Archive for: January, 2011

The slide debate

Jan 31 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers], [Et Al]

I'm in teaching purgatory for the next few weeks. Essentially a good 60-70% of my time right now is devoted to teaching and I get to squeeze the 100% I was previously doing into the 30-40% that is left over. Despite my added teaching responsibilities this semester, things are actually going pretty well. I'm finding that the blood sweat and tears I put into my slides last year has helped me tremendously this year. I'm not killing myself over each lecture and I have been able to adapt the concepts from my primary class to the second class I am helping to teach for the first 4 weeks. Other than the constant emails, I feel pretty good about how things are going.

As a general rule, I post all of my sides after each lecture rather than before. I do this for a few reasons (not the least of which is that the slides may not be "done" until minutes before some lectures), but the primary one is that I want the students to be taking their own notes down. Providing the slides before the class can result in a tendency to take fewer notes and scribble down thoughts that might not mean much to the student when they go to study.

This slide policy has been a tepid* topic in my class. The student argument (which I have received both via email and delivered in person) is that they have more ability to listen to what I am saying if they can take notes on the slides and not have to write everything down. While I can understand that, I am also aware that what students see as making their lives easier is not always what helps them learn. In fact, it is often counter to that goal. For similar reasons, I don't do study guides (read: this is all that will be on the test, forget anything else) and when I do a review session, I make them come with questions that are more direct than "Can you go over class 4?"

This gets us back to what I find to be the hardest part of teaching: the balance between keeping the students happy and maintaining a strong curriculum. As a junior faculty member, I do have to play this game because teaching evaluations do matter for me. Whereas they are not going to make or break my tenure package, teaching is a component that has some weight here. If the student perception is that I don't give a shit or I am making their lives unnecessarily difficult, I will hear about it sooner or later.

My strategy thus far has been to explain my thinking behind the way I do things to the students. My hope is that even if they don't agree with it, providing a thought out reason will at least convince them that I'm not just being a jerk because I can.

I would be curious to hear what other people do in these situations - with slides or anything else.

*I can't really call it a hot topic, but I have heard from a few students.

30 responses so far

I do not like green eggs and hamsters

Jan 26 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers], [Et Al]

Dear Undergrad I am,
why must you send me much spam?
You fill my inbox with emails
more persistent than a swarm of snails.

Yes, you missed class I see
but concerned about this I can hardly be.
A vast array of details does not help your case.
In fact, you thinking that I even care is off base.

It is a shame that you were out in a boat
which after hitting a rock did not float,
but it is more than suffice to say
that you missed class and we'll be on our way.

I am sorry that your hamster died
and that you missed class because you cried
but a paragraph on how he was so fluffy
makes me want to stab myself like Buffy

I really don't want to hear about your friend Rob
whose member did start to throb.
He had to be taken to the doctor,
a trip you felt the need to proctor.

Don't eat the green eggs in the dining hall
a lesson that should be obvious to all
but you did not take the cue
and spent all class time in the lou.

Spare me the details of how much you were sick
and that you threw up all over your friend Rick.
I do not need to hear from your Mom
nor your roommate who witnessed it all, Tom.

You might notice in our classroom that smells like feet
that there are many, many a seat.
Is it that big of a surprise
that I did not miss your staring eyes?

It's time you grew up and get bright,
the slides are on the class website.
The readings are on the handout
your absence did not stand out.

Know the material for the test
and I hope you will do your best.
But please stop sending me excuses that are incomplete
because all I do is hit delete.

19 responses so far

What can and can't you expect from your trainees?

Jan 23 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

"My trainees don't work hard enough."

Is there a PI out there who hasn't at least thought this at one time or another? Probably not, and I'm sure there are numerous cases when it was true. But, what is working hard enough? How many hours does it take per week? How many days per year? Can you take vacation from working hard enough?

Herein lies a problem of expectations, reality, perception and selective memory, garnished with a touch elitism and a hint of elderberry, blended and served over ice in a tall glass*.

An interesting discussion touched off from Dr. Becca's TT job search advice aggregation post when a commenter left a note complaining about having a TT position that wasn't all it was "supposed" to be. Drug Monkey picked this up in the follow-up comments and then in a post. The discussion there has wandered a little bit and really fallen into two camps, 1) being a new faculty member is overwhelming, and 2) the expectation PIs have of their peeps. If you read this blog at all, you know I've written more than I probably should about point #1, so I'm more interested today in delving into point #2.

I'm on the record for cutting Dr. Becca's commenter, alreadyTTandhateit, a little slack. This job will fuck with you at times and make you question why you're killing yourself for a paycheck that some of your friends were making a couple of years out of college. You spend a lot of time trying to balance your own interests with everyone else's so that you can survive and turn out trainees who will too. But when things aren't moving fast enough and you're in a tight spot, there is a tendency to whip the horses pulling the cart, and this is where I'll take issue with the comment of alreadyTTandhateit, who states "I think its a combination of worrying about grants, science not going as fast as I want it to, dealing with annoying staff at my institution, not much help from other faculty versus what I had been told there would be, grad students not working as hard as I think they should (don’t people work weekend anymore?)".

