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.