Wednesday, August 31, 2005

less selfish today

I'm feeling better today and quite sheepish about being so selfish yesterday when all those people in the South were up to their necks in misery (literally in some cases). More so than even the tsunami, this one strikes home, partly because I was in New Orleans in May and partly because I know that a lot of these people had a standard of living comparable to mine only a few days ago and now they have nothing. I wish there was something substantial I could do to help, but I feel like if I were to go down there, I'd just be one more person needing food, shelter and water. I have such respect for the people who can and do give of themselves. They must need hundreds of doctors, engineers, bus drivers, etc. And in the long run they'll need people with my specialty, but right now I'm not sure they do. So I guess as soon as the website lets me through, I'll give money to the red cross.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

feeling isolated (and cold)

My office is freezing - I'm on my second 16oz mug of tea, trying to stay warm. But worse, my office is empty. S is on vacation, the woman in the cubicle next to me is AWOL, the other grad student moved to Olympia, my undergrad is in the field, there are no visitors and my advisor is also AWOL, even from email. And this building is the least social place I've ever worked. There is absolutely nobody for me to talk to right now and all I am confronted with is the blank glare of a paper waiting to be written. I've browsed all my normal internet blogs and news sites at least three times today. I've even (gasp!) worked on the paper.

A lot of grad students in cubicle farms or overcrowded offices would kill for this sort of quiet, isolation, but I'm not doing well in it. I want to talk to my advisor about possible abstracts (deadline next week for the big meeting of the year). I want S to provide some small distraction from the overbearing, omnipresent need to work on the paper.

Sometimes I feel like I just don't know what I'm doing. I've never really written a journal article before, and I think what I could really use is some reassurance that I'm doing OK. But a crash course in paper writing (topped with liberal reassurance) would be even better.

Can't even go home, where it's probably warmer. Husband's car is in the shop, he's in Salem, and biking in this morning made me sick for some reason. Not trying that bike again for a couple of days.

tenure clock stoppage

From: Science, Vol 309, Issue 5739, 1308 , 26 August 2005

Princeton Resets Family-Friendly Tenure Clock (Yudhijit Bhattacharjee)

"Princeton University wants to level the field for tenure-track faculty members starting a family. Starting this fall, both men and women who become parents will receive an automatic tenure extension. This first-of-its kind policy is seen as one way to help boost the number of tenured women in science and engineering departments. But some say the policy could provide an unfair advantage to scholars who are not the primary caregivers.

Many universities, including Princeton, already allow new parents to request extra time for tenure decisions. But studies show that many women (and men) worry that asking might be seen as showing a lack of commitment to academic life (Science, 17 December 2004, p. 2031). "There is a feeling among assistant professors that stopping the clock could hurt your chances of getting tenure," says Princeton psychologist Joan Girgus, who chaired a 2003 campus report that recommended changing the current policy. Assistant professors at the university will now automatically receive one additional year for every child born or adopted, although they can request an early tenure review.

Lisa Wolf-Wendel, a sociologist at the University of Kansas in Lawrence who studies gender issues, says the impact of the new policy is hard to predict. "If going up early for tenure ends up becoming the norm, then you haven't solved the problem," she says, adding that the policy could end up favoring men with stay-at-home wives or partners who do the actual work of childrearing. "An extension would allow them to be more academically productive," she notes.

One solution, in the works at the University of California, would give automatic extensions to those with "substantial care-giving responsibilities," says Marc Goulden, an analyst at UC Berkeley's graduate division. The policy would require faculty members to submit a letter attesting to that status."

New Orleans flooded: science and history meet up

Like many people, I've been glued to the news over the past couple of days as Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. My heart goes out to all of those people whose lives have been irrevocably altered by Katrina's passing. There have been a number of good articles on the human catastrophe, and a few articles on the science of hurricanes, but I wanted to draw your attention to this one, in today's New York Times,After Centuries of 'Controlling' Land, Gulf Learns Who's the Boss. It's about the reasons that New Orleans was set up to be devastated by a hurricane, how it came to be lying 4 feet below sea level and only protected by an intricate series of levees, canals, and pumps. The reasons are that wonderful mix of scientific, economic, and historical, that makes a solution so difficult to acheive. So even though some are calling this, "America's tsunami" don't expect any real changes anytime soon.

