Saturday, August 6, 2011

More baddish grad student

My grad student on Wed. sent me an urgent panicky email with some of her "data" attached and her effort at analyzing it.  She wanted me to look it over "when I got a chance."  But because she was clearly freaking out, she was hoping it would be ASAP. 

I was in meetings and didn't get her email until Wed evening.  Told her I'd look it over Thursday and get back to her.  By Thursday AM she had talked herself down from the ledge and figured things out for herself.  But she wanted to meet with me on Friday.  I told her I couldn't come to campus, but she could come to my house, which is about 12-15 minutes drive from campus.  Then I put her on my schedule and structured my Friday around that. 

By Friday mid-day (one hour before our meeting), she decided that she really didn't need to meet with me yet and what she should really do is keep working on her proposal. 

She is a very nice person.  And clearly anxious about the things that made many of us anxious in grad school.  She thinks she is doing me a favor by canceling our Friday meeting.  But really, I wish she wouldn't make the appointment in the first place.

I think what I will do is have her make most appointments during my office hours once school starts.  She is free to cancel those, but she must call me to cancel.  And any meeting outside of office hours she is obligated to keep, except under a real emergency.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I want that!

I met with a colleague to talk about the (small) center that I now run on campus. He also runs a center and we are members of each other's centers.  We are also both Associate Professors and both have had similar grants and pubs.  But we are in different social science departments.

But in his office he has two huge flat screens and an iPad!  And I don't.

Plus, his office is brand new and has a beautiful view.  Many of our colleagues are in offices that don't even have air conditioning!

There is such inequity in the distribution of resources on this campus.  Honestly, I'm surprised there is not even more bitterness and complaining here.  His department also gets enough graduate funding to fund all their graduate students to the max.  But another and closely related dept only gets enough to fund at 60%. 

(But I have to remember to ask him how he justified getting an iPad with his research money! I want one.)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Bad Grad

I'm working closely with two students right now.  One just graduated with her B.A., the other is a grad student finished with coursework and almost ABD.

One shows up to meetings a few minutes early.  The other (the graduate student) shows up 10 minutes late.  I can't believe anyone would make an appointment with someone to talk about their own work, and then be late. 

One follows through on everything she says she will do, taking care not to promise more than she can realistically handle.  The other has done less than half of what she said she'd do this summer--and this after a near-disastrous fieldwork stint last summer when only a fraction of her promised work was completed.  Might I add that her fieldwork was funded by my own internal grant--$4k down the drain.

I've committed to being the grad student's adviser.  But her faults are so obvious when compared to this incredibly mature (and smart) recent BA who has been sooooo easy to work with. 

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Wine, coffee, and now mixed drinks--much ado

When my partner and I were first together, he got me interested in wine tasting.  We spent a good bit of money, learned to act pretentious, and took a trip to Napa-Sonoma.

That ran its course somewhat.  Then at a cafĂ© I frequented, the manager tried the same thing with coffee--again, major pretentiousness over (less than) minor differences between this Costa Rican bean cultivated on this side of the mountain versus that side....

Then I got a job and had kids.

My graduate student who is about to defend and then hurry to her new job tried to convince me recently that I just had to go to this new restaurant because they make amazing mixed drinks.  All about infusions of lavender and blah blah blah.

I find these trendy drink obsessions a bit irritating.  I'm not irritated that other people get involved in it.  But I get irritated with the idea of ME doing it.  For me, looking back on it, it was a sign that I needed a job to focus on, and/or kids. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Houscleaner, cleaning solutions, and mini-strokes

The house cleaner I hired to clean all the things the regular weekly cleaner has been missing just called.  She missed our appointment yesterday. I called to see if she wanted to reschedule and she didn't pick up.  Part of the work is organizing, and I need to do it with her.  So it is pretty inconvenient to have her not show up, as I had scheduled my day around the appointment.

She called just now to tell me that she had been in the hospital with a stroke!  She is young, around 30.  And she trim and seems in good shape.  So it is all the more shocking. 

She says she collapsed while cleaning someone's home because of the fumes, especially bleach.  She qualified the diagnosis a bit further, saying that the doctor had called it a mini-stroke (which doesn't cause permanent damage).  And it isn't clear whether the doctor had said it was because of the cleaning products.  It started to seem like her roommate had made that diagnosis. 

Regardless, she experienced temporary decreased blood supply to her brain, and she passed out.  I haven't seen any mention of cleaning fumes in my quick look through the internet medical sites.  But I do see mini-strokes associated with cocaine use and alcohol.

I like her personally.  We've done a good bit of talking.  She is so smart.  But I also know her to stretch the truth regarding her previous work (said she had worked as a professor at my university).  If she does indeed have the law degree that she claims to have, one has to wonder why she is cleaning houses. I still don't have the heart to ask her. 

We've rescheduled for next week.  And she won't be using any "non-natural" cleaning solutions.  Just vinegar, baking soda, water.  Let's hope that's all it was.  But I suspect her problems go deeper.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Biking for ice cream

My daughter is 6, and it is definitely time for her to learn to ride her bike.  She really really wants to ride it.  But at the same time, she never quite committed to it.

She's been doing well with the pedals off, just coasting with her feet out.  So we put the pedals back on and off she went, almost without even thinking about it!

That was two days ago.  As incentive, I proposed that we ride our bikes to the ice cream shop.  It is mostly down hill, but not too steep.

Ideally, I would have ridden my bike too.  But she still needs me to run alongside her.  So I got a pretty good workout on the way to the ice cream shop. 

It was lovely.  Daughter was so proud of herself.  Son was actually quite supportive of her.  Ice cream was terrific.

Nephew as entertainment

There is a one week gap between summer camp ending and the kids' school starting. Too hectic to fit in a good trip the week before school starts.  I thought of going into the mountains for a week. But decided to fly out my older nephew (12yo) instead. 

Kids will have a great time, especially my son.  And this nephew has been very bummed because his mom and dad just told him last month that they would be moving out of their (nice) home and into the (very small) house that they own as a rental.  This entails moving schools.  My sister and her husband had led both kids to believe that they'd be going to back to their neighborhood schools with all their friends up until June, when they dropped the bomb. 

Not sure that's the route I'd have taken.  But hard to say what I'd do if I were defaulting on my house.

So hopefully he can forget his troubles for a week.  We'll pack in a bunch of fun kid stuff while he is here.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Stupid me agreed to a minor admin position

Earlier this summer, I agreed to take on an administrative post.  I will be the director of the XYZ Center.  Hopefully it won't be too time-consuming. I get a graduate assistant and a course release (one course less per year). 

I just saw the XYZ Center office.  It is in a new building that I didn't even know existed.  The building is nice and shiny new and has a very nice and expensive espresso machine (free espresso).  Beautiful, absolutely beautiful, views on the upper floors.  Our office is in the basement--no view at all.   

It is a research building.  Not only did I not know that this building existed.  But I also did not realize how many faculty now had second offices there--with beautiful views! 

Who really needs two offices?  And who decides who gets these offices?  It is very arbitrary, really.  If you were asked to join a research group sometime before last year, you got a prime second office last year.  There are only very few such research groups, and their themes are very specific.  My research doesn't fit.  Same with many faculty more prolific/successful than me. 

The situation reeks.  I wish I still didn't know about this building.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Identity, dignity, and cleaning houses for a living

Back again! I'm finally returning to a schedule in which I have enough down-time to blog!

Yesterday I hired a woman off of craigslist to doing some extra cleaning that my regular cleaning man misses.  She was definitely worth it.  The disorganization and dirty spots in our house were starting to really stress me out.

We talked for about 10 minutes, and she volunteered that she had been a professor at my U.  I was excited by the coincidence and asked some follow up questions.  I told her I also worked there and started complaining about the budget cuts (which I was assuming to be the reason she was not working there any longer). 

