Thursday, January 29, 2009

this is my job

I have some family and future-family who read this blog, most likely to check whether I'm still alive (I don't call that often - I know, I'm a bad person). During my last visit with some of these family members, someone commented on the fact that being a "teacher" at the college level is not quite the same as being a "teacher" at any other level -- and I realized that, although no one in my family has ever REALLY understood what I do (I was asked at one point to remind them what my "major" was in grad school), it might be time to actually explain what the hell Professor (of any rank) actually means (just in case it becomes a permanent title). So for those who read this from the "outside," it goes something like this.

At any University or College, a Professor is theoretically there to teach -- that's what brings in the tuition money, after all. But depending on the school, that can be either a major or extremely minor portion of their actual job. We're supposed to be "scholar/teachers" or some variation on that term, and those of us in the sciences are scientist/teachers. We're supposed to be doing science, least some of the time.

At a small liberal arts college (SLAC), most of the job is teaching - multiple classes per term, generally without hired help (teaching assistants). This includes preparing materials, teaching lectures and labs, writing exams, grading, etc. And that may come off as what we "do," but from there we have:

Research - We should be pursuing our own research projects, preferably including students when possible.

Grant Writing - In order to do that research, we need to bring in some money. A large University will be expecting some pretty big checks to come their way, but a SLAC generally has lower expectations. Even so, we should be writing grant proposals. Most of these proposals are submitted to competitive funding sources and will not be successful, but no grant writing at all is a guarantee of no money.

Publishing - As a result of the research we do with all that grant money we bring in, we should be publishing papers in respected scientific journals. Being first author (doing most of the work) is best in terms of getting "credit" from your University, but being on the list of authors at all counts for something (well, some of the time). The caliber of the journal matters, particularly at big Universities, so it's better to be published in journals that are less likely to accept your work. This means lots of paper-writing, rejection, rewriting, resubmission, etc.

Advising - We have students to advise; at larger Universities we might be mentoring graduate students. At smaller colleges this is mostly advising majors in our departments (telling them what classes they should be taking, etc) and advising research students (students completing honors projects or theses by working with us or doing some of our research). This can take up a lot of time, particularly if we have a lot of undergraduate students doing research projects. They need a lot of help.

Service - This is primarily committee work, or other service to the College. The time sink involved varies significantly.

Other - Random things, including faculty meetings, other meetings, safety training, paperwork, etc.

In my personal case, I'm at a SLAC, so my grant expectations are relatively low. I should bring in some money at some point, but a small grant would be pretty good and a big grant would take some significant pressure off of me in terms of tenure. Publishing is also less of a burden, since I can publish a few papers over the next few years and not have to worry that it isn't enough. I'm also fairly lucky in that my SLAC is pretty transparent in terms of their tenure requirements - I think I have a pretty good handle on what I need to do to succeed.

At the moment I'm teaching two courses (new preparations for me) and starting to plan some field research. I have one advisee, no committee work until next year, and no imminent deadlines. And my schedule today still looked like:

6 am - up
Work - Write lab exercise for this afternoon's class
Meet with sales rep for expensive field equipment, talk about options
Answer student questions regarding this afternoon's exam
Finalize and print Exam while eating lunch
Set up lab for afternoon class
Give Exam
Write Quiz for Friday morning class
Lecture & Lab
Update lab computers with new software
Answer student questions regarding lab activity
Write portion of lecture for Friday morning class
Upload assignments to course management website
Clean up equipment in the lab from yesterday's class
Home - 6 pm
Write rest of lecture for Friday morning

Things I should have done today, but didn't because I didn't have time, include: deciding on a book for one of my courses, filling out warranty cards for the new lab equipment, checking my mail, talking to a colleague about a research project, grading anything (and the pile is getting very large), calling the vendor for the second expensive piece of lab equipment I need to buy, and writing about ten emails that I now don't feel like writing.

I sometimes feel guilty if I come home after a 9- or 10-hour day and don't do any work after dinner. Usually, I have to work in the evening in order to be ready for my class in the morning. As far as Academics go (and by that I mean people working in Academia), I think my schedule is actually pretty light at the moment - I don't have service responsibilities or students to keep track of in my lab (yet!). I don't have my lab quite set up yet and have therefore not done any real research in the last few months. When those things set in, I expect to be working longer hours.

And then there comes the issue of being "off" - as in, summers, and long winter breaks. Which are great, except that, for me, this is when I do all that writing of papers and grants and all the research I'm supposed to be doing. I don't have time for much of this during the term. So I write grant proposals and revise papers over the winter break (as I did this year) and do my field work in the summer (as I plan to this summer). I get paid a 9-month salary, with the option to pay my own summer salary if I get a grant. Which might happen, but even if I don't get a grant I'm still going to be doing some research during that "free" time.

