Thursday, December 30, 2010

Note to journal editors--snarkiness is sometimes counterproductive

Did a full day's work today (versus a couple hours here and there everyday throughout my supposed holiday). As I sat down to do a review for a journal, by coincidence I received the following email from the editor.

"Dear Dr. Mom,
Gosh...We would really appreciate it if you could return your review for Mid-Level Journal. The author has been waiting for nearly 8 weeks and we would like to return a decision in the next day or so. If you could send your review, I'd be ever grateful."

Is this a snarky comment? I'm assuming it is. 

Given that I had it over Thanksgiving break (1 week) and Winter Break (2+ weeks), in my estimation, I only really had it for 5 weeks. I know that's not how it works, necessarily.  But since I have never, ever gotten a review back on articles I submit within 8 weeks AND I'm doing volunteer labor over break, I don't think I deserve a sarcastic comment.  

Hmmphf. I'll say "no" to that editor next time! (Actually, knowing me, I probably won't say no).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Family Foreclosure

Family members have come and gone now, keeping me busy in the meantime.  My parents visited for 4 days, plus my sister, her hubby and two sons.  We all had a good time and managed to get along quite well. 

My sister brought some bad news.  They will likely lose their home to foreclosure in a few months.  My brother-in-law lost his job 2.5 yrs ago.  After 3-4 months, he found another job at half the pay.  My sister is a high school teacher.  Together they make about $100k, down from $150k.  Unfortunately, they had been living like they made $175k, so they REALLY couldn't afford to lose any income, much less $50,000.

Also, their house lost about 30% from its peak. They had borrowed off this house at its peak to buy a rental home.  They are OK on payments for the rental home (thanks to steady renters), but behind on their primary home and just can't keep up with payments.  I assume they are under water on it.

It is one of those situations in which a couple that makes twice the U.S. median income, drives very nice cars, and has premium cable, iPhones, Tivo, season ski passes, etc. is "forced" to stop payments on their home.  Because, you know, iPhones and cable and Tivo, etc are necessities.  And selling that beautiful Volvo and buying an old but reliable car "just wouldn't be worth it."  And my sister couldn't possibly work over the summer, like those younger teachers at her school do.  And no way would she rent out the separate entrance basement living space--who could suggest such a thing!

Either we don't pay for those things to begin with, or those are all things we would do or cut immediately.  Definitely before we lost our home.

Their plan is to move into their second home.  It is in a 1950s neighborhood--old but not old enough be be charming (not at all). Fortunately, it is zoned for great schools.  They will have to downsize from 2800 square feet of living space to 1100 (that includes the converted garage).  Ouch.

What will they do with the money they save? Who knows--though it is safe to say that they won't put it towards retirement.  We'll have to up our own retirement savings to be able to support them in their old age.  But it will be rough given that it is already clear that my S.O.'s brother is going to need help too. 

I'm kidding, but only kind of.

I'll have to write later about the fact that my sister's husband drinks like a fish.  I don't think it has affected his work, yet.  But given the financial crises they've already had, this makes me all the more nervous for their long-run stability.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mighty morsels of tidbit thoughts

1. Finished grading--yeah!!!  It's about damn time.

2.  Dog (9mos) has tongue warts.  Delightful, isn't it?  Better than cancer, the fear which prompted the vet visit.  We've been assured that the dog didn't get it from licking daughter's feet, which also have warts.  I'm assuming that the dog can't spread it to us that way either.  Let's hope.

3.  Grad student got a job!  Not a bad job at that (and not the one that quoted a much lower salary range to her than another male grad student).   I told her that even if she decides she hates it, the 2/2 courseload will allow her to publish her way out of the place.  But I think she'll like it. Plus, very few new Ph.D.s can afford to be picky!

4. Parkinson's Law is the New Gravity: Worst Professor Ever has mentioned applications for Parkinson's Law for both protecting our professorial time and cleaning.  The definition: Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. I had never heard of it, but I've been living it all my adult life (and my teenage life, for that matter) in a less than conscious manner.  I had previously thought of it as either "I work better under pressure" (positive version) or "procrastination" (negative version).  But I like thinking of it as a law of physics--a law that can be harnessed and put to use in my never-ending quest for work-life balance.

I should NOT apply it to my research and especially conference papers--no, I need to STOP doing that.  But I should use it for grading; I'll set myself a 1 week turnover for grading papers & exams, instead of two.  Also good for cleaning.  What else....I know--anything involving service (writing reports, doing reviews....).

5. Is there a name for this law: "Any obligatory meeting is much more tolerable if food is provided."  I can be bought off by a mere cookie. 

6. Female Science Professor has collected entries for the Final Exam Excuse Contest 2010.  Go there and vote! There are 15 entries (some real, some made-up, all funny); I voted for #12 below.  I love the combination of ignorance and privilege and .... something else that is implied in the student's name "John Smythe VII."  I just love that name--the alternate spelling of Smith plus the VII.  I feel like I know that student.

Dear Mr. [misspelled name]
I am in you're 1:00 class what meets in room 201 of the Maine building I rite you on a matter of grave concern I had to miss the final exam what took place at 5PM in Maine 201 last tuesday because of a matter of vital importence; My mom cooked a really important dinner for me monday night and so do to the extreme difficulty of travel during the current season I had to go home during finals week because my mom insisted if you new my mom youd understand
I tryed to find you're office which you're web page says is MAine 202; but dint have any luck cuz the Maine building is to obscure and i couldnt find it so i couldnt find you're office and talk to you about it before i wouldnt bother you about it except as its to important whereas my scholarship require that i keep a perfek 4.0 GPA thruout my intire collige years and so i need to make up the final I dont need you to work extra hard so its ok if you just give me the final that you gived everyone else as my friends said it wasnt to bad when they showed me the answers you passed out at the and
If you need confermation of the importence of the dinner you should contact my mom were in the phone book so were easy to find as our house is across the street from the collidge

you're devoted student John Smythe VII

Monday, December 20, 2010

Paying professors NOT to teach?! Yes.

I am addicted to listening to podcasts, especially at night.  I fall asleep listening to them.  I tend towards NPR's Fresh Air and "Most-Emailed," Slate's gabfests and Double X, and Marketplace.  So relaxing....zzzzzz

Except the other night, when I heard on Marketplace that the Iowa legislature (just switched to GOP majority in November) is gunning to end sabbaticals for the state's universities.  That kept me up for half the night.

So stupid! For so many reasons! 
1. Hiring difficulties.
2. Faculty flight.
3. Decline in productivity of faculty that remain.
4. Bad for morale.
5. Decline in indirect cost income: Faculty (especially in sciences, and to lesser extent social sciences) bring in grants with indirect costs that is income for the university.  This income would likely decrease with cuts to or elimination of sabbaticals.

And that's off the top of my head.  Plus, the estimated savings from eliminating sabbaticals? $250,000/yr/university.  Yes.  Peanuts for a university budget--especially with the costs associated. 

I can imagine the sound bites play well to many a constituent: "paying professors to take a 15-week vacation!" or "paying professors NOT to teach!"

Arggghhhh! Stupidity of others can be so stressful. 

I've never had a sabbatical. I was approved for sabbatical right around the same time I accepted the job at my current institution.  I negotiated a semester off from teaching, but I still had service, had to come to meetings and events, etc.  I need my sabbatical.  Period.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Switching jailers: from revising jail to grading jail

I just completed and submitted a bear of a paper that has been killing me.  It was a revise and resubmit for the highest profile journal in my field, which also has the highest rejection rate.  I was happy to get the opportunity to revise.  But when I uploaded it, I saw that it had been tagged as a "cool" R&R, which I'm assuming means--fat chance but you may as well try again if you want to. 

I already knew it was going to need extensive revision to have a chance.  But somehow the word "cool" doesn't sit well with me--like the journal is giving me the cold shoulder or being "cool" toward me (not warm and inviting).  I could have gone for a kinder euphemism today, as I submitted this monster that I'd been working to revise for two months.

So, while I all my colleagues plus the academic bloggers have been in "grading jail," I've been in R&R jail to make the Dec. 17 deadline.  Usually, I would go have a nice lunch--or if later in the day, I'd have a glass of wine.

But nooooooo!  I am just switching jailers, and you can now find me in grading jail. 

But this blog post helps.  She call herself the "Worst Professor Ever"--but right now some of her advice makes me think of her as the "Professor's Best Friend" (at least in the blogosphere).  If you don't follow this blog, you really really should give it a try.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ska says: Pick It Up!

I love this video!  Hepcats on Yo Gabba Gabba.  Makes cleaning your room cool.

My daughter thinks she is too old now for Yo Gabba Gabba, but I'm not too old for it.  She still likes the music, so I'm going to download some songs for iTunes for her as an Xmas present.

This reminds me--I need more ska in my life.  Maybe you do too?!

Friday, December 10, 2010

See what you missed?

To the student who sat by her BFF and either whispered the whole class, answered email, or tooled around on facebook FOR THE ENTIRE SEMESTER:

Yes, I see your email of tonight with the subject line, "Questions about the final."

No, I am in no hurry to open it.  I'm busy talking to my children and otherwise having a life outside of work.  "Questions about the final" are what the "Review session for final" is for.  That was yesterday.  The final is tomorrow. 

I'll see you tomorrow! Good luck studying!
Mom, Ph.D.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Semester Debriefing and Notes for Next Time

Classes are done! Whew!

