rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
I'm thinking about rewriting my teaching statement for these job applications. Alternatively, I might just write another document, a Teaching Manifesto, intended to reach a broader audience beyond hiring committees, because over the years of my own education and teaching I've reached a specific perspective on educational goals, and I'm starting to think the whole thing deserves to be its own essay.*

Part of the reason I bring this up is because I first heard about the subject of this post, the book Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, in my undergraduate Writing Fellows training seminar, and the Writing Fellows experience continues to inform how I approach teaching. I'm not quite yet at a point where I'm ready to write the shitty first draft (Lamott lingo) of my Teaching Manifesto, but when I do I suspect you'll be the first to hear about it.

Bird by Bird is twenty years old by now, but it's a timeless book for writers because Lamott does a phenomenal job of reaching out and capturing the thoughts and emotions one experiences as a writer. While her intended audience is primarily writers of fiction, writers of all stripes will find in her work someone who is sympathetic to the struggles of professional writing and able to offer up both consolation and kicks in the pants as necessary.

While reading the book, though, I kept thinking back to a comment [ profile] scrottie made while I was reading Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, by Studs Turkel. He had a hard time with the idea of reading Working because the concept of reading about work just sounded like a whole bunch of work! However, that wasn't my experience of Working - Turkel did such an amazing job of capturing the different workers' voices and their passions for what they were doing and purposes behind their work, that the book is a rich and fascinating compilation about the human experience.

Reading Bird by Bird was closer to work than leisure reading. I read most of the book while traveling, where I didn't have the mental space to settle in and write, so it also involved reading about work instead of just going out and getting work done. Today, after finishing it, I wound up bringing the book in to work so it can sit next to How to Write a Lot, which looms on a bookshelf right above my desk for maximal impact.

And on that note, perhaps I should get back to work.

*The other day on a different social media platform, I posted a rather simple commentary piece on how most students don't know what learning is, but in the same vein, there's some odd tension in the biological sciences over teaching methodologies, too. With teaching philosophies, it can actually be dangerous to be overly pedantic, and at the same time, many biologists teach poorly or use uninformed teaching methods. So - the Manifesto will start with my perspective on the purpose of an undergraduate education, and will then cover specific tools and approaches that should be used to facilitate student development, as informed by my experiences in grad school and as an undergraduate Writing Fellow.
rebeccmeister: (cricket)
As mentioned in my previous post, I spent a lot of time over the past week with I, a new graduate student. Interacting with her is reminding me of a number of little things that I have learned over my time as a scientist. A lot of those little things are obvious, in retrospect, but I always have to wonder if I would have spent less time flailing around if I'd known about or thought about many of them earlier in my career. A few examples:

1. Enter in your data as you collect it. (this is what I'm working on today, which is what made me think about this entry)

2. Along those same lines: Clean up as you go along.

3. While writing manuscripts, keep a text file with a "to do next" list. Actually, this should be started even before you start writing a manuscript. For me, it has been the simplest way to put down a project and then be able to pick it back up with minimal fuss.

4. When meeting with other people, put as much as you can into writing, but keep it simple. To have a focused meeting, have a goal for the meeting and put that at the top. Do you want feedback on a specific piece of writing? Do you want help with the experimental design? Do you want help figuring out the holes in your logic? Are you trying to figure out who to put on your committee or who to include in the project? The sooner you can get concrete specifics in writing, the easier it will be for others to help you make progress.

5. Have a plan for analyzing your data *before* you collect the data. You might change your mind later on, but this will save you many potential massive headaches. This means having a thorough outline of your experiment and its dependent variables. Is it frequency data? Continuous data? How many treatments are you comparing? How many figures in a paper will this translate into?

6. Consider keeping annotated bibliographies for projects. I don't know about you, but my brain and memory are small, and the amount of literature I need to be familiar with is large, and covers a wide range of themes. Annotated bibliographies are a shortcut for organizing your thoughts about the literature, and for staying on task with #3. I just keep mine in text files. No need to get fancy.