Turns out she had been doing some part-time administrative-level work at the university for a year, plus independent study (which my U doesn't pay for).  I felt a bit bad for pressing her on the details.  I had only wanted to have a conversation about our common employer.  But I'm afraid some of her dignity was wrapped up in calling herself a professor at the U, and I inadvertently took that away. 

She also said she has a law doctorate (which is a JD).  I don't know why she is trying to earn a living by cleaning homes and dog-sitting.  Having talked to her, she is clearly smart.  And this economy sucks.  I paid her more than the rate she asked for.

Also--no, I don't feel guilty about hiring people to clean my house.  We feel that buying ourselves more time by hiring people to clean and cut the grass is one of the best ways to spend our money. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

For tenure, remember not to....

Having some tenure issues here at my U.  There are some basic rules for tenure here, at least for the social sciences and humanities.
  • Publish your book with a university press.  This goes even if other faculty in your department have published with non-university presses. 
  • Do not publish an edited volume.  Period.  Wait until after tenure, no matter how absolutely wonderful and vitally important you think this edited volume would be.  Here (and the research U at which I was tenured) you will not get credit for an edited volume toward tenure.  No.  You.  Won't.  If your own monograph (or requisite number of peer-reviewed articles) comes out and you still have a year or two before tenure, go up early!  Then do the edited volume.  Though keep in mind it might only count as service, not research(!)
  • Same goes for textbooks.  Someone may ask you to do a textbook with them.  You might be flattered and excited about the possibilities.  Walk away.  Come back after tenure, if you still care.
  • Think twice about co-authoring a book with your beloved advisor.  S/he shouldn't even be asking you to do that.  They know they couldn't have gotten tenure based upon a book co-authored with their old advisor, even with a good number of articles thrown in.  Write you own book or X number of articles for tenure, then co-author.
  • If you are in a field in which many scholars write books and many write articles, and you are told that in your department at XSU expects articles, believe them.  I was told by my friend (an article-writer) that her department counts a book at a university press the same as an article at a not very good journal.  Yes, indeed.  Get out of there if you can, or else learn how to write articles (or rejoice as an article-writer, I suppose).

Finally, it doesn't hurt to make friends or "network" outside of your own department.  This is not only good for intellectual and emotional enrichment, but it is nice to have a reputation (a good one) once your file goes before the college and university-level committees.

Folks, I don't make these rules.  I've just been observing people ignore them too often at their peril.  I have more than one person in mind for each of these "don't"s. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

The dreaded first week in May--over!

I'm finally done! Grades submitted an hour ago. Yeah!  No panicked inquiries from students yet, asking how they got the grade they did.  I like waiting until the last day to turn grades in.  I do so not only because I take my time grading, but also because students have calmed down by then and only the less reactionary and more conscientious students pose follow-up questions about grades (which is pretty rare anyway, knock on wood).

In addition to last week's finals, graduation, grading, son's special outdoor obstacle course all-day field trip, son's concussion (fully recovered!), son's birthday, Mother's Day, we also had to remember that it was daughter's "snack week" (had to bring in a different snack for entire class each day).  This afternoon was son's "ice cream social" at the middle school he will attend next year.  And tomorrow is "field day" for both kids--all sorts of things to remember for tomorrow (water bottle, running shoes, sunscreen, ...).  Oh, and tomorrow we need to bring a birthday treat for son to share with his class, since we forgot to do that Friday.  This coming Friday is the elementary school's "Spring Festival"--and I volunteered for something (can't remember what).  Enough!

Plus, our after school babysitter is a college student, and she is gone for the summer.  So now I only work until 2:15 before heading down to pick up the daughter. Husband does it once a week.  He hasn't chimed in about how else he will contribute to pick up the extra work now that babysitter is gone. I guess I can't depend upon him to volunteer these days.  He used to be very good that way.  It is hard being the parent with the supposedly "flexible schedule"--especially hard when you're the woman with the flexible schedule.

I hate early May more every year. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

There's more to this bad day?

With all the ceremonies and events today, my cell phone was off most of the day. I didn't even have it with me during graduation ceremony--since I couldn't answer it up on stage, what would be the point of carrying it? My S.O. can cover for me if there is any emergency with the kids.

Turns out, there was an emergency!  Son got himself a (mild) concussion!

It wasn't from sports, as I had always feared.  Not even from horsing around. 

The 5th graders had read a book about a blind person.  Then they all put on blindfolds and walked around the playground to gain some insight into what it is like to be blind. 

Apparently my son wouldn't last a day without sight.  He walked into the corner of a brick wall hard enough to cause a concussion.

He'll be OK.  Turns out there's not much you can do.  But I still feel guilty--doesn't it figure that the one day I turn my cell phone off for longer than a 75-minute class, one of the kids has an emergency!

He took my keys, and then my head exploded

Today is one of my busiest days of the year.  In addition to all the grading, there are several ceremonies/graduation events to attend.  So busy that I have to drive to work to save time.

Today my S.O. took my keys to work, along with his own.  I have always hated it when he uses my keys to make a short trip in the car.  I also hate it that he will sometimes make two separate trips to the same school in the morning just because my son likes to arrive earlier than my daughter.  This is just too indulgent and wasteful of time and gas.  The fact that he has my keys because he drove my son to school and then came back and used his own keys to drive daughter to school--that makes my head explode (almost).

Then he doesn't answer his cell as I frantically call while searching for keys to get to the ceremony in which I will be honored along with my student mentee.  Why doesn't he answer? Because he is busy listening to an audiobook on his iPod on the bus.  I also hate it that he relaxes on the bus to/from home, while I use the bus as an absolutely essential time to getting my never-ending pile of work done.  I hate it that he works 9-5:30 and does all his work AT work.  I work 6:15-7:30; 8:45-4:45; 6:45-7:30; 10-11.

Because he doesn't answer, I keep searching for my keys and miss the bus that would have gotten me to the ceremony almost on time.

See how several smaller resentments co-mingle into something bigger?  I'll get over it.  Venting helps--thanks! 

Also, this is such a major screw-up, I think he will make some concessions as my summer starts.  As it is, I work 6:15-7:25am at home, then 7:25-7:55 get the daughter ready and out the door.  By 8am, my work mode has shut down a bit, and I'm more prone to putzing around.  My own work will be MUCH more efficient if I get a solid 2-3 hours as early as possible. So for the rest of the kids' school year, I hope to get daughter ready 7:00-7:15am. And at 7:15 I'm out the door for 2 hours work in a cafe. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Names of foreigners

Academic blog posts abound this week about students who think the world revolves around them, and professors who would like to disabuse them of that idea.  So I'll add one of mine.

A student from Japan just asked me if she could have permission to use the vocabulary list from the study guide while taking the final (this is a no-notes exam).  She writes, "It's hard to remember... the name of foreigners."

OK, this is a class with a global focus.  The "names of foreigners" are thus foreigners for everyone in the class!  Not just foreign for a Japanese student.  And for the most part, they are names of prominent international figures--names anyone coming out of this class should know, regardless of the student's country of origin or first language. 

Geeeeeez.  She is already getting extra time on the final and has permission to use an electronic dictionary.  I think that is enough specialness for one person.  There are limits.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The choir needs to kick it up a notch

Well, I'm done.  Done with classes.  My students were very nice on the last day, which hopefully means they feel they learned a lot and liked the class.  I liked them (well, all but one). 

My son's elementary school choir had their performance tonight. I've never really been big on choirs--didn't like being in them, much less listening to them. Of course, it's a lot better when your child is in the choir.  But the music teacher picked some boring stinkers this semester.  I wish he'd stick to the proven crowd-pleasers, frankly.  Why experiment?  You could definitely tell which ones the kids liked to sing (the only two crowd-pleasers in the bunch). 

My neighbor, who volunteers with the choir, didn't like the songs either. She says it's because the music teacher is going through a divorce, which is too bad.  He has seemed kind of sad lately.