This was an especially busy semester--or do I say that every year?
What happened?
  • My students were all in all enjoyable.
  • Since I've taught these classes 4-5 times each, the prep wasn't so bad.
  • Grading was hell.  But why?  Students were pretty smart.  And they write better than students at my previous U. You'd think I'd be used to grading hell by now.
  • I didn't get as much writing done as I'd like--less than usual.
  • That one-week stint teaching in Europe is really more like a 1.5 to 2 week job (but I enjoy it so much).
Solutions (or How Next Semester Will Be Different):
  • Get back on my writing habit of 1.5 - 3 hrs first thing every morning M-F.  My daughter started kindergarten this year, and so must be at school a bit earlier.  This has been cutting into my morning.  Plus, I've had trouble dragging myself out of bed at 6am.  Must, must, must get back to writing at least 1.5 hrs. Go to bed and get up earlier (duh!).
  • Stop procrastinating on grading! Change turn-around time for papers from two weeks to one week. Either way, I just do them the day & night before (and morning of).  This way, they aren't hanging over my head as long.
  • Continue to think of new ways to not make the semester's lecturing and grading unnecessarily burdensome. Have a guest speaker.  Set aside the class before the midterm for review only.
  • Get back to working out minimum 3x/week.  Geez! Both my writing and my exercise really went to hell. 
  • a lot.  I haven't blogged about this yet, but I love love love to ski.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Teaching by humiliation, explained

I had an email exchange with my son's teacher regarding the classroom incident in my previous post. I've posted it below. I think we were both pretty polite, which is an accomplishment.  But I still think this method has too high a potential to humiliate.  Many of my college students would be upset if I tried this on them--putting up (anonymously) some of their awkward sentences and having the class try to make sense of them.
Sent: Wednesday, December 08, 2010
Hi Ms. [Teacher], 
[My son] has told us that earlier this week you used one of his sentences or paragraphs as a teaching tool for the class. Even though it was anonymous, HE still knew it was his work, and it was humiliating to him to have students laughing over his mistakes.    
Please don't use this teaching method in the future. I want to reiterate that [my son] is sensitive, even ashamed, about his spelling and easily humiliated over it. 

He continues to work on spelling, and I see some progress.  He does well memorizing rules and applying them. 
Mom, Ph.D. 

Date: Wed, 8 Dec 2010 11:43:40 -0700 

Hi Mom, Ph.D.,

Thanks for your email. 

I have used student work as a meaningful way to teach and talk about student work for years. Kids can relate better to kid work sometimes.  The point isn't to point out a student's faults but to evaluate written work and improve proofreading skills.  [Your son] has also been one of the few students to have his writing shared to show an example of effective writing. That's a bummer he took this so personally. Many kids in my class have similar proofreading issues.  I always stress with my kids that everyone makes mistakes.

I understand that he is very sensitive about this one fault, but hopefully over time, he can learn to laugh at his mistakes and remember we can't be masters of everything. 

When I use examples in the future, I'll make sure to check that it not [your son's] work.
Ms. Teacher

Sent: Wednesday, December 08, 2010 12:19 PM

Thanks for understanding.

I can say that I wouldn't want my mistakes put before a class either, even if anonymously. [My son] stressed that some kids laughed, and if kids are laughing at an anonymous passage, chances are they are laughing AT the silly mistakes, not in sympathy with the author.

One alternative to consider is to use examples from previous years. That way, at least the author isn't present.

I hope [my son] can learn to laugh at his spelling mistakes, but I think that could only happen once he dramatically improves and has confidence in his spelling and grammar.
Mom, Ph.D.


