Saturday, August 29, 2009

Yes, that's pretty much what I thought

I've been sort of struggling to get up to speed with lectures and the other stuff (so much other stuff!) involved in teaching this class. Getting to bed late, not sleeping as well as I usually do, that kind of thing. But it's getting better, and as long as I'm a chapter ahead, I'm good.

I had this dream the other night that was kind of telling. I was driving, and twice I was going over a hill, and it was so steep that I couldn't see what was ahead of me. The second time I remember saying to myself "I can't see what's ahead". I go over the top of the hill, and can see at the bottom that the river that runs alongside the road has flooded so that it is crossing the road and it's just about impassable. I start to get panicky, as I feel like I'm going to have to go into that flooded area. I look again, and there's a spot on the side of the road, just before the flooded area, where I can turn around. I was really relieved.

I think this is my mind reviewing how I was looking at the situation: first, not knowing what was going to be ahead, then getting caught up in this fast moving thing that I didn't know how to deal with. And finally, the relief of there being a place to turn around, which I think is the reminder that after the semester is over, I can go back to the old routine.

On a related note, I had a realization when I was talking to a student in the hallway before class. There is no way I can speak all of the information they are expected to know by us "covering" the material at the pace that we do. An instructor has no choice in this kind of class but to hit the high points and convey their expectations that the students read the book. I'm grateful that the book comes with this really extensive online learning program and I'm going to use it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Good Morning, I'm Linda and this is Bio 111

Aaaaaand we're off. I think I'm going to like this teaching thing. If the thought of "wow, 45 minutes has passed" is any indication, I'm fully capable of listening to myself talk for long periods of time.

It's funny. Where I work, there are lots of people who have their Ph.D.'s, so it's not like anyone goes "oooh", although I guess people expect you to write papers instead of just being a tech. However, yesterday, I saw nods of approval when I said I had a doctorate. Instant cred. Well, for that moment anyway.

Of a total of 24, there are lots of nursing students, lots of people returning to school, a couple of people who don't know why they are there, and overall I think they will be a good group, if first impressions are telling.

I need to rehearse my shtick a little more. I found myself pretty much reading from the slide when it was something I just lifted from the book, and then expounding on how cool this or that was if I already knew a lot about the topic. I also do need to get more class activities into the mix. So far, I've spent my time getting all the necessary stuff done (book keeping stuff) before I can think of cool and relevant activities for them to do. I'll get there.

I had them answer some questions so I could get a sense of where they were in terms of biology courses and to get a sample of their writing (to compare against written work done outside of class) and I'm so glad I did. Most of them had biology in high school, but they are coming into this with a blank slate. Good to know.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tomorrow's the big day

Tomorrow is my first day of teaching. I'm ready content-wise, although I can't seem to get into my campus email account. There's also a bunch of little things to remember and book keeping things to do.

I feel like this is the time to take a deep breath and head on in there. I've sort of figured out how I'll allocate my time, and on the days during the week that I have Mr W, I'm just not going to expect too much school stuff to get done. I was also hoping to bank some hours for CB visits, but it's been hard to both take time off of work to do school stuff, and get ahead in that regard. I have a week's vacation yet, so that' good.

Here we go.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

"There's been a small glitch"

That's how I approached my boss yesterday with the news that this awesome data set, which I had just finished a second draft of a manuscript for, had something wrong with one of the analyses. Oops. There's a lot to this population genetic stuff, and I discovered an inconsistency when I was going over the results for something else and I have to get it figured out before we can publish the paper.

One of the measurements one makes when doing population genetics is a measure of inbreeding. Big populations of organisms, like mosquitoes in general, should be random with respect to who they are mating with. This more or less absence of mate choice means there should be NO inbreeding in these populations. Small, isolated rare plant populations? Sure, they're expected to have some inbreeding. But big (like 10's or 100's of thousands - geez, maybe more) populations of flying organisms shouldn't have detectable levels of inbreeding.

But mine do. My feeling this is most likely a scoring error. I put the bits of DNA of interest through a DNA sequencer that is able to detect the size of the bits. Sometimes, especially when the bits are close in size, it's hard to tell what they call stutter, from actual data.