7. There are a lot of other useful sources of information that might be helpful. Don't skip over them. Read them in the evening before bed. This book comes highly recommended (although I haven't read it, I suspect if I read it I would do a lot of nodding). For academic writers in all walks of writing, I've found How to Write a Lot helpful, too.

8. For keeping the different parts of a research project organized, here's an idea of how I structure my files. I'll come up with a short name for the project and will make a directory (folder) for it. Within the directory, I'll have subdirectories for: datasheets, raw data (as it is entered in to the spreadsheet), figures, R scripts, and the manuscript. I'm not good at throwing things away, so whenever I generate new files, I make a directory within a folder, label it "Old," and stick the previous version in there.

9. I like Zotero as an open-source browser plugin for keeping track of references. I still download pdfs of references into a big (separate) folder, and label them with the authornames, year, and a few keywords. Note that this is completely separate from my annotated bibliographies.

I suspect I'll think of ten more pointers somewhere further down the line, but this should be a good starting list.

What work-organization insights have you wished you'd had at an earlier stage?
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
A conversation with [ profile] bluepapercup is deserving of a wider conversation. She was hoping to finish her master's degree this spring, but recently had to decide to postpone her defense until the fall. So much of the process has been out of her control, such that it's inspiring to see her determination to finish.

In the midst of it, I'm thinking about some of the things I wish I'd known more about back in the day when I started graduate school. I also wonder how many people actually finish their academic work "on time." My guess is, not many, and those who do often miss out on other important life experiences. What does it mean to be "on time," anyway, when it comes to high-quality scholarly contributions?

A lot of people apply to graduate programs and then start them without asking certain critical questions of the program:

1. What's the average time-to-graduation for participants? Departments generally won't share this information with you unless you pry it out of them, because the numbers usually aren't as zippy as they'd like. I talked to a Biology faculty member about this at some point in the midst of earning my degree - she said the TRUE national average for time-to-completion for biology Ph.D.s was 8 years. This pegs it closer to 7 years, but still. It still makes me scratch my head over the overly optimistic paperwork I received upon arriving in grad school, which had me scheduled to graduate in 5 years. If only they had told the ants about that.

2. Related - what's the attrition rate for the program, and why? Specifically, is it because they don't give anybody any money, or enough money?

3. What careers do people from the program pursue after they graduate?

What questions would you add to the list?

Over & Up

Jan. 18th, 2011 01:05 pm
rebeccmeister: (Default)
That whole bicycle expedition down to Tucson and back went pretty well overall, I must say. I was especially grateful for the fine company of DM and CG on the ride back to Phoenix - we were able to maintain a comfortable pace, neither too fast nor too slow, and enjoyed the scenery. The ride out was a little too jock-ish for my tastes, I've decided - the riders who ended up riding with me were kind of concerned about how slow they were going or how out of shape or how manly they were, and the pace was just a touch too fast to be comfortable to maintain. Interestingly, I don't think the return pace was significantly slower, overall. It was just less...combative, one could say. No one was trying to win anything or prove any point. DM, CG, and I all decided that the person in the lead would be decided by how we individually felt about being in front or being behind, without too many regimented expectations about drafting or pacelining. So rather than having the person in the lead "pull" the paceline for, say, 30 seconds, before cycling to the back, the person in the lead would fly along, enjoying the fresh, cool air and sunshine and scenery, while the people behind relaxed a bit. It probably helped that the return ride was more-or-less downhill, with a bit of tailwind as well.

Regardless, it was a good ride, overall. I am most pleased by the fact that my butt isn't extraordinarily sore, or chafed, or covered with saddle sores. I'm also pleased by the fact that I feel tired, but not exhausted, and I feel like my body is resting and recovering well. I have some numbness in the ring and pinky fingers in my right hand, from handlebar palsy, but that should clear up as long as I don't aggravate it too much. So altogether, I feel like I'll be in reasonably good shape for the 300-km ride in 2 weeks.

