Tuesday, December 12, 2006
I used to refer to this as trotting out "my dog & pony show". You know, amuse them and show them something cool and maybe catch their attention in some way. But, the other day a colleague told me on the sly that he has been formulating a new mental image of what these quick promotional presentations really are.
A pole dance.
Give them just enough to make them want more of you. Stimulate them in some way, so that they leave with the impression that, maybe they're not sure why, but they need to have you. Give them the impression - but don't ever SAY it - that they could have you, under the right circumstances. Give them no real content, but mostly the illusion of content. Leave most of it to their imagination, because if you go to far, it could be a turnoff.
I think when my colleague called it this, he was doing so with some level of disgust with the system. But he's in a secure and generally successfully-funded position, from which he can happily say no to this seamy business.
Me, on the other hand . . . well, I actually find the term appropriately instructive.
Monday, November 13, 2006
I am gridlocked with the rest of the student's graduate thesis committee. I won't go in to details about all the points of disagreement, but . . . they're significant.
AND I AM BEYOND STRESSED. While I know I should not feel like this student is my personal responsibility or completely a reflection of my research skills and my mentoring skills . . . I feel that way anyway. And, I feel bad for the student because I know the student feels somewhat brutalized by this whole process.
I am trying to remain positive, and do my best to ensure an equitable outcome for all parties. But it's not easy! Perhaps I should just have a good long cry and then force myself to snap into detached problem-solver mode, right? Or something. :(
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Part of this effort involved an investment of two new pairs of shoes, one black and one brown, both with heels. I admit they are nice looking, but, compared to my loafers or sneakers, they are really LOUD when I walk. And, as I am the only woman on my floor, everybody knows where I am going any time I am going anywhere. Colleagues shout hello at me before I walk by their door. Students prepare themselves for my arrival before I get to the classroom. And I get teased a lot - at first for just the loud shoes, and now for both the loud shoes AND, on days when I regress and wear loafers, for "trying to sneak up on everybody."
Such is the price of fashion, maybe?
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
I was at a meeting today with some faculty from around campus, and . . . gees. There are some real tools out there.
I sometimes wonder if academics are, in general and my department aside because I suspect it is atypical, more likely to be difficult people. You know, something about this profession appeals to people who are kind of lone wolf types that don't work well with others, and/or who think they are the smartest people ever. But then, every job has its asses. So maybe there are no more here than elsewhere, and I just am inclined to attribute it to the sickness of the institution of academia because that's an easy target?
I recently came into posession of not one, but TWO, stylish ball caps sporting the logo of a company with close ties to my research. One ended up in my car at the end of a long collaborative workday, the other appeared in my office one day that a honcho of said company was visiting the department (he was like a corporate Santa, in a way, out in the hallway with his booming voice and hardy laugh . . . it left me with the impression that had I left my shoes outside my door he might have also filled them with candy).
Don't rat me out, 'kay? If anybody asks, a ballcap goes for about $2.98.
Friday, October 06, 2006
Some time ago I mentioned that I seemed to have crossed some line, and now I am not really that nervous anymore, despite the fact that I am still not confident that I will be successful at this particular pursuit.
Several people have subsequently remarked that I seem awfully relaxed for an assistant professor . . . now it has me wondering if I should seem LESS relaxed so that people don't get the impression that I am not appropriately freaked out by the tenure monkey.
Friday, September 29, 2006
Our freshman orientation classes are doing a video scavenger hunt. One of the questions is to tape a professor introducing themselves. This student (not a freshman, but one of the "student mentors" assigned to a group of several first-year students) was leading his group of freshmen past my office, and I overheard the following conversation:
Student: Can we ask her?
Mentor: The scavenger hunt sheet says FACULTY MEMBER.
Student: Isn't she a faculty member?
Mentor: You have to be a Doctor. She's not a Doctor. Let's ask Dr. _____.
