Friday, July 29, 2005

Too busy to post...it's in the stars

There's so much I want to write about and my psyche could really use the winding down/closure provided by writing, but my physical body knows that I need to get as much forward progress done today as I can so that I can have a moment or two of fun this weekend and get a bit more sleep next week than I have this week.

But I did find that my horoscope that fits me to a T:
"Your workload has been nuts lately, but prepare for yet a higher pile on your desk. Keep plugging away and you'll clear out your inbox by August 12th, in time for a unique chance to travel."
August 12th is the day I give my final, and that weekend or the next we're planning to go down to Crater Lake.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Copyright issues and course content/design

As I was finishing up my lecture for tomorrow, a most intriguing segment aired on All Things Considered. The issue was an ethical question over whether someone is ethically okay to design and base a large part of their material for an on-line, for-profit course on someone else's textbook. The course designer properly cited the work (and consulted other sources as well), but never obtained the textbook author's permission.

I have been writing my lectures based heavily on the usual professor's outline and relying on 3 books for my references and figures. One of those books is the assigned textbook for the course, and I assume I'm in the clear on that one. But the other two books aren't always getting cited on my powerpoint slides (although they are cited in the notes that I see in the powerpoint file). Am I okay ethically?

I've also been getting some images from the web (yay, google image). I've been trying to acknowledge on the slides any images from individuals or corporations, and mostly I've been trying to get them from .gov or .edu sites, where at least for the federal government things aren't under copyright.

I guess I'm wondering where the line is in terms of powerpoint lectures. Should I acknowledge each image on each slide? Should I add a slide on the end with all of the image credits? How do I acknowledge that I am borrowing heavily from another professor? Any suggestions?

Friday, July 22, 2005

25% done

well, I've survived the first week of life as a college instructor. Over the course of 8 hours of lecture time, I fell only 2 hours behind schedule. I had 2 students drop and one student add. Scores on a 5 pt multiple choice quiz at the end of the week ranged from 1 to 5 and averaged just over 3. About 1/3 of the class has come to me already with one excuse or another about why they need to arrive late/leave early or turn in an assignment late.

I've lectured a lot. Class starts at 9 and I've been arriving on campus between 7:30 and 8 to go over my notes for the morning's lecture. If I don't do that I forget what I wanted to say about the slides. But after some discouraging Q&A sessions on Tuesday, I invented a mini computer based lab for wednesday, that everyone seemed to really like, and I think they learned something.

I gave a bad lab lecture on Monday (hadn't recently read the lab) and my TA gave a great lab lecture on Wednesday. It doesn't help that Monday's lab was designed to be purposefully mysterious and Wednesday's was cookbook easy.

Having spent a full week in advance of the class preparing for it, I did manage to not have to write any lectures during the week. Now I have nothing really prepared for next week (except a few short videos), but I am moving into the topics with which I have more familiarity and there shouldn't be the hours spent trying to jam material into my head. Because I've got know more material than is in there textbook. Fortunately for me, the textbook we are using is awful, so knowing more than is in there textbook is accomplished by reading some better introductory texts.

So that's the quick and dirty on how the teaching is going. Right now it just feels like a lot of work, but S reassures me that rewards in teaching come later, in the form of good reviews, nice emails, or just students earning good grades.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

in the news

too tired to post anything real, but a quick scan of the headlines on nytimes.com turned up this article of relevance to women: Iraqi Constitution Draft Includes Curbs to Women's Rights. I'd say something about it, but I think I'll just wait and see it how it plays out (read: too tired to think).

I'm really looking forward to thursday. Things are going well (i think) but I'd like to be able to just stop and think about something else for a few hours.

Monday, July 18, 2005

one down

15 lecture periods and 7 labs to go...plus all the grading and lecture writing that goes with it.

I had 15 people registered for class today, and at lecture this morning I had 13 (although one was 30 minutes late). This afternoon at lab I also had 13 people but I lost one person from lecture and gained one person who skipped lecture in the morning.

Overall, I think today went pretty well. There were a few times when I think I could have been more clear about things, but often they reflected places where my knowledge is not exemplerary or one time when I should have read the lab more closely. I accidentally skipped out on my office hours this afternoon (they should be ending now and I'm already at home), but nobody could have serious questions after the first day, could they?

If the rest of the days go this well, I'll consider the class a success.

I've got to write more lectures; I covered a bit more today than I thought I would, but it's nice to have the comfort of being a bit ahead. I'd like to keep that cushion, so I'm off to write Wednesday or Thursday's lecture.