Other than that, let me just say, boy. Mondays are going to be busy, here. It took DP and myself a solid five hours to get things done for the Final Experiment. Basically, on Fridays, we prep for Mondays by mixing up four different batches of polenta (nothing like cooking almost-food in a beaker on a hot plate), and then we spread them into pans to dry over the weekend. On Mondays, we remove last week's feeding trays from the colonies and weigh the leftovers ("Is Mildred eating right this week?"). We also count all of the ants, and take photographs of their fungus gardens.

Then we grind up the dried-out polenta into a coarse powder, weigh it out, and give it to the colonies. The bottom line is that there's a lot of weighing of finicky materials. Last week, I tried using a coffee grinder (blade grinder) to grind up the polenta, with pretty poor results. By the end, the grinder's whack-blade was crumpled like an airplane propeller that lost a battle with a goose. So I ordered a corn grinder, which came in over the weekend, and used it yesterday. The difference was night-and-day, thank goodness.

I also had to submit another postdoc application yesterday. I'll be curious to see what my final tally is, for number of applications submitted. There are all kinds of alternate scenarios for how things could go this spring and summer. The only thing I'm at all certain about is that I will probably end up moving out of the Farmer House in May when our lease is up. That will be a good time to get my belongings all in order for whatever adventure happens next. The ideal, for me, would be to take some time over the summer to reward myself for finishing my dissertation (assuming that I complete it). But if my livelihood continues to depend on the biology of the ants, I may be out of luck. All I can do is wait and see.


Dec. 5th, 2010 11:37 am
rebeccmeister: (Default)
There is too much to do in December. It is going to be very physically, mentally and emotionally consuming. I need to get my plans organized to get things done.

First, a very happy birthday to my mom! I have a gift for you, but I think I will carry it up to Seattle when I fly up on Dec. 23.

Next, plans:
Today/this week: re-house a bunch of the lab colonies in preparation for my last major experiment, write my presentation for next week's conference in San Diego, more erging, revise Diss Chap 1 and send to committee member, come up with a list of potential postdoc projects to send to committee member.

Next week (12/12-12/15): conference in San Diego.

After that, from 12/16-12/22: work on writing postdoc proposals (probably 2 of them), revising Diss Chap 1 and another manuscript, make sure that experimental colonies are happy/doing well. Finish out the Holiday Challenge.

12/23-1/6: Seattle, time for visiting with family and friends, probably some more writing squeezed in there as well, as needed, for postdoc proposals (due Jan 15).

1/7 onward: run the last experiment, keep writing.


Dec. 3rd, 2010 05:29 pm
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
Today was a busy day. Mostly busy for my brain. After breakfast this morning, I went out into the backyard to hang up some laundry and water the plants. The fig tree was not looking too good (not sure if it was the cold, or seasonal changes, or what), so I went back to water it. While I was there, I decided to jump on the old stick pile, which by now, is absolutely covered in grass. I hope that means that it is actually breaking down. I can't remember how old it is by this point, but it has been there for at least a year.

Anyway, while I was jumping on it, I glanced over and noticed a cozy little hole. SOMEBODY (or some chicken) had created a nice little nest, outside of the coop and outside of our purview. There were TEN eggs in it! She (or they) had been busy doing this, for quite a while. So I sent the chickens back into their coop for the day. This afternoon, I could hear them making that sad, chicken-moaning sound a bit. Silly birds.

Other than that, I've continued to work on Diss Chap 1. By last night, I got to feeling like I had a good idea of how I needed to outline the discussion. Today, after reading somewhere between 12 and 20 million and four additional papers, I was finally able to sit down and bang it out. Boy did that take a lot of mental effort. I think I'm starting to do a good job of situating my research within the body of related research, though, which is a really, really good stage to reach. I first had to remind myself that in dissertation-writing, I'm becoming an expert in a subject matter where no one else is an expert, so I can't depend on anybody else to provide the appropriate context for my work. I have to do that work, myself. It's a good, useful mental exercise, but it's also exhausting. I also just remembered something from completing my comps - I felt like I went in circles quite a lot with coming up with my research proposal, up until I had a solid first draft of the proposal written. THEN there was something for me to talk about with my advisor and committee members. I suspect the dissertation chapters will be similar. Fortunately, for the remaining dissertation chapters, I already have a solid idea of where my starting point is. That wasn't as true for the first chapter, but it's more true now.

