging his presence, tuning her back to him completely even though the equipment was in from of him, trying to do as much of the lab as she could alone. When she was snippy with me asking for help with instructions of the next step, I said, "I'll be right back".

 At this point I found the director of her program and reported that I had someone who was just miserable in the lab and was making everyone else miserable around her. The director said to send her to her office, and so I did (Intervention 3). I actually sent her away out of lab. I've never had to do that before.

I'm a little shook up by the whole incident, and ask you,

Should I have made those two work together in the first place (Int. 1)? I didn't know their history, they ma have had issues before they walked into the lab. On the other hand, the other groups were settled and it would have been a big deal (shaming for him?) to rearrange other groups to accommodate her request. On the other hand, I can see where she was coming from if she found him repulsive, BUT I assumed that "adults" could work together in a professional manner in a lab setting despite these things.

Should I have stopped everything I was doing to clean up after his mess because she was paralyzed by the body fluids on her bench (Int 2)? I do feel it is my job to look after the safety of the students and typically will glove up and take care of these things. But my perception was that part of her motivation was to get out of the pairing and/or to embarrass him. She may have been just very angry and lashed out in that manner.

Should I have removed her from the situation (Int 3)? I did not personally tell her to go take a walk. I might have done this if she were one of my regular students that I had a relationship with. Instead, I sent her to her Director. Was this cowardly? Did I just lose my temper and not try to find a more creative solution? Was I projecting my feelings of empathy with the "outsider"/ tried to protect him and therefore became too impatient with her too quickly? Was I not giving him a chance to defend himself? His reactions varied between being self-deprecating and agreeing with her to taking it seemingly in stride. Should I have just let them work it out?

Have you every kicked anyone out of your lab or class for attitude/ unprofessional behavior? What were your thoughts?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Answer to PLS

In case you don't read The Spandrel Shop, go there. PLS asks about undergrad research. My answer to him:

Undergrads are the sole source of labor for my lab, and my teaching load is such that I simply don't have the capacity to do a lot of hand-holding. I need students that can be shown once or twice and that's it.  I have had a wide variety of students but they seem to fall into three categories:
1. Really excellent students. Typically juniors that have done well in their physics and molecular biology class and have the ideas behind our techniques down pat. They are well organized and can work independently, and do so, making the right decisions in vague situations.
2. Students I get too early. I had a student recently that I had to spend 30 minutes showing them how to pH a solution and how to use a pipettor properly. Moreover, they just want to know the sequence of how to do the technique and are concerned about getting the "right" answer. These are sophomores typically.
3. Overinvolved students. These students are in a bunch of clubs and activities. They may have the skills and knowledge necessary but lack the blocks of time needed to devote to the experiments. They shortcut or leave great cells behind to go to their band practice or whatnot.

We have a research requirement, so students typically approach me during enrollment period to work in my lab for credit. I'd love to pay them by the hour I often take more than I can pay proper attention to, so sometimes my research students are "given enough rope to hang themselves with".

Monday, July 4, 2011

Emotional Turf

Last night hub stormed in the bedroom at about 10pm, and threw piles of folded clothes from the bed to the floor. He had put the piles of clothes on the bed after folding them, mostly on his side, but also on mine. I had taken the piles from my side and slipped them over to his side so I could cuddle down into bed.

Apparently what upset him was that the clothes on his bed were evidence that I had started thinking of his side of the bed as storage as opposed to HIS PLACE in OUR bed. Well, uh, yes. There's truth to that, I guess. Seems like we don't have everything figured out for this commuter marriage yet.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Need your opinion; exchange student?

Thanks to all my loyal reader(s). For anyone new, I have had a terrible semester working full time and taking care of my 2 under 2 in the evenings. See here, here and here. Someone approached me recently with a proposition; they are looking for a home for an exchange student, and we live very close to where this student would be employed as a language assistant.

This student showed a definite interest in working with pre-school children. The program they are on encourages them to look for side jobs, such as babysitting. The families receive a $250 stipend. When I was growing up, my family hosted 6 exchange students, basically through all of my teenage years. I love showing hospitality, and it is deeply ingrained in MY family (Hub not so much, but he is not opposed to the idea).