Wed, 08 Dec 2010 14:12:49 
Thanks, Mom, Ph.D.  Oh by the way, I found the chicken chili at Costco - it's yummy with rice. 
[She liked my canned chili--longish story]

~~~~~~~~~ end of email exchange~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It isn't easy being a public school teacher, I know.

But it isn't always easy being a fifth grader. Especially if you are a fifth grader who spells "exactly" as "eggsakly."  

I also just caught on his homework, "Fredrick, a cereal killer, is a very immoral person." How does he know about cereal killers already?

Humiliation--A 5th grade teaching tool?

Is it ever a good teaching tool to use a student's writing as a class grammar and spelling lesson?

My son's 5th grade teacher used a paragraph from his writing.  It was anonymous, but my son recognized it as his.  Other students laughed at his mistakes.  He came home and cried.

Not a good way to build confidence for a kid who is already very sensitive about his spelling problem.

I like his teacher personally.  And she has been teaching long enough to know better, I would think.  I don't know what she was thinking.  Was she just lazy and didn't want to make up her own error-ridden paragraph for students to correct?

My SO is furious.  So it is up to me to contact the teacher.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

There's a grad student in my office and she won't leave

I had all sorts of hopes and plans for yesterday.  I did some good writing in the morning at home. Then went to my office to cross more things off my to-do list--stuff like writing letters of recommendation and some service work. 

Mid-day, I had a meeting with a grad student.   I am interested in the work she wants to do, so I enjoy talking to her about that.  But also she engages me in discussions about departmental dynamics, her fears of certain profs, etc.  So many issues!  She came in at 1pm, and when she left I almost cried when I looked at the clock: 3:41. 

That meeting ate up over 2 1/2 hours of my day.  The rest of the afternoon was a scramble to accomplish the basics. Still so much undone.  

Notice how I wrote "she engages me..."--as if I am helpless in the matter? This is a big problem.  It is hard for me to cut off the conversation and protect my time.  Once, with my old chair, she was in my office talking my head off from 3:30 to 7:15--nearly 4 hours. 

I am no shrinking violet--I have a spine and can definitely assert myself.  In these contexts, I am at first very aware of time.  But if I sense that they REALLY need to talk to me about whatever, I let the conversation go on.  Then I go into this "state of timelessness" in which I no longer think about time.  Once the conversation winds down, it is 2-3 hours later.

What am I going to do about it?  I better do something, as this grad student is doing an independent study with me next semester.  Ideas:
  1. Have admin asst call me after one hour, so I can pretend I have to go (problems: lame, plus the admin asst doesn't have time for that silliness).
  2. Set my iPod Touch alarm to go off after 45 minutes, then end conversation (problem: I did that yesterday. There was still so much to cover, I just turned it off; next thing you know, 2.5 hrs passed. Improved plan: set alarm to go off at 45 minutes, then again every 15 minutes).
  3. Set appointments at end of day, when I really really DO have to leave to pick up kids (problem: she prefers not to meet at 4pm on Friday, but really, that's her problem and she's going to have to bend).
  4. Be extremely clear that the meeting is only for 45 minutes (or whatever).  We can socialize sometimes in the early evening at a more leisurely pace.
  5. Meet with her more regularly for shorter intervals.  Lately, she has been setting up meetings every month, or less, and issues with her build to a critical mass over that time.
I don't really blame her. I need to be firmer.  Plus, as a grad student I wasn't so conscious of my professors' valuable time and how I might be wasting it.  I'm sure I took their time for granted.  In sum, I have to be more protective of my time--especially when I'm overwhelmed already.  Whose office can I visit to stress out about how grad students are stressing me out?  I guess that's what my blog is for. 

Any ideas out there? Help!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Stressball--end of semester plus Xmas

I've handed out student evaluations for both classes.  I can relax a bit now, though I only have one week left of classes. Students this semester have ranged from OK to delightful, thankfully.  But that said, I will be happy to have classes done.  We're all ready for that; 15 weeks is a week or so too much. 

My student and I gave our campus talk yesterday to an absolutely packed room.  People were standing in the hall outside.  Hard to anticipate whether anyone at all will show up, so I'm thankful we had so many.  My student is an undergrad who is smarter and a harder worker than nearly any grad student I've had.  She did a good job, especially for her first public lecture.  I think we can get a good publication out of this.  And the campus talk forced us to get a good draft finished, plus helped us identify what we still need to work on.

Busy family weekend coming up.  We have the Xmas parade for our small city tonight.  Very charming--wouldn't want to miss it.  Plus, my son has to be there to sell hot chocolate as a fundraiser for his baseball team. 

Then, we go to big nearby city to see that Xmas parade tomorrow.  Much bigger, of course.  For the last 3-4 years, we have bought a hotel package that includes hotel room, parade stand seats, xmas movie and snacks that night, breakfast, plus a visit from Santa and a reindeer in the morning.  The kids love it.  But it pretty much blows our entire weekend--mid-day Saturday through Sunday afternoon.  So no cookie-baking or xmas shopping, as I have to spend what remains of the weekend working and cleaning.  We've decided that we'll only do the xmas parade package those years that my parents come to our house for xmas (like this year) and not the alternate years when we travel there.  Too stressful, unfortunately.

I've done some xmas shopping--not behind on that.  But I love baking cookies. And if I don't do it this weekend or Monday-Tuesday, I won't be able to distribute them to many of my colleagues.  And xmas cards--yikes! I like to send out cards with a photo of the two kids.  But my son's hair is a mess--hasn't been cut for 3-4 months, so you can imagine.  He needs a haircut before any pictures.  But when?  Last year I didn't even manage to send any cards, so I might have to compromise and do cards without photos.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Giving Birth to a Mouse: Stuart Little

E.B. White's Stuart Little creeps me out a bit.  The expectant parents go to the hospital and come back with a ..... mouse!  The woman gave birth to a mouse! 

It doesn't phase my kids at all. But I can't get past it. 

And I can't imagine a woman having written it.  (I'm assuming the creepiness part never occurred to White.)

I notice that in the movie version, Stuart is adopted.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Job Interviews and Breastfeeding

For the campus interview for my current job, I had to leave my 7-month old daughter for several days.  I left her, but brought the breast pump.  I know I'm not the first one who has had to worry about how to gracefully bow out from the interview for a quick trip back to the hotel to pump milk.  But I've never heard or read anyone tell their story before.  So I thought I'd put it out there.

Breastfeeding moms need to pump their milk (for me, at least a couple times a day) to ensure the milk supply continues.  My nursing friend called it "pump-and-dump."  In this instance, you're not trying to save up that milk, just keep it from drying up.

But at campus interviews, they think they own you for 48-hours.  It might be very awkward to tell the person doing the schedule that you really need to go back to the hotel before dinner.   If you don't tell them the reason, they might think you're anti-social, or stubborn, or not a team player.  After all, no other candidate asked for such special treatment!  If you do tell them, you might wonder at dinner, "Is it just my imagination, or are they staring at my breasts?"

My milk supply was pretty reliable.  So in my case, I just suffered through it and pumped at 9pm, once  back from dinner.  In retrospect, for someone who must pump earlier, I would let the chair of the search and the person in charge of scheduling know that I needed some time back at the hotel for...what? Medical reasons?  Personal, medically-related reasons?  I wouldn't want to just say "personal reasons"--too vague and too open to interpretation (is she a diva? is she lazy? ....).

In my department, I'm open about such things. But on a job interview, I just don't want to go into details.

Any stories or ideas out there? Have you been interviewed as a lactator?  What would you advise someone to say or do?  How to make it not quite so awkward?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Kids of Academics--Joy in Their Joy, Smart Approaches to Their Smarts

The academic community is awash in brilliant children.  We love our little geniuses.  And we tend to stress out about them and their brilliance (myself included). 

I always thought my son (10-yrs old) was smart.  He could follow complicated plots from an early age and had sophisticated and nuanced understandings of the stories I read.  He also was good at math concepts as a preschooler, such as squared versus cubed (yeay Montessori!).  Also, he had a very high vocabulary and incredible recall (excellent listener).

BUT, transitioning from Montessori to 1st grade public, he performed poorly on the basics.  He was behind most of the kids on reading and writing, and about average on math (lot of smart kids in our university/high-tech community).  There were a few problems.

First, he wasn't good at basic memorization (too boring).  So while he could figure out how many square inches in a cube, he couldn't quickly recite 3 + 4.  And while he had much more advanced taste in reading material, he couldn't rapidly identify basic sight words (your, our, she....).  In 1st-2nd grade, none of his strengths were apparent, as all focus was on the basics. 

Second, he was a very process-oriented, not results-oriented, kid.  He was engaged with the process of learning, but wasn't interested in performing it for others or even finishing a project.  He's obedient and would do his schoolwork, but he wouldn't feel the need to be very careful or very fast.  He had an excellent grasp of physics for his age and loved to experiment at home--but never wanted to put together an actual finished project for the science fair.

I was happy that he was still in love with learning.  But I also wanted him to get past that boring phase of memorizing sight words and basic math facts so that he could enjoy the higher-order stuff.  I also worried that he was starting to think of himself as "not smart"--I was getting signs from him this was wearing on his self-esteem.

Neurons started connecting in his brain (or something!).  That, plus a LOT of work with flashcards at home.  He made major progress on reading levels in 1st grade.  Math came along.  Writing took a couple of years.  He remains a very poor speller (no two ways about it).

So we knew he was smart, but it wasn't reflected in the classroom.  And he wasn't marked for "academically talented" testing.  I was OK--I figured he'd do fine in college.  Plus, he was a very happy kid, and that's what matters most in life.  We took it upon ourselves to expose him to a lot of material, ideas, and experiences that were educational and engaging.

But after a 4th grade standardized math test, I got an email that my son was eligible to skip two grades in math.  For the first time, the school recognized his intelligence.  I had trouble processing.  The school had treated him as average for so long.  Had someone failed him up to now?  Me?  His teachers?  Ultimately, I think his brain developed and his attitude changed such that he wanted to do well and finish on time and had the ability to focus.  The next 4th grade standardized state-wide tests in reading, writing, and math further revealed to the school that he was "smart"--one of the best in the grade. 

So I am the parent of a child who has never advertised his intelligence. He was a stealth smart kid.  Until now.  Last night, talking to his cousins by phone, I heard him bragging about being in 7th grade math as a 5th-grader.  Ideally, I'd like him to continue to be "in love with learning" without needing to let others know (without exactly saying it) that he is smarter than they are.  He was on the losing end of this hierarchy until recently, and it sure didn't help his self-esteem back then! 

