Monday, November 30, 2009

You be the teacher...

My first grade son does a weekly exercise called "You be the teacher", where they're asked to correct spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors.

I wish my students had some practice. Here is an actual e-mail sent by a student to the entire campus today:

Hello school my name is madeup name and i am sending this email out to
tell u about the kwaanza program presented by The black studies institute
it is an event where we do a tribute to kwaanza its Thursday
December 3 at 8pm everyone is welcome to come its a great event it should
be fun. Hope to se you there!!!

No location. No punctuation, the wrong its is used, and see is spelled wrong!

And students wonder why they can't get a job...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Department chair meeting

I don't drink. I bake instead.

Today's department chair meeting resulted in me making two sweet potato pecan pies, fudgy oatmeal bars, and butterscotch haystacks.

Anyone need a snack?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What students experience...

While many of these things are not true at my institution (there are no classes with over 100 students), it does reflect the student experience. So how do we respond?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I'm now named

Today I officially became a "named" professorship. While the Dean read a very nice commendation, I felt like a fake. The donor specifically designated the position as "the XXX specialist in the YYY department," which essentially makes me the *only* qualified recipient. My research is so in the weeds it's not even funny, and I have neither the desire nor time to get it back on track.

So now I'm named AND department chair. How exactly did this happen?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Gotta revise the safety rules...

one of my students caught their sweatshirt on fire in lab today. They were working with candles. He leaned over it and caught the string on fire. He managed to take it off and we stomped it out...he was a good sport about it, and other than losing the string, no harm done. Guess we better add "tuck your hoodie ties in" to the list that includes pulling back long hair!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Warm fuzzy day

I'm teaching a non-majors class this semester. It's fairly small (20ish students); 3 hours of classroom and 3 hours of lab a week.

I got a total warm fuzzy from a student at the end of lab today. He said, "one of my friends took Chemistry last year and told me how hard it was. But you've made it relevant and fun. I loved learning about radioactivity and the poisoning of the russian spy."

That'll carry me for a while...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Top ten ways to NOT get a job when I'm hiring

10. Not having any ESH hours in your package.
9. Already having ten other on campus jobs (security desk, anyone?) so you don’t have enough hours left for this position.
8. Taking six classes and two labs, with no free time block longer than 1 hr.
7. Having a criminal record. Sorry, no drug dealers with access to the chemical stockroom!
6. Not answering my e-mails within a week.
5. Being a jerk to the faculty in previous classes.
4. Not including your name on your application and/or resume (yes, this happened).
3. Not meeting the requirements. There is a REASON you have to take a course in our area before you can work in the stockroom or teaching lab!
2. Not stating on your application or resume that you’ve met the requirements.
1. Not applying! (The stockroom manager knows someone is coming back, but he hasn’t applied!)

Hiring students

We have to go through the campus ESH program and post all positions on the campus employment website. This is a total pain because:
a) Not all students come packaged with ESH, so some excellent students aren’t eligible
b) ALL the students can see your listing…and don’t necessarily READ the text. So most of the applicants so far aren’t eligible (you can’t TA for a class you haven’t passed, and you can’t work in the stockroom when you’ve never taken a class in our department!)

I haven’t figured out how exactly to *do* the hires. Should I interview students myself? Have the stockroom manager interview the stockroom assistant applicants? Ask colleagues who know the students and/or are teaching the class for recommendations? Should I do “rolling” hiring, or wait until I have a selection to choose from?

I guess the answers to these questions depend on your institution. I’m at a small place—less than a thousand students, and six faculty members in my department. So my plan is:
--pre-screen applicants and decline unqualified candidates
--do informal interviews with the students who are interested, mostly to find out their schedules
--for lab assistants, ask the person who would be working directly with them if that applicant would be acceptable
--for stockroom assistants, have the students meet with the manager, and let him make the final call.

Any suggestions? Things I’m missing?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Department chair duties: hiring

There are three types of hiring I'll be in charge of as department chair:
--Faculty. We have someone retiring in the summer of 2011, so I have a while before I'll have to deal with a tenure track hire. We're also on a hiring freeze, so I'll have to push pretty hard to be able to hire a fill in for an area that we can't cover internally next year.

