Monday, December 26, 2011

Eggmus: Singing tree train

A while ago, we had a bad storm. When it first started, Epsilon woke up to the sound of tree debris hitting the roof and windows. He was concerned about what what going on. Epsilon doesn't scare during thunderstorms, but this didn't sound like anything he knew.

I tried putting him back to sleep by explaining that it was only wind, that it was only throwing small twigs at the house, and that he was safe. This, unfortunately, did not calm him. He wanted to see the wind.


We bundled up to go to the porch to see the trees "dancing".

"Trees sing 'Pa pa pa?' "

"No sweety, they are just dancing."

We eventually came back inside and restarted the bedtime routine, when there was a very loud crashing sound. After a few tears of fear for his father's safety (who was heating milk near the crash) Epsilon looked at the the tree limb and debris just deposited on the living room floor and excitedly squealed

"Choo choo train BOOM!"

Friday, December 23, 2011

Partial Solution before Christmas

The problem with job hunting (at least for me) is that I have to put all thoughts other than "is this a good academic home for me" out of my mind in order for me to get the energy up to apply for a job. If I allow myself to think of commutes or Epsilon, I completely fall apart.

Furthermore, most places don't tell you when they'll respond by, so I experience the occasional surge of adrenaline associated to the subject line "Application to University X." I always assume it is a rejection letter, but it still throws the rest of my day off.

Yesterday was a bit different. Yet it threw my day off.

Yesterday's subject line read "Offer from University F", which was helpful. I still had to read the e-mail several times to believe it.

I should be dancing in the streets. But now I get to think about Epsilon and commuting. There's a lot to unpack, and I'll write more about it once it's been unpacked. For those of you who want to be happy for me in spite of myself, the relevant details are:

1) The offer is for a post-doc.
2) The commute from University F to University E (where my partner has his TT offer) is ~4 hours door to door. Long, but the shortest of all the long distances we've had to do in our relationship.

Merry Christmas to those for whom it is relevant.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

9 months of Barefoot Doctoral

A bug's been going around daycare. More importantly, it's been going around the parents. One actually caught an ear infection (the father, the kid's fine.) I've been in bed the last 5 days. Thus the absence.

And while I'm sure you'd all love to hear about Kleenex and coughdrops, I'll pick up on DrugMonkey's Holiday Meme and post the first sentence of the first post of every month since I started blogging.

Eight years
(has it really been that long)
of this silence,
of this petty bourgeois slump?

Eggmus is a term coined by Adequate Parent to describe our reactions (akin to love) to the incredibly cute things and often inscrutable things our children do.

Done. Grades in. Two weeks with my family coming up.

Epsilon likes loud noises.

I seem to be capable of doing only two of the three following activities at a time: Being productive at work, spending time with my family, blogging.

I seem to have disappeared under a rock for the last 5 or so weeks.

I read this on Daily Kos the other day, and I can't get it out of my head.

Epsilon pulled a bottle of wine out of the recycling yesterday.

University D is in a city where my partner and I would love to be for both personal and professional reasons.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The little project that could

Last month, a group of colleagues all submitted a fun little project to an institute that had advertised short term positions for groups of researchers working on interesting things.

We all got our rejection letters yesterday.

Someone made a sarcastic comment comparing the weather in the rejecting institution to the weather in the PI's host institution. Somewhere in the subsequent e-mail conversation blossomed an effort to gather next winter at the PI's institution to get this little project off the ground.

I love the energy and the dynamics of this group of people. I love the idea of this project. I don't know what will come of it all, but its a project proposed by a couple people who seem to have their ideas work in general. I love that a rejection letter leads this group to say "We can find money, we'll just do it ourselves!"

And I do love the winter weather at the PI's institution

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On not judging a student by the first midterm

I had a couple students in my class last term from a local commuter college, let me call them R and B. From the start, R impressed me. She was outgoing, asked me questions on material related to the lectures, and from other related parts of her academic life. B was quieter, but she never missed a lecture, in spite of a long commute, and usually hung around after class to listen to my explanations of other people's questions, though she asked few of her own.

I tried to give both of them extra attention during the first few weeks of class to help them adjust to the dynamics of being at a different institution. But by the time the midterms were graded, I had more interactions with R, all of which were positive, and I was genuinely impressed by her academic skills. I offered her limited help in applying to grad school when she asked. This bias was only emphasized by her stellar performance on the midterm. I put little weight on B's lack of amazing performance on the midterm, since a lot of it seemed to be attributed to her lack of understanding of how things worked at this university.

The term progressed, and I saw less and less of B. Everyone gets busy during the second half of the term, I thought, and didn't make anything of it. The term ends, and I finish grading the finals. B has done a stellar job on the final, which covered much more difficult material than the midterm. R, less so. I should mention that the first half of the class was mostly material that R had seen before, while the second half was completely new.

I wrote her to check in and gave some friendly "how to succeed in college/grad school" advice. It turns out that she'd given the second half of the class about the same amount of attention that she'd given the first half. She made a few other mistakes that are typical of the bad study habits developed by students who have never been pushed beyond the limits of their ability. I sincerely hope that she has learned from these mistakes, and this experience will help in her future career.

I am not above liking students who interact with me more (because I get a chance to know them) than those I only see on paper and as nameless faces in a lecture hall. But this incident shows me that I should be more careful. Would I have offered help with graduate school applications to B as readily if she had asked, given our initial interactions? If not, is that fair of me? Or did I act rationally, since the only information I have to go on from a student is past performance?

Comments/judgements from readers are welcome.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Atheist's Prayer

The closest thing I have
to a God's unconditional love for man
is my relationship with you
and the love we hope to give our son.

Because you are not to me
as would be the Christian God,
omnipotent and unchanging,
(as we must seem to our child)
the closest I can come
to the black despair of losing faith
is the realization, after we have been apart for too long,
that we did not grow in step...
that you are a distant discordant major seventh away.

While losing you is not religious persecution,
not even close,
I sometimes think of the innumerable heroes
who sacrificed their beliefs for their lives
or the other way around.
I wonder-
what I would sacrifice to keep you.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Ultimate Carreer Goal: Having fun

December's Scientiae  asks about ultimate career goals.
So, what is your ultimate career goal? Do you want to win the Nobel Prize? Cure cancer? Build a better mouse trap? What is it that you want to be remembered for career-wise?
I've been writing self aggrandizing bullshit about my research a lot recently for job applications and workshop proposals.

But when I walk away from that, I take my work with a large pinch of salt. I'm in this game to have fun. There are other jobs that I am qualified for that offer more stability and possibly better pay, but none of them are as fun as this one. I don't know many people in real, non-academic life who want to spend all their time thinking about work. Those that do are really lucky.

With all of the pressure that comes with the job, who needs the extra desire to cure cancer?

Ah, but once upon a time.....


I remember waiting my turn in my piano teacher's hall, eight or nine years old, talking to my mother about the solar system. It dawned on me that there was so much out there to understand about the world we live in.

"What should I study so that I can understand everything I want to know?"

My mother, who wanted to be a physicist, but was pressured into medicine, replied "Physics."

Thus began my struggle against becoming a medical doctor.


At 12, my class was given an assignment to create a newspaper job add for what we wanted to be when we grew up. At that point, I knew that physicist was not an accurate job description, but I didn't know what type of physicist I wanted to be. I mean, I wanted to study the stars. I wanted to understand how the universe evolved and came to be as it is. What specialty would take me in that direction? So I made up an add about being an astrophysicist, knowing it was a bs answer.


At 16, my mother finally relents on her pressure for me to be a medical doctor.

"If we can't have a medical doctor in the family, maybe we can have a Nobel Prize winning physicist."

Yeah. ... About that.


As a freshman, I remember talking to a sophomore about why he was a math major.

"I can get a degree by doing the things I did in high school for fun. How cool is that!?"

He's right. How cool is that?


