Thursday, February 28, 2013

Animals in Text

Here's another drawing inspired by a work of literature with an animal!  (Yes, people are animals, too, but you know what I mean.)

Mythical Inspiration

I have a student who's missed a number of classes and assignments, and even though it's fairly early in the semester, I wrote hir a short note of warning, and so zie came to chat.

Zie tells me zie is lacking motivation, likes to sleep in, and watches a lot of TV.  But zie also tells me zie is above average at the class material, and just needs to be inspired to actually do work.

I hate the myth that someone needs inspiration to do work.  Yeah, maybe it would be nice to be filled with the spirit, but if you're not already standing in front of the congregation when it happens, then you're going to be preaching to your pillow, you know?

I'd love to feel totally inspired every time I teach.  And every so often, I feel pretty inspired.  But mostly, I prep for class, gird my intellectual loins, and do my job.  And mostly, I do it reasonably well (I hope).  But if I depended on inspiration to be able to do my job, then I'd never have been inspired well or long enough to finish a bachelor's degree, much less a phud.

I hope this student comes to realize that most jobs are just that, jobs.  They're work.  And you can hope that you're doing something more beneficial than not, and try to do it well, but it's still work, and you get up and do it because you like to eat, have shelter, wear clothing, and maybe do some other stuff.

I mean, we're all special snowflakes, but in a blizzard of snowflakes, we're still falling to the ground to eventually melt and run off, either into a sewer or, if we're maybe luckier, into a stream.

And now, I need to prep so that even if I don't feel marvelously inspired, I can do a good job at my job.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Text of the Day

(Mine isn't as good, but it's reminiscent of the old New Yorker cartoon [ at least I think it was the New Yorker] "Enter Lady Macbeth with tapir")

So, what's the text of the day?

My artistry is really lacking here, alas.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Poetry for Tuesday!

Here's "The Fear of the Dark" on Slate (and even read by Nan Cohen, the poet, which is oh so cool!).  Go read and listen.


Monday, February 25, 2013


I'm on an awards committee for some student awards in a small program, and it's time to read nominated stuff and submissions and make some decisions. 

There are, say, five awards, each quite specific.  So, for example, there's an award for creativity in deepwater basketweaving, and another for contributing to the campus basketweaving community, and then there's one for graduate research in underwater basketweaving, and so on.  But all these awards have names.  So, there's the King of the Sea award, and the Jones Foundation award, and so on, with none of the names (with one exception) giving much sense of what the specific award is for.

So as I'm trying to organize the nominated stuff for reading, I wanted to get a copy of the information for each of the awards.  But I couldn't find the one that I was sent way back when, maybe in December.  So I asked the overall program coordinator, and asked if zie could put it up on the campus program thingy we're using.  But I didn't hear, so then I sent an email to the program admin assistant.

And then the program coordinator sent an email to the awards coordinator about it, and copied everyone on the awards committee.  And then the awards coordinator said that was a good idea, and could someone send hir a copy.

And then the admin assistant kindly sent me a pdf, which I forwarded to the awards coordinator and the whole list of the awards committee (like six people, so not a HUGE list).

And then the awards coordinator said zie would post it on the site.

And I'm sort of grinning, because now 1) the first person to request it has it, and 2) everyone who has access to the site now has it on email.  So why post it on the site?

But it's fine if it's posted there, too.  It just amuses me.

The sad thing is, we have these awards, many of which come with some money, not tons, but some, enough to help with books for a semester, say, and yet we have relatively few nominations so there's little actual competition.  This is also the case for another awards committee I've been on for another program.

Is that how it is where you folks are?  Does it matter if it's faculty nominations or student submission?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Job Search: Win

I heard recently about a search candidate who was able to use an offer from one place to get a better position at another place closer to hir partner.

Someone did well at least.

I hope some other folks had good news.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Teaching Challenge!

I have a student who has the most amazing small child; this child, maybe five or six, has come to class several times now (snow days, like today, for example), and he quietly draws on the white board to the side of the room.  (This is a small class, so it's not a distraction, and he's very quiet.)