--Staff. I pray I won't have to do this--we've been blessed with an AWESOME administrate assistant and a very good lab prep person. I'll be working hard to retain them, despite our salary freeze (separate post later).

--Student assistants. Now is the season for hiring student assistants. Mercifully, we work with the Academic Services unit to hire tutors for the year in the spring, so that's taken care of. But I do need to hire lab teaching assistants and stockroom assistants...and I've never hired someone by myself...ever!

So any advice on hiring?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Becoming department chair: lessons learned (or attempted)

So I became department chair on July 1. I'm still trying to figure out what exactly I'm supposed to be doing, but I thought I'd start chronicling my attempts, just in case it's useful for someone else. If so, great; if not, I'll have a record of what did and didn't work!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Baby in tow

If you're planning to take baby with you to a conference, planning is KEY. Besides the usual reservation making, you need to make special plans for baby, including:
1. Childcare
2. Accomodations
3. Gear
4. Transportation

I'll address these in separate posts so this doesn't get to be monolithic.

Baby in tow: transportation

Getting there can be stressful. Here are some things to think about:

1) How are you going to get to and from the airport on the home side?
2) How are you going to get to and from the airport at your destination?

For me, what worked well was having someone drop me off and pick me up at the airport at the "home" end. I used curbside checkin for my suitcase, and it was worth it. The thought of dealing with the shuttle to long term parking with all the gear would have been time consuming and difficult. My spouse wasn't able to help me, but a friend helped me get there, and a retired individual who does airport runs for his "fun job" brought me home.

On the destination end, public transportation means you do not need a car seat, butthen you're dealing with all the gear on your own.

Another option is renting a car, but in a major city that might be more hassle than its worth.

Taxis may be the happy medium. They're in the middle price-wise. They don't have the hassle of dealing with all your stuff on a potentially not very stroller friendly public transportation, but you do need to bring a car seat, adding to the stuff burden.

The best suggestion I can offer is GET HELP. If you know someone else attending the conference, ask them to car pool with you. If someone offers to open a door or pull your suitcase off the carosel, let them. This is not the time to be a martyr!

Have you survived traveling with a little one in tow? Do you have other suggestions?

Baby in tow: Childcare

This has to be the single biggest issue that restricts female faculty participation in conferences. While some societies have made efforts in helping with this, it's few and far between...and expensive. I did not go to my "big" national society meeting this spring, mainly because of childcare issues.

Here are some possible options:
1. Bring someone with you. The most common version of this is bringing a spouse to the meeting. However, if your spouse has limited time off or you have other children at home (particularly those that are in school), this might not be an option. A grandparent is another person to ask, especially if they're retired and enjoy traveling. There may also be a college age niece, nephew, cousin or friend.

The disadvantage to bringing someone with you is paying for their plane ticket. If you're not comfortable sharing a room with them, you might also have to pay for their room, in addition to pay (if it's a hired babysitter). This option can get expensive.

2. Find someone there. I've done this both times I've brought a baby with me to a meeting. Though nerve wracking, it can be done. So how do you find someone there?

a) If you're lucky, the conference will provide a list of babysitters. These may be pricey (the last conference I went to with suggested baby sitters had an hourly fee of $20/hr!) but they've generally been bonded/certified/etc.

b) Drop in daycare centers. Many cities have drop in daycare centers. These are generally licensed, so they will meet state standards on child:provider ratios and general care. Bright Horizons offers drop in care in a variety of cities. You will need to call ahead and see if they take reservations, how often they fill up, what kinds of registration forms you need to fill out (preferably ahead of time), and what you need to provide for your child. The disadvantage is travelling between the childcare center and the conference can eat a significant part of your time.

c) University daycare centers The first confence I brought a baby to was at a university. I called the university daycare, and they happened to have a slot for the week I needed due to a vacation. If they don't have openings, they may have local providers they can recommend.

d) Private individuals. You can find one of these just like you would find one at home, though you have the distinct disadvantage of not being able to visit them in person or use word of mouth referrals. You will need to conduct an extensive phone interview and check references. A couple of possible ways of finding individuals include newspaper want ads, state licensed provider lists, and college student employment services.