So, now it's time to balance out the mental effort with some physical effort, aka the Holiday Challenge. Off to the erg I go.


Oct. 28th, 2010 10:41 am
rebeccmeister: (Default)
I've been working from home a lot, lately. I was somewhat nervous about it at first, because I was afraid I'd get distracted at home, and lose out on opportunities and important conversations at school. But then I realized that the distractions at school were worse, and more frustrating - people talking in the offices across from my cubicle, and the constant urge to goof off on the internet, endlessly checking useless websites. And I just don't get reading done very efficiently when sitting in an office chair. With our recently expanded internet access in our house (thanks to our wireless bridge, which we've named "howie"), I can't avoid the internet at home. But for some reason, it's easier for me to buckle down and get to work at home. Writers really *do* need solitary space, to think. I can listen to music, which I can't really do at school because I haven't installed much work music on my school computer, and I eventually get fatigue from wearing headphones. And if I get hungry, I can walk over to the kitchen for a snack, instead of going through constant internal debates about whether I should go get a snack or keep working. Plus, I was realizing - this is how I've worked for most of my life, from grade school through grad school - at home.

Coffeeshops aren't really an option for me right now, given my somewhat woeful financial state.

So, yeah. Working from home has been a very pleasant change of pace.

And on that note, back to work. I've got a dissertation chapter to write.


Jun. 8th, 2010 04:54 pm
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Blarghasaurus Rex. This teaching gig is kind of rough. There are two hours of lecture every day, which I must attend. I also have to hold 2 hours of office hours each week. That's a total of 12 hours of face time, plus the inevitable additional time right before and after class.

There are a total of 10 problem sets for students to complete during the class, so between the two of us TAs, we will each grade 5. I spent the entire afternoon yesterday completing the first one, and from the looks of things, almost the entire afternoon today grading the second one (I took a "break" briefly to work on an experiment with D, and just now to write this).

Someday, maybe I'll get to do science again. This mostly stresses me out because I'm still delaying the start of the summer's Big Experiment. I need to do some data analyses before I start the experiment because I need to make sure I'll get some cool and useful information out of it.

In some respects, this stresses me out. In other respects, I just figure, well, trying to graduate 1.5 years from now is a lofty goal, given my many unknowns, and hopefully things will work out okay even if I don't make that time deadline. Either way, I'm clearly going to have to work my tail off. It all makes me wonder, does anybody ever really figure out the whole work-life balance thing? I suppose there are some who feel they do, and I'd guess it's not actually people with inherited wealth. I have to wonder if it's based on a person's personality in such a way that it's hard to switch from feeling imbalanced to feeling balanced.

I know that my type of academic work inherently involves a lot of crests and troughs, but I'm still uncertain about whether or not I handle them appropriately, and I still wonder if I really actually work hard enough, with the proper focus on the proper subjects.


Also, don't write prescriptive responses in the comments on this post, because, well, that's just annoying. But go ahead and write reflective responses. :-)
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
This is going to be a crazy summer.

Well, it basically already is summer, and basically, a month of it has passed already.

That's just about what I mean.

Insofar as school goes, I'm still scrambling to finalize the protocol for my final experiment. Ideally, I'd like to finish some old data analyses so I have a better idea about some of the measurements I'll make for my final experiment. It's generally a terrible idea to go into an experiment completely blind, that is, having no idea of how the experiment will turn out.

That leads into the next chain of events. The software package that worked so nicely for some initial data analyses is not set up well to let me do just exactly the procedures I want to do. So I decided it would be a good time to switch software packages and work with the open-source software package R (yes, the software package of pirates!). The new software package is command-line driven, which is to say it sits and waits with a little prompt while the user tries to figure out how to talk to it without making it angry. Not nearly as simple as figuring out how to navigate through an unfamiliar, (inevitably) clunky GUI.