So I'm going back over the whole data set today - let's see, that's 10 markers times 247 individuals. I sure hope I can tweak the machine so I don't have to score all of them by hand, but I might have to look at a lot of raw data to get this figured out. *sigh*

To my boss's credit, his main concern was that we didn't put out erroneous data, so he's OK with me re-doing this part. I don't think it's going to change the gist of the data, but if the problem is what I think it is, what I'll do over the next few days will fix this finding of inbreeding that shouldn't be there. If it doesn't, well, I guess we'll have to come up with an explanation, but I'll feel better that that finding is genuine if I go through this exercise first.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Weekend? What weekend?

I've burned through an entire work day this week going to meetings for my second job (and getting my hair done :-)). I'll need to work Saturday to make up that time, and then wanted to work another half day to bank some hours for when CB comes in a couple of weeks. That may or may not happen. Yea for vacation time...

Like CB said yesterday, when so many people are out of work, no one wants to hear the travails of one's SECOND job.

Classes start Monday, and I'm well on my way to my goal of being two weeks ahead in terms of lecture prep. It's enough and it's all I'm going to be able to do this first semester. I'm having trouble getting into the college's class management sites; the system doesn't recognize my user ID and password. I called tech support this morning - nice of them to have it up and running 24/7 - and they'll fix it soon. *twiddles thumbs*

Gaa. I'm still off balance. Yesterday, we had a meeting with the textbook rep and they have a whole site devoted to helping the students master the content. There are animations, quizzes, homework - and the students pay to use this service whether I get my act together and get it organized or not. I intend to have them do some homework each week, to keep up with the reading and help them use the site, which will help them in the class. But it's one more thing, beyond the classroom management program where I'll post my lectures and keep track of student grades...

I'll get there, but I'm not there yet.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


I went to the part-time instructor's orientation yesterday at the community college, where I'm going to start teaching on Monday (gulp!). I'm more or less ready, I've given up the idea of being fiendishly ahead in terms of lecture in favor of being a couple of weeks ahead and able to think of those in class assignments that will relieve some of the drudgery of lecture.

There were a lot of people there. The first part was just for the department, which is natural and environmental sciences. It seems the lead instructor is the only full time faculty member; the rest are adjuncts. I can't believe this is a profitable way for a community college to go. There are, let's see, about 7 adjuncts teaching biology. I guess I look at it in terms of me possibly getting a full time job someday, and the odds just seem overwhelmingly against it, even though I think I would like it and do well.

The second part of the orientation was college-wide, and there were about 100 people there, all part-timers. Probably 2/3 were returning. They had most everyone except for the new president (who I guess hasn't started yet) come out and say a few words. I was impressed by the resources available to these students. Writing, note taking, stress management, tutoring, if a student shows any initiative at all, and nothing weirdly unexpected happens (which sometimes does), he or she should be able to get their two years of schooling and get on with life.

I'm pleased to be part of this. Colorado doesn't seem (and this is just my opinion) to support higher education to the extent that some other states do. My brother works for a community college in Minnesota, and they really seem to have it going on. It's presented as this really viable option for students who don't want or need a 4 year degree, or who want specific training. In his department, there are 4-5 full time faculty, and the students go through a program that leads to a certificate or associates degree.

I guess biology at the community college level isn't really a stand alone thing, like other subjects. You take your biology courses on the way to getting some kind of specialized training.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The new reality

I often struggle with the question of whether I'm doing enough for my son. Since he's an only child, the reality is that on the weekends, when I'm trying to keep the place from looking like no one cares what it looks like, he's got to entertain himself sometimes.

His preference has strongly gone to what I call "screened things". The TV, computer and his Nintendo DS. In a pinch, and particularly when I've said "no more" of those things, he'll ask if he can play on my iPod.

The question of an addict. Or is it? Recently, he go the idea to reconfigure the 10 or so Bionicles he's got so that they have pieces and parts of different ones on each. Hybrids, Franken-onicles, whatever. I like seeing that spurt of creativity, especially because he used to be very reluctant to take anything apart once it had been put together. Over this past weekend, he spent a lot of time doing this on his own. He wants to photograph or video them and put them on Youtube. I wish I had more than my very old digital camera that shoots a minute of uneditable video at a time to give him.

I think that, overall, this summer was a summer. That is, even though he went to camp most every day, it was primarily a playing camp. He certainly went to bed later, and got to play more screened stuff than he normally would. He read books voluntarily maybe three times, and I failed miserably at getting him to read aloud daily. On the flip side, we rode our bikes downtown for ice cream almost weekly, and that's a good thing. He also is starting to do chores, which I like and appreciate.

