Friday, June 29, 2007

An embarrassment of riches

Ever feel as if you're emitting some kind of pheromone that attracts job offers?

In the second half of this workweek:

Wednesday midday: As previously mentioned, I was offered the opportunity to teach a museum history and theory course--the exact course I've been wanting to teach for, like, forever. And I hadn't even applied for such a job--I was contacted out of the blue.

Wednesday evening: Fabulous University Press asked for information on what revisions I might make to my dissertation to turn it into a book. Maybe they're actually interested in publishing it?

Today, 1 p.m.: Fantastic Mentor alerted me to a job for which she'll soon be hiring. It sounds wonderful, part administration of a humanities research institute and part teaching material culture, and she was ready to hire me on the spot, except for that pesky university bureaucracy. And I'd get to work with Fantastic Mentor, which is beyond awesome.

Today, 1:30 p.m.: Got offered the job at the Teaching Resources Center. There are two identical positions open, and the other one has been given to one of my new best friends. The other people who work in the center are absolutely amazing. I've accepted this job on the advice of Fantastic Mentor, who jokingly called me a "loser" for not waiting for her job opening.

(I heart Fantastic Mentor. She also offered to go to Ikea with me. I've never been to Ikea, and she's threatening to write her third book about the store, so I'd love to go there with her and see it through her eyes. Plus, as she points out: free childcare.)

Seriously, it's ridiculous how fortunate I am. I wish I could bottle my good fortune and send it to people who really need it.

Self-help books?

Do you buy self-help books of any kind? Occasionally I go on a self-improvement binge that includes buying books on money management, careers, and parenting. Tonight I bought a couple of careers books, Marci Alboher's One Person/Multiple Careers (because I enjoy her blog) and Timothy Ferriss's The 4-Hour Workweek because lots of bloggers I read have raved about it.

What self-help books have you read lately that you found interesting? Any you'd recommend to a toddler-mothering, blog-addicted, procrastinating, chronically career-switching thirtysomething humanities Ph.D. with debt up to her eyeballs?

Eight thingies about me

I've been tagged for this meme by JustMe.

  • I have to post these rules before I give you the facts.
  • Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  • People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
  • At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
  • Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Random things

1. I am a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad singer. Still, I like to sing. Poor Mr. Trillwing!

2. I think I'm going to accept the invitation to teach a museum studies course at Small University Down the Road. It's actually a course in a museum studies certificate program I wanted to complete while ABD, but I didn't have the funds or time. And now I've been recruited (through one of my blogs, no less!) to teach for the program. I'm tickled.

3. In my first and second years of college, I attended three colleges in three states (Virginia, Iowa, California) in three semesters. It drove my parents crazy.

3b. The college in Iowa was fabulous. Although I'm still paying for it, it was worth every penny.

4. On the wall in front of me, there is a framed watercolor print of the Field Museum's T. rex "Sue." On our mantel is a tall figurine of a young Captain Kirk wielding some kind of ray gun. Guess who picked out each artifact? (Actually, Captain Kirk was my wedding gift to Mr. Trillwing.)

5. In the room where I'm sitting, there are 38 plastic or resin horses on the shelves. I'm more than a little bit embarrassed by this fact.

6. I have a betta fish named Bill, short for "Liability II." He blows bubbles, which I'm told indicates he is A Happy Fish.

7. When we picked up The (original) Liability from his weekend stay at The Wag Hotel, his report card said he is an "Awesome dog!" and we were informed by the handler that he is "a Lovebug Face." We're still trying to figure out what that means. We're just happy he came home without any seeping wounds, which is the usual case when we kennel him anywhere less expensive.

7b. We spend waaaaay too much money each month on the dog. Like $400 on average for vet care. We're crazy about him and he enjoys a very high quality of life (especially considering he's 14 years old), but now you see why we call him The Liability.

7c. You might be a middle-class American if. . . see #7b.

8. I keep a Costco-sized bag of semisweet chocolate chips in the fridge and eat them by the handful. Also good: melting said chocolate chips and dipping fresh strawberries in them. This treatment improves even those inferior strawberries that are the bane of my existence.

8b. You might be overweight if. . . see #8.

Tag--you're it. Yes, you!

