Monday, May 31, 2010

I need a break before my break

Finals are finished! - now grading. And grading and grading. And giving a makeup exam. And grading. I'm heading to the field in two weeks - this week is grading, next week is manuscript revisions, and somehow I need to get vaccinations, deal with crap I've been putting on the back burner, get samples prepped for sendoff prior to my departure, make sure I have all my field gear, etc. etc. I should probably go to the nearest larger city and get some new field clothes. Right about now I kick myself for that pile of "I'll deal with this after the term ends" stuff.

Also, today I woke up feeling like crap, so now I get to put "get over this cold" on my to-do list.

Dear SLAC: your academic schedule sucks.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

more student crazies

One of my classes has a cumulative final exam. This cumulative final covers material that has already been tested during smaller exams. These smaller exams each had their own review sheets. The students are insisting that they want a NEW review sheet for the final exam, for which I will copy and paste the review sheets from the tests they have already taken. Apparently this is what it takes to make them happy.

I have not yet come to understand the mindset of my A students who, despite being very smart and getting A's, are still grade-grubbers who argue with me over every single point lost. I'm not sure the loss of good will is really worth those points, kids, because sometimes I do round you up to the next grade if you're very very close and have worked hard all term. If you beg me for points after every single exam, I am less likely to do this.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Clothes on the line today for the first time in a while! Perhaps only the second time this spring. Hooray, the rain is gone for a bit (but it will be back - and now it's much more summery hot out, which I like less than the rain).

Today Partner made fabulous sticky buns for breakfast and an amazing potato dish (with grilled eggplant) for dinner. Unlike most of his cooking, he actually followed a recipe to make the potatoes, which means we can do it again! This happens so rarely that I'm excited (sometimes something delicious does not come out well the second time, because he makes it up as he goes along).

I also discovered that both of the high school sports records I set remain among the "top 10" records for my school. My high school was not that big, but I still feel good about this fact.

I think I may actually be starting an end-of-term taper in workload, until the ultimate grading pile appears. One more reason to require student presentations during the last few days of class. The Fall is also looking less heinous - I'll be doing one repeat and one new course, but the new course will probably not be as much work once I get some of the material prepped over the summer. At least, this is my hope. I expect to be writing two big grants over this summer/fall; my workload may not be that much better than it was this term, but I should at least get to go to bed at a decent hour on a more regular basis.

field trip free!

I am finally DONE with field trips for the term! (well, unless you count that fact that we're bringing students into the field this summer. At least they have to get there on their own). Field trips are fine, but they kill the majority of my weekends, and I am therefore excited to be finished.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

student research

I have a colleague who has mastered the art of incorporating students into active research, and I am totally jealous. This person teaches an upper level course with an entire lab section that just pumps out publishable data. This person has Seniors doing research that I would qualify as Masters projects. This person is going to write a grant with me, hopefully, to get cool toys so that both of our students can do more of this fabulous cool stuff.

I don't think I could manage the same level of student application, even if I tried. My colleague has an advantage in part because their track has more student participants, but I am also at a disadvantage just because I haven't been here very long - right now I have a few students doing cool things, but the depth just isn't there yet because the students haven't had as much opportunity to take the prerequisite courses from me.

Luckily for me, this person probably does science most similar to my own out of anyone else at SLAC. It's different enough, but we have some overlap. I'm hoping to learn something from, finally, a qualified mentor. Not that people haven't been supportive - it's just taken me this long to figure out what's what here at SLAC and find people who do good research and who, perhaps, are the people I would like to view as models of my future self.

Monday, May 17, 2010

personal peeves

Dear unemployed dude who moved in with his elderly mother-in-law next door,

It really sucks that you lost your job in the Big City and had to move in with your mother-in-law in podunkville. I'm sure your life isn't exactly fabulous right now. However, your goddamned barking dog is driving me nuts, and I'm about to lose my shit. Particularly when you decide to grill out at 9 pm on a weeknight, simultaneously letting your dog sit out there with you and bark. 5 pm, that barking is annoying, but I get it - it's nice out, and I have no right to impinge on your use of your family's property (given that you sometimes attempt to shut that thing up). 9 pm, not cool. Please, for the sake of my sanity, move the fuck out.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Tonight we met our friendly neighborhood raccoon, which (from the sound of it) may have been involved in the death of some other creature shortly before it exited our yard. I've also heard that we have some neighborhood vultures. Which is pretty cool.