Here's my very first thought, Oh, Lord! I can't take on a single new commitment. But then I started realizing that this might be a grand opportunity to improve things.

Advantages to hosting this student;

1. Extra help around the house in the evenings. If we could pay her back part of the stipend she came with at a very decent rate ($10/hour) we could potentially have some great help. She could be someone to stay home with the sleeping kids when I wanted to go to the gym, or watch the other when one was in music lessons, or even cook a meal or do the dishes. Some of this would be expected as a part of the family, of course, but other times we could compensate her at no cost to us to do the thing we normally hassle about finding babysitters for.

2. Companionship! As I look back on my few posts when I was feeling bad, part of what I was feeling terrible about was lonesome-ness (see lonely vs lonesome). Simply having another semi-adult around would probably be very nice for me, and would keep me from several bad habits I engage in when alone.

3. Someone to speak a foreign language around my kids. I'd love to have another language spoken in my home, especially from a native speaker.

4. Expanding myself by meeting someone from a different culture as mine. I have lived overseas in different countries for several years so I understand both the host family role and the guest role. I love to learn new things and expand my world. It's never too early for your kids to get a bigger picture of the world, too. Right? Hub would really benefit, too, IMO.

5. The ability to extend hospitality. I am fulfilled by this.

6. Expansion of my social circles. I'm certain through her I will get to know acquaintances better, and learn new acquaintances.

7. The stipend. A very minor part of the decision, but will allow my to hire her or someone else to help us more. Or include her in travel plans, etc.


1. ANY extra burden she brings that is not offset by otherwise lightened burdened is beyond my capacity. Even if she were very easy to host, but we were expected to, say, go to meetings, or drive her a lot of places, it would be very very hard on me. We do have good community here that could potentially help her in transportation, social events, etc.. But I just can't can't can't take on anything else.

2. She may not be interested in being our semi-nanny. Her application makes it clear she loves and wants to work with pre-schoolers. But that's no guarantee that she will want to provide the kind of "coverage" I'm hoping for. I do expect that she will carry her load around the house, as that is just part of being in a family. She may, for instance, find a very rich social life and a tight community and not want to hang around here too much. Blessings to her for that, but it doesn't accomplish what I was hoping for in above ads #1 and 2.

When my family were hosting exchange students back in the day, one came to us because his host father considered him to be imported labor. Now, I certainly would have no intention of abusing our guest as a helper, but I have to be honest and say that she is being considered due to her potential helpful contribution.

3. She may not be easy to get along with. She may need a lot of support. Some drama and excitement and normal back and forth of "being family" is expected. But if she has a heavy personality, it could weigh on us in a negative way. By saying no, then I have my own drama to deal with and no more. She has done several other international exchanges (one to a country that I speak the language). This argues against potential serious cross-cultural difficulties. But her English is not rated very high.

4. We will have to rearrange everyone's rooms to host her. This could be two weekends of pretty serious work, not including the painting and curtain/bedding/sweet details- shopping that I really dream of doing. Our home is not as luxurious as all of our friends', and upon first hearing the proposition, I thought, not OUR house. But I got over that. Our house is just fine by EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD's standards except Americans'. It will still require some organizing, and that work is in desperate need of an external deadline, but best not done during tenure dossier/ manuscript / course prep / poster for meeting summer.

5. Small car. Funny but true. We have a Golf and a Camry, and with two adults and two carseats, fitting her in our car would be difficult. It would make it difficult to go to things as a family in the same car. No, we wouldn't buy a bigger car for this.

So it feels like a lottery right now. Chances are good that this will lighten burdens and enrich our family's lives. But there's a chance that this could also add burden to our family, and for me, create an impossible situation.

What thinks ye/y'all/yinz/you guys?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tenure Bid, 2

I learned more about the writing of the tenure dossier yesterday. I heard the following things that I would not have learned from any written material:

1. The tenure committee (here, at least) is generally not searching for reasons to let someone go, but to advance you must be determined proficient (which is a step up from competent) in two of your three domains (teaching, service (oops), scholarship).

2. No padding. The question of what "padding" is came up, and several examples were given. However,  please DO expound where given the opportunity. Do add supplemental information when given the opportunity to a REASONABLE extent.