Not quite sure how to handle it.  He is rightly proud of himself, as he worked really hard this summer to master 5th-6th grade math.  And it is certainly fine to tell others that he's in 7th grade math.  The trick is how to do it in such a way that it is not at others' expense.

When it comes to smart kids, there's considerable amount of talk on parenting blogs about skipping a grade.  I must say that skipping up two grades--but just in math--has been GREAT for my son.   We had a quick mid-semester meeting with his middle-school math teacher, and I confess I was surprised that he had 100%.  I don't think he ever scored a perfect score in math until this year on a test, never mind consistently.  Plus, he now officially likes math.  But he doesn't have to leave his friends behind and form new friendships with kids a year older.  He is socially mature and tends towards kids older than him. But completely skipping to the next grade would probably be too much.

I like this method of skipping grades in a subject, as opposed to skipping the child in all subjects (which seems still the norm).   I have some insight, as I skipped 4th grade.  All in all, this was a good thing for me.  However, there are a LOT of issues regarding social development that never seem to come up, except for here in this NYT Motherlode post by Lisa Belkin and the comments.  For example, a comment by Anne from Wisconsin points out what the social world is like once those grade-advanced kids reach high school (including that s/he will be driving a year later than everyone else, putting them at the mercy of friends' driving skills).

Getting back to academic kids--some of my professor friends (including 3 good friends) have children on the autism spectrum.  All Asperger's.  Extremely smart, but also facing many challenges.  The challenges include an apparently higher rate of depression and even suicidal thoughts at a surprisingly young age.  I don't know where I'm going with this, except that so much of this all seems in large part inheritable--intelligence, but also Asperger's and its attendant emotional/psychological challenges. 

More than anything, I want my children to be happy in life!  Happy store clerks--that would be OK.  Maybe not ideal--but better than depressed academics.  Seriously.   

My son is a happy boy.  My daughter careens between cranky and joyful and bossy -- we're working on this.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

My Thanksgiving Backlog

Happy Thanksgiving! 
I am thankful for so much. My family most of all.

But Thanksgiving week is also the week when I try very hard to catch up on my backlog.  This year is particularly bad.  So I am also thankful that my family hasn't yelled at me yet for working this morning.

Meet my To-Do list:
  • Grading:
    • 1 term paper for Euro university (40 pgs) asap
    • 36 papers for class (5-7 pgs ea) by Tues but haven't started yet
  • Reviews:
    • 2 manuscripts for journals - both due in 2-3 weeks
    • 1 book review for a journal - due last August :(
  • Research:
    • revise and resubmit by Dec. 17 (this is what is killing me the most)
    • prep campus lecture (new) to give Dec. 2
    • continue to work on paper with student for submission by Jan. 31
    • my book manuscript - draft last 3 chapters by May 2011
  • Read and give comments:
    • 2 chapters of colleagues book manuscript - due asap
    • 2 chapters of grad student dissertation - due week of Dec. 6
    • 1 article manuscript by grad student - due whenever she makes an apptmt with me and sticks to it.
  • Service
    • prepare two new course proposals - due a year ago
    • all sorts of other little things
  • Courses for next semester:
    • prep an entire new course! gulp
  • Recommendations
    • three letters of recommendation - not so bad
I am thankful it's not worse!  But yes, I am working (for just a few hours) on Thanksgiving day. 

My son is bummed because nearly every single one of his friends has gone somewhere this week for the holidays.  Unfortunately, I couldn't dream of taking a vacation right now.  I so desperately need this week of no classes so I can catch up on work!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

And Now for Something Different-Fashion Report

Two years ago I discovered Not Your Daughter's Jeans (NYDJ).  They are really comfortable, well-made, and fit middle-age women.  I bought two pair of the boot cut jeans (wide-leg, but not bell-bottoms), even though they are about $100 a pop--that's how good they are!  

And I was happy with them, except that they look best with a couple-inch heel shoe--pointy-toe.  You know that style.  In my area a lot of women over-30 (myself included) wear clogs with the boot-cut jeans--less flattering, but we're moms!

Then I went to Europe a few weeks ago.  European women (at least in the country of my visit) have fully embraced the jeans tucked in boot style.  You know what I mean.  On my campus, nearly every single female student is wearing jeans (or black leggings) tucked in Ugg boots or riding boots or rain boots (Hunter brand).

I felt like such a fashion fuddy-duddy.  In Europe, I was the only one around (under, say, 65) who hadn’t made the transition.  I was bummed, since my boot cut jeans still look almost new.  Plus, I thought you had to be skinny to wear this style.   But then I saw a lot of average weight women wearing the style.

Long-story short, I went to Nordstrom’s and splurged on a sweater ($68), two pairs of KUT from the Kloth Skinny Stretch Jeans ($69 ea) plus these:

Cole Haan.  They were $189.  Definitely my most expensive shoe ever (except for ski boots).  But I LOOOOOVE them.  I wore them 6 days in the first week.  They are so comfy.  And notice--they are flat.  That's the best thing of all--flat shoes are fully back in style.  The jeans are great too: less expensive than NYDJ, well-made, and very comfy.  And my 5-yr old says they don't make my butt look big.

Until recently, I tended to buy less expensive shoes, say $30 - $50 on sale. But I'd buy several each season.  I've started buying one really good, expensive pair of shoes each season.  They last several years and they are so much more comfortable. 

So, that's how I've rationalized my big Nordstrom shopping extravaganza. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Unequal Pay--Don't they have laws against this?

A grad student that I work with is on the job market.  She is doing great as an ABD, especially in this market.  She has 3 on-campus interviews thus far. 

Get this: a university contacted her via email and told her they had narrowed the candidates down considerably. Due to budget cut backs, they needed to ensure that the salary range that they were authorized to offer for this job was acceptable to the candidates before they flew anyone out for an interview. She was told her salary range was $48,000-$50,000. She agree to that.

Problem: the same school contacted another ABD in the department who had also applied. He is set to defend same month she is. So same degree, same stage in career, same job.  BUT he is told his salary range was $50,000-$59,000!  Yes--you read that correctly!

She is naturally curious as to how the calculated such different salary ranges.  Interestingly, she got an interview; he did not.

Amazing how stupid people with Ph.D.s can be--what could they be thinking?  For now, she is waiting to see how the job interview plays out.

Have you heard of similar stories in academia?  What do you think she should do?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Blogging Angst

Why do I blog? Behold, the facts:
  • I am boring.  I struggle with everyday tensions and conflicts and joys.  It is good for me to write about them--to explore, to vent, to write down for posterity.  But I can't expect anyone else to be very interested.  Really.
  • Blogging does not help my career in any way I can fathom, but for the need to vent.  
  • Sometimes I like to get on my soapbox. 
  • Sometimes I like to share something I've learned that helped me survive the publish or perish world or the parenting world--or both.
So, I blog to vent, get on my soapbox, share some news or lesson learned, figure something out through writing about it, or simply remember it later (usually kid-related).  I also like the virtual community and the mutual support that develops among bloggers--that is neat.  And I will try to write in a clear and engaging style for readers' sake.

But I will never make money, become even semi-famous, become a noticeably better parent, or get promoted from associate to full professor by blogging about it.  

I have to write this down, to document it for myself because I'm the type of person that could become a little too fixated on building a successful blog--pleasing the audience, looking for new followers, etc.  But that would take up waaaaaaay too much of my time and not really pay off much for an anonymous blogger such as myself.

So, back to work on my book, plus that revise and resubmit article due in 1 month! 
  • Oh, plus I have to arrange for four days worth of snacks for my daughter's kindergarten (it should have been 5 days, but we forgot to do it today!).  
  • And make sure my son finishes his homework (had a 7:30am mtg with his teacher this morning about the fact that it is taking him 2+ hrs to do his homework.  Unfortunately, nothing much resolved. And my son is going on 2 hrs again tonight as I write this.).  
  • And I didn't mention yet that I missed half my daughter's ballet recital tonight because my bus was 20 minutes late! It is NEVER late--except for ballet recital night.  (Luckily, her dad and brother were there for the entire recital. She hasn't figured out exactly when I arrived--so she's not mad. But I'm mad).

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Chairs and Deans--Crazy to begin with? Or does the job make them that way?

Big conference nearby.  I wasn't planning on attending, as I blew my measly conference money already, and I didn't see much on the program that I was dying to go to.  But some friends from my previous U called up from the pre-conference (they weren't on the program). 

It was so great to see them!  They are both such smart, reasonable, sane people.  And they manage to be very successful career-wise while having a nice life to boot.  In fact, one of them is now an associate dean.  She was chair for 8 years, and she published tons at the same time (still trying to figure this out). She also runs in marathons and manages to ski 20+ times a year.

So now the question is, why don't such people (especially women) exist at my current U?  People who stick their neck out here by going into admin positions seem to either get them chopped off or they get sucked into higher admin positions (which eventually takes its own toll, apparently).  Somehow, so many of the people who were chairs or deanlettes here are bitter, carrying a lot of baggage. 

Lesson learned--don't go into admin here, no matter the salary. I don't even want to be chair--ever! 

I wonder--is my current U is the norm or the exception?  Do deans seem to be a bit nuts most places?  Not quite healthy, balanced?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Online Courses--Love 'Em or Leave?

Yesterday, in a post on online courses, I mentioned that I had questioned whether quality was compromised.  I suspected that I had touched some raw nerves (though I asked the question not as an attack but rather as a concerned professor of a future online course). 

This morning, at 8:01AM, I received this message from the person in charge of online classes:
"I'd like to follow up -- if you don't think we can offer a quality online course  then we don't want to do it." 

This irritated me.  It is hard for me to formulate exactly why.  But I would have preferred a statement like, "We are firmly committed to online courses that retain the high quality of X University.  We look forward to working with you to ensure that you are able to produce a rigorous online learning experience for our students."  The response I did get seems more like, "Well if you don't like it, we'd prefer you leave."  Not a healthy environment for learning, I would say.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Are online courses dumbed down?

I went to a faculty forum for online classes, attended by a provost, many deans, as well as faculty that will be teaching such classes (like me). There is a big, big push this year (actually a pull--they are enticing us with money) for tenure/tenure-track faculty to teach online summer classes.

