Thursday, January 26, 2006


I went to one of the campus cafes for lunch, and a group of four guy students were sitting at the next table, talking about video games and beer and which bars have the hottest chicks. And then:

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.

I haven't heard any squeaking (yet)

Remember when I was worried about that one student that has a reputation for being disruptive and hostile? I had a conversation with a couple of the professors who've had him in class, and they both said that his deal is that if he is not convinced of the practical value of the subject matter, he gets angry about spending all this money on useless stuff. Etc.

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

Annual Reviews

I don't enjoy compiling my information for my annual review. But, I do like the satisfaction of looking at it when I am finished and thinking, "Ha! What do you know! I actually DID accomplish some things."

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Do I like this job?

Do I? Better than other jobs I could have?

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

Appreciate me silently.

I have a long-harbored suspicion of complements. I almost always interpret them as a request for something, or as banking good vibes for when I am asked for a favor later. Back in the day when I was in the dating world, I considered complements a big turn-off. I invariably saw them as a gentle form of attempted mind-control.

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

Squeaky Wheels

I happened upon a review of me on, and all it said was "unprofessional." I am curious what this means. If I had to guess, I would say it is because I tend to think of and treat my students as junior colleagues, so we usually have a pretty shallow power structure in the class. OR, maybe it's because I sometimes sit on one of the desks to talk with the students, rather than standing at the blackboard to talk TO them. OR, maybe it's because I joke with students that joke with me. OR, maybe it's because I still sometimes dress like a grad student. OR, maybe it's something sinister and terrible that I am not even aware of.

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

Turning a corner

More than one person told me the third year of the tenure-track assistant professor gig was when things started to feel okay. Year one, you are just trying to survive, year 2, you are stressed all the time that you will not be able to be successful, and then some time in year 3, you realize the ball is rolling, people know who you are, you're less bewildered than you used to be, and that maybe you CAN do the job.

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.