Monday, July 30, 2007

My first time...

The end of July. It is less than three weeks for my very first semester at my new tenure track job. I have settled into my office and I am deep in preparations for my classes. Before arriving here, I was asking the question how to best play the game of departmental politics. The options are to take sides or to remain neutral. I have decided to not play any games and just to be myself, and take the side of the colleague in a departmental fight whose cause I believe to be the most rational.
Another issue that I have been facing the last couple of weeks is that my new colleagues have already found many house hold chores for me to do: Pricing and organizing new software for the student computer labs, initiating a student departmental club, writing a grant proposal for new instruments, becoming an active member in the student organization on the other end of the campus, etc. And my first paycheck doesn’t arrive until September 15. Teaching and Service and Scholarship – I understand, but how much service is too much? I am usually eager to participate in “extra-curricular” activities, but now I had planned to spend all my time on getting experimental results for publications, and it seems like every colleague has some other chore in mind that keeps adding to the list. So who do you keep happy? The most influential faculty, or the ones that you like. This is the first time for me where I will have to bear the feeling of compromising or having to balance between my principles and what gets me ahead in my career. Life as a graduate student and post-doc seems so much less complicated now. In addition everyone seems to know exactly, which Service activities and committees to join are best for me. Of course every colleague has something different in mind. Aaaaaaahhhhhh! I have the uneasy feeling that matters will only get worse.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


There has been a discussion on the blogs (Lesboprof and Dean Dad) over negotiations. I have to say, that sometimes it matters in which division you apply. Research start-up is a much more sensitive point than a leather office chair in the sciences, when you're bargaining over 6 figures (and yes, science tenure track newbies, you can get 6 figs even at a SLAC!) to set up a lab. No start-up, no supply for the essentials, no research, no publications. I sometimes don't understand the humanities. You base your offer on office furniture??? In my mind, office furniture is only important, if you can transform a hard heavy leather chair into intricate and highly sensitive spectroscopy instruments. Who cares what you sit on? It won't get you tenure!
Aside from research start-up, when I applied I was told by many friends that it was essential to bargain for your salary. Well, there is no little birdy to tell you how much is too much. I only had chronicle numbers to rely on, so I decided to go 15% above the published numbers when I went into the dreaded phone negotiations, and I got 10%. But Lesboprof is right. Chronicle numbers don't give you an average across the field. So as she advised, I should have contacted their library. I wished, I would have had her input 9 months ago.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Me Tarzan you Jane

Not to worry. This is not an explicit post about me being dragged off to a tree house by a man wearing a leather loin garment. It's fortunately more harmless.
I have been pondering for a while on what Amanda I. Seligman has addressed in her First Person narrative over at The Chronicle: How should students address you? Amanda is an advocate for offering her students to be on a first name basis with her, but finds out later that not all students are comfortable with this familiarity. She is not so much worried about not earning respect from students based on the familiarity fueled by the first-name.
Well, I am. Just yesterday I was mistaken for a student strolling across campus. Last week at a dinner party hosted by Department Chair with students and faculty present, Department Chair’s husband asked me when I will graduate. Clearly, I need to work on appearing more like an adult. How can students possibly trust someone to teach them understand upper division science who they could envision as their dorm roomie? First-name basis? I just don’t know. There are the nightmares of a lecture hall of students in paper ball fights around a bonfire of textbooks with me tied down against a urinal in the men’s restroom. I however might not even have a choice in the matter. The conundrum is that most of the members of my department are on first-name basis with their students. If I insist on Dr. TenureTrackNewbie, I will radiate self-esteem problems. Perhaps I underestimate my future students. Maybe despite the familiarity of the first-name they will show mercy and not toss me into the school fountain while pouring chicken noodle soup all over me because I have to give them a C…
In the end even Amanda doesn't have an answer even after years of experimentation with the various approaches. I am greatful for her 1st person narrative, and I am curious if other faculty have any words of wisdom.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Joining the Tagging Game

Tagged for Meme.

Twice has tagged me for her meme. So here I hurry along the cascade.


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 Facts

1. I wear Swatch watches only.
2. I have had 13 casts to mend my bones in my life time.
3. Candles rock!
4. Beer snob.
5. There is a target drawn on the back of my lab coat. Hmmm....
6. Own 6 different colored Birkenstock.
7. I have owned 10 parakeets named Rocky I - X(consecutively) and accidentally (I swear!) killed them.
8. Won the "Top-Scan" Award as fastest cashier at Winn-Dixie (the low-price leader, where quality is high and prices are low) during my college years.

