Wednesday, July 30, 2008

field work and wedding planning

Finding a wedding date is getting more complicated. Ideally, I would like the wedding to be at the beginning of May when the semester is wrapping up. Then I can leave for Ukenzagapia a couple of weeks later and still have most of the summer to start my research.

I'm a little anxious that I won't even begin collecting data until next summer (the end of my second year), and because of the course requirements for my sweet fellowship I have to be back in Big City August 2009 - May 2010 for classes. That means I won't have my second field season until the end of my third year or later.

This relates to wedding planning because it looks like we might not be able to have the wedding until the end of May, which pushes back the start of my time-restricted field season even further.

Here are the main things limiting the date of the wedding right now (there are probably even more things to consider, but these are the ones I'm currently aware of):
  • Jon's sister's schedule, since we're planning to have the reception at her house (most weekends in May are out for her). This is probably the greatest limitation on dates.
  • the weather. We don't want it to be too cold or rainy because we want most of the reception to be in the yard, not the house.
  • school. When the semester is over is preferable. I'd be willing to consider April if the weather would agree.
  • a big local event happening near Jon's sister's. It goes from late April to early May, and all of the area hotels will be booked.
  • my need to leave the country and do field work halfway around the world.
Mid-April is looking better and better.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

ACK!!!!! head lice

This morning I was just sitting in my office this morning pondering the introduction to my review paper. I scratched my head, and found a little bug under my fingernail. I though Huh, that's weird. Kinda gross. Wonder how I got a bug on my head. So, being the good biologist that I am, I stuck it to a piece of tape. I looked at it a little more, noticed it didn't have wings, and thought, Uh oh... What do lice look like?

After a Google image search, I'm about 99% sure I have head lice. Likely source: movie theater. We saw WALL-E on Sunday.

So, I'm back at home with a shower cap on my head. Not exactly what I'd planned for the day. My bike helmet is in the freezer and I have to wait for Jon to come home with more quarters so we can wash all of our linens.

I did get to talk to Herb for about 10 minutes today, but most of our conversation was about head lice.

Monday, July 28, 2008

One step at a time

I recall approaching transitions with apprehension for most of my life. In 3rd grade I was afraid of the 6th graders that would be the new 'bosses' when I moved up to 4th grade. When I was in Girl Scouts in 5th grade I remember writing that I was worried about keeping up with homework in junior high. And in junior high I was worried about homework in high school. During my senior year of high school I was extremely anxious about choosing the right college and I put off making a decision until April 30th, even though Small Friendly College had been my first choice all along.

At some point in college I began to realize that I'd spent most of my life getting myself overly stressed out about everything- presentations, essays, tests, etc- but yet it always worked out. I couldn't think of a time when I'd just totally, completely screwed up academically. I thought about all of those times when I'd been worried about my ability to handle the homework load or academic intensity or whatever. I was always anxious about it beforehand, but by the time I got there I was ready. I started to relax a bit, and I found a new kind of confidence in myself- I knew I was capable- I was no longer trying with the looming fear of failure.

Beginning grad school last year was a big transition. When I graduated from college, it was difficult for me to imagine being ready to go to grad school. I had little idea what I wanted to do in life, let alone how grad school could get me there. Over the years in between college and grad school, I gradually came to an understanding of where I wanted to go in life and a variety of experiences prepared me to apply and (thankfully!) get accepted. Last August found me feeling surprisingly prepared to start grad school, but Jon said I was the only one who was surprised. Like all of the earlier transitions, by the time I got there I was ready.

I still have several (four? five?) years before the next big career transition. I've had some doubts recently about what I want to do, and occasionally I look at the job of a professor and think How could I possibly do that? But for the time being, I'm not going to let myself get too stressed out about it. I'll just keep on keepin' on and I think by the time I get there, I'll be ready.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

working Saturday

Today I was at school from 9:30-4:30 (albeit with a 2 hour lunch) working on my review. I wrote two pages of the introduction based on the outline I developed last week. I haven't used any specific examples from the literature yet, but the ideas are there. It's not much, but it's progress and for now I'm satisfied with that.

