Tuesday, May 31, 2011
For instance, what does one do with the dice sets bought to battle ogres on Sunday afternoons? Back in the day when pretty was a more important consideration than choking hazard? When who had the best selection of dice sets made a similar statement about one's status in a community as the type of baby carrier or stroller does in a different one. Dice are important. Dice are fun. Dice are multi colored.
Why not use them to determine the order of end of term student presentations!
1) Alphabetize the list of dice colors on the board.*
2) Put dice in a nice dice bag.
3) Have students in class choose dice from bag to determine presentation order.
In the right class, this still lets one show off ones painstakingly collected dungeon generating, vampire slaying, dust collecting platonic solids.
*For this exercise, it may be best to pull out only the dice that are decorated with a G-rating.
Friday, May 27, 2011
My partner has long brown hair. I have dark skin and short dark hair. It is amazing to see him try to put together gender roles at this age. If this is any indication, he'll do very well in life on this front.
What's even more fun is playing with other people's children's gender roles. For instance a conversation at the playground the other day with a preschooler:
Preschooler: Why does your son have little girl hair?
(My partner wants Epsilon to be "just like Daddy" on this axis until Epsilon chooses differently.)
Me: What do you mean by girl hair?
Preschooler: It's all curly.
Me: I have short hair, is that okay?
Preschooler: But he's a BOY.
Me: His daddy has girl's hair.
Preschooler: Notices my partner's ponytail for the first time. I see an error message flash across his face before he goes back to playing on the slide.
I would see this as having taken advantage of another teachable moment if I didn't get such a mischievous pleasure out of it.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
I was saying this for the following (obvious) reasons. Grad school has to be a labor of love. In my biased small N experience, those that enter graduate school as "the next thing to do" don't do as well who come in knowing they love research/their subject matter. Also, she's 20 years old. She knows nothing of the world other than school. There is another life out there.
This was against my better judgment for the following (possibly equally obvious) reason. In many hard sciences, (including my field) taking time of is seen as a sign of weakness (see some wonderful discussions about this lead by Isis and FSP at more senior stages of career) and depending on how long/what she does in her time off it may keep her from accepted into a top tier grad school. This isn't the end of a career by any means, but worth hesitating about. Also, somewhere I've picked up the messaging that as academics, we should be recruiters to our fields, and that encouraging students to do something else is somehow playing against the team interests.
Her family, of course, thinks that she is sooooo smart, and wants her to get a PhD in her current field, and an MBA*.
Thus began my inner conflict about whether or not I should have a conversation with this woman about whose desires should be prioritized when it comes to making medium term life decisions like going to graduate school, or if I should walk away from this powder keg an maintain a professional relationship with her. To make matters worse, later in the awards ceremony, I was discussing my life choices with a tenured colleague, who then started musing about the lost opportunities in his life because he didn't travel or work before entering graduate school.
*10 points if you can guess the country of her parents origin. Partial credit given for being close.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
I am not a linguist or historian. These are purely my musings of formed by trying to learn from Google University, and then being fanciful. If you are a linguist or historian, PLEASE enlighten me. Furthermore, I write this fully aware of the silliness and cultural insensitivity put forth in the "how foreign cultures think" department about my parents' first language. Enough disclaimers. Fanciful musings:
First of all, from what I could tell, and according to someone more knowledgeable, it is not actually true that the Amandawa don't have an idea of abstract time. That doesn't make this situation uninteresting. What they seem to lack, according to the paper (PDF) the BBC article quotes, is a concept of cyclic time (among a few other things).
The seasonal and diurnal time interval systems can therefore properly be thought of as cognitive, cultural and linguistic schemas, but they differ from more familiar calendric and clock schemas in that there is no evidence that they are conceptualized by speakers as being cyclical in structure.
When the Amondawa are asked to describe their day or year, the consistently come up with a curvilinear structure.
No participants attempted to create a circular, cyclic representation. It is unclear whether the curvilinear responses were a result of a compromise between an intended rectilinear configuration and the length of human reach, or signify that neither cyclicity nor rectilinearity are relevant to the Amondawa seasonal schema.
That's just cool! I have no desire to exoticize these people, but possibly curvilinear time?!
This is where Japanese math comes in: there are numerous examples of different ways of thinking about information leading to different insights about the world. Apparently, mathematics in Japan developed, at least in part, by studying sticks on a grid. As a result, by the time of the Edo era (1603-1868), Japanese mathematicians were centuries ahead of Europe in term of being able to solve large linear systems (matrix calculations), but very far behind in terms of other concepts in abstract math. I'm sorry I have no citations for this factoid, I learned it during a dinner conversation. I haven't gone to GU about it yet.
