Revenge of freaking out: A semester of teaching


So, it is kind of funny that I posted about how my freaking-out was nearly under control, and then never posted again.  Heh.  Anyway, after I wrote that post, I was instantly consumed by a battle with the hydra of my first big lecture class.  Having made it through the semester in passible form, I have to say that I’m not sure how you can actually prep for more than one new course at a time and survive (although I know that people do it and do it well).

Since the big course was the thing that prevented me from getting any blogging done this last semester, I thought I might provide you with some choice student actions that have been sucking up my time.  Below, I present some items that I dealt with other than the grind of preparing three lectures and one quiz or test every week:

  • A student calling me right before my very first lecture asking to get into the class (ze needed my permission).  Said student did not actually pass the class in the end, which was pretty annoying for both of us.
  • A student calling me right before the first exam, wanting to take it later due to a condition that they knew existed and did not inform me about previously.
  • A student claiming that ze had taken the online quiz, which ze had not, forcing me to track down their website activity and send them a screenshot of it to make them stop bugging me about it.
  • Students asking for points back on the first exam right before the final (clearly not in accordance with class policy, as listed in the dreaded syllabus, which no one reads).
  • A student telling me that ze actually has a very high IQ, but just didn’t have enough time to study for my class. Srsly.
  • And, finally, winning the clueless email award: “Was wondering what time the final is?” This was sent the night before the final at about 9pm.  The final had, of course been on the syllabus since the very first day of class.

This is only a sample of the hilarious and annoying situations that happened over the course of the semester.  Of course, only about 10% of the class did these annoying things, and by and large the students were actually surprisingly interested, respectful, and otherwise awesome.  I think I was pretty lucky, given that: 1) the class was over 100 students, 2) most of them didn’t actually want to take it (it’s required for the major), and 3) I was teaching it for the first time.

I am really glad that I won’t be teaching it for the first time ever again.

Freaking out update



My three faithful readers will remember a recent post in which I admitted that I was freaking out.  I am happy to report that I am nearly through with this super-freak-out time of the year, with the following results to date:

  • I’ve submitted my activity report for evaluation by the department/dean.  (I think I have, anyway – it’s “in the interdepartmental mail”, as they say.)
  • I allowed my SRO access to my NSF preproposal on Sunday night.  Of course, today was a holiday, so I don’t think they did anything with it, but it’s officially something I’m not going to mess with any more.  w00t!
  • My fabulous colleague and I hosted our first session at the socially awkward conference I mentioned last week. How did it go, you ask? Why, standing room only. Yes, we do rock.
  • I am making progress on the mechanics of my giant Genetics course.  Now I just have to madly work on content for the rest of the semester.  Heh.  That will never end.

So, things are getting better here.  However, I have made a sacrifice in the form of my ass. Really, I have hardly run 10 miles since Christmas, and I haven’t gone to the gym at all.  I am going to be so sore when I start yoga and weights again next week.  Also, I seem to be dealing with this stress by purchasing awesome shoes.  Dr. Isis, I hope you approve:


b.o.c Women’s Cayden Boot – in black


Fergalicious Alanis Too Flat – in grey (although it’s also partially purple)

So, I hope you  are all recovering from holiday/preproposal/semester beginnings.  If you’re having trouble, some awesome shoes might help.

Socially Awkward Conference

I am currently attending a conference which is simultaneously one of my favorite and one of the most socially awkward conferences I go to on a regular basis.  The conference is big (over 2,000 people) and diverse enough that I probably only know about 100 of those people (maybe – this is kind of hard to estimate).  So I feel like I spend a lot of time standing around awkwardly at coffee breaks and I tend to only see the people I actually know when I’m in the middle of session or running to the bathroom.  I usually eventually get to catch up with everyone I know, and it’s always fun when I do. However, I do sometimes feel like I’m back in high school, especially when I see someone who is famous (in science) and I’m too shy to talk to them.

Anyway, beyond the social aspects of this conference, it’s both scientifically inspiring and demoralizing at the same time.  The meeting is full of people with lots of funding who have great ideas and are on the cutting edge of their fields.  This can be awesome to see, but also makes me feel like the projects that I’m working on are insignificant.  I think everyone who isn’t at the top of their field feels like this once and a while, so I try not to let it get me down too much, but it’s difficult.  I need to learn how to deal with it, though – I don’t think the situation is going to change very much in the near future.  Seeing the awesome stuff is totally worth it, though.