Women science bloggers could use a little cheering up--and some thoughts on the science "pipeline"

(cross-posted at BlogHer)

In the system of academic science, students are channeled through what many deem the "science pipeline." It's common for women to "leak" out of this pipeline for a number of reasons: academic fatigue, sexism in the classroom and lab, and family responsibilities, for example.

The science pipeline has been in my thoughts recently as I've followed along the journey with several women scientists who blog.

Yami of Green Gabbro declares herself to be leaked. She's decided to write a Master's thesis instead of a doctoral dissertation. Why? She doesn't seem sure:
I don’t feel I have experienced any visible sexism*, but it has not escaped my notice that in my department, more women than men seem to have trouble with their qualifying exams (this is based on numbers I’ve gathered by talking to older grad students; it is not a statistically significant difference). My suspicion is that this is largely mediated by self-confidence, which is gendered both in terms of who has it and in terms of how it is perceived by others. I started grad school with a great deal of self-confidence, and though I retain the core belief that I am the raw material of a very good scientist (among other things), I’m not quite sure what happened to the rest of it.

I can’t point to a villain. Perhaps I should be pointing to a hero/ine for giving me the courage to leave a situation that isn’t right for me, but I can’t do that either. Regardless, even though I’ll never have more than statistical fuzz and a hunch to back this up, I don’t think I would be leaving if I were a man.

Am I a Woman Scientist? rethinks her desire to be in academia:
Seeing the crappy situation for women academics here (god, and we had another week of controversy regarding a temporary lecturer hire... 1 man and 6 women applied for the job, and guess who got it? Yeah...), and hearing about things not being that much better back in the States, I am rethinking my desire to be in academia. It seems that I want to focus on my research more than I want to bash my head against the academic system, trying to force my way in and stay in (i.e., tenure). In a way, it feels like I've failed... I've argued so long and so hard for more equal representation of women in academia, and here I am seriously considering goverment versus industry in my job search.

She's Such a Geek comments on the recent announcement that there were once again no women among the National Medal of Science recipients. Lots of comments on the controversy may be found at this post at Thus Spake Zuska.

Absinthe writes about the retention of women in American physics. Her conclusion?
Over 95% of physics BSc's are awarded to US citizens. But only around 50% of physics PhD's are awarded to US citizens. When we run a simulation that predicts how many US females should be getting PhD's and compare it to the actual number of US female citizens getting PhD's, we find that American females are under-represented at the doctoral level by between 25% to 30% below the expected relative fraction per year.

To summarize, the only reason the physics pipeline for females in America appears not to leak is because foreign women are entering the pipeline at the doctoral level.

While we're talking pipeline, may I just say how problematic I find that metaphor? On the one hand, it's true: women do leave academic science at relatively predictable intervals. And, much as drops of escaped water are unlikely to flow back into a pipeline, it is difficult to reenter the field once you've been out of the research loop for a few years. But thinking of the scientific professions as a leaky pipeline refuses to admit the possibility that women can and do return to science after a hiatus, or move to other disciplines.

Let's refuse to be leaks. Let's think instead about the scientific research community as a web in which women can reinforce one another's positions through some solid networking and the sticky connections of mutual support. It's much harder to fall out of a web than it is to leak out of a pipeline.

Please share some good women-in-science news in the comments.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


Congratulations to my sister and her new husband, Mr. Sister. The wedding took place this past Monday in a glass chapel on a rocky cliff overlooking the ocean. It was lovely. . .and guess who were the official photographers? Here are a few of my favorites.

The bride, just before the ceremony. Nervous? Hardly:

Bride and groom:

Mr. Trillwing and Lucas:

My parents:

Lucas and me:

I'm sorry you can't see my shoes in this photo. They were ridiculously cute and painful. . . you know, the kind every photographer should wear when she's going to be on her feet for hours at a time.

Latest artwork

. . .by Lucas, age 21.5 months.

If you don't see a dinosaur on wheels, you're clearly blind. The boy is brilliant, I tell you. Brilliant!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Not your typical toddler

Have I mentioned Lucas is not a typical toddler? I mean, he has meltdowns occasionally, but they pass very quickly, particularly if there's a sippy cup of milk nearby. I see other toddlers throwing these monster tantrums out in public and I just turn to Luke and say, "Don't get any ideas, Little Man." And so far he hasn't.