Some years ago, I saw a portrait of Avogadro. It made me think about how so many geniuses are kind of hard to look at . . . and so many beautiful people - well, you know, maybe they don't have to learn to use their brain. Anyway, sometimes when I do something particularly stupid, I joke to myself, "I must be really pretty today."
But, seriously, I do wonder why that student made the assumption that I am not a faculty member. I have my own office. I teach classes. I advise graduate students. But I don't look quite as old and nerdy as some of the other faculty members. Or is it something else?
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
He has a really hard time grasping even the basic material in my class. I really try my best to help him out when he comes to my office hours, but . . . 1) I don't think I should have to be spending EVERY office hour with him (why is it my problem - or the other students' problem - that he didn't come in with an appropriate level of preparation and skill from his previous background?), and 2) I have a hard time answering all his questions without spoon-feeding him (normally this line is one I am comfortable walking, but in this case it's quite a challenge).
It kind of makes me a little angry on the student's behalf. It makes me a little angry on my behalf, too. :(
Thursday, September 21, 2006
It's like a game, somehow. The manuscript revision process is very tactical and strategic and I like that (as opposed to the proposal review process, which still seems capricious and wholely un-strategic). I make a move, the reviewers make a move, I make a countermove in response. Sometimes when a paper goes through the review process relatively unscathed, a feel a little guilty or let down, as if I have won the game because my partner/opponent was incapacitated somehow (um, but I still celebrate the win, and it still goes right into my career stats).
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Thursday, September 14, 2006
So as I am standing there, pondering this situation and lamenting my several days of Twizzlerlessness, the vending maching guy wheels up to the machine with his restocking cart, and I buy some Twizzlers directly from him as soon as he opens the vending machine.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
It was because of this. I had thought it the courteous thing to do to alert my department chair that I was going on this interview, and it sort of snowballed into a retention extravaganza that I had not intended.
I am not, by nature, a game-player. It really was not my evil master plan to squeeze more money out of the university for myself so I feel kind of guilty, because they really needn't have worked to hard to retain me - I like my job a lot, but I was intrigued that there were opportunities out there that I had not considered. But, eh . . . sometimes you play the game, because that's just how it goes.
And then, sometimes the game plays you. For example, I was recently offered an underling editor position for the main journal in my field. The person that invited me to take on this position explicity stated it was because of the relative rarity of my gender within this discipline. Blah. So, I accepted because it's good for my professional development, even though I really didn't like the reason for the opportunity. (FYI I like to think I have more to offer my profession than just my second X chromosome.) But that's just the how it goes.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
But as I get more and more involved in more research, my schedule becomes more crowded, and now that there's a full-time PhD student on this project, I need her to take over the management.
She doesn't drive. There's no way for her to get to the site, since public transportation runs around town but not to isolated areas like this one, even though it's only about 2 miles from campus.
I told her that she needs to get a drivers license and I'll rent a motor pool car for relevant periods of time so that she can get there and back, but that will take several months to accomplish since she has never, ever driven a car before.
In the meantime, I have to act as her car service to take her out there and bring her back, and it annoys me and complicates my summer schedule more than I want. It's also a true problem during periods (for example, nearly all of July) when I am out of town and need her to be overseeing things. Phoo.
Monday, June 12, 2006
I was kind of annoyed at first because I thought this placed an undue burden on me, rather than him. But, fine, it's part of my job I guess, so meet we did. It was mostly just a check-in kind of thing, so he'd have somebody besides himself to be accountable to, so I played Mother Hen and asked him if he had turned in all his homework and studied for his exams.
I started off thinking thought this was sort of a waste, but somewhere in the semester our conversations became more about people skills and general professional management (example: when you did poorer than you expected on an exam, and you want to talk to the professor about it, DO NOT say, "Is there any way you would raise my grade?" Instead try something like, "Could you give me some advice on where I went wrong, so that I can improve my studying and do better next time?" Remember that you are the only person really responsible for your performance). At the end of the fall semester, he had received his highest GPA ever, but was still under the cumulative GPA to graduate as planned in the spring.
