Archive for: August, 2009

Moving numbers

Aug 31 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

Number of days until we actually move: 1

Days spent preparing to move: 7

Miles between current and "new" home: 12

Trips between them this weekend: 8

Staff at Lowes who already recognize us: 7

Boxes stacked and ready to go: lost count

Boxes unpacked by the Wee One just after we had packed them: 5

Muscles that feel like they were hit with a meat tenderizer: 632 (the remaining 7 feel pretty good)

Pounds of cat hair tumbleweed spontaneously generated by moving furniture: 6

Pieces of useable furniture left standing: 4

Days until the semester starts: 9

Days until my 20,000 word chapter is due: 31

Words written for said chapter: 87

Cups of coffee it will require to get through the day: 12

6 responses so far

End of summer freak out

Aug 28 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

With classes starting next week, this week seems to be the time when everyone freaks out and starts doing completely bizarre things in the panic to finish things before the student body descends. A few words of advice.

To the admin person who decided that using a combination of bold, colored and highlighted text surrounded by clipart, would make their emails seem more important, I have news for you. None of the people you sent that to are 12-year-old gamers. We have the attention span to get through 6 lines of text without your "helpful" additions. If I wanted my email to have cartoon figures in it, I would work for Disney. In fact, on viewing the horrific text-edit vomit you sent, I'm pretty sure I just threw it out.

To Parking Services. It is completely unclear why you painted "No Parking" all over the street parking in front of the building that commuter students (including my grad students) have been using for the past 10 years to park on this side of campus. There was no hazard and the street was plenty wide enough. Further confounding the issue was your email explanation stating that those spots were closed because of the shortage of parking on campus! You get my award for the most absurdly justified stupidity of the year, and we're only just getting started. Congratulations, you set the bar impossibly high.

To the Provost's secretary. We've talked about this. Once on the phone and once over email. As much as I would like to go have a drink on the Uni's tab, I am not new faculty. I would be perfectly happy to go to your orientation mixer, but when I called to confirm, you reacted like I was trying to sneak into a VIP event when I asked if you wanted faculty who started last year to attend. WHY am I still getting your emails announcements for new faculty? I had assumed it's because no one was hired this year, making me still in the newest cohort, but this idea offended you and now you are just sending me mixed signals.

To me. Why didn't you think things through when you picked the first faculty office on the hallway? Yes, it's closest to your lab, but didn't you realize that in choosing office #1, you basically put an INFORMATION sign outside your office. Congratulations, you are now the info booth for every lost student, every touring family, every new sales rep and you are thought to know the whereabouts of every faculty member in the building at all times when students are looking for them. Not to worry, it'll just be your office for the next 25 years or so.

3 responses so far

New Home

Aug 27 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

Well, we finally signed all the paperwork yesterday and instantly went from having the most money we've ever had to the least with a few signatures. We are now happily in debt for the foreseeable future and I've already had my home repair skills tested. During the walk through yesterday, the sellers were running all around because when they removed the washing machine on Tuesday and closed the water valves, one of them started to leak in the middle of the night. Since they finished almost the entire basement with hardwood, that was a bit of a problem. Luckily the leak wasn't too bad and there is a Lowes about a mile away. We put a bag on it so we could go sign the paperwork and then I picked up a cap, teflon tape and a wrench on the way home. It's a goo thing for them we are low key and didn't flip out just before we were signing. 

We're having the floors refinished starting today, but we did spend the night there last night on our inflatable mattress and with the Wee One in a Pack and Play. She had fun running around the empty rooms and testing the echo, but she kept going to to the door to point and say "home?", hoping we would head back to our place. We kept telling her this was "new home", but the concept didn't quite work for her. The new environment, coupled with the Spartan furnishings and strange people stopping by to talk, left her confused. But, as we were driving away this morning she looked at the window and said "Bye new home."

Now we just have endure owning a house we can't go into for the next four days. 

11 responses so far

Dead things

Aug 25 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

 It really is amazing what people will bring into your office some days. Last week, one of the janitorial staff came into my office early in the morning with a bunch of paper towels in her hand. Immediately, I knew that she was bringing me something dead, the only question was which species the carcass belonged to. In fact, it was a hummingbird that had met an unfortunate end against one of the many glass panels of our building. I presented the body of the bird in the hopes that someone might want to use it in some way, particularly because it was "still warm". I did not verify the temperature of the corpse, but I also didn't have much of a choice in accepting the bird and pledging to ensure that it did not die in vain. 
The problem, of course, is that I have less than no use for dead birds, so I sent an email to two people who I thought might all the while assuming that I would have to chuck the thing by lunch time (realizing that I had to throw it out in anther building, lest I be caught by the woman who gave it to me and empties the trash in this building). Much to my surprise, I found a taker who planned to make it into a "bird on a stick". Alrighty then. Upon reporting this back to the janitor, she was pleased that I found a home for it. 