Monday, August 29, 2005


  1. I'm back at my desk now from a week of field work. I'm still supposed to be writing this journal article, but once again my day is filling with little tasks that have more urgent deadlines but don't contribute to my Ph.D. completion. How annoying.
  2. The backpacking trip was brutal, though the scenery was wonderful and the company was good. Probably the highest elevation I'll ever hike to in the Cascades, and hopefully the heaviest pack I'll ever have to carry. At least in such bad shape.
  3. Started a free week-long trial at Curves this morning. Am definitely too young and thin to be at that place. Especially can't see paying $30/month, when I can use the campus gym for free. But it's closed this week, so I might as well go to Curves. That and while the workout didn't feel like much at the time, I can feel it in a few places now.
  4. DH and I failed to get pregnant again this month. Give us a few more months and we'll officially be infertile. I never dreamed that having a baby would be so difficult and frustrating. After all that time I spent agonizing over whether the timing was right to have a baby, turns out it doesn't matter anyways. After trying for so long, we'll be ecstatic if we ever do get pregnant. Timing be dammed.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Weekend escape

11 months ago, at the end of a week long trip to California, my husband and I attempted to see Crater Lake. But when we got there, the lake was totally cloud obscured and we saw nothing at all.

This weekend we got our revenge. On Saturday morning we jumped in the car and cruised down to the deep blue lake. And it was gorgeous.

It was fun to play tourists, but as I listened closely to the rangers, I was also doing work: learning about the lake's science and how the rangers were interpreting it. Overall, I'd say they did a fairly good job, but I, of course, would have liked to learn more. A low-light of the science interpretation came when a trail guide spent one sign post explaining that ice floats. Not really relevant to glaciation, but the guide improved after that.

The highlight of the trip: spending quality time with my husband, while feeling like a diligent graduate student doing background research!

Friday, August 19, 2005

More Women in Science

This week's policy forum in Science is on women in science and it presents 4 reasons for the lack of women science faculty members, even as compared to the number of women doctoral students. Here are their 4 reasons:
  1. the pipeline: women Ph.D.s leave academia. why? see 2-4
  2. climate: "Many women attribute their exit from the academy to hostility from colleagues and a chilly campus climate. This atmosphere is invisible to many men."
  3. unconscious bias: women need far more publications to be considered as competent as men during the hiring processes and during the promotion and tenure process
  4. Balancing family and work: "The responsibilities for family caretaking ... continue to fall disproportionately on women"
None of this is news to us women in science. But attention like this in a leading scientific journal will hopefully be paid some heed by male faculty and administrators.

Despite all the negative press about women and science, I feel very fortunate to be getting my PhD in 2005 rather than in 1970. When my mother got her job, she was the only female science faculty member, and they decided to make her office in the education department rather than the biology department. Theoretically, this was so she would be more comfortable. What's more likely is that her male colleagues weren't ready for a woman peer.

We've come a long way since then, but we have a long way to go, too.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

it's no wonder my students couldn't handle the course

The New York Times reported yesterday that many going to college are not ready, according to the ACT.
"Only about half of this year's high school graduates have the reading skills they need to succeed in college, and even fewer are prepared for college-level science and math courses, according to a yearly report from ACT, which produces one of the nation's leading college admissions tests. ...

"ACT sets its college-readiness benchmarks - including the reading comprehension benchmark, which is new this year - by correlating earlier students' ACT scores with grades they actually received as college freshmen. Based on that data, the benchmarks indicate the skill level at which a student has a 70 percent likelihood of earning a C or better, and a 50 percent chance of earning a B or better.

"Among those who took the 2005 test, only 51 percent achieved the benchmark in reading, 26 percent in science, and 41 percent in math; the figure for English was 68 percent."
ACT attributes the abyssmal college readiness figures on the decline in students who take a college preparatory curriculum (4 y of English, 3 y of math, science, and social science). Yet we, the American public, continue to perpetuate the myth that the goal of every high school student should be to go to college. If they are going to go to college, then they ought to at least prepare adequately in high school, which obviously isn't happening. Then when these unprepared students arrive at college, they complain that the classes are too hard and the work-load is too much. The end result is a watered-down college education, and a college diploma that means very little, and doesn't give anyone an advantage in the job market. But isn't that why we encourage people to go to college in the first place?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Is the political-scientific climate getting colder lately?