This is where I intentionally confuse anecdote with the singular of data for the amusement of my imagination. What new insight about the world does a curvilinear (or a strictly linear, without the cyclic component) view of time give? Maybe nothing. But it's fun to fantasize.
I leave with a deep thought from the tenth doctor:
People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint - it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly... time-y wimey... stuff
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Instead of being as upset by this as I am, I can only think to give PP some money. I'd appreciate other ideas.
Okay, done being depressed. Rachel Maddow is much more clever about this than I can be. Watch this (esp. starting at about 1:30)
Monday, May 23, 2011
I couldn't figure our quickly how to embed video from her webpage, so here's the youtube link to a good example.
Also, check out her playing in a quintet of flaming paper instruments. It's less mathematically sophisticated, but it involves fire, so a lot is forgiven.
I have no words. Go watch!
Friday, May 20, 2011
A visiting graduate student suggested that we open the meeting up to all undergraduates. After all, it was the Association for Women in my Field, not Association of Women in my Field. It turns out that in her department, the AWmF has a male faculty mentor. (This is because there are no female tenured faculty at her department).
There's a part of my brain that started screaming "BAD IDEA!" at the top of it's lungs. But then I stopped to think about it. As an undergraduate, there was 1 tenured female faculty member in my two majors combined, 2 my last year. There was a "Graduate Student Women in My Field" group that did not get money from any outside agency, and was not aimed at undergrads (though we were welcome), and thus did not need a faculty sponsor. Would it have been fair in my undergrad institution to put the responsibility/burden of running such a group on the 1 female? Is it a fair responsibility to shuffle off onto a junior faculty member? Does that change if the school has a low rate of offering tenure?
There were 2 tenured female faculty members in my graduate department, neither of whom really wanted to spend time on an "Association for Women in My Field" chapter. One department chair tried to foist it onto one of them, and created a bit of resentment in the process.
In some ways, I'm glad the male faculty member at the visiting student's school is sponsoring a chapter of Association for Women in My Field, broken as this problem is.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
My coauthors are lousy communicators!
Two out of three of these are significantly senior to me, and the nearest lives 2.5 K miles away. I feel like I am pulling teeth to get through feed back on drafts, Skype meetings to talk through sticking points, advice on areas where I have gotten stuck on a project. Progress seems to only happen when I manage to fly over to the other person's city, or after I've badgered for a very long time.
Full disclosure, I am partially at fault here: I'm bad at badgering. After badgering for a while, I tend to give up and say things like "We can talk about this the next break you have from classes," which is stupid, I know.
So my question is, am I unlucky in my draw of coauthors? I tend to look for a project that is interesting/I have something to say about and go for it, rather than looking at who it is I will be working with. Should I be paying more attention to who I'll be working with? Is this experience with distant co-authors normal?
And most importantly, is there a well hidden secret to dealing with people like this that both gets the work done in a timely manner, and doesn't offend the senior collaborator?
I haven't gotten satisfactory answers from my colleagues, but that could be because everyone knows the people involved, and therefore don't want to say anything. So I'm asking the blogosphere. Help?
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
These last 2 years, I've only had to teach upper level and graduate level classes at a small university with phenomenally motivated students, and I've uniformly liked my experience teaching undergraduates more than graduates. And that's not only because the prep for an undergrad lecture is easier than the prep for a grad lecture.
When my partner and I compare notes after our teaching days, he talks about his graduate students trying to apply the material in class to their own research problems, or raising points of view they have encountered in the literature of their subspecialty that are pertinent to the material in class. When I talk about teaching graduate students, I feel like I'm teaching to a wall of note takers.
I think this difference comes from the fact that in my field, due to the amount of specialized knowledge necessary, the first few years of a PhD really are just coursework to build up enough background to choose a potential thesis topic. And by they time you have a topic, you aren't taking classes anymore, but learning from the literature, your advisor, and a reading groups that you've formed with other students/faculty. In my partner's field, students often come into a PhD program with a general idea for a thesis in mind, and spend the first years honing it down to a clean, precise, specific question for which the data needs to be gathered and analyzed.
In contrast, the good undergraduates I encounter ask questions that relate the material covered in class to other classes taught in different departments where similar material has been covered as background, or to topics they may be interested in knowing for summer research. The good undergrads in his field are still surveying the subject, trying to figure out what can be done with the tools available.
