Friday, April 28, 2006

poetry Friday

I haven't participated in the blogger poetry Friday yet. I've never thought of myself as much of a poet. I'm not well-read in poetry. However, jo(e) has chosen an interesting word for this week:
Muddy. So here's a little five-minute freewriting...

as a child I
hated to get dirty
disliked sitting in the grass,
picking the dandelions,
getting my sneakers muddy,
hands gritty.

I much preferred
the comfort of the couch,
curled up with a good book
to running around barefoot
in the sunshine.

now on my own I
have chosen a field
which requires me to be muddy,
and with my bare hands in rich soil
I mix in the water
creating a fertile bed
and I don't mind being muddy at all.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

top of the class

There were some murmurings as we graded exams last week that perhaps two of the lab sections got screwed over. They had lab after the in-class exam, and some of the material we went over was directly related to the short answer questions. As I told my own students: "You've covered all of this material in lecture, except for these small experiments. It's fair game."

So when the grades were combined and arranged and finished, they did averages for each lab section. The later labs were not particularly worse than any of the other classes. Only five points separate the best from the worst. Pretty even distribution if you ask me. But something interesting shook out from the numbers as well.

The top two sections are both mine. I was actually surprised to hear that, though I knew my students had done well overall. The top numbers are all close, but no other TA has both their classes even remotely that close to each other. Being modest and a scientist I politely brushed off those who noticed with a smile and: "Well, yes, but it isn't a significant difference between the top and the bottom." I was early for lecture and chatting with one of the professors, and she brought up how well my classes did. I gave her the prepared line, but she shook her head. "That is true," she said, "but one does notice."

Not bad for a novice TA.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

testing 1, 2, 3...

My students had their first exam recently.

Certain aspects of the whole thing could have been handled much better. Such as the procedure for turning in the exams. It wound up being a flurry of people at the front of the room. I went on autopilot: check to make sure they bubbled the correct exam form (four separate tests), names on both sheets, TA's name on both sheets, go! Repeat. Repeat. 450 students and probably...six people collecting exams. Madness. Next time I think they should get a box or two and if they screw up filling out the forms they lose points.

I thought we'd be grading the exams for our own students, but no, that would be biased. So we alphabatized the whole stack (oh, that was fun) and then randomly picked a letter and started. One short answer, one "draw this figure". The figure was much easier to grade. Hardly anyone got full points on the short answer. The whole process was rather depressing. Most of them got around 11 or 12 points out of fifteen. There were a few zeros. Ouch. There were also a few perfect scores.

I have to hand back the written portion today. I'm not sure if there will be rioting in the streets or if they'll think the grading was fair. The re-grade policy is pretty strict. We were all grading in the same room, and any ambiguity was dealt with as a group. I may have been a tad more lenient than some of the other graders, but only by a point or two.

Next week I get to write up their lab midterm myself. Thankfully there are examples in our prep area.

100 Facts About Me #26-31

I was out of town this weekend and then Blogger refused to behave yesterday morning. Sorry for the lack of posting.

26. Blue has been my favorite color ever since I was a little kid. I've never been a fan of pink.

27. I don't mind walking on the kitchen floor in bare feet. It used to give my dad chills to watch me. I never wear slippers.

28. We got our first home computer when I was twelve. It was a generic IBM clone. We had AOL version 1.0. Even back then it was better suited to a twelve-year-old than my parents.

29. The only country I've been to other than the US is Canada. I am rather ashamed of this and really really want to travel. Hopefully after the PhD is done, or for my honeymoon, whichever comes first.

30. I went to my first concert at 15. It was the first and last time I saw The Smashing Pumpkins. They put on a great show. Don't tell my mother that my friends and I actually went without a chaperone; he just dropped us off at the door.

31. I rarely wear jewelry. My engagement ring stays on constantly, but it seems pointless to dress up a t-shirt and jeans. Occasionally I'll wear earrings. Guess having two holes punched per ear wasn't really worth it in the long run.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


The hardest part of teaching my Bio 101 labs?

-3 Hours on my feet with no chance to go pee!
-Getting them into groups of five. If we move to a different room it's easy because they self-sort. If we're staying in the same room and they're already seated, it's like pulling teeth. I assign groups, they grumble. I tell them to arrange their own groups and they look at me blankly and don't move. Argh.
-Trying to foresee what questions and problems they will have with the material so that I can answer them. I'm about 50/50 on this. If I don't know the answer, we go look it up together.
-Judging how long the whole lab will take. Yesterday ran surprisingly quick and my kids were all sitting around bored waiting for the time I had assigned to do review. Some of the students had left the room to take a break though, so I couldn't just start without them. At least I know for this morning's class.
-The slide projector didn't have slides in it and I hate using the computer to do the slides at the end because someone always screws up the slideshow, and then I look like an idiot.

