Archive for: September, 2012

The new must-have accessory for the Ph.D. who has been on the job market for more than three years.

Sep 13 2012 Published by under Academia, Current events, Passing thoughts

Even if you have not seen the infamous ad in the Chronicle of Higher Education for an assistant professorship at Colorado State University in pre-1900 American Literature, you have likely seen the serious discussions of it, and how ill it bodes for academic job-seekers whose Ph.D.s are not the newest and shiniest. Here are "required qualifications" for the job:

1. Ph.D. in English or American Studies or closely related area awarded between 2010 and time of appointment.
2. A promising record of scholarship/research in pre-1900 American literature and culture.
3. Ability to teach a range of subjects in American literature and culture between 1600 and 1900.

It's item #1 on the list that seems to exclude throngs of potential candidates who had the misfortune of earning their Ph.D.s right at the U.S. economy was tanking and as the academic job market was getting even worse.

For these folks, some of whom may have quite excellent track records of scholarship and research, the only way to fulfill the first requirement would be if appointment to this post started before 2010 ... which would be totally do-able with a time machine.

Job one would be going back in time to arrange conditions so Colorado State University (1) created the position prior to 2010, and (2) appointed the candidate to the position prior to 2010. Indeed, as the requirement is worded, the candidate would have to be appointed before conferral of his or her Ph.D. (since earning of the Ph.D. has to be *between* 2010 and the time of appointment -- try drawing it on a number-line to see how this satisfies the requirement). But I suspect search committees are more likely to hire an ABD who has a time machine. And is from the future.

The standard warnings apply about being careful only to make the necessary changes in the past (and to avoid killing stuff). This may be a place where your attention to detail in your history coursework and research pays off. If you can manage to change what needs changing to get the job and prevent the great recession, that might be OK, too.

Once hired, hold onto that time machine, as it could help a lot in meeting requirement #3. Teaching between 1600 and 1900 sounds like a pretty grueling work schedule, but maybe less so if you can just dial up the year on the time machine. (Careful materializing in Salem Village, Massachusetts on the early end of this range, though. They might get the wrong idea, and that won't help your tenure dossier one bit.)

UPDATE: According to Inside Higher Education, the ad has been rewritten. Can you guess which requirement has been dropped?

Still, I reckon a time machine might increase the desirability of a candidate -- or at least, the search committee's hesitance to jerk that candidate around.

4 responses so far

A danger of asking kids to be responsible for their own schedules.

Sep 13 2012 Published by under Passing thoughts, Personal

Sometimes you look at the shared family calendar and find an entry like this one:

The calendar indicates that the 23rd is No-Pants Day
In case you can read it, the entry indicates that the twenty-third of that month (not this month) is "No-Pants Day".

I am nearly 100% certain that is not an actual recognized holiday. I am nearly 100% certain that we did not observe it by spending the day pantless.

However, if our family calendar was subpoenaed as evidence in a legal proceeding, I fear we might have some explaining to do.

7 responses so far

Question for the hivemind: Where do you draw the line in associating with a party that has done something objectionable?

I am thinking my way through a longer discussion of this general question, and I decided it would be useful to get a sense of the intuitions of people who are not me on this matter.

Say there's a person or an organization (or a corporation, which, I've heard, is a person) that has done something you find pretty objectionable.

Say that this person or organization is in a position to contribute something to a goal that you support -- perhaps providing material and/or labor to help build something you think needs to be built, or money to help support a conference you think will serve the good, or speakers to help explain science-y stuff to a general audience.

Would you associate with the party that has done something you find objectionable to the extent that you would accept that contribution of help?

What kind of conditions would you require in accepting the help? For example, would you require that the party not be able to micromanage how their donation is used, who gets to speak at the conference their money is supporting, etc.? Would you insist that they only be allowed to provide help if they also agree to face questions about what you view as their objectionable conduct?

Or, would you rather forgo the help in order not to associate at all with the party that has done something you find objectionable?

Does it matter here whether the party is an organization, some of whose members or organizational units have done something you find objectionable -- but where the help on offer is coming from other members or organizational units -- rather than a person who's done something you find objectionable offering her help?