Interview advice for the interviewer

As noted in my previous post, it is interview season in academia.  There is a metric shit-ton of advice out there for candidates.  It ranges from helpful (Women: have a non-angry answer to the “What does your husband do?” question, even though it will make you angry.) to obvious (Practice your job talk beforehand!) to ‘come over here so I can hit you on the head because that is so stupid’ (Don’t get drunk during your dinner with the chair!).

However, I feel that we are lacking in terms of advice for the people giving the interview.  Now, I’ll admit I haven’t been through many searches from ‘the other side’ yet, but I think there are some basic ground rules that some departments need to wake up to.  Here they are (in no particular order):

  • Know the name of the candidate you are introducing right before their job talk.  It’s pretty insulting and demoralizing to hear your name badly mangled when it’s right up there on the slide.  (Some mispronunciation is fine – happens to me constantly.  I’m talking about really having no idea what the name is supposed to be.)
  • Your candidates are probably coming from and/or going to small college towns.  Do not ask them to arrive at “around noon” and fail to offer a hotel room for the night before their arrival.  They will either have to pay for that night themselves or get up at 3am for the interview or both (I did that once).
  • There is really no need (at all) to make the candidate meet you for breakfast at 7:30am.  If you really need to fit a bunch of meetings in during the day, make them 20 minutes long.  You won’t notice a differences except for the lack of awkward pauses.
  • Give the candidate a close to final schedule 3-4 days before their interview so that they can prepare.  Yes, everyone is busy, but people need to commit to talking to their future colleague.  (Note to candidates: If your schedule has a lot of empty slots, this may indicate a problem department.)
  • Finally, and these are so obvious that I SHOULDN’T have to write them down (and the people who would say them are probably not reading blogs written by young female professors) – do not: 1) ask about the candidates marital status, 2) make fun of their dietary preferences, or 3) make a comment about how things are easier with the administration if you are a white male.

Did I miss anything?

New Year 2013


So, I was checking a blog that I read frequently, and the author was talking about New Year’s resolutions.  She has a good point in her post (that you might want to consider a resolution that has a benefit to others) but I disagree with the fact that she refers to goals like “lose weight” and “exercise more” as “depressingly self-serving”.  I would agree that these are  goals that are made very frequently and seldom fulfilled, but I would hardly call them depressing.  If you want to exercise more or lose weight (provided you are not going below a healthy weight), you’ll probably feel pretty good about it and have a good year if you succeed.

Anyhow, this made me think about my New Year’s resolutions for 2013.  I admit that I haven’t made resolutions for many years, because I’ve never been good at sticking with them.  But last year I read about an idea to make general goals instead of specific resolutions – things like “run more” or “eat out less”.  It’s weird – I know that these sound so general that they would be useless, but for some reason they worked for me.  I guess that might be because I really felt I could succeed at them.  I don’t have to run 500 miles, I just need to run more than last year.  And I can probably do that.  Last year my resolutions were:

  • More weights (I wanted to do strength training along with running.)
  • Less fat (Just a little less – some of my pants didn’t fit anymore. Now they do.)
  • Better smile (This sounds corny, but it was really about taking care of my teeth.  I have developed a mild phobia of the dentist and hadn’t been taking care of things.)

I did pretty well at all three of these goals, including getting about 12 fillings at the dentist (I’m not exaggerating – it took three separate trips).  So, this year I think I’ll try the same tactic.  My goals for 2013 are:

  • Better smile (Still need some work to establish a good habit, and I have to find a new dentist since I moved.)
  • Less $ (We bought a house when we moved to new town, and I’ve gone a little crazy spending on household stuff beyond what is necessary.)
  • Letter per month (I used to write a lot of letters, but now I don’t.  I miss it.  I’m okay if these are just postcards – anything is better than my current lack of writing.)

We’ll see how I do with these goals – this is going to be a more challenging year than 2012 in many ways.  It’s okay if I fail at some of them, but I think it’s worth a try.  You’ll note that I don’t have any professional goals in that list.  I don’t think I’ve ever made any work-related goals – I’ve always been so focused when it came to my education/research/teaching that I don’t need an extra reminder to make progress in those areas.  It’s the personal stuff that I let slide if I don’t have a reason to think about it.  Anyway, I hope 2013 is a good one for you, whether you have resolutions or not.