Today, however, the student came in with his child, and said that perhaps he shouldn't bring the child to class because we're discussing the second day of "The Miller's Tale."  But I said, sure, bring him in, since most of what we're discussing isn't specifically inappropriate to a small child, and I could circle the rest, I figured.

So that was the challenge of the day.  And it worked pretty well (and we'll have a bit of time on Monday for anything more that needs to be said).

I'm not usually a big fan of kids in classes, but I'm pretty satisfied when they're occasional visitors, and well-behaved, and it makes it possible for the parents to come and participate in class.  But this child is totally wonderful as a class guest.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


Medievalist have great memes about the cat prints on manuscripts, including the Ellesmere!

Medievalists have Richard the Third being dug up in a car park, and all the related fun!

Medievalists have Chaucer doth tweet, which, if I could have a crush on a long dead tweeter, I would.

And we early modernists (or Renaissance folks, if you prefer), we get Anonymous.  Seriously?

(Okay, but we also get David Tennant chatting about Hamlet, right?  So it's not all despair.)


That blogroll down the side is how I read my daily blog fix around here.

But there are problems.  For one, I can never get Ferule and Fescue's link to pick up her latest posts.  (Has someone figured this out?  I think I did the same thing for her link that I did for all the others, but it doesn't seem to pick up her posts.)

And then there are blogs that go quiet or private.  Do I keep them, or clean them off?  And if I clean them off, then how long do I wait?  There are some really good blogs that go quiet for a couple months, and then the person posts, and I'm all hopeful.  I don't want to miss their returns.

What do you think?

Every so often, too, I add new blogs I've run across.  If you're a blogger, doing something related to academics, birding, biking, or something cool and want me to link you, please post your link in the comments and I'll take a look.  Please note that I'm uninterested in linking to most commercial sites.  (I do link to a couple on line commercial biking sites because they're really good.  I've been reading them a long time, though.)

And if you know some really cool blog you think I'd be interested to read, please put that in the comments, too! 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


I just got back from walking a change of grade form over to the Fort.  They have to be hand delivered by the faculty member, which is a bit of a pain for those of us who don't walk over there much.  Add to that the temperatures, which are up to "darned cold" from "[expletive] cold" and "really [expletive] cold," though still not quite up to "cold."

To follow the thread of my gruching: a student needs to take an incomplete, which adds work for me in arranging another exam time, setting up the exam, and so on.  Then I have the work of grading it separately, which isn't huge, but still is something.  And then I have to walk it over in person, even though the registration folks don't acknowledge my existence while I stand in front of the counter while they all three exclaim over and admire something on a computer behind the counter.  They finally did, and then it didn't seem like it mattered at all that I'd hand walked it over.  I bet a student could have.

I'm gruching, too, because we were shown the planned layout for our new offices.  I should be excited about a new office in a brand new, beautiful building.  But the planned layout includes one of those massive desk things with a built in computer in the back corner position (so that the user is facing away from the door) and a desk bit between the occupant and the student seating area for office hours.

I know some people like both of those things, but I'm not one of them.  I don't want to have my back to a door, and if I do, the door probably won't be open while I'm using the computer.

And I don't want to sit across a desk from students who come to chat during office hours.  As it is now, my main sitting desk is facing a wall, and student seats are next to it, with nothing between us, so I can roll my chair to nearly parallel, so we can look at a paper facing the same way.  Or we can semi face each other at an angle, but not directly across.  My old metal desk does have a pull out desky thing that I could use to face across with students, but I never have.  My current computer position is against the wall next to the door, so that I'm facing the doorway when I'm at the computer, and that puts me across from students, so they can see the screen if we're doing something on the computer.  I can also stand up and let them take my chair if they need to log onto the computer for something.

That's not going to happen if they have to loom over me to see the computer or come way into "my space" to log on.  I'm not likely to be comfortable enough, I don't think.

So I'm gruching about the new layout, and hearing that it's likely we will all have to have our offices with exactly the same layout, in exactly the same color, with accent colors determined by our floor.  My floor's accent color looks to me like "mud," but had some name like "nature" on the color swathes we were shown.  No more beautiful green walls in my office.  (The chair said zie had won the fight to get us multiple full sized book shelves, rather than the single three foot high three foot wide shelf the designers were planning.  But zie isn't certain that we'll be allowed to hang anything on our walls.)