Friday, July 15, 2005

things I'm reading

Yes, I know I should be writing lectures, but here are a few things that have caught my eye in the past week or so:

Dress codes..."As in, I avoid overly tight or short clothing. I always wear tank tops under low-cut shirts. I do not wear skirts to work, and all pants are capri-length or longer. So what gives? Does being 1/3 her age and female automatically make me "provacative"? Isn't the workplace treacherous enough without women turning against each other?" (Single girl's guide to grad school)

This week's issue of Nature had a number of thought provoking pieces:

"Action, not words: Japan is beginning to recognize that the status and treatment of women researchers must change — but it has yet to take decisive action to address the problem." Nature 436, 151 (14 July 2005)

Mysterious disappearance of female investigators - this letter to the editor chronicles how in the European Young Investigators competition 25% of applicants were women, but at every stage of the competition their fraction was whittled down, so that in the end only 12% of the awards went to women. The letter writers suggest that there was bias in the competition judging, as the statistical probability of this occurrence is only 0.05%. Nature 436, 174 (14 July 2005)

Nobel laureates mingling with grad students.
Nature 436, 170-171 (14 July 2005)
"For the past 55 years, a remarkable gathering of minds has been taking place in a small town in Germany. Behind closed doors, Nobel laureates have come from all corners of the globe to meet local students. This year, for the first time, the rest of the world has been invited and some 700 international students have joined the party."
Having met a few Nobelists myself, I'm glad to hear that other students get a chance to do so as well. I think that the gathering sounds like a great opportunity for young scientists to learn that Nobelists are humans too, but also to learn a lot from them.

t minus 3 days and counting

I've been working all week on getting ready for class next week, and I've been alternating through a range of emotions associated with my impending transition to Frau Professor. Most of the time I'm feeling pretty good. I've got a couple of lectures written now, I'm thinking up a few more interactive activities, and I won't have an educational specialist breathing down my neck this time around. But yesterday a series of phone calls triggered a panic attack that took me at least 8 hours to completely recover from. A student of mine has actually already been to the class website, looked at the syllabus, and wants to get a head start on the readings! He wanted to know if I meant the whole chapter or whether I was interested in only certain pages. How should I know? I haven't read the book (it's a piece of crap). And then a friend reminded me that we have a 3 hour meeting this afternoon to get introduced to a new piece of lab equipment that I'll be having my undergraduate advisee working on this fall. And those two things really drove home how rapidly my leisurely prep time is running out and how soon this class is no longer going to be an abstract four weeks on the calendar but a living, breathing classroom full of students.

This morning having run off copies of my syllabus, devised a brilliant (in my mind at least) Image of the Day assignment, and started into the next lecture, I'm feeling a little calmer. Sure, I've got only one hour left to work today, but I've also got Saturday and Sunday, and I know I'm ready for Monday morning (though afternoon lab is a different story). And Tuesday's lecture is days away...

So forgive me if the posts are little light in the coming few weeks. I promise I'll have some good stories at the end of this.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

ha ha ha

I read yesterday on Science's NextWave that you should limit yourself to only spending 1.5 to 2 hours preparing each hour of classroom time. I'm probably around 5-10 hours (depending on lecture or lab). Can anyone honestly say that they spend only 2 hours writing a lecture or setting up an inquiry activity? If so, please tell me how. And please explain how you can expect your students to spend 2-3 hours studying for each hour of class time if you're only willing to put in less than that yourself. But more importantly, tell me how to reduce my class prep time!

Monday, July 11, 2005

The nature of a scientific theory

It seems that even educated people can be a little unclear as to the scientific meaning of the word "theory," so let me quote from a basic college science text book (Thompson and Turk, 2005, p 17):
"If a hypothesis explains new observations as they accumulate and is not substantively contradicted, it becomes accepted by more and more people. As the tentative nature of a hypothesis is gradually dispelled, it is elevated to a theory. Theories differ widely in form and content, but all obey four fundamental criteria:
  1. A theory must be based on a series of confirmed ovservations or experimental results
  2. A theory must explain all relevant observations or experimental results
  3. A theory must not contradict any relevant observations or other scientific principles
  4. A theory must be internally consistent. Thus, it must be built in a logical manner so that the conclusions do not contradict any of the original premises.
...Many theories cannot be absolutely proven. For example, even though scientists are just about certain that their image of atomic structure is correct, no one has or ever will watch an individual electron travel in its orbit. Therefore, our interpretation of atomic structure is called atomic theory."
I don't mean to make a personal attack on the commenter to this blog. I respect her right to disagree and to teach her children whatever she wants outside of public school time. However, I just wanted to point out that many non-controversial things (gravity, atomic structure, etc.) are at the same formal status of scientific understanding as evolution. If the hang-up is the word theory, perhaps we ought to provide alternative explanations to those phenomena as well.

Or perhaps, we ought to teach in every science class about the nature of science, the scientific method (observation, hypothesis, results, theory), and that science is more about a way of knowing than merely a collection of facts and theories. Which, not coincidentally, is the subject of my first lecture in class next week.

wise women in the woods

This weekend I went hiking and camping with two friends from graduate school. One is very close to finishing her PhD and has just gotten engaged, and the other finished her MS a year ago, works at an engineering firm, and is house-hunting. Along for the adventure were two dogs and two pygmy goats.