This afternoon we went to a potluck at the park with some other kids born in August and September 2005. While the other kids ran around like, well, toddlers at the park, Lucas was tracing patterns in a thin layer of sand on a slab of concrete. It was like his own little Zen garden. And then we put him on one of those metal carousel thingies that you don't see at parks too much anymore but that were all over the place when I was a kid in the late 70s and early 80s. The other toddlers were stomping and shrieking and falling to the floor, but Lucas took the role of ethnographer, sort of participating in the ride, but more observing than participating, standing quietly without really standing apart from all the rest.

Of course, such behavior is a wee bit worrisome. Are we not socializing him enough?

So tonight I took it upon myself to teach him how to jump out at people and say "Boo!" Because, like spinning around until you get dizzy and fall to the ground, it's one of those essential life skills.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Learning innovations: trails and badges

As many of you know, I'm an academic technologist. And while much of my time is spent documenting and assisting faculty with Sakai, our university's open-source course management system of choice,* I do find quite a bit of time to ruminate on other uses of technology in university coursework.

Many hours reading Barbara Ganley's blog, plus listening to Ganley and Barbara Sawhill at a couple of conferences, as well as my own experiences as a teacher have led me to conclude that the best possible learning is student-centered. That is: instead of just giving students an assignment that they must complete using technology (e.g. turning in a paper or taking a quiz online or setting up a wiki withtoo much structure already built into it), we need to offer students the opportunity to actually create something new and of actual interest to them--and to encourage them to use those technologies they find most useful and relevant. If that's a blog, great. If it's a film strip, so be it.

Some folks argue that college graduates should emerge from their years of schooling with not only a subject-specific degree, but also the ability to use such programs as Microsoft PowerPoint, Word, and Excel. The reality is the specific software students learn is less important than the process of learning to use a new tool--and learning to use it well. For example, just about anyone can set up a blog. But how many people can produce a blog that's interesting, thought-provoking, relevant, on-topic, and popular? And yet being able to voice one's ideas to a potentially broad audience, and to accept criticism of those ideas and to engage in discussion about them, is essential to success in so many fields of endeavor.

I think we need to spend less time instilling our students with technological literacy and instead focus on imbuing them with a sense of curiosity about the world around them and about the tools they might use to explore new areas of interest and share their thoughts on these interests.

How best to effect such a transformation?

Thanks to the Museums and the Web conference website, I was recently introduced to the concept of personalized learning trails. These are not necessarily physical trails as one might find, say, in an arboretum (though an arboretum would be an excellent place to apply the concept), but rather the paths (cognitive and otherwise) students take while researching a topic or a place. (There's a helpful diagram of the concept here.)

While faculty certainly could set up a trail for students to follow, I find such an approach stultifying as it suggests there's only one path to knowledge. I want instead for students to feel they are avid participants in the creation of knowledge. So next time I teach, I may send students out on projects that require them to keep track of their research and learning trails and to construct a collection of digital objects (existing websites or podcasts; original photos, video, or audio; interviews; bibliography; etc.) that others might use to learn more about a subject. In such a case, students are not only required to think about (a) how they found their resources, (b) which are the most useful to them, (c) which resources might be interesting and useful to other students even if they found them less relevant to their own projects, but also how to best represent this trail (or rather possible points on a trail) to others. Students would not only create traces of their trails but also create new digital objects to include on, and thereby extend, the trail.

In addition to asking students to seriously consider their sources and the process of knowledge creation, this project teaches some pretty serious skills that are transferable to the job market, including project management and digital media creation.

The next time I teach a course, I may use the trail metaphor and project, but I've also been flirting with the idae of a course "badge book" similar to the one developed by the Girl Scouts. To earn a badge, Scouts locate a badge on a topic that interests them (e.g. hiking, ceramics, or--yes--even oil). Each badge offers ten relevant activities, and the Scout must complete and document six of these. When I was a Scout, there were particular activities that were mandatory for each badge, and the remaining required number could be satisfied through a combination of elective activities.