So all the time that we're expected to provide personalized, individualized, caring work with our students, to the point of walking special forms over when they mess up and have to take an incomplete (which was the case with the incomplete I walked over today, though it's not always the case, of course), while the administrators treat us like standardized cogs.  I may be feeling a little resentful here.

Meanwhile, every administrator over in the Fort, from the one year replacements to the folks who stay even four or five years, gets to order hir own select furniture and layout for hir very special, individualized office.  And then when the replacement comes, that furniture goes to surplus and the next administrator orders a new fancy whatever, because heaven forbid they sit their butts in anything that isn't individualized to their own specific needs.

Yep, I may be feeling a little resentful.

I need spring.  Soon.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Spread the Word, Please!

A short while ago, I posted about this cool oboe project, and here it is, in full swing, Oboe for Everyone.  The idea is that the Oboist is working to connect specialist oboe teachers from around the world with students who want to learn oboe, also from around the world. 

If you know any oboists or wanna be oboists, please let them know.  And if you can spread the word a bit further, please do that, too.

The world needs more oboists!

(And if you can drop a comment here for the oboist mentioning that you've spread the word, that would be way friendly, too, and much appreciated, I'm sure!)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Job Search - Polish

As we're working on coming to some decisions here at NWU, "polish" finds its way into conversations.  At the letter stage, there are so many really fine letters that clumsy letters make it into a maybe or probably not pile pretty quickly.  People who don't know the rules of job letters for their field probably don't move further, at least not in my academic area.  But at the interview and campus visit stage, we're looking at really strong candidates, and polish seems important.  But not easy to define, really.

Remember when President Obama was setting out stimulus plans, and one of the criteria used was "shovel-ready," the idea being that all the permits and such were in place, and once the money was there, people would be at work digging that first shovelful to prepare whatever foundations were needed?  In a way, polish is shovel-ready for a tenure track job, especially for our tenure track job, where new faculty members come in and teach 11 credit hours, sometimes of fairly large classes, with students who are often very different from what they'd have experienced in grad school.  They have to be ready to step in and go.   (We do try to mentor, but often our mentoring is more reactive than proactive about teaching.)

But other aspects of polish aren't necessarily about being seasoned to do the job.  In some ways, polish is about social class markers, and while we recognize that, we're imbricated in our social class and it matters.  (And here, let me say that I may recognize social class polish of folks who are way more sophisticated than I am, though I don't have that polish.  Maybe I could acquire it given the right situation and incentive.  But I'm also pretty sure that there are levels of upper class polish that I'm blind to, whose rules I'd mangle unaware were I in a situation calling for me to act.)  We're pretty middle class on our faculty, and the ways we act middle class without thinking about it, the things we recognize without thinking about why or how, those read as polish in some sense.  We're both aware of our biases, but also sometimes unaware.

I wonder if at some schools, there may be a different read on polish?  I imagine some schools value the social polish, and recognize that the teaching can come there, perhaps with a reduced first year load or something.  And there are other schools where some sorts of social behavior might be read as pretentious, while a heavy teaching load means folks strongly favor highly seasoned teachers.

Now, then, we're making offers, hoping those offers will be accepted, wondering what will happen if the first offer isn't accepted, will the second person be a good choice?  Will they turn out to be way better than we'd imagined?

So for once, for the few lucky folks with offers, the power is theirs.  I wish those of you in that situation good negotiating skills.  And deans with the ability to meet some of those negotiations in positive ways.  (I have one colleague who, zie tells me, tried to negotiate for money, and was told that it was simply impossible here.  Zie took this job anyway, for other positive aspects.  Zie is highly respected in the institution, but that didn't mean there was money to pay hir more when zie tried to negotiate.)

I'd appreciate hearing more thoughts on the final stages of the search, please.

Are there things you think are more negotiable than others?  Things you'd suggest candidates in your field negotiate?

Are there questions or issues candidates would like to talk about?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Winter Birds

I sometimes use the blog as a searchable record of stuff that's not really important, but sort of important.  Today, I'm doing that with yard birds I've been seeing this winter.