So, spring semester we continued to meet and he continued to work hard, and at the end of the academic year raised his GPA to 0.01 above the minimum level, and graduated. He stopped by my office to give me a victorious thank-you speech, and to tell me he'd be more than happy to talk to any of my students in the future about why you should work hard and take college seriously right from the beginning of your career, rather than blowing everything off and assuming that it'll work out.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
And today, my other masters student sent me a file with some weird data, saying that there was some sort of problem that she absolutely could not find, and I took one look at the data and saw the problem right away . . . I sent her an email saying, "Here is the problem. I'm a little concerned that you had not noticed this yourself," and then she sent me a really apologetic, self-deprecating response and I almost cried because I am completely confused about how to help her figure out how to figure these things out herself. She needs to go on the offense on her data, rather than being wholly reactionary.
The relationship between advisor and grad student is a weird one. Collegial, parental, friendly . . . different for every student, too. Does it get easier? Or like everything else in this job, does it stay the same or get harder but I just get less anxious about it?
Monday, May 01, 2006
Also, this semester has been really brutal, for some reason. A lot of funding surprisingly came through, which makes me feel better overall than the times when a lot of funding does NOT come through, but of course it's more work. And the sorts of assignments I've been giving have taken a lot of work to grade, partly because I purposely make the problems open-ended and partly because I am rubricly challenged and have to spend a lot of time figuring out how to grade the submissions. Plus my class was recently converted (at my request) from two credits to three, so all the assignments are new, because the class now has a "lab" component. You know, and then there are just lots of other things going on professionally and personally.
So I don't like written exams and I'm tired and busy.
About a month ago, I proposed to the students that I don't feel like giving a final. I don't feel like writing it, I don't feel like grading it, and I'm not convinced that any of us would actually learn anything from it so I just don't want to do it. But because I think of the syllabus as a contract, we had to come to some kind of unanimous agreement about how to reallocate percentages, etc., so we did. And no final.
Who is the sucker? The students think I am being a softy, and I feel like I have tricked them into working harder at the end, because of the way we distributed the points. I guess everyone's a winner.
Friday, April 28, 2006
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
And on top of that, we also have my Least Favorite Emails Ever. These are the emails wherein the students complain about me not rounding their grade from a C to a B-. I politely point out that they had all semester long, full of numerous opportunities, to earn a better grade, and that as stated on my syllabus, which we all agreed upon at the beginning of the semester, "I round strictly to the tenths place."
This semester, the first student to whine at me about this will risk my stony silence and bitchy demeanor. Seriously, I gave opportunities to resubmit assignments. To petition for exam score revisions if their reasoning was sound. To complete some extra credit. If a student did not take advantage of any of these opportunities, it galls me when they ask me to bump their grade out of the goodness of my heart.
Saturday, April 08, 2006
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
My assessment of their reading is probably not so much "they aren't good at it" but rather "they never do it, for neither pleasure nor education nor work." Obviously this is a generalization. Every semester I get at least one good writer, and at least one student that I know reads things from time to time, either the newspaper or some science fiction novels or perhaps even some classic literature.
My assessment of their poor writing comes almost exclusively from looking at the technical memos that I insist accompany all of their computational assignments. The technical memos are supposed to explain the premise, methods, assumptions, and results of their calculations, as well as giving recommended practical solutions to the problem in question. The students' memos are largely terrible, and not just in a way that I think I could train out of them (discipline-specific conventions that just take time to learn) but in a way that should have been trained out of them already (how to recognize and avoid sentence fragments, etc.).
Let's assume these issues are partly related. I will lump them into the same category and say the students are generally opposed to the written word - theirs or someone else's.