I'm not going to propose a GUT, explain dark matter, or roll back the mysteries surrounding the earliest fractions of a second of the universe. Those sexy problems are for other people.

I have my own set of possibly irrelevant problems that I study, in my possibly irrelevant subfield. My work won't end world hunger. It won't fuel bombs either. But it is fun. And I'm good at it. It lets me be in relatively high profile schools, and teach female students who are thinking about entering research.

Research I love. Positive role modeling for students. What more could I want?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Wisconsin Recalls

Several months ago, I took part in collecting signatures for a recalling a Wisconsin state senator. Now, the effort to recall the governor, Scott Walker, is underway.

From the news reports I'm reading about the effort, progress on collecting signatures seems to be proceeding at a fast pace. When I was up helping collect signatures, we were warned not to give a clipboard to someone in a car, as they had several clipboards stolen from them by people who would stop under the pretense of signing, and drive off with the signatures. We heard stories of people who drove by and took banners out of petition collector's hands. While I was there, people drove by with all sorts of racial slurs for me. (The most surprising were the ones that were correctly identified my race.) It seems that this time around, that type of activity, and worse, is still occurring, but at least the police seem to take it seriously.

In August, Wisconsin failed in its attempt to recall enough state senators to go from a democratic minority to a majority. To be fair, the general political wisdom seems to be that it is very difficult to recall anyone from office, and the two state senators recalled in Wisconsin are 2 of the 6 state senators ever recalled in US history. And now, they are trying for governor Walker. The only other successful gubernatorial recall ever was of Governor Davis in California in 2003.

I have a huge amount of respect for the women I was out collecting signatures with last time. They hit the pavement every day in a very conservative district, exposing themselves to significant disdain and hatred from their neighbors and townspeople, and not an insignificant amount of danger. I can't be with them in their efforts this time around, but my thoughts and best wishes are with them.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The value of time teaching

Dean Dad posted yesterday about the issue of full time professors taking on extra classes for approximately adjunct pay (overloads). This spawned a lot of comments, and if you like thinking about university unionization, its an interesting read.

Some of the discussion boils down to the fact that community college full time faculty are not paid enough. Some point out that their university pressures faculty to take on more classes at reduced pay. Some claim to cope by doing a shoddy job on the extra classes, while others tell stories of professor farming the work out to TAs. Some point out that taking on extra load at reduced pay devalues the work of the professors to the university.

I have never been one to believe the poor graduate student stereotype for students in the sciences/engineering. I also find it hard to believe that someone with a PhD in STEM fields lacks the skills to get a job that pays their bills. But this is a belief, unsupported by facts. I didn't carry through a huge amount of student loans from undergrad. I've never been in a community college system. And I know that many humanities PhDs have to pay for their degree. This level of distance made me unable to comment on the post, but it made me think about what/how the university places fiscal value on teaching.

In my third year at grad school, for various reasons, graduate students were offered $500 to take on an extra section of a course (about 2 hours of work/ week). This was a reasonable price on the value of our time, if you considered us to be working 40 hours a week at our given salaries. However, as an hourly rate, it is less than half what a graduate student gets paid to teach a summer course. Why would the department pay less for its teaching during the semester than during the summer? The answer probably depends heavily on the fact that if you didn't pay us enough to teach, and our advisor didn't extend a grant to keep us for the summer, we'd find another means of employment.

On the other hand, when an advisor wanted to "buy out" our teaching for a term, he/she paid nearly all our salary to the department for that term. $500 for 2 hours/week is not a reasonable fraction of the price an advisor has to pay for the student not to teach.

So I guess my question is this: If the university is willing to pay $X for my teaching an extra class, what would the university say if I said "Reduce my pay by ~$X. I want to teach one fewer class this term?"

Okay, I know the answer to that questions. But at what $Y would they take my offer?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Role Playing and Paleontology

It was a long day yesterday. I'll have a post with some content to it up soon. In the meanwhile, I give you a universe where the beloved brontosaurus of our youth can still thrive (via Richard Burlew, of course).

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Eggmus: The Trashy Parent

Sometimes I feel like I'm a garbage parent. Like when I look up from my work, and realize that Epsilon had to be picked up from daycare an hour ago. Fortunately, at times like these, I have a partner who is more on the ball.

At other times, I know that the bar for being a trashy parent is set far higher than anything I can ever attain. For example.

Epsilon: Carl (a daycare friend) bite.
Me: Really? What did Karen (day care provider) say?
E: No. Garbage truck say no. No. No. Epsilon bite Carl.
Me: And then what happened?
E: Garbage truck say no. Naughty Epsilon.

There's a variation on this conversation where the garbage truck kisses Epsilon and makes it better.
And there's this one:

Epsilon: Clock bath?
Me: No, we can't give the clock to the bath. It will break.
Epsilon: Fix it?
Me: No, I won't be able to fix it.
Epsilon: Garbage truck fix it.

Monday, December 5, 2011

black is brown is tan

We went to the library over the weekend, and my partner checked out a book from his childhood that had me in tears on the drive home. This is saying a lot, given that we only get books for Epsilon at the library. It is a truly well written kid's book, and I highly recommend it for anyone with an interracial family. But that is not the point of today's post.

I think most of the tears came from the realization that black is brown is tan, one of the original children's books about interracial families, was written in 1973, when a family with an African American mother and a white father was still not recognized as a family in 29 states.

black is brown is tan
is girl is boy
is nose is
is all
of the race

And then of course there are the words that ring comfortingly true to a brown girl growing up in a white suburb, who could not stand to see any part of her skin in her field of vision when she was hanging out with her white friends in high school.

i am black I am brown the milk is the chocolate brown
i am the color of the milk   chocolate cheeks

Or the "Well, duh!" moment in the verses for the father:

i am white the milk is white
i am not the color of the milk

I've read several children's books about race and family, about bi-racial or multi cultural homes. They all sound the same after a while, and they are all published in the 90s or the naughts. I know how my family and the families of some of my friends are currently struggling with the interracial choices my generation has made. But these lines were written a few years before my birth.

there is granny white and grandma black
kissing both your cheeks
                                                        and hugging back
sitting by the window telling stories of ago.

My partner finished the book, I wiped my eyes and finished driving home. As we talked about the book throughout the day I realized that the color difference between my parents is at least as, if not more extreme than the color difference between my partner and I. No one blinked an eyelash about that aspect of my family, since we were not inter-racial in American eyes. We now live in a cosmopolitan enough setting that few people bother us. But if I can get a job near my partner, that all is going to change.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday nearing the end of term

I don't have lecture notes to prepare over the weekend.

My paper should be sent out the door by the end of the day.

My partner found a really fun new recipe for a sugar cookie.

Epsilon didn't wake up and want us for 1-3 hours last night in the middle of the night (the first time since November 20th).

I may have a good weekend! Maybe I'll bake. Maybe I'll actually have time to play with an idea I've been corresponding about for a few weeks. Maybe I'll catch up on sleep. The possibilities seem endless.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Tepid news

University D is in a city where my partner and I would love to be for both personal and professional reasons. We have a lot of friends in the area. University D offered my partner a fly out last year that he refused because of the time line to accept his current position. It has a few people who work on related subjects to mine there, and I recently got an e-mail telling me that I'd be on the list of serious candidates for a post-doc that is likely to exist pending funding.

Pending funding.

Well damn*. To be fair, the e-mail writer wasn't trying to say that he didn't think my cv looked worthy of a TT position. He had pointed out that it looked like there wouldn't be any TT positions. And that it looked likely that there would be a couple university funded post docs.

When last I discussed this situation, we were trying to decide whether or not to tell the university about my 2 body situation. My partner talked to his advisor about this, who said that being very public about this may just shoot me in the foot in terms of getting a job there. On the other hand, not telling may sabotage my partner's chances, if I get this position.

