Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cover Meme

I was tagged by Professor Anonymous for the cover meme: what are the best and worst covers?

I've got two for the best:

As for the worst (although PiT had some amazing ones):

I can't even listen to that one. I tag VWXYnot?, x-ine, Jenn PhD, Dr. Brazen Hussy, and Lunicrax.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Teaching Workshop III

The fourth session of the teaching workshop involved more micro-teaching. However, unlike the second session, where we had to prepare something, this was all about reacting in the moment. To incivilities none-the-less.

For the first hour, the whole group discussed a situation in which an incident occurred between a female and male student in a lab (no, it wasn't sexual in nature). The incident was reported to the lab TA (who did not witness the event) by two other students in the lab. The TA and the two students let the course instructor know, who then came to us (the course coordinator). The female involved did not want to file a formal complaint, but did want to change lab partners. We discussed the players, the issues, what/who would be the most difficult to deal with, and in what order would we speak to each person.

The second half of the session, we split into two groups and did role plays where someone had to be the instructor and had to react in the moment to certain incivilities: a student answering a cell phone, students talking loudly in class, students asking for grade increases, students not doing the readings for class, and potential plagarism. After the role play, everyone brainstormed ideas on how to deal with the situation in the moment (reaction) or how it could have been prevented (proaction). It was very interesting!

The fifth, and last, session was about evaluation processes in the classroom (Class Assessment Techniques - CATs). This included both informal (asking questions during lecture, leading discussion groups, etc.) and formal (in class quizzes or assignments, etc.) methods. The basic difference between the two is that formal methods typically are associated with an assigned grade, while informal methods are not. We discussed the issues with the different methods (i.e., students may not take the informal methods seriously, but there is a lot of anxiety around the formal ones).

We were then split into groups, and given a scenario in the classroom and had to come up with an assessment method that was useful and helpful for both the instructor and the students. It was interesting to hear what other groups came up with! Although, it would have been nice to hear about other assessment techniques, how they were implemented, and what the results were.

Overall the teaching workshop was really helpful. I wish that I had taking more of these sessions, and I'd recommend them to anyone wanting to teach at some level. The great thing for me was that it renewed my confidence in my teaching, and that it really is what I want to do as a career (and it helps that this whole thesis thing is reminding me how much I hate research/academia :P).

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Revisions and Examiners

I just heard back from the reviewer on paper #2 that was submitted at the beginning of April. It requires major revisions (basically re-doing the data analysis) --- well, at least it wasn't rejected. I had a feeling the method we used might be questioned, and now I'm wondering if it should be changed in my thesis as well (gah!!!).

In other news, we still have not found a university examiner for my defense (someone at the university, but not in my department). We've asked 12 people so far - twelve!!! The form has to be in theoretically on Monday, but that's not going to happen. Thankfully grad studies isn't going to be sticky on it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Why wasn't I told that?

I had a look at my earnings statement for this month - because I get paid from multiple sources, I've learned to check it ahead of time in case something is messed up. So, I wasn't surprised when I saw there was something missing: my pay from one of my outreach programs.

Now, I've had this issue before. Due to problems with the department and grad studies, the woman who takes care of my salary for that job has to put in my hours manually each month. Once in a while she misses it, and she either gets a cheque cut for me, or it just ends up on my next paycheque.

So, I figured it was the same deal, and just let her know what was going on. I was surprised by the response: all "new" positions have to now be approved by the provost. First of all, my position is not new - I've been doing it for 4 years (and there were others before me). Second, why is she just telling me this now? I have a feeling that this wouldn't have even surfaced if I didn't ask her about my pay!

This isn't the first time that I've caught an issue like this - I've had problems with my department paying me less than they should pretty much every semester. Why is it that I have to make sure I get paid the right amount? You'd think with 100s of faculty/staff, they'd know how to pay people properly. I swear, they try to lowball people and just hope no one catches it :P

So, now my paycheque for this month is super low and I don't know if I'm actually going to get paid for this job anymore (and even if I am...when is it going to be approved?). Damn this university really sucks ass about things like this.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Count Down is On

One week from today, my thesis committee form is due.

Two weeks from today, my thesis is due.