*Edit: After thinking about my goals a bit more, “One letter per month” seems doomed to failure.  I think I’m going to go with “More letters” – I can hardly write fewer of them, so I think I’ll be successful with the new wording.

I am freaking out! I’m freaking out!



Srsly, you guys, I feel like I’m in the funniest situation all the time right now.  Basically, as the semester ends (this is finals week), everyone around me is getting a feeling of things winding down and finishing up.  I, on the other hand, am having a feeling of complete panic because I have about a zillion things that all need to be finished by about January 23rd.  Okay, not a zillion things, but three really big things that can be broken down into a zillion normal things.  These things include: an NSF preproposal, getting ready for my Genetics lecture course, putting together my first report for evaluation by the department/dean.  Add to that the various ins-and-outs of holiday travel combined with a week-long conference during the break, and I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.

The funny thing is that everyone keeps asking me how my first semester has gone, and it’s actually gone really well (I think) in that people have been very friendly and supportive.  So that’s what I say, but what I really feel like saying is “I’m freaking out!”

I know it’s really okay, and these feelings are just part of starting a stressful new job.  I’ve actually starting telling some of my colleagues, and I’ve gotten very reassuring responses along the lines of “I know! I haven’t started my preproposal either!”  This makes me feel better, and it’s a good demonstration of the fact that even though it seems like other people have everything under control, they really don’t.  We all try to look like we know what we’re doing, and while I’m sure that some people really do, I am always kind of relieved to know that a lot of people get behind, or feel intimidated, or just fake it sometimes.  Like me.

So, if you’re feeling stressed right now as well, I offer one of my best tools for serenity: calming manatees.  Now, back to work!

The annoying coworker is me!

Annoying coworkers: we all have them.  I just want to be clear – I am not talking about being an annoying person in general.  Just about the things that people can do in an office/lab/shared space setting that are really fucking annoying, even though the people themselves are awesome.  Examples include:

  1. Whistling while walking down the hallway (here’s a rule of thumb: if it’s not appropriate to sing in the hallway, it’s not appropriate to whistle)
  2. Loud talking right outside someone’s office
  3. Playing music or talk shows sans headphones
  4. Random comments on the social habits of others (“Hey! Why didn’t you go to the pancake breakfast this morning?”)
  5. Inability to stop talking after a purely social “How are you?”

The list goes on. Indeed, I’m sure that it could be much, much longer.  Many of these annoying habits I’ve listed relate to noise.  Oddly, that’s because I work in a very quite building right now, so these noises stick out a lot more and are more distracting.  I used to work in an open lab with a minimum of seven other people and all the associated lab equipment (our desks were in there, too), so chatter in the background wasn’t really that noticeable.

Now, the items above could be avoided if people were aware of them (probably), but there are also inadvertent annoyances that can’t really be blamed on anyone.  Examples include:

  1. The loud sneezer (like a scream-level)
  2. The constant throat-clearer (assuming that this is due to allergies or something similar, not just a personal habit)
  3. The squeaky shoe or clicking shoe (<- this is totally me)
  4. The piercing laugh (<- also totally me)
  5. Using a really loud mouse/keyboard/printer in a shared office

Now, as annoying as these conscious and unconscious habits can be, the worst thing about them is when I realize that I’m committing them.  I once actually apologized to my lab group because I was wearing the squeakiest orthotics know to humans.  Those things were loud and I couldn’t stop them from squeaking no matter what I did.  (Incidentally, I really did need to wear these to recover from a painful running injury.)  I think that I recognize these annoying things on an occasional basis and try to stop them, but I know I have annoying habits all the same.

Do you think you have an annoying work-place habit?  Do you try to stop them or just go with it as your contribution to office annoyance levels?

This just in: d00d discovers it sucks to be judged on your looks

Okay, this isn’t really just in, but it’s new to me (h/t to Feministe).  Apparently Richard Cohen of the Washington Post watched the most recent James Bond movie, and now feels sad that he won’t get hot, young chicks if he doesn’t have a six pack.  Based on Cohen’s view of the world, movies (and maybe life?) in the good old days represented a “sexual meritocracy” (yes, he really does say that), where smart older men could reliably count on getting younger, beautiful women in bed with an insult and a wink.  Okay, I made that last part up myself, but has anyone actually watched these movies?  Cohen gushes over Cary Grant in “North by Northwest”, but what about “Philadelphia Story”, where the movie begins with Grant shoving Katharine Hepburn down by smashing his hand into her face?  She’s back in love with him by the end of the movie, of course – domestic violence is just part of the artful courtship process!