I started out by trying to decipher the somewhat cryptic standard introductory manual. It's reasonably well-written, but does not exactly explain how to use R for particular statistical purposes. So then I ordered a book on just that, how to use R for statistical analyses. It's much, much more straightforward and organized according to the things I want to do. But it still takes a lot of effort to read it and retain what I'm learning from it. I have finally resorted to note-taking and feel like I'm almost ready to start using R now.

Once I've learned how this dragon works, I'll harness it to finish up those analyses, plus another set of analyses. Meanwhile, I'll keep working on other aspects of summer experiments.

My summer employment situation has also finally been resolved, or so I hope. At first, I was assigned to TA introductory Plant Biology for non-majors, which sounded reasonably interesting. Not interesting enough to the undergraduate population, unfortunately; it was canceled due to low enrollment. I only found out at the last possible minute.

When I got up this morning and checked my e-mail, the department had come up with a scheme to pay me an hourly wage for the equivalent amount of work but for half the amount of money. Less than ideal. Later in the day, the department developed another scheme to transfer me into being a lecture TA for general Genetics. So that's what I'll be doing for two hours a day throughout June. It could be worse; I could stand to spend some time reviewing genetics concepts, and hey, I'll be earning enough of an income that I won't need to look for a second job.

For now, back to reading about R. ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
I spent an hour yesterday afternoon talking to a professor about the nitty-gritty of postdoctoral research. Somehow, I hadn't realized he'd been to so many different places. I'm reaching the point in my graduate career where I need to go past the stage of contemplating postdoctoral research and into the stage of assessing my options and lining up opportunities. This stage of one's academic career involves a lot of planning; I have to identify who I would want to work with, what projects I'd want to work on, what skills I want to acquire, and how I'll get money to do what I want to do. In the grand scheme of things, this is a tooling-up stage, where I'll be filling out my skills and qualifications in preparation for applying for faculty jobs. That's a completely different ball of wax. Plus, there's the component of how all of that affects my personal life, and how it meshes with my life's philosophies. Somehow, in the last month or two, I've started coming to terms with the fact that I'll eventually be leaving Arizona behind.

So that's one set of plans. There are also plans for wrapping up my dissertation research. I have one more major experiment to complete this summer. I just got my teaching assignment for the summer as well. I won't be teaching a class that I've taught before; I'll be teaching introductory Plant Biology. That could be cool, but it could also be a tremendous amount of work. Probably both.

Along with the research, I need to get geared up to write my entire dissertation. I'm partway finished with the data analysis for my first chapter, and will start working on my second chapter towards the end of the summer. Hopefully I'll be able to get underway with my third chapter next spring.

I'll also be traveling; I'll be heading to Copenhagen and surroundings for a conference in August, and to California for my brother's wedding in July. I think I'm going to declare that that will be it for summer travel, other than Arizona-based trips and probably a trip to Colorado for some friends' wedding. I just cannot afford more travel than that.

And so, it is time to buckle down and get to work.
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
Quick update: I've been working like a maniac on analyzing up some data for my poster presentation for the conference. Crazy times. I put in a 12-hour day at school yesterday and was pretty braindead by the time I rolled into bed. Woke up this morning because my brain was humming again and wouldn't let me sleep any longer. Fed the chickens, ate some breakfast, put together some lunch and dinner, and now I'm back at school, back to work.

Maybe if I'm lucky I will get this presentation into a form that I can show you. We shall see. In the very least, I may show you a cool diagram that I made. Heh.
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
Yesterday was a whirlwind. I spent a good portion of the afternoon at Trailhead Cafe with [ profile] scrottie, grading papers like a maniac, and prepping to teach today and next Monday. It took too long. Then I had a wonderful bike ride home, first along the Arizona Canal and then down the Crosscut Canal, right as the sun was going down. Once I got home, I cooked up a storm, making dinner for yesterday evening (cornbread and lentils, to go with some southern-style greens S cooked up Friday night) and this evening as well (roasted beet and lentil soup, plus Cafe Flora-style French Dip Sandwiches). It's my turn to host dinner for the Scrabble Society. Getting everything ready to go was fairly time-consuming, but I should be able to just heat things up and pop 'em in the oven after I get done teaching tonight. Then I should be off the hook for Monday dinners for a few weeks, whew.