It seems like a recurring theme of late, but misunderstandings between scientists and non-scientists is one of my personal hot-button issues. I'm guessing that not many of you are following what has been happening on the Hill with regard to climate change lately. But several congressmen have asked for a tremendous amount of documentation from 3 researchers involved in one small piece of the climate change community. Here's a letter from the relevant professional sociey presidents that outlines the position of the scientific community: AGU and AMS Presidents ask U.S. Congressman Barton to honor scientific process in climate change dispute.

a few good books

To make up for a month or more of being too busy and too stressed to read, I devoured 2 books in the past week. Neither of them were ones that I reccommend finishing at midnight. But both of them were intense and riveting and well-written. And yet they were very different from each other...

What were they? The Lovely Bones by Alice Siebold and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling. I don't want to be a spoiler for any of you who haven't read them, but I would like to say that I enjoyed HP 6 much more than HP 5, although my favorite is still HP 3. I think I just really liked the Marauder's Map, Lupin, and the big black dog. And Chica, your book will be in the mail as soon as I get a chance. Unscratched but deeply appreciated.

Next on my list? Well, really I should plug away at some journal articles for that paper I'm meant to be writing, but I still have a few other things on my summer reading list. Writer Chica sent me a copy of High Country by Nevada Barr, and I've heard good things about Bangkok 8, Kite Runner, and Reading Lolita in Tehran. Anybody read any of them? Any recommendations for other titles to add to my list?

Monday, August 15, 2005

should I be nice?

A teaching ethics question for ya'll to help me with:

The last assignment for my class was due on Friday at 1 pm and I had made it very clear in bold italics that late labs would not be accepted. Prior to this I was grudgingly accepting late assignments but docking them 20% per day.

Anyways, on Wednesday afternoon, 2 students took up all of my office hours to work on the computers in the lab room in order to finish up their last lab. When I finally kicked them out, one had printed and the other had nothing left to do but print.

By the Friday 1 pm deadline, the labs weren't in my mailbox. I was shocked! I actually went out of my way to send the 2 students an email asking them where their labs were and giving them an extension until 4 pm that day to email me a copy, since I knew they had them done.

I didn't hear back from either of them and at 4:30 I turned in my grades for the quarter. The missing lab knocked one student from a B+ to a B and it knocked the other from an A to a B+. The student that went from A to B+ was honestly probably the 2nd best student in class, so I felt kind of bad, but the points on the lab were enough to shove him down into the middle of the pack.

This afternoon I got a frantic email from my A-->B+ student explaining that he had forgotten to hand in the lab when he took the final and had then left town for the weekend. He attached a copy of the lab, which of course was (almost) all correct.

So now I am left with my question. If I grant him anything more than 1/2 the points on the lab he moves back up to an A. But final grades were due this morning and, to change his grade now, I have to fill out some form with the department. I'm sure it's a routine thing to do, but it's a pain in the ass for me, and after all, I was very explicit about my deadline.

What do you girls/guys think? For the moment, I am inclined to leave him hanging for a few days while I decide.

you decide

This cartoon appeared in Time last week (and undoubtedly somewhere before that), and I thought it made a particularly good point.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Harry potter and the recessive allele

I haven't had time yet to tackle book 6, but I am a devoted HP fan, and I loved this letter to the editor in this week's nature. For those of you who don't follow the links, basically a couple of geneticists argue that wizarding is a recessive gene and they use examples to show how Harry, Hermione, etc. came to have their wizarding powers. They even argue that HP can be used to show examples of mutations (squibs) and incomplete penetrance (Neville's laughable skills). They say "With the use of these examples, the concepts of mendelian genetics can be introduced to children as young as five."

Thursday, August 11, 2005

on a different topic altogether

I just got a call from my doctor's office... My gynocologist needs me to move my next appointment because she'll be on maternity leave. I truly wish her a smooth delivery but something here seems incredibly unfair here.

musing during the final - part 2

So, in the end, what have I learned? Some well-duh sort of platitudes have been made apparent to me.

