Thursday, May 25, 2006

leaving on a jet plane

I am so ready to get out of here! The last few weeks have been insane. Being 3000 miles away and not thinking about all the teaching and research stuff will be fabulous.

In total it took me 14 hours to grade all my lab reports. Ugh. I should have started on them earlier. I spent 5.5 hours on Monday in a cafe with a stack of them, went home and spent another 2 hours. And still wasn't done. Now I know for next week, when the last set come in. I have a list of unintentionally funny lines from the reports, but those will have to wait until I get back.

My facility tour went really really well this time though. I had one student who was very involved and asking questions and I actually used up the entire 90 minute block, and even skipped some stuff.

There was some weird (to me) synchronicity with my flight today and the tv that was on last night. Channel surfing, we found the Friends finale, which I've only seen the day it aired even though it's one of my favorite shows. A big part of the plot is Ross trying to stop Rachel from leaving on a plane. I was actually sad to watch the ending of it again, you can tell the cast was trying not to cry. After that Daredevil came on. You're probably wondering how that is related in any way to traveling. Well, the first time I saw it was on a plane with my family for a vacation. Let me tell you, the edits they make to ensure movies are "family friendly" also ensure that certain parts make zero sense. Thankfully one of my sisters had seen it already and filled me in.

I'm afraid I'm going to forget something. Well, I did forget to get money for the airport shuttle but I managed to scrounge up enough. Hopefully nothing else important slips through the cracks.

Monday, May 22, 2006

I need a clone

I haven't been writing much lately. Part of the problem is that I'm still not entirely sure what I want the content to be here. The other part is that I'm being run around in approximately 900 directions at once.

For instance, what did I do this weekend?
-Went into the lab and took measurements
-Analyzed and otherwise played with a bunch of data to make pretty graphs

-Began grading stack of 50 lab reports. Graded only the figures and it took over 2 hours.
-Realized futility of trying to finish lab reports
-Worked on my lab meeting presentation for Monday by inserting pretty graphs etc.
-Went back to grading. Got 8 reports totally finished. Only 42 to go!

This week involves:
-Giving lab meeting
-Going to weekly TA meeting
-Finishing the grading by Tuesday night and Wednesday morning
-Giving another facility tour
-Oh yeah, that teaching thing I do

As you can see, I clearly need a clone of myself. They can do the grading while I do everything else. I'll still be tired.

But! There is a light at the end of the tunnel. On Thursday, very early, I'm flying back home. Mini-family event over Memorial Day weekend. I really really really need this mini-vacation.

What have you been up to?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

student humor

Ah yes, being a TA for the first time has really opened my eyes to the crap students try to pull. To my credit, I don't think I ever did this in college. High school maybe, but not college. Let's see who the winners (losers?) are for classroom etiquette. (Note: these may not be students in my lab sections, but word gets around. Also, certain details have been altered to protect their stupidity).

-The guy who spoke to his TA, then the TA who graded his paper, and finally the professor because he wanted a re-grade and wasn't getting his way. Even though his answer was in pencil and we pointedly announced during the exam that answers in pencils could not be re-graded. He was angrily talking to the professor for five whole minutes before class started. She didn't cave.

-One of my students apparently thinks I will not notice if they are not in lab. You are not the Invisible Man. At this point in the course, I know all the faces even if I still have trouble putting names to them. I still take roll every class. Going to another section which is more convenient and claiming that I gave you permission to do so will not win you brownie points with me.

-This same student then e-mailed me asking if it was too late to sign-up for a certain activity. He had missed the sign-ups two weeks in a row.

-Several variations on "Can you please check my calculations for my lab report before I turn it in?" Sorry, no. That's called grading. I never said I would read rough drafts; I don't have time.

-And then this morning, I get this fabulously worded email. "i don't have the data. do u think u could send it to me? or should I come to ur office hours or something."
The data was sent out a week ago via email, and then followed with a message on how to find it again if they lost it. I sent them a link to the message. What really bothers me is that the report is due either tonight or early tomorrow morning and they haven't even started working on the calculations. Gah.

Something genuinely funny to wrap up:
As we slogged through grading midterms in one mass grading session, one of the TAs turned an exam over and found this written on the back:
"Dear test,

I am going to rock you.

Love, Student"

Thursday, May 11, 2006


-When I asked you, "Where should I put the allergy medicine so you remember to take it?" I did not mean you should literally take the entire box with you to work. What am I supposed to take?

-Part of lab this week featured food products made from various types of algae and plants etc. One of my students mentioned that it was making him hungry. I looked up at one of the posters and said the first thing I saw.
"Yeah, beer!"
"And ice cream!"
He laughed and went on his way. Like college students need more encouragement to drink beer.