After all that, I got back to work on preparations for the conference we're hosting this week. I still haven't finished writing my poster presentation, which needs to get printed, oh, by yesterday or so. I can tell I'm a little nervous because I had a terrible dream about the conference, where the first speaker went missing and the people who showed up wouldn't fit into the available space and ended up having to sit in an adjoining room. Then they fell to talking about all sorts of nonsense that had nothing to do with the conference. Most of my stage fright is because of our working groups, where us graduate students have to corral in a group of faculty and convince them that our paper topic is worth writing about.

Anyway. Back to work. Regardless of how the conference goes, I'll be relieved when it's over.

Dumb Fool

Jan. 13th, 2010 01:12 pm
rebeccmeister: (Default)
One of my fellow graduate students has an article taped up on the door to his/her office entitled "The importance of stupidity in scientific research," by Martin Schwartz. It was an essay published in the Journal of Cell Science in 2008 (volume 121, page 1771, just to ensure that all citation information is contained in this entry, even if I'm not including a separate References section), about the fact that science makes scientists feel stupid.*

Today, I am trying exceptionally hard to think about the Introduction for the Manuscript of Doom II: The Sequel. Trying to think is making me feel stupid, so I thought I'd take a break and write about what I know instead. As a reminder, this Manuscript is not part of my dissertation. The data to be included in this Manuscript are really interesting and novel, and by themselves, they tell a pretty good story. The challenge is the framework in which they are presented. I think we are stuck on figuring out how to use these data to help advance the field of social evolution. What I'm trying to imagine is, if a TeeVee News Crew stuck a camera in my face and asked me, "So, what have you done to advance science lately?", what would I say?

The joy and frustration of attempting to advance the field of social evolution is that it requires Great Thought. I've spent countless hours puzzling through the thoughts of other scientists who have attempted to study social evolution, so I think I have a pretty good idea of where they are coming from. The majority are devoting their time to defining and re-defining cooperation a thousand different ways. I have lessons to learn from the field of ecology, which has not really seen the emergence of any new Great Thoughts in quite some time (just a lot of spinning through a set of different trendy "approaches").

And I am armed with skepticism (is it actually possible to advance science, anyway, or is it all a political game?).

But ugh. I don't know where I'm going. At least it makes me grateful that the sphere of my dissertation research is not as all-encompassing. I wish, at times, I could work on something more concrete than this "social evolution" business. I don't want it to turn into the sort of pointless navelgazing that seems too prevalent in anthropological circles. But what's the point? I don't want to just say, "Here, have some interesting data and some patterns we discovered in some ant queens." There's more to it than that.

That's what I need to figure out.

*I feel like I may have written about this before, because it's reminding me of what [ profile] scrottie says his work is like - he is always on the lookout for "new" problems, because simply applying solutions to "old" problems is intellectually tedious. But the problem with "new" problems is that nobody has come up with any kind of strategy for solving them yet.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
This week, I am substitute-teaching for another graduate student who is out of town at a conference. That meant teaching last night, eating food, going home and going to sleep, getting up at 5:45, and then teaching the same thing all over again twice this morning to two groups of my own students. Now I am kind of tired and burned out.

There was too much material to cover, to the degree that a few students came up to me at the very end of lab and asked if I could go through a few procedures again because they were unable to focus as I explained things to the class. I'm glad they asked for clarification, though, and did my best to provide it.

I am having a lot of fun with the example I used to illustrate the hypothetico-deductive mode of reasoning this time around (also referred to as The Steps of The Scientific Method). I made the students try to come up with explanations for why great-tailed grackles hang out in the grass on campus. I'm really hoping that it gets them to wake up and pay attention to the biology that's happening all around them (I mean the non-human biology. They are quite well tuned-in to the human biology that's happening all around them.). I will know if I've succeeded if the students who show up early to lab next week start talking about noticing the grackles. The best is when they get so excited that they start looking stuff up for themselves.