Maybe they do, maybe they don't but it's not the PI's call to make. I have no idea what kind of supervisor alreadyTTandhateit is and I'm not going to make assumptions based on a couple of comments. However, the "thou shalt work more hours than me!" phenotype is not uncommon in academia and I am always amazed that there exist PIs who demand their trainees work certain hours or a certain number of hours. I mean, for the love of St. Kern, don't we have enough evidence that imposing shitty work conditions on people is NOT going to make them more productive? The students recognize this, why don't the PIs?

So in honor of stressed out PIs everywhere, I present the PLS rules for what you can and can't expect from trainees.

What you can't expect
1) Trainees to work the hours you want them to work. Hours =/= productivity on a linear scale and just because it took you X hours to do something, it is stupid to think it takes everyone X hours to do the same thing or that they are happy to work X hours in a row to accomplish said task.

2) Trainees to crank it up when your ass is on the line. Sure, it would be nice if everyone in the lab pitched in when things got critical, but if you're a grade A douchecanoe, they are probably half curious to see what the crash and burn would look like.

3) Trainees to care about your promotion and tenure.

4) Trainees to spend countless hours helping to recruit new trainees. It's important for perspective students to get a chance to talk with everyone in the lab, but beyond a couple hours a year, your lab peeps are not there to choose the next generation.

5) Trainees to plan major life decisions around their work. If you want to do so, that's your choice, but life happens and people need the appropriate time to deal with it when things come up.

6) Trainees to be perfect writers from day one.

What can you expect?
1) Your people to work on their projects and produce results in a timely manner. Sometimes people are actually not working very hard and need to step it up.

2) Lab folk to respect each other and you, provided you show them the same.

3) Trainees to let you know when there are issues in the lab, with either equipment, interactions or protocols.

4) Everyone in the lab to take care of live organisms to the best of their ability, be they mice, yeast, bacteria or ciliates.

5) People in the lab to meet reasonable deadlines for research and writing.

This is not an exhaustive list, but can serve to start the discussion. No one is "inspired" by being forced to slave away well beyond the hours they want to spend on that task and micromanaging people in the lab only makes them want to spend less time there. As a PI, it is up to you to figure out how to get the work done with the help you have. If that is not happening then you may need better help, or maybe more appropriate expectations.

* I'll leave it to Dr. Becca to actually make this cocktail, but it might not be a big seller.

26 responses so far

The types of collaborations

Jan 18 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Collaborations are funny. Not "haha" funny, though.

Candid Engineer has a post up about the good side of collaborations and she brings up a lot of important points. There is, however, a flip side to the collaboration coin: you're in bed with someone, for better or for worse.

In the last month I have experienced the full range of the good, bad and ugly of working with others and every collaborative venture brings it's own baggage - sometimes the bag opens and papers just fall out and other times it's like one of those screaming letters in Harry Potter. The thing is, you can't always tell how they're going to end at the start.

I really do enjoy collaborating with people, but there are a lot of factors to take into account when starting an collaboration during a career stage where the assplosion of said collaboration would wipe out a huge piece of your resources. Oddly, I haven't found many patterns associated with good vs. bad collaborations, but have had a lot of luck working with other productive people at similar carer stages as myself. However, even in my relatively short PI life, there are several types of collaborations I have found myself in.

1) The other half of the ladder.
I'm having the good fortune to be experiencing this type right now on this trip. This is the type of collaboration where the longer you sit together in a room, the more productive you become. As each person gets to the limit of how far they can push the work, the next person uses their experience to take it to the next level. IME, this is the rarest type of collaboration, but the kind that makes all the rest worth it. I'll be leaving here with half a paper written, the outline of another and the tools to churn out several more. Well worth the price of admission.

2) The complement.
These are projects where each person brings in a different tool and the sum is greater than the parts. These are productive and useful, without quite reaching the echelon of type 1.

3) The asymmetry.
You know when one day you look around and realize that you're doing 90% of the work for 10% of the credit? These types of "collaborations" seem to be more prevalent in the early career stages....

4) The hoover.
Worst. Collaboration. Ever. Nothing ever gets done the way you need it to and the amount of time and energy these suck out of your life far exceeds any potential benefit. The offending partner might disappear for large chunks of time or just at the worst possible moments. These interaction make you want to become a scientific hermit and move you lab to a shack in the woods (or maybe in a volcano lair....). The earlier you can cut the chord, the better.

Learning to collaborate can open your work up in new and exciting ways, but learning ways to avoid or cut off bad collaborations can be the difference between an inconvenience and a serious problem.

