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.