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See Jane Compute

The adventures of a woman in computing.

Updated: 2014-03-17T22:23:33.678-05:00


Some big exciting news!


UPDATE: Apparently the RSS feed at the new blog is not working yet. Hopefully it will be fixed soon (I have no control over it, sadly.) I'll put another announcement up over here when it's fixed, and in the meantime, I'll post links here to my new posts. Sorry about the confusion! It's fixed now! Head on over and join the party!

I have some exciting news.

As of today, I will be blogging over at ScienceBlogs! I am so excited and thrilled to be joining the ScienceBlogs community, with such luminaries as Zuska and ScienceWoman and Alice and the rest.

The new blog URL is

I'll still be writing about the same things I did in this space, so I hope you'll come join me in my new digs. I've enjoyed getting to know all of you in this space and look forward to continuing our conversations in the new space as well!

Scientiae turns 1!


I'm totally swamped right now, hence the lack of substantive posts. However, I am finding time to eat birthday cake (or at least dream about eating birthday cake) in honor of Scientiae's one-year anniversary! Oh yeah, and reading the fabulous collection of posts that our good friend skookumchick has put together. Go check it out (with or without cake).

Lessons learned from sabbatical


So, regular readers of this space know that last year, at least before Baby Jane arrived, I was on sabbatical. It was always my intention to do a reflective post on "what I learned on my sabbatical" upon returning to work. But life with an infant does not allow for much reflection, so the post was never written.

I actually think that's a good thing, because now that I've been back at work for a few months, I think I have a better perspective on what my sabbatical taught me.

First, and most unexpectedly, my sabbatical brought me a new perspective on my relationship with my colleagues and my place in the department. I find that my interactions with and responses to my colleagues are more measured. I am more direct, in my opinions and requests. I speak up, but I choose my words more carefully. I am not afraid to stand up for something, but I also choose my battles better, and am more diplomatic than I used to be. Do things still bug me? Absolutely. Am I always listened to? No way. But I sense that my words and ideas now carry more weight, and that I'm getting people to listen to me and take my ideas more seriously. And that's making a huge difference, especially in how I feel day-to-day in my job.

Second, my sabbatical helped me gain a new perspective on my teaching. Actually I think it pushed along the natural evolution of my teaching, but the point is that ironically, stepping out of the classroom for a year was probably the best thing I could have done to improve my teaching. I've pared my classes down to the essentials. I teach less "stuff" than ever before, yet my students are learning tons more, asking better questions, making better insights about the material. My assignments are much better integrated into the fabric of the course---and in fact, inform the way I've structured each course. I tend to be such a detail person, which has hurt my teaching in the past, but the time away to reflect helped me develop strategies to combat this tendency. I feel comfortable in the classroom again, and confident in my ability to reach my students. I don't feel 100% sure that this will be enough to earn me tenure, but I also don't feel anymore like there's no way I'll get tenure.

Finally, as odd as this may sound given the tenor of recent posts here, sabbatical reaffirmed the importance of having some semblance of balance (ha!) in my life. OK, maybe "balance" is a little optimistic these days. But how important it is to do little things, like make time to work out every day, or take time off on the weekends, or for pete's sake enjoy my daughter and husband and do fun things as a family and get out of the house every once in a while. It's hard to justify taking the time to do these things, especially when the laundry is piling up and the kitchen floor hasn't been cleaned since Christmas and there's always more work that needs to be done, but not blowing this stuff off every once in a while is only going to make a person sick, or perpetually pissed off, and less able to Get Stuff Done. Having a chance to take an extended breather, and learning that I could be more productive when I did so, reminded me of that fact.

So there you have it. Sabbatical was of course valuable from a research perspective (although I didn't get as much done as I wanted---does anyone??), but for me, it was more valuable for the non-research related reasons. And that in itself was a particular kind of renewal for me.

When the professional and personal collide, part 2


I missed a deadline.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided that one of the two journal articles I currently have in progress was just about ready to be sent out. I found a suitable home for it. A colleague told me that the journal has a policy of assigning reviewers quickly to articles if they are submitted by a certain date. Aha! Instant deadline! The date was definitely do-able: I'd have to do some revisions to make the page count and formatting, along with the last-minute revisions (and, oh yeah, writing the intro section), but I could definitely, and comfortably, make it.

Then life intervened.

Over the past two weeks, all of us have been sick at one time or another. We've had to juggle day care several times. I was single-parenting for a few days. There was a crisis that needed to be dealt with that took up a bunch of time and mental energy last week.

I held out faint hope for this weekend....until Mr. Jane got can't-get-off-the-couch sick, and Baby Jane decided to go on a napping strike.

Now, in the long term this is not a huge deal. The journal is not going away; I can submit it anyway, and just deal with a longer review process. Fine.

But these past few weeks, I've been completely frustrated, exasperated even, with the lack of control I've had over my life. Yes, I realize that this is par for the course when you have an infant. Yes, I realized what I was getting into....sort of. But that doesn't make it any less frustrating.

I feel like my life has to be in perfect balance for me to make progress on...anything. And anything any part of my life falls out of balance, at best I can tread water and not lose ground; at worst, I fall further and further behind. Right now, I am so far behind with what I absolutely need to have done, much less the "nonessential" stuff like research. At times like this, I feel like I'll never get everything into balance, never really be able to feel like I'm moving forward, never feel like I can relax and feel good about where I am, currently, and where I'm going.