I was discussing this with a colleague of mine in the education college, and she pointed out that perhaps some of the reading-aversion is because my students are primarily male, and that she recently read a book which posits that when we teach kids to read, and to analyze writing, it's usually in a way that implies they need to have some kind of emotional connection to the writing, and that's a big turnoff to the typical young man. I can see this. It's why I hated reading things for English classes in high school and college myself. It didn't seem to have any practical value to me to discuss how I FELT about a book/poem/story. My husband, by the way, thought this was crap, though he himself does not like to read (but because he thinks he is too slow at it).
I once was at a meeting with some other faculty in my discipline and we were talking about some really interactive teaching, and one of the profs said, "In my course we have great discussions, but we're able to do that because the students read the material before they get to class." I asked her how she was able to get them to read, and she said, "I just expect them to." I am pretty sure my expectations would have no such magic effect on my students, and actually I kind of thought her response was code for "Because I am a GREAT teacher and you are not, duh." Also, my students are generally very, VERY bristley about the money it is costing them to attend college, and so a large number of them refuse to buy textbooks, even when it puts them at a significant disadvantage in terms of getting required work done.
And the writing . . . cripes. Yesterday as I was grading another stack of mediocrity, I was wondering why I don't feel like they're improving in quality at all, even after five technical memo assignments returned to them with comments and grades. For some of them, maybe most of them, I suspect they just don't care. In which case, should I feel free to just slap a number grade on there and not spend the time to give constructive feedback? As it is I tend to focus on just a few key things or else I would be writing all over the paper, but even that sucks up time.
I also am not sure if they don't care because (a) they think I am just a bit of a nutcase in making them WRITE in a technical class, and they just want to pass and graduate and they don't care to put any time into improvement, and/or (b) they do not believe me when I say that being able to communicate technical material in written form is something that most people have to do on the job, in one way or another. Or maybe it's something else.
But, WOW, does it make me not want to ask for the memos anymore.
Friday, February 17, 2006
On an education-related note, I appreciate this quote from US Education Secretary Margaret Spellings: "Our students cannot 'cram' overnight for success any more than a skier or figure skater can sit on the couch for four years and then hope to compete in the Winter Olympics."
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
- When you have a project ($), you have to scrounge around for a student, and you may not find one that you like that's a good match.
- When you find one you like that's a good match, you may not have the money.
- When you have the money and a student, the timing may be weird. Like the money runs from March to March, but the student runs on the academic year. Etc.
THEN, should all the planets align and you can get the administrative details to work out, you have to figure out how to get their best work out of them. Some students need a lot of direction, some students hardly need any (and you maybe it's a struggle to squeeze info out of them), some students need moral support so you have to be a cheerleader for them, some blah blah blah. I find this a tremendous stressor and challenge. It literally keeps me up at night.
I wonder about my own advisors from grad school. Did I keep them up at night? Did they agonize over how to mentor me? Did they ever think about it? Was I a challenge? Did I stress them out?
Thursday, January 26, 2006
Guy 1: Dude, did you straighten your hair? It looks good.
Guy 2: Yeah, with a straight iron this morning. Thanks.
Guy 3: Isn't it weird how you can perm your hair, and the curls last for months, but straightening just lasts for like, a day?
Guy 1: No, dude, if you get it chemically straightened it's like a perm but straight.
Guy 4: But that costs a sh**load.
Guy 3: Like, how much?
Guy 4: I don't know, like 50 bucks or something. It's way cheaper to just borrow your girlfriend's flatiron.
Guy 3: I'm thinking about just shaving my head, because I'm tired of fussing with my hair, anyway.
Philosphical differences aside, I can in good conscious play along with this to some degree, because I believe in clueing the students in to why we're learning this subject matter. I started this thing in a class I was teaching 5 weeks of last semester, an 8 AM numerical methods type of class. It's really easy to lose contact with the students with that material at that hour. So I decided I'd begin every class with the same two questions: 1. WHO CARES? and 2. How do we do it? By the end of the second week, I was amused that when I start off saying, "Whenever we hit new material, we must ask ourselves two questions. The first is . . . " I'd get a whole chorus back of "WHO CARES?". But, more valuably, I'd ask the class to do a couple minutes of brainstorming trying to think up who does care, and why. And then we'd move on to question 2 and discuss all the relevant nuts and bolts.