Eight weeks from today, I'll be defending.

Eight weeks and 6 hours from right now, I'll either be crying into a beer or...probably crying into a beer...either because I failed or because I'll just be thankful that this whole horrid experience is over. Have I mentioned that the last four years have been the worst of my life (work-wise)?

I got some good work done on my intro chapter over the past few days. I hope to get it back to my supervisor by our meeting on Wednesday.

He also gave me back a second round of comments on chapter 2 (on project #3 - the crappy one). I'm starting to think he doesn't read anything very carefully. Either he suggests adding something that was actually written two sentences before, or he wants things changed back to the way they were in the original draft. It's quite annoying, because I don't want to waste my time going back and forth on things like this.

I know he's just trying to make the thesis better, and some of his comments/suggestions are really helpful. But, it's frustrating when he's not reading things carefully. The more drafts he sees, the more he wants to change - even if he's okay with things from the first 2 drafts, he tends to change new things that were there since the beginning. We just don't have the time to go through 7 drafts - and it's a thesis, not a paper. I think I will have to draw the line at a certain number of drafts he sees (2), and make executive decisions on the corrections.

This whole process has also made me think about how archaic the academic world is - I think a lot of things are done just because everyone that came before had to go through it. In what other profession does someone work on one project for a minimum of 4 years for shit money (if any money at all), write a report which includes an overview of the whole entire subject area that encompasses the project, and then have to stand in front of a committee for hours answering their questions?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Teaching Workshop II

To receive a certificate for the teaching workshop, each of us has to do a final (capstone) project. This entails choosing a topic in education related to our field, and writing a 3-5 page summary of a seminar we would give on that topic, listing the motivation, objectives, and pedagogy.

Based on my experiences (especially over the past few weeks writing this thesis) and on a very interesting paper I posted last week, I have chosen my topic to be the Impostor Syndrome. This topic is extremely important because it is rampant in the sciences, it has greatly affected me personally, very rarely do people accept its existence, let alone actually addressing it, and it's just plain interesting.

The project is due at the end of June, so I have some time to do some research. That is where you come in, my readers! I am planning to use group discussions throughout, but I want to make sure certain key points/strategies are hit on before moving on in the seminar.

First, a short summary: The Impostor Syndrome is an inability to internalize accomplishments. People that suffer from it do not believe they deserve the success they have achieved, even if there is evidence to the contrary. They often minimize their successes/abilities (i.e., it's because of luck, timing, etc.) and feel like they don't belong or that they are a fraud and will be "found out". It is especially prevalent at the graduate level. My seminar will discuss the syndrome, what events cause/perpetuate it, ways to address it at the undergraduate level, and the importance of not knowing in scientific research.

What I want you to help me with is some answers/examples for the following two major discussions/brain-storming sessions in the seminar:

1. A group discussion on the causes of the Impostor Syndrome. These can be examples from personal experiences, or just general thoughts (i.e., in undergrad, you're taught to get the right answer, and this might not be possible in research; professors are made out like they know everything already; etc.).

2. A brainstorming session on how to address the issue at the undergraduate level (i.e., giving problems where only the method is asked for; having guest speakers talk about road blocks in research, and how they overcame them; etc.).

So, let me hear it! How have you felt like an impostor in academia (or otherwise)? When did it affect you the most? What situations perpetuated it? Did any situation help alleviate it? What would you do to address it with undergraduate students?

I look forward to your thoughts!!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Teaching Workshop I

I have mentioned before that I am taking a short workshop on teaching. It has been very interesting so far, and now I wish that I had taken more of these workshops during my time here!

Each session is 3.5 hours long, and there are two sessions per week. There are five sessions in total, and we have a final project due a month after the workshop ends. When I thought about 3 hours in a classroom I assumed I'd get bored no matter what the topic, but the time has flown by in class!

Generally, for each session we have readings or some other preparation to do. Not only do we learn about the topic at hand, but the facilitators also use different teaching methods during the session, so we learn about those too (and see them in action).