Dark-eyed Juncoes (some years, they don't stay, but this year they're staying)
House Sparrow
Blue Jay
American Crow
White-breasted Nuthatch
Tufted Titmouse
Goldfinch (the one this morning looked like he might be brightening up!)
Northern Cardinal
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker

Less often:
Common Redpoll (once this winter)
Horned Owl (on a neighbor's tree)
House Finch (seeing more and more)
Mourning Dove (a couple, once this winter; they're fairly regular in sumer here)

Most of these are year-round residents, though the Juncoes usually leave in spring, and the Redpolls I see rarely, and it seems only in deep winter.

I'm ready for spring!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Job Search - Questions for the Campus Visit

I thought it might be helpful to talk a bit (and hopefully others will contribute better ideas) about what sorts of questions we expect (and hope) candidates will ask during the campus visit.

I sort of expect that candidates coming for campus visits will have looked over the website and found some of the stuff we brag about here.  Asking about stuff we brag about is enlightening.  For example, say we brag about undergraduate research.  If you ask faculty folks about undergraduate research opportunities, you'll learn a lot.  If we give you a blank look or laugh in your face, you'll get some ideas about the disconnection between the administrative bragging on the website and our experience.  But if we talk about trying this or that, or a colleague who's had some experience, or a student who's done something really special, then you'll know it's real, and you'll learn something about how we do it.

If there's a special department or group project, asking about that's likely to be informative.  For example, if you were interviewing with a biology department that has (and advertises) a special relationship with a local prairie restoration project, or a chemistry department that does some cool air quality thing, asking about that will tell you lots, and you'll also likely impress your hosts.

The harder things to get at are things like benefits, quality of life, equity issues, and so on.  How do you ask about maternity issues if you're worried that the department won't hire someone they think is likely to get pregnant?  I think that's a really hard one.  I don't really have an answer.

My hope is that someone along the way will talk about their kids, and that will give you an opening to ask about local daycare, maternity leave, and so on.

If you're openly gay and the department is even minimally aware, then it's probably not at all a problem to ask about partner benefits.  (Unless, of course, you're interviewing at a religiously affiliated school with an unfriendly affiliation.   Not all religious organizations are unfriendly to gay and lesbian folks, of course, and it's good to get a sense of that earlier rather than later.)

I would tend to ask hard questions in terms of "what was your experience with X" rather than asking for a policy statement or something.  So, if you're out with tenure track faculty, asking someone how their experience of the review process has been seems reasonable.  If they burst into tears, then it hasn't been good.  Let's hope that doesn't happen.

You might also ask if they feel well-informed about what's required for tenure.  If they all feel well informed, but each tells you something totally different, that's useful information.  (I know of a department where, when asked, each of the five junior folks had a rather different idea of what was required beyond "good teaching," especially in terms of research: from a single article, to X or Y number of articles, to X-1 articles, but in the very best journal(s).

You might ask what sorts of resources the department has for travel for research or conferences, and how it decides how to spend it.  (My department, for example, quite openly supports tenure track faculty with money first, and then tenured folks get less.  We all pretty much think this makes good sense.)  If you're in the sciences, you'll want to know about lab start up funds and such.  (No one cares about us poor humanists and our needs, waaahhhh.)  You can ask about the library, and what sorts of support it offers to faculty for teaching and research.

If you have a partner or kids, I tend to think it's a good time to ask about local schools, opportunities for work in your partner's field, and so on.

I've thought a lot about the difficulties of this community for people of color over the years, but I wouldn't begin to know how to help a candidate who's a person of color to negotiate those questions.  (For one very obvious thing, pretty much every person of color who's likely to be on a candidate visit has a whole world of experience more than I ever will.)  I think at my campus, the administration has looked at our record in hiring and retaining faculty, recruiting students, and graduating students, and seen that we're unimpressive on all counts.  At times, I've felt the administration was making real efforts to change things.  But then administrators come and go, and the next wants to focus on something else, and lower down the chain, funding for retention programs and so on dries up, and we're back to square one.  I don't know how visible that process is for a candidate.

How do you all think candidates can learn what's most important to them on campus visits?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Much Busyness

We have these folders for shared projects stored in the department office.  For each project, a couple people need a given folder set.  We all have department office keys.