3. Despite my last post, the administration would like to see us put "serious energy" into the "faith statement", but also does admit that the statements turned in to date have been "all over the map".

Also interesting, the question was asked as to what we were nervous about. Now, I have to admit, I took this as a welcoming gesture. Another (wiser than I ) faculty admitted a nervousness as to whether her disciplinary writing would be appropriate for the dossier. I admitted to a nervousness about one of my perceived weaknesses of my bid.


I'm now embarrassed as to pointing out- in public- this chink in my armor. Dumb, dumb, dumb. HOWEVER, I will take it as a sign that I feel safe in this place and under these circumstances, which is in general a good thing... but really. Well, I can dwell on it, or move on. I choose to move on, but know I will inadvertently dwell on it.

This month I have been "resting and renewing" by coming into work only in the afternoons, and going to the gym and working on the house / garden in the mornings (my most productive hours). Now I'm feeling better and need to devote more focus to my tasks. Am I renewed back to zero? No, but I'll give myself and 85% which is good enough to start my engines, ladies and gentlemen!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tenure Bid

OK, enough mommy angst. Let's talk business.

I'm up for tenure this year. We have a system of long-term contracts that is essentially tenure-with-review, just not called that. The faculty senate is lobbying for a change to tenure-with-review, but for now I will just call it tenure, even though technically it is not.

I received a notice that there will be a workshop on preparing tenure dossiers soon. They are due in October. I plan to keep you informed on the process. In this post I will just mention a non-typical aspect of my tenure bid.

Where I work, not only do we have to prepare the typical materials- teaching evaluation heavy- but we also have to write a paper on how we bring our faith into the classroom. This is a religious institution and the school wants to make sure that we are giving students what they are coming here for (our "distinctives").

I was completely freaked out by the thought of writing this paper because of the scholarly theological, pedagogical, and psychological readings I would have to do to make a scholarly treatise. Moreover, among faculty this paper is generally reviled for its hoop-jumping reputation. However I had lunch with an accidental mentor, who convinced me that his 5 page (the minimum) life story was perfectly passable in his tenure bid. He basically said, "Don't spend too much time on it." So even though I am not looking forward to this paper, I will dial it down on the anxiety list.

So that's where I'm at- in the thinkin'/ psychological preparation stage. I'm waiting for the workshop before I begin in earnest.

All my SAHM friends have a party business.- amended

I'm going to get flak for this, but I can't stop thinking it, so here goes (better than saying it out loud to them)...

If being a stay-at-home-Mommy truly is a *full-time* job, why do EVERY ONE of the Moms I know who choose to stay at home pick up a pyramid "party business" like Tupperware, Lia Sophia, Wildtree, Pampered Chef or Norwex?

Added from comments: The problem (from my perspective) is that to make any money at these businesses you really have to work hard at them. Let's say you have a great show one night and net $100 in sales. That probably involved 7-10 hours of your work (help, am I exaggerating?) And each show is usually around three hours of your time away from home, so to have two shows a week you are gone two evenings a week from your beloveds and you made around $10/ hour for your work. And you've "worked" 20 hours that week.

end of added section

Or they get over-involved on boards and committees and volunteer work (and complain about how busy they are). These are Moms with small children, like me!

God bless them all, but let's replace the phrase
"Being a Mommy is a full time job, that's why I choose not to work outside of the home"
with the more accurate phrase
"Choosing not to work outside of the home allows me more flexibility to pursue all of my interests, foremost my children's upbringing".


Friday, June 17, 2011

Research Success

I have two otherwise- unemployed students in my lab for the summer. One is a good solid student who has been trained by me before. The other is absolutely brilliant- need to show her 0.75 times before she gets how to do something. Wahoo! This is the IDEAL situation. Now I have to make sure I still do my 1. tenure dossier, 2. manuscript, 3. prep courses for fall, and other summer work. Even though I want to be in the lab all day every day with them. What a total reversal from last semester.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Charity case = technique-based research?