While such a project certainly requires considerably more preparation for me before the course starts, I envision a course divided into three units, each of which requires students to complete a "badge" (although I probably wouldn't use that term). Each unit would offer students 7-10 possible activities, with several smaller activities that culminate in the mandatory activity or final unit project. I would either specify that students need to complete x number of activities in each unit or y number of points for each unit, with activities assigned points based on their perceived difficulty and time commitment. So, for example, a student who needed to earn 30 points might choose to do three simpler activities worth 5 points each plus the final unit project for 15 points, or one 5-point activity, one 10-point activity, and the final 15-point project.

Such an approach:
  • allows for students to explore areas of interest to them
  • gives me opportunities to check on student progress through the smaller activities before the larger project is due--and requires students to pace themselves throughout the unit
  • reduces the perception of risk inherent in learning new subjects and skills. Students might be not be stressed about contributing 5 points of effort to a class wiki because there's not too much risk to their grade if they goof up on the technology or form, while a 25-point collaboratively authored, group essay to be posted on a wiki might seem pretty damn intimidating to some students.

Anyway, these are just my first thoughts. I'd love to hear your ideas--including cautionary tales from similar projects you may have undertaken--in the comments.

* If you find yourself at a college or university that pushes a single course management solution, you really should read Mike Caulfield's excellent post "Enterprise Learning Systems Considered Harmful to Learning."

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Wish me luck

Job interview today at the Teaching Resources Center. They let me know about it yesterday, offering me and the other candidates a selection of interview times. Then they promised to confirm those times. . .today. Maybe their last-minuteness will turn off the other candidates? Let's hope! :D

My interview is right after lunch, which means I'll probably spill something on myself at 12:45. Please keep your fingers crossed for me on both the good-interview and not-spilling-the-ranch-dressing-down-my-shirt fronts.

(The good news is I usually interview well, ranch dressing or no.)

All right--I'm off to work to try to look inconspicuous in my interview clothes. . .

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Things that pissed me off yesterday, from least to most:

1. The two SUVs parked on either side of my car when I emerged from the mall yesterday. Hey a**holes--the spaces are marked "compact" for a reason. I could barely get Luke, let alone my fat ass, in the car.

2. The fact that the only bra at Nordstrom's that will work with the dress I bought for my sister's wedding cost almost as much as the dress itself, and apparently needs more special care than, say, your average pet turtle. Seriously.

3. That my rib cage may have expanded while I was pregnant. Dresses in my usual size--size 12--will fit nicely around my "problem area" (my stomach) but then won't zip up the last 2-4 inches over my ribs. WTF? I did manage to find one zip-up dress in a size 14 that fit around my ribs, which is miraculous, as I totally thought I'd have to go to size 18 to get dresses that fit my ribs, and then they'd be a friggin' tent on the rest of me. (BTW, Ann Taylor is packed--PACKED--right now with dresses that, had they accommodated my freakish skeletal structure, would have looked absolutely darling on me.)

4. That anti-immigrationimmigrant rally on that major street in Sacramento, right across from the mall. I thought it was a run-of-the-mill anti-immigration rally until I saw the web address on the signs. Fucking white supremacists. Had I not had Luke in the car with me, I would have pulled over to give them a piece of my (very white, as in "lividly white-hot") mind. And the sign that said "Patriotism is not Racism"? You got that phrase backward, you fireplacing idiots.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

All around, a good week

Good things that happened this week, in no particular order:

- remarkably few meetings, and meetings are usually the plague of my existence

- e-mail from the chair of a program I admire at Small University Down the Road a Bit. She said she's been reading my blogs and would like to talk to me about teaching grad courses. Yes, blogging is finally paying off professionally.

- e-mail from Terrific University Press to which I had sent an outline and sample chapter from my dissertation. They are "very interested" in seeing the entire manuscript. I dropped it in the mail today--let's hope that was $12.25 in well-spent postage.

- comment from Fantastic Mentor that I'm welcome to teach "anytime" in the American Studies department. Yes, the pay is not phenomenal, but it's nice to know I'm missed. She specifically offered me the opportunity to teach a course I already have in the can. And it would have two TAs, so I wouldn't have to grade papers, which is pretty much what chased me out of teaching.