So before the weekend, I chatted with another person on my project, who had our folder set in hir office.  I said it was no problem, because I wouldn't get to it over the weekend.

And then when I went to work on it yesterday morning, it wasn't in the department office, and hir office light was on, but it was closed.  (I didn't try the door, because, well, I didn't.  Nor did I get an admin assistant to let me in, which I probably should have.)  So I sent a short (polite) email asking hir to leave the file in the department office when she got a chance so I could do my part. 

This morning, zie stopped by my office to apologize (which was nice) but didn't want to move the file to the department office, but instead wanted me to store part in my office and let hir keep the rest in hir office.  Gah!  It took a lot to try to convince hir that we both had keys to the department office, and it would be helpful to leave it there, and only get it when zie was actually working on the project so that I, too, could use it at my convenience.

I really, really don't get the need to keep something in my office if I'm not actively working on it at that moment, since it's really easy to go into the department office and pick it up.  (The department office is, at most, about 50 steps from hir or my office, and we all have keys, so we can get in on the weekend or at night.)

(I also don't get why one would leave one's office light on all day when one was out at meetings.  My dad would have made some comment about owning the electric company, no doubt.)

On the other hand, I really need to go finish my part of this project.  I hope zie has moved the file back.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Job Search - Meal Times

The ever insightful Flavia of Ferule and Fescue has a post up about taking candidates to dinner and some of the issues for hosts.  It's well worth reading.  She talks about how important it is to share meals with candidates, and makes the point that meals are a time when department members sell the department.

I'd like to talk about some of the nuts and bolts.

First, as a candidate, you should know you're going to be fed.  (At least, you should be.)  But it never hurts to carry a couple granola or protein bars with you just in case.  If you have a food allergy or are a vegetarian, I think you should let the department know as they're planning.  Speaking for my department, we have enough people who are vegetarians around that we pretty much assume we need to go somewhere with decent vegetarian options.   But I'm guessing a lot of people in my department would be totally thrown by a request for kosher options.  (I'm not sure we have any kosher eateries here, but I'm guessing I'd try a restaurant with good vegetarian options and hope for the best.)

We have a fair number of restaurant choices in our small city, but a lot of them have drawbacks.  For example, the best Thai place is a hole in the wall that doesn't exude class, and gets a little loud, so we probably don't take many candidates there.   Still, you can guess that within whatever budget constraints the school sets, the faculty are going to try to take you to one of the better places around.  If it sucks, then local dining out places probably suck in general.  That might be good to know.

As a way of selling the department, meals are difficult.  For one thing, after a long day of classes, meetings, extra stuff for candidate visits, and so on, some folks will find it really difficult to go out to dinner.  Folks with kids, for example, are likely to find it especially difficult.  So don't feel offended if only a few people take you out.  And those who are out are probably really tired, and may not sparkle as they would on a weekend evening.

You can tell a lot about department friendliness by watching the interactions.  Do people know about each other's families?  About their work?  Their hobbies?

It's got to be a balancing thing, though; you want to work with folks who are friendly, and care about you as a person, but you probably don't want to work with folks who are too involved in your off campus life.

So, there's lots for you to be looking for as you socialize.  But, of course, people are also looking at you.

Some departments probably care if you have a drink.  Some expect it, and will be worried if you don't (but probably not hugely worried, since they'll realize you might be nervous).  But some probably will be a bit uncomfortable if you do.  If I have any advice, it would be to have a drink if that's your preference, but only one (because, as Flavia notes, drinks are often paid for by the faculty hosts, and not the institution).  I don't think anyone in my department much cares, though at the last few dinners I've had on candidate visits, we've all tended to go with hot tea, in part, at least, because it's so cold that we want something to help warm us up.

Follow the leader on orders.  If everyone else orders lobster and you want lobster, go ahead.

We do send our candidates to a meal with faculty who are on the tenure track but not yet tenured.  We do this explicitly because we think we treat our tenure track folks decently, and we think that our review and tenure processes are strong and fair, and we hope that candidates will ask questions about the review and tenure process and get that sense from talking to the tenure track folks.  We also hope the tenure track folks will tell them about how relatively low rents are and how much there is to do in the community, and so on.