Feel free to share your thoughts on the ways the precise nature of the "something objectionable" matter to your line-drawing here.

7 responses so far

Things that don't bode well for college students in this economy.

From the Classified section of the student paper at my fair university late last week, the full extent of the listings under "Employment":

In case you can't read the text in the image:

$ $ Sperm Donors Wanted $ $
Earn up to $1,200/month and help create families. Convenient Palo Alto location. Apply online: [URL redacted]

Female Masseuse Wanted
For a private gentlemen [sic], no experience necessary.
Minimum age 18 Cash. [sic]
[phone number redacted]

I don't even know what to say about this. Except that I hope the Career Center has more options.

4 responses so far

Sunday ponderable: Does who's following you on Twitter influence how you tweet?

I know that some of you have been very good at resisting the siren song of The Twitters. I have pretty much turned right into the rocks.

Not that I'm tweeting 24/7 or anything. My tweets are primarily:

(1) Links to my new blog posts, when I manage to get it together to write new blog posts.

(2) Retweets of good stuff others have tweeted, especially links to pieces that I want to reread more carefully later.

(3) Passing thoughts about my job, my kids, my commute, or whatever.

(4) Occasionally, live-notes from a conference session I'm attending.

(5) Playing along with hashtag games (e.g., the recent #ReplaceLoveWithSoup).

My tweets, generally speaking, involve much less time and thought than my blog posts, and they are frequently more silly and/or smart alecky.

But here's the thing:

I've been picking up Twitter followers, as one does. Some of them are actually pretty famous and well-respected people in fields upon which my work (not just my blogging-work, but my actual professorial research/teaching/service-work) touch. Some of them are pretty famous and well-respected people in my home discipline. Also, not that it necessarily matters (but I can't rule out the possibility that it might), some of these famous-folks are a generation or two older than me.

... and now there's something like the possibility of meeting some of these famous-folk in real life (say, at a professional meeting) and having their primary information about me at that moment come from my tweets. And it's hard to anticipate how famous scientists and philosophers feel about replacing love with soup.

Or to know whether it should matter to me.

Are any of you in a similar situation? Does it influence how you tweet? Have you decided that your Twitter followers deserve what they get from your tweet-stream?

5 responses so far

Hard apple cider: materials and methods.

Sep 08 2012 Published by under Food

This is a follow-up to the last post, because Ewan requested it.

The first thing to note is that my better half is the PI on our cider-making endeavors. I'm pretty much the lab tech. Also, we have only tasted the results of this protocol once (and are at least a month out from being able to check the success of the second run), so the PI is not ready to give precise instructions with respect to how much sugar to add at bottling time, etc. The protocol is approximate because we are still working to refine it.

In other words, this is going to be one of those Materials and Methods where people grumble about details that have been omitted. I asked the PI for more detail on the details; I was told to get back to washing bottles.

However, I can point you at Real Cidermaking on a Small Scale by Michael Pooley and John Lomax as a source of more guidance.


Cider press
Large plastic bucket with lid and airlock
Carboy with stopper and airlock
Siphon (basically, a long length of Tygon tubing)
Bottling wand
12 ounce bottles (as many as needed)
Bottle caps
Universal capper


Apples (lots)
English cider yeast (commercially available from White Labs)
Sulfites (commercially available from beer and wine making stores)
Five Star Sanitizer (commercially available from beer and wine making stores)


Pick a whole mess of apples. Wash them and remove the worm-ridden cores. Cut into not-gigantic pieces (at least quartering the medium-sized apples).

There's a beer and wine making store in the area that has a fancy hydraulic cider press and that will press your apples for free during a few weekend hours during apple season. It's remarkably quick ... but come the zombie apocalypse, when the grid goes down, that kind of cider press will be of little use. We have one of these:

We line it with a fabric cider-bag. Before we put the pieces of wood on top and start the pressing, we put the apples in the cider-bag. But to maximize the juice recovery, you want to grind the apple pieces with a crusher:

To facilitate the crusher throughput, we attach one of these hoppers to the top:

and fill it up with apple pieces, then start turning the hopper crank with the hopper positioned over the cider-bag-lined cider press.