After the kid choir, a men's a cappella group sang. Now they had fun songs!  Plus, it's just nice to see people have so much joy in what they're doing.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A mean student who cries in my office--and the many others who amaze and inspire me

I have some amazing students this semester.  One student is from Afghanistan; he brings such wonderful insights into the class, particularly through his written work.  Another student is a "Lost Girl" from Sudan.  She came to the U.S. only about 5 years ago, from an orphanage in Kenya.  She recently found out her mother is still alive and hopes to return home to see her this summer.  She is struggling with the work but will pass the class. I am excited to see she has signed up for a class with me next year as well. 

To say these students have experienced hardship doesn't quite capture it.  Both fled major wars as children. 

In this same class, I also have a student who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, a student who has a very scary eating disorder (she's been hospitalized; I worry about her), a student undergoing radiation for cancer, and a student with clinical depression (and a note from her psychologist).  And those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head.

And then I have the student from a privileged family  in X country--a country with a GDP per capita that puts it in the middle-range on the UN scale, similar to Hungary and Poland.  She is a B/B- student who looks in the mirror and sees an A student.  It is my fault, apparently, that she is getting Bs.  Don't I know that English isn't her first language (no, I didn't--she speaks English flawlessly and without an accent--this part of her really is impressive)? 

She went to high school in the U.S. and before that attended a private foreign-language school in her home country.  She has writing problems, but not any worse than my other B students.  And my thought on this issue is that she has a wealth of resources on campus to help her with her writing if she feels she does not have the same level of preparation for English-language writing as other students. 

But do NOT ask me for a grade change on that basis.  Especially since I already told her that the main problems with her paper involved lack of a thesis and minimal critical engagement with the text.  Really, she deserved a B- on that paper, not a B.

She has come in to my office to question every grade she has ever received, including the quizzes that test on students' command of the facts.  She just came in to question her paper grade for the second time.  She is an angry student, but she tears up each time I tell her (fairly gently) that she got the grade she deserved, detailing what is missing from her paper or essay exam, etc.  She has full-on cried twice--but still with hostility.  So it isn't a situation in which I can feel much sympathy for her. 

Thankfully, such students have been few and far between.  And she will soon be gone.

Was it mean of me to ask her, after much back and forth about her grade, if she is getting As in all her other classes?  She thought that was a really mean question. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Where's MY study guide?

In both classes, students have been asking for the study guide for the final.  Asking a lot.  I'm not against giving it out at this point.  But still, it is 11-12 days before their final.  And the problem is, I don't have a study guide that I can just pull up on my computer and send out!  I have to CREATE it.  And that takes about 4-5 hours per guide.  And I've been busting my butt lately with lectures, etc. 

They don't know it, but it will obviously turn my Saturday into a workday. There's simply not enough hours in the week.  Especially now that our after-school babysitter called in sick this afternoon, setting me back on my workload even further.

Where's MY study guide?   You know, the one that helps me learn about how to have both an academic career and a nice family life?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wow, that's weird--a diet plan that is working

For the first time in ... oh about forever, I have been losing weight.  The last 2+ weeks I have lost 3 pounds--and relatively painlessly.  Actually, I only diet about once ever 5-6 years.  I'm not officially overweight, but the 1 lb./yr weight gain is really starting to add up. 

The iPod app Livestrong (also available on the internet: is key.  With it, I've gone back to the basics, following the "calories in, calories out" model.  In other words, to maintain one's weight, one must not eat more than the calories one expends in energy.

It is easy to enter each thing I eat (type, "apple" or "nature valley trail mix"); the Livestrong app looks up and tracks the calories (plus sodium, fat, protein, sugar...).   I can also enter any exercise, which adds calories back into my "remaining calories" column (how many more calories I can eat that day to stay on track with losing 1 lb/wk).  For me, this has been a great incentive to exercise more.

Surprisingly, I haven't been feeling hungry--not any more, anyway, than when I'm not dieting.  (In contrast to something like the Twinkie Diet.  With that, I'd just get sugar highs and then crashes, at which point I'd be suddenly starving and desperate for food.)  I'm eating many more vegetables and fruits: fewer calories, more nutrients, and keep me feeling full for longer.

We'll see how long this works.  I started at 143.6 lbs and am now down to 140.0 after 2.5 weeks (I'm 5' 5").  The plan is to stay on the "lose 1lb/wk" calorie plan until I get down to 138.  And then I'll move into the "lose 1/2 lb/wk" mode, which will be easier to maintain over a longer period.

Beyond that, we'll see. I don't want to get my hopes up too high, as I my get frustrated and then abandon the diet.  Last year my doctor gave me the goal of 137, so if I get there, I will be very happy!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

My daughter wants to be a dentist. No grimacing or groaning!

My 5yr old daughter wants to be a dentist when she grows up.  She actually gets excited to go to the dentist! 

Why? Probably several reasons:
  • Everyone in our dentist office is female except for the receptionist.  (And the dentist's husband is a stay at home dad!  This dentist is really challenging the gendered division of labor.)
  • The dental hygienists are very pretty.  So she probably thinks of dental work as a glamorous job.
  • She generally is interested in science and the body (including teeth).
This is a major step up, in my opinion, from wanting to be a princess when she grows up.  So I'm trying to nourish her interest in teeth and the body.  But the general public is not making that easy.

Yesterday, daughter and I went to the science and nature museum.  There is a kid's "discovery zone" which includes a life-size plastic body with removable organs.  Daughter and I were busy removing and replacing organs when some random woman comes up and tries to engage my daughter by grimacing over the organs and repeatedly saying, "Ooooo! Yucky!  Ick!"  What the....?  This is a SCIENCE and NATURE museum.  The point is to engage kids' interest in SCIENCE and NATURE.  It isn't a Halloween-style horror show.  I couldn't get daughter's interest focused back on the body parts after that.

There have been other acts of discouragement. 

As I wrote in a previous post, I let daughter participate in a fashion show.  The worst part  was that they asked each kid what they wanted to be when they grew up, and the woman filling out my daughter's form grimaced and groaned when daughter said she wanted to be a dentist.  And then, during the fashion show, as my daughter walked down the aisle, the MC announced that she wanted to be a dentist when she grew up.  And then the MC also grimaced and groaned! 

In effect, they were making fun of her career ambitions, playing it up for a few laughs.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised that this was the attitude at a Nordstrom fashion show....

I don't remember anyone discouraging my son's career ambitions like this.  But maybe I'm just more sensitive with my daughter.

My mom and dad last year took a trip to Costa Rica to have semi-major work done on their teeth--they said it was cheaper to have the work done there, including once hotel, flight, great food, etc were factored in.  So they had a ten-day vacation, with a little dental work thrown in.  But I'm hoping that Nordstrom didn't ruin my chances for having free dental care closer to home.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

I love student evaluation week!

Our administrative assistant has announced it!  Student evaluation forms are in our mailboxes.  We must pass them out this coming week.  Yaaaaay!

Why do I love student evaluation week?
1.  Like robins and daffodils signal spring, student evaluations signal end-of-semester is coming! I love both signs of spring and signs of end-of-semester.

2.  Once the students fill out evaluations, I feel free.  I can relax with the rest of the lectures, at least a bit.  I don't have to be so polite to the whiny or rude students.  When students pressure me to hand out the study guide earlier than stated on the syllabus, I don't have to stress out about it.

There is this idea out there that professors at research universities don't care about teaching.  But all the faculty I know seem to at least think that they care--care a lot!  And my department has excellent teachers, which makes life hard for me since I have to keep up with them and their high evaluation scores.  But after evaluations on Tuesday, pressure is off!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

This Is a Public Service Announcement--With Crickets

If your child bursts through the door after school and asks if s/he can adopt a lizard ("anole") after their class is done studying them, politely but firmly decline the offer.  If you are wavering--after all, how much trouble can lizards be?--ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do I enjoy driving to the pet store every single week to buy live crickets (lizard food; $2.70/wk)?
2. Do I like the sound of crickets chirping in my house.....constantly?
3. Do I enjoy arranging for care for one more pet when we go on vacation?
4. Is $120+ for the cage and accessories a good way to spend my money?