Now I have to tag eight bloggers: Gentleman's C, Astrodyke, Lesboprof, A Delicate Boy, Female Science Professor, Professing Mama, See Jane Compute
Ok. There are only 7, but oh well.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Settling In - or Not

Long time no write. Sorry. I have spent the past few weeks transitioning. A new apartment, new faces, a brand new college ID with a hideous mug-shot, and fortunately a brand new hair dresser who understands my short-hair needs. Shortly after my arrival, one of the brand new faces extracted my sexual preferences - which are not necessarily obvious. I was in shock when she told me that being out in the city as well as in my department would be an unwise move. What a scam! During my interview I was made to believe that I had scored a diversity sanctuary. Naturally before I accepted the offer I had searched any online information, which must be somewhat exaggerated. Needless to say that for the past few days my initial enthusiasm has faded, and I feel terribly isolated. I miss the past...
In any case, here are some images from my journey to the now not so perfect liberal arts college:

Friday, June 15, 2007


Sitting amidst a sea of boxes,
Sinking quietly, losing air, losing ground.
Adventures soon to be memories
Will not fade but vanish abruptly
With sudden muted sound.

Life is composed of episodes.
Episodic friends, episodic familiarity
Are making history.
The anti-climax of yet another episode -
Open ending requested not only for sweet sanity.

History is necessary, for perhaps finally, finally
I know what I need, and I need what I know.


Creative Commons License

work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The G-8

What a bunch of trollops and casanovas at this summit in Heiligendamm. The globally anticipated agenda was supposed to be climate control. After the debate German Chancellor Angela Merkel is eager to announce to the press the oh-so-wonderful accomplishments of the summit. And what are they? A bunch of wishy-washy feel-good concessions that present idealistic goals without numbers. Yes, we will reduce emissions, but since there are no set values, no efforts are truly necessary. This summitt seems to simply be a big party. And George W. is having a blast. First he gropes Angie at last year's summit (left photo), now he is cozying up with her in a beach basket (right photo, source: Der Spiegel).

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Teaching Charades

Three weeks until I move to what could be the place called home for the rest of my life. I am currently taking some time off, visiting with family and friends. There has not been a single day when department members from pleasant Small Liberal Arts College which I am about to join have not sent me an email concerning computers, textbooks, course proposals, new instruments, etc. Maybe they are a little nervous about my arrival, too. Surely not as nervous as I am.

Teaching, Service and Scholarship – the title of my blog. During my interview, the dean stressed excellence in teaching, excellence in service, and excellence in scholarship. Note to self: Replace “very good” with “excellent” in personal vocabulary. Scholarship entails 4 research publications in peer reviewed journals – with undergraduate researchers only. I have a vision of long and lonely nights in the lab. Excellence in teaching is as usual measured by the infamous student evaluations. High marks could either be accomplished by brainwashing your students or simply by captivating them with the material and making them like you. Personality plays an important role here.

My current colleague and good friend once told me that a study has shown that high marks on student evaluations can be correlated to the students being able to assign a certain role or personality to the instructor. This holds especially true for women. And which other role would a woman play best than the role of a mother. For example freshman in particular prefer the motherly instructor. I am neither a mother nor the motherly type, so I pondered how the students would see me. On my last day of class at my visiting position I decided to just ask the question at the end of my lecture. I was ready to face personalities like Cruella De Vil. What would have been worse was no identification whatsoever. But their answer, which I cannot gage if it was honest, was that they saw me as their big sister. I was surprised and relieved that I have a role assignment, and it’s an easy one to play! Perhaps before beginning a tenure track position, every faculty should undergo a personlity test, so that they would have an idea who the students think they are, then perfect that role to become very good - wait, no - to become excellent in developing their classroom character.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Sob-Story

A month ago I posted my grievance over students breaking down in tears in my office in A Festival of Tears. Today one of my female senior students came into my office with tears all over her face and her eyes swollen. I was certain that the class that she is taking with me was not the cause for this emotional outbreak. I made the usual offering of the box of Kleenex. After she sobbed for a little while I tried to raise her spirits: "Now, now, grades aren't everything in life." "Oh no", she replied, "I am just so sad that you are leaving!" Then there were two of us in tears.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A last chance

Last day of classes tomorrow. This is always the time when faculty should find words of wisdom that send the students on their merry ways. One last chance to make an impact on a young person’s mind. I am not very skilled at these inspirational speeches. I have tried the “Non scholae, sed vitae discimus” motto, but that does not seem to be a favorite among the students. Does anyone have any ideas?