Oh, the sweet days of summer. Well, now it's the first day of school, and I'm looking forward to him actually learning stuff again. He'll bitch mightily, but I'm implementing a new schedule.

I think that he, like a lot of kids, actually finds some comfort in knowing what's expected of them, so with that in mind, we'll try to have a routine in the evenings. It mostly involves me keeping a better eye on how much screen time he's getting, and of course he's got to have his homework and chores done before the fun stuff. His dad and I are wanting him to learn an instrument, so we'll have to work that in too.

I'm looking forward to having him read to me again, and I think we'll wean ourselves off of the Calvin and Hobbes (he can read that on his own time) and I'll start reading him chapter books at the end of the day. I've seen some great recommendations lately, and it won't be hard to find something for us to read.

But for now, I need to get him up so we can start our day.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Clear as mud

One thing about having a blog is that the communication is so often one way. Yes, I lurv to read comments! But since no one proofs this stuff, and by golly, I'm often tired (or pre-coffee'd) when I write, sometimes it makes sense to me but perhaps no one else.

So I was writing about not feeling as much anxiety about teaching because CB and I had had a conversation where it got put into context. He noted that the lab frog cartoon was confusing, so I thought I'd clarify. The cartoon was unrelated except that it had to do with teaching biology.

I had been reading and getting lectures ready for this class, and it seemed like it was just prep and prep and there was no way I was going to be ready. The conversation with CB reminded me that, once I met the students, I'd make a connection with them, and the preparation would be put into context because I'd be helping the students learn.

We don't dissect frogs. Good thing, that.

In other news, we went to the annual Pooch Plunge yesterday, among other things in a very busy and fun weekend. I took some video, which has Mr W voicing concern over the thunder he hears and wanting to go home, but it's otherwise fun. I'll post the video soon.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Time, time, time

Last weekend, I started to prep lectures for this class that I am teaching. It starts in about a week, and my goal is to be 3 or 4 weeks ahead in terms of having lectures ready to present. I had wanted to do things other than lecture, because I think it's good for both students and the teacher to do that.

But I think that for this first time teaching, I'm going to barely keep my head above water presenting lectures that are more or less from the textbook manufacturer. I've edited them some, but am using pretty much what they have. It's not like the material is hard, it just takes a lot of time to process it!!! I have about an hour at the end of the day, and it's enough to get through half a chapter.

I should have started this process earlier. Coulda woulda shoulda. It will be fine, but I hate this feeling of disequilibrium before I settle into a routine of... of..., well, handing over almost all of my free time to this endeavor. It's only 15 weeks, right (insert weak laughter here).

I'm not at the "what the hell was I thinking?" stage (yet), but I feel woefully underprepared to start. Now, I haven't gone to the new instructor orientation (which is tomorrow), and there's another 5 hour (!) deal between the college and the department next week that I imagine will get me where I need to be.

*sigh* It will be OK, I think I'm just off kilter (why doesn't anyone ever say they feel on-kilter?) at the moment and things will settle into some kind of pattern soon. Just starting it is a big deal too. Funny, I haven't had any "I'm back in high school" dreams lately. They're just normal dreams, but I'm waking up more frequently during the night.

I remember when I was in graduate school and my lab stuff wasn't working, I'd wake up in the middle of the night and all of the sudden get hot, like a temporary fever for about 10 minutes, then I'd be up for an hour and finally fall asleep (about 30 minutes before the alarm went off, it seemed). I got that once last week, but have somehow convinced myself that the stakes aren't as high this time around, and that my time management skills are pretty good (and I don't have an infant...).

I hope to resurface here at the beginning of next week and say that it feels more under control.

And the picture is unrelated, but an old PostSecret entry that makes me smile.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A tad conflicted

Let me start out by saying that I love my job. I like it that my boss leaves me be to get my work done, and as long as the hours are in, he doesn't care when I work them. I also get a lot of say in what projects I work on, and we have funding to the extent that I don't have to scrounge to buy reagents.

Doing mosquito fieldwork is not my favorite, but I haven't had to do all that much. Having to attract mosquitoes with horse manure laced water has its downsides. On the upside, I'm going to Denver today (about an hour's drive south) to collect more egg rafts out of trash cans that have water in them. It's easy, and if it works it gets us another colony population to work with.

While I'm down there today, I'm also meeting with the associate director of research at the botanic gardens in Denver. I'll do it more or less on my lunch hour, so I'm not worried about using work time to do this, but I feel a little weird, seeing as I like my current job, that I'm inquiring about another. One that I would likely have to move to Denver for.