If your answer is "no" to any of the above, make sure any other adult in the house sees this list before saying "yes" without consulting you.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Wine and the university--who picks up the tab?

Busy week.  Graded 48 papers over two days.  Taught, sat on an honors thesis defense, met with students, finished making a quiz, all with 4 hours of sleep the night before. 

That wore me out for the next day, which is just as well, since I had to spend 7am-12noon reading and sitting on a dissertation defense.  Thankfully, it was a fabulous dissertation and defense.  Somebody better hire him soon.  He really is good.

I hope I'm recharged enough by tomorrow to finish that paper and SEND IT OUT.  This will be harder than it otherwise would be, since I am going to dinner with an invited speaker and several faculty tonight, late, 7:30.  Late for me anyways.  I am counting on having wine at dinner--will make talking to mostly humanities faculty easier.  I like humanities faculty one on one, but in a group it is sometimes hard for me to connect (or understand what they're talking about).

I'm at a public university.  The university will pick up the tab for the food and non-alcohol drinks, but we have to pay for our own alcohol.  Awkward with guests, as we never seem to arrange ahead of time about how to contribute $ towards the guest's booze and who will pay that bill.  We don't want them to pay for their own drinks, of course.  In our system, others at the table have to foot the bill for the guest's drinks.  I find that many grad students and faculty don't know that this is the case at some universities--I certainly didn't. 

So if you are a candidate for a job, think twice before you order (like my friend from graduate school did) a double Johnny Walker on the rocks.  Actually, there are many reasons why you might not want to do that.

The two big public universities I've worked for don't pay for alcohol, period.  How does it work at other colleges?  Any pointers for people on the job market on ordering a drink at dinner?  Don't do it? Wait to see if others are drinking, and what they are drinking? 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Big Buck$!

I just received my annual check from the university press publisher of my book--$50!  Woohoo!  I plan to spend it on something special. 

Actually, I never expected to make money off the book, just to make tenure.  So I'm good with it.  My book has now sold 1,097 copies.  That sounds so small (it IS small), but for disciplines such as mine, it's not bad.  I went to a talk by an editor specializing in my field, and he said that the average number of books sold in the field was 750. 

Now to finish book #2!  I just hope someone wants to publish it.  I've been working on articles too much lately.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Spring Break--good and bad

Well, I've returned from Spring Break and then hunkered down through another week of school.  Spring Break was a mixture of hellish weather, loooong drives, and then a great few days at the end.

We drove to my parents house, which is 15 hours away. On the way there, we made the trip in two days.  We decided against flying for several reasons. 
I hate making flight arrangements
I hate paying for the flights
I hate hate hate packing--and packing is harder for flights
We wanted to bring the dog
It's nice to have a car (own that isn't rented)

The trip out was windy, but not too bad.  But the weather at my parents' house absolutely sucked. It was the coldest, dreariest weather I can remember for a March.  Snow, but not enough to sled on and too wet and heavy for good skiing.  Too cold for anything else. 

Plus, my son had a terrible stomach virus that he passed on to his dad and his grandma.  And oddly, his cousin also had a stomach virus.  So we couldn't get the kids together to play.  So we just hung out for three days, which was kind of relaxing and then pretty boring.

Finally, it was time for all of us to drive down for a big family 3-day Carnival cruise.  This was the worst point in the trip, as the weather had gotten so bad that we couldn't make it over the mountains!  More specifically, we got up to where snow chains were required. Spent 45-minutes figuring out how to put those on.  And by the time we were back on the highway, it was closed and we had to turn back!  Fortunately, there was another very out of the way route, which involved going the opposite direction and then down through the neighboring state, and back over.  So we made it in at 11pm (started at 9am).

Cruise was GREAT!  I was dubious, and it isn't something I'd ever want to do with just my S.O.  But with my aging parents plus my kids and their cousins, it was all a lot of fun.  And I ate a ton of good food.

Then we drove back the 15-hour trip in one day, which ended up taking 20 hours.  I arrived in time to get two hours of sleep before heading out to teach!

So now I have to get those 48 4-6page papers graded.  I put those off long enough.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Mini fashionista -- And gender concerns

Last week at the mall, when my daughter and I were taking a shortcut to Old Navy via Nordstrom's, we dallied a bit too long over a $38 size 6x (for girls) t-shirt (me expressing shock and mild outrage).  A sales associate approached and just spilled all over herself about the fabulous fashion show for girls coming up. 

It was hard sell.  And my daughter bought it up.

She was so so excited.  Much more excited about it than going skiing.  Or watching her brother's baseball game. Way more.  I was hoping she'd forget about it.  That used to work, but not this time, not any more.  She had committed to memory every detail and asked me about it several times a day.

Soooooooo, my daughter was in a fashion show yesterday.  It was all over in an hour.  And they served coffee and a light breakfast.  Not bad.  Plus, she is over her princess stage (mostly), and didn't go for the pink puffy dress.  She picked out a cool black and white striped dress--a play dress, which she wore with black leggings, black motorcycle boots, and a black fedora.  Coolness. 

And she was so happy! 

I could have refused to let her go.  But I liken this to letting my son play with toy guns.  If I outlawed them, he'd probably yearn for them all the more.  And it would give him something to rebel against.  He knows our value system and all is fine--no special fascination with guns, much less aggressive than his friends, etc. 

So, I'm hoping my daughter's self confidence won't become too wrapped up in beauty, body image, and fashion.  We have to make sure she knows she is valued by other, healthier, things.

Friday, March 11, 2011

I Hate Merit Evaluation Day

Like the title says, I hate merit evaluation day. I am ALWAYS on the committee that evaluates faculty performance in my department.  Raises, if there are any, are based upon this evaluation.  (We've had two years without raises).

I mostly hate it because the other tenured faculty in my department have been racking up lines on their research accomplishments through publishing edited volumes or readers or through publishing in low-profile journals.  (Untenured faculty definitely cannot take that route here).

So I'm resentful because I'm taking a different track--going for top journals (mostly) and also working on a book.  This is a very slow process, with increased likelihood of rejections.  And I'm embarrassed because I don't have much in the way of publications this year.  Actually, I have NOTHING published.  But thank goodness, I just had an article accepted at the top journal (though that won't officially count for my merit raise until 2012, when it comes out).

I have two more articles that I really, really should send out soon (even if they aren't perfect), just so I can go back to working on my book for a while.

Will I actually follow my own advice?  Maybe, maybe not.

Friday, March 4, 2011

When is Spring Break? Not soon enough.

Things were going so well this semester.  I was staying caught up.  I felt like I was doing a good job with lectures, even though one was a new prep.  I was even saying things like, "Oh wow, is it already week 7? Time is flying!"

But then, BAM.  I feel swamped with grading (gave two midterms on Tuesday).  I also have several other grading and reviewing chores stacking up.  And I still haven't sent out that paper I'm writing with the undergrad student, not to mention my other several writing projects.  Now I'm starting to turn that corner and wonder, when is this semester ever going to end?

Eeks.  I wish I could just pull an all-nighter, like I could in college and grad school.  I really could clean off my to-do list in one night, at least the grading--not the writing.  My key to publishing success has been to just keep plugging away, working on it consistently (not such a secret, really). 

And along that train of thought--I never understood about my grad students (or my friends back in grad school) who congratulate themselves on finishing a paper or chapter, by which they mean getting to the conclusion.  It is all in the editing for me.  It means little to have "finished" a paper.  The editing takes longer than the "writing." 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Update on the sock

A few days ago I posted that my dog ate my daughter's sock--just gulped it down unchewed (she's a big dog).  I was worried. If she didn't pass it out the other end, she'd need surgery.

Two days later, my son found the sock on the back porch. Yeah!  The dog had just thrown it up--all in one piece, just like it went down.