You should definitely read the column – it’s pretty short, and really full of self-satisfied comic gems like “Every rippling muscle is a book not read, a movie not seen or a conversation not held.”  Lord knows what Cohen thinks of the ladiez, who not only have to exercise to maintain an unrealistic standard of weight and muscle mass, but also do the billions of other things they are supposed to do to stay pretty enough to draw his eye.

Really, though, the whole thing could have been slightly redeemed if Cohen had made any effort, at all, to relate this inkling of feeling to what women experience every day for their whole f-ing lives.  Feel inadequate physically, Mr. Cohen?  Welcome to the other 50% of the world.

Newbie: I said “no”

One of the things that I’ve heard over and over in terms of advice for new faculty, especially women faculty, is that we need to say “no” so that we don’t get sucked into too many service commitments.  I’ve always thought I would be pretty good at saying no, but it turns out that I’m actually just good at not volunteering for something.  When someone asks me directly to do something, it’s really hard for me to say no.  sigh.  This is going to be a struggle for me.

I did get a chance to practice saying no in a relatively low-stakes situation recently.  Here’s the deal: apparently we have a holiday party in our department every year.  There is no alcohol at this holiday party, because we’re on a university campus, and it is a potluck from 4pm-6pm on a Friday (am I supposed to eat dinner at 4pm?).  I’m pretty much not excited about this “party” at all.

Anyway, despite the fact that this event happens every year, it is somehow different this year (I have no idea how), so there is apparently no institutional memory about how to set it up.  The department admin assistant recently sent out an email specifying the time and date of the party, and asking for help. I replied that I would be happy to help with setup or cleanup, thinking that I was willing to pitch in on a well-defined task on a single afternoon.  A few days after that, I got an email asking me, Shaggy (who had also volunteered for setup or cleanup), and one other faculty member to attend an “organizational” meeting to plan the party.  To which I replied “WTF”? (Only I didn’t really reply that way, of course.)

This was doubly hilarious: not only did I volunteer for a discrete task and get assigned to a much larger one, but it turned out the majority of the existing faculty hadn’t replied to the admin’s request for help at all – my Newbie status definitely hurt me there.  I was able to say I couldn’t attend the meeting because I had class during that time period, but the admin steadfastly asked if we could meet at another time to accommodate my schedule. I finally had to write back with an awkward email stating that I couldn’t commit to planning the holiday party.  It was surprisingly difficult, despite the fact that it was clearly not an important request or a worthwhile service activity for me.  Yikes.  It’s going to be way harder if these requests come from the Dean or the department Head.

Random thoughts from Tofurkey Day


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What, you don’t call it Tofurkey Day?  You don’t even eat Tofurkey?  How sad!  You should really try it someday.  Or you should just try Thanksgiving without the turkey.  My impression is that most people look forward to the side-dishes more, anyway, followed by pie.  Shaggy and I had a great Thanksgiving with our friends from Gradtown, where I did my PhD.  We’ll call them The Officiators, since they married Shaggy and I around five years ago now.  We’ve been spending every Thanksgiving with them for several years now, although we can’t really remember exactly how long.

Random thought 1: We rocked the food this year.  Tofurkey with stuffing, candied sweet potatoes, veggie gravy, Brussels’s sprouts, mashed potatoes, rolls, cranberry pear sauce, and pumpkin pie.  I finally made a good pumpkin pie filling by following the Libby’s recipe rather than some fancy recipe from William’s-Sonoma (thanks for the tip, Mom!).  Heh.

Random thought 2: During one of our meals together, it came up that the age of 34 has been the turning point for at least two women who thought they weren’t interested in having kids suddenly becoming interested in having kids.  Turns out that my 34th birthday is in the spring, so I am fascinated to see if the same thing happens to me (although, I’ll just say right now that I doubt it).  If only there were some scientific way to measure this other than me just self-reporting my emotions about it.  We’ll see what happens – I’m just putting you all on notice.  Hopefully I’ll remember I talked about it after my birthday.

Random thought 3: I know everyone has written about this approximately 1.2 million times before, but it’s hard to go back to work after a break.  Even if you like your job.  (If you don’t feel this way, I don’t want to hear about it – you’re like one of those frugality bloggers who hates shopping.  We have nothing in common on this one.)

How was your Tofurkey/Turkey/Thanksgiving Day?