Archive for: February, 2010

Playing tricks on my class

Feb 11 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

I've been thinking about trying something with my class and I would be curious to hear whether any of you have done something like it. Our class has a website where I post all materials for the students to download at their convenience. The lectures go up there after each class and any readings do as well. The one thing that the website doesn't allow me to do is find out how many times each document has been downloaded.

When it comes to class readings I'm fairly sure that half the class doesn't even download what I've asked them to read, let alone actually read it. I was trying to figure out ways to encourage them at least look the material over, as it would make my job in class a lot easier. Not much came to mind, but I did realize that I could reward the ones that do the reading by placing immediate incentives in the readings. The first thing I thought of was including a page at the end of a document I have asked them to read, which asks them to contact me by email to receive an extra point on the upcoming exam. In the grand scheme of things, one percentage point on the exam means little, but no one who reads that will hesitate to send me an email.

I know that is hardly a fool proof way to get an idea whether any of them are keeping up on the reading, but it might provide some incentive for a few, and if I point it out after the fact, perhaps more will at least look at what I post. Besides holding them to the readings on tests or making quizes to do the same, are there other good ways to "encourage" keeping up on class material? Should I even care, as long as they show up, stay awake and don't fail the tests?

15 responses so far

I wonder....

Feb 09 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

....If undergrads ever think about their profs making lectures, and if they did, would my students picture me drinking a beer and listening to this turned up to 11?

'Cause that's how it's done.

4 responses so far

NFL final wrap up

Feb 08 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

Well, well, well. I have to say that Super Bowl was much better than I had thought it would be. In a lot of ways it reminded me of the Pats/Rams SB in 2001, right down to the game icing interception for a TD. As an NFL fan, it was great to see the Saints win and take home their first championship. As a Pats fan, it was wonderful to see the Colts get thwarted in their effort to win a second title in four years. Just a win all around.

The SciBlogs NFL challenge was about as close as the game (until the last few minutes) last night. I chose a playoff format that I thought would discourage a tie going into the Super Bowl, but that is exactly what we had. Both DGT and Nat had 4 points going into the big game, but because I had our contestants pick the winner three weeks ago, they had to chose between teams that they had projected to be in the Super Bowl. Nat had forecasted a Chargers v. Saints SB and DGT had chosen a Colts v. Dallas. Each player had one SB entrant correct. Weeks before the actual game, DGT chose the Colts to win, but Nat picked the Chargers who had already been eliminated.

That set up the following scenario: DGT wins outright if the Colts win the Super Bowl. If the Colts lose, we go to the tie breaker. The tie breaker was the final scroe under Price is Right rules (closest without going over) I would apologize now to all my foreign readers who haven't seen the Price is Right, but they all stopped reading after seeing the title, so I think I'm in the clear. Anyway, both Nat and DGT were asked to pick a tiebreaker number on Saturday. Nat took 56, knowing both teams had prolific offenses. DGT took a page out of the Price is Right strategy book and bet on 1. Yes, 1. With that strategy, any score below 56 meant a DGT win and anything above meant Nat wins.

Well, if you watched the game, you now that the Saints won with a score of 31-17, for a total score of 48!

So, it is my pleasure to announce that the winner of this year's NFL SciBlog Challenge, in double overtime, is Damn Good Technician. The final Lombardi trophy of the year is below. Congrats DGT!

7 responses so far

Just one more? It's wafer thin.

Feb 06 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

Lately I've really been wondering whether I'm taking a good approach to getting grant funding. The big question for me right now is how many projects is too many? It's one thing to be submitting a lot of grants and something entirely different to be submitting a lot of grants for different projects.

I have somewhat unusual training which has put me in a position to propose some work that others might not have the expertise or colleagues to make work. Now, obviously, I have yet to convince funding agencies that I can pull any of this off either, so there's a bit of a caveat here. But, the work I do and have done, combined with a reputation for being easy to work with, has turned into a lot of different projects.

I have one project that is entirely mine and I am the solo PI on the proposal. In addition to that, I have two other projects that I am the lead investigator on, but each has a co-PI. On top of that, on a recent trip abroad, a dinner conversation has developed into yet another proposal. It is in the works, but I will again be taking the lead on the project because I pulled together the people to make it feasible. That's four projects and I have another colleague trying to convince me to join another one that would be submitted in July.

Let's assume for a second that I can produce enough preliminary data to support all of these different projects, I'm starting to feel really stretched both mentally and from a resource standpoint. Granted, I am not doing all of the heavy lifting on all of the projects, but each one is different, with it's own issues and advantages.

The advantage to this approach is that inevitably there will be ones that won't get funded and I can cover my bases by having lots of irons in the fire. At the same time, how much is too much? Advancing several projects slowly is probably worse for me in the short term than advancing one or two more rapidly, but of course the situation is more complicated than that and certain lab resources are only available to me because I have my hands in a couple different things.