Inspired by posts from FemaleScienceProfessor and Jane B about multitasking with respect to being able to make progress on multiple projects at a time, I spent a little while looking at grants I might be applying for in the upcoming year for various aspects of my research.

On the same subject, I wish that earlier this summer I had started on a project with Sam. When I first got back from Ukenzagapia, Sam wanted to talk about it but when I mentioned I'm working on this review he said I should just wait until I'm finished with the review to start the project with him. In retrospect, I should have gone ahead with it. I haven't had quite enough to keep my at my optimum level of busy-ness this summer and as a result I haven't gotten as much done as I would like. I think if I had been working on Sam's project and my review for the past five weeks that I actually would have made more progress on my review. Is that weird?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

meetings all day long

If only my review were as complete as my social calendar! Monday night I got home late from a concert with friends and had an email from Leo saying that another grad student studying a closely related topic would be at the museum on Tuesday, so instead of spending all of today working on my review paper in my office, I went to Big Natural History Museum. I had lunch with Leo, which our first in person meeting since before I went to Ukenzagapia.

Leo asked me if I was going to do my preliminary exams (aka prelims) this fall and advance to the status of "Ph.D. candidate" so that I could apply for a DDIG by the fall deadline. The thought of doing prelims so soon hadn't even crossed my mind since that's pretty early to do them, and I said so, especially considering that I have no data and won't have any data for another year. Leo said it would be early, but that I'm "abnormally organized and an abnormally good writer." I don't think I'll be ready to do them this fall, but I'll talk to Herb and see what he thinks. I still don't even really know what prelims entail here.

Next I met with the visiting grad student. We would have talked for longer but she had a train to catch. We exchanged phone numbers and email addresses. I'll definitely be in touch as our projects and other interests have a lot of overlap. Future collaborator? Cool friend?

This evening I had dinner with a friend from the mid-Atlantic who is in town for a teacher conference. He isn't staying with us but we spent the evening catching up. It's a bummer that Jon is away in Gambling City for this friend's time in Big City, but we'll see him again later this summer.

Did I mention that Jon is away with Mitch trying to win enough money to buy himself a new computer?

Monday, July 21, 2008

What's your walkscore?

Ok, I really will get some work done today, but I've got to post about this because it's so cool! This site called Walk Score takes your address and gives you a score based on how many amenities are within walking distance of your residence. My score is 91/100! The average for my part of Big City is a little lower than that.

It tells me how far I am (as the crow flies) from our local hardware store (.17 miles), public library (.37 miles), corner store (.11 miles), great local cafes (our favorite is .39 miles), and more. It includes a few things that seem to be miscategorized (such as a dance theatre that appears to be listed under the mailing address but they don't actually have dance performances there). Overall this looks like a great way to evaluate places where you might want to live, and a good way to get to know what's in your current neighborhood.

The walkability of my neighborhood means that it is really easy to be car-free, and that improves my quality of life. What's your walkscore?

Thanks to Kent Holsinger for mentioning this on his blog!

sexual assault/harassment of the 'peeping tom' sort

On Friday after our morning lab session the other TA who teaches at the same time as me went to the bathroom. While she was in the stall, a man stuck his head under the wall. I don't know the sequence of events that followed, but she ran out of the building and he got away without being identified.

Oddly, I was thinking about going to the bathroom when this happened but I decided to hold it. I wish I hadn't because if I had been headed that way I might have gotten a better look at the guy before he escaped.

Most unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. In the past year since I've been here, this is the third or fourth time this has happened, and it is at least the second time it has happened in this exact bathroom. The repetition of this behavior especially concerns me because it makes me think the guy has serious issues and is capable of doing much worse.

So, I talked to my students and recommended that women not go to the bathroom alone for the rest of the term because the bathroom outside their classroom might not be safe for them. How shitty is that?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

nothing really

This morning I had a meeting with Herb to talk about my review paper. I've had a very difficult time getting/staying motivated to work more on this review since I returned from Ukenzagapia, and I told him that. We both recognize that I am a relatively social person who gets a lot of intellectual stimulation from having other people around, so the emptiness of the lab and rest of the department this summer hasn't helped. It's nice to be able to work without distractions, but I think I need some distraction from other people (the internet doesn't count as a beneficial distraction in this case). I was hoping (unrealistically, I know) that Herb would tell me exactly what I needed to do with my review paper and where I should send it. Instead I'm in the same place I've been all summer, not quite knowing what to do.