Furthermore, if this is a post-doc with no, or little hope of turning into a TT position, it's going to look very bad for my partner when he's looking for his 3rd TT position if he's already accepted 1 TT position, moved after a year, accepted a second TT position and moved again after 2 years.

So where does this leave us? Hell if we know. We'll probably reveal the situation to my partner's department if I get an offer**. Sigh...

*All the 2-body issues aside, I am very excited by the tendrils of interest I seem to be getting from University D. I'm just finding it hard to focus on that at the moment.
**I'm not putting a lot of faith in getting a job at University D. My partner got a lot of warm/encouraging responses when he was on the market, and for one reason or another, none of them turned into jobs. But it seems the strongest lead I have, and it would put us near friends, which is really nice.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Potty issues

This is a parenting post. If you don't care for TMFI about Epsilon's toilet habits, skip this post. It's a bad sign when I can't let toilet training issues roll off my back. But I can't right now. So you get you read about it.

This last week I finally got to spend several days in a row with Epsilon, and he mastered potty training. We are all very proud of this. Diapers are expensive and annoying and not having to worry about whether he will pee on the floor when we go to the library over the weekend (the only time I've had so far to work on potty training with him) is a huge relief.

He has his quirks. He finds stalls terrifying, is convinced that the toilet at his daycare bites, and thinks it is hilarious to pee on the floor of the bathroom. The last issue is solved by letting him aim at a small beat up skillet that my partner and I refer to as his piss pot. When he wants to pee on the floor of the bathroom, I can always  talk him into using his piss pot instead. As far as I can tell, all of this is perfectly normal behavior for this stage.

What is perhaps less usual is that Epsilon has been pretty good about not having soiled diapers since he was 4 months old. At that point, our in home day care providers would put him on the pot, and he would try his damnedest to hold it. Our daycare provider in Chicago worked with him, and would send the occasional soiled cloth diaper home in a plastic bag. Our local daycare provider found it funny and odd that he poops on the toilet for us, and either never tried very hard to figure out how to work with him, or he just wouldn't work with her. Whatever, kids have different behaviors with different people and that's normal. It means providing disposable diapers, which is annoying, but okay. After a few traumatic messy diapers/baths, and a few attempts to leave him on the toilet and cry it out, Epsilon just decided to hold it at daycare.

When we started working with Epsilon on controlling his pee, she didn't work with us at all. When I told her on Monday that we had successfully toilet trained him at home, explained the options we give him, and handed her the piss pot and Epsilon in underwear, she agreed to try. It seems that trying means taking him to the bathroom when he asks to go. When he refuses to go to use the toilet (because it bites, after all) letting him out of the bathroom, at which point he pees in his pants, and gets put in a diaper.

When we ask her if she offered him the piss pot, she replies "Do I have to?"

Well, no, you don't. If you want to train him to go in the toilet only, more power to you. We haven't gotten that far yet. Personally, I think that training is going to take more than giving him one shot at it a day. On one hand, you do amazing creative things with him to get him to do things that I can't get him to do at home, so maybe it'll work. On the other hand, you seem to have shown a pattern of not wanting to invest any effort/creativity in toilet training Epsilon.

When / if I get a flyout(s) in a couple months, I've made arrangements with my daycare provider to keep him overnight if I can't get family to come out and watch him on short notice. I'm going to come home to a really constipated cranky kid.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Emotionally gearing up

My partner leaves in a little over a month. This fact just hit us. Apparently he's been worrying about how he's going to deal with the goodbye at the airport.

We spent a lot of time talking about coping strategies last night. Things like bringing sufficient volumes of fiction and writing short letters to get over the hardest moments of "I miss you" on the plane. (We have a long history of writing letters from points in our long distance relationship where picking up the phone just wasn't an option).

We talked about when we should talk/skype during the day, and what to do when the time difference makes that difficult. I need to be able to write him 3-4 line e-mails with my thoughts throughout the day, given the limited phone time we may face. I don't know if this would be easier if I had a smart phone, since Epsilon is just as interesting in "MINE!"ing a phone as he is in my computer.

We talked about housing for him. Whether he should get housing near campus, or live with a friend of ours who has a kid a few months younger than Epsilon, but lives over an hour commute away.

We talked about how, even after all these years of long distance, I still have a hard time getting work done on the day he leaves because I'm so sad, and how last year, due to our general lack of friends out here, I'd start loosing focus if I skipped a weekend visit. I'll try to get together with a colleague with a young kid for dinner that night, and hope I can push through the loss of focus at missing my partner/get used to his absence enough to be productive during most of the 3 months. I'm not teaching while he's gone. Which is good because it gives me the flexibility I need to be a single parent, but it also means that I will have fewer interactions with people.

And then we talked stressed about next year, which was useless.

We haven't found any firm solutions that we know will work, but we are trying to find a list of coping strategies. Other suggestions are welcome.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Playing at poverty

The Food Research Action Center has issued a Food Stamp Challenge. The goal is to live on the average food stamp budget (about $3/day) for a week to catch a glimpse of what it might be like to be in poverty. There are some really good diaries on Daily Kos about people musing about poverty, and trying the challenge.
Pretending to be poor is a lot of work. That's both because being poor is a lot of work and because, the more distance between a person and poverty, the less their life is organized in a way that accommodates pretending.
Conducting the thought experiment of poverty, or some selected piece of poverty, is a not uncommon way to try to convey, to oneself or to readers or listeners, the appalling reality behind the statistics—like the 46.2 million people living in poverty in the United States in 2010.
Ten years ago, I spent a couple years living in the country of my parents origin, in a rich girl's dreams to find her roots. I worked in the NGO sector, determined to live, at least superficially, like a single woman making the table scraps offered by small local NGOs. Along the way I met a dear friend, B., who had fled violence in her rural home to come to the city and actually live like a single woman making the table scraps offered by small local NGOs. The lesson in poverty was immense, the food poverty being the least of it.

The main thing I can say about why my life then wasn't hard during this period was that I had set the arbitrary limit of 2 years of living there, and the only thing preventing me from pulling up camp and coming home was my own stubbornness. B. never had that option, nor did she have many of the resources poured into her, including good childhood nutrition, that I had.

The contrast between B's and my life was amazing, and more painful than I would like to share in this post. However, a few stories jumped to my head when reading the above diaries.
  • Adjusting for purchasing power parity, I earned about $10 a day. As a single woman in a misogynistic country, I spend half of that on housing, and about $2/weekday on transportation. This put me at about the average food stamp budget of $3/day. When some other large expense came up, I ate less. This is about what B. had for her food budget every day, but for much of her time, she was hosting a sibling at her place who was looking for a job, or getting an education. Sometimes the sibling could contribute to the food budget from their own job. Sometimes not.
  • There was a stark difference in B.'s and my health during those 2 years. B. was regularly sick. After adjusting to regional water differences, my only visible effect was a significant weight loss and a couple fainting spells.
  • We both were creative in how to extend our budgets. My human capital was greater. Plenty of medium profile activists made friends with me out of my curiosity factor and/or my ability to translate, edit and typeset their pamphlets. These friends were more settled, and spending a weekend day working at someone's house meant that I didn't pay for meals on that day. Going over socially to their house meant that I didn't pay for that meal. B. had access to very cheap grains/tubers from when she went back to her village. I do not pretend that lugging a 20 pound sack of starch through several forms of transportation to eat is the same advantage of the occaissonal meal for typesetting.
  • I am a vegetarian by choice. B. was a vegetarian by force during that period of her life. Most days, neither of us could afford milk. When riding on the back of a friend's bike, my driver always commented on how I am much heavier than I look. I once could afford milk. During the last month of my stay, I took a moderate spill and had an bump on my shin that just wouldn't heal. For a month, it was painful and behaved in a way that I've never had a wound from a similar source behave. I left the country for the developed world, took up eating cheese sandwiches again, and within 2 weeks, the wound was gone.
  • I think of myself as a relatively disciplined person. One way I keep food discipline in the house by not having foods I shouldn't be eating around. If I have to walk to the store every time I want a chocolate bar, I eat less chocolate. Never before, and never since have I felt such a NEED to splurge on my food budget. I would regularly spend bus fare on a snack, and walk the distance instead. By the end of my time, I would routinely take the money set aside for dinner ingredients and spend it on high sugar, high carb junk food, not only because it was faster and didn't require fuel to cook, but because the carbs looked soooo good, even though I know they will do me harm in the long run. The type of discipline required to eat well in those circumstances is phenomenal.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thoughts for Thanksgiving

A few months ago a family came into our lives, and left. As is the way of these things, the little girl took a piece of our hearts with her.