Press the cider into a big bucket (we used a 5 gallon bucket). Note that pressing 5 gallons of cider may take one adult a full workday and then some.

Add sulfites.

Pitch yeast.

Put lid and airlock on bucket.

Ferment to dryness.

[I'm pretty sure somewhere around here in the process the PI was making measurements of specific gravity and sugar content and alcohol content. The PI is being very closed-notebook about this right now, so see what Pooley and Lomax recommend.]

Rack to secondary (carboy with airlock), adding sugar if desired.

Let it age. (How long? Until it tastes mellow enough. Or until you need the carboy for something else.)

Wash bottles and sanitize 'em. Also sanitize your siphon and bottling wand.

If you want some carbonation in the bottled cider (or to increase the sugar content somewhat), make a sugar solution and add to the cider in the carboy. (Make sure to eyeball the available volume so you don't dissolve the desired amount of sugar in too much water to fit.)

Get the bottles near the carboy, stick one end of the siphoning tube in, and pipette by mouth to get things flowing. Attach the bottling wand and start filling the bottles.

For 12 ounce bottles, to get the right amount of headspace, you need to fill until just a moment before overflow with the bottling wand in the bottle. (It dispenses liquid when you press the end of the wand against the bottom of the bottle, and stops dispensing when you lift it up.)

Cap the bottles. Let them age for a month or more.

When the apple tree is full of apples, do it again.

10 responses so far

The continued relevance of my (first) Ph.D.

Sep 08 2012 Published by under Chemistry, Personal

From time to time, when people find out that it took me two Ph.D.s to work out what I wanted to be when I grew up, they'll make comments about what a pain it must have been wasting those four-plus years learning chemistry stuff that is well-nigh useless for a professional philosopher.

Let the record reflect that last weekend, I made use of a skill that I honed in my graduate chemistry training.

Sadly, that skill was bottle-washing -- not the most intellectually stimulating thing to do. But, when the bottles need washing, knowing how to wield a bottle-brush with authority is important.

And, now we have apple cider (or more properly, the yeast contained in that cider) munching on sucrose in the bottles, developing some carbonation. Plus, the carboy is now free and ready for this Fall's press, which is good, as the apple tree is groaning under the burden of all those apples.

8 responses so far

Marc Hauser makes an excuse for cheating. What he could have done instead.

DrugMonkey notes that Marc Hauser has offered an explanation for faking data (as reported on the Chronicle of Higher Education Percolator blog). His explanation amounts to:

  • being busy with teaching and directing the Mind, Brain & Behavior Program at Harvard
  • being busy serving on lots of fancy editorial boards
  • being busy writing stuff explaining science to an audience of non-scientists
  • being busy working with lots of scientific collaborators
  • being busy running a large research lab with lots of students

DrugMonkey responds that busy is part of the job description, especially if you're rolling in the prestige of a faculty post at Harvard, and of being a recognized leader in your field. I would add that "I was really busy and I made a bad decision (but just this one time)" is an excuse we professors frequently hear from students we catch cheating. It's also one that doesn't work -- we expect our students to do honest work and figure out their time management issues. And, we're expected to work out our own time management issues -- even if it means saying "No" to invitations that are sometimes tempting.

By the way, Marc Hauser didn't actually admit that he faked data, or committed research misconduct of any kind, so much as he "accepts the findings" of the Office of Research Integrity. Moreover, his comments seem to be leaning on that last bullet point (the rigors of supervising a big lab) to deflect what responsibility he does take. From the CHE Percolator:

He also implies that some of the blame may actually belong to others in his lab. Writes Hauser: “I let important details get away from my control, and as head of the lab, I take responsibility for all errors made within the lab, whether or not I was directly involved.”

But that take—the idea that the problems were caused mainly by Hauser’s inattention—doesn’t square with the story told by those in his laboratory. A former research assistant, who was among those who blew the whistle on Hauser, writes in an e-mail that while the report “does a pretty good job of summing up what is known,” it nevertheless “leaves off how hard his co-authors, who were his at-will employees and graduate students, had to fight to get him to agree not to publish the tainted data.”