Fresh of this experience, I was on the phone this morning and witnessed a bird thwack against the glass wall by a set of doors. Curious, I went to see what kind of bird was laying on the pavement and it turned out to be another hummingbird (which makes me think we really need to get something on those windows to stop the devastation of the hummingbird population here). It was laying still, one wing outstretched and tongue hanging out like a cartoon parody of bird death. Rather than leave it there at the entrance that every campus tour comes into, I dutifully gathered some paper towels and picked it up with the plan to deliver it to the recipient of the previous one. 

When I picked it up it made a bit of a squeak and I realized it wasn't quite dead yet. Now the situation changed to having an almost dead bird, likely with a broken neck, held between paper towels and I was faced with the dilemma of leaving the bird to a protracted death outside or taking action to hasten the process. Not sure what to do, I took the bird back to my office, assuming it would expire along the way. But no, the damn thing started staring at me and blinking. When I moved it too much it would squeak, I assumed from pain. Not good, what to do? Having a bird die on your desk has to have some karmic consequences in some belief system. 

Unwilling to put the bird out of it's misery, I brought it back outside with the hope that it might surprise me and Rise and Walk, my son! I went to place it on the ground in the bushes, and to my surprise, it flew away as soon as I released it from it's papery confines. I guess it was only stunned and needed about 20 minutes and a walk through building to come around but I was about 2 minutes away from accidentally releasing an angry and confused humming bird in my office. That would have been a good way to spice up the morning. 

No more dead or almost dead things in my office. 

7 responses so far

The "Hail Mary" title

Aug 24 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

 I have two invitations to give seminars at other institutions this year and my plan is to switch to using data exclusively from my own lab, rather than filling in holes using post-doc stuff. On the one hand, I'm excited to be able to do this because it means that my lab is churning out enough data that I can build a seminar around it . This is particularly good because my students are all working on very different projects that would not for a coherent story mushed together, so have to pick one project to talk about. 

With the semester starting, the organizers of those seminars have been contacted me for a title. The seminars are both in November and I expect to have substantially more data by that time for the two primary lab projects. At this point, however, I don't know which will produce a more interesting story, nor if the experiments we have on-going will work out for either, leaving me with a tough choice. Either project would make for an interesting talk for the audiences and I have no interest in doing two separate talks, one on each topic. Where is my Magic 8 Ball?

So, the fun begins by picking one of the two projects and continues in attempting to divine the amount and type of data I will have to talk about. If absolutely everything we have planned works out I should have a compelling story for each, but when has that ever happened? The real question comes down to whether it is better to provide a bold title and excuse your lack of data in the presentation if experiments don't work, or temper the title and surprise the audience with kick ass data if the experiments do work out? Is it better to have a bigger semi-disappointed audience or a smaller audience that walks away impressed. With that spin, probably the latter.

5 responses so far

Why so down on teaching?

Aug 22 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

A couple of days ago I posted about my relatively low teaching load at the moment and how this was a mild source of jealousy among some colleagues in my department. An anonymous commenter left the following:

I work in the private sector - so I have a pretty insignificant "teaching load", and like P-lS I'll not apologize for this lack of teaching assignment. I did some TA work in grad school - and I appreciate how teaching might not be the first thing you want to do when you get up in the morning... but if P-lS and tideliar find it such a "sucking" proposition, might I suggest you've not chosen your line of work as cleverly as you might have?

While I did not say that teaching sucks (merely that my colleagues think that I suck for having a light load), I can see where the commenter is coming from and thought it might be an opportunity to clarify why it appears that new faculty are anti-teaching. Really, it comes down to one factor if you are at an research-oriented institution.

Teaching will not get you tenure. Research will.

It's as simple as that. As junior faculty, you are almost exclusively evaluated on your research output in terms of dollars brought in, papers published and students trained. I'm not saying that an ability to teach effectively is not important, and service is also important, but what you do with your research program is the primary focus. One could perform worse than average in both their teaching and service if their research was very successful, but the same is not true for either of the other two categories at the expense of research. From that perspective, the time one has to develop a research program and get the lab steaming along can be directly related to success at getting tenure. The time any academic researcher spends teaching undergraduates is time taken away from research productivity, so teaching load is extremely important to junior faculty. 

Another factor, of course, is that many of us got where we are based on our ability to do research. Every search committee wants candidates to pay lip service to teaching and teaching experience is valuable to have on one's CV, but rarely will those qualifications make or break a candidate's chance at landing a job (again, at a research-oriented university). Therefore, many starting faculty have limited or no serious teaching experience. One of the major failings of North American graduate training, IMO, is the lack of real training to teach. So, if you got a job based on one set of skills and then had to perform an entirely different set of activities for that job, would there not be an element of trepidation?