I don't know where the line is or how gray that line is and I'm sure there are no hard and fast rules here. I also know that if all of these projects were, by some miracle, to be funded this year (I can wait while you stop laughing) I might actually be more screwed than I am now. I won't worry too much about that last issue, but it bears keeping in mind. In any case, it's possible I'm stunting my own growth here by growing horizontally when I should be growing vertically. Hopefully I realize whether that is true before too long.

2 responses so far

Cooking for a busy family

Feb 05 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

I often hear two-career family people complain about their dinner options and what to feed their kids. There's always the rush home and the routine of trying to get kids fed, washed and in bed at a reasonable time. We have that problem, particularly because the Wee One goes to bed early (~7:00) and we only have one car, which often doesn't leave work until after 5:00.

But my wife and I also really like to cook and are not fans of packaged foods, for us or the Wee One. We have found that the most important small appliance in the house for our weekday cooking needs is the crock pot. If you don't have one and you find yourself turning to boxes in the freezer during the week, go out and buy a crock pot right now. The words will still be here when you get back. I'm serious, go.

Why is the crock pot an incredible thing? Because you can toss a few ingredients in it after the kid(s) go to bed. At that point you can either turn it on low o/n, leave it off for the day and turn it back on when you get home or you can put the whole thing in the fridge o/n and turn it on when you go to work. We tend to prefer the latter, but while you're figuring out how much liquid to put in, it might be a good idea to be home while it's cooking.

There is a misconception that crock pots are for cocktail weenies, Swedish meatballs or that undefinable cheese disaster that Aunt Helen brings to every family gathering, but that's crap. Dishes we regularly make in our crock pot include hoisin chicken, several curries, beef stew, pulled pork and the best damn spaghetti sauce around. If you are at all a fan of slow cooked food, you have no excuse to lack a crock pot.

Normally I cook by The Force, so I'm going to have to estimate the following recipes, but you can't really screw this up.

Hoisin Chicken
1 whole chicken (placed upside-down in the pot)
enough chicken stock to cover 1/3 of the chicken
3 tablespoons of hoisin sauce
Basil to taste (teaspoonish unless you like basil a lot, which I do)
cilantro to taste (teaspoonish)
4 crushed garlic cloves
Cover the chicken with the sauce by rolling it a few times
Put it on low for the day and come home to something tasty. Add Rice and a vegetable and you have dinner in 20 minutes.

Beef Stew
About a pound of stew beef cut in chunks
two chopped potatoes
three chopped carrots
4 crushed garlic cloves
1 cup of red wine (for the stew, two for the chef)
2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
Rosemary to taste
Basil to taste
4 bay leaves
Pepper to taste
Salt to taste (don't overdo this one, more can be added later)
Stir and turn on low for the day. This is an all in one meal so it'll be ready when you walk in the door.

Both dishes take about 15 minutes to get into the pot, so I don't want to hear how you don't have time to make a meal. The crock pot does the rest for you, so let it do it's job while you do yours and make your life easier in the evenings.

16 responses so far

Why do I blog: Because DM told me to.

Feb 04 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

No DrugMonkey didn't tell me to blog, but I thought I would add my voice to the brawl discussion about the differences in blogging styles, which I won't rehash when one can find all the links in one post. DrDrA has done the same and I think the perspective from a couple of us "solo" bloggers is important here.

The questions posed by Nature Network's Steffi Suhr are as follow:

* What made you start blogging?
* Is a sense of community an important part of blogging for you, or do you prefer blogging 'solo'?
* Are there blogs you never look at? If yes, why (be nice and don't name names)?
* Who are you blogging for/who are you talking to?
* Do you think you may be getting people exposed to some science through your blog who otherwise wouldn't be?
* Do you think any non-blogger cares about any of the above things?

So, my quick answers are these

* What made you start blogging?
I've talked about this in the past and my reasons have changed over the lifespan of this blog. My problem blogging started with a family blog that for various reasons lost it's purpose. Having been introduced to blogging I started a new one about being a new faculty member, oblivious to the fact that many others were doing the same. Seriously. As I started to poke around a bit and linked up with others, my focus changed from just trying to be informative to those planning on starting a TT position to more of a give and take. Plenty of times I have asked questions of my readership and gotten helpful responses and for various reasons there are things that I ask here that I don't go to my colleagues for. So, while I started as an altruistic semi-narcissist, now I blog more for the exchange of ideas. Maybe that just leaves me with semi-narcissist, I don't know. In the end, it's the most productive way I've found to take a break from the demands of the job during the day. Others read news or sports or FaceBook, I do this.

* Is a sense of community an important part of blogging for you, or do you prefer blogging 'solo'?
As others have pointed out, these aren't mutually exclusive. I do blog solo, but am anything but, in practice. Between regular commenters and interactions with other bloggers, this is a community and it is important to me. Whether I would prefer that my particular circle be formally recognizable to others, probably not.