My daughter was happy to get her sock back! She's 5 and doesn't seem to understand the physical consequences of eating socks.  She also can't understand why I don't want to pop the sock in the washer so she can start wearing it again.  I get a blank look from her when I say, "But the sock was in the dog's stomach for two whole days!"

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Is a visiting professor job a bad career move?

We are at the time in the academic job market cycle when some ABDs and new PhDs will begin considering visiting professor positions. 

I have heard some of my colleagues discourage students from applying.  But I think that is the wrong advice for most new PhDs (and ABDs that are truly going to defend prior to fall 2011).

My first academic job was as a visiting professor.  I was on the market but still ABD and hadn't gotten any interviews.  None.  But then I saw a flier at a regional conference in spring about a visiting position.  I interviewed for it at the conference and got the job.

This job was awesome.  It was in a smallish dept at a small liberal arts college.  My colleagues were great.  We had a lot of fun together.  And they were supportive of my research and ongoing job search.  Plus, when a new professor line opened up a year later, guess who they immediately contacted? Me! I was about to accept a great TT job elsewhere, so I didn't apply.  But I think I would have had a definite advantage in that job search.

To be clear, I think job searches should be truly competitive.  But when a popular visiting professor is competing for a tenure-track job, in my experience the search is NOT as competitive as it should be.  On the hiring end, it has been pretty clear.  I have been on search committees and heard colleagues argue that we "should" give visiting professor "Bob" an interview for the tenure-track position.  This even though we just hired "Bob" at the last minute as a visiting professor in a very uncompetitive process when some money came available and he was in the right place at the right time.  And even though his CV was in not competitive with the other top CVs we were considering.  And even though he hadn't been all that great in the classroom! (We didn't interview "Bob," but I had to be the big meanie arguing the case against him.)

Right or wrong, faculty often feel obligated to a visiting professor.  Or they become friends.  This can be a definite advantage in moving from visiting to tenure track at that institution.

I've lost several jobs to the inside candidate.  It looks like one of my grad students just lost a job to the inside candidate.  This isn't to say that the jobs would have been ours but for the visiting professor.  But it is to say that it was the visiting professor who was hired.

Visiting professor positions also help us widen our career networks.  I've gotten a few opportunities thrown my way from my old colleagues, plus some lasting friendships.  Plus, it doesn't look bad on the CV--at least I've never heard a negative comment on it.

Surely there are down-sides to the visiting professor job.  I can see how a visiting professor might feel ignored, underpaid, disrespected. But you won't know if it is THAT kind of situation until you're there. 

And hey, it is a job!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

ABD waitress--and how is it different from a PhD waitress?

Eating lunch with the kids at P.F. Chang's the other day, I was reminded of the time I saw a grad student (ABD) there from my previous institution/dept.  She was working there.  As a waitress. 

Is this a tragedy? An ABD working as a waitress?

Many faculty that I have known would think so.  I think not.

For I, too, was an ABD waitress. 

I made more money per year as a waitress than I did my first year as an asst. professor.  And I only had to work 25 hrs/wk as a waitress!  Doesn't that put things in an interesting light?  And yes, that was a tenure-track professor job.

I learned a lot working as a waitress.  I like to think it made me more worldly and even more mature.  Several professor colleagues of mine would have been better off spending a few years in the "real world."  Pure academia provides such a narrow set of experiences, really.  One of my colleagues did a lot of different odd jobs before going to grad school, and he's a more interesting, multifaceted person for it, me thinks.  I mean, he can fix his own porch and fund-raise for the orchestra!

I write best if it isn't my full-time job.  Who can write a dissertation 8-hours a day?  Very few of us.  What were my other ABD friends doing when they were done writing for the day?  I'm not sure.  Good question, now that I think about it.  But I was working.  And otherwise having a good time.  My dissertation took a couple years longer than my adviser thought it would.  But it won a national dissertation award and was a book a few years later.  I really, really believe that it was a much better dissertation because I worked and lived and had a few mini-adventures while writing it. 

Being an ABD waitress wasn't bad, but I was scared sh*tless of being a Ph.D. waitress.  It is important to say that.  I felt that my status as grad student provided some legitimacy to my waitressing, made it OK if someone I knew from high school, say, saw me waiting tables.  "Grad student" was a status title that counter-acted the lower status of "waitress."  But interestingly, "Ph.D." would do the opposite--make working as a waitress seem evidence of failure. 

Around this time, I went to a comedy show.  It was a one-woman show, and for reasons I can't recall, she had us all write on an index card (anonymously, but blue for men and pink for women) our biggest fear.  I wrote "failure."  Going through the cards, she told the crowd that this was the first time EVER that she had a woman write "failure."  Men wrote "failure," not women.  Perhaps that was the downside of being an ABD waitress: "ABD" would only protect me for just so long.  "Ph.D. waitress" is really just "waitress." 

And I could have been a waitress with just a bachelor's degree ;)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Pet digestion and hotness (or lack thereof)

The dog ate a sock yesterday.  Bright pink little girl sock.  I told her to drop it, and usually she does.  But she saw me coming and just swallowed it whole.  So now my son's job is to look for a pink sock when she poops.  At least it wasn't a black or brown sock--that would have been made his job harder.

The cat hacked up a huge hairball on my son's homework binder (binder was open, too).  We haven't cleaned it up yet.  Kinda gross, but kinda funny.  That's how we are.

I Googled my name.  I was looking for something else, but accidentally saw that on "Rate my professor" I had a low score for "hotness."  I'm not stupid enough to open that link and investigate.  This info was just on the brief description that pops up on the Google list.  Up to now, I've been able to protect myself. I'm at that age at which I am thinking more and more about forms of plastic surgery and other interventions (botox, for example).  But I'm also opposed to it on gender principles.

It isn't going to be very good weather this weekend.  But I think we better go skiing nonetheless. My mood depends upon it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pondering the source of a sour mood

I'm in a sour mood and don't want to do any research/writing today.  Possible reasons:

1. It is a great ski day.  But I've skied several times this week--Wed, Fri, Sat, Mon.  I don't think I'd have a good day skiing, but still I'm sour because I'm not skiing.

2. After two days of working till almost midnight and getting up at 5:30am, I am tired of working--even though that was teaching work, not writing work.  Yesterday was an intense 11-hour day--really nonstop work. I'm over it.

3. I know that since I'm not skiing, I really should go clean up my office.  I've only been doing the essentials in my office--prepping for class, grading, and meeting with students.  I wonder if I've put anything at all away this semester (I do throw away my trash--I'm in a messy stage, but not a gross one).

4.  In addition to office cleaning, I have to grade 5 papers.  Plus I have to read some work that colleagues/grad students have sent me--not drudgery, but a step below my own writing on my personal preference scale.

5. The writing I have to do involves turning a 10,200-word paper into a 9,000-word paper.  Not the most interesting task.  But my co-author/student doesn't seem to know how to do that at all (though she's great in other aspects, thank goodness).

6.  My daughter lost her jean jacket after wearing it one time. 

7. My daughter's little friend was a major mess-maker last week.  The major messes/disasters have always been committed by my kids' friends, not my kids.  Examples?  Neighbor boy spilled water on my laptop (yes, it was ruined).  Daughter's friend wrote her name in marker on the carpet--and she wrote it BIG.  Same friend, same day, put real lipstick on (apparently all over her face) and then used a bathroom towel to wipe it off (how can I get so much lipstick off a towel?--there is a square foot of bright red lipstick seemingly caked on).  My friend's daughter used up all my food coloring and several spices making "soup" with my son--that was an expensive soup! My son (5 at the time, 2 yrs younger than the girl) regularly played with food coloring and spices to make concoctions. He was always careful and only used a bit of each.  The girl went crazy!  And then her mom, my "friend," said, "Well, what did you expect?"

8.  My son found gray hair roots on my head and freaked out: Oh my god, do you have gray hair? Do you dye your hair? My mom is old!!  Duh.