There's a pharma concern here in town. They plow through materials like any Pharma/Biotech/R01, and they have a policy that the moment that said materials expire, they must be immediately removed from the premises. Lucky (?) for us, someone there calls the universities in the area to see if they want the stuff, and being the poorest of the bunch, we top the charity list. Today we received cases and cases of water filters and isolator plates. Thanks. I think that we got hundreds if not thousands of dollars worth of stuff. I think (?!?) our Micro teacher or our water-sampling chemist can use it.(Can you tell I have hoarding tendencies?)

In any case, what this leads to is the designing of labs / research projects around the materials we have instead or designing labs de novo to fit the course exactly. Is that SO bad? The other option is to say no, or keep the stuff until we realize we can't use it- and end up wasting our time (scarce) and storage (plentiful) on the stuff until we throw it away ourselves.

When I was being trained as a scientist (both PhD and post-doc), I was always taught that we do HYPOTHESIS-driven research, and that technique-based research was always uninteresting and for the dull of mind. But what if your resources are scarce such that you can't set up an entire new lab "set-up" each time you get a new idea?

My analogy:
You can pick a recipe out of a book and go shopping for each of its ingredients- to hell with whether they had to be flown in from Peru for you. Strawberries in Feb? That's what the recipe calls for!

Now, more and more people are buying CSA boxes, and learning to design a meal around what is in season. The produce is extremely fresh, and the cook is stretched and must be creative in preparing a meal from the produce in the box.

Why is this such a no-no in science?

I bought more equipment in my 3 year post-doc (that isn't being used anymore) than I will buy here until I retire.Yes, the fact is that I am running a research lab in which all the students I ever have will learn two major techniques. I'll never get the equivalent of my start-up again to retool. We will march through all the simple things to be found from doing exactly what I do. So I must be creative in finding interesting questions to ask with the set-up I do have.

Why lessons for a two year old?

Last post,  I said offhandedly...
D. no more swim or music lesson obligations to get kids to. Yes, swim lessons (bad idea) and music lessons (great idea) for a 2 yo. They seemed like such a good idea during sign-up.
Someone asked... 
Just out of curiosity, what made swim lessons so much worse than piano lessons? (thanks)
 I replied...
PUI prof said...
Anon Tues 3:26- Someone from church offers music lessons for littl'uns. We've always thought that we didn't want to be "those" overscheduling parents. However, hub and I are both musically stunted due to childhoods with no musical training. So we were probably overcompensating when we signed him up for music class. Well, the music class is masterfully run- a lot of activity, a lot of variety and fun music we can use at home "pick up toys, pick up toys, now's the time to pick up tooooys". Boy asks if it's Tuesday yet, Tuesday yet, Tuesday yet, because he LOVES music class. Its also paid off. Dude's got quite a rendition of "Take me out to the Ball Game" and "Home on the Range". He matches pitch very nicely. Swim lessons were instigated because last summer our normally fearless child seemed terrified of the water. The swim lessons were clearly designed for kids older than Boy, becuase they did not take his two-year-old millisecond attention span into mind. OK, now swim on your back- kicking- for another lap, another lap, another lap, another lap. He grew bored with it very easily, for the end goal was to get the kids to do a formal front crawl. Moreover, it was in a lap pool, which is pretty darn cold if you have the surface/ volume ratio of a 30-pound two-footer. He, of course, can't do a front crawl from those five lessons, but we did get want we wanted...he's not afraid of water. So now we have a kid fearless around water who can't swim. Anybody else see a problem with that?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A sugar pill works sometimes.

I am starting to feel much better. MUCH Better. See herehere and here for a history.

This is probably due to several factors:

1. I have learned a strategy to help the baby fall asleep and stay asleep. Hub and I went to the library and got several books on helping your baby sleep. The books range from the tough "cry it out" (Ferber) to the middle of the road (Weissbluth) to the gentle no-cry sleep solution (Pantley). Even though we could identify the symptoms described in the books, none of the solutions were exactly right for our lifestyle. For example, when single parenting, you can't put two babies down when they show signes of tiredness, not when they do so simultaneously. So its a matter of triage-- toddler down first, because he sleeps soundly once down and otherwise will interfere royally with the bedtime ritual for the baby, whereas the reverse is not true.