All of this is not to say that I am not looking forward to teaching. It is, after all, a good part of the reason we are here. I am excited (and nervous) to take on my first class and show the students why I think the subject is way better than studying something boring, like humans. I want to expose the undergraduates at my university to what I work on and the kinds of science that will make them think, I really do. But if that's my focus as a junior faculty member, I won't be teaching these students at all once I miss out on tenure. 

4 responses so far

We have clearance, Clarence*

Aug 21 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

We finally have closing clearance on the house. It's always nice when things actually go smoothly. We should be closing mid-week next week and then moving in either over the weekend or on Monday, depending on how long the minor renos we are doing take. Of course, this all could have happened a few days ago, if not for the HR department at Employment University.

My wife had to run some paperwork through HR the other day and got talking to the lady and the topic of our house came up. The woman thought for a minuted and said, "Wait, this rings a bell. Does your husband work here too?" When my wife confirmed this, the HR lady leafed through a pile of paper on her desk, proclaiming "So that's what this message someone left me is all about, I guess I'll call the bank back about your employment verification tomorrow." To which my wife replied, "why don't you take care of that right now." The lady agreed. She had no choice.

Who knows how long that note would have remained buried if my wife had not randomly needed to go through that office or not brought up our pending house purchase. It's nice to know that the incompetence of our HR department even has the ability to mess with our personal lives.

*I think that's my second title reference to Airplane. I think I need to see more movies.

4 responses so far

Grease me up!

Aug 20 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

To this point, I have been treated very well by my Dept. Chair when it comes to workload. I have essentially been given 1.5 years without having to teach an undergrad class (with no teaching at all in my first semester) and my "service" requirements have been very light. Even though my teaching load is still light through the fall semester, I can feel the hammer dropping on the service side. It's been subtle, but people are starting to "suggest" committees, advising, etc. I've been evasive thus far, but it is becoming *known* that I am still not teaching anything to the undergrads. Whenever anyone asks what I am teaching this semester and I tell them, I always get the same reaction. First surprise, then some statement about how easy I've gotten it, then some sort of "good for you" even though I can see that their really thoughts are more along the lines of "you suck."

I'm not going to apologize for either my negotiations, nor my continued discussions with the Chair that have resulted in my current teaching load. I know it'll ramp up eventually but the further I can push that off, the better. And if these grants start to get funded, that will buy me extra leverage for keeping my course load minimal.

But, service. That's a different beast. It's more difficult to account for per se and I have a feeling my colleagues will, consciously or unconsciously, endeavor to make up some of that perceived work gap with service duties. I successfully dodged one University-level committee this morning because it conflicts with a current obligation, but I wonder how long I'll continue to be the greased pig at this country fair.

6 responses so far

Condolences to DGT

Aug 18 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

Unfortunately, today was a horrible day for DGT and she had a tragic addition to her family. I would encourage people to go over and offer their condolences for her unfortunate gain. It's really a heart breaking situation that could happen to any of us. In times like these, we just have to feel fortunate for the good things in life.

p.s. We're still taking recruits for the SciBlog NFL challenge. Oh, sorry. Too soon? Too insensitive?

7 responses so far

The 20 minute problem

Aug 18 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

With the semester rapidly approaching it's time for me to start thinking about ways to address one of the biggest issues I ran into last year: the problem of what to do with 20 minutes. If you Google "20 minutes" you'll get millions of ways to improve your live in 20 minutes. I can workout, get a tan, sculpt my abs, make a million dollars at home - all in 20 minutes a day. But what I can't seem to come up with a good solution for is utilizing 20 minute chunks of time at work.

It's a bigger problem than I thought it would be and not one I really had to deal with on this scale prior to PIing. Unless I specifically block out time to do a task, where I clear the decks and close my door, much of my time to do my own work ends up being in short pieces between other obligations. 20 minutes between a meeting and a class, 30 minutes between talking with my students and going to pick up my daughter, 15 minutes between writing an incredibly entertaining blog post and saving the world while curing cancer and ending world hunger.... You get the idea.

Without a plan to do something during those small time slots, my day rapidly gets chewed up and I go home feeling like I didn't accomplish enough and I need to work after dinner. I try to keep the frequency of this to a minimum, so being efficient with the 20 minute problem is the best way I can see to maximize my time at work. I have enough writing on my plate right now, that I think my plan will have to be to tack;e small pieces of writing during those times. Usually I don't write this way at all, but if I can take it one paragraph at a time (outside of my morning writing time), it will probably get done faster than if I insist on using only hour+ time periods. I don't know how it will work, but my bet is that the more I try to do it, the better I'll get at it.

5 responses so far

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