This trip I had a college student watch Chiquita during the meeting. I could not have asked for a better alignment of the planets--a colleague sent a general e-mail on behalf of his daughter, who was looking for odd jobs before returning to the city where my conference is. She happened to be available, so I had the triple advantage of meeting her before I left, strong personal recommendations, and had great flexibility. At break times I would call and meet her, and I gave her the keys to my room so Chiquita could nap in a consistent setting.

e) Trying to do it yourself. Unless your baby is very young (less than four months) and is a good sleeper in a stroller/car seat/carrier, I would not recommend this option. You'll probably end up roaming the halls outside the speaker you really want to hear and end up either being a distraction or incredibly frustrated. It's also not fair to ask your students to watch the baby--that's not why they came to the meeting.

If you've brought a baby to a conference, what childcare solution did you find?

Baby in tow: gear

One of the most difficult things in preparing for the trip was figuring out what to bring, what I could leave behind, and what I could buy there.

I brought:
--a stroller (indispensible--carried all the other stuff, and occasionally the baby)
--a carseat (which I didn't end up using--doesn't work on public transportation, but if I had ended up needing a taxi, would have wanted it)
--diaper bag (which doubled as a purse in the airport--I used the conference bag once we arrived)

I used the carrier car seat even though Chiquita was pushing the limits because it fit in the stroller. So going through the airport, I had the carseat on the stroller with Chiquita in the carseat, the diaper bag under the stroller, and was pulling the suitcase. Cumbersome but it worked. No way I could have maneuvered a pack and play too.

I also brought:
--a wrap carrier (an evening walking tour was part of the conference, and the location didn't look stroller-friendly)
--breast pump (but the one bottle I pumped was never consumed)
--two days of diapers and baby food
--a few favorite small toys and her "loveys"

I wished I had:
--my cell phone charger. I needed to have my cell phone on when the babysitter had Chiquita, so I didn't get to talk to my family as much as I would have liked.
--a good bib. The disposable ones were useless; the tabs on the back had no stickiness, and Chiquita ripped them off before I could get any food in her mouth.

My plan was to buy diapers and food when we got there. Turns out this was a bigger deal than I anticipated--there was NO shopping closer than a mile away. We found some, but it was a considerable time drain. So my advice is MAKE SURE THERE IS SOMEWHERE NEARBY TO BUY WHAT YOU PLAN TO BUY.

I didn't bring a pack n play. After striking out in the "borrow from friends or churches in the area" category, I "rented" one from someone on Craig's List. This worked out ridiculously well, as the person also gave me a ride to our accomodations (and back to the airport) for about the same price as cab fare.

If you've brought baby before, what gear was helpful? What didn't you use?

Baby in Tow: Accomodations

While not as big of a hurdle as childcare, accomodations can prove challenging. Hotels are fairly amenable to babies, but you may want to ask about:
--the availability of cribs (and whether there is a charge)
--distance to the conference
--"stroller-friendliness" of the area
If the handicap accessible rooms are available at check in, this might be a useful option, as they tend to have more room between items (and room for a place for baby to sleep).

The conference I'm at is housing us in dorms. This was somewhat challenging, as they don't have pack n plays or cribs on site and are NOT baby proof or even friendly. This trip Chiquita has:
--"baptised" her doll in the toilet (no lid, and the bathroom is the only overhead light so I can't leave the door closed)
--pulled open a cabinet and hit her head with the door
--opened a desk drawer and shut it on her fingers
--crawled under the bed and hit her head

(believe me, I've intercepted her more times than not, but I'm not perfect!)

Some recommendations:
--figure out a safe place for baby to sleep. You could bring a pack n play, but a) you'll already be hauling half the planet for this trip and b) by the time you pay the airplane luggage fees you might as well have bought one at your destination. Some strategies you could try:
*find a colleague, friend, ANYONE and see if they know someone who would loan you a pack n play for the week.
*Check with churches for the same
*Try Craig's list. I "rented" a pack and play from someone selling baby stuff, and ended up getting rides from her too, for not much more than the taxi alone would have cost (more on that in the transportation post!)

--bring childproofing supplies. I brought electrical plugs, but rubber bands would have also been helpful in securing potential finger pinching cabinets. I also re-arranged the furniture to block other tempting but potentially harmful items (like the fan cord, blind pulls, stove, etc.