  1. “You never really learn something until you have to teach it.” And as I discovered, especially if you’ve never had a class on the subject to be exposed to it in the first place. Some of my lectures were just brutal to prep.
  2. “Teaching will take all the time you have to give it.” And then some, at least the first time through. (And I thought research was bad). (10:28 second student finishes)
  3. “Teaching is rewarding in its own way.” At first it just felt like a hell of a lot of work, but as I got to know the students and they opened up to me, it has become rewarding. A couple of them have told me that I did a good job teaching (no sweeter words) and that I brought a lot of enthusiasm for the material. One asked me whether I was teaching the next course in the sequence this fall (but then again, maybe she just wanted to avoid me).
  4. “Students will hate you for the math.” This class asks for some simple algebra, unit conversions, and to help with the unit conversions, scientific notation. Now my math education was a bit unconventional, but I recall those topics being middle school or early high school level. And this is a college science course. (MY 14 YEAR OLD STUDENT HAS HIS BINDER OPEN IN PLAIN VIEW ON HIS DESK. He doesn’t have it open to any notes though, he’s failing the class anyways (he insists he is just auditing it, but I don’t see it that way when I look at the official class list), and I really don’t feel like confronting him about it.)
  5. “Students will push you, so you better draw a line in the sand in the beginning.” My syllabus says that papers will not be accepted late without prior approval and even with prior approval they will be docked 20% per day. In practice this has become, papers are docked 20% per day late. And yet, I still had a student argue with me that my watch must be fast because he knows he had the paper in my mailbox at 12:59 and the papers weren’t due until 1 pm. I didn’t budge an inch. In fact my watch is slow and I picked up the papers at 1:05 pm. And it didn’t help the student’s case that he is perennially late for everything (30 minutes late for the final for instance) and always has a new elaborate excuse for each instance of tardiness. I feel I have been more than fair and flexible for him, but his inability to get things in on time has single handedly lowered his grade from an A to a B (so far). (10:47 am – 5 students left out of 12 – I’d say they’ll probably be here until the end. – and much to my gratitude the student who arrived 30 minutes late is still intently hunched over his paper.)

musings during the final part 1

My students are taking their final exam right now. It’s a two hour final that started at 9:00 am. It’s 5/8ths of the way through the period and it looks like most of them have finished the multiple choice section and moved onto the short answer/math/practical portion of the exam. It’s only fair that it take them the full 2 hour slot to complete the final, after all it took me 7 hours to write it. The exam is 75% multiple choice, fill in the blank, and true-false. Multiple choice questions are really slow to write and as the clock pushed toward midnight last night, I gave up trying to come up with 4-5 choices and just wrote fill in the blank questions. The tradeoff I guess is that multiple choice questions are totally easy and unambiguous to grade whereas fill in the blank leave room for a little more interpretation, slowing down the grading process. For example, on one question I am looking for “ultimate base level”, but I know that many students will say “base level” and some will probably just say “base.” Since I’ve had to make each question worth 3 points, I’ll probably give them one point for each word they include on that one, but the devil’s advocate in me says, “You gave them the same question word-for-word on a quiz and you told them what the right answer was afterward. If they don’t have it completely right, don’t give them anything.” My short answer/practical questions were easy and fun to write. That’s the way I’d prefer to give exams really, if student preference and my time constraints were not a consideration. I think they are a much better probe of students’ knowledge. But as I discovered in my last quiz, they are a pain in the ass to grade, because each student does something wrong, and each one of their wrong answers is wrong for a different reason. (10:22: first student turns in their exam, I’m a bit surprised by who it is) And since short answer questions are invariably worth more than one point, you end up in this tricky situation of giving partial credit and trying to figure out how many points to take off for something that you never imagined someone would come up with. My favorite situation so far was the student who wrote in a paper that we could make apparel out of the polar bears that live in Antarctica. That’s just wrong on so many levels!!!!

Sunday, August 07, 2005

competing demands

I've got one more week to go on this teaching gig, and while it's definitely been a good experience, I'll be quite happy when its over. The number of things that I have had to let slide lately has really been starting to weigh on me. I've gotten 2 talkings-to from my advisor in the past month about my (lack of) research productivity and how I need papers to get jobs. (But as my friend points, this is coming from the man who takes 6+ months to reply to emails!) Plus, I just got an email from another graduate student saying that she had found some of my field equipment out of place and that it looks like someone had been messing with it. And I can't even get up there to check things out for another week! I'm pissed, scared, and there's nothing I can do about it right now. I've got class all 5 days this coming week, and my field site is too far away to visit in less than a full day. Damn!

Deep breaths. I guess I should just go back to lecture writing. No use crying over something I can't do anything about right now. (life lesson for the summer it seems)

Friday, August 05, 2005

newly discovered guilty pleasure

potentially a better form of procrastination than checking my friend's blogs every hour or so when I when I should be working...tonight I have discovered And I have 8 years of back reading to do. (I knew that browsing the Nature table of contents would come in handy someday).