I should have just gone skiing.  But hopefully I'll finally kick my cold by just hanging around all day.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Random thoughts, words of encouragement, and a confession

1. Stay strong Wisconsin!

2. I confess two guilty pleasures:
The Nanny  (as in, the Nanny named Fran)
Jackass: The Movie

Weird combination, I know.  But they're guilty pleasures--not meant to make sense!

3.  Yesterday skiing I took my son down a double black diamond run. It has all these warnings at the top, plus a big skull and cross bones.  You can't ski this run alone, so I had never been down it since I only ski alone or with son.  But I figured he was ready.  He did fine.  Only one little spill.  But when we got almost all the way down, and a guy with his little girl skied past us.  She was a little kid, maybe 2nd or 3rd grade.  This was a bit humbling for my son.  As he pointed out, she was going faster than he was!  Then again, on little skis you can just snow-plow between the moguls (which she was).  We emerged proud of ourselves, nonetheless. 

4. On the lift yesterday, I pointed out one guy to my son who was really, really good.  Just, wow, amazingly impressive.  And my son said, "Is he as good as you, Mom?"  So sweet! 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Disappearances at the Mall--or, I thought the recession ended in summer 2009

I went to the mall today for the first time since Xmas and found out that the following stores and restaurants have disappeared, poof! 
  • Abercrombie and Fitch (and Abercrombie)
  • Guess
  • Restoration Hardware
  • Godiva chocolates
  • Ultimate Electronics
  • Cinnabon
  • Wetzel's Pretzels
  • Panda Express
  • McDonalds (yes, McDs!)
  • the pet store (aka the puppy mill shop; good riddance)
There were others gone too, but I can't remember what was there before.

Depressing.  I was expecting this in 2009.  Not 2011.  Note that the stores are among the most expensive stores in the mall.  I guess the wealthier among us are cutting back. 

In the meantime, the Apple store was absolutely packed--really, really packed.  

Friday, February 11, 2011

Manuscript reviews--sometimes worth ignoring

The recent acceptance of my article has been a nice and needed boost.  With my new confidence, I finally went back to a paper that had been rejected at a big-name journal.  Rejected 5 years ago!  The reviewers were not at all encouraging; one was dismissive.   Since the journal accepts less than 10% of submitted papers, I wasn't surprised by the rejection.  But the tone of the rejection was discouraging.

In the meantime, I had a baby.  Opening up this document after so long, I had forgotten the specific time-line:
July 5, 2005, 9:49PM:  send final draft of paper to big name journal and close document.
July 6, 2005, 4:00AM:  water breaks, go into labor, have a baby.

Yup, I got that paper out in the nick of time.  And the journal took 5 months to get back to me with a decision.  I wasn't in a big hurry at that point.  But still, I could have really used reviewer comments that were a bit more constructive criticism and less destructive criticism. 

So I just tucked it away and never got back to it.  A month or so after receiving the reviews, I got a job offer for the job I have now.  And with the whirlwind that followed, I never really brought myself to read the paper again. 

I should have just sent the same paper out to another journal.  That is what an ex-colleague (who published tons) used to do.  He'd print out, say, 3 copies of the paper, along with 3 cover letters addressed to different journals.  Then he'd address 3 envelopes.  He'd send the first one out.  If it was rejected, he'd just reach over to the pile, grab the next envelope and pop it into the mail.  He wouldn't make any revisions based upon the reviewer comments.  (I don't even know if he read the reviewer comments!)  He told me that the next journal would just want different revisions anyway, so he didn't waste his time.  Hardcore.  Thick-skin.  But apparently it works.  He published his way to early tenure and then a new and better job.

Anyway, now I finally did read through that paper, and it isn't bad!  I'm NOT going to read through the reviewer comments.  Why bother.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

From cool R&R to forthcoming!

Back in mid-December, I wrote about being in "revising jail" and finally submitting a revise and resubmit to the top journal in my field.  My manuscript had been branded a "cool R&R," as opposed to a warm and inviting R&R..

So I wasn't hopeful today when I saw the journal's email sitting in my inbox.  I braced myself and opened it quickly to not prolong the pain (like pulling off a band-aid quickly). 

My eyes scanned for relevant words and settled on "congratulations"!  So it is accepted! It seems like there won't even but much final revision required on my part.

It has been a while since I have had a major acceptance like this.  I was on a great roll in the early-to-mid 2000s.  Then I got two big grants, which entailed very time-consuming fieldwork plus other gathering and analyzing and supervising of grad students (that's the good thing and the bad thing about grants).  Then I had a 2nd child and got tenure.  Then I went on the job market.  Then I got a new job and we moved.  Then I helped repopulate an extremely dysfunctional department (very stable and healthy now). 

And in that time of major transitions, my publications have been slim.  I have had a few--three.  But not big ones.  And I have two book manuscripts slowly coming along--very slowly.

This paper acceptance makes me feel back on track.  I can do this!  Even with two kids!  Even with a ski-day or two a week!  That is, even with a life outside of work!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Tenure decisions and department rewards

I am on the faculty committee of a very large interdisciplinary major.  At last week's meeting we discussed hiring plans to replace someone whom we voted down in pre-tenure 3rd year review last year.  S/he had a joint appointment and the other department voted to renew hir contract. Since we voted against renewal and the other department voted in favor, guess who gets to control the new hire?

We do--we are rewarded for being mean ("making the tough decisions").  Unlike when a faculty leaves or retires, if a department rejects someone at 3rd yr review or for tenure, that department retains that line and can fill it again the next year. At least that's how it works here.

So in essence, it is a way that the deans have of reassuring those departments that deny tenure that they won't be penalized.  If a department votes in favor of tenure for someone, and then the college-wide committee votes to deny tenure, that department is not guaranteed that they will get to refill that soon-to-be-open position. 

I hate this side of the tenure process.  I hate the idea of being rewarded for firing someone.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Podcasts for academic-types

Podcasts--what would I do without them?  I just found out that I can download audio of the latest The Economist (you need a subscription to the magazine).  Apparently I picked a bad time to download.  But as I wait for it to finish, I thought I'd write a post on podcast.

My podcast favorites:
NPR: Most Emailed Stories:  Good to fall asleep to.  I fastforward through interviews with musicians; I like music, but my tastes are too specific and few of them have lives I care to learn about.  Otherwise, the podcast listening public has pretty good taste in what they choose to email to their friends and colleagues, so this is typically a pretty good selection of the day's NPR stories.

Marketplace (by American Public Media): Great if you like an economic focus.  Not so great if you are trying to relax--not with this economy, anyway.

NPR: Planet Money:  Newish web-based show with an economic focus--economics for the (well-informed) layperson.  Some excellent stories; the one about solving Brazil's inflation was fascinating (and was told so well that my 10yr old was captivated).  Some of these stories make it onto regular NPR radio also, others only show up on Planet Money podcasts.

This American Life: Awesome, but of course you knew that.  Got to keep up on the downloads--only free if you download a show in the first week it is available.

The Moth: Oh my goodness, this is some good story-telling. Stories told without notes in front of a live audience.  All are about 15 minutes.  Sometimes famous people tell a story; Al Sharpeton had doozy recently.  I can't listen to The Moth when I'm trying to go to sleep--they keep me up, riveted.

Slate Magazine Daily Podcasts: The Political Gabfest, The Culture Gabfest, and Double-X--all are terrific.  Each involves 3-4 highly intelligent, well-informed, and thoughtful journalists (drawing from a Slate cast of usual suspects).  The conversations are so engaging.  And these colleagues all seem to get along really, really well.  How do they do that?

What am I missing?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fun with science (museum, not work), plus an ugly coyote

Took the kids to the science museum today.  My partner has been there several times with them, but I've never gone. We tend to divide up such trips rather than go as a whole family. It works for us, but I notice that most families have two parents attached at places like the museum.  Frankly, we just don't feel like we have the time--if we both went, the kids would go swimming or to the museum, etc less often.