Two senior faculty discussed their experiences and gave some thoughtful advice. It was a pretty good forum.  So I'm coming along to the idea of online classes.

Except for one thing.  Both profs noted that they found that they couldn't shift the writing assignments from the semester course to the 5-wk online summer course. Students just couldn't keep up, for example, with 7 papers in 5 weeks.  So mid-semester they cut down the number of papers, in response to student complaints.

Doesn't that imply that summer school is easier (he said this would have been the case for any summer class)?  And why in the world can't the student write 7 papers in 5 weeks if they could write them in 15 weeks?  They are only taking 1 or 2 classes in summer.

Well, I REALLY touched a nerve by asking if this were the case.  The faculty weren't bothered by it (and several nodded their heads at the question).  But oh my did the summer/online administration get defensive!  And no, they did not suggest that student culture/expectations needed to be addressed.  Their main response was that, well, not all classes are appropriate for online teaching.

 New York Times has a recent article on the growth of online classes, especially at public universities.

Do you all have any insights?  Is your university/college pushing for online courses? In summer only (like my U) or all year round?

I'm baaaaack--forging headlong into endless meetings

Back from Europe.  Whew!  Last night I was trying to get my family people to understand that I was really, really tired.  I explained how time zones work--and then my son figured out that I had been up for 24 hours (not counting a few cat naps)!  No wonder I was falling asleep reading to my kids.

I scheduled many meetings with students today--to demonstrate my super-availability to them and make up for being gone a week. Guilt.

Plus, two 1.5 hr meetings that I'm not looking forward to.  I've been in this bulldozer-type of mode--just pushing through all these not-so-pleasant time-barriers (5am trip to airport, loooong flights, meetings).  Not thinking much, just doing. Light at the end of the tunnel, it's got to be there.  (Mixing metaphors--I'm still delirious).

Friday, November 5, 2010

Daphne on a Pumpkin

Doesn't the photo make you want to read more about this fabulous boy?  Go here, to nerdyapplebottom's post.  

To give you a taste: "If you think that me allowing my son to be a female character for Halloween is somehow going to ‘make’ him gay then you are an idiot. Firstly, what a ridiculous concept. Secondly, if my son is gay, OK. I will love him no less. Thirdly, I am not worried that your son will grow up to be an actual ninja so back off."

Moving, wonderfully written, and funny all in one.  Fight the power!

Taking Stock of My European Teaching Week

All in all, I enjoyed my 1 week course here in Europe.  It is exhausting teaching 3 hr lectures with jet lag.  But there were some highlights from this multi-national group of grad students:

* On the first day, before class, a student calls out from the back, "Hello Professor! Welcome! Have you ever met a Maasai before?"  That just cracks me up.

* One student is a famous stage actor in this EU country.  As if that's not delightful enough, he is also a gay father of a baby and a 6-yr old.  He stays here during the week with baby; 6-yr old and spouse are in big city 90 minutes away.  Seeing him with his baby, I realized how rare it is for me to see a man who is the primary parent, the main nurturer for a baby.  He calls himself the "mother."  He is indeed a beautifully loving parent.  Sigh...he makes me want another baby (ain't happening, though).

* One student is a retired child soldier from Sudan (often termed "Lost Boys/Girls of Sudan").  He is an inspiration--a wonderful example of humans' ability to overcome and triumph. 

* There is a great walking trail system here. Since this is my 2nd year here, I'm getting bolder. The trails go all over.  Luckily, the village is on a hill.  So I just head down a path and keep the village in view most of the time.  I've always managed to get back by some lovely path within an hour or so.

* I've eaten some wonderful meals now that the restaurants have opened up again after their two-day holiday (during which I could only buy cookies and chocolate at the little market).

Lovely spot, neat students--these make up for the low pay and long flight! 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Teaching Tips--or Survival Guide

I am not the perfect teacher. Indeed, my first semester at my new university--after 10 yrs teaching as a tenured/tenure-track professor elsewhere--really threw me for a loop and into the gutter.   But I bounced back (or clawed my way out).  And I've learned a few things through the years.

1. Try to convey why you find a topic fascinating.  Show your excitement (a smile or some facial expression that says "wow, isn't that amazing!")--or at the least say that it is fascinating.  I think this is the main thing I have going for my teaching.  Students mention it a lot. (Added plus: I find that acting excited or trying to find reasons to explain why something is fascinating can actually make me more excited.)

2. Praise in public; criticize in private.  Try to nip a problem with a student in the bud by asking him/her to talk with you after class.  Best not to show irritation--especially in front of others.

3. If the class does poorly as a whole, I don't tell them that.  Instead, I remain positive, praise the fact that some students did very impressive work (which thankfully has always been true), and encourage any students who might be disappointed with their grade to visit me in office hours. Then, if they do talk to me, we can focus specifically on that single student's work.

4. Try really, really hard to cut yourself a break when making up the syllabus.  Don't overload yourself with quizzes or research paper summaries--you'll just hate yourself for it later.  And maybe one less day of reading, so that you can spend a class before the midterm and final reviewing.  A longer test isn't necessarily a better test of students' mastery of the subject--but it is more likely to drive you crazy because remember, YOU have to grade it.  See Inktopia's post for more on this.

5. In the long-run, lectures are easier than discussion-driven classes.  I used to hand out reading-based discussion questions ahead of each class day and then run class by discussing their responses. It worked wonderfully--got me a campus teaching award even.  Until one semester it didn't. And students became resistant to the idea that they should have to do the readings on time. And since they didn't read, they thought class was unreasonably demanding and boring.  I give lectures these days to undergrads, and then generate discussion through asking questions within the lecture.  Getting those lectures up and running was hard.  But now it is a lot easier than rereading my own reading assignments for each class.  (A lot of you are probably saying "duh" right now. But hey, this was a big lightbulb for me.)

6. The first time I teach a class, I show a few documentaries or schedule some guest lecturers if at all possible.  Or else have 3-4 classes in which students give mini-presentations. Students love all these.  I usually phase them out over time, as I always find more to say each semester--but maybe I shouldn't.

7. Don't always stand rigidly on principle.  Sometimes you need to just cut your losses with a class and adjust your grading standards or policies.  Sometimes you even need to go into triage mode--and think of yourself as the patient.  I came into a new job in which the major had seriously languished and the students had very low expectations in terms of workload.  I caved in the first year, and over a couple years brought standards up to where they needed to be.  Now our majors are some of the best in the university.

Has anyone out there any good lessons learned?  Small tips or big light bulbs--all are welcome!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Is It My Heart That's Broken--or My Career?

I received a couple interesting comments to an earlier post, in which I rue the number of my female students who've turned down excellent law schools or have quit grad school in order to follow the men in their lives.  They made me think and produced a new post-length series of reflections.  So here goes....

Izzabitz noted that she had similar experiences and wondered if some of the talented women that she has seen forgo career opportunities to follow boyfriends/spouses is partly to do with fear of losing them.  I think she is right.  I wish I would see more couples meeting each others' career needs half-way. 

Nicole wrote, "In the past I would have thought the above stories are injustice and horrible. But now that I'm older and more experienced... academia and law school really aren't all that. People who are high quality and hard working will end up succeeding at whatever they do. And there's something to be said for not killing yourself working 80 hours a week whether you're single or familied."

I definitely agree about not killing yourself working 80hr weeks.  And I certainly hope these women's choices will lead them down a happy and successful path.

However, that is only part of the story.  Many of my undergrads go on to law school and don't directly impact my career either way.  But their willingness to defer their own career plans to those of their boyfriends speaks to a broader trend with my female grad students that has implications for my own career and future women in my male-dominated area of study. 

I am at a research university.  My own long-run success partially depends upon my ability to produce Ph.D.s, particularly those who do work similar to my own, who become known as "my students," who publish with me, get great jobs, and continue to cite me over the years.

I have had a terrible track record in terms of my female graduate students (but not my male ones).  You see, for their own individual, very good(-ish) reasons, the best ones have been getting married, having babies, and leaving grad school.

My best friend from grad school advises his students not to have children if they want to be successful (Yes, he's a jerk--we're not so close now).  I can tell that it even bothers him when they get married.  And you know what?  He has become very, very well-respected in our field for producing great graduate students--grad students that he published with and that get great positions themselves.  This success moved him from a good university (like my own) to one of the top five programs.

I don't want his job.  But if I did, I should be a lot more strategic about whom I take on as a grad student, only investing in those who seem the sure bets.  Not just saying yes to whomever asks (as I do now).

Grad students are incredibly time-consuming.  This summer, I had weekly hour-long Skype conversations with a sobbing student doing fieldwork.  She sends me papers she writes for other classes, expecting my feedback.  We're doing a joint project for which I got her funding at her request (which she currently seems to have put on her back, back, way back burner).  Etc, etc. 

In sum, I have a lot of time invested in her.  Yes, I said "invested."  It doesn't mean I don't like her.  It doesn't mean I don't care if she is happy or not.  But it does mean that I see this relationship ideally as somewhat reciprocal in the long run.  I am not Dr. Self Abnegation, working my butt off for the poor, suffering grad students and expecting nothing in return.  I really need the occasional win-win situation, in which we work together and both benefit career-wise.

It isn't all about me--but some of it needs to be.  As my blog bio says, I'm an academic mom struggling with the work life balance.  And every hour I spend attending to a graduate student seems to me an hour that I don't spend with my kids. 

And maybe that is part of why it hurts me a bit more than it should when they drop out to have their own kid....

Monday, November 1, 2010

Teaching and Burning Torches in a Medieval Village

OK, I'm in my cool European village.  From my (dorm) room bed, I can watch the sun rise over mountains and a castle tower.  I'm across from an old church, the steeple clock of which I can also see from my window while lying in bed--the clock is perfectly framed through a funky triangular window high on my wall.  And it first chimes at 6:30AM, a very reasonable hour.