Actually, I'm in a bit of a funk about everything right this very minute (the review, grant proposal, Ph.D. project, direction in life after Ph.D...) and I wanted to write about it but I'm not finding the words to express myself. Maybe later.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

teaching evaluations

Today I finally saw my teaching evaluations from last fall and spring. I went and asked one of the department secretaries directly since I've never received a notice saying I can see them.

I wanted to see the evaluations because tomorrow I want to give my own teaching evaluations to my students. I did this last semester (since I hadn't gotten any feedback from the fall) and it was helpful for me.

First I should say that the evaluations were very positive overall. There was one student each semester (out of about 60) that clearly didn't like me or think highly of me. I suppose that is to be expected. Nearly everyone rated me very high on enthusiasm for the subject.

A few students said I was the best TA they've had. Here is an excerpt from the single best comment I received on the evaluations:
I personally love Karina Anirak as a TA. I would absolutely recommend her for any student... Through her help, bio has made me exceptionally able to embrace the earth, plants, ecology, and living. I would love to see more of her in the future.
Wow! If only I could do that for everyone! I have no idea which student wrote that, but I wish I knew who it was!

Several people each semester mentioned my grading. Some people thought I was too nit-picky. I don't think the grades I give are lower on average than the other TAs, and if anything they might be higher so I'm not terribly concerned with this comment. If the students are unsure why they didn't receive full credit they should talk to me, and I tell them that.

There are definitely some things I can improve. Now that I've seen these evaluations I will try to circulate more among the groups to ask them challenging questions testing their comprehension of the exercises. I tend to hang out at the front of the classroom unless people have questions once I've checked that everyone is on the right track because I don't like to hover around the students. I'm going to make a point of thinking of questions I can ask them when no one needs my help (which this summer they really don't).

I didn't rate as highly on emphasizing the key concepts or importance of the exercise so I'll try to do that more. I think this summer I've been doing a better job of that than I did the first time I taught these labs in the spring.

I also ranked somewhat lower for "encouraged students to think independently." I find it's a very fine line to walk between giving them enough structure and background information to understand what they're doing and why they're doing it (as above) while giving them room to think for themselves about the exercises. It's grappling with difficulties like this that make me wish I had more guidance, support, and mentoring for becoming a better teacher.

Now I've got to stop blogging and start writing my own mid-term teaching evaluations!

Friday, July 11, 2008

We're moving up in the world

...literally. We learned a few weeks ago that another apartment in our building was becoming available at the end of this month. Today we finally saw it and told our landlord we want to move there! It's one floor up and faces south instead of north, which will be SO great for my plants. The place is really interesting and chic, and larger. We'll be able to fit a dresser (maybe even two!) in our bedroom along with the bed, and we'll have a small guest room.

I did just say I was looking forward to not moving my things for the first time in several years. But, this will be the shortest and hopefully easiest move ever. We'll get some friends together, feed and water them, and move everything in a day without really packing much.

I also mentioned recently that I'm going to be rich (as rich as a grad student can get, that is), which is how we're affording the extra $300 per month. Anyone want to rent our cute apartment in Big City? We could be neighbors...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

welcome to our hostel

Since I returned from Ukenzagapia three weeks ago we've had several friends and family members visit, including 9 different people staying at our apartment over 11 different nights. We also had a dog for a week in midst of everything. It's all been great fun. Today Jon and I both played hooky to visit museums with his family members who are visiting. As a result, I haven't done any grading or preparation for teaching tomorrow.