Anyway, the museum is fabulous. My daughter is old enough to fully engage in it (instead of whine the whole time). And there is still enough there that interests my son.  Daughter keeps asking if we can go back soon, so it is a good thing I bought an annual family pass. 

We rushed home to get my son to baseball practice.  Then I  caulked the windows in the kids' rooms.  Partner had prepped the windows and bought all the stuff, but he really can't be trusted with the actual caulking (we found that out the hard way a few years ago).

On the way to pick up son from baseball, I noticed a coyote across the street from our house.  Just hanging out, no worries.  They've graduated from cats to small dogs lately, and our town has signs up warning of coyotes.  Great.  Our lab has been going after "something" when partner walks her at night.  Now we know what.  Good thing our dog is bigger than that bag-of-bones coyote.  The cat, however, would be a goner.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Untenured faculty should not accept administrative posts (and tenured faculty shouldn't ask them to)

An untenured woman in my department has been asked to fill in for a year as interim director for an area studies center while the director is on sabbatical.  She really wants to do it, that is clear.  I think she feels flattered to be asked.  And it would be a new title, new responsibility.  She gets a one-course release for the year, and (maybe) summer salary. 

BUT she is not tenured!  And she hasn't finished her book--she says she'll have it finished beginning of summer (but 6 months ago she thought she'd have it finished by this past winter break).  If her book was in-press or published, she'd be fine.  But the manuscript isn't even finished, much less out for review.

She knows that I think she should decline (I'm her mentor).  Her focus should be on research, publishing (her teaching evals are great--she's fine there).  There'll be plenty of time to run centers, etc after tenure.  Also, running the center will not get her any points toward tenure.  Though it will certainly be blamed if her publication record is borderline.

Will she listen to me? Probably not.  She's practically starry-eyed when she talks about it.  I'm not being heavy-handed with her about my advice.  But I just dread the idea of her not getting tenure.  Or even just squeaking by with tenure--I had two friends who turned into very sour and resentful academics when they got tenure with about 1/4 of the faculty voting against them.

Happier news:
I had a great ski week this week. Went 3 times!  On my ski days on the weekdays, I work from 5 or 5:30 to 8:00, then get ready and go skiing, and get back to work 1:30 until 5.  I always work a couple hours in the evenings, so it comes to at least 8 hours of work.  Plus, I get to ski!  Have I mentioned before that I think I'm addicted?  It really brings me joy, especially when I ski with my son.  Great exercise too.

No, I don't tell people at work.  They wouldn't understand. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Kids earning their keep, or at least picking up some of the slack, at last!

I'm pleased to report that my son has finally started to earn his keep!  Last week he helped me put together a desk (with cabinet and drawers) that I bought from World Market.  He was so enthusiastic about it.  He also set up the DVR that I bought my partner for xmas.  What a refreshing change for two overwhelmed, overworked parents. 

But he has also been very emotional (cranky, dramatic crying, etc) the last week or so. He is 10 1/2--maybe he is going through "the change." He already has pimples on his nose.  And he has had B.O. (body odor) at least once (I know this because he called me over to smell it. Very exciting.). 

He won't tell us what he was crying about.  Something that happened at school, and it does not involve an adult. And it doesn't involve his best friend.  That's all we know.

My daughter (5 yrs old) is also slowly becoming more independent.  She has severe eczema--not just on her ankles and wrists but full body.  It is a quality of life issue and so we monitor it closely.  When she has flare-ups, she cries and says, "I just want to be normal!"

Last year we spent over $3,000 on light therapy for her, which involved trips 3x/wk to the dermatologist for a medical-facility version of a tanning booth.  It was the only thing that has really worked, so we kept at it.  Now she is off the light therapy, but she still needs baths every day and a regimen of ointments  and medicines twice a day.  I do this almost every time, and it takes 10 minutes in the morning plus 30 minutes at night (including bath).  Think how much time that is over a year.

She is starting to help put the ointment on, and we've skipped baths every so often with no ill effects.  And even this little bit makes such a difference.  Her skin is gradually improving plus she's becoming more self-sufficient. 

She is pretty spunky.  She loves to swim, so I take her once a week to the indoor pool.  She will go up and down the giant slide 10-15 times.  This is a two-story slide.  Not only is she the littlest kid going up on her own, but think how many flights of stairs that adds up to!  She'd never agree to climb the stairs of a 20-story building.  But no problem if there's a slide to come down.

Today I was very relieved that she enjoyed skiing.  She took 14 runs!  She has a harness attached that Dad holds on to, running behind, because she can't stop on her own.  Or else I ski down holding on to her, with her skis between mine.  She likes that because we can go faster, but she's not really learning to ski that way.

Time to go.  Partner makes dinner on weekends.  My son is complaining about the food already. Attitude!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Critical reflections upon the apparent lack of critical reflection in college classrooms

News Flash!: Students now learn (almost) nothing in college!  In their book Academically Adrift, authors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa PROVE that academe is failing our kids!  More evidence, if you weren't already convinced, that the U.S. is sinking fast!  Ohhhhh when will it all end...?!

I'm being sarcastic, but that doesn't mean I'm not also concerned and perplexed.  I could SWEAR my students were learning something, including critical thinking skills.  Hmmmm.

Below are some bullet points posted on the Chronical of Higher Education website, followed by my comments:
  • “gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills (i.e., general collegiate skills) are either exceedingly small or empirically non-existent for a large proportion of students”
OK, yikes! But I have to say I don't see it.  There are some dullards, yes.  But there are relatively few.  Of course, it is harder for me to tell about change over time.  Perhaps students have been becoming lamer and lamer at such a slow rate that I never noticed!  And now I am giving out As to students I would have given Cs to in the early 90s?!
  • less than one-half of seniors had completed over 20 pages of writing for a course in the prior semester;
Ummmm.  OK, guilty on this one.  I have a 50-student class (a few years ago it would have been a 35-student class).  I am NOT going to grade 1,000 pages of student-generated writing.  Unless you count essay exams, in which case I guess I WILL grade close to 1,000 pages of student writing (and it will seem like 100,000 pages).  My other class has about 70 students--they write two 5-6 page papers plus an essay midterm and essay final.  But still not 20-pages really.  And I have a TA for that one.
  • scholarship from earlier decades suggest there has been a sharp decline in both academic work effort and learning;
In terms of effort spent, I have no idea.  But it is a scary thought.  Here is where I'd really need to see a specific school (like my university) compared over the years.  Are students at MY university significantly lazier compared to ten or twenty years ago?  Or can this trend be explained by the steady increase in numbers of students into higher education--more students, but on average less prepared students? Or....?

Inside Higher Ed's article summarizes some findings pointing to "best practices":
  • Students who study by themselves for more hours each week gain more knowledge -- while those who spend more time studying in peer groups see diminishing gains.
My hatred of study groups is finally validated!
  • Students whose classes reflect high expectations (more than 40 pages of reading a week and more than 20 pages of writing a semester) gained more than other students.
Geeeeez! OK, who is assigning less than 40 pages of reading per week?  I am embarrassed when there is a week on my syllabus that is less than 80, and I aim for 100 pages.   Of course, we all know that 40 pages in one book is the same as, say, 80 in another.  This especially true for big textbooks (those can sure take me a long time to read).  And who can't read contemporary fiction faster than, say, a calculus textbook?  I'm not sure I like this measure--danger of comparing apples to oranges across disciplines.
  • Students majoring in liberal arts fields see "significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills over time than students in other fields of study." Students majoring in business, education, social work and communications showed the smallest gains. (The authors note that this could be more a reflection of more-demanding reading and writing assignments, on average, in the liberal arts courses than of the substance of the material.)
As a professor in the liberal arts, I'm a bit relieved by that last finding.   I can't comment on those other majors, as I know very little about them.  Though anecdotally,  I can say that I sat on an MA committee in one of those schools/majors and watched them vote to approve an embarrassingly bad thesis, reinforced by an even worse defense.