* Are there blogs you never look at? If yes, why (be nice and don't name names)?
Again, oddly worded, but of course. Assuming that we are only talking about blogs relevant to me and that I am aware of, two things most limit the scope of my reading; 1)time, and 2)content. I only have so much time to devote to this activity, so I can't possibly keep up on all of the relevant blogs. However, there are those I read regularly that are well outside my field because I like the writing. I read to be informed or entertained, and if you're not doing that I can only hang on so long and I rarely go back to a blog after I've decided I'm not interested. I think everyone has a mental anti-blogroll.

* Who are you blogging for/who are you talking to?
Based on comments and domain names from hits, I'm mostly talking to other academics, who are mostly in the sciences. Certainly that's not the complete audience, but how many people outside of the science or academic scope are going to care about the majority of what I write about?

* Do you think you may be getting people exposed to some science through your blog who otherwise wouldn't be?
I think the best I can hope for in this regard is that I expose people in other fields to some of the researchy stuff I sometimes discuss. My field is small and if I write about something that makes a reader at least file it away in their brain, I'm happy with that.

* Do you think any non-blogger cares about any of the above things?
I would estimate that maybe 5% of my readers have blogs of their own. I think people at NN might see this too if they could look up the hits to their posts, but alas...
[update] I realize now that I didn't get what this question was asking the first time around. If I understand it now, I think it's asking whether non-bloggers care about all of this discussion about blogging. In that case, I would say that some probably care, but more those thinking about starting a blog than the average reader, who is probably quite bored by all this yak.

4 responses so far

Painful budget cuts

Feb 03 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

10 responses so far

Better than finding $20 in an old coat

Feb 01 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

Yesterday I was going through old folders on my computer and pretending to organize things when I found something I couldn't place. I organize my "papers" folder by each manuscript and there was a subfolder that I couldn't match with anything I had published. I opened it up and found a manuscript I had been working on back at Postdoc U, which had gotten lost in the shuffle of getting a job offer, writing grants, moving and starting a new lab. Now, almost two years later it was just sitting there unloved in almost complete form. It's got figures, a reference section and even a title page. It appears that the discussion just needs to be shored up a bit and I can slap a stamp on it.

Now, for those of you wonder what the fuck is wrong with me that I could lose an almost complete manuscript for a couple of years, it's a minor piece that will end up as a note in a specialty journal. It's not like I'm sitting on a glamor pub here. I had thrown it together as an afterthought when I was a postdoc, then life ensued and within three days of one another I had a new baby and a job offer. Things got a little busy and there wasn't a whole lotta sleep happening. When I did regain an awareness of my surroundings I started working on a grant proposal to start a totally novel research program and I had to negotiate the terms of my job. Chaotic times.

I contacted Postdoc Advisor and let him know about it. His first reaction was "If you need the solo pub, take me off the paper and include my grant in the acknowledgements". As much as I appreciated that sentiment and his offer, I am not completely cool with removing the name of the person who provided all of the resources for the project. Maybe it won't count towards tenure, but I don't see that as a valid reason for removing him. Afterall, it was entirely done in his lab, so it shouldn't count as something I've accomplished here. We've bounced a few things back and forth yesterday afternoon and I can probably finish it this weekend and get it out the door.

Nice surprise during a week I could use it.

12 responses so far

Week 2, getting a handle on shit

Feb 01 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

I will freely admit that my first week of teaching was a bit of a train wreck. Overall, everything worked out, but I was a mess. I was finishing slides the morning that I was using them and just generally doing everything at the last minute. Not the best way to put together a coherent lecture and I should have been better prepared. Easy to say in hindsight.

This week I think will be much smoother. My lectures for the week are almost completely done (Tuesday's slides are already on the web for the students to download) and I really spent a lot of time on the organization of how the material is presented. Last week I depended largely on the slides from the person who previously taught the class, but learned the hard way that we don't think or lecture in a similar way. I thought I could use the old slides as a good guide for content and pace, but that doesn't turn out to be the case.

This week I rearranged everything to fit the way I think about the topic for the week, which should help tremendously. On top of that, I've added a number of things that I think will be of interest to the students and found places to stop and ask them questions so that the class is more interactive.I actually saw a glimmer of interest on Thursday when I included a story applying what we were talking about. There were even questions! And not "Um, could you go back a slide?" but questions to learn more about the topic.

I mentioned in an email to a friend on Friday how it is funny that until now the teaching aspect of the job were always something that was going to happen some day and suddenly "some day" is today, and it's true. To me, teaching was that thing I was going to be forced to do at some point in order to do the job I love. It terrified me - not in the sense that I was scared to do the teaching or thought that I couldn't in any way, but more because it was an unknown entity. How much time would it take? Would I be able to keep the students interested? Would they learn anything?

Week two and I feel like I'm getting into the swing of it a bit. I've loaded up my schedule on Tuesdays and Thursdays with everything related to teaching or meetings so that I have two days of hell and three weekdays that are mostly open. I think that was a really good strategy that is already working for me. Now that I have a better handle on the lectures I can get back to the stack of other things I have to deal with, without working all night and seeing my family in drive-by fashion.

5 responses so far

« Newer posts