Friday, April 20, 2007

A quick-rich plan for your college

Here is an idea that I thought of today. Is your college in the negative numbers? Does your institution suffer from increased tuition rates? Here is your solution: Obtain sponsors for your lecture! A 30 second commercial break during each lecture would be announced, and the professor would provide the appropriate advertisement.


English: Cannot wait to hear the end of the Macbeth cliffhanger? Get to class on time in your brand new Prius Toyota! If you are running especially late bring along the three witches for an environmentally friendly ride in the carpool lane!
Math: Today's partial derivatives are brought to you by Papa John's - if your functions are dysfunctional bite into a juicy veggie d-light/dx!
US History: Are you a victim of Taxation without Representation? Declare your independence with H&R Block!
Chemistry: Are your pH values not adjusting? Choose Tums for fast relief of tricky pH problems. Now available in Phenolphthalein flavor.
Music: This lecture was brought to you by iPod - if the Stravinsky excerpt does not provide you with full satisfaction, find it on iTunes and play it at 140 decibel for all your roommates.
Philosophy: Has Nietzsche's Übermensch given you an Überhunger? Wendy's stacked high $6 burger even satisfies Freud. As Descartes will you tell you: "I eat therefore I am"
Biology: Having trouble locating the nephridium in your cephalopod? Lenscrafters! For a better vision of small and insignificant organs.
Latin: When the time comes for your Ides of March - carpe diem with Tampax Ultra!

Any other sponsors you could think of?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Discrimination against the odd-balls

Numerous posts on blogs and editorials in newspapers have been published in those last couple of days after the tragic events at Virginia Tech regarding how to recognize students, who are troubled, depressed, and live in solitude. Naturally all of us in academia scan through our class rosters in our minds, if there are any likely candidates. I am certain that the students are following a similar procedure. Hence, I am wondering, how many calls the local police, the counseling centers, the dean of students, etc. have received within those last two days reporting suspicious students on our campuses across the US.

Doesn't this ring a bell? Wasn't it very similar after 9/11, when airline passengers who fit a certain description would be searched extra carefully? Or when the mid-eastern driver of a delivery van was stopped for a random license and registration check? So my question is: will this lead to a discrimination of individuals suffering from depression, or students who don't quite fit the mold? I am worried, that students, who perhaps do not fit the mold, are trying to refrain from being themselves in order to blend in. And what about the quiet young freshman, who isn't very outgoing to begin with and is perhaps suffering from depression? Will the other students keep an extra safety distance from him? Will he hear suspicious whispering in every classroom he enters? Will this type of discrimination be necessary?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Festival of Tears

Exam time and here we go again. The box of Kleenex is strategically positioned on my desk and following me from the lecture hall after the exam is a train of students who believe that by crying in my office it will make things better. I of course am the perfect target, because their tears make me feel like the wicked witch from the west and I wonder if I should make my exams easier. I have been feeling guilty all weekend and my exam has ruined my students' as well as my weekend.

My colleagues don't seem to be blessed with so many tears in their offices. I wonder if there is something about me that encourages this, if it is the nature of the class, or the inviting box of Kleenex. The advice I have been given is to simply let them cry until the fountains have seized. That still doesn't make me feel better.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Just a story that makes you want to bang your head against the wall

I just remembered an incident that showed me how ignorant and closed minded this world still is.
One year ago the college of my current visiting position took a giant leap forward and decided to include same sex partners in the benefits package awarded to full time faculty and staff. After the announcement was made by a campus-wide email that morning, one of the staff members approached me regarding this new development with the following comment: "Does this mean that we now have to pay increased health insurance premiums because of all those homosexuals with AIDS?"

Sunday, April 1, 2007

RateYourStudents Moderator Outed

I became quite upset this morning, when I discovered that The Chronicle had outed the RateYourStudents blog moderator( I think that he is seriously worried about his career and the opinion of his colleagues. But all he really did, was post emails sent in by other faculty. So, why on earth was The Chronicle so curious and had to track him down following a trail of IP addresses? I always thought that The Chronicle was in support of faculty??? And why should anyone give him a hard time?
So, Dear Martin Bell: Whatever you decide regarding the future of your blog, I enjoyed reading the posts, and you did not do anything wrong. You actually monitored, whereas RateMyProfessor does very little monitoring of their website. Thank you!

I am sure I was April-fooled!!!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

And now for something completely different

I couldn't stop laughing when I found this extravagant recipe in a cook book compiled by women from a United Methodist Church congregation.