I liked so much the vibe that generated right at the beginning that I decided to continue the practice in my current class. I think the students are more willing to get their minds into the material if they're sold at the beginning on the idea that it's useful or valuable in some way. It also seems to have, for the time being, placated the squeaky student, because I have had zero problems with him so far. In fact, he contributes to the discussions, and jokes around with me during labs, and has so far not scared me much. So yay for that.
Monday, January 23, 2006
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
I am asking myself this because there's a possibility I could have a different job. Partly on a whim, and partly as part of a larger conversation I was having with some friends, I applied for a job at a medium-sized think tank. Yesterday I had a phone interview. Now they would like me to come out for an on-site interview.
I casually but confidentially mentioned this to two of my closest colleagues here, and they both pointed out that only academia has the tenure system and that at other places, there is no such job security. This may be true, but I, currently on the underside of the tenure issue, don't see what's so great about it (and let's be honest, it's kind of a weird system. You know that university that did away with it for certain faculty? I understand the theory behind that move. Also, in my technical discipline, "academic freedom" isn't really that compelling, as we rarely run up against anything truly controversial.).
It seems like the think tank environment would have a lot of the things I enjoy that I don't really get in this environment (the opportunity for wide-ranging discourse, the ability to be a generalist), a lot of the things I enjoy that I do get in this environment (self-direction, the theoretical opportunity to "make a difference"), and not so many of the things I don't like about this environment (the focus on self-branding and the scramble to be the most important on a project/paper/whatever).
I would miss the students.
And it would close doors that I'm not sure I want to shut permanently.
And I'd have to move.
My husband, dear man, is remaining mum on the issue, insisting that he will go wherever, whenever, if it means that I'll have a career I'm happy with. *heart*
Thursday, January 12, 2006
In the job setting, it turns out I never believe them either. For example, in the last week I interpreted
- "Congratulations on that paper I saw you got published" as "It's certainly not a given that you will publish, since you're subpar and kind of a disappointment. Thanks for contributing something."
- "I'm impressed with your writing" as "When I talked to you in person, you pretty much came across as a full-out airhead, but it turns out you can string a few sentences together. That was a nice surprise."
- "We'd like to set up a phone interview" as "Nobody else applied for this position."
So, despite a year of therapy to work on this appreciation problem, I still have it. I like to think that it just keeps me from getting a swelled head.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Or the student simply didn't get the grade they wanted.
Also, there's a student in one of my classes this semester who has a reputation for being pretty disruptive, and I'm nervous about this because I am not particularly hard core. I usually get dinged on my course evals for "not keeping everybody under control". Obviously it now occurs to me that it's because I'm totally unprofessional.
But, then, today in class the students asked great questions and we had some good discussion, and somebody stayed after class to tell me about something related he'd recently seen on TV, and I came away feeling upbeat.
It's kind of a shame that so much of teaching seems to come down to personality. I just don't have a discliplinarian's personality. I'm not scary, and I'm overly casual with my students. Is that just the way it is, or should I try to change to satisfy what may be just a vocal angry minority?
Friday, January 06, 2006
I was pretty sure, at the beginning of last semester, that this would not apply to me. That people who felt this third-year unclenching were people who were just altogether more successful than I, and all that.
But . . . then, over the last couple of months, I am feeling myself unclench. What's different? Nothing. Have I gotten more grants? Not really. Published more papers? Nothing I hadn't expected 6 months ago. More accolades coming my way? People knocking on my door to ping my expertise? What? Meh. I don't know. But I welcome the difference. One's quality of life goes way up.