--bring items to make your child comfortable and secure. Now, you don't want to bring EVERYTHING, but if baby sleeps best with her pink silky blanket and a pacifier, bring it!

What other things have you done to make conference accomodations safe and comfortable for your baby?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Bringing baby to a conference

I recently brought my still-nursing, crawling, pulling up and climbing 9 month old to an out of town conference. This is my second adventure in bringing a baby to a meeting, and both were very successful. I thought it may possibly be helpful to other parents to hear what worked (and didn’t work) for me, so this will probably be a series of posts on various aspects of the joys and travails of attending a conference (and actually getting to participate!) with a baby in tow.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Which came first, GM foods or big farms?

My father was a farmer. He now makes way more money renting it out than he ever did farming it.

He was on the tail end of the revolution to big farms that happened in the 1980s. Today I visited the farmer who is renting most of my dad's land with my brother and kids.

People wonder why we have GM foods...and I'm not sure which came first, GM or big farms. But what I do know was that the old way of farming wasn't sustainable from a "making enough money to support your family" point of view (my dad quit when my mom was laid off...most years he brought home less than $500). This lead to consolidation into much larger farms--like several thousand acres (my dad had a thousand acres, and that wasn't enough).

But how do you actually care for thousands of acres? The answer...bigger and bigger implements and GM crops. There is no way you're going to weed 5,000 acres with you and two farm hands, you need something you can spray on once and be done. The harvesters we saw today could accomplish in two hours what used to take my dad all day to do.

The cost is just staggering, too. A new combine (which you'd use for less than a month a year) costs $500,000. Add a couple of tractors, trucks, and a sprayer and you're looking at several millions of dollars of capital...without any land. There is no way someone could just "decide" to be a farmer--it is just too expensive.

It's hard to know what to think. Farmers need to make enough to support their families, but is high throughput farming really the answer? We've joined a CSA this year in an attempt to support local farming, but is that the answer?

It reminds me of doing science--high throughput, several million dollars of equipment to really be productive...what will happen to this small family farmer?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I'm officially department chair... least by the pile of file folders I needed to make room for in my office! July 1 was my official start date. Ugh, if I hadn't agreed to do this several years ago, I definitely wouldn't be!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

An interesting volume experiment

My MIL turned 70 on Saturday, and as a present from the kids, we gave her 70 Hershey's Hugs and 70 Hershey's kisses. (luckily there are ~75/small bag; the label said 81. Guess not!) Finding the appropriate container ended up being an interesting volume experiment.

A quart jar was six kisses too small.
A regular vase ended up being only 2/3 full (which would have worked had I had fake flowers to put in the top).
We ended up using a rectangular vase that my husband planted paperwhites in one year.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Who is in charge here, anyway?

Like lots of academic institutions, we're having some financial "issues" due to the downturn of the stock market.

It's interesting to see how the response is unfolding. So far it's consisted of the president and dean asking for a institution wide 10% budget cut and not filling sabbatical leaves with replacements, and several warnings that bigger things are to come.

What I don't understand is that during strategic planning, the faculty are regularly consulted to figure out what to spend more money on, but when the crunch is on, we're not asked where we think cuts can be made without sacrificing the program.

It's definitely revealing who is in charge. It's not the faculty or students, that's for sure. It's not the president or dean, either. The trustees are definitely the ones calling the shots. And while they're very experienced in business matters, academia isn't a business.

I wonder what it's like at other institutions--who calls the shots?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The John:women ratio

I teach at a relatively small college, with less than 100 faculty members. We monitor the progress of women on the faculty by the John to women ratio--somehow we have way too many faculty members named John. In fact, they recently took a picture of all the Johns (10% of the faculty!)

The good news is: the women are gaining; we're up to twice as many women as Johns.

The bad news is: the reason we're gaining is because the Johns are retiring!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Moving forward

Some people make New Year's Resolutions in January, but June 1 seems better for me. The school year is done, and campus will soon be quiet. It's a good time for reflection...and with warmer weather and food from the CSA starting to arrive, I'd have a fighting chance at keeping the standard New Year's resolutions.

But beyond the stereotypical "lose the last 10 baby lbs and exercise more", I have another way I want to move excuses.

I will be better prepared for excuses.
I will not complain about all the things I have to excuses.
I will get to know my students as individuals, even if I'm vastly excuses.

