Friday, March 17, 2006

My First PhD Student!

My first PhD student just finished her defense! Whahooooooo!

I'm so proud. I can't believe it is over. She did a really great job, too. I think I was more nervous than she was. I had trouble sleeping last night. But the committee was really very kind, and they all signed off on her dissertation and did not even insist on seeing another draft.

I know I won't get any more work done today, so the whole lab is going to go out drinking. Good chance to bond.

Now I can start worrying about my next student, who should defend by the end of the summer if he can pull it all together by then. And I have to prepare my re-appointment package and write a CAREER proposal. No big deal.

But for now I plan to rest on my laurels. Yay!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

So Very Busy

Things have been crazy the last few weeks. Amy turned her dissertation in to her committee on Friday. I feel a huge sense of accomplishment but I am still nervous about the whole thing. It turned out to be 165 pages, and somehow that seems awfully short compared to the amount of work she did. Oh well.

My parents were here for the weekend and we did lots of fun things including a trip to the circus. I was tempted to stay home yesterday and go with them when they took the kids to a museum, but I looked at the calendar and realized that I have not worked a five-day week since the semester began due to holidays, sick days, and snow days.

Today I am teaching the dreaded back-to-back classes, so I'm lecturing and on my feet for 3 hrs straight. I did this for the first time on Friday and it really sucked. I'm not looking forward to it today.

We were supposed to hear about our proposals to an internal university funding program yesterday, and I'm anxious to find out if I got the grant. I could really use that money. Cross your fingers.

I got my course evaluations back from my "student centered learning" experiment last semester and they sucked. They were far worse than my average. I usually score above both the departmental average and the university average, but this time I was slightly below both. Of course they don't ask questions on the course evaluation form like "how much did you learn?" or "were you challenged?" They only ask how much the students liked the course. It looked as if 2-3 of the 15 students really hated the class and gave it low scores, but everybody else was generally happy with it.

Off to class. Yay.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Career Day

Saturday I participated in a Science Careeer Day for high school girls, mostly juniors. I did this last year, too. It was actually quite fun. It was great to see so many young women who are serious about school and interested in having careers in science. We spent about 20 minutes with each of five groups, with each group having about 10 students. I asked them whether they felt discrimated against or if they were ever teased by the boys for being smart and they all pretty much said the same thing. There is no longer much of a stigma associated with being smart and getting good grades, and that most of their upper-level science and math classes had more women than men in them. Most of the top acheivers are women. On the one hand, this is great, because it means more women will succeed in science. On the other hand, it is a little troubling, because I think it means that the boys are giving up. As the mother of two sons, I worry a little that our culture is starting to believe that intellectually challenging endeavors should be left to women. Men are supposed to do (a) physically demanding jobs, and (b) jobs involving the brokering of money and power. Maybe we see science as too "wussy". Is that a good thing? Our country needs more scientists and engineers. period. not more women OR more men, but more of both.

One of the other insights that I took away from Career Day was that we need to go talk to girls who don't think they are interested in STEM careers. The girls at this Career Day had volunteered to come because they already had some interest in STEM. So they are low-hanging fruit. I think we need to get engineers and scientists to go talk to the girls who are interesting in fashion design, cosmetology, art, etc., and talk to them about how many of these careers are becoming more and more technological. To design formulations for new nail polish, you need to know chemical engineering. To be an animator or designer, you need to understand CAD. And if you study STEM, then if your girlish enthusiasm for nail polish wears off, you still have a solid educational background and the basis for a lucrative career.

On a (somewhat) related subject: In my local newspaper today, they ran an article about the fastest-growing careers. Among them: home nurses aid (annual salary about $20K), personal trainer ($25K) and environmental engineer ($66K). Which would you rather train for?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Another notch in the belt

Monday I heard that one of the papers I submitted back in November was accepted for publication in the premiere journal in my field. Yay! Unfortunately my post-doc advisor is a co-author, so it doesn't count as heavily as I would wish toward tenure, but I am not complaining. I submitted the paper in Nov, got reviews back in Dec, and submitted the revised version 1/30, and got notified of its acceptance 2/6.

The other paper I submitted in Nov hasn't even come back with reviews yet.

When I made up my list of goals for 2006, it did not occur to me that I have to submit my re-appointment package in September. That gives me added incentive to get those four papers submitted for publication before then. I doubt I will be able to get all four in. I'll be happy with two. Student A's dissertation is coming along very well, and I should be able to get two good papers out of it (one without my post-doc advisor) fairly soon. I told her to go ahead and schedule her defense for mid-March. I'm probably more nervous than she is--she'll be my first PhD student to graduate. I'm so proud! But I am (irrationally?) afraid that her dissertation will be an embarrassment to all concerned. That's why I wouldn't let her schedule her defense until now. I didn't want to do to her what my advisor did to me and cancel her defense at the last moment. But she is working her butt off and has made enormous progress in the last couple of weeks, so I am feeling a lot more comfortable about the whole thing.

I am also trying to hire my first post-doc, which is a harrowing experience. Actually he or she would be only partly mine, and would belong more to my friend and collaborator, Donna. But it is still difficult, since the money we have is divided between two grants which require different skills and last for different lengths of time. It is a big responsibility to hire people. The worst part is having to disappoint the very qualified people who interviewed but don't quite fit our needs. That becomes especially difficult when they are foreign and must find a job or their visas will expire and they will have to return to their home country.