- news today that I'm one of four people to be interviewed next week for two open positions in the teaching resources center at my university. I've been collaborating with the people there for many months, and I absolutely adore them and the work they do. I like my current job (most of the time), but I'd LOVE this job--and it's fun that I've pretty much been able to test drive it through these collaborations.

- A coworker and friend invited me onto his radio show yesterday afternoon to help interview one of my favorite authors, Margaret Atwood. I only asked one question, but what a fabulous opportunity. (Thanks, Andy!)

Monday, June 11, 2007

I am glad that. . .

. . .Big Love is back for another season. I heart HBO (and I love that the DirecTV package that includes HBO is just over half the price of a comparable HBO-inclusive package we used to purchase from Comcast cable).

Other U.S. shows worth watching on DVD, if you haven't already seen them:
  • Weeds
  • Lost
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Freaks and Geeks
  • Undeclared
  • Monk
Seriously. Go Netflix 'em now. Especially Weeds and Lost--and if you haven't seen the first season, definitely check out Big Love.

Things that are cracking me up because work is slooooow

So I'm filling out my annual self-evaluation for work. The key component is the Summary of Accomplishments. I'm not sure exactly how much to report, so I checked out the sample summary available from Human Resources. I'm thinking an underemployed history or English major wrote it. Here it is in its entirety. (I'm particularly fond of the response to "EEO/AA Opportunities.")
It's once again time to reflect on my past year's accomplishments. This is my fifth year as a member of the Merry Band.

Stealing from the Rich: As you know, 50% of my position is devoted to this job function. I'm pleased to report that I was able to increase highway robberies by 29% (five more than last year's record of 17). I also developed a one-time plan to tell the wicked Earl John that the Sheriff of Nottingham intended to keep King Richard's ransom. My plan was carried out last November, resulting in a loss to the Sheriff of 10,000 pieces of gold. We also planned to begin conducting train robberies in February 1001, but when we met in March, we decided to defer this plan pending the invention of the steam locomotive.

Giving to the Poor: In the other 50% of my position, I made need-based grants to 47 individuals whom we encountered on the road through Sherwood Forest (my assigned area). However, while filling in for Friar Tuck (who was on sabbatical at the Cordon Bleu), I also gave purses of silver to 4 millwrights and 3 cordwainers within his area.

Established Goals: Our Merry Band set a goal of enrolling four stout yeopersons by the end of fiscal 1000-1001. I'm happy to report that I was the one who spotted George o' the Green and Dame Softly looking for work at the Scarborough Fair and as a result of the negotiations with our Personnel Committee, they will probably join our band in July.

Future Goals: I believe that I could be more effective at Giving to the Poor if I could begin working an alternate work schedule, so as to catch the early morning and suppertime passers-by on the Sherwood Forest Road. If we are able to agree on an alternate work schedule, I believe I can increase my need-based grants by 10% during FY 1001-1002.

Training and Development: I am interested in increasing my technology skills and would like to attend "English Longbow for Fun and Profit." I will need the first three Fridays of December 1001 to attend the classes, and one hour per day during these weeks to practice on the Archery Field.

EEO/AA Opportunities: I do not have supervisory responsibilities, but in our campfire discussions I have spoken often about a nation that is neither Saxon nor Norman, but English.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Book recommendations?

I'm looking for some good summer reading: novels, really fabulous short story collections, exceptional nonfiction.

My tastes run toward the literary and U.S., although recently I've been reading outside American borders: Ian McEwan's Saturday (liked it OK) and The Raw Shark Texts (not so much). I'm 50 pages into Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello and I'm enjoying it thus far, though not page-turningly so. Next up: Water for Elephants and possibly Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Fave authors have included Margaret Atwood, Louise Erdrich, Virginia Woolf, E. L. Doctorow, Leslie Marmon Silko, Ruth Ozeki, Guy Vanderhaeghe, and Isabel Allende. I'm not a big fan of chick lit, detective novels, or fantasy, though I will read exceptional sci-fi.

I'm especially open to authors with roots in the Middle East and Africa. I've enjoyed pretty much everything I've read that was published by Middle Eastern authors in the past decade, and I'm hungry for more. I need to expand my literary horizons!

Any recommendations?

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Happy birthday

. . .to me.

For those of you keeping count, this is #32.

More thoughts on this later.