Scene: Myself and the tech are in the computer room. My boss walks in with a HUGE styrofoam box and begins rummaging through it.

Me: What's in the box?
Boss, with head in box: *mumble mumble-ody*
Me, honestly confused: A dead body???
Tech: No! Antibodies!
*all laugh*
End scene.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

powering through

I am slowly churning my way through my list for the week. I'm done teaching for the week, though I must still proctor the lecture exam tomorrow and then grade it en masse with the other TAs.

I did get their lab midterms graded today, which I am quite proud of. They did well overall. The first one I graded was a perfect score and had me wondering if it was too easy. Unfortunately several other students made up for it with rather dismal grades. Typical.

The facility tour went well, though I can't really explain further. For the next one I want to make flashcards for each station so I'm not flipping haphazardly through the prepared tour notes.

There are also a few things left to do that weren't on the first list. I'm running a series of time-sensitive experiments, which means certain steps need to be wedged between teaching and tours, or research and proctoring. So far I'm on track. We also have a potential postdoc candidate visiting. I'm going to miss their seminar due to a prior committment, but I have a meeting scheduled with them later. Hopefully my brain still works by then.

Monday, May 08, 2006

busy busy week

Things that must be done this week:

1. Attend review session for lecture exam, co-lead review session for lab exam
2. Office hours
3. Write the lab exam for my students
4. Teach my two lab sections
5. Give a tour of one of the facilities
6. Proctor both my lab exam and the lecture exam
7. Grade both exams
8. Teach my students how to write their lab reports properly
9. Try to find time to attend at least one of four "highly relevant" seminars this week, as my PI has strongly suggested that we go
10. Buy a birthday card for my best friend, a Mother's Day card, and arrange Mother's Day gift with the sibs
11. Pick up a prescription by today at the pharmacy on campus
12. Try to keep my research plants alive, even if I don't actually do any work on them this week

If I just take one thing at a time, I should be fine. But it's a daunting list. Only four more weeks to go.

Friday, May 05, 2006

friday random ten

I don't usually do the random ten, but I'm in the mood to play for some reason.

1. "Take Me Out" -Franz Ferdinand
2. "Special K"- Placebo
3. "Blue"- A Perfect Circle
4. "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" -Green Day
5. "A Favor House Atlantic"- Coheed and Cambria
6. "Keep it Together"- Guster
7. "Under My Umbrella" -Incubus
8. "Breathe Me" -Sia
9. "6 Underground" -Sneaker Pimps
10. "So Right" -Dave Matthews Band

Thursday, May 04, 2006

the best of you

Comments on my last post have inspired a new one. It seems I'm far from being the only person who feels the same way, that pressures push us to go for the grades instead of the knowledge.

Tiesha said "My priorities are usually staying in the program with the required B or higher and hope I learn something in the process. It's disappointing. "

Tiesha is a nursing graduate student (right?). Her program has very similar guidelines to my own, and I'm sure to many other graduate programs. B average or higher. In her case it sounds like even a single B- in a class is enough to get you booted. When I was doing coursework I had to keep my GPA above a 3.0. I think I did get a B- in...something. I also got plenty of As in other things.

In my case, that GPA requirement wasn't a lot of pressure for me. Two years doesn't give you a lot of room to pull a GPA up, but even as an undergrad my lowest semester was a 2.95, and that was with an F. (Thank you, organic chemistry). I went directly from undergrad into grad school and I still had my undergrad mentality. Just chew through it, spit out the answers on the test and move on. Pass go, collect $200. Don't get me wrong, I have learned a LOT here. But I could have learned much more, or learned it in better detail.

But it was Abel's comment that inspired the title of this entry "The question is are you/they/me truly capable of more or are we really doing our best? What is it you see in your students that our teachers might have seen in each of us?"

Tough question. I've asked myself many many many times why I always feel like I'm not doing enough. Why do I feel like I should be getting more accomplished? Can I actually get more accomplished? Or is this really my best effort and I only feel like I should be doing more?

I love the teaching. I want my students to succeed. I also want them to think I know what the hell I'm doing, which means I'd better have a solid grasp on the week's material. I put a lot of time into going over the lab each week and figuring out where tricky concepts are, looking up the answers I don't know, so that I can be prepared to answer my students. I give them review sheets almost every week, some made up and saved by other TAs, others made by hand when I didn't like what we had available. In this arena I feel that I'm doing my best, and yet I still think I could improve on my planning slightly. In this arena, I get instant feedback on my efforts. I think that helps motivate me.