I'm recovering from my 24-hr trip getting here (door to door; I got to the airport early for once, and found out the flight was delayed 3+ hrs. Grrrr.).  This time around, I tried to sleep every chance I got (in the airport, in the flights, in the 90minute taxi).  Though I did watch 2.5 movies over the Atlantic.  I should have slept more--but I'm too busy to watch movies at home, especially non-kid movies!  (I watched Date Night--love that Tina Fey!)

This teaching gig is no picnic.  Changes in funding have meant fewer students from the developing world and more from wealthier countries.  I'm paid about $1,200 U.S. for a week of teaching (15 hrs teaching, plus the travel time, prep, student discussions outside of class, grading...).  Plus I now have European taxes taken out!  So I'm receiving less than last year, and it is harder to justify (given most students are from relatively privileged backgrounds now).  But I should withhold judgment until the end of the week.

I observed a ceremony on the church grounds this evening.  It involved tubas and priests.  But also a large group of military-uniformed youth carrying burning torches.  It confused and disturbed me a bit. (I speak two languages--but not the one that these folks do). Was this about All Saint's Day?  But then how does that fit with the military uniforms?  And frankly, in this formerly fascist country, youth in military-looking uniforms with burning torches? Yikes?!

Turns out, the uniforms were for the volunteer fire department! (Though seriously, they look military--with medals, etc).  And the priests were talking about peace!  Sheeeez! Me, thinking the worst. 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Teaching in Europe, but Halloween in a Taxi

Did I mention I'm going to Europe?  Work-related.  Teaching-related, to be precise.  Last year's trip was incredibly labor-intensive.  But still, I look forward to it because it was also incredibly rewarding.  I teach a week-long class (3hrs/day) in my area of specialization, mostly to students from developing countries and particularly war-torn areas.  Many will work for NGOs in their home countries when they finish.

So I leave this afternoon.  The worst part is that I will miss Halloween with my kids.  I will be traveling from the airport to my hotel during the height of Halloween hour for kids in Europe, so I doubt I'll get to experience Halloween at all!

My kids were bummed at first, but seem to have adjusted--in large part because they've already had several Halloween events in the last few days that I accompanied them to, including at school. 

Speaking of Halloween at school...why was I one of the few parents of my son's class to bring food for the class party, to help set up, and then to clean up?  I, who have a full-time job and am leaving for Europe the following day? 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My Lil' Ol' Professor Heart, Broken

I'm reflecting on students who've broken my lil' ol' professor heart.  They have all been women.

One of my thesis advisees got into Michigan Law School, just like her fiancé.  Hurray!  They could be together pursuing the career of their dreams in the school of their dreams!   But wait--you've accepted an offer from a near-by law school that I've never even heard of? 

Yes.  You see, they didn't both want to be burdened by the student loans.  So she took a scholarship at a minor law school.  And he ... didn't.

Then there was the genius thesis advisee, who was so good, I hired her as my research assistant.  She got accepted to Harvard Law!  Hurray!  But .... Oh! Too bad! Your fiancé did not get accepted to Harvard grad school--or even any school near Harvard? 

With her LSATs and GPA, she had her pick of law schools, so she went to the law school at the school he did get in to.  Not a bad law school, but not, not, NOT Harvard.

Now on to the grad student I had at my old university.  I was her MA thesis adviser, and I wrote her many, many letters of recommendation for fellowships.  I wrote her a really over-the-top  letter that got her into a Ph.D. program.  Weird coincidence--I took a job at her new university the following year.  She was now in a different discipline, but her new adviser and all the other professors were also over-the-top about her. 

But then--oh wow, your fiancé got a great contract job in Africa?  Yeah, you should take a semester off and travel with him while he's there.  You could write up your dissertation proposal at the same time!  "Great idea!"   Oh, but where is that proposal?  Oh congratulations, you've gotten married!  Oh happy days, you're pregnant.  Here's a present for baby.  Sooooo cute!  By the way, I think that starting a new outdoor recreation business with your husband in that remote part of that far-away state sounds....interesting.  Yeah, that's it.  And it doesn't sound at all like a dissertation.

There have been many more.  But these are the ones nearest to the surface. 

My most successful grad student?  A man, a great guy.  He wrote fast, not always carefully, not consistently with great depth of analysis.  But he got 'er done!  Then he boldly approached publishers and got a book contract!  He did not hesitate, did not worry it to death, making those final corrections so it would be just absolutely, positively perfect.  Rejections did not phase him--he pushed on!  AND he has a great wife with a mobile job perfectly suited (through perfect planning based upon absolute career self-abnegation) to move where he needs to go.

I think he's great.  I'm very happy for him. 

But is there a trend here?  In such cases, feminism for me is not about condemning individual women for the choices they make.  Rather, it is about looking critically at the processes that produce relatively more male PhDs, more male tenured professors, more highly paid male lawyers, etc.

But it is the individual women that break my professor heart.

Monday, October 25, 2010

No room for academic visitors

I had coffee today with an associate professor who is in my discipline at another university several states away.  She is on leave and living in the area because her partner (nonacademic) got a job in our big nearby city earlier this year.  And they have a preschooler.  Yikes!

She is an amazing academic.  One of my colleagues actually uses her book in his class.  I would LOVE to have her in my department.  But visiting professorship opportunities have dried up with the recession here.  Knowing this, she is ready to consider stringing together several lecture positions.  Each of those pays less than $5k, no benefits. 

That must be quite a cut in pay.  

I'm trying to get my director to think outside the box for once.  There's got to be something.

Another effect of the recession--one of the schools at my university looks like it is going to be cut.  No guarantees that the untenured faculty will keep their jobs.  Tenured faculty are going to be housed elsewhere in the university. 

My small department had one professor from that school with us for 3-4 years on a temporary basis.  Now it looks like she might want to come back to us once her school dissolves.  Small problem--she is crazy.  No really. I mean it.  One faculty (a "distinguished professor" who is indeed quite famous in the discipline) would demand to be relocated out of the department.  And the rest of us would just be miserable.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What the dog will and won't do

Our dog has become afraid of stairs.  Only outdoor stairs and only on the way up, thankfully.  But still, what a pain.  If we let her out to go pee, she can go down the back stairs, but then stands at the bottom and barks until we let her in a different door.  Weird. 

She ate a $20 bill the other day.  Grabbed it right off the counter.  She's only 7 months old, so we cut her a break.  My mom's dog, at that age, ate the back seat of her car.

Lately she has been grabbing things that she is not supposed to have so that we'll chase her.  Whenever I find her chewing on something, I grab her head, open her mouth and shake it until whatever she has falls out.

Last week, a dead mouse fell out.  It was dark. I couldn't tell what it was, so I picked up for closer look.

My daughter said, nonchalantly, "Oh yeah.  Me and [babysitter] saw that earlier today.  The cat caught killed it and left it in the living room."  I guess cleaning up dead rodents is not really part of babysitter's job.  But from now on, I hope she'll point out the carcasses to me.

And let's give a round of applause for the cat--she's 15 and still killing!  She earns her keep.

Friday, October 22, 2010

I get a move on!

I've moved forward on a couple things that I've been procrastinating on.  And I feel better.

I think I'm going to agree to do the summer online course that I discussed in an earlier post.  The money is hard to pass up.  Plus, I'll get some good training on new teaching technology, which should really help out with courses in general.  There is a lot I'd like to learn about podcasts and video and running online discussions, etc. I haven't been able to find the time to seek out the training.  So the pay will be a really good incentive to finally do it.  I'll be interested to see if I hate online teaching or like it.  Could go either way.

I also finally responded to a journal editor about a paper I submitted. I got a "revise and resubmit" on it, but the editor stressed that it needs substantial revision. I wasn't surprised about that part.  And one of the reviewers wrote about 5 pages single space of comments--they were critical but encouraging and very, very thoughtful.  The other review, however, was a bit dismissive, plus unfamiliar with the methodology I was employing, plus displaying some political prejudice. 

I was having a lot of trouble figuring out how to respond to that reviewer, and the editor had given absolutely NO guidance.  Editors have always written their own summaries detailing which comments to focus on--and thus which I could more safely ignore.  This is standard in my field.  But this is a guest editor of a (top) interdisciplinary journal.  Regardless of why he didn't provide his own response to the reviews, I've now written him asking for some guidance.  I don't really like being assertive like this, but I feel a lot better now that I sent this off.  I was polite.  And the worst that can happen is that he gives me a response that helps me decide to not bother with him anymore and go elsewhere.  Hmphf.

I also spent a lot of time not having my calls answered today.  No one answered the phone at my kids' school, which is disturbing  And then I spent 15 minutes on hold plus many more calls to my daughter's doctor.  Finally, I wrote the dr. an email over the healthcare provider email site, asking some questions and then saying, by the way, no one is answering, please have someone call me so I can schedule an apptmt.  Two different people called me back within 10 minutes!  Now I know.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Professor-The Last Good Job in America?

"Our Dear Leader" at my university gave a special talk this week.  Faculty received so many notices and reminders about it that many of us thought he was going to have some major announcement, akin to the recent bomb dropped at SUNY Albany on the languages (except Spanish), classics, and theater.

It was scheduled to be 90 minutes. I arrived for the last 30 minutes.  But it had already ended, and everyone still milling around had suits on and nice buttons with the university seal in their lapels--in other words, administrators.  Faculty had bolted.  I took that as a very good sign, and I was right. Turns out nothing new at all was said.  Thank goodness!

But I still feel embattled as a professor, with a job that could just disappear "poof" into thin air.  Ironic, given that many think tenured professor is the last secure job around.  A personal finance magazine came to my area to have a workshop on the new economy, and one of the financial experts quipped, "Well, if you're a tenured professor up at [my university] you have job security, but the rest of us...."

Ha ha, very funny.  I just don't believe in job security through tenure anymore.  And when a professor loses his or her job, they must move to a new job in a new city/state (if they can find a new job).  I do not want to move--I dread that more than losing my job.  I can envision not being a professor, but I cannot envision moving from this area.