These are two data points. Its tempting to draw a line through them saying that the less related to the student's current interests a class is, the less interesting it is for a lecturer to stand for an hour in front of the class. But then there is the entire world of labs, and rotations that I have no experience in. So, for other people: What factors of a class makes it fun to teach to?
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
1) Put only a few theorem/results/definitions in big font on your poster.
2) Technical background/details should go in pictures or be described with an eye towards the BIG PICTURE (TM). If someone wants more detail, hand them a copy of a preprint.
3) Prepare 3 talks for the potential viewers, one lasting 30 seconds, one lasting 2 minutes, and one where you talk your heart out to the one person (if you are lucky) who really is excited about your research.
4) The 30 second talk should be the most polished as that will be the one most people will get. This gives an important first impression for people who you may encounter in future conferences.
I'm not an expert at poster sessions. I've presented 1 poster, and attended a few more, and have a good idea of what was or was not an enriching experience for me. I don't like the people who try to keep talking to me after I've decided that the material on the poster is not as relevant to me as the title suggested. I want the presenters to give me samples of their work, not be sales people.
I actually find attending poster sessions (and presenting at the same) very enjoyable. I get to see a lot of research without having to commit (usually) to an hour long talk. I get to have a lot of people come by to see my work, and I get a lot of different perspectives on what may or may not be interesting. And it's often much less painful experience than trying to give a short (10-15 min) talk.
It bothers me that poster sessions are much less prestigious as CV line items than giving talks, even the short variety. Posters are often given to people who's work was not deemed good enough for a talk. The presenters are overwhelmingly graduate student/post doc. As a result, the poster session is seen as a lemons' market, and it is hard to get good people to stop by.
Yet there are projects, undertaken by people in all stages of their career, that I feel are better suited for the poster format than for a 55 minute talk format. And yet, and yet.
So in spite of my preference for this format, I no longer choose to participate in it. It is unfortunate.
I'm curious if this is the same across all STEM fields. If there are fields where posters don't have a second tier status, what is done differently there to change this perspective. And, as an individual, what can I do to attract good people to my poster if I think a project fits this format better than a slide show?
Monday, May 16, 2011
I thought I'd closed that door.
He smack's his lips and asks me to come down to his level. I finish getting dressed.
"No, I asked you to come down to my level NOW!"
Sigh. I'll be more firm about weaning next weekend.
Epsilon puts his stuffed dog to my breast. "Num-num."
Oh how cute. Dog can suckle for 2 seconds, and then I can put my shirt back on.
"No, I want you to breast feed Dog for as long as Dog wants, and I want you to do it properly!"
"Thank you Ma."
I am soooo not doing this for his stuffed truck!
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
I've been looking for an excuse to post this for a while. Randall Monroe is more eloquent than I can ever hope to be.
To that New Year's Day when it rained tea water outside our tent.
It was too warm for snow,
Too cold to melt the fog
Hugging the lake.
"The mists of Avalon,"
A pair of ducks drifted out of a universe
they shared between themselves
to see alien life staring at them from the shore.
Startled, they left us only with ripples.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
At the playground, the broken cement truck and his toy dog often go on slides, or in swings, or in rides in other vehicles at the playground. He shares his food with them. He puts them to bed.
Okay, so this isn't terribly surprising behavior for a toddler, though I haven't seen a lot of other toddlers putting trucks in swings, but I have a small N.
But it has me thinking, where is the line between pretending and passing on behavior we do to him to objects he likes. We feed him, we put him to sleep. Sometimes, he tries to put us to sleep, or feed us, or push me when I'm in the swing.
For instance, in the area of language acquisition, the current thought is that Epsilon is absorbing grammar as well a vocabulary, and practicing a new skill, not just mimicking the words and sentences we say to him.
What's going on in his brain now? Is he exploring social relations by sharing with his toys? Is he simply copying the things we do to show him we care about him? Is there some other skill acquisition going on?
This is where I really wish I had a degree in child development. And also that I knew what part of a cement truck's engine craves broccoli.
Monday, May 9, 2011
In college, a friend of mine told me that he measured his happiness by how few keys he had on his key ring. Each key represented responsibility, and he wanted the freedom to pick up an leave and see a different part of the world whenever he wanted. I wanted to embrace that outlook, but the first time I found myself key less, I felt stranded, rootless, homeless. I am not good at being one with the tumbleweed. But as scary as it was, at one point in my life, I liked to think of myself as an explorer, armed with my courage (and of course the financial means to travel) setting out to learn what I could of the world. Ah, the heady days of I-just-graduated-college naiveté.
