Friday, June 26, 2009

outta town

I've been a very bad blogger recently - life has been busy. And now I'm off for two months of field work across oceans and foreign lands, so I probably won't be updating much, if at all, until the end of August.

Enjoy the summer!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

one year

I'm officially one year done - I'm not the newbie anymore, I'm no longer on the "new faculty" email list. Most of the other faculty recognize me as a fellow faculty member, even if they still don't know who I am. Most of the facilities, business and purchasing people definitely recognize me.

I think I've been away from the classroom long enough (and have had enough time to digest the final student evaluations) to reflect on the first year, even though part of me is shocked to find myself suddenly in "summertime." It went quickly, that's for sure!

So let's start with the most obvious failures! Whoo!


Huh what? Yeah...not really. I bought shit for my lab. Not all the shit I need, but a good starting batch of gear, and I am mostly set for physical space. But research didn't happen this year. At all. Unless you count a little bit of literature review for some grants and stuff, which I really don't. I did a good deal of talking to people and feeling things out, and spent one day in the field testing some stuff that I bought. I think that after all that, I have a good idea of what I want to do with myself from here, but I didn't make any progress at all in terms of obtaining real results.

The one thing I did accomplish was to figure out that the fancy machine here at SLAC that I was excited to use for FREE will not actually tell me anything useful. Which is too bad, but it's nice to get SOMETHING out of a hypothesis, even if it's just a negative result.

Grant Writing:

I wrote up two small external grants - one rejection and one success. Not that fabulous, particularly considering that I haven't even STARTED writing a larger grant. Which I really need to do. But I think the grant I write will either be related to the new project I'm starting this summer or to a collaboration that has been only very briefly discussed and will be started in earnest in the fall. So I need to get my ass in gear in terms of grant-writing in the fall, Priority One.


I got two papers revised and finalized and in press or published. I resubmitted a rejection to a different journal. I gave two talks at conferences and proposed a session for an upcoming meeting. I have one additional paper in review, and will hopefully be getting the preliminary data for a new paper sometime next week. Even though most of this was carry-over from the year before, I don't think it's that bad for the first year, and I'm guaranteed to have papers with my name on them from both the current calendar year and the next. That gives me time to work up the next batch and try to keep a paper-a-year minimum, which should be more than enough for SLAC tenure.


Here's where I spent all of my time. I made a lot of mistakes, but I also learned a lot, and I enjoyed it. In general, I've done pretty well. My reviews have been pretty good for the first year, or so I've been told, and by this last term I was getting some very nice, ego-boosting feedback from some of my students. They seem to like me, which is always gratifying, and they seem to be learning something too.

A lot of the mistakes that I made are easily fixed. I need to be more clear regarding expectations, particularly in my lower-level classes. I need to spell things out, and explain WHY we're doing all the things we're doing. I thought I was doing that, but it became obvious that the things I needed to clarify were not things that would ever have occurred to me on my own. So, live and learn. I get to repeat my fall class this coming year, so I'm really looking forward to making it better.

I think my biggest failure was my upper-level class. I need to get myself out of the mindset of my own background and think about what these kids have actually done and how prepared they might be for the material I want them to cover. I also need to get better at leading discussions - I think this is my biggest weakness. I feel that I've really found my place as a lecturer in terms of style and level of interaction (at least for a beginner), but I suck at leading discussions. I tend to either talk too much or too little, and the students either feel that I'm lecturing them or that I'm letting people say whatever they want without direction or cohesion. I think I might try to find a good discussion-leader and sit in on a class or two in the fall.

Despite those shortcomings, I haven't gotten any hate mail or horrible reviews, so I'm pretty happy. I think I can be GOOD at this, and I hope things will start to come together next year. I hope that I'll eventually be able to tweak the details instead of overhauling entire courses before I teach them again.


I really like this job. There are a few places where I really need to improve, but I think I know what they are. I've largely been left on my own during the first year - freedom to fail, I suppose - but SLAC has also been very supportive whenever I've needed some help. That might not be the case everywhere, I'm sure, but I appreciate the atmosphere here. And the students make it very worth-while, even on the bad days.

This summer I'm back to some research, which will be nice and will hopefully motivate some grant writing in the fall. If I can manage that and get a paper written, I'll be happy with my progress in 2009.

Friday, June 5, 2009

looking my age

One of these days I will have reflections on my first year. Maybe when I'm actually done with everything.

For now, a few reasons why I'm feeling overly young this week:

Forgetting to wear my faculty name tag has gotten me a lot of comments like "Congratulations on graduating!" and "You did it!" During finals week a student I had never met told me "good luck on your exams!"

A student came by to discuss grad school preparations and asked me, "you went to grad school, right?" First of all, little students, how else do you think people get this job? Also, don't give me that face of horror when you find out how long I spent going to grad school. Yes, I am old enough for that to have happened.

A few weeks ago when I was sick the local pharmacy refused to sell me some drugs without an ID because I had to be EIGHTEEN. It wasn't even sudafed. I was too sick to know how to respond to that, so I left. My students thought this was pretty damned funny, and informed me that I should be happy that people think I'm so young. I tell them how old I am, and they don't believe me.

I don't think I look that young, people! But apparently I'm wrong. Before I even started this job, someone at a workshop told me that I should make sure I dress up, because otherwise I would be mistaken for a student. I thought she was crazy. I guess she was right.

Monday, June 1, 2009


Dudes. One of my students has turned in a final paper - a paper that was not written by them, except that I can't prove it. This paper is graduate-level work, written in perfect science-ese, lacking citations and written in a format that I did not prescribe. Turned in by a student who was failing, and who gave a presentation on this topic that largely consisted of "I don't really understand this..".

Crap! If I can't prove they plagiarized, I can't justify giving them a low enough grade to fail them in the course. This pisses me off something fierce.

Many people tell me that passing them with a D- is just as bad as failing them. I guess. But I have an over-developed sense of fairness and justice, so it still rankles.

In other news, Partner and I have now been together for six years. And we still put up with each other. He even bought a car while I was gone, and as sneaky as that might be it was still ok, because he was just being a responsible deal-hunting guy. Too bad the new car has now been hailed upon. Stupid thunderstorms!

Happy Anniversary to us!