I don't know if every department or campus does this.  (I would think in smaller departments, it might be difficult because they don't have anyone untenured.)  But I had a friend in grad school who had a campus interview where she ate with tenure track folks, and they told her in no uncertain terms that they were all trying to get out and that it was a bad place to be.  So she took another offer, and was happy she had the option.

If you get the opportunity to talk privately with tenure track folks, ask about the review process and how it works.  That will probably give you a good sense of how healthy the process is, or not.

I was at one meal recently and an adjunct from our department came.  In a way, that's probably healthy, no?  It means that our adjuncts don't feel completely abused by the department and want to participate in our hiring process.  But in a way it felt weird, too, though I'm not sure I can put my finger on why.  (It's probably something some folks would perceive as my snobbishness about adjunct faculty and how they aren't full members of the department.  And maybe there's something in that.  They won't, for example, ever work in the personnel committee, review colleagues, or be subject to the same review process [their review process is different]).  (I'm pretty sure the candidate wasn't aware that this person was an adjunct; I don't think it was mentioned, and there was lots to talk about more generally.)

What about making an impression? At a recent candidate dinner, there were five of us faculty folks: one silverback, one silverback in training, one so not alpha male, and two of us women. The candidate quickly figured out that the so not alpha male wasn't a silverback or silverback in training, and basically focused hir attentions for the evening totally on the silverback and silverback in training. It was rude, I thought. But the silverback and silverback in training found the candidate wonderfully warm and friendly, I'm sure.

I've decided not to put in a response sheet on this candidate. I only met hir at the dinner, really, and then we didn't much interact. I was unimpressed at the way the candidate treated the women and non alpha male. On the other hand, I recognize that it's a really valuable life-skill to court silverbacks and silverbacks in training; I happen to be dismally bad at that, and to generally have moderately poor relations with silverback types. So maybe this candidate is just so much more savvy and skilled than I am that zie will do great. But even with my poor skills, I know that putting down on a piece of paper that the candidate was rude to the women and the non alpha male will 1) be totally denied by the silverback types (who would mansplain that they're feminists and there's no sexism anymore, not in our department, anyway), and 2) will only make them cranky at me. 

(I haven't talked to the other woman or the so not alpha male since, and I probably wouldn't bring it up when I do.)

Anyway, I guess I'd suggest not turning away from someone just because you perceive them to have less power than someone else, while at the same time making the person you perceive to have the most power feel like you find them fascinating. Good luck with that.

I mentioned earlier a response sheet.  Here's how my department works the decisions.

Just before the candidate visits, each department member receives a small packet on the candidate.  The packet includes the candidate's letter of application, CV, campus visit schedule, and a response sheet.  The candidate does hir visit, and everyone is encouraged to participate as much as they can, to see the talk, go to meals, meet in the informal meet and greet (during an open half hour in the department coffee room), and so on.   Then the chair sends everyone a reminder to please turn in the response sheet by a given deadline.

On it, we're asked to write our names, to check off our interactions with the candidate, and then to answer a few specific questions about our impressions.  What would we think of the candidate as a teacher?  a scholar?  and a colleague?  Then finally, we're asked to check either yes or no, do we think we'd like to hire this candidate.  And right next to that question, there's a statement that this isn't a vote for one candidate over another, but just about this candidate.  So if there are three candidates visiting, I could vote "yes" for each of them, indicating that I think that each is someone we could do well to hire.

Then the committee meets.  Diverse committees diversely handle it, but the idea is that the committee should read all the responses about each candidate, taking into account the respondent's interactions and so on (so someone who went to the talk weighs more heavily on the scholarly question than someone who didn't, though it's not nearly so numerical).  Then the committee makes a recommendation to the chair.

Then the chair takes that information (with the written reasoning), and writes hir recommendation to the dean, and on up the line.  If we're lucky, things move up the line and back down quickly, and the chair is able to make a happy phone call to the candidate to make an offer.  (We have an administrator who is sometimes slower than we'd like to make decisions, alas.  So sometimes things don't move up and down nearly as quickly as we'd like.)