I'm currently living in my sixth metro area, the fifth of my adult life. I used to embrace each move as an opportunity to seek out a new city, discover new things about the world. Learn to live as the locals do of each country and city I've made my temporary new home, and suck it dry, like I was scouting it out as a potential permanent home. It was a grand adventure, I learned more about myself, my heritage, this great country I am a citizen of with each move. The heartbreak of losing touch with friends scattered over the globe is real, but worth the excitement of a new experience.
But this last move to my post-doc has been incredibly hard. It's been nearly two years, and I haven't adjusted. I haven't been able to do make the friends and find that local haunts and search for the heartbeat of my new home in the same way I dove into my last several. My current exploration of cities seems limited to finding which parks are best for which age of infant.
My brother had a different experience. He went to college in the same metro area we grew up in. Instead of traveling and working after college, he went straight to graduate school after college to the second metro area of his life. Recently, he's had to weigh the options of moving away to a different city for a post-doc versus staying in the area to resolve his own budding two-body problem. While I find myself craving the constancy of a permanent position so that I can again find the rhythm of a community, not with the rush and fervor of my past, but with, and on the time frame of my toddler weekend planner, my brother is full of what ifs and regrets about the lost opportunities (the undiscovered coffee shops, the unexplored used record stores)
of not building a home in a new city. What we wouldn't do to change places.
Sunday, May 8, 2011
But her father, my grandfather, believed in educating women, and in the sanctity of knowledge. She grew up in a household where both the acquisition and the sharing of knowledge were all important, even when other needs went unmet. She has stories of my grandfather insisting on tutoring for free even when he didn't have another job, because he thought it immoral to charge for something as basic to survival as an education. This is something I feel guilty about sometimes when I get my paycheck stub, at least partially, for teaching a few classes.
She's carried on my grandfather's legacy. She convinced my father to stay in academia and not go into industry. Only one other mother of any of my friends growing up had a) a degree more advanced than a bachelors, and b) continued working in her field of training after having children. I remember learning math from her that not only does she not remember teaching me, but she doesn't remember ever knowing. When she went back to get further training in her chosen field when I was in college, and there was a coincidence of topics we both needed to learn. I remember coming home on break that year and each trying to read the other's text books for a few days.
Somewhere in the struggle for what religion, if any, was passed onto the kids, the importance of an education became the prevailing belief system in our household. Of course this has its own set of problems. My brother and were pushed too hard, praised to little, belittled every time we lost faith in our ability to succeed in college, or complete (or start) a PhD. But those rants and scars are everyday. I know I wouldn't be here without her as a role model. Good an bad combined. In a time when I am constantly looking for role models in how to balance kid, job and a partner in a different city, I should remember to turn my glance closer to home.
Today is Mother's Day. Does anyone else have thoughts on their mothers? Or on their children?
Friday, May 6, 2011
Now that Epsilon is a toddler, my partner Skypes me from two time zones away when I'm done teaching, and it's time for their dinner. And we have a "family" dinner. I recite Epsilon's favorite stories to him, with or without the relevant book in his hand. He tells me in no uncertain terms that Mama's not there. Or his father maneuvers the computer around the apartment as he shows me his toys.
I had a colleague visiting my university last year for a month, when he had a child about Epsilon's age. I would catch him finishing up a Skype session with his wife and child as I stopped by his office to meet for lunch. He would tell me stories of his son trying to share with him the biscuits he was having for breakfast. Sweet yes, but...
Parenting by Skype isn't really parenting. It doesn't actually provide any relief for the parent on the other end doing all the work. I'm not even sure if the benefits of seeing the rest of my family outweighs the heartbreak at the end of each phone call.
The aforementioned colleague will be visiting again for a few weeks soon. I suspect there will be some quality time spent over good alcohol.
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
They start circling their prey early, asking innocent enough questions about first principals. And like a great cat wearing down its prey in a chase, the questions never end. I have seen one of these creatures stall a speaker for nearly half an hour over the definition of velocity. Be even more afraid of these hunters if you do multi disciplinary work. They may want you to bring them up to speed on the entirety of the discipline they are not in before you reach slide 3 of your presentation. Beyond the scope! you cry to deaf ear. The hunter has caught its prey.