The former research assistant points out that the report takes into account only the research that was flagged by whistle-blowers. “He betrayed the trust of everyone that worked with him, and especially those of us who were under him and who should have been able to trust him,” the research assistant writes.

So, Hauser is kind of claiming that there were too many students, postdocs, and technicians to supervise properly, and some of them got away from him and falsified methodology and coding and fabricated data. The underlings challenge this account.

In the comments at DrugMonkey's, hypotheses are being floated as to what might have spurred Hauser's bad actions. (A perception that he needed to come up with sexy findings to stay a star in his field is one of the frontrunners.) I'm more inclined to come up with a list of options Hauser might have fruitfully pursued instead of faking or allowing fakery to happen on his watch:

  1. He could have agreed not to send out manuscripts with questionable data when his underlings asked him.
  2. He could have asked to be released from some of his teaching and/or administrative duties at Harvard so he could spend the needed time on his research and on properly mentoring the members of his lab.
  3. He could have taken on fewer students in order to better supervise and mentor the students in his charge.
  4. He could have sought the advice of a colleague or a collaborator on ways he might deal with his workload (or with the temptations that workload might be awakening in him).
  5. He could have communicated to his department, his professional societies, and the funding agencies his considered view that the demands on researchers, and operative definitions of productivity, make it unreasonable hard to do the careful research needed to come up with reliable answers to scientific questions.

And those are just off the top of my head.

I'm guessing that the pressure Marc Hauser felt to get results was real enough. What I'm not buying is the same thing that I don't buy when I get this excuse from student plagiarists: that there was no other choice. Absent a gun to Hauser's head, there surely were other things he could have done.

Feel free to add to the list of other options someone facing Hauser-like temptations could productively pursue instead of cheating.

18 responses so far

Question for the hivemind: What's the fairest way to distribute add codes?

Sep 06 2012 Published by under Academia, Personal, Reader participation

At my fair university, we are in the brief window of time between "drop day" (the date by which students need to drop a course if they don't want it to be listed on their transcript with a W, for "withdraw," next to it) and the "late add" deadline (after which, for all intents and purposes, you can't add a class). This means that I have only a few more days to savor being popular -- or at least, popular with the students still desperately trying to lock in their schedules for the semester and hoping to secure the units and/or general education credit my courses could provide.

Sadly, this popularity mostly manifests itself in messages in my inbox asking that I please give the sender an add code for my class ASAP. Worse, in the small fraction of cases where I have been able to to comply with these requests, I don't always hear back from the student to whom I've given an add code ... and he or she doesn't always use the add code to add my class.

I find that this presents me with a practical problem that is also an ethical problem. Students will frequently email, saying, "In the listing online, it shows that your class still has open seats." From the point of view of official enrollment, the online listing is correct, but in this portion of the term it is also the case that I have usually given out one add code for each theoretically empty seat. If all the add codes I've given out are used, there really aren't any open seats.

But a handful of the people to whom I've given out add codes end up not using them, and not letting me know that they're not going to use them.

I have colleagues who deal with the open-seats problem by giving out excess add codes (i.e., more than could all be used before the class is full). The computerized registration system is set up to close registration once the enrollment cap (which for us is usually the seating capacity of the room) is reached, so there's no chance of having more students than seats and violating fire codes. But, essentially this makes adding the course a matter of being fastest on the draw to use your add code -- which makes things hard for students who need first to get various holds on their registration lifted, a process that requires standing in lines and getting signatures on forms. Also, it may leave a student feeling like she has found a space in a class she needed only to be disappointed that she doesn't really have that space because the other add code recipients got there first.

My goal is to fill all the open seats in my courses with students who need them. I don't want to do this by setting up a bloody battle to use one's add code first. On the other hand, I don't want people who have gotten add codes from me to waste an open seat that someone else could use by not using their add codes.

Is there a good way to make this happen?

10 responses so far