Epsilon still indicates where she sat next to him in the car as I dropped them off to the shelter and wished them luck.

I had heard from an acquaintance that there was a man with 2 kids who needed a place to stay for Sunday night, shelters weren't open. I started a load of sheets and towels, and invited them in.

Epsilon, who had decided not to nap that day, ran out of his bedroom, looked at the little girl, and christened her Annie. Father and son were both named Robert.

Robert Sr. took a nap, while the three children romped. What followed was an afternoon that both reminded me why having more children would be fun, and a horrible idea.

Annie wanted her own room for the night. I told her we could set up the air mattress in the enclosed porch. The mattress quickly became a trampoline. Robert Jr. saw cinnamon sticks in my pantry. Could he have one?

My partner eventually took them to play outside while I made dinner. When I came out to call them in to wash up, nine year old Robert Jr. had squeezed himself into Epsilon's trike to be pushed around by the other two.

After I'd put Epsilon to bed, Annie wanted me to wash and comb her hair, like her mother used to. She and Robert Jr. and I talked a bit about why their father sometimes says that he wishes he didn't have them around. Its not fair that he yells at them and hits them sometimes, but we all get upset at people we love and don't mean it, don't we?

The next morning, Epsilon woke at his usual before the crack of dawn and found Annie. The bed became a trampoline again, the worries of the previous night and the impending goodbye forgotten for a couple hours.

Robert Sr. and I discussed his situation a bit, and exchanged contact information, in the off chance I know someone who could hire him. Annie sat down next to me and said:

"I like this place. How long are we staying here, a week?"

I drive them to the shelter, and Epsilon to his daycare. The only other thing I can think of to do at this point is to contact some local college students to give the kids after school homework help/watch them while their father seeks work. The school year was about to start, but Robert Sr. doesn't have the time or stability to enroll them, though he would never say that.

Now its Thanksgiving, and cold outside. I'm spending the weekend in the warmth generated by extended family crowding into a kitchen. I wish I knew where those kids were to invite them in.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The big reveal

There's a job at University D my partner didn't accept a fly out to last year because the deadlines for accepting his current job at University E were too pressing. University D, has a few more postdocs slots than usual this year in my department. There are rumors of retirements soon, and thus lots of TT openings in the near future. University D didn't fill the slot they wanted to fly my partner out to, and they are advertising the job again. Furthermore, University D is in a city where many of our friends seem to migrate to. It would be nice to move there.
But given that my partner has accepted a position at University E, we need to convince University D that he is serious about his application.

Which means revealing our 2 body problem.

Which makes me uncomfortable.

The best advice seems to be to notify my partner's prospective department of our situation, and see if there is enough interest in both of us that if I can get into a postdoc, it can be with the understanding that I will be considered for a TT as the positions open up.

Monday, November 21, 2011

To her credit

Okay, I can't resist.

Yes, that is Michele Bachman standing, and the other GOP candidates sitting.

The headline on Daily Kos?

"Republicans Pander to American Taliban"

Which is a bit extreme, but funny. Reminds me of my time with hard core communist comrades who would ask that I serve the food at meetings over a meal because "women are naturally better at these things."

Whatever else I have to say about her (none of which is nice) I have to give her credit for being able to function and put up with this shit at the same time.

Slow day

And a low key weekend with my partner and Epsilon. Combine that with being too disgusted to want to write about police brutality at various Occupies, having a lot of teaching related schtuff to do before traveling for the weekend, and a post I'd like to write that is just being difficult. The end result is that I don't have a lot to say.

Except maybe this:

If you want your children to be academics, for the love of God, don't try to conceive in February/March. The same goes if you are an academic. The end result is a person who associates finals and travel stresses with birthdays and / or stressed out parents during birthday parties. Be kind to your children. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Eggmus: Epsilon Space

I'm making scrambled eggs with the gallon of milk sitting open on the counter next to me. Epsilon is playing with the cap. Suddenly I hear the sound of plastic falling.

"Damn. I think. He's dropped it in the recycling."

I feed Epsilon breakfast and ask my partner to look for the cap. He upturns the recycling and then practically cleans the kitchen while searching. No milk cap.

"Maybe he can get into spaces that we old folks can't. There's got to be an explanation for this. It must be an alternate universe called Epsilon Space.


Okay if you don't understand why this is funny, and think I'm just on a weird, not very good sci-fi riff, you are almost right. For context, read Isis.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Being that woman

I wrote yesterday about how much it makes me feel better about a department where the men have pictures of themselves with kids. And how much I notice that a woman never chooses to picture herself with children.

In the vein of "be the change you want to see in the world" I'm wondering if I should put a picture of Epsilon and myself on my webpage. My pictures need to be updated anyway. I've cut my hair since, and have had experiences of people trying to recognize me from my website and fail.

I don't know that I have the courage to do so, and I don't know if it will help at this point. The job market is a hirer's market now, so pictures on webpages may have less to do with who applies to a place than "do you have a job in my specialty". But since these things are cyclical, it will be a seeker's market again in a few years, and having a picture of Epsilon may be a useful recruitment tool.

The other question to consider is whether or not having a picture of female faculty with kids will add to the recruitment effort of drawing grad students any more than having pictures of female faculty period. It would have for me, but I didn't have a female science professor until I was a junior as an undergrad, and thus keenly aware of the gender imbalance. What say other people?
A picture of a female faculty member with kids would
Increase my odds of applying to that grad school
Not effect my odds of applying to the grad school
Decrease my odds of applying to the grad school free polls 
A picture of a female faculty member with kids would
Increase my odds of applying for a job at the school
Not effect my odds of applying for a job at the school
Decrease my odds of applying for a job at the school free polls 
Update: I just found 1 woman with a prominent link off her faculty page to her personal web page that has artistic pictures of her kids, husband, favorite vacation spot, etc. This just made my weekend. To bad the rest of the department is not as interesting.

Update (Nov 21) : I have been contacted by a female reader that she also has links to her children on her page. Two instances seems to be the critical number for me to get my courage up. Thank you.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Faces from the job hunt

I've been going through university webpages this last week as I've been applying for post-docs and tenure track positions. Just in the US, I've looked at over 80 department websites, looking at professional webpages of faculty in 2 to 3 subgroups per department. Here are a few observations:

1) I have yet to see a single woman put up pictures of herself with her kids. On the other hand, when I do see a school with lots of men pictured playing with their small children, I subconsciously think "maybe I won't be so miserable here." I don't know if it is on purpose, but it's good marketing.

2) Of all the pictures on web pages I've seen, I have seen 5 faces that look like they were of African/African-American origin. Two male, two female, and one that I'm guessing. To be fair, I have not found any traditionally black colleges that with research strengths that match my interests.

3) One department home page had a line about my field separating the power of thought from authority. Who writes this crap? What does that even mean? Do the faculty not read the department web page?

