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.