Archive for the 'Passing thoughts' category

2012 in review: 12 months of Adventures in Ethics and Science.

I thought I was too late for the 2012 edition of the year-in-review meme (for which DrugMonkey has been keeping the flame alive), but Pascale, and ProflikeSubstance, and Bashir, and Dr. Becca all done did it too, so who am I to resist it?

The rules: Go to your blog's archives. For each month of 2012, link the first post, and follow it with the first sentence of that post. (Including the title of the post is totally optional; my sense is sometimes it's more fun to stare at the first sentence for a while to try to come up with a hypothesis about what the post was about without a title there to give it away.)

If you have a blog and haven't done this one yet yourself, consider yourself tagged! (That will teach you to go reading meme-ish blog posts!)

January: Happy New Year! As I type this post, only 18 days remain until the official start of ScienceOnline 2012, which means soon it will be time to pack.

February: Or, maybe my mother did tell me about this particular reason to "clean up" images from deep space and I just wasn't paying attention?

March: Apropos of the discussion here, I offer some general thoughts on pursuing partner, career, family, or other aims one deems important:

April: Do you have an ethical dilemma?

May: I have long maintained that bodies are suboptimal vehicles with which to schlep minds around.

June: Two Fridays ago, I was poised to jump into what I hoped would be a very productive summer.

July: Overheard from the backseat of the Free-Ride hoopty as we were driving the Free-Ride offspring home from a visit to the Grandparents Who Lurk But Seldom Comment:

August: The Fall semester is now upon us, in much the same way you might imagine a ton of bricks or a locomotive would be upon us.

September: 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).

October: On the Twitters, becca pointed me to this post which raises an interesting evaluative question:

November: We're coming into the home stretch of our annual DonorsChoose Science Bloggers for Students drive:

December: It has been eleven years since I was last on the market for an academic job, and about six years (if I'm remembering correctly) since I was last on a search committee working to fill a tenure-track position in my department.

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Not answering the question.

Dec 14 2012 Published by under Current events, Passing thoughts

Today there was another mass shooting at a school.

I am beyond tired of mass shootings at schools. Not just because I have kids in school, not just because I spent 26+ years of my own life as a student, not just because I work at a school (which is a big part of what a university really is). Schools are where people come to learn, to build skills, to find out who they are or who they want to be.

Schools are supposed to be safe.

As I was driving home from my school, I was listening to experts being asked on the radio how a school shooting like the one today could happen. Obviously, the follow-up question would be something along the lines of how, knowing what causes it, could we prevent more shootings like this one?

And the experts, down the line, said that really, this is an extremely rare event. Mostly, this kind of thing doesn't happen.

Which is probably true, but that wasn't the question.

Rare or not, this kind of event is utterly devastating. Do you know what caused it, or what contributed to it? Or is it an event for which you have just as little knowledge about causes, and effective prevention, as the rest of us?

The experts were also asked how parents should discuss this news with their kids. Here too, down the line, they said that parents should reassure kids that schools are very safe places.

But here again, that's not really the question our kids are asking when we talk about people showing up at a school with guns and killing lots of people.

What they want to know is, "Can you keep me safe? Can you promise that no one will show up at my school and do something like this?"

As much as we want to tell them yes, I don't think we can, not without lying. If there's a way to keep this promise, I'm not sure we know enough to do it. And maybe, even if we knew all there was to know about the causes, we still couldn't keep these shootings from happening.

That's a bitter pill to swallow, but if that's how the landscape looks to the people who study mass shootings, I kind of wish they'd tell us that rather than repeating how safe schools are.

8 responses so far

Questions worth asking yourself if you're thinking of cheating.

This should not be taken as an exhaustive list by any means.

  1. Has your instructor warned you that course policy rewards cheating and plagiarism with a failing grade for the course, and with the filing of academic integrity violation reporting forms with the relevant administrative offices? If so, cheating might be kind of risky.
  2. Have you been asked to indicate your explicit agreement to a statement that particular sources of information and help are not allowed for this assignment? If so, consulting one of those sources for information and help is not allowed (i.e., it will probably be viewed as cheating), and the instructor who secured your agreement to the ground rules may well pursue sanctions against you if you do it.
  3. Is the assignment on which you're considering cheating one of the requirements for an ethics course? If so, being caught cheating is likely to demonstrate something like a lack of comprehension of the course content. This may well undercut any plea for leniency you're inclined to make.
  4. Are you betting that the instructor evaluating your work will not detect the cheating? If so, you might want to entertain the possibility that he or she can distinguish typical student work from a Googled source, and that past instances of cheating on his or her watch have sharpened his or her discernment. You might also recall that professorial types generally have strong research skills and experience with search engines like Google.
  5. Do you need to pass the particular course in which you are considering cheating in order to graduate in your major? If so, there might be a principled reason that the people training you in your major subject think you should learn the content of this course -- and cheating (rather than actually mastering that content) might put you at a disadvantage in your future education or employment at that kind of major. Also, if you're caught cheating, it may delay your ability to graduate in your chosen major.
  6. Is there only one faculty member who teaches this course-required-for-your-major in which you are considering cheating? That means if you are caught cheating and you want to graduate in this major, you will have to take this course again with this same instructor who already failed you once for cheating. Is that possibility really less uncomfortable than buckling down and doing your own damn work in the first place?