If you asked me to give up my research or my family I would panic

I've been feeling down and overworked a lot recently, with job applications and everything else. I had an on-line pep-talk with a friend of mine, a tenure track mother who spent a stint in the corporate world, that seemed to really get to the point of a lot of issues I've been dealing with. My post today is just excerpt from that conversation. 
Sara:  how are you?
me:  looking at jobs ... feeling a bit down
Sara:  why?  ...
me:  I'm tierd of putting 2-3 hours every night after he goes to sleep
and writing lecture notes over the weekend, and then feeling guilty that I haven't gotten any [research] done
me:  if I quit academia, could I get a corporate job where I could work 40 hours most weeks?
Sara:  guilt free lunch, guilt free weekend,
yeah but if you're like me you would want to shoot yourself
me:  I want to shoot myself now... for different reasons.
Sara: ... you're also going on the academic job market
and you have a dual academic family ...
and [partner] has been on two searches which is extremely taxing on you as well, and he had that year in chicago
me:  when it was just [partner] and myself, i wouldn't trade this life (all the downsides included) for the world
Sara:  you're under some really unusual stresses all at once
me:  but now... having lost a year of research to [Epsilon], and a dual academic life, some stability somewhere seems very desireable
Sara:  two people on the market at the same time with a baby is crazy
me:  it's hard to make people at [my university] understand why I am panicking... they are right in that I shouldn't, because it does no good
but sometimes, it would be nice if I could just go cry in their office because I'm not a superstar ... tenured professor like they are
Sara:  i bet none of them are in the situation you are at
what kind of job do you want?
me:  I'm in this game for the research. Nothing else is worth the pain (And I'm wondering if the research is).
Sara:  so it has to be an R1 school
me:  yeah
Sara:  ... Will you guys have to be apart for you to do research?
me:  not if we can get two jobs somewhere else
if that's what it takes for more than a year or two, one of us isn't going to do research
Sara:  wow
will the person who has to give it up be resentful about it?
me:  no
we are both so sick of this
Sara:  see, this is why people don't understand your panic. so many couples either:
1. has no kids
2. have one spouse in a regular job
3. are not committed
4. have one spouse who is not into research
if you asked me to give up my research or my family i would panic
And therein lies the crux of the matter. I fear having to choose between these two things I love.

Here's a shout-out to the precious few people I know who are in, or  have gone through similar situations. I don't know how you do (did) it.

And, to be fair, as Sara has pointed out to me, the situation may not be as bleak as I make it sound. My partner's university may be able to come up with office space and a minor affiliation so that I can continue to have an academic home while I look for a job.

Monday, November 14, 2011

What on earth?

I know I've just written about how if I had my way, no one would pay tuition, and I wouldn't be able to draw a salary. But this e-mail just made me rethink the line for allowing audits.
Dear Dr. [Barefoot], 
I love [this field of study], and I would be honored if you would grant me the privilege of auditing your [Course Name] class on Friday November 18. Even though I have a Masters degree in [this field of study], I realize that I cannot keep up with these students. I simply want to experience the environment. 
Thanks for your consideration. 
[Stu Dent]
If you want to be audit my class, here's what I would say:
  • Dump the flattery, kid. Giving my a big head just makes me want to misuse the power you have bestowed upon me.
  • Who are you? I don't have a midterm from you. I don't have you on my current enrollment list. I've never seen you in class. You sent this e-mail from []. Are affiliated with my university.
Alas, I could not be so explicit in my response to him.

Friday, November 11, 2011


Its been a long week, full of revising old papers, job hunting, and a freak "We're organizing a summer school, and would love to have you on as an organize, could you write up a coherent statement of what you would add to our way of looking at things within the next 48 hours?" Fun but exhausted. I need some giggles now.

This one is funny

If you follow the link at the bottom of the page, you get to this, which is cute

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Teaching moment

I know that the part of my teaching duties that I am best at is office hours. I also know that office hours is the least attended part of my teaching duties.

I wish I could announce on the first day of any class that I am at my best as a teacher when I'm working on a 1 on 1 basis, or 1 on few basis. Therefore, if you want to get a lot out of this class, come to office hours. Somehow, I don't think that would fly.

Instead, I try every way I can think of (short of handing out food*) to get people to come to my office hours, and I encourage students to give me frequent feedback during the term.

My office hours attendance is still low, but I think I'm making progress. The students of several classes get a chance to meet with the department chair to give feedback on the classes. The students from one of my classes was in the list this term, and I heard from the chair that I am the most approachable professor in the department.

This usually translates to lots of students following me back to my office after lecture on the day the problem set is due to ask questions, but does nothing for official office hour attendance. Yesterday, I finally had a student get it. She announced that she would get most of her homework done over the weekend so she can ask me questions during my office hours, instead of stressing  for the few hours between class and the due time.

* The most blatant example of this I've heard of is a professor in NYC holding office hours in a cafe during dinner, and buying dishes of food for whoever shows up to ask questions/listen. It struck me as a bit extreme, though it was effective.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


I have a few students enrolled in my class from a local commuter college. One of them was (until recently) under the impression that we grade on a 90%= A, 80% = B, etc. scale here. As a result, his work in my class has amazed me. Beyond that, he comes to my office hours, corner's me after class to ask interesting questions on material that is related to, but often beyond the scope of the class. In short, he's the type of student everyone wants in their class.

He's interested in taking more classes at my university, or at least auditing them, if not taking them for credit. The problem is that the exchange program that got these students into my class is ad hoc, poorly implemented, and seems to have upset a few people in my department. Asking to audit more classes may not go over well, even for a very good student, who clearly benefits from the greater depth of coverage offered in the courses here.

My general suggestion for people who want to seriously sit in on a course is that no professor minds seeing an extra engaged student sitting in their class or in their office hours. Asking the professor or the TA to grade homeworks and/or exams may not be fair, and one should talk to the TA/professor before doing so. I want to advise my student to just come and attend without getting any credit or recognition. The experience of seeing the lectures and doing the homeworks and checking the answers will give him a leg up on coursework in graduate school. I'm just worried about advising this type of guerrilla education in this case because of the politics surrounding these students. Its a stupid thing to stand in the way of knowledge.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Traffic Laws

I know that in the US traffic laws can vary from State to state, even city to city, depending on the issue. However my general understanding of how things work with regards to vehicles injuring pedestrian is that almost always the driver is at fault. It may also be partially the pedestrian's fault, but the pedestrian has right of way.

If a car hits a jay walker, then the jay walker gets cited for jay walking, and the driver gets cited for reckless driving. If a kid is being playing with his skateboard in the middle of a residential street, and gets hit, it is both the kid's and the driver's fault. If I choose to do something truly stupid like park my U-Haul, blocking traffic, in the middle of the street and lug boxes into my new house from the back, and a car hits me, then I get cited for obstruction of traffic, but the driver gets cited as well.

At least that's how I've understood the laws to work everywhere I've lived. And I think those laws are the way they should be. They are written to prevent people from doing stupid things and making life harder for drivers, but since a moving car can do more damage to a pedestrian, than the other way around (generally speaking) the majority of the responsibility is on the driver.

So could someone explain to me what the fuck is happening in DC?
Heidi Sippel says the driver intentionally struck them near the intersection of 7th Street and New York Ave. in Northwest, and they did not throw themselves in front of the car as the police claim.
"Before we had a chance to get out of the way, he stopped about five feet from us, revved his engine, threw up his hands and hit the gas," said Sippel, a protester from Vandalia, Ohio.
But instead of citing the driver, police gave Sippel, her partner, and son citations for obstructing traffic in the roadway.
The article I've linked to says that the driver has been identified but not been charged.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Eggmus: Occupy Thomas the Tank Engine

Thomas the Tank Engine has taken over Chez Barefoot. Epsilon was sick a bit ago, so we let him watch Thomas on Netflix and You Tube. Now he points to the computer every morning, demanding "Thomas Tank!"

We went to Occupy Near Me this weekend. As a courtesy to my train obsessed toddler, we took the subway to the tent village. A plastic Thomas came with.

Our normal weekends of teaching Epsilon to share have gotten boring. It was time to talk about sharing elsewhere.

We hung around the tent village for a while, got to know people. Epsilon is bored. He wants to go back to the subway.