So even though the baby doesn't always go down and stay down, she does so more than before. The important thing here is my ILLUSION of control over the matter. That makes all the difference in the world.

2. I have crossed off some very major tasks, and the ILLUSION of my workload has decreased. May term- done. Prep for Summer Science camp -done enough. Heavy meeting schedule- over.

I still have straggler work to do, and then this summer's big tasks: Write a manuscript, Prep for Fall Classes, Prepare poster for Fall meeting, and OH, prepare my tenure dossier for October.

3. I am getting more regular exercise, the kind of exercise that is very powerful in decreasing stress. I do yoga at least twice a week now and an regularly getting my heart rate up through Zumba or whatever to release those happy hormones. I am very blessed to have a physiology that rewards me richly for exercise, because otherwise I wouldn't have the discipline to make myself do it.

4. Little things:
A. we have a new housekeeper and she is very, very good. I know this is a WhiteWhine, but our last one made a lot of extra work for me by putting stuff places we couldn't find it, etc.
B. the summer's fruits and vegetables here are just soooo delicious. I've been pigging out on healthy foods that give me great pleasure to eat.
C. not small: but my husband's unflagging support.
D. no more swim or music lesson obligations to get kids to. Yes, swim lessons (bad idea) and music lessons (great idea) for a 2 yo. They seemed like such a good idea during sign-up.
E. My term for certain committees is coming to an end. Simply having an obligation to them, whether we are meeting or not, gives me the ILLUSION of burden.

Some of the point here is that even if you KNOW that you are feeling better due to a placebo effect sometimes it does not rob you of the lovely effects of that sugar pill.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A New Day is Dawning!

Girl slept through the night last night. Things may return to normal, or at least better, very soon.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

New Feminism on the ground

I appreciate the comments on the last post... but to highlight one: GMP said, "...hard to pull off".

Example 1: Mom really needs to get some high-intensity exercise to decrease her stress levels, but most of the classes at the gym (Zumba, Spinning) are scheduled in the morning before day care opens, or in the evening overlapping with dinner time or bed time.

Yes, I could do something independently in the middle of the day (if I don't have meetings). Yes, I could hire a babysitter to come and put the kids to bed while I go to the gym. But the evidence suggests that there is an energy barrier associated with those alternatives that is high enough to be prohibitive with my current capacity (which includes my energy). In other words, I feel too tired to do what it takes to get less tired.

So yes, sometimes hard to pull off the Makin' Momma Happy.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The New Feminism

I went to the Women's clinic today for a special "celebration" of  my children. My two children are special, unique and have my undivided love forever (I got a 10-year IUD). The Certified Nurse Midwife that placed the IUD was also the person who delivered my last baby, has been a guest lecturer in some of my classes, and is a Facebook friend.

She said "How ARE you?" as in, "I'm not chatting", to which I replied, "Fine. Well, no it's been a terrible semester. She doesn't sleep and I'm really suffering, and can't keep up at work." Then I said, "you know those cynical people who say you can't have it all? Well, they're right."

She said, "Yeah, that's the old-skool Feminism; get it all done at home and at work and still have a smile on your face. But here's the new Feminism: Take care of yourself. Because if Momma ain't happy, ain't NOBODY happy."

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Professional development goals? Get better at everything.

Today our "professional development" reports are due. We are to 1. Evaluate how we did on our professional goals from last year, 2. Set new professional goals for the upcoming academic year, and 3. Update our CVs and other stuff.

As stated in the title, I want to do better at everything. It's that simple. However, setting specific goals truly IS helpful, as is being held accountable.  I'm certain that they read these *she smiles with a sweet Polyanna smile*.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Decision maker: we will now go to private schools

Outside of the (public) school that my children would go to...

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Stress Spike +

I put something off research-related that is due today and it is a VERY big deal (I am giving my field away to half of you). Chasing down particulars of scattered authors is the most time-consuming part. Moreover, I feel extra pressure to make it absolutely perfect so as not to confirm any prejudices about small-school science.

I am straining to hear all the voices from my training, but often I feel like I'm floating at sea with no one in sight.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

May Term, Straggler Work AND looks like CIO is necessary...