I'm not saying I have it bad - I wouldn't be here if I didn't enjoy it, and I'm actually really loving my job. I enjoy working with my students and I've always looked forward to the field work aspect of the job - particularly when I get to visit new places, as I will this coming summer. But, it's not QUITE as great a deal as it may seem - extremely flexible, yes. Sometimes exciting, often invigorating, extremely independent work. But it's not the leisure life by any means. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

the source of all my misery

So I was procrastinating, and did the same personality test that's been going around. Because to be honest I kinda like these stupid quizzes.

Not to my surprise, I again find out that I am a perfectionist and am hostile towards others. Those probably account for most of the things in life that drive me nuts, so I can't argue!


You scored 24 out of 50. This score is higher than 42.0% of people who have taken this test.


You scored 31 out of 50. This score is higher than 42.4% of people who have taken this test.

Openness to experience

You scored 44 out of 50. This score is higher than 68.1% of people who have taken this test.


You scored 48 out of 50. This score is higher than 99.5% of people who have taken this test.


You scored 26 out of 50. This score is higher than 5.8% of people who have taken this test.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

problems, they get solved

Partner has been a very patient, tolerant and supportive man. When I was in grad school he let me drag him to City, which he hated, where he was forced to work retail, which he hated. He left his job last May to be homeless with me for a few months, and then he moved into the house I bought here in Small Town, where he has been a very patient, tolerant and supportive man while he did my laundry and grocery shopping and painted the walls. Meanwhile we've had very little excess cash and he was feeling guilty for not contributing, despite my assertions that if anyone should feel guilty it should be me since I'm the one who dragged him here.

February begins stage two, wherein Partner has a REAL JOB, one with good pay and good benefits as well as potentially interesting and satisfying career potential. He'll be commuting slightly father than even we had expected, at 1.5 hours one-way. That's the down side. But I hope that he can find something to do with those hours in the car, and that if he's doing this long-term we can (and with a second salary we should be able to) get him a car that does not guzzle fuel at quite the same rate as our current vehicles.

Hooray for potential, even if it is a bit early to say how feasible this arrangement might be. Even if it turns out to be something he doesn't want to pursue, this will make life a whole lot less stressful in the short term.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

mappy bandwagons

I have some random blank spots to fill, which is strange. I hope to someday visit Hawaii and Alaska, but I have no idea how I've managed to avoid visiting the Dakotas. Alabama is a weirdo. Maybe I should take a road trip just to check it off.

Do your own here

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

perhaps I am overly sensitive

I've been reading Kenneth Deffeyes' 2005 book, "Beyond Oil" (ya know, because I like to get all depressed about the future) and I came across this aside in his final chapter (p. 177):

"Of course, the methods for human population control are enormously controversial. One contraceptive measure seems to be humane and acceptable: If you teach calculus to teenage girls, they go on to have far fewer babies. Calculus is the contraceptive of the future. It doesn't work for boys."

Maybe it's just me, but I don't find that funny, even though I know that Deffeyes is going for humor here. The fact that educated females are often pressured to put off having families because of their careers is not a good thing, or an acceptable thing, as implied.

Also, I am annoyed that one stupid paragraph kinda soured me to the rest of it, which wasn't bad.

Friday, January 16, 2009

bits and pieces

My first term started out hectic, as expected, but it was somehow better than this one. Maybe I didn't do enough prep prior to the actual start of classes, but this term has just steamrolled over me and I'm just now getting some breathing room. Also, note to self, don't plan weekend events during the first week of term in the future.

Other random things occurring recently:

- we got our digital converter box, just for the heck of it really, since we don't even watch TV. But we suddenly get many more channels AND no more snow! Who knew this digital thing was such a good idea?

- Partner is painting the upstairs hallway, transforming a claustrophobic green space into an inviting sand-colored passage. Hooray for paint!

- I have my first student advisee (well, co-, as she's primarily working under someone else). Hopefully I don't fuck up her project for her.

- A mini-grant is in, and a manuscript is in press. 2009 starting out strong.

- Some serious winter cold has created a strange 15-degree difference between upstairs and down in our house. I'm ok with being warmer in my bedroom, but that seems like a pretty drastic range. I guess it has something to do with radiators and old houses? The old, "heat rises" seems to not quite cut it as far as explanation.

- It's cold, yo. Very cold.