I just have to teach one more time, on Friday. I hope that I can keep my explanations fresh enough, the fourth time through. It gets hard to keep things really dynamic when going through the material that many times, and the students bear the brunt of the expense.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Perhaps I am overcautious, but as a general rule of thumb, I try to be extremely careful when writing about sensitive school/work-related subjects on teh internets. After all, some day I will be looking for a different job, and I want to be able to look interviewers in the eye and clearly tell them that all of my internet-based activities are conducted in a professional manner.

But there are some potentially inflammatory subjects that I can't help but talk about because they're on my mind and I am hoping that talking about them will help me cope with them and move on with my life. The current subject relates to some specifics of my teaching responsibilities, but I am going to try and talk about the situation in as abstract of terms as I can.

The fundamental situation is this: what should a person do when they believe that there is a disconnection between stated learning goals and the mechanics of how a course is taught, and yet this person is not in a position to make decisions or changes related to this disconnection, or to even engage in dialogue about it?

I have a feeling that my friends who work in corporate environments will recognize this type of situation as a management problem, because of the involved communication issues (and personally I feel like I have tried and tried and tried and tried to communicate, to no avail...).

My personality type is such that I still feel compelled to correct the situation because my primary responsibility is to the students I teach. But time and resources are limited, and I am also charged to teach in such a way that my instructions parallel the instructions of the other teaching assistants for the course. Basically, I feel set up for failure.

I will get over this feeling, to some degree. I know that I tend to get really passionate about teaching, and that I am a really opinionated idealist (though I hope I still stop to listen!). I also agree strongly with a lot of the concepts/methods with which I have personally been indoctrinated, which may make me closed-minded about other ways of knowing (I am particularly scornful of purely factual knowledge, and tend to find more value in reasoning skills).

Altogether, I just feel like maybe I have outgrown my current teaching environment, but there isn't much I can do about it at the moment, other than to carry on and not get too invested in the situation.
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
Well. I think I'm officially exhausted. I had to wake up at 4:30 this morning to finish grading papers, and finished just in the nick of time to walk over to lab and in the door just at the appointed starting time. Hopefully my students will read and appreciate my feedback, for a change. Given their next assignment, I suspect they will. Every once and a while I get hints suggesting that they appreciate my instruction. Shocking.

Anyway, today's lab was two things at once: a refresher course in hypothetico-deductive reasoning, and a chance to run around on A Mountain and measure plant distributions. For part of the refresher course, I used one of my favorite applications of scientific reasoning, that goes as follows:

Once, while in Seattle, I visited Cupcake Royale, and experienced Cupcake Nirvana (aka the best and most delicious cupcake I've ever had). This observation (first step of scientific reasoning!) led me to ask a critically important causal question (second step of scientific reasoning!): WHY was that cupcake so delicious?

I had my classes come up with hypotheses (third step of scientific reasoning!) about why a cupcake might be extremely delicious. My first lab suggested that perhaps it had something to do with the presence of sprinkles, the amount of chocolate, or the love that went into making the cupcake batter. My second lab suggested that it might have something to do with how hungry I was, sprinkles, or the amount of crack in the cupcakes.

The next concept I wanted to discuss beyond hypothesis-development was experimental design (fourth step!), and specifically how to construct a 2x2 factorial design. What this means, in slightly plainer terms, is an experiment designed to test two of the outlined hypotheses at the same time. So in my first lab, we talked about how one would test the hypotheses "amount of lovin'" and "amount of sprinkles" (basically, create combinations (treatment groups )of: lots of lovin' and sprinkles, no lovin' and sprinkles, lovin' and no sprinkles, and no lovin' and no sprinkles). In my second lab, we discussed how one would test the hypotheses "amount of crack" and "amount of sprinkles," in an analogous fashion. From there, the remaining steps of the scientific method involve generating predictions, actually doing an experiment and collecting some results, and then comparing the results to the predictions to determine whether or not a hypothesis or hypotheses are supported. Alas, we did not put crack or lovin' into cupcakes. Oh well.