This weekend is shaping up to be busy as well, but we won't have any more guests until next Wednesday when Jon's boyfriend (heterolifepartner) Mitch arrives. We're a regular hostel. As long as you don't mind our slowly deflating air mattress and the lack of a coffee maker, we've got you covered for Big City accommodation.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

in which I catch my readers up to date on my life

Jon and I are engaged! Actually we've been engaged for, um, a few months now but I just never put it on the blog between needing to tell friends and family first, wrapping up the semester, going to Ukenzagapia, putting it on Facebook, and whatnot. We're planning to get married next spring. Yay!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Staying motivated

Herb isn't around much, Leo is gone for a month, most grad students are gone... it's lonely. With few scheduled responsibilities, deadlines, or labmates around it really takes a lot of effort for me to stay on track. I'm just not sure what to do with myself when I have so much unscheduled time. I like the feeling of getting things done, but sometimes when I don't have much going on I'm not motivated to do anything.

Today I hung a newly acquired dry erase board (from a craigslist RSS) on my office wall and spent some time thinking about the big picture for my research. When I think big I like to diagram things on a blackboard or dry erase board so I'm thrilled to finally have one in my office. After some thinking and drawing I fell asleep for about 10 minutes on my office couch staring at the board with a marker in my hand. It's a great couch.

Then I decided to switch gears and work on grant reports. Since I won't be collecting any data this summer I can write the first report for Grant B. I finished a draft and will look it over again before I send it off.

What I really need to do is get this review paper off my desk. I'm hoping I'll have a chance to talk to Herb about it tomorrow because I'm not sure where to go with it until then. I've identified three journals that it could potentially go to. One is definitely a reach and the paper needs a much broader conceptual base to reach that audience. The middle tier journal doesn't often accept reviews but they publish tons of stuff in this subfield. Taxonomically Specific Journal is currently my third choice, though it has the advantage of putting my name out there in the critter arena. My goal is to have it sent somewhere by the end of July.

I also really need to work on the full application for Grant C, for which I got pre-application approval a few months ago. What I am proposing to do with Grant C is kind of an expensive bonus project. If I get funding for it, I'll go for it, but if not I'll still have a fine Ph.D. I haven't written the proposal yet because I think I need to bring in another collaborator who can use a different subset of data that will be collected along with the data I need. This project would also use leading edge technology that is only in prototype phase right now, so it's darn expensive and risky. We'll see what happens if I can actually get this proposal together.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Social games

I am at the periphery of two different sets of interpersonal conflicts that (potentially) impact my graduate career. The first one is in Herb's lab, which I'm not going to write about now. The other involves Sam.

Slowly I am figuring out that Sam is unpopular (for reasons I don't understand) with some of the people who work at Nyota. While I was in Ukenzagapia I contacted some of these people for advice or resources because I figure it is in my best interest to establish relationships with these people by myself. One person specifically asked if Sam was my supervisor (he isn't) and told me to contact MapLady. Now I need to find a way to tactfully handle an offer from her.

MapLady said that I could use her maps of Nyota if she had second authorship rights on publications. First of all, this is a somewhat vague request. Does that mean she wants to be second author on everything I publish from Nyota? I'm not comfortable agreeing to that no matter how good her maps are because there are several other people who would be more involved than her in my actual project (eg. the Ukenzagapian collaborator, Ukenzagapian Masters students). Does anyone know if this is a typical agreement to make?

Secondly, when I got home Sam gave me lots of maps. He said that he has been pressured to use MapLady's maps but doesn't see why when he has his own. So now I have maps and don't need them from MapLady, but I'm hesitant to tell her that I got them from Sam because apparently their maps are in some kind of competition. I would like to be on friendly terms with this woman because our interests do overlap and it would be silly to start making enemies. How do I say thanks but no thanks without burning a bridge?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

What would improve your quality of life?

While in Ukenzagapia I thought a lot about quality of life, and decided to start asking people what would improve their quality of life. It could be anything. I asked Ukenzapians and foreigners. I would now like to ask you, my blog readers, to answer that question. Please think about your answer and try to write it before reading what other people have said. It could be anything. What would make your life better?

I don't want to guide your answers, but I have one request: don't just say more money- that's a cop out answer. If more money would improve your quality of life please elaborate and explain how it would improve your life.

After 5 comments on this post, I'll post what other people I've asked have said, and after 10 comments I'll post my answer. Please comment!