Inside Higher Ed has an interesting interview with Ellen Schrecker (author of The Lost Soul of Higher Education) out today.  Schrecker notes: "Professors are getting a bad rap these days.... After all, a full-time tenured position in a college or university is, as many observers have noted, the last good job in America. No wonder, therefore, that ordinary citizens, who currently face so much economic uncertainty, resent the security and autonomy that tenured professors enjoy."  She notes that many of the people teaching in higher ed are instructors or even lecturers stringing together 5 classes at 3 different area colleges.  Also noted is the importance of academic freedom!

Refreshingly, she argues that tenure "attracts talented people into the academy and protects its quality. The security that tenure provides makes up for the economic disadvantages of the academic profession, whose members, faculty stars excepted, rarely make as much money as other similarly educated professionals. At the same time, the rigorous process through which they are hired and achieve tenure ensures that the men and women who staff the nation’s faculties are competent, experienced individuals who deserve a lot more respect than they have been getting these days."

Exactly!  THANK you!  As I wrote in an earlier post, in my discipline, failure in academia can be rather lucrative--as the other options available to us pay better.  And about the respect that we deserve--Stanley Fish in NYT calls upon us to refuse "to allow myths (about lazy, pampered faculty who work two hours a week and undermine religion and the American way) to go unchallenged."

First, I insist that the "American way" fundamentally involves questioning authority--an impulse upon which the country was founded.  Universities with academic freedom through the tenure system help keep it that way.  What could be more patriotic!

Second, I work way too much.  I was at a campus meeting for "mid-career" faculty.  Most of us there were yearning for a better "work-life balance."  Lazy?  Pampered? We are own most demanding taskmasters.  As one faculty stated, "we choose the stick with which we beat ourselves."  A politician here has been calling for faculty to teach 5 classes a semester!  Teaching more would force me to be a worse teacher or give up research--and I hate both ideas.

So in response to Stanley Fish's call to action, maybe we all need to start tracking systematically how we spend our time.  That politician might be surprised to find out that I wake up at 6AM to write or prep for class.  And I do the same 9:45-11pm.  And in between those hours, I teach, go to meetings, respond to endless work-related emails, and stress out about university budget cuts.

But I'm not sure I have the time to systematically track my time....

Saturday, October 16, 2010

In which I interview myself

Naptime Writing blog has issued a blog challenge!  My answers to the questions posed:

1. What is your favorite word? bejesus, Clackamas

2. What is your least favorite word?  schedule (British pronunciation--no offense!)

3. What turns you on?  humor

4. What turns you off?  bitterness, racism, sexism

5. What is your favorite curse word?  Oh shit!

6. What sound or noise do you love?  crickets at night, laughing (especially little kids)

7. What sound or noise do you hate?  neighbor's wind chimes at night

8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? war correspondent, NGO work

9. What profession would you not like to try? soldier

10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?  Ha, you were so wrong about me!  But no biggie.  Go check out the ski hill.

Now you--post your responses in your blog (or here in comments)!  You'll see--it's really fun.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

How do baseball tournaments fit into my work-life balance?

We had a parents meeting last night for the "competitive league" baseball team that my son is now on.  The season doesn't begin until March, but never hurts to start early, I guess. 

The coach is a very friendly, likable guy.  Wants the kids to come out of this loving baseball--says that's more important than winning.  He is also extremely organized, and distributed an information sheet that should become a template for campus memos and information packets, which are typically dense and not so informative.  And he even blocked off a week and a half for spring break, so that we could all go on vacations (if that sounds routine to you, you either don't have a child on a sports team or you have an abnormally reasonable coach like us).

I'm already accustomed to getting him to practices 3x/wk.  But I hadn't realized what "tournaments" involve.  They are 3 day trips to other cities!  And there will be 4 or 5 of them.  How, exactly, does that fit into my already hectic life? 

Actually, the more I think about it, all I have to do is drive some kids 2-4 hours away, watch a few games, make sure they don't burn down the hotel or something in their off-hours, and then drive them back.  If spouse and I trade off rather than both go, I could get a lot of work done.  My daughter is much more time-consuming than that!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Students with faces are better

My university is trying hard to get tenured and tenure-track professors to teach online courses over the summer. They are offering $5k to plan the course over spring semester, plus the usual pay for teaching the summer course, plus a grader (paid 3.5times more per student than graders normally are).  There are about 20-25 students.

It is tempting, the extra $5k.  But I just don't know how I feel about contributing to the online course trend.  I don't want to be a Luddite.  If that is the direction universities are headed, then I should take the $5k while it is still being offered.  That said, I don't think this is a good way to learn.  And frankly, I would much prefer interacting with students face to face rather than via email.  I nearly always really like a student in person--not so much in abstract.  I don't know if I would want to teach if this became my only option.  And I don't know that students will learn as well--especially the best students.

So I'm wondering, do I really want to contribute to this trend?  Is this what university teaching will become? Or is it just another option, not threatening to replace face-time teaching?  What is lost and what is gained for the professor and student?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A publishing contract is not a contract

There's a shakeup at one of the university presses that has tenure implications for people in my area.  I have reviewed several books for the editor at Biggish University Press.  I respect his work.  Plus, I wanted to support that press because it has been so good about publishing books by tenure-track faculty in my narrow area.

He told me he was retiring.  I was disappointed, but I assumed the press would continue its interest in this line.

I sent in my latest review about 6 weeks ago.  He contacted me last week.  It seems that even though he had extended a provisional contract to the book I reviewed, the press was reneging on that contract now that he was gone.  The book had gone through two revisions, and I had reviewed three different versions!  And the university committee had also approved it.

My old advisor from grad school had his edited volume canceled late in the game by the same press.  The editor is now working with another press (part-time, semi-retirement), trying to get these books published there.  Problem is, while this second press is pretty good (and getting better), it is not a university press.

It probably won't matter too much for the edited volumes.  But several of my friends got tenure based upon their monographs being published by Biggish University Press.  And one of my colleagues here at my Univ. had sent his manuscript for review at the beginning of summer. I'm scared to ask him about it.  He needs publication by a university press.  And it needs to happen in the next 18 months.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Life after professing

I had dinner recently with my old grad school advisor.  We were at a conference, and it might well be the last time I see him because he's retiring after this year.  It was a great dinner. He is a neat guy.  I'd love to have had him as a colleague. 

All in all, I was pretty lucky having him as the person that controlled my future.  He does have his quirks, but at least he is fairly aware of them.  When you call his house, he answers the phone with "What?" Even if he told you to call!  Intimidating for most of us--especially grad students. 

He also was on a panel once when he became exasperated or simply bored with the person presenting their paper.  So he took out his fingernail clippers and started clipping his nails! Right next to the guy and right during his talk!  The guy had to ask him to stop.

At least he has a nice life set up after retirement, with great travel plans.  This is unlike several professors I've known lately, who teach until they are physically or mentally unable to do it anymore (and maybe even continuing a semester after that!).  Not much of a retirement after that!  I understand about loving your job.  But you also need a life, I think, beyond it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Manly professors bond over meat and poker

My friend just told me about the Men's Night Out that the male faculty members in her department hold monthly.  At my two previous institutions, the men in my department similarly indulged.  There was a "Meat Night" (manly dinner at a steak house) and a poker night.

My friend is tenure track at a research university.  There are quite a few untenured women in that department, but none ever objected publicly to being excluded.  This is understandable, given the power differentials and the pressure to get along.  But criminally, no tenured faculty objected--man or woman.

My friend brought in a co-author--a man--to give a talk and meet other faculty.  She could not schedule a department dinner for him because of this Men's Night Out.  So one of these guys told her to just let co-author come along to their Men's Night!  He thought it was a great idea!  My friend declined.  And she was embarrassed to have to explain to her co-author where most of the men were that night.

Men's Night has the effect of excluding women from crucial opportunities to bond and network with others the department--including the powerful men who will hold a lot of sway in terms of tenure. 
It took a new, untenured man in the department to forcefully point out how problematic Men's Night is.  Not coincidentally, his wife is also in the department.  Now many of the men finally get it.  Geeeeez. 

I'm wondering, how common is Men's Night?  Is it just my discipline (still male-dominated)?  Is it OK to have women faculty events (under the argument that women are clearly disadvantaged in terms of salary and promotion plus work-life balance issues)?   Are men whose wives work in the same department more tuned in to ways that women are disadvantaged/discriminated against?  (And is this one of the unrecognized benefits of spousal accommodations?  If so, deans take note!).

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Cat murderers attend a wedding out-of-state

Went to a wedding in a nearby state--my S.O.'s niece. We drove half way Thursday, arrived Friday mid-day, went to wedding in the evening. And then drove home all day today (Saturday). 

We were rather ambivalent about the whole thing.  There was no question of not going, but that doesn't mean we wanted to go.  We haven't talked to Niece in four years.  She stopped talking to us after we murdered her cat. 

Let me explain.  It only gets better from there (and by that, I mean worse).

Four years ago, soon after we had uprooted ourselves from one state to move to a new one--and were completely stressed out and not coping all that well--my mother-in-law's health declined rapidly due to spread of cancer.  We all piled into the car on the quick and drove the 8 hours to see her.  We hadn't yet formed a strong support network of friends and neighbors ready to take care of our pets, etc.  So we took the dog with us.

We were staying at S.O.'s sister's house.  She is officially a dog-lover, has two dogs herself and even does dog-sitting as a side business.  And our dog was pretty low-key and extremely friendly.  She (the dog) stayed in our bedroom at night and in the day was either in the car or tied to a tree at the far end of their big yard.  So we thought things were fine.  Sister's husband (the brother-in-law) and daughter (the niece) also lived there, and neither complained about the dog.  Plus, we were distracted by the fact that S.O.'s mom was dying.