Monday, January 12, 2009

I am so very passive-agressive

When I was younger I always thought there would be some point in our lives when we would be officially out from under our parents' wings, and control. That someday we'd be part of the "adult table" and no longer subject to the judgment cast by an authority figure. But as we've gotten old, and officially adult in the sense that we pay for our own food and live under our own roof, we've discovered (as you may have expected) that this is not actually the case. That being 30 or so (give or take a few) and having a job and all of the things that go with that phase of life still doesn't take us out from under the judgmental stares of our parental units.

I would like to ask them why they think that at this point in our lives we're willing to change who we've decided we will be. Why they think that commenting on our weight is any more useful than commenting on our acne when we were teenagers - do they think that we haven't noticed? That we aren't working on these things? We're 30 (give or take), and I would have hoped that by now our parents would have been able to let go a little, and realize the difference between useful advice and non-constructive criticism. Because all that does is make us want to visit less frequently.

It's not that we don't appreciate concern, or enjoy spending time with family. Otherwise their comments wouldn't carry the weight that they do and end up making us feel shitty about ourselves for no good reason. But if they aren't happy with who we are at this point, well, sorry charlie, not much you can do about it now except decide whether that means we don't get Christmas presents next year. That's your right; you can support us or not, but you don't get to tell us who we're going to be.

experimental gardening

Our house came with a decent yard, complete with a gardening area behind the garage. This gardening area has several raised beds that had been dedicated to flowers, but which we will be turning into a vegetable garden come spring (it helps me feel less guilty about uprooting flowers if they're all brown and flower-less when I have to pull them out). So we've been thinking about what we want to plant, since I have minimal experience with plants and Partner hasn't gardened since he moved out of his parents' house.

We recently ordered some seeds from the Seed Savers Exchange:

Brandywine Tomatoes
Red Zebra Tomatoes
An Heirloom Lettuce collection
Purple Viking Potatoes. How cool are those?

We also have some garlic, Roma tomatoes and random herbs that we can plant. I think this will give us a good first season, where we won't be doing more than five beds and will be limiting ourselves a little in case we mess things up. I'm excited to start learning something about growing my own veggies, and potentially even having tomatoes that aren't the round, red, non-organic vine-balls we can get at the local grocery. If we get ten tomatoes out of this effort we'll basically have broken even, and I figure we have to at least manage a few edible items unless we do something really stupid.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

academic christmas

I spent my afternoon unpacking boxes and boxes of lab goodies, the result of the first chunk of my spending on supplies and equipment. I think I did pretty well for the most part - I ordered one box of the wrong size glassware, but can use them anyway, and ordered another piece of equipment one size larger than I thought I was buying. But, for this particular item too big is better than too small, and the price difference between the sizes isn't that significant. Everything else looks good - not a bad track record for my first go-round. My lab is finally starting to look like a place of science instead of a big empty space full of counters.

On the down side, I spent my time unpacking instead of preparing for the rest of my week, and now I'm going to be running after deadlines until Friday. A grant proposal suddenly needs to be cut down significantly, I haven't written a syllabus yet even though I need it tomorrow, and I still don't know my students' names. Also, my internet is crapping out on me. Not cool, internet.

Monday, January 5, 2009


WHY do I set up participation-based classes when I KNOW that it is impossible for me to learn student names? I'm doomed.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

starting out sour

I think my resolution for 2009 should probably be a combination of "stop whining," "stop being so negative," and "stop letting things get under my skin."

- To the crazy person I occasionally encounter at the gym: you can't just walk away from your machine or bench and then walk up to whoever is using it five minutes later and say "I was using that!" Maybe you live in a magical fantasyland where other people can read your mind, but I've never visted.

To myself: the fact that an obviously not-quite-there (even if he is slightly intimidating) person insisting that I switch benches actually bothers me is probably a sign that I need to relax a little and work on my overdeveloped fairness complex.

- To all the newbies showing up at the gym this weekend to start their New Year's Resolutions: while I am all for your movement toward health it annoys the crap out of me when you take my favorite equipment and spend ten extra minutes on it trying to figure out how it works. There should be some sort of "new people" section to save those of us who just want to get in their dailies and get outta there. Also, please wear pants that will not dislodge themselves when you use the exercise bikes. Especially if you think you might not notice this happening.

To myself: I obviously need to work on a little empathy and goodwill, or something. My tolerance for strangers has dropped precipitously over the past two years. How does one revive their ability to give a crap about humanity in general?

- To my students, who will be under my control once again as of next week: I hope you have low expectations for the first day of class, because I haven't actually done the readings yet or even decided what to put on the syllabus. I promise, as requested, to try to be more clear about grading methods, but I suspect I'm doomed because I'll be using a largely participation-based grading system this time, and I know how much you hate that.

To myself: Get organized already!