Obviously, we'd like to be able to make our offer quickly, and to have the candidate accept it with joy.  Usually, the candidate needs some time to think about it and perhaps negotiate.

I'd like to end with one final thought about my department's hiring practices.  Sometimes, our first choice candidates don't accept our offer.  Then we may move to our second choice or invite another candidate to campus.  Because we made that first offer based on a preference, often not a hugely overwhelming preference, we're usually pretty happy with the next candidate.  What I'm getting at is, here at least, someone who's waited a bit and realizes that they probably weren't the first choice shouldn't feel unwelcome at all.  It's likely that a large number of people put "yes" on the should we hire this person question (because if people had put "no" then we would have moved to another campus visit).

We may really love both candidates, but the committee has to choose one to recommend, and so it does.  But the second person is probably a great fit, too.  Still, we can only hire one person.  At this point in the decision, it's almost never the case that one person bombed the visit.  Rather, it's usually that one person impressed more people a little more.

I guess I have one more post in mind, after all.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

My Crazy Pet Peeve

I hate grading double-sided assignments.  There.  It's out. 

I know it's stupid, because I don't want to encourage more trees into paper.  But still, I do.

I write in bold on my assignments, Please do not double-side assignments for this class.  And still, I get a lot of double-sided assignments. 

I fantasize about not reading the verso side, and just grading based on what's on the front of any page.  I bet that wouldn't go over well, would it?

I just want to read by flipping pages, and not have to pick it up and reverse the whole thing, on top of the pile of many, many papers.

Yet I know I spend more time fretting and feeling frustrated than it would take to reverse the whole thing, even for every paper.

I want to write in big letters across the double-sided page some comment about how they must have thought I put my request on the assignment because I really like writing in bold print or something.  That wouldn't go over well, either. 

Still, it doesn't seem like it's a huge thing to ask, does it?

While I'm at it, I'm also tired of questions about whether I "took off points" for this or that.  No, I didn't "take off points."  The work you turned in didn't earn a better grade.  Putting ink on a page does not guarantee you an A or a 100 or a brownie point.

Speaking of brownie points, one of my colleagues has taken to handing out something akin to a sticker for completing a class with him.  So, if students have him for basketweaving 1 and 2, they get two different stickers.  He's very proud of his innovation.  I'm appalled.

Friday, February 08, 2013

What Can I Do?

I got one of those emails today from a student who's missed classes, shown up late without the assignments that were due, and so on.  The other day, zie showed up late, without the homework, and then instead of doing the work the rest of us were doing, sat and did the homework.  (Except, of course, the homework must be typed, because it's homework, and not "sit in class and do this" work.)

Fortunately, it's still pretty early in the semester, so there's plenty zie can do.

It starts with doing the work, and doing it with real attention.  And coming to class, being prepared for quizzes and such.  Here's hoping this student turns things around.

This class is a little weird.  Usually, I don't have problems with students not attending.  I don't grade attendance, but most students realize quickly that being in class is really important and helpful.  But this semester in this class, there are four students whose attendance is iffy at best.  A couple have missed three out of the five quizzes so far. 

I even went so far as to do a handout so that each would have information about how many journals zie as done, how many quizzes, so that they have an opportunity to realize that they've missed stuff.  (I want them to all have the opportunity to realize where they are without lecturing everyone.  Most of the students are doing their work, and they certainly don't need a lecture.  But it doesn't hurt them to get a note saying that they've done five of five journals so far, with a little smiley face.)

But then, of course, several students missed the day when I handed back the notes, and now they've missed two more quiz grades.  OOPS!

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Plagiarize Much?

Interesting juxtaposition of the Harvard cheating scandal and a plagiarism scandal, one among many, it seems, in Europe.  Debora Weber-Wulff writes in the BBC Viewpoint series about "The Spectre of Plagiarism Haunting Europe."  The piece comes on the heels of the German Minister of Education and Science resigning (or being asked to resign) in the wake of his dissertation being found to include a lot of plagiarism.  Evidently, it's fairly common for European politicians, say up and coming in ministries or departments of this and that, to do doctorates along the way.  Or if not common, at least not shockingly uncommon.