Potato Soup

2 cans of potato soup
1 can of half and half

Praise the lord for traditional American cooking!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Ahhh Spring Break

Spring break - I am writing a grant proposal for my new position. It is a highly competitive foundation, and so mixed feelings (wouldn't it be great if I get it and what's the point, I won't be selected anyways) have given my motivation a bipolar edge. But I better clench my teeth and finish it.
And of course I have to simultaneously entertain the departmental colleague, who has only 1 week of spring break to get 5 weeks worth of work accomplished. I am wondering, why she is still sitting in my office monologuing about what home improvement projects she will decide on next...
I have only 10 weeks left here at my visiting position, and I am beginning to feel homeless. I have been excluded from all departmental meetings and the students treat me as if they don't have to impress me any longer.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Here a link for the next year newbies

Here a link for those who are starting to think about entering the tenure track job hunting season beginning in August:
At this wiki any applicant can post if they have received word from an advertised position, e.g. an invitation for a phone or on-campus interview. The search committees at the various institutions don't tend to keep you up-to-date what their advances in the whole search process are. So this is a marvellous method of telling the other folks who are in limbo if they should wait to hear from their dream position at University X, and decline the offer from the runner-up on their list. But this only works, if people share!

How friendly should I be with my students?

Feelin' a little homesick, so here a photo from my stompin' grounds

Teaching evaluations mean life or death at a small liberal arts college. And since I have not started my new position yet, I still have the chance to nip foolish mistakes in the bud, as for example becoming too friendly with your students. I am currently a visiting assistant professor and I have been experiencing the following dilemma:

If you are friends with students - not outside the school environment - but simply listen to their relationship, financial, family, etc. problems and you sincerely care for them and they get a good grade in your class, they love you, and as a result give you the highest evaluations. However, if they don't do well on your exams, they take it a little too personally, suddenly give you the cold shoulder and finally slaughter you on evaluations. And it is a dilemma, because I find that I have more in common with those undergraduate students than the close to retirement colleague. And it doesn't require much to become friendly. It only takes a music CD on my office desk as the catalyst for a conversation.

In the end, I think that it is difficult to hide who you are for six years. So perhaps my precautions will eventually fail no matter how carefully I plan not to make mistakes.

Monday, March 12, 2007

RateYourStudents - A Growing Disappointment

When I first discovered RateYourStudents a few months ago, I was delighted to find a blog rebelling against Well, not really "rebelling", but rather providing a quiet public space to vent, so you don't have to bore your friends with the same ole I-nearly-roasted-and-ate-a-few-basket-case-students-today story. Ahhh - the joy in reading about how there are students with more comical excuses than mine was such a relief.
But what the hell happened??? Now the blog publishes more posts of students who try to improve the image of their species are published than the posts of professors! So students have the right to defend themselves on RateYourStudents, whereas professors have to suck up the accusations on RateMyProfessor? It seems that the students are getting a taste of their own public humiliation, and even though it is completely anonymous, they feel attacked.
Professors are aware that most students are hard-working and decent human beings. That's why we love our jobs. But if students have a right to announce to the world that our noses are too long, then why can't we let loose a little as well?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Some Thoughts on Departmental Politics

With a new position, the sleight is clean. No relationships with colleagues have yet gone sour because you didn't take their side on creating a new course proposal or an argument they had with another faculty. So how does one best play the game of politics??? I can see two options:

A) Staying out of every one's business, never voicing your opinion, and even if asked to do so, keeping answers vague.

pros: nobody will be offended
cons: colleagues will consider you a coward

B) Being true to yourself and siding with the faculty, whose issues you believe are valid.

pros: you will make friends
cons: you will make enemies

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A New Beginning...

I recently accepted a position as Assistant Professor in the physical sciences at a small liberal arts college (SLAC) out west. Only a few more months and the frenzy will begin. Am I being overdramatic when assuming that these are the most important six years for the rest of my life? When judgement day comes and you don't make the cut, then so long sucker: you are out of a job, and nobody will hire you with the taint of failure! It is nerve-racking to feel Damocles' sword slowly swinging over you.

When I first applied for positions across the nation, I thought that landing at a decent SLAC with decent pay, research start-up, and a pretty science center was the big prize at the end of the Ph.D.-PostDoc-VisitingProf obstacle track. Now I realize that the real obstacle track, keeping this prize, is still ahead with the following major hurdles:

1. 3+ Publications
2. Making Your Students Like You
3. Not Losing the Game of Departmental and Institutional Politics

Oh, boy! I am scared!