I have ANOTHER week of meetings and make-up grading / test giving / straggler work. And I'm teaching a May Term course. The course is a senior capstone, so seniors need it before they graduate. However the course was underenrolled- 4 people- so we agreed to run it as a "directed study". That means the instructor gives the students assignments, but they are to do most of the work as independent reading and writing and spend much less time in a didactic setting. I volunteered to be the instructor because A) I am a glutton for punishment and B) I need the approx $1000 for a new laptop (7 years out of a Dell Inspiron 6000 is really not bad, ey?). Oh, and C) I like students and teaching and D) I like to learn new things. But the money is the important part. :)

For the last few nights I have become convinced that my 8-month-old needs to undergo sleep training. She can't be simply put down in the crib after a nice bedtime ritual. She needs to be swung actively or cuddled etc. She has a very strong preference for sleeping using mommy's empty breast as a 160-pound pacifier. This is not sustainable, and must end if I am to get the high quality sleep I need to survive. I am also very confident that since Girl gets showered in love, affection and attention when she is awake, she will not suffer attachment injury if I/we* put her through sleep training.

For those of you unfamiliar with the parenting lingo: CIO sounds like Chief Industrial Officer or something, but it's Cry-It-Out, where you let the baby cry itself to sleep progressively each night or go "cold turkey". This is a controversial method and some parents (like myself) just can't STAND to sit by and let their baby wail. But I'm (or we are*) going to try it, none-the-less. I will first get rid of this May term, inform myself adequately, then begin my liberation (?).

Anybody have any experience with this? Boy didn't need it. I would love to hear your advice!!

* I find it still very strange to refer to parenting in the I/we terms. But that's a major theme in this blog. I/we parent our children. I for half the week and We for half the week.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

It Doesn't Feel Over / The Big Red Button

Turned in my grades Tuesday. Actually made the deadline for the first time. One trick: if the course has 800 points, it takes 8 points to bring a student's percentage points up one percent. Therefore, if a student has a 74%, they would need 6%*8 points = 48 points to change their letter grade from a C to a B. That means I really don't HAVE to grade that 20 point assignment for that least not before the grade report deadline. I have to grade them eventually, since the students will pester me by e-mail as to why they have grades missing on their LMS (learning management system software). It's also a matter of integrity to grade what you tell them you will grade. Oh, and they will pester you by e-mail.

I expected to feel a huge sigh of relief when I clicked the grade entry button for the last time. But I didn't. I continued to feel entirely wound up all day yesterday and worn out today.  It could be the 2am, 4:30am and 6 am wake-up schedule I had last night.  Could be the pestering by email. Could be the research student who requires a lot of hand-holding and wants to finish this week. There's also an onslaught of meetings that were post-poned until after grade report deadline.

Earlier tonight I was feeling emotionally wrought, and pushed the panic button. I asked Hub to come home early. I considered his schedule before I asked, and it's the first time I've hit the "big red button" so he is taking it seriously. He'll be home tomorrow in time to pick up the kids from the day care and give me some relief. He'll have to take off work 4 hours earlier to get here, due to traffic.

Tomorrow I have a Faculty/Staff conference until 3pm, then I'm headed straight to the pool to swim (hard) laps. This has made a big shift in my body/brain chemistry before, so I'll start there. Wish me 2000 meters, no pain afterwards, and an enkephalin high.

Happy spring to you all. Now I'm going to bathe for the first time in three days.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lookin' Up

The depression I chronicled in the last post has abated for the most part. It was accompanied by terrible acne, my period after several weeks, and some other yukky symptoms you don't want to know about. I DID go see my doc, but told him I wanted to wait before starting antidepressants, just in case it cleared up on its own. I've been feeling myself for three days now, and I am very encouraged. The stress hasn't gone down, but I can once again enjoy the simple things in life (like spring blossoms!).

On the spiritual side, while I was in the midst of feeling terrible I saw a hidden blessing / call of God in it. That is to say, I love my job and if I were miserable otherwise it would be easier to let go of it and join my husband under a common roof. Depression as a solution to the two-body problem; God can work in mysterious ways. Nonetheless, I am feeling better, and therefore not miserable enough to quit my job and go live with my husband.