Aside from that, things are going pretty well. My students respect me and seem to like me. Nothing has gone terribly awry. I've got probably 90% of their names down. Also, they seem to be learning. Which is the most important thing.

100 Facts #25

25. When I was a kid, probably up until about sixth grade, I was always one of the tallest, if not THE tallest kids in the class. Then the boys started catching up and I stopped growing. I'm about 5'8", which is the exact average height of American women, last I checked. Not that tall, really. But I still think of myself as being tall. I'm also the tallest one of all my sibs, though my brother is just beginning to surpass me.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

what dreams may come

On Sunday I wound up taking an impromptu nap for about 3 hours. Call me Rip Van Winkle. Sleeping for 100 years would be fabulous, though I don't think I could pull of the beard. When I woke up, I had this oddly unsettled feeling that I couldn't shake. It took about an hour until I figured it out.

I had a dream that one of my friends found this blog and knew I was the author. And he was angry at me because of some of the content. Which is ridiculous, since I haven't written anything here that would bother anyone. Anyway...I knew that I had been very careful to preserve my anonymity. So I asked him why he thought it was me? He produced printouts of the blog, and on one of the pages I had filled out a meme. And entered my real zip code! Idiot!

Of course, it was all a dream. I'd never put my zip code on the blog, and while I want this to be a good read, I'm not going to risk my future career by writing department gossip. I don't even update the site at work.

So yesterday I'm checking out my statcounter while waiting for my PCR reagents to thaw, and I notice something. A hit from myself, at work. Which reveals way more than I expected. When I turned my computer over to the Computer Gurus, then placed it on the department domain, and then apparently gave it a new Computer Name. A name which is very very revealing of my identity. And there it is, for anyone with an IP tracker to see. Gah! Every website I visited in the past month.

I freaked out a bit and then set about trying to fix it. It took several reboots and a frantically trying to remember my admin password that I set up the day I got the computer back. I took it off the domain. I couldn't log back in! I remembered the admin password. I couldn't get it back in the domain! Finally I got the important bit changed and the rest back to normal.

So. While not exactly the same, my dream did forwarn me of certain privacy issues with my work computing. Strange. Perhaps a future in fortune-telling is my destiny? In any case, I'm feeling pretty good about my computer skills, though an expert probably could have saved me a few steps.

100 Facts 23 & 24

23. My favorite chocolate is dark chocolate with mint. The good stuff, not Hershey's. A close second is orange chocolate, though really I don't think I've ever met a chocolate I didn't like.

24. I love Peeps in all their incarnations, though the original chick-shaped ones are the best. When they started making those sugar-coated marshmallow delights in other shapes for Halloween and such, I was ecstatic. Plus, they're usually $1 per box or less. What a deal!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

100 Facts 18-22

18. I moved far away from home mostly because my graduate program is great, but also because the weather is much more fabulous out here. The constant, record-breaking rain is really pissing me off now.

19. I started biting my nails in third grade and I still can't stop. Or don't want to. Or both.

20. When I go on vacation I buy either a t-shirt or a keychain as a souvenir. As I've grown older, finding tasteful 'destination' t-shirts has become more difficult.

21. My mother keeps giving me barettes and hairclips and such, but I rarely use them. Maybe on a special occasion I'll use a barette. But what is essentially a fancy bobby-pin? Never.

22. My mother still gives/sends me an Easter basket every year. This year the contents included those fake eggs filled with either candy or money (woo!), a chocolate bunny for each of us, Peeps!, Cadbury eggs, appropriately colored M&Ms, appropriately shaped Sweet Tarts, an assortment of little wrapped chocolates, and Jelly Bellys. Mmmm. Calories.

Friday, April 14, 2006


-My landlord is driving me insane. Lease renewals start up around February because this is a University town and all the students will be gone by Juneish. I have told her via email twice and in person at least once that we want to renew our lease. Wednesday I got a very terse email saying "we don't have your renewal form yet, but here's another copy. send ASAP."

Funny, we never had the form in the first place. I checked. Another copy, my ass. So we signed it last night, I'll mail it today.

Only to get another email today saying "Since you didn't sign the form, I won't be renewing your lease."

This woman sends the bitchiest emails, but she's a complete marshmallow in person. She's also a bit of a ditz. She can't keep track of all the units she leases. If I didn't hate moving so much, and if we hadn't had a discussion with her about how we'd probably be here for years, I'd gladly jump ship. Having a landlord with memory issues is troubling.