The first class was about teaching/learning styles and how to set learning objectives. They split us into three groups (there are about 15-20 people in the course), and each group read papers on one of the subjects. We then used the jigsaw method to learn about the other topics: first, each group discussed the paper and wrote down a summary of the major points. Then, the groups were mixed so there was at least one person from each group. At that point, each member relayed the information summarized in the first group. There was also a final activity that brought it all together.

It was really interesting to see how the different groups worked together to summarize the paper, and how each person relayed the information in the second group. A very cool way of teaching subjects that are closely related!

For the second session, we had to come up with an outline of a 50-minute class in our discipline. This included not only the content, but the pedagogy (what methods we would use to teach the material). Then, we had to choose 10 minutes of that class to actually teach. This is known as micro-teaching.

During this session, the class was split into four smaller groups. Each person in that group would give a summary of what the 50 minute class would be like, and then would give the 10 minute micro-session (this part is recorded on a DVD). The other class members, as well as the facilitator, would fill out a feedback form. After the 10 minutes is done, everyone gives their feedback orally (this is also recorded on the DVD).

This was a great exercise, although I was a bit nervous about being critiqued on my teaching abilities. Thankfully, I received glowing feedback, and was even given a couple tips to make my teaching even better. I watched myself on the DVD (which we got to keep) and I was actually impressed with myself!

The first half of the third session focused on incivilities in the classroom - both from the student and the professor. As a group, we identified many of the annoyances that crop up in the classroom (i.e., students talking on their cell phone, leaving class early, or demanding higher grades; professors being late to class, being unprepared, or bullying students). We then discussed what causes these issues on both sides (being overworked, feeling unsuccessful, poor communication, "real life", etc), and what things, as professors, we could control. It would have been helpful to discuss strategies for dealing with these issues - although this was covered in one of the assigned papers and session four will be related to this.

The second half of this session included two parallel sessions: one on group work, the other on alternative problem set strategies in science/engineering. I attended the latter. We discussed the differences between novice and expert problem solvers. For example, novices tend to only have a surface knowledge and look for the right equation, while experts have a deeper knowledge base and tend to picture what's going on before diving into the problem.

The group was then split into three groups, and we were given a certain problem set strategy to read about. After a short discussion in the small groups, each presented what their strategy was and gave an example. Some examples are the "wrong answer" strategy (give the students the solution to a problem, but there is something wrong with it - they have to find what's wrong and correct it); and the "jeopardy" strategy (give the students an equation, and they have to draw a diagram to show what's going on; basically working backwards). There were three others that I can't recall this early in the morning!

Overall, this course has been amazing so far! I have learned so much and now have a ton of great ideas to bring into the classroom if I end up teaching. It also makes me feel more confident with my abilities, especially after receiving such positive feedback from the facilitator for my micro-teaching session.

Since this post is about a mile long, I will write about the final project, as well as the last two sessions, in separate posts.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Impostor Syndrome on High

Wow - did I ever have "damn, am I stupid" day today :(

I met with my supervisor and gave him the rest of my thesis (a good thing, yes). He hadn't read anything else I had given him over the past two weeks, but he told me he'd try to read everything by the end of the week.

Right after lunch he brought me my intro with corrections. For some reason I'm really taking these comments personally, and it doesn't help that he wants me to add a TON of stuff. Now I don't know where to start, or where to add certain sections...I just feel overwhelmed and freaked out. I only have 19 days before I have to submit it.

Then I went to a PhD defense - the student has 7 published papers...SEVEN!! Well, one was a second-author paper...gah!! Who publishes seven papers during their PhD?? I couldn't follow her talk at all, not even the title slide!

Anyway, I feel like shit and just want to cry (and have on and off all afternoon - just ask DH). I just want this awful part of my life to be over already!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Female Brain

I finished The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine on the weekend. Here is my review:

The general premise of this book is a good one - it attempts to explain the differences between the female brain at different stages in life, and compares it to the male brain at some points. The big issue I have is that the author seems to believe these differences are solely based on biology, and not on the social environment. I do agree that we are "hard wired" in some way, but I don't think it can be disputed that our upbringing has a huge effect on our personality traits.

I also did not enjoy the writing style very much. It seemed to jump from very technical biology babble (using many terms for example) to very a colloquial style. This book is, I assume, for the general public, and it could have been written better.