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now - unfortunately that light enters into an airplane cabin, which will take me off to summer fieldwork very shortly after graduation. I'm not ready for that - but I guess the million hours of flying time might be enough for me to get my head in the game. I can hope.

Until then, only one (ONE!) more field trip, lots of grading, a manuscript revision that I will somehow have to fit into my life...enough that June seems very far away. Too bad for me, that is not the case.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Getting the job at a SLAC

This year I served on two different search committees, and I learned that what I put into my job application for SLAC was right on target. I likely got the initial interview because of my cover letter, given that I'm sure many people had similar experience. I was surprised by how many applications I read over the past few months that were completely wrong for a SLAC - I know some people just shove dozens of copies of the same materials into multiple envelopes, but there's seriously very little value in spending that postage if you aren't going make even a minimal effort at customizing a letter.

If I was going to give someone advice, based on my recent experience, this is what I would say:

- If you want to work at a SLAC, it helps if you attended one yourself. If you didn't (and even if you did), make a case that a SLAC is where you want to be. How do you know anything about the SLAC environment or values?

- Don't mention graduate students. Don't mention graduate projects. If you've taught grad classes, fine, but don't tell us about your great research directions for Masters students. We're tossing you in the trash as soon as we read that, since you obviously didn't care enough to look up our webpage.

- Similarly, don't discuss online courses or distance learning unless you know we do that. This may not be a trigger for everyone, but at least one colleague I worked with this year sent those applications right out the door.

- Don't make yourself sound like a research superstar, because we'll be thinking, "this person wants to be at a research university". If your research is awesome, that's great, but don't discuss all the fancy external grants you're going to need to get things started. Instead, focus on how your research is accessible to undergrads, and how you're going to get students involved in your fabulous work. The higher-end your science, the more you need to make the case that you really want to focus on the undergraduate involvement.

- In a similar vein, if we do call you, make sure you have a realistic view of the resources that a SLAC can provide. If you need million-dollar equipment, you probably shouldn't be wasting everyone's time with your application (and I doubt you would be), but even lower-end needs can sometimes be outside what a SLAC can do. If you need more than we can give you, be prepared to talk about local options for collaboration.

- Convince us you really want to teach. References to students as keeping you from your research, needing a lot of hand-holding, etc., while definitely true, aren't going to make us think that you'll be a good teacher.

- Thank you notes (or emails) are nice. Follow-up emails that provide more details about courses you could teach, research ideas you had, etc. etc., are not helpful, aren't going to change my mind about you, and make you seem desperate. Even if you are desperate, keep it to yourself.

- Know as much as you can before you talk to us. This may seem obvious, but only a few candidates knew course numbers for our courses, and those who did know the details really stood out.

- When we ask you about what you might be able to teach, there are definitely some wrong answers. It may be tricky: if you can figure out whether this job is replacing someone specific, that would help, but being gung-ho to teach all of Professor X's courses is not a good thing if Professor X is staying. SLACs can't afford a lot of overlap. Be ready to suggest a course that isn't currently in the catalog, and focus on the areas specified by the job advertisement.

- Have questions for us! These may be more related to local things, housing markets, schools, whatever, but having questions makes us think you're actually interested.

Although much of the decision-making depends on the committee, there's a lot you can do to make it to the top of the list at a SLAC, since very few people actually included most of these in their applications and interviews. And if all of the above sounds obvious to you, you're probably fairly well set for the SLAC job market.

Friday, May 7, 2010


Recently, we hosted a candidate for a visiting position. I went to pick up this older gentleman from his lunch with students. Because he was still talking to one of them, I sat down and waited, and then introduced myself as, "Hi Dr. X, I'm Me", thinking, perhaps stupidly, that he had been told that someone with my name would be meeting him at this time.

His response? "Are you a major?"

Sunday, May 2, 2010


Students! Please spare me. I have some suggestions.

- If you turn in an assignment during the final period of the day on Friday, don't email me at 7pm to ask if I have graded that assignment yet. Your professors are just as excited about weekends as you are.

- Use GOOGLE before you email me. The fact that all I send back is a Wikipedia link means that a) I am way too nice and b) you're a moron

- When I sign my email with my first name and provide a signature line that lists me as "Professor X", do not reply with "Mrs. X,"

- When emailing me on Sunday night to ask questions about an assignment due Monday, please don't expect me to actually walk you through the problem set via email, because I won't.

- As a general rule, "I'm usually a really good student" is not considered a valid excuse. Also please keep in mind that I have access to your academic record.

- Always, someone else has it harder than you. I know those people, and they're still doing better than you are.