There. I needed to vent. I sent her a rather pointed email and will still mail the form today. We'll see what happens. Thankfully I keep all my correspondance with her because I know she'll pull this stuff.
-Like brightly colored beetles, the students scurried under a rainbow of umbrellas, trying to escape the rain. From the third floor the comparison was obvious, with red and blue and black shells dancing below.

-I paused outside the building where I teach to admire a type of flower I didn't recognize. Huge tall conical spikes, nearly as tall as I am, thrust out of the soil. Nestled in little green crevices were tiny purple or coral flowers. A sudden movement caught my eye as I stood there, the rain playing percussion on my umbrella. A tiny emerald hummingbird hovered there, not just admiring the flowers, but drinking deeply. I had never seen one of these amazing avians so close before. I could have reached out and touched it, or provided it shelter with my umbrella, but I did not. I just watched and was enchanted.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

100 Facts #10-17

Yikes! It's been a week since I posted new facts. Well, here we go. More Facts About Me:

10: Part of the reason I was so quiet over the weekend was due to back pain. I was hobbling around like an arthritic man 50 years older than myself. I pulled the muscles doing lab work; I didn't actually 'throw it out' like usual. I blame this on my father's side of the family. My dad is very inflexible and his back is prone to pain as well.

11: As a tie-in to #10, I'm so inflexible regarding my back that I cannot touch my toes. I couldn't do it when I was a kid either. I'm lucky most day if i can reach my knees by bending at the waist. My sit-and-reach numbers in gym class fitness testing were deplorable.

12: I got my first professional massage on Friday to try and fix my back. On campus certified massage therapist, how cool is that? Oh, and affordable for a grad student budget if you aren't going every week. It. was. so. fabulous. Wow. I was ready for a nap afterward.

13: I generally dislike the scent of lavender. I'm not sure why, but most lotions or candles with that scent put me off. The exception? The massage oil/lotion from Friday had me sneaking little sniffs of myself. Also, whatever they use at Aveda salons which is a lavender combo. I like that one too.

14: I had mono when I was 15. I stayed home from school for two days with a fever and my mom said if I didn't have a fever the next day I was going back. No fever, so I went back. My voice was very odd that day, and every single teacher I had said I looked like death and should have stayed home. The next day the fever was back, I had the worst sore throat of my life, and the Dr. finally had a diagnoses. I was only out for another week, my case was pretty mild. The best part was a month "get out of gym free!" card because my doc was worried about spleen damage.

15: Mono was the worst sore throat I ever had, but when I was a kid I caught strep throat at least five separate times. The last time I had it was right after I moved here to University Town. I blame different germs.

16: After 3 years my parents have finally re-decorated my old bedroom. My mom had made a few changes right after I left: it was a guest room with no beds! Apparently it is now a very tasteful forest theme with a wallpaper mural and fern-green and chocolate brown accessories. Sounds very peaceful. I'm a little sad to know that the room I designed after we moved in doesn't exist any more.

17: My hair has been the following colors: brunette with blonde highlights, brunette with more blonde than anything else due to too many successive highlights, copper red, light brown/blonde with twin pink streaks, and dark brunette. My natural color is a light brown, which is how it looks currently.

Monday, April 10, 2006

on being a TA

I've seen several posts lately alluding to the fact that the academic year is nearly finished. My fellow bloggers are giving finals and looking forward to glorious "free" time outside the classroom.

We're just getting started. Again. I can't explain fully lest I give away my Uni, but we have an extremely odd schedule. Fall classes start very late, which pushes everything else back. We're not on semesters either, but quarters/trimesters.

Just a few weeks ago I got to try my hand at this thing we call "teaching." I have two lab sections of about 25 undergrads. Each lab runs for 3 hours. This is a very basic level course. I'm going to call it Biology 101. My classes are very mixed in terms of year in school as well as majors, though most of them are some type of science major.

Teaching the lab is a lot of running around and a lot of talking. I was exhausted after the first one. I refused to just give away answers, trying to peel back from the initial question to see if any underlying knowledge existed. I take my knowledge for granted and I need to be very careful not to rush as I review the material.

I'm enjoying myself though. Very time consuming, however. All the TAs have a weekly prep meeting so that we can see the lab exhibits before we have to teach them. We're required to hold office hours. We'll be doing the exam grading, as well as grading two reports per student. My prep time is much higher than I expected because I want to be prepared for every question. I've never taught anything before! I imagine that if I taught this same class again my prep time would be considerably shorter.