The conclusions she draws don't have a lot of evidence to back them up. She would quote one situation or finding, and then make a general conclusion. This might be due to the book being for the general public, but it didn't sit well.

Finally, I would have loved to hear more examples from her clients AND then explain how those examples give evidence for one of her conclusions. It would be a more enjoyable read if that was the case.

Overall, very interesting topic, but take it with a giant grain of salt. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, May 18, 2009

June Scientiae: Moving Forward

Alice and ScienceWoman over at ScienceWomen are hosting the June Scientiae, and they have chosen a wonderful topic:
We're all at different stages of our journeys, but something we have in common is that we are all MOVING FORWARD, so that's the theme of this Scientiae edition.

How are you moving forward in life?
They posted a few well known sayings to motivate and inspire us, such as "When life hands you lemons, turn them into lemonade," and "Life is just a bowl of cherries". These are wonderfully positive, and I love lemonade and cherries (I even have a tattoo of one of these - I'll leave it as an activity for the reader to guess which one).

For me though, the quote that really describes my life at this moment is "The odds are six to five that the light in the end of the tunnel is the headlight of an oncoming train" (Paul Dickson).

Okay - this isn't as happy and positive as the first two, but it's one of my favorites. To me, it basically means to be prepared or you'll get your ass handed to you on a platter. Since I'm currently writing my thesis and will be defending in just over two months, I feel this is rather relevant to my experiences.

Since the beginning of May, I have found that life has been going in fast-forward. Writing my thesis was taking less time than I thought, so my defense date was moved up to July. This, in a sense, took two months off my time to prepare, as I was initially planning to defend in mid-September.

At first it was scary - I have to get everything done two months earlier? - but then I realized that those two months would not make me any more prepared. In fact, it probably would be worse for me if I had to sit around, twiddling my thumbs for two more months; I would have been a stress-case during our three-week trip in August!

So, here I am, just about two months from my PhD defense - a day that I seriously thought would never happen. Throughout the past four years I have contemplated dropping out too many times to count. And honestly, the only reason why I am here now is because of the embarrassment I would have felt if I didn't finish.

But, now that I am nearing the end, I find I am coming out of the fog (as many PhDs said would happen). Things are starting to make sense, I'm starting to feel more confident in my knowledge and abilities, and I feel ready to finish this stage of my academic life.

Of course, I'm still incredibly nervous about my defense, and the thought of "FAIL" does pop into my head from time to time (okay, a lot). A fantastic technique to deal with these negative thoughts that my therapist taught me is this: If someone were to give me 1 million dollars if I could correctly guess if I were to pass or fail my defense, what would my answer be? At that point, logic and past-experience would lead me to say that I will pass. Interesting, no?

Another interesting thing that has come out of this is that I...gasp!...actually have been enjoying my time at work! After reading this article, I am starting to realize that my feelings of frustration and stupidity are not only common, but an important part of science research. I am now considering how I can work research, teaching, and outreach into the next stage of my career.

As my defense date grows closer, my time here grows shorter. DH is now actively searching for jobs, we will move, I will find a job (maybe two?) and we will start a family. It is an exciting time - the end of one amazing journey and the beginning of another.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

We're Supposed to feel stupid!

I am a regular reader of sciencegeekgirl - a wonderful blog about science education. A few days ago, she posted about a short article published in the Journal of Cell Science entitled: The importance of stupidity in scientific research.

I strongly encourage all of you out there - either in science or not - to read this essay. It really puts things in perspective: that it's okay not to get everything and, in fact, that is really the point of scientific research.

I think I might print this out and read it when I'm feeling particularly stupid or inadequate. It surely is making me think twice about leaving the academic world entirely...

Friday, May 15, 2009

First Draft

This morning, after writing my acknowledgments section, I have officially completed one full draft of my thesis! Woohoo!!

My supervisor is currently reading two chapters (the intro, and the one on project #3) - or at least has them in his hands. I'm hoping he'll get those back to me next week, when I plan to give him all the short parts (abstract, co-authorship statement, and the conclusions chapter).