A key characteristic of these creatures is their ability not to care what the other seminar attendees think. Whether the other attendees are annoyed at the derailing questions, or whether they think the questioner is not up to speed on the literature and therefore they need to ask basic questions. The speakers that most effectively avoid being derailed seem not to be the best at answering the first principal questions, but the ones that are most able to give slippery answers that may or may not actually answer the question, but point the interrogator in the direction that the speaker wants to proceed in.
I do not think that the hour alloted for a speaker to present his/her research is the best place for acquiring in depth knowledge about their field of research that I lack. However, since I was embarking on a new project with a collaborator who knows the subject matter better than I do, I decided that I would try to pin down a few things that confuse me over the course of an afternoon. I had no intension of being the type of ass that the questioners above seem to be at times, but I had resolved to get answers to some questions, no matter how stupid I looked in asking them. The result of the exercise was a few answers (YAY!), exhaustion at having to constantly ask the same questions and get psuedo-answers to them (GRR!), while having the conversation redirected to the matters my collaborator wanted to talk about (admiration at the skill with which he changed the subject).
I've been told that I am more aggressive than other females in my manner of speech. However, I must be doing something wrong when I can't seem to get straight in depth answers from people when I speak to them (I do better over e-mail). I also seem to get eaten alive at presentation by first principal interrogators. Do other people have this problem? Have other people conquered this beast?
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Wisconsin: passed a bill eliminating collective bargaining rights for everything except salaries, and prohibits striking.
Ohio: Senate Bill 5 eliminating collective bargaining for benefits, and prohibits striking
Massachussetts: The state house of representatives passed a bill eliminating collective bargaining rights on health care.
Wait What? Massachussetts? That tiny state with gay marriage and state mandated health care? That great bastion of blue?
I got interested in this issue when I first heard coverage of the Wisconsin bill that mentioned that University of Wisconsin could no longer form unions.
Let me just present a case study as to why I think this is important, with the standard caveat that anecdote is not the singular of data.
I went to a non-unionized university. My partner's had a union.
I did not have dental insurance. My partner did.
I did not have the option of maternity leave. I could pay the school to take a term off. My partner had access to a full semester.
We considered it a victory when we were able to convince our department to stop using discriminatory pay scales for foreign students, or when they agreed to pay summer school TAs the amount they verbally told the students (no paper contract had been issued that year). My partner's school? They had lawyers to deal with this type of negotiation, so that untrained students who should really be focusing on their theses didn't have to figure out which dean would be most sympathetic.
At the risk of starting a flame war, where do people come down on the issue of unions (in general, or in your university)?
Summer school, and jumbo shrimp, of course.
Friendly fire, famous poet, common sense,
and, until very recently, safe sex.
Blind date, sure thing, amicable divorce.
Also there's loyal opposition,
social security, deliberate speed.
How about dysfunctional family?
Eyes blackened, hearts crushed, the damn thing functions.
Some things we say should coat our tongues with ash.
Drug-Free School Zone? No way: it's our money
our children toke, snort and shoot up while we
vote against higher property taxes.
Want a one-word oxymoron? Prepay.
Money's—forgive me—rich in such mischief:
trust officer, debt service, common thief—
these phrases all want to have it both ways
and sag at the middle like decrepit beds.
Religious freedom—doesn't that sound good?
And some assisted living when we're old
and in our cryptic dreams the many dead
swirl like a fitful snow. We'll wake and not
think of our living wills or property.
We'll want some breakfast. Our memories
will be our real estate, all that we've got.
Monday, May 2, 2011
A few things you should know first:
1) Our current 2+ epsilon body problem involves a lot of single parenting. This makes going to the bathroom devilishly difficult sometimes.
2) My mother has taught Epsilon to throw things away in the garbage can. He thinks this is a game. This leads him to want to pick up bits of trash at the playground and find a bin to throw it away in.
2a) Great! A budding environmentalist!
2b) Shit! he's drinking out of the juicebox he just found on the beach.
Today's eggmus/instructions for parents of similarly minded toddlers:
Before going to the bathroom, gather a pile of old receipts, dust bunnies, pieces of broken toys you've been meaning to throw out.
When your toddler wants you to get off the toilet to play with him, hand him a piece of your collection. Tell him that it is trash. Watch him go off to the kitchen happily to throw away the scrap of whatever. Don't watch for too long, this is your chance for 30 seconds of peace.
When he comes back to ask you to play with him, give him another piece of trash. Repeat until you have finished your business.
Note: For best results, don't forget to unlock the cabinet that the trashcan lives in.