All things considered my week is pretty much useless for research things until Wednesday afternoon, and by then I usually want a nap. My PI is very understanding of the whole thing, which is nice. Thankfully he's had other students TA before and he realizes not much else gets accomplished. I'm just glad I don't need to TA for my research funding. I'd be here forever!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

teaching strategies

I know there are several academics in the blogosphere, and I direct this question to you.

Suppose you have a lecture class with 500 students. You meet 3 times a week for 50 minutes a session. In this case, the class is an introductory science course, which is semi-relevant. Probably 90% of your students have never had any of this material before: all new terminology, images they don't recognize etc. They also have a separate weekly lab where they can start applying their new knowledge, actually touching and seeing these bits with their own eyes.

How would you set up your lecture?

Would you use powerpoint or the chalkboard/whiteboard, or a combination? How do you engage as many students as possible in a 500 person class? Is it possible to have anything resembling a 'discussion' or any real feedback in that setting?

Thankfully I'm not the one in front of the room. I am a lab TA however, and the lecturers are interested in the input of the TAs to try and improve the class. I personally favor using powerpoint, with the caveat that you must avoid 'wall of text' syndrome. Intersperse the factual slides with images illustrating your point.

Opinions or ideas? There is a very real chance that somewhere down the line I *will* be the one in front of a class this big. May as well start planning for it now.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

100 Facts #9

I am the oldest of four kids: 3 girls and one boy. I think my parents were holding out for a boy. Artist Sister is 2 years younger, Equestrian Sister is 4 years younger, and Boy Wonder is 7 years younger than I. (Those pseudonyms were tricky: hard to figure out which of many interests to highlight. Boy Wonder is a family nickname). I'm closest to Artist Sister, but we're a pretty tight bunch all together.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

link round up

Things are a bit crazy around here; I'm literally buzzing around like a bee trying to get things done. Here are some good links from around the blogosphere:

Alex at The Daily Transcript has an interesting piece on the 3 types of experiments. Be sure to read the comments as well! I think most of my work falls squarely into category B: did it fail or did I set something up wrong??

DeanDad has an article about Odd Course Substitutions. Lit for chemistry? "But I have to graduate!" Um, no, you don't. At least at the CCs around here, courses cost about $50 a pop. Just take the stupid class.

PsychoKitty has a good pair of posts about unhealthy body images and why women are such nasty bitches to each other. Thankfully that doesn't happen so much in the blogosphere as real life, but it still happens, especially on any blog about raising kids.

Was a well-respected biologist really advocating the use of Ebola to wipe out 90% of the population? Pharyngula has the story on Dr. Pianka. Hold on to your seats, it's a bumpy ride.

Monday, April 03, 2006

100 Facts #8

In elementary school my worst grade, on a consistent basis was...


I had horrible, horrible chickenscratch handwriting. I distinctly remember being in second grade and having a handwriting assignment, one of those "copy this phrase" on the paper with the 3 lines kinda deals. I royally screwed it up. It was something about a jaguar, I remember. The first few words should have fit on the first line, but I only got one word to fit because my writing was so bad. I distinctly remember my teacher going over this exact assignment with me to show me where the errors were. I was mortified when she compared mine to another child's, neat and perfect.

Later on, my cursive wasn't any better. I had to take a sort of remedial session in it in fifth grade.

My handwriting is...different now. Legible most of the time, at least. I don't remember any cursive/script except how to sign my name.

Today's Special

Our featured item for today is: Yet Another Cold and Rainy Day Uncharacteristic for this Locale


On my agenda for today:
-Get to work without getting too wet
-Check on suspicious growth chamber
-Lab meeting
-Read the paper I'm presenting for journal club on Wednesday
-Prep samples for microscope work tomorrow
-Time permitting: collect tissue for DNA preps
-TA Meeting
-Time permitting: collect more DNA
-Lecture section of the class I'm TA-ing (I'm a bit hazy on the details these days)
-Any other lab work that slipped through the cracks
-Start putting together presentation for journal club

Sunday, April 02, 2006

100 Facts #7

In high school I played on the tennis team with several friends and my younger sister. It was a small school, so we didn't have to be great to make the team. Not that I was bad, but I lost quite a few matches. The most embarrassing thing was that my younger sister wound up being better than I was, so she played the 1st singles slot and I played 2nd singles. Mortifying. One match we got to play doubles together and we kicked ass. That was a great day.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

as I try to think of real content...

I am 10% Idiot.
Friggin Genius
I am not annoying at all. In fact most people come to me for advice. Of course they annoy the hell out of me. But what can I do? I am smarter than most people.