We said our last good-byes to his mom, spent some nice quality time with her.  Then we drove home.  When we arrived home, a voice mail was waiting for us.  Brother-in-law was screaming about how he had just scraped his cat off the street with a shovel and blamed us for killing it--oh, plus a lot of bitter, raging swear words.  This all shouted into our house phone message machine that our children could hear! Yes.

Apparently the cat had ran off out of fear of our dog and then gotten run over a street or two away.  A tragic pet accident, yes.  We're sorry for the kitty and would hate to lose a pet this way (or any way).  But to unleash such an attack on someone who's just said good-bye forever to his mom?  Can't you cut a guy a break in that situation? 

So, when we returned a week or two later to help with burial arrangements and attend the funeral, we steered clear of brother-in-law.  But niece was to help select flowers, etc with S.O., and she absolutely refused to speak to him. 

So four years later, we were not happy at the thought of attending her wedding.  The bride barely said hello to us (she did--but barely).  And my daughter, who loves princesses and thus loves a bride, could barely elicit any attention despite her best efforts.  That family hadn't seen my daughter since my daughter was a toddler--practically still a baby.

And my son (unfortunately) caught her garter when it was thrown.  And she did not acknowledge even knowing him.  They're cousins!

Sadly, each of S.O.'s three siblings has their own disturbing set of attributes and histories.  At least the main problem in terms of his sister is her husband and daughter.  I'm really hoping that S.O. and his sister can start reconnecting.  She says she wants to come out to visit--I hope it happens.  My kids need some better connection with that side of their family--that much was clear from the wedding.

Anyway, I just asked S.O. and he says he's glad he went.  So I am too.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hours of prep, or Am I a teacher or a researcher?

I just read a post on Academic Jungle on how much time it takes the blogger prof. (tenured female) to prep a 1-hour lecture.  She is in a STEM discipline (science, tech, engineering, math).  Wow, those STEM folks live in a very different world.  Entry-level undergrad that she's taught before--30 minutes prep.  Yes.  That's what she wrote.  Same for entry-level grad course--30 minutes (or up to 1 hr for upper level grad)!  

In my world, we don't use textbooks.  We use books and articles, even for lower-division courses.  And I have to skim (or even re-read) those readings before class.  Then I go over my powerpoints and notes.  I am a much more effective teacher if I put in this time (average of 1.5 - 2 hrs per hour of class for a class I've taught before).  I brush up on my facts plus think about how to explain and expand upon concepts and theories. Plus, mine is a rapidly moving field and I need to significantly update my lectures every time I teach.

So let's see: 1.5 hrs x 3 hrs/wk x 2 classes x 15 wks = 135 hrs per semester!!!  90 to 135 more hours per semester for my course prep compared to what I am assuming (perhaps incorrectly) is fairly typical in the STEM disciplines.  Interesting.  And of course, I'm comparing in terms of a 2-course per semester load, so comparing across research universities (if those in the STEM world do teach 2 classes--my neighbor in engineering teaches one course/semester). 

135 hours--that's a lot of hours.  Teaching prep clearly varies significantly across disciplines within my university.  But no one ever talks about it. 

Living on the edge of my deadlines

Yesterday morning, I was supposed to go get bloodwork done in preparation for my annual checkup (standard procedure).   But I messed up my pre-test 8-hour fast by drinking coffee--turns out even black coffee will mess up the results.  So I planned to do it this morning instead, at 8am before my 9:30 class.  But I was giving a midterm at 9:30 and at the last minute decided not to push it by getting blood drawn first since I hadn't yet printed out the 5-page test. 

Good thing!  The Xerox machine became hopelessly jammed after spitting out one copy.  And it is a new machine.  You'd think I'd have learned.  From now on, I vow to never leave the printing of a test to the last hour.  I really mean it this time. 

I am a procrastinator.  I'm trying to become a recovering procrastinator. 

I write up a test the day before (or night before) and keep twiddling with it until the last minute.

I wait forever to buy airline tickets--the more expensive they are, the longer I wait.  I am flying to both Canada and Europe in the next month--business, not pleasure.  And I bet my procrastination added $200-$300 on to the tickets.  In the past, my procrastination often would pay off with lower ticket prices--but I don't think that happens much any more.

I wait until the last minute to send in conference papers to the discussant.  In fact, sometimes I am late. Very, very lame. 

I wait until the deadline has passed sometimes to even begin to review a manuscript or book.

I tell my students they'll have their midterms back within two weeks--then I wait until the very last day to grade the remaining 90% of them.  I do get those back by my deadline, but I wish I could just dive in and finish them in a week or less.

This morning, I did get the midterms printed on time by using the laser printer.  Good thing it's a 40-person class, not my 90-person class.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Cheapskate! Yes, that's me

A few weeks ago, a U of Chicago law professor wrote a very silly blog about how hard it is for his family to live on their "a bit more than" $250k income.  And how Obama's proposed tax hike for the rich would put them over the edge--maybe even force them to sell their house and cars! 

As many, many have pointed out, he's ridiculously whiny.  He is also ignorant about how tax hikes work.  But the blog generated some great discussions.  And Mommy/Prof had an interested blog on living below one's means.

We're pretty good about living below our means--slightly below our means.  In addition to our jobs' mandatory payments to 403b or pension funds, we max out our Roth IRAs and put some into our kids 529 accounts.  But more would always be better.  My significant other has rather substantial school loans to pay off; we've barely made a dent in them yet, even though we pay more monthly than required.

Now that my daughter is in kindergarten, we're saving about $300/mo.  Plus, it looks like we'll have about $120 - $360/mo less in medical expenses for her this year.  Big bucks!  I better dedicate it to savings before it magically evaporates. 

Now, what about actively saving money?  I have to say that although we bought a house within our means (according to sources like Money magazine), I often think life would be easier if we had a less expensive and smaller house.  House-wise, there is a lot to be said for living below your means.  Less house = flexibility.  Flexibility to move more easily, to make less money, to spend more on vacations, to save more for retirement.....

We've had some great money saving methods, some of which have gone by the wayside.  I only recently started paying someone to cut my hair.  For at least 15 years, I cut my own hair.  It didn't always look perfect, but it didn't always look so great when someone else cut it either.  I also cut my kids' hair.  A conservative estimate: $2780 in hair money in the bank! (See below for details).

What else?  We don't often buy coffee to go or buy lunch at work.  What if we each had one additional coffee ($2) and lunch ($8) per week for the last 15yrs: $15,600!  OK--even I am shocked.

We didn't have cable for our first 12 years: $10,800 in savings.  I have to say, $10,800 was more than worth it.  I wish we didn't have cable now, but I'm over-ruled.

I've been yearning for an iPhone for the past two years, but I'm too cheap.   But what if I, like my sister, my grad students, and the instructors in my dept, weren't too cheap?  $2160.  Wow, that's close to all my hair money saved over 15 years!

And we buy used cars and drive them until they almost die.  One car is a 1999 and the other is a 2003.  Savings are hard to calculate in this case.  What if we had gone through one additional car (purchased used) in the last 15 yrs?  Conservative estimate: $17,000.

I almost forgot to add in the money I save not paying for campus parking for the last 4 yrs (I have a free bus pass from the university): $1680.

Just for those cheapskate ways mentioned above, the savings is about $50,000!  While we now have the dreaded cable, plus I indulge in haircuts every 4 months or so for myself and my son, these calculations have renewed my commitment to continue to save in the other ways. 

Very important point: my cheapskate ways do not involve a lot of time/effort on my part.  Haircuts can be a pain, but when you only cut your/kids' hair every 4 months, it doesn't add up to much time. Particularly if you calculate the alternative: making the appointment, driving to the salon, waiting, PLUS the haircut itself.  And while our cars age, we love to take the bus to work.  I get an extra 40+ minutes of work done on the bus every day!  Cable TV, as we all know in our heart of hearts, is a huge time suck.  So is having an iPhone--I really should not have 24/7 access to the internet and email.  And I think that half the reason I don't buy a coffee on the way to work or eat lunch out is the extra time involved--I usually eat at my desk.

I can't decide if all this makes me feel better or worse for spending $460 on trees and tree supplies today..... At least it isn't a habit of ours, blowing money on our landscaping.

Homemade haircuts: $35 x 4 times/yr x 15 yrs = $2,100.  I also cut my son's hair: $17 x 4 x 8yrs = $544.  My daughter: $17 x 4 x 2yrs = $136.  Total: $2780

One additional coffee ($2) and lunch ($8) per week:  2people x 15yrs x 52wks x $10 =  $15,600. 

Cable: 12ys x 12mos. x $75/mo = $10,800.

No iPhone: 2yrs x $90/mo x 12mos = $2160. 

No parking lot fee: $35 x 4yrs x 12mos = $1680.  Yes!

No kale in my purse

OK, I admit it--in my family, we don't eat as many vegetables as we should.  This article today in the NYT has my number.

One woman said she "would eat more vegetables if they weren’t, in her words, 'a pain.'
'An apple you can just grab,' she said. 'But what am I going to do, put a piece of kale in my purse?'" Exactly! I'm good with the fruit, but you can't just grab a kale on the way out the door.

Another guy noted, "The moment you have something fresh you have to schedule your life around using it.”

So what are we to do?  Besides eating only baby carrots, that is (one of the few "on the go" veggies, especially if celery sticks don't thrill you).  An old colleague of mine ate so many carrots her hands turned yellow. I'd like to avoid that.

My Mom made something delicious called Texas Caviar last week, which involves beans and veggies.  But she is withholding the recipe from me because she wants it to be "her special dish." Hmphf.
We eat a lot of sweet potatoes, especially the lighter colored ones.  These are good with the bottled Indian curry sauces that we eat every couple weeks.

They are also delicious as mashed potatoes (and easy to make).  Skin, cut in chunks, and boil like normal potatoes.  At the same time, slow saute sliced onions and garlic cloves cut in half (about 1/2 onion and 1 big garlic clove per potato).  Then, when everything is soft and the onions/garlic are golden and mushable, put it all in a big bowl and take a hand blender to it.  Bit by bit, add milk/butter to get the taste/texture you like.  Careful not to overbeat--can turn starchy.
Make extra and freeze in baggies--a big time saver!

My Mom has shared a Yam-Zucchini Salad recipe that is simple and addictive.  We eat it as a side salad.  But at a potluck or party it also works great as a salsa, paired with tortilla chips (espec. those lime-flavored ones).  Plus, it will keep in your fridge for 4-5 days, so you'll have a veggie dish for several meals.
1 1/2 lb. yams/sweet potatoes cubed (the brighter orange yams look best)
2 cups small zucchini chunks
1 1/2 cup corn
2/3 cup green onion
1 bell pepper (red or orange are best)
1/3 cup oil (olive or canola)
1/4 cup wine vinegar
1 T ground cumin
1 1/2 t minced garlic (I add more than this)
salt & pepper (to taste)
Cook the sweet potatoes 20 minutes -- soft, but before they start to loose their shape (they need to hold up in the salad); pour on 1/2 of the dressing while hot.  Compile the rest of the veggies and put it all together with the rest of the dressing.