The day's rally starts around naptime. We go anyway. Between identifying that there is a group of drummers in the crowd and finding them, my partner taps me on the shoulder and points to the stroller. Epsilon's asleep.

Oh no! I think. I should stop chanting with the hundreds of people in the street.
What if he wakes up?

At some point Epsilon's sleeping hands finally loose their grip on Thomas, which skitters through the street.  I am left chasing after a plastic blue box on wheels, made in China, that is now an ankle breaking hazard. This isn't what I remember protests marches being. Is it me?

Epsilon woke up after the march, and wants to go back to the subway. I might think he's missed the point of the day. But he'd argue otherwise.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Kerfuffle Unfuffled

Yesterday I learned an important lesson. Always make sure that your coauthors are actually your coauthors.

Regular readers of this blog may remember my coauthor kerfuffle several months ago, at which time I was frustrated with the lack of work a more senior colleague and coauthor was putting into a paper we were working on together. He was slow to turn around drafts, and would complain about parts without making much in the way of constructive suggestions. His emails were sounding increasingly frustrated, and I was getting frustrated with his lack of input.

In person he was much easier to work with, and much progress had been made on the times we got to work together in the same place. Unfortunately we are on different continents so flying to meet was not something either of us could do very regularly.

It recently dawned on me that we had never actually formally discussed the authorship, and the drafts I was sending had no names on them. After a few emails it turns out that he had never seen himself as a coauthor on the paper. I now go from frustrated to in awe of how much time he gave me and how much thought he put into a paper that is not his.

In the future, even the most rough drafts I share will have the authors listed, even if we don't have a title yet.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


During a discussion in an informal seminar, someone asked why the speaker could make certain assumptions. A colleague and I offered two different, correct explanations. His was a more standard explanation that just hadn't occurred to me at the time. Mine was based off of techniques in the class I am teaching (nothing fancy, I'm teaching a required class for juniors and seniors).

Thinking about it later, I realized that if this discussion had occurred last year, I probably would have given a third explanation, motivated by the techniques I was teaching then. I happen to be a bit of a generalist, so I've had an opportunity to teach classes in 3 of the 4 major subfields in this department.

But this got me wondering, does this happen to anyone else?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Eggmus: BLECH!

Epsilon pulled a bottle of wine out of the recycling yesterday.

"Mommy and Daddy juice. BLECH!" Then he thought for a moment and said "Daddy eat?"

Later on in the day, he grabbed a can of soda at a Halloween party and brought it over to my partner. "BLECH! Epsilon eat more?"

Monday, October 31, 2011

Non technical research proposal

I hate these. I really do. But I spent a good part of last week putting one together, and I've learned guessed a lot about what to put in, and what not to put in. You can google around and find different examples of these from different fields. Here are some of my favorites from Physics/material science, Medicine and Mathematics.

Why do I need to put myself through this ordeal? For the last 2 years, I've used this fellowship for postdoctoral women as an opportunity to polish my research statement, which has been a good exercise. However, it has wanted a NON-TECHNICAL research statement. Now several jobs I am looking for is asking for such a document. I've heard that many national science funding agencies in Australia require a non-technical research proposal. If you are an Australian reader (or other reader) with experience on this, I'd love to hear your 2 cents.

The most important common feature in the three statements above seems to be that I can understand what they are doing even though I'm not in their field. The panel of people sitting on these panels usually have PhDs, but not necessarily in your field. The proposals have a lot of "state then show" paragraphs, and many "for example" statements to make it accessible at this level.

On an initial reading, all of the research statements seem to be very applied. But looking through the publication list of the physicist and the mathematician, the research does not seem to be very applied. There seems to be a trick to going from the nose to the grindstone details of the work we do every day, to fitting it into the broader scheme of science. I think it is a bad idea for someone to make their research to be "sexy." I read a mathematician's statement that started out defining what the field of topology is, and gave an example of knot theory as an active field of research in topology. Then it said "While I do not study knot theory," and explained what related work the he/she does. This statement turned me off from their project. It seemed to me that this person was trying too hard to make their work sound interesting.

Finally, I don't think any of the good statements I read really got a chance to talk about what they do at a satisfying level. (I know I didn't. After a page of background, I had room for 1 sentence summaries of each of my papers.) But that seems to be what is desired. Unlike a technical research statement, the question is not "Is this person competent at their research?" It is "Can this person communicate well, and is their research interesting?" Information about the quality of one's research needs to come from letters of recommendation.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Advice from a postdoc panel: What do I have in my pocket?

Er... Packet.

This is the third and last in a series summarizing the questions and answers given in a panel about hunting for postdocs. The previous posts can be found here and here. The content of this post may be more field dependent than the content of other posts in this series.

To my more senior readers: If you have ever been on a search committee in a non-lab science, or a search committee at all, please give your two cents on anything I say below. This is the part of the process I know the least about.

There is a standard list of things that go into a job packet in my field: CV, Statement of Research, Teaching Philosophy Statement, Letters of Rec. Cover letter.

Let me start with the Cover Letter. From what I could tell, this is just a fancy way of saying "give me the key words to put you into the correct folder." It is worth the time to customize the coverletter to each school. The one member of the panel who had recently chaired a search committee said that he would scan a cover letter as fast as he could to determine who's pile to put the packet in. The letter should be short. It should contain your field of interest, and the people with whom you want to work. However, choosing the correct key words matter. In my department, subfields A and A' work as mostly disjoint groups. In another department, A and A' may involve strongly overlapping groups of people. If you do A, but say A' in your cover letter, you would get shuffled off the the wrong subfield, and the person looking at your file may or may not take the time to correct the mistake. How to avoid this? See the previous post about contacting people in departments you will apply to.

You have little control over the content of your letters of recommendation. Choose wisely, and you trust your writers. One piece of advice that I've heard everywhere, and true as far as I can tell, if you are asking someone to be the (n+1)th letter writer make sure he/she will write a strong letter. A weak letter, even if it is one that goes beyond the requirements for the position can sabotage an application. Also, for the female applicant, make sure your letter writer is not inclined to write about your personality traits over your research ability.

The document about your teaching philosophy does not need to be long if you are applying to a research school. I have heard elsewhere that if you are applying to a school that really cares about the quality of teaching, then you may have to write a document that is tailored for that school in particular. But I am wandering deep into hearsay at this point. The standard length for a research position in my field is 1-2 pages.

The document about your research should be 3-5 pages, and written for the person in your subfield on the search committee. (There are a few exceptions to this, where the application specifically says that the research summary should be directed at a more general audience. These are a pain in the ass and need to be dealt with differently.) It should be full of "I" statements. While you may think that the results you built your research on is the coolest thing since sliced bread, they do not deserve the same amount of ink that your own research does. Judicious use of bold, italics and headings will make it easier for the reader to figure out what you have done. It is tempting to define all your terms and techniques before stating your results. However, you want to get to your results early in the document, before your bore your reader. There is a balance to be struck. As for what makes a good research statement, I found that googling around for research statements in my field gave me a good idea of what a well put together statement was. (After all, your research statement is on your website, right? Other peoples' are too.) While I could not vouch for the importance of the results in the statements, after skimming a dozen, I got a feel for which styles and presentations read well, and which did not.

CV: In my field, this should include undergraduate and graduate institutions, publications, preprints, awards and honors, talks given, conferences attended, pretty much in that order. Some people like to mention their teaching experience. Other work experience is probably not relevant, unless it ties into your teaching or research. There is no page limit on this. The emphasis is on keeping it easy to read. Some places (like Europe) require that you put your age down. In the US, it is illegal to ask this question.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Advice from a post doc panel: Networking

I recently sat on a "looking for your post doc" panel. There was a lot said that was useful. This is my second post of selected questions and advice from the session. My first post is here.