Finally, as I touched on above, if we stick to this notion that everyone should go to college and continue to move in that direction, wouldn't that predictably lead to results like the one in this study?  One of my ex-grad students is now a professor at a university most people in the U.S. will have heard of.  State school, good football, but not exactly known for its academics.  He told me that he has had students who are mentally retarded--he clarified that it was beyond a learning disability; they were actually mildly mentally retarded.

Let's just leave it at that for now--at least on my end.  What do others think about this?

    Why I've been a bad blogger

    I haven't been a great blogger in the last few weeks.  There's a couple of reasons for that.

    First, I have a new course prep.  It takes a long time to write each lecture from scratch.   I teach Tues and Thurs and have been getting to sleep at 11:30pm the night before and then waking up the next morning at 5am to finish.  Yes, planning ahead, starting earlier would help.  But I feel like if I did that, I wouldn't get any of my own research and writing done.  So I let the adrenalin kick in and then power through at the last minute.

    Second, lately I'm not as stressed out about university budget cuts or about my kids or about finances (my usual three).  I'm sure that will change soon enough!  Lately, I've been most stressed about my publishing.  I've been concentrating on writing a book, that morphed into two books.  And then one of those two got so unwieldy that I had to split it in half also.  So I have hundreds of pages, but scattered across three book projects.  And then I sent off an article to the journal with the highest rejection rate. It is still on R & R there, but I'm not optimistic.  So, I have been spending more time writing up my research and less on blogging.

    Third, it is ski season!  Fall is a dud around here.  Summer and winter are where (that is, when) it's at!  So I bet Sept-mid-December will be my blogging season.  That said, now that I'm settling in to courses, I am getting back to more regular blogging.

    Sunday, January 16, 2011

    Why, oh why, did I decide to teach a new class?!

    Problem: For some reason, I decided to teach a brand new class. 

    Actually, I know why I did it.  It will be good for my department and our majors.  But that doesn't mean it was a good career decision for me.  Now I am facing long long hours of new lecture prep. The syllabus alone already took a week of full-time work. Really. 

    But I have learned a thing or two about how not to be overwhelmed by a new class.  My plan:

    1. I am making sure to mix more discussion questions into the lectures.  I have a tendency to lecture too much if I don't reign myself in.  So I'm going to schedule in more discussion, even though it is a 50 person class.  Students tend to be most engaged during discussion.

    2. I am assigning 5 minute powerpoint-style class presentations.  I do this in one other class, and students are surprisingly good.  Public-speaking is an important skill to hone.  I wish I had done more of it in college.  The students are assigned a specific topic that they research and are to take an instructional approach, teaching us the main elements of that topic in 5 minutes.  These aren't big topics--they are small ones, something I'd only spend 5 minutes or less explaining if I lectured on it.  And they will be spread throughout the semester.

    So I woke up today thinking, Oh my god, I have to spend all day Monday prepping lecture for Tuesday. And then I remembered that we didn't get to discuss a series of questions last class, so we will start with those.  Then I have 5 students presenting that day, which will take at least 35-40 minutes.  So now, my challenge will be--how can I fit all I wanted to say in 15 minutes.  That is a problem I'd rather have.

    Saturday, January 8, 2011

    Preparing a syllabus produces brain-rot

    I'm still slogging through creating a new course.  I knew it would be time-consuming, but this is ridiculous.  The topic is nontraditional and interdisciplinary.  Thus, it is very hard to construct a syllabus--few model syllabi out there, no good textbook.  But there is high student interest, and I'll be excited about it again (I hope!) once this monster of a syllabus is done.  Almost there!

    Something about creating or even revising a course rots my brain.  It is both intellectually intense and tedious.  Earlier this week, after a long day of syllabus-preparing, I missed my bus stop by a few stops.  And then when I caught the bus going back the other way, I got off the bus too early!  In my defense, it was dark, which makes it nearly impossible to see one's location.  But still. 

    This would be a lot easier if I just used a textbook and then lectured on whatever I wanted.  But generally I shun textbooks and use my own selection of articles plus a few books.  I discuss the readings in class, weaving them in to lecture/discussion, so I really need them to be good. 


    Sunday, January 2, 2011

    The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Talented and the Gifted

    My son's "talented and gifted" (TAG) test results have finally come back (actually, they've been sitting undiscovered in his backpack for 2 wks).  He indeed qualifies--by a long shot. 

    I've grumbled and agonized about 1) why it took his school so long to agree with me that he is possibly smart (much less TAG); and 2) whether and how identifying him as TAG will actually make a positive difference for him.

    On the first point, the kids at his school that have stereotypical Aspergers symptoms are tested right away. I'm not saying that the kids are actually diagnosed with Aspergers.  Rather, at his school, those traits (problems in social interaction, motor clumsiness, encyclopedic of a narrow subject, etc) are equated with TAG more readily than any other signs.  The other factor ensuring that a child is tested early is parent request.  According to the TAG coordinator, a fair number of kids tested do not qualify. 

    Like my son, our neighbor was not tested until 4th or 5th grade (at mother's request, not teacher's)--she tested practically off the charts.  Who knows how many TAG kids are missed.  I imagine kids who are English as a second language and kids of lower economic strata are most harmed by this faulty system.  In sum, our teachers do not seem effective at identifying TAG students.  This, in itself, is a big mark against the TAG program.

    My other issue concerns the benefits of TAG.  The TAG handbook notes that TAG students can take more advanced classes.  But my son qualified for that anyway, without TAG.  TAG students can also skip a grade, but I don't think my son would benefit much from that.  He'd be removed from his social circle and also would have a much harder time qualifying for sports teams, as he'd be a year younger than everyone else.  He likes playing sports.

    I'm sure my anxiety and resistance to TAG has to do with my own experiences in school.  I skipped 4th grade, and when I entered middle school (6th grade), my mission was to hide my intellect and socially succeed through mastering "normative femininity."  I didn't advertise my gpa to classmates.  Through I.Q. testing, I was placed in the "academically talented" class--but I never told my friends what I did in 4th period.  That 4th period class included me and maybe 8-9 other kids--I was a cheerleader, most of the rest socialized over playing Dungeons and Dragons.  We all got along well, but I wasn't close with them.

    I felt a forced choice at my school--one was either "academically talented" OR popular.  Interestingly, this was NOT directly enforced by the popular kids.  Indeed, the cruel harassment that I recall now came through other academically talented kids.  I remember on the 7-hour bus ride transporting the entire district's "academically talented" juniors and seniors to the Shakespeare Festival, a group kept kept jeering me for my letter jacket (I was on a couple teams, not just cheerleading).  They were surprisingly aggressive about it.

    Another time, my summer cheerleading camp shared a campus with an academically talented program of some sort.  My friend and I thought we had befriended two foreign students with strong accents, who kept asking us to tell them all about cheerleading in America.  On the last day, in front of a lunch table full of their "intellectually-gifted" friends, these "foreign" students (now minus the accents) told us, "Did you know that the word 'gullible' is not in the dictionary?'"  Howls of laughter erupted at the expense of the stupid cheerleaders.  Ironically, my 5-member squad produced a medical doctor, a corporate lawyer, a teacher, a professor, and a stay-at-home mom (perhaps not too far off from that lunch table of geniuses).

    The popular kids, in contrast, were mostly unaware of the kids in the academically-talented program. They certainly didn't spend time constructing a week-long ruse to humiliate them, much less even look their way on the bus.  The anti-intellectual pressure was more quotidian, if less creative: pressure to not use an advanced vocabulary; laughs when one of the guys acted stupid; positive attention from boys when a girl performed what we might call "airheaded femininity" (I like to believe that I never succumbed to that).

    As usual, this is a series of reflections with no specific conclusion.  I am working to separate my issues from my child's.  I don't think he has any issues--except that problem with horrific spelling. But as the TAG handbook tells me, that is not an uncommon trait for TAG kids.  Horray!