Weber-Wulff points out that

Just looking at the CVs of some of the authors who have been exposed as plagiarists, one wonders how it would be possible for them to do research, hang out at libraries, wait forever for inter-library loans, and get everything written up, as a mere sideline to their already very demanding lives as active politicians.
That is to say, these aren't folks like most PhD candidates, who are working towards a PhD near the beginnings of a hoped for career; they're more mid-career, using the PhD as a sort of stepping stone. 

I have to say, something about this smells fishy.

I have to say, I haven't looked at the dissertations in question, or done the research, but from what Weber-Wulff writes, it sounds like this is far more than just a few missed quotation marks, and more substantial parts of arguments being lifted.

I think about my field, about my dissertation, and I imagine that if I'd try to lift a substantial chunk of someone's published argument without acknowledging it appropriately, my dissertation director and first reader would have seen it easily, and I would have heard about it in no uncertain terms.  (Assuming that it was an early draft, maybe they would have just corrected me and chided me and such, but I can't imagine them not taking it seriously.)  They certainly wouldn't have signed the paper that says that I could have a PhD, too. 

But somehow, the dissertation directors of these politicians did sign those papers.  (Well, I'm assuming they sign papers there, too.)  Did they not notice significant plagiarism?  (Are they not up on the other stuff written about their area of study?  Did they not actually bother reading the dissertations?)  Or did they just not care?

If these are mid-career politicians, then they're people with connections, and not, like most PhD candidates in this country at least (and I think Europe's way different, more on that later), who are pretty much full time working towards their degree (most often with some kind of part time or fellowship sort of work on the side to pay rent and eat and such).

That leads me to wonder about graduate programs accepting these folks.  It's not a big leap for me to imagine that a political functionary, with connections in some party or whatever, deciding to pick up a grad degree would be welcome at a lot of grad programs.  If there's money changing hands, then the political functionary is probably paying rather than being paid; and if there's no money, well then at least there's the potential benefit of having a political functionary with some connection to a school or department.  So I can see where a university might welcome a political functionary, and might easily make that welcome known to its faculty.

What I'm wondering, then, is if in addition to looking carefully at the politicians, someone should be looking at the degree-granting institutions and at the dissertation directors/readers.

What's the payoff for them to have signed off or granted degrees to plagiarists?

(My vague understanding is that graduate work in most European countries is much more research based than in the US, that PhD students don't take classes, but start in PhD programs already pretty much focused in and ready to research because their bachelors' degrees are more focused on their subject area and include far less general education and such.)

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Faculty Mentoring?

I sometimes feel a bit cut off from "the outside world."  Partly it's being really busy with work, partly living where I want to go play in the snow, and where most folks in the US think of us only as "flyover country."  So I've been vaguely aware of the cheating scandal thing, but since the closest I've been to Harvard is probably either Logan Airport or downtown Boston (whichever is closer), I haven't put my energy into following it closely.  (On the other hand, I've had a common redpoll at my feeder!)

But Flavia over at Ferule and Fescue talks about the issue of faculty mentoring, and how she's moving from being mentored to being a mentor, and she got me thinking.

I'm wondering how good a job we (broadly speaking, as well as at my own institution) do at mentoring.  My guess is, we here mostly don't do a great job.

Partly, this is a balance of respecting new faculty members' academic freedom to teach and do their work.  Partly, this is everyone feeling overwhelmed by work.

I know there was one case here where a faculty member was having serious, near disastrous, difficulties teaching.  It became apparent during a first year review, as I recall.  At that point, several faculty members pointedly took on specific mentoring roles.  They met with the new person to make sure expectations were clear, shared course stuff (when they'd taught the same classes), and so on.

But mostly, as far as teaching, we observe tenure track people, look at their evaluations (with a sense that these aren't the best measure of teaching), read their course stuff.  Then, if we're doing our job well, we give them developmental feedback.  But if everything looks more or less okay, we pretty much stand back.

So, I don't think we'd necessarily recognize that teacher X was giving almost everyone easy As, so long as the paperwork looked okay and the student evals didn't seem alarming.

My question is, what makes good mentoring of teaching, specifically?

What's most helpful to newer teachers?

How do we do a good job balancing our respect for their expertise, our busyness, and what might be helpful interventions?