I met a professor at a conference a couple months ago, and I would like to keep in touch with him/her so he/she doesn't forget me. But what should I say in this e-mail?

Do you have scientific content for this professor? If not don't write the e-mail. Some faculty members on the panel get 300 e-mails a day. If you don't have something interesting to say, you will probably be ignored. Worst case scenario, you may make a bad impression instead.

General advice about e-mailing professors?

If you do decide to e-mail a professor, keep it short.

If you had a scientific conversation with the person, he/she is likely to remember you years later when you are about to graduate and need a letter, with a little prodding about when/where you met and what you talked about. If you met the person over pizza and beer at a conference, he/she is less likely to remember you. In the former situation you should not hesitate to contact the person for a letter. Remembering you will not be the deciding factor in how they choose to respond.

When you do sign your name, put your FULL NAME down, as well as the name of your advisor. This is not about pedigree, but about putting yourself in context. That way if the professor needs a memory aid, they can look for your name at the appropriate institution, or have a good guess at the types of projects you may be interested in.

Have a webpage with your picture on it. This a good place for people to find your CV, papers, etc. It is also useful to those professors who are good with faces but not names.

How do I meet professors at conferences?

If a talk is interesting, but you don't have any well formed questions at the end of the hour, stand in the informal discussion group that often forms around the speaker at the end of the talk. Sometimes this discussion is at a lower level, and encourages questions. A student who is proactive in this type of participation is more likely to catch the eye of a more senior person, even if the student doesn't have a lot to contribute.

Getting to know graduate students is a good way to get to know their advisors.

What other types of networking should I do?

The fun part about job hunting is looking at a department web page and imagining yourself at the department. If there is a group or person there that you would like to work with, send them an e-mail. All the above rules for sending e-mails apply. In addition, do not give them too much personal information, but give them a sense of why you are interested in their work. Attach a CV and research summary. If you have preprints available on line, send them links. If you have a website, send a link.

If you are applying to a job in a different country than the one you grew up in, or the one you did your PhD in, make it clear that you really would be interested in living there for several years.

If the professor doesn't respond to the e-mail, don't be offended. It may mean they aren't interested. It may mean they don't respond to e-mails.

Compose a list of places/groups you would like to work with, and give it your advisors, or any faculty you have a good relationship with. Ask them to contact any people on that list that they feel comfortable writing.

If there is a particular place where you want to be, ask your letter writers to write a different letter for that place, speaking specifically to the institutions strengths and demands. Don't have too many of these, but 1 (maybe 2) is okay.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Advice from a post doc application panel: preparing for the hunt

I was asked to be on an in department post doc panel recently. The advice given at the panel I think extends to many non-lab sciences, especially those that have hiring cycles. This post only addresses issues specific to the planning for the hunt. Stay tuned for advice on networking.

Edit: (other posts in the series can be found here and here.)

When do you start planning?

It is good to have the main results from your thesis done by the time requests for letters of rec. go out. That way, when  you ask someone outside your department for a letter of rec, or your advisor does, you/he/she can say "X has found Foo and Bar" rather than "X hopes to show Foo and Bar." (While it is good to have results finished by the summer before job hunting, this does not mean having the thesis finished. From personal experience, it is a bad idea to work on finishing your thesis and job hunting at the same time, unless you enjoy 100+ hour weeks for a semester.)

Some fellowships and/or exclusive schools have very early deadline, because they want to weed out the people who are not as on the ball. Start looking early.

Many applications for post docs in the states specifically ask for a letter outside your department. Keep this in mind early in grad school. Often times your advisor can contact the author of a series of papers that are key to your work, but it works better if he/she knows you from a conference.

It is generally good form to give your letter writers at least a month to write your letters. If they are missing a deadline (i.e. its in a day or two, and they haven't uploaded the letter) you should contact them. Most US institutions are willing to wait a while for a late letter if everything else is in on time. This may not hold in other countries. (If you know the writer well, depend on your personal knowledge of the person to figure out when to bring out the cattle prods.)

How many schools should you expect to apply to?

Many. The number is field/subfield and economy specific. One post doc in a different subfield applied to 30. I applied to 88. When he applied schools had started cutting back on positions significantly. My year, most positions had already been advertised by the time Lehman's collapsed. But for both of us, we applied to the vast majority of positions available.

What should one consider when applying to schools?

NEVER apply to a job you wouldn't take. What will you do if you get offered a spot there, and no where else? However, if you would take a job, but only if conditions A, B, and C can be met by the university, apply. You can negotiate for those conditions at the time of hiring.

What considerations are important when applying to a school?

This requires some soul searching. Do you love teaching, and want to work closely with undergrads? Are you primarily in the game for the research? Look at the teaching loads for various schools. As a general rule of thumb, the greater the teaching load, the lighter the focus on research. However, not all schools with large teaching loads are schools that are interested in innovative teaching techniques and provide a great teaching environment. No one at the panel knew a whole lot about how to catch the eye of a truly great teaching institution, so I won't comment on that axis further.

Do you want to stay in a city for non-academic life reasons? Is it worth being hired by a lower tier school to do so? It is very difficult to switch from an excellent research school to an excellent teaching school, or vice versa. If you think you are interested in research, try to stay in as research focused environment as possible for as long as possible.

Does the department at the school have someone who would be interesting for you to work with? Do you know that person? If you don't know that person, send him/her an e-mail. Does your advisor or one of your letter writers know that person? If so, have them send him/her an e-mail.

Is a job listed as tenure track, but doesn't have a requirement of X years of Post-doc? Apply. Even if your field has a strong norm of X years of post-doc before tenure track.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

21rst century America

Epsilon's current favorite foods are:

Okra curry

I love living this country and at this point in history!

Monday, October 24, 2011


The last week has seen a more than trebling of traffic to my blog, which is very exciting. Most viewers seems to be coming from GMP's blog, but some from other places I haven't been able to specify. I thought I'd use this time to give a bit of background about myself.

I am in the last year of my post doc at research university with an fabulous student base. My partner and I are both academics, and we have spent more time in a long distance/commuting situation than we have spent sharing an address. Somewhere in the giddiness of of my having landed a great post doc, we decided to have a child, who I call Epsilon in this blog, hoping that the needs of a third person would keep us from putting career in front of family. It was not to be.

I started this blog while my partner and toddler were living in Chicago, and I was commuting 10-12 hours each way to spend time with them over the weekend. I was miserable and lonely. Our small family unit is reunited for the next few months. In January, my partner will be moving to a foreign country, and I will be alone with Epsilon for several months. Read about it here. I'm currently on the job market looking for something in the foreign country, or for a university in the US that will hire us both.

In the meanwhile, I write about my experiences as a postdoc, my views on women in the sciences, posts about Epsilon, the political issues that catch my interest, and the activities I can find time to partake in. And occasionally, when something disturbs my psyche, or I have an extra moment to breathe, I write poetry.

I'd like to know who you are. Google keeps far too much information about you, but not enough for a real dialogue. For instance, I've had a follower who consistently uses the browser Iceweasel. What is Iceweasel, and why is it your preferred brower? I recently got a hit from Zambia. Who are you, and how did you find me?

Old friends from when I could count daily hits on fingers and toes, what would you have me keep writing about? New acquaintances, if you've had a chance to go through some of the archives, what have you liked, and what more do you want?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Now I'm just confused

This came out of Herman Cain's mouth yesterday:
“I believe that life begins at conception and abortion, under no circumstances,” Cain told Morgan.  Pressed on if he would apply this same directive to his grandchildren, Cain candidly responded.
“It comes down to, it’s not the government’s role or anybody’s role to make that decision. Secondly, if you look at the statistical incidents, you’re not talking about that number. What I’m saying is it ultimately gets down to a choice that the family or that mother has to make. Not me as president, not some politician, not a bureaucrat. It gets down to that family. And whatever they decide. I shouldn’t have to tell them what decision to make for such a sensitive issue.”
I'm sure he's not pro-choice. Or, if he is, he will remove it from his platform soon. But this was just hilarious. His summary of the pro-life movement's stand in this country is so spot on!