It was wonderful to reconnect with my friends, especially in such beautiful surroundings. Our conversations ranged from the professional to the personal, world events to the mundane details of everyday life. We talked about finding jobs, people pushing intelligent design in the national parks, pesto recipes, getting married and the fuss that goes with it, crazy long-distance running adventures, and the stress of an unfinished thesis. It was great to have those deep conversations (when is the right time to have kids? does it matter that we're women when it comes to interviewing?) but also to remember that there is a lighter, more enjoyable side of life too (especially over 2 bottles of wine).

In the past week, I've also had some great conversations with two older (50s?) women scientists, about some of the issues I've been writing about here...evolution, ethics, career paths. And it's somewhat reassuring to know that my elders are thinking about these things too. I think mentors/role models/teachers-by-example are so important. There's no one person I want to emulate everything about, but I can learn something from each one of them.

So thanks to all the women who have gone down these paths before me and thanks to all those who are forging their own paths alongside me. The company is wonderful and the view is exhilirating.

Friday, July 08, 2005

evolution vs. intelligent design

Eighty years after the famous Scopes Monkey trial (read Inherit the Wind if you don't know the story), why is there a resurgence now in the debate over teaching evolution in schools?

Today, there is a movement to teach "intelligent design" (ID, the idea that a higher being (not specified) created life because it's just too complicated and too perfect to have evolved that way) along with or instead of evolution in the public schools. Proponents of ID argue that evolution is "just a theory" and thus, competing theories must be taught.

There has been a lot public controversy in the past few years (especially in Kansas) and a lot of editorials and letters to the editor in the science community press in the past few months. This week Science tackles the subject in their lead editorial. The science community generally comes down hard against teaching ID alongside evolution, and I stand alongside them.

ID supporters are not only intentionally distorting the nature of science, and the scientific meaning of the word "theory", but they are also asking public schools to teach religious ideas (even if not spefically Christian) in direct violation of the separation of church and state. How would a young agnostic or atheist feel if their science teacher started lecturing that life was created by a higher being? Or how about the daughters of biologists and geologists who have been taught by their parents about evolution and its evidence all around us? Even religious believers can still support evolution as a scientific principle; believing that we evolved from monkeys does not diminish the possibility of an awesome God.

I am discouraged by the growing strength of the fundamentalists Christians and their influence on secular society and science. I worry about the sort of environment that I will bring kids into. Good science is good science and it should not be disparaged because it does not support seven literal days.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

current events

Excuse the foray into political events, but they are certainly a major part of our lives.

Re: London's attack. I am deeply saddened for those people affected physically and psychologically by this attack. You are in my prayers.

Re: Sandra Day O'Connor's resignation. I am appalled that Bush may get a chance to appoint up to three supreme court justices, but cautiously hopeful that he will appoint a moderate.

Re: Confidential sources and a free press. Many of you may have lost this story in the shuffle of recent world events, but I think it's an important one. A New York Times reporter has chosen to go to jail rather than reveal confidential sources for a story she did not even write. Meanwhile, the conservative columnist who did write the story revealing the name of a covert CIA operative has gone free. I've been in interested in constitutional law and freedom of the press since high school when, as editor of my school newspaper, I discovered that principals really do have the authority to censor student publications. If reporters cannot now guarentee protection to confidential sources, what civil liberty that we take for granted now will next be curtailed?

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

the deleted post

It turns out there are still some things to personal to share, even on an anonymous blog. For me, those two things are sex and money. This blog is finding a middle ground between the syrupy banality of my web page and the most intimate details of my life...and I'm still figuring out where to draw the line.

Anyways, I heard a story on NPR this afternoon, that seemed appropriate for this topic: America the Extroverted?

Another NPR link definitely worth checking out: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4727127
But I won't tell you why. You'll just have to read and listen and figure it out for yourself.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

balancing teaching and research

I'm quite worried about how to maintain forward motion on my research as I embark on teaching - not the least because it's been two weeks since I've done any research - and Naturejobs (free site by the journal Nature) has an article on this very subject this week. Some of their advice:
  • find a teaching mentor in your field and whose style you admire
  • time management is crucial - some ideas: take one day a week for only research; teach all of your classes one semester so that you can have the other semester for research; teach your classes in the afternoon and don't start prepping until the morning; use the law of diminishing returns to judge your time efficiency
  • think about teaching as an experiment or art form - assess your results and innovate to achieve better ones
I think for now I'll try to take the advice to set aside one day a week for research. I'll be teaching Monday through Thursday, so if I do research on Friday that still leaves me the weekend to prep for the following week. Don't know what my dh will think of that though...

Friday, July 01, 2005

moms...all work and no sleep

There was a spot on all things considered last night about how baby orcas don't sleep for their first month of life. They swim constantly, possibly because they have thin blubber and are born in cold water, so they have to keep swimming or they'll freeze. Their mom's don't get to sleep either and swim constantly with their babies. The dad's sleep patterns don't change at all. Figures!

I ran into a friend of mine who had a baby 8 weeks ago. She too is finishing her PhD in my field, or trying too...She says she's trying to work one day a week and during the brief gaps that she gets, but that because she's breast feeding she can never be away too long, which makes it even harder. We didn't chat too long because I felt bad about taking some of her valuable work time, but I bet she'd really identify with those orca moms.