Excuses just make me look less confident. I need to own my performance, and do the best I can.

Will someone please explain to me... I can still be insanely busy even though the semester is done?
...why my two "it always works" experiments aren't working? one appeases the E. coli so they'll behave again?
...why faculty can't follow directions? I got another set of receipts with a hard copy of a report, instead of an electronic report and the receipts going to the business office...
...why there is only one more week before my eldest child is out of school for the summer? There are no daycamps in town this summer, so I think we'll be piecemealing something together...

Monday, May 11, 2009

I don't know which is sadder...

A student getting the "After reading this entire exam, write one six point question and provide an answer" question incorrect, or needing a calculator to figure out how many points a student lost on the final...

Sunday, May 3, 2009

I am such a nerd...

I'm all excited about writing my final. I'm tying it to Swine Flu, and will be able to integrate a number of topics into the question....I love being able to do themes like this. I am such a would be faster to write normal questions, but this is a lot more interesting!

Friday, May 1, 2009

If you give a professor a key...

If you give a professor your lab key after class, she’ll remember she forgot to turn any of them in.
So after picking the rest up from her office, she’ll bring them to the storeroom.
On the way she’ll spy her overnight cultures in the growth chamber.
After dropping off the keys, she’ll get the cultures and bring them to her lab.
She’ll discover thetabletop centrifuge is missing.
After hunting down the centrifuge in someone else’s teaching lab, she’ll carry it back to her lab.
The inserts are missing, so she’ll search for them.
She finds them in the cold room, and also sees a plate from one of her students.
She’s curious to see if the Blue Fluorescent Protein really fluoresces blue, so she’ll shine the UV light on them. Nothing.
Upon returning to the lab, she discovers she forgot the inserts…back to the light box.
At the lightbox, she also spies a catalog, and remembers she needs to order some things for summer research.
After starting the centrifuge, she sits down at the computer to order some supplies.
Students come to ask about their grades. One of them says how much they enjoyed the blue fluorescent protein project…and she’ll remember the samples in the centrifuge.
She’ll go to the lab and discover her colleague locked it.
She’ll discover she’s wearing the evil “no pocket” pants and can’t find her keys.
So chances are, she’ll ask you for a key.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Is it that hard??

"Please submit all reports and applications electronically to the chair. Please submit all receipts to the Business Office for reimbursement."

Is it really that hard?

You'd think a bunch of PhD's could follow directions, but I guess not. I'm chair of our faculty development committee, and every granting period I get:
1) Someone's application as a hard copy only (which I then have to scan and send to the committee)
2) Someone's receipts (which I usually pass on, but they're risking them getting buried on my desk)
3) An application a week after the due date (and the day after the committee meets). For a while I sending them onto the committee, but no more Dr. Nice.

Time capsule

This semester in a nutshell...

Lost teeth, lost sleep.
Biddyball, T ball, tap, ballet.

Budget woes, stepping on toes,
that's the way it sometimes goes.

Ear drops, amoxicillin, ear drops, omnicef.
If this doesn't work, tubes are next.

Cloning frustration, losing motivation, under preparation...
I think I need a long vacation.

Spit ups, sit ups, I feel like giving up.

New life, new friends, maybe beginnings can be ends?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Where's the line?

I had another close call with plagarism today.

The assignment was to summarize how a particular protein was used in a paper, including what it was used to show, how the researchers got it into the cells, how it was measured, and how the results were confirmed.

This paper was a mess--it didn't answer the clear list of questions I had distributed with the assignment. So I found the original.

I was stunned to find that things sounded eerily familiar. I started highlighting the sentences in the student paper that were identical to the original article...and I stopped after two solid pages of hot pink highlighter.

This student's entire paper was composed of direct quotes from the original article. It's like it shrunk from being four pages of journal-sized font to four pages of double spaced, twelve point text simply by removing sentences and clauses.

The ironic thing is that he referenced the article after each sentence he that makes it better.

I decided not to call the Dean of Students about seemed like an honest case of not understanding the difference between citing and quoting. I did give him an abyssmal grade (10/100), with the opportunity to re-write and get the average between the original and second draft score. We talked for a while about citing and's hoping it sinks in.

Am I unique in this problem? How do you help students use sources appropriately?