I mean, seriously. Maybe it's time to "update your priors" or something, kids.

6 responses so far

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

In which a sibling tries to meet a sibling halfway.

Jul 16 2012 Published by under Passing thoughts, Personal

Overheard from the backseat of the Free-Ride hoopty as we were driving the Free-Ride offspring home from a visit to the Grandparents Who Lurk But Seldom Comment:

Younger offspring: Do you want to play dolls?

Elder offspring: No.

Younger offspring: Do you want to make fun of me playing dolls?

Maybe this is progress?

One response so far

"Respect my authority! (And put down the beach ball.)"

Jun 26 2012 Published by under Academia, Passing thoughts, Personal

My fellow university faculty, have you ever felt that your official commencement faculty marshal badge is just too pedestrian to command the respect it deserves?

Me too.

Luckily, it's the kind of thing you can remedy. Observe:

For those of you muttering "Free-Ride has finally gone round the bend," let me put a few more facts into evidence:

1. All the graduating students at commencement who commented on my badge embellishments were also quick to comply with the lining-up, filling-out-photo-cards, and marching instructions I issued. (And, since they didn't look scared while so complying, I assume it's because they respected my marshaling authority, not because they thought I was about to snap.)

2. Two full professors in my college (both male, if that matters to you) borrowed similarly embellished badges from me so they could step into the faculty marshaling fray. (Bringing extra credentials to commencement is always a good idea so you can deputize other faculty members on the spot.)

3. Neither of them have yet returned these embellished badges. I'm betting I'll see them again next May.

(My better half, of course, insisted on referring to my spiffed-up faculty marshal badge as my "flair". We'll be meeting at Flingers for lunch to settle the matter.)

One response so far

Meditations on a sprained ankle.

Jun 13 2012 Published by under Passing thoughts, Personal

Two Fridays ago, I was poised to jump into what I hoped would be a very productive summer. I had submitted spring semester grades with time to spare (and then submitted the change-of-grade form for the one I had computed incorrectly). I had gotten my online course ready to be switched on for the summer session. I had gotten through some necessary committee work and made a plan to keep the rest from encroaching too severely on my research and writing schedule.

And then, walking my younger offspring to the car after swim practice, I turned my ankle, fell hard, watched it swell up for awhile, then looked away when the pain and nausea got to be too much.

I found out the next afternoon at Urgent Care that it wasn't fractured, just badly sprained, and that probably, if I was good, it would be better within four weeks.

I found out that if you injure yourself after 7:30 on a Friday evening Urgent Care will close before you can get there. I also found out that it doesn't matter much if Urgent Care opens Saturday morning when the only other licensed driver in the house now has to be two places at once (owing to my inability to get the kid to the swim meet and work our shift timing the heats, since being upright still provoked nausea).

I found out that it's worth hanging on to that old pair of crutches, but that propelling myself on them is a lot harder than I remember it being 20 years ago.

I found out that most of the tasks that were part of my daily routine are a lot harder on one leg than on two, especially when my hands are busy clutching the crutches for dear life. Making breakfast for the kids, or packing their lunches, suddenly requires serious planning just to get food items from the fridge to the work surface without mishap.

I learned that a bath feels less like a luxurious indulgence when a shower is not an option.

I learned that I have a hard time asking for help, or remembering that an egalitarian household arrangement probably shouldn't require that one do 50% of the labor when one is incapacitated.

I learned that my offspring are capable of operating the washer and dryer (and changing the settings as appropriate for different loads of laundry). I also learned that instructing them to avoid overloading the washing machine by leaving an empty space big enough for a particular stuffed animal will lead my younger offspring to use that stuffed animal to do quality control before starting each load.

I found out that using FaceTime to participate in a committee meeting from home is a mixed blessing.

I found out that my relatively high pain threshold makes it harder to remember to take regular doses of ibuprofen for inflammation.

I found out that making a serious effort to stay off my ankle has made the muscles and joints in the rest of my body angry with me. This week, as I eased back into Pilates to avoid total bodily collapse, I discover that it only took a week and a half to develop serious asymmetries that weren't there before.

I found out that I have some gnarly bruises that may persist even after my mobility returns.

I found out that my sprained ankle doesn't interfere terribly with doing tasks that don't require too much thought, like grading, or editing pieces of writing that are close to done. However, it seems to have made it harder for me to write anything new, or to do any coherent project planning. I found out that I feel bad about this because there doesn't seem to be an obvious physical reason why my messed up ankle should mess with my head.

6 responses so far

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