But Mr W and I were down there the other day, and even though he wasn't all that interested, and it was hot, I was blown away by the gardens. I loved the feel of the place so much that I sent my CV to this person. I had also heard through the grapevine that they were going to start a conservation genetics program so it was a good time to see what their plans are. I was a Botany major, and I do want to work with plants again someday.

So, we'll see how it goes.

I finally started preparing lectures for this intro biology course I'm teaching and haven't slept well ever since. I should have started earlier, and I will have enough time, and it's not that I don't know the material (water is the universal solvent, by the way). But I'm not in the groove of giving my free time to this class yet. It will happen, but I don't think I'm going to rest easy until I'm about three weeks ahead on lectures and have the other stuff like assignments, and quizzes, in order.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Thanks, Sal

Getting ready for the day is usually a reasonably smooth experience. I get up about an hour before I wake up Mr W, and he gets over an hour to eat/watch TV/get dressed/play a little. I make lunches the night before, and often lay out clothes for each of us as well. It's a rare thing that I arrive at work with my blood pressure up and pissed off.

But pissed off I was last Wednesday, when I sync'd my ipod, unplugged it from the computer and put it.... somewhere. Couldn't find it. Looked by the back door, in the bathroom, in my room, back to the computer. Rinse and repeat at least a couple of times. I couldn't find the thing, and ended up getting to work 15 minutes after I had agreed to be there. Arrg.

I still don't know exactly what happened, but I came home, and there it was. On my bed. With a few suspiciously dog-sized tooth marks in the case. And a little damp. But intact and it's worked fine ever since. What possessed Sally to stop at a little bit of chewing and stopping before she did any damage is beyond me.

I have witnessed her destroy a cell phone at the dog park once. Someone must have lost it in the grass because she found it and (in retrospect this seems so clear) Mr W's and my hysteria in trying to run her down and get the thing resulted in unabashed glee on her part, prancing around as she chewed it into a couple of pieces.

So, thanks Sal. I appreciate having my ipod back, even though I don't know how you got it in the first place.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Random thoughts

Wow, I can't believe it's only 9:05 pm as I begin to write this. Mr W's been getting to bed entirely too late these days, and today was so wiped out at the end of the day that there were only feeble protests of "but it's still light out" when I got him to bed earlier (like 8:15!) than I think he's been to bed all summer.

I usually don't get him down until close to 9, then it's a half hour of making lunches and doing dishes, and it's 9:30 before I sit down for a few minutes. This is really nice to have a little extra time. I might send him to bed early more often.

He's in a good space, this kid of mine. And I feel like I am too. He knows more or less what's expected of him, and knows that he'll lose access to the things that he loves to do the most (Nintendo DS-Computer-TV) if he doesn't do what he's asked. He's going to his first sleep over party this weekend. Right now I give it 50:50 that he needs to come home early, but he very well may surprise me.

And, I have to toot my own horn here for just a minute. I have palmed off one of my least favorite jobs to my eight year old son. Cha-ching! His job, when we come home at the end of the day, is to put away the dishes in the dish drainer. I don't know why, but I hate this job, and having it done for me when I'm starting the dishes later in the evening has been such a treat. Yes, I'm working on the laundry folding thing. That's my other least favorite task.

What else. I've been missing my sister lately, and it's something I should probably devote a whole post to. Her family has weathered this storm with grace and courage. I haven't been able to talk to my nephews much about it, but I talked to my brother in law the other day and he's been trying to get out and meet some new friends. It breaks my heart all over again to think they've had this new reality forced on them, but what else can we do?

My brooding is in stark contrast to her usual outlook and demeanor. She was a highly skilled neonatal intensive care nurse, very competent and also had the ability to put families at ease about their little babies. She was awarded her Bachelor's of Science in Nursing posthumously, and her husband and two sons, as well as my dad and his partner attended the graduation. The hospital where she worked renamed the intensive care nursery in her honor.

If I think about this too much I get teary (like now) and I wonder how stuff like this can happen in this world. Always, though, I come back around, eventually, to the realization that we have our time now, that going through pain and loss is supposed to make us realize how good the good usually is, and we should appreciate (and celebrate?) the now to the extent that we let the little things go and get joy from all the stuff that goes right in a day.

OK, before this turns sappy and preachy, I will sign off. I feel appreciative tonight.