So, things to do while I'm waiting are: make sure all the symbols and abbreviations are in the list; adding (if necessary) small portions to the science chapters to link them together; making sure the figures/tables are readable and in the correct spot; and double checking citations, reference lists and general formating.

More good news is that we have three confirmed examiners: two from the department and one external to the university. The only one we have left is a university examiner. Four people have been invited, but we are still waiting for a response.

It's all starting to come together! Yay and GAH at the same time!

In the meantime, I am also attending a teaching workshop. In the first session we talked about learning styles, teaching perspectives, and how to set objectives for a course (or even one class). Today we are meeting and each person is giving a 10 minute micro-teaching session. Then, we are given feedback - should be interesting!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Serious Crush

I have a serious crush on the guy in white:

Fig. 1: Object of Mrs. CH's massive crush (from EB's blog)

Yes, I realize he's about 10 years younger than me, but I practically swoon for any guy that has serious mastery of a sport (one of the reasons I developed a huge crush on DH too - for his mad soccer skilz!).

Did you see how much he kicked ass last night? I mean, I know the whole team played well, but I think it was all due to him. He is just such a complete player - very much like Gretzky.

I'm so happy my Penguins are going to the next round!! Go Penguins!!!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Reviewing a Paper

My supervisor sent me an email asking if I'd like to review a paper with him (i.e., we'd both read it and share our comments). I'm excited about this because I get to learn about the process a bit more. Plus, the paper is right in my research field!

However, I really suck at reading and critiquing papers! I usually just read it, get out of it what I can, and then don't bother with the rest.

So, does anyone have any advice for reviewing a paper? How do you do it - do you just read it front to back and make comments as you go? Or do you read certain sections first? Let me know your strategies!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!

Mom - I know you're traveling the world now, doing what you love to do - so, I thought I would post a Mother's Day message for you here! I found this wonderful poem that reminds me of you:

You are my mother and my friend,
Which is unusual.
Somehow our characters must blend:
Your wisdom and my will.

I turn, and you are there for me;
I speak, you understand.
I feel cared for, but also free;
You lead but don't command.

I'm fortunate that I was born
To someone just like you;
I love you, not just as my mom,
But for what you are and do.

Mom - you are an amazing woman, and don't you ever forget it! Last year I gave you a son in-law; this year I'll give you a PhD thesis! Hehe!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

News and Notes

It seems there are a lot of little things I want to write about, so point form it is!
  • I finished the first draft of the intro chapter! I read it last night, and I can certainly tell that I wrote the first part two months ago. That's okay though - I have the rest of the week to edit it before I give it to my supervisor.

  • The bulk content (i.e., not including title page, abstract, apendices, etc.) of my thesis is sitting at 90 pages right now. That's short. I do plan on adding to the intro chapter, will add a few more figures to my second chapter, and I still have the conclusions/future work chapter to write. Hopefully that will add about 20 pages. Is there such a thing as a thesis that is too short?

    The problem is the two papers I wrote are pretty short - there was a lot of work involved, but it kind of looks like there wasn't based on the length. Maybe I'll read the science chapters and see if I can add more info or images to make it more complete.

  • One of the staff members in the department lost their job this week. I guess the university is really being serious about cutting a certain percentage of their budget by getting rid of people. It's a sad thing.

  • I already told you that my science abstract was accepted for a talk. Well, I also got word that my outreach abstract was also accepted for a poster (which I asked for because then it can be used at other conferences). That adds two more things I need to do before the end of July!

  • Next week I start a teaching workshop. It's only a couple afternoons a week for 2.5 weeks, so not a huge time commitment. Hopefully it won't require too much reading or anything, otherwise I might have to drop it if it starts to interfer with my thesis progress.

  • DH submitted his first real job applicaiton this week!

  • Just one more week of the exercise study left! I started off working out at a mininum of 130 bpm (and thought that was hard) and now I consistantly work out at 150 bpm or more! So, my cardio has definitely imporved over the last 7 weeks!

  • I miss reading my books - I still have a huge stack of them, but unfortunately I think that hobby will have to be put on hold for at least the next month.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Wake Up Call

So, there's been a lot of buzz in the science blogosphere today after a fellow blogger, Damn Good Technician, had to shut down their blog. I don't know the exact circumstances, but it seems to have shaken the community. Many bloggers are now editing/deleting posts to avoid a similar situation.