Research I have a love/hate relationship with. I like figuring out the "big picture" stuff. I think I will love writing up my first paper. The day-to-day monotony of bench work and measurements gets to me quite often however. Before I started teaching and had my research time drastically cut, I would take frequent breaks to surf the internet and such. The whole time I'd be thinking "but I could be working..." and yet I really didn't feel like doing another DNA prep, or collecting seeds etc. Even with this, where I feel my real motivation issues lie, I have improved. I set time-limits for my slacking off and then force myself to go get work done. I make to-do lists. I'm improving, but I still feel that I could do better. Perhaps I'm already at my best effort level. Who knows?

What do I see in my students that my teachers may have seen? A generally good attitude about learning, a drive to to "well" in school, a vague but noticeable undercurrent of intelligence. These are the students for whom I know this material could be very easy. The class is all memorization and recognition of different organs and tissues. If they would spend just a few minutes in lab each week actually studying the material, just a few minutes!, they would understand it better. But they'd rather talk about their other classes to their (smart) friends and halfheartedly look at the lab demos.

I hated Plant Anatomy when I took it. HATE. It was minutiae to the nth degree with six hours of lab each week. Six hours of very carefully making wet mounts and drawing the resulting images in the lab book. I called it the "drawing circles" lab, because just about every plant cell is circular. I actually did more of the lab work than most people. I made sure I got through everything. But I wasn't interested in it, so my effort to actually learn anything was minimal. It would not have required much effort to get an A, but I honestly didn't care. I got a B in the end. And promptly forgot most of the material.

Abel also asked if I'm perceiving true apathy or rather just a preference to worry about other things: other classes, friends, that party over the weekend. I think it's a little of both. To this day I am adamant about having a "real life" and not turning into a lab hermit. I think my bright students who aren't trying very hard probably care about other classes more, probably would rather be out with friends than in lab, but know that they should be in lab, so they attend. In undergrad I had a very hard time studying or doing homework because there was always something going on that I'd rather be doing. Getting friends together to study/do homework was one solution, because then you're productive AND social.

I think there's a good reason why "non-tradional" older students get more out of college. They come in to learn and understand. "Normal" college students are there because...they're expected to go and a college degree (usually) helps one attain a job. They want the diploma, not the knowledge. In that sense, I probably should have waited a year or two before getting into grad school. But I was afraid I'd never go back, so I guess I'll just have to try and learn something the rest of the time I'm here.

Monday, May 01, 2006


I've always been a "good" student. The main problem was that I cared about the grades more than the learning. I didn't realize this was a problem until recently. Usually doing well and learning go hand in hand, but not always. How exactly does a C- in Calculus translate into knowledge gained? If I could do the easy problems but nothing with fractions or square roots, for example, did I really understand it?

I have a feeling I was one of those students that make instructors shake their heads a little, thinking, "She could do better than this."

I've come to this realization after thinking the same thing about some of my students. After the exam grading, I definitely thought in a handful of cases, "Oh, you're smarter than that!" And they probably are. Perhaps this class is the bottom of their priorities right now. Maybe they're perfectly happy to get a B with minimal effort instead of an A with a bit more effort. Then again, this was the first exam. Maybe they thought it would be cake and it wasn't quite cake, maybe it was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Still elementary, but a bit sticky in places, a bit crunchy in other places. (I think that's probably a terrible metaphor, but it's early).

I see in some of these students myself at that stage. Intelligent and apathetic, we want to slam through the lab material and get out. Maybe something from lecture will click better along the way, but that's a bonus. As long as we get a B, maybe an A-, we're happy. We want the degree in our hands and to be off to the next stage.

This is not the way to go about learning in college. Sadly, I think I've retained very little from my undergrad years. Certainly I gained a foundation in biology to build upon. How membranes function and what mitochondria do, how Hox genes support evolution in vertebrates, F=MA, why carbon is the basis of life etc etc. But if you asked me to teach my freshman bio lab, could I? Not without a lot of review. Genetics was a joke, and I place half the blame on myself and half on a professor that truly couldn't teach the subject, though I know she was at least a decent geneticist.

I went about my graduate level classes the same way. Just pass the exams and get through it. This time around I saved all my notes at least, out of fear for the qualifying exams. Most of it wound up in short-term memory, to be washed away by the next class. I think one of my saving graces has been that I can re-learn a subject or concept quickly if I had a lecture on it before. But obviously that quick refresher doesn't provide deeper understanding of the subject matter.

I think a lot of students have the same mindset that I did. That school is just this necessary evil you must finish before you can get to the "real world." We pick up some knowledge on the way, but that's just icing on the cake.