Update (10/21 12:20 pm):


CAIN: It would be an illegal abortion. Look, abortion should not be legal, that is clear, but if that family made a decision to break the law, that is that family’s decision, that’s all I’m trying to stay.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

An Extraordinary Senior Woman

This is a story told to me by a friend during his final year as a post doc at a department where PhDs can be around, full time, for over a decade without eyebrows being raised. It is also normal in this field to take a few years off between undergrad and grad school. In short, if the women want to have children, it makes sense for many to do so before finishing their PhDs. 

The final meeting of a weekly seminar involved a period of retrospection and anticipation for the next year's seminar. Several people (mostly female graduate students) suggested changing the time for the seminar (currently meeting on a weekday evening) to a time better suited for people with children.

The senior faculty member (SFM), female, who usually runs the seminar (but not this year) objected strongly. She pointed out that this is the way it has always been done, and that when she runs it, it is followed by dinner and drinks (with plenty of soda for observant Muslims). She goes to bed in the early am, but people stay drinking at her house as long as they want. It is her belief that a seminar followed by dinner and drinks was the only way to build a good feeling of collegiality and camaraderie in the department. She followed this with the complaint that this didn't used to be a problem when the department was nearly all male. The time has become a problem only when the department started admitting “women who weren't serious about their work and who had other priorities.” Neither he nor I are making this shit up. He swears that these are as exact quotes as he can remember. I'm watching myself write a parody of a paranoid feminist's worst nightmare used to justify why she shouldn't enter academia. I swear it's true.

My friend (MF), being a good junior male academic pointed out that the time problem isn't just one for women. He was too stunned to be able to fight back on the issue of admitting women.

SFM replied that people should get their partners to help out.

MF pointed out that some people attending the seminars didn't have partners who could help out.

SFM said that if it was such a problem that people should bring their children to the seminar, but that they had to be dedicated enough to attend. Anyway, it couldn't be a gender thing since she had succeeded in academia without anyone doing anything to make her life as a woman easier. WTF!? I can't even begin to enumerate the badness of that response.

I don't know where to start. The bullying? The sexism? The  "I've-suffered-so-you-should-too" attitude? The insensitivity to the fact that some people may not like to drink or stay up after midnight? The lack of understanding of what having a bunch of infants and toddlers in a well lit seminar room well past their bed times looks like? The anger at the other tenured male present, who has children, for staying mum?

Should the graduate students stage a day of "failed child care options" on the day that an important outside speaker is visiting, to embarrass SFM? The under 5's would suffer, but they won't remember it. SFM on the other hand? ....

My friend says that on top of the difficulties in standing up to a person like this, he found it harder to call bullshit on her sexism because she was female. That if SFM had been male he would have more easily been able to ask him to stand down on the sexism. I feel like I would have had the opposite experience. I give my female colleagues the benefit of a doubt if they say/do something that may or may not be ill intentioned because they've been there, and very little leeway if they do something idiotic or ignorant because they should know better. This difference may have to do with our personalities, or be due to the fact that it is easier to call bullshit on someone more similar to you.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


One of my summer students' presentation was selected as a semi-finalist in the summer research project presentation contest.

Each summer researcher gets an opportunity to either give a short oral presentation or a poster session on their summer work. I've been very happy and impressed with her work, and she showed me her presentation before she gave it, but I didn't know it was a competition.

There are two more rounds of speaking, and then cash prizes go to the top 3 students. I take no credit for this one, but I'm very excited for her. WOOT!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Open letter to a reviewer

Dear Sir/Madam,

Thank you for the time you took to review my article. I hope I did not inconvenience you too much to read what you call "utter nonsense." Though I don't know who you are, I am able to surmise that you belong to a group of scientists that do not agree with my methodology, and have a preferred methodology. But you have not actually cited anything in my paper to support your claim that "I have a poor understanding" of my subject area, or that any of the technical details used in my methodology are incorrect. In fact, from what evidence you have provided, it seems that you stopped reading my paper after section 1.1.

I also appreciate your belligerence. You've had a bad day, and ranting about someone else's useless work makes you feel better about yourself as a scientist.

However, I must point out, that if I were a writing instructor, and this was a critical essay, it would not pass muster. Fortunately, neither of those are true.

For your well being and mine, I hope that you do not have to undergo the arduous experience of looking at any future work of mine.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Job Hunting

I have a draft of most of my materials written up. I have a list of places and deadlines. All I need to do now is modify my materials according to the specifications of each application, and look up the members of universities I've never heard of to see if there's anyone exciting there I've happened to not have heard of who would be an interesting colleague.

In theory, this last step could be a lot of fun. No. After the first dozen or so cold e-mails and shifting through department web pages, this step is a lot of fun. Its just the first dozen that are terrifying.

I got lucky this application season. I'm looking through the faculty at a school that I think is a long shot fit for me, and I find a face from my undergrad years. An old TA of mine has drifted in his field to be studying problems that are remarkably closely related to what I am interested in! And then, I find one of those somewhat rare "we've never heard of each other, but we may actually have interesting things to say to each other" situations at the same university.

Its almost enough to get a girls hopes up.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The liberal I wish I was

I read this on Daily Kos the other day, and I can't get it out of my head.

The person I hope to become when I grow up does not greet political arguments with ire or emotional responses. She greets them with facts and counterarguments that hold in the starting domain of the person arguing with me. She seeks to find common ground with the arguer, and attempts to find who is correct.

Correct is a muddier issue when dealing with political arguments, but for now, I use the definition that if a person starts with a set of axioms, and then is consistent within those axioms (even when it works against their own interests), then conclusions that can be drawn from those axioms are, in some sense, correct.

This response to a 53%er does that. And it reminds me why I am a liberal.

The letter in response to the following:
I am a former Marine.
I work two jobs.
I don’t have health insurance.
I worked 60-70 hours a week for 8 years to pay my way through college.
I haven’t had 4 consecutive days off in over 4 years.
But I don’t blame Wall Street.
Suck it up you whiners.
I am the 53%.
God bless the USA!
 The responder writes:

Look, you’re a tough kid.  And you have a right to be proud of that.  But not everybody is as tough as you, or as strong, or as young.  Does pride in what you’ve accomplish mean that you have contempt for anybody who can’t keep up with you?  Does it mean that the single mother who can’t work on her feet longer than 50 hours a week doesn’t deserve a good life?  Does it mean the older man who struggles with modern technology and can’t seem to keep up with the pace set by younger workers should just go throw himself off a cliff?
And, believe it or not, there are people out there even tougher than you.  Why don’t we let them set the bar, instead of you?  Are you ready to work 80 hours a week?  100 hours?  Can you hold down four jobs?  Can you do it when you’re 40?  When you’re 50?  When you’re 60?  Can you do it with arthritis?  Can you do it with one arm?  Can you do it when you’re being treated for prostate cancer?

I've lived in a place where 50 year olds work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, no sick days with pay. Where illness mean loosing one's job and depending on family for food. These 50 year olds looked like 80 year olds do in this county due to the back breaking work they've undertaken for the last 30 years. They lived in slums in a developing country.

And is this really your idea of what life should be like in the greatest country on Earth?
I know what my answer is. The author continues to describe his understanding of the "American dream".
Look kid, I don’t want you to “get by” working two jobs and 60 to 70 hours a week.  If you’re willing to put in that kind of effort, I want you to get rich.  I want you to have a comprehensive healthcare plan.  I want you vacationing in the Bahamas every couple of years, with your beautiful wife and healthy, happy kids.  I want you rewarded for your hard work, and I want your exceptional effort to reap exceptional rewards.  I want you to accumulate wealth and invest it in Wall Street.  And I want you to make more money from those investments.
  I wish I had the grace to write this letter.