I know that, even though I don't say my name or give my specific location or workplace, it would be pretty easy to figure out who I am if one were to do even a little digging. I know a few people from my offline life do read the blog, and I appreciate that they have respected my anonymity, especially with their comments (thanks for reading guys & gals!).

I do try to keep my posts about me and my personal situations, and not about other people - but sometimes I just need to bitch about a fellow grad student, PI, or even my supervisor. With all that's going on though, I think I will try my best to keep the blog about me and my experiences, and not about others.

It's an unfortunate thing that, even if bloggers write under a pseadonym, we cannot be totally open and honest about all our experiences for fear of being "outed" and shut down. I guess there is a limit to freedom of speech.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

It's Set

Okay - here we go!! New deadline is to submit my thesis on June 8th and then defend July 20th! Woohoo!!

I'm nervous, but I'm excited too! I'm just so ready for this whole thing to be over. Plus, it'll be really nice to have it done before we leave for South America on August 1st.

In addition - I got word today that my abstract for the conference in Brazil was accepted as an oral presentation! Wohoo!!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


I'm a bit nervous to talk to my supervisor tomorrow about defending two months earlier than expected. There's no reason why he'd say no - I'm well on my way to finishing my thesis. Even with a deadline of June 8th to submit, I still have plenty of time to write what I need to write. But, for some reason I have it in my head that he's not going to like the idea and he'll make me wait until September.

Please, please, please let him be okay with me submitting and defending early!!

I'll post an update tomorrow after our meeting.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Thesis Update

I read over Chapter 3 again this morning, made a few small changes, and gave it to my supervisor. He looked surprised. I was even more surprised to come back from an afternoon talk to see that he had read it and made comments. The great thing is that it doesn't require a lot of work and I should be able to get another draft off soon.

I was working on the introduction chapter today - most of it was written already, but I had left the hardest/most annoying part for last. Initially I had thought I should put the observational techniques in a separate chapter. However, after working on the intro stuff, it might make more sense to put the observational crap in that chapter too. I think it would flow better - instead of me saying "here's a bunch of info, see the next chapter for how we deal with it", I could just say "here's what's interesting and here's how we look at it".

That means my thesis will be five chapters instead of six. It's the same amount of writing, but it seems like less now! Here's my progress so far:

Chapter 1: mostly written; just need to do composition stuff and observing techniques
Chapter 2: project #3 - first draft done and I have received comments back
Chapter 3: project #2 - this will be the paper that I submitted recently (so it has already been written)
Chapter 4: project #1 - this will be paper #1 that has been accepted (so it's written too)
Chapter 5: conclusions/future work (this will not take very long)

So, you can see why it might not take me three months to write the thesis. I am seriously contemplating defending before we leave for South America. In order to do this, I would need to submit my thesis the week of June 8th. That gives me five weeks to write the rest of chapter 1, revise chapter 2 and write chapter 5. I'm going to talk to my supervisor about this plan on Wednesday at our weekly meeting to see what he thinks.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Downward Spiral

I should have seen the signs over the last few days: lack of energy, emotional, numbness, irritability, lack of interest in pretty much everything...I'm starting that downward spiral into my depressions that I get from time to time.

It's hard to describe how I feel when this happens. It kind of feels like I'm doing everything in slow motion and that my head is in a fog. Things that usually excite me or put a smile on my face do nothing for me. I feel numb to everything and everyone.

One very bad thing that happens is my self-esteem absolutely plummets. I feel very fat and very ugly and very stupid. I feel like no one likes me or wants to be around me - and if they do, then they're just putting me on and when I leave they talk badly about me. I think I am a bad person.

I am not exactly sure what has spurred it on this time. I have a feeling it might be the anxiety about writing the thesis. In my head, I was pretty sure I can get it done in a month or so. Got to say, that I just feel like dragging it on so I don't feel the pressure to submit early.

I've tried some things this weekend to try and escape the spiral: gone to the gym, went for a walk, ate some junk food, read, napped --- all have done nothing. All I want to do is curl up in bed and never come out.