My favorite part of having these silly conversations is that they really allow my students to focus on the concepts instead of any fancy new biological vocabulary. The big point was to discuss experimental design and hypothetico-deductive reasoning, and by this point in the semester I think my students are finally getting it and understanding how it works. And that's a good thing, to paraphrase Martha Stewart.

So. On to the running all over A Mountain part. Our actual scientific enterprise consisted of measuring plant distributions all across the mountain. I had the usual assortment of students--some absolutely love the chance to go outside and look at real, living things, while others are uncomfortable with the idea of scrambling all over on loose rock, mostly due to inexperience (ahh, these labs are so CRUCIAL to do!). Meanwhile, my biggest job is to run up and down and back and forth to make sure that everyone is doing all right--not breaking any bones, and correctly identifying plants. Generally, it's an exhausting job, but it was made even more so by the fact that a student in another concurrent lab section suffered from severe dehydration and had to be escorted by her TA down to Student Health Services. So I was left to herd twice as many students as usual, effectively doubling my amount of running around. The good news was that nobody suffered any lasting harm. But by now, I'm tired from running around on top of being tired from not getting enough sleep (my own damn fault for not staying on top of my grading, really).

Whew. I also just typed all of this extremely quickly.
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
So, I need to rush off now to pick up vegetables and eat dinner before ceramics. Just this very moment, I'm finally getting back to a point with this manuscript I'm working on where I have some ideas for what to do next, and want to work away at things for a while.

Of course, I won't be able to do so until probably Saturday, unless I manage to squeeze in some time tomorrow morning before our Friday Ant Feeding Bonanza / Meeting Quagmire of Doom (i.e. my usual series of back-to-back Friday meetings).

Hopefully I'll be able to pick up where I'm leaving off. The data that I'm working with are REALLY interesting, largely because from what I can tell nobody's really developed a good way to look at this stuff.

[For the scientifically-minded in the audience who have been following this story since I entered graduate school so many years ago, I'm working on making sense of the growth of leafcutter ant colonies in terms of my measurements of standing fungus biomass and ant biomass. Basically, I'm trying to come up with a framework for thinking about how these two things are related to each other, and what they mean and tell us about growth processes more generally. (Long story short.) I'll let you read the paper when it's a fully developed manuscript instead of a loose collection of ideas floating around in my brain. This stage of idea development gets pretty messy and vague. It's like sausage-making--you'll appreciate the end product, but sometimes it's better to not know how it was created.]

Anyway. I need a Motivation Storage Device, so I can store this motivation until it is useful.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
I'm currently working on revising the Manuscript of Doom II: The Sequel. My advisor is headed off to Australia in about a week, and one of our near-term goals is to get this manuscript revised and sent off to the proper people before the spring semester starts. Since we're going to be on different continents, part of achieving this goal is getting all of the associated references organized and digitized. That way, we will both have copies of everything to work with, and won't be too bogged down by piles and piles of papers.

I started using the reference management software Zotero about a year ago, and so all of my references for this paper are entered in their own folder. I've spent the past couple of days making sure that I have .pdfs of every single article linked to the references. Now I'm back to revising the manuscript, and suddenly it's extremely simple to toggle between references, my reference list, and the manuscript I'm writing. Finding papers on relevant subjects is so simple with the aid of the search function in Zotero, and then I can open the papers up with two clicks of the mouse to scan through them and check to be sure I'm citing them properly. Altogether, this means that tasks that used to take the better part of 20 minutes now take 3 or 4 minutes. Awesome.
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
How does the hypothetico-deductive method of reasoning make you feel?

Note that I have linked to the scientific method Wikipedia page and not the hypothetico-deductive method page, because the latter is kind of crappy.
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
I'm at school, working on my proposal. I will go home as soon as I send it to my advisor.

And that is all.

It's nice and quiet here on the weekends, which doesn't prevent me from trolling the internets looking for procrastination material.


rebeccmeister: (Default)

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