The funding situation in our field is dire and seems to get worse by the day. Exhibit A is Bush's proposed budget, which will once again cut back EPA funding. I have been advised not to bother applying for EPA money. One of our professors was "awarded" a $1 million EPA grant, but the money never showed up. After more than a year of waiting, he finally got the money by lobbying through our congressmen. It seems the only way you can get money these days is if your research is directly related to human health or homeland security. Otherwise you have to figure out how to do research with no money. Even graduate student fellowships are drying up. Many fellowships require that the applicant be a US citizen or permanent resident, which disqualifies about 75% of our graduate students. The few that are open to foreign students recieve hundreds of applications for one or two awards.

The only silver lining in all of this is that I haven't had to spend as much time writing proposals lately, so I can concentrate on getting papers out. Slim consolation.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Reading List

I think it was YoungFemaleScientist who suggested that "Mr Darcy Takes a Wife" was a good book, so I decided to read it. I am enjoying it immensely. Also good in a juicy and decidedly feminist way is "A Great and Terrible Beauty" by Libba Bray. There is a sequel out now but the wait list for it at my library is very long indeed.

I've been reading more lately because I am making a lot of progress in getting my kids to bed without falling asleep myself. That leaves me with a precious hour or so to read. I suppose if I was more dedicated to my profession I would use that time to read journal articles or something, but I absolutely HATE to read that kind of stuff. I only do it when absolutely necessary, which usually means when I am writing a proposal. I can (sort of) get away with that because my research is pretty unique. There aren't any other researchers doing what I am doing right now. (At least, none that I know of. Perhaps if I read more I would find some!)

Must dash off to meet a post-doc candidate (to be paid from our $1.8 million grant). I still feel strange to be the one who is making the hiring decisions and not the one who is desperately looking for a job.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

I can jump-start a car

I was reading somebody's blog (sorry, can't remember who) and they complained that their female neighbor, who was plenty smart, had to ask the blogger's husband for help in jump-starting her car. Today I got the opportunity to prove to the world and myself that I can jump start my own car (in the rain, no less). My husband was actually right inside the house, but he screwed up his shoulder skiing and was heavily sedated, so I didn't want to disturb him. I'm so proud! But, at the same time, thoroughly annoyed that my son left the dome light on.

Anyway, the new semester started yesterday. Although I did borrow lecture notes off the internet, I did also give credit where it was due. Thank you, Sandra Porter, for pointing that out. If I may allow myself a little rant on the subject...

When my post-doc advisor (Big Famous Guy, BFG) left for Europe, leaving me to manage his lab and teach his classes, he had just hired a new post-doc. I hoped that New Post-Doc and I could work together to keep BFG's lab running. I was supposed to teach the same class I teach every year that spring, but I got pregnant and went on maternity leave instead. So New Post-Doc got stuck teaching the course. I had previously co-taught it with BFG, and he was of the old school and used overheads. Thus I had only a few lectures in electronic form, which I gave to New Post-Doc (along with the overheads). New Post-Doc then made up a whole new set of electronic lecture notes and used them to teach the class. A year later I had to teach the class again, and I asked him if he would share his lecture notes with me. He told me he had lost them. How does one lose electronic lecture notes? I knew he had to be lying, but I didn't say anything. He and I didn't get along too well anyway, so I kind of understood why he didn't want to share. So that was bad enough, but to make matters worse, a week or two later, when I was furiously making up my powerpoint slides for the class, he came and stood in the doorway of my office and waved a CD and said, "I do have these, but I put a lot of effort into them and I don't want to share them. " I told him I understood, and then he said, "I might be willing to share them if you had something to trade..." I was flabbergasted. As I look back on it, I realize that this might sound like some kind of sexual proposition, but I don't think it was. I still don't know what he thought I might trade for them. I just said, "no, I don't have anything to trade," and he walked away.

This was the same guy who refused to help one of my students (who was working on a BFG project, and therefore should have been deserving of help from BFG's post-doc) while she floundered for over a year trying to make a method work. He just didn't want to do anything that would make me look good, or even competent. When BFG finally inquired why the project wasn't moving forward, New Post-Doc told him it was my fault because I had never asked for help. I thought that was odd, considering that (a) I had asked for help, (b) I don't think I should have to ask for help from BFG's post-doc for a BFG-related project, and (c) I thought that he and the student were friends, and that even though he hated me he would help her. Just goes to show that he would even screw a friend to achieve the desired object of making me look bad.

Anyway, the moral of the story is to be generous. Give people your lecture notes! Help them! Don't be an ass. I would rather give someone help and not get credit for it and get a reputation for being a generous patsy than not help people and get a reputation for being a dick.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Lecture notes on the internet

One piece of very useful advice: no matter what you are asked to teach, odds are someone has already taught it and posted lecture notes on the internet. Don't drive yourself crazy. Borrow them. If you make up nice notes of your own be sure to post them and return the favor.

I am being asked to teach a 50% of a course on Soil Chemistry. Like I know anything about soil chem. This is where the internet comes in handy. Google has made it so easy to find a lecture on soil pH. I just hope I survive this coming semester. I carefully avoided thinking about it until this week, but I have to teach 1.5 courses this semester. One is the same class I've been teaching for years, so it is kind of on autopilot, but the other is this soil chem class. Unfortunately it meets right after my other class on Tuesdays and Fridays, so on those days I will frequently have to lecture for three hours straight, only pausing to run across campus and eat my lunch along the way. Yech.

Does anyone else miss The X-Files? It's been off the air long enough now for me to forgive Chris Carter for the last couple of seasons, and now I find myself growing nostalgic. Maybe because it reminds me of the Clinton administration, when I felt the world was generally headed in the right direction. I may even buy the first few seasons on DVD, although when would I have time to watch it? Hmmm... d'ya think I could play the DVDs on my computer while I write soil chem lectures?

I don't watch much TV. Only kids shows. Is there anything worth watching on TV these days?