8 responses so far

Welcome Hermitage!

Jan 15 2011 Published by under [Et Al]

I finally made it to me destination, but I have been up for 40 hours and can barely come up with coherent text, so go check out Hermitage's new Scientopia blog instead.

One response so far

The best laid plans

Jan 14 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Have you ever laid out a really well planned trip that requires the coordination of several moving parts that all seem lined up? The meshing of gears will be a symphony of productivity on multiple fronts and accomplish all the goals you set out. And then Mother Nature swoops in to remind you who is boss and you're stuck updating a blog on your phone from a cafe in neither your country of origin or destination?

Yeah, me neither.

5 responses so far

A disturbance in the force

Jan 12 2011 Published by under [Et Al]

The final proposal of the three proposal marathon went in today. I leave for Europe tomorrow on a red eye that will ensure I'll be up for nearly 28 hours over the next twoish days. Within 2 hours of hitting the button to submit my proposal today I had the following hit my inbox:

A request to be on a panel in Feb for a federal agency.
A reminder of my participation in an oral qualifying exam shortly after I get back from my trip.
A request to be on an additional oral exam.
A reminder to order lab supplies for one of my two classes starting just after I return.
A request to join the core writing group of a large-scale manuscript that will take a few months to write.
A manuscript review request.

I only wish I were kidding about the timing. Was there some kind of notification that went out declaring my time to be fair game again? Because I'm pretty sure I was booked solid through Feb before this flood of emails came in. Maybe if I leave the country they won't be able to find me.

11 responses so far

Just in case you missed it...

Jan 11 2011 Published by under [Et Al]

Much like my ass in the last year, we've been expanding. Please check out the new blogs around these parts, listed below. We still have a few more in the pipeline, so stay tuned.

Our first new blog on the scene:
Fumbling towards tenure track, but the always libatious Dr. Becca.

First Scientopia blog to heavily involve a blogger's mother:
Tales of the Genomic Repairman, by the understated Genomic Repairman.

The stealth blog (only because we don't want to tell anyone he is here):
The Meandering Scholar, by the tea tottling Brooks, PhD.

And the most recent addition and fellow beer appreciator:
Pondering Blather, by Odyssey the nipple-shirt fashionista.

More to come in the next few weeks!

8 responses so far

A note from CoR

Jan 11 2011 Published by under [Et Al]

Dear humble once-readers:

I miss my blog. It died a serious death a few weeks back--a flaming death. A flaming death wrought by possibly a little too much wine and a definite step in the wrong place.

Ok. We need to stop a minute. I just had a transformative experience. I googled flaming pile of dog shit. Have you perchance googled such a search term? Now how would you feel if your picture was indexed under 'flaming pile of dog shit' on the google? Does the crime fit the punishment?

Hilarious. In any case, things are garbled, my friends--I'm afraid a bit too garbled to throw ye olde blog back up without some serious doctoring. So what happened? Why have I been MIA* for so long? My blog died, a grant was coming due, and like the good PLS I dug myself into said grant and unfortunately did not enjoy one minute of my holiday break (which I should mention was the first with Spawn2?). Note to self: start earlier next time. Or gain sudden brilliance, or perhaps stop writing slow. I don't know that there are better ways to do this, or just simply suffer through the slog of it.

I'ma gonna have to figure it out folks, because word from the higher ups in admin is that they expect us to triple our current submission rate. I'm not telling you the base number in the chance that you might start to suspect that I'm a bad asse. The economy and all.

The grant is in, the good PLS offered me the chance to drop a line and explain my sudden blog death, and here it is. I don't know that I'll open back up any time soon. To tell you the truth, I'm not in a blog-contemplative mood right now: I am sad for the people in Arizona. That is the very truth of what is on my mind right now. The acts of evil and all that. I'm still soaking it all in and trying to wade through the absolute senselessness of it; like Columbine and other acts of gun violence. Guns. Suck.

So I completely miss the blog community. I hope you are well.

CoR

*I am completely enthralled with MIA. Is she like, a pissed off Lady Gaga or something? Political yet still willing to shake it for attention? Herm. Discuss.

6 responses so far

Senator Congresswoman Giffords

Jan 08 2011 Published by under [Politics]

Honestly, is there anymore damning assessment of our current political situation than having a senator congresswoman, her 9 year old daughter girl and several staff members gunned down at a political event? Arizona has become a hot bed of political divisiveness, but this is sickening on so many levels. The senselessness of the whole situation makes me embarrassed for our country as we continue to live up the expectations of so many foreign countries that recognize our disinterest in gun control and education as what will eventually be our undoing. Make no mistake, this country will not continue to enjoy its current status if we continue down the path we seem destine to follow. Unfortunately, we seem the least willing to hear the message that is so obvious to others.

40 responses so far

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