I wonder if this feeling ever goes away, or even lessens...or if this is something I will just have to learn to deal with for the next 18 or so years.



A post in three unrelated (?) acts.

Baby Jane is trying her best to communicate with us. She is very vocal, which means that she spends a lot of time either babbling to herself (or her toys) or to us. When she babbles to us, she is very intent: she makes eye contact, she modulates her voice, she changes her inflection and her syllables. Clearly she has something very important to tell us! If only we could figure out what it was.

We have been signing to her for months now, and finally, she is signing back. Sometimes her signs are crystal clear, like the day she signed "Daddy" when Mr. Jane came home from running errands. But often they are a bit ambiguous. "Milk", for instance, is her general sign for "I'm tired and it's time for bed" (we breastfeed her as part of the bedtime ritual). Still, it's an exciting time: we know that she understands us, and finally, finally, we are starting to understand her.

Since returning from sabbatical, I've found that I am more direct with my colleagues. Maybe it's because the time away from my colleagues brought me a greater understanding of the ways in which we communicate poorly with each other. Or maybe it's because I have no time and am thus forced to be direct to save what little time I have. Whatever the reason, being direct is proving wildly successful. For instance: there's this particular thing that I've wanted to do for ages, but my chair always offers/delegates it to someone else. In the past, I've talked to my chair about getting a chance to do it, but for whatever reason, nothing ever changed. Which just led me to stew and be unhappy and complain. This time around, I decided to just tell my chair outright that I want to do this thing. No beating around the bush, no trying to find the "right" words, none of that. No, I just went to my chair and said "You know, I should do X this year." And he said "OK, that sounds like a great idea! You're on!"

How much time and energy have I wasted worrying about not being a pest or a bother, and thus not asking for what I want?

Dear Dr. Jane,

I am worried about my course grade. Could you please let me know if I am in danger of failing?

Stu Dent

Dear Stu,

Yes, you are in danger of failing. I don't know why it took you this long to get in touch with me. I mean, it's not like I haven't been begging, pleading, and cajoling you to meet with me since, oh, day 1 of the class since it is abundantly clear that you are so, so lost. I don't know how much more direct I can be with you, since I've written on every single quiz and assignment that you are NOT doing well and that you MUST come and see me ASAP so that we can stop the bleeding. I am always willing to help students, particularly with this subject matter, since it's not the easiest stuff in the world. But I can only help those who want to help themselves. You've dug yourself a hole that's pretty deep. I can help you dig out: I can loan you a shovel, and I can get you started. But ultimately, you're the one that has to do the digging. And frankly, I don't see that willingness in you.

Dr. Jane

First rule of parenthood: All plans are tentative


I should have known it was too good to be true.

I had the perfect day planned: daycare drop-off, then home to do work for a few hours, followed by a long, romantic lunch with Mr. Jane (we so sorely need to go on a date!!) at a place we've been dying to try.

Guess who woke up with a fever this morning and didn't go to daycare?

So instead, we are spending Valentine's Day doing the Child Care Shuffle. Maybe, if we're lucky, we'll get takeout for lunch.


Returning to the classroom


I knew that returning to the classroom after a year away would be tricky. Now that I've been back for a bit, I can say that it has been easier in some respects, but trickier in ways that I maybe didn't expect.

The first week and a half was rough. The first day was fine, mainly because of (a) adrenaline and (b) I have pretty well established activities and such that I do on the first day, so by this time things flow fairly smoothly and are pretty strictly planned out. But in the days after that, I realized that I had forgotten how to "talk" to a class.

I normally go into class with notes. Depending on what I'm talking about and how familiar I am with the material, the notes may be quite detailed (a full-blown, bulleted list with definitions and diagrams) or sketchy ("Point out the parts of the loop, then show the averaging example"). But the notes mainly have (a) facts/details about the subject and (b) a general sense of the flow of the class (introduce topic, do activity, discuss what just happened, etc).

In the past, when I've been teaching regularly, these notes were sufficient for running a class. I could just go in and talk intelligently off of these notes.

Being out of the classroom, though, meant that I was out of practice in this skill. In one of my classes on the second day, I said "OK, today we're going to talk about Concept X"....and then I stopped cold, because I had no earthly idea how I was going to talk about Concept X. Even though I had a page full of notes and a firm idea of where I wanted to lead the class, I couldn't vocalize anything about Concept X that would start us down the right path, or even sound halfway intelligent. Finally I just started talking, and I think ultimately it was okay (not my best class, but certainly not my worst). But boy, was I rattled.

This sense of being a fish out of water lasted a good week or so. With time and practice, though, talking to my classes became easier. I started to remember the "hows" of teaching. More importantly, I regained my sense of comfort in the classroom, and my teaching became more natural and less stilted.

I still have days here and there where I get that fish out of water feeling again and forget how to talk about some concept or another. I had one such moment again in my last class, on a subject that I've taught a zillion times. I'd developed a particularly good way of introducing this concept, which is one of the trickier ones in the course, and I tried to recreate that in today's class, but it fell short. Ah well, there's always next class. But these days are becoming more and more rare.

I do think in general that my time away has ultimately made me a better teacher....but that's a subject for another post.

Sundays aren't supposed to be bad days


Why today was a bad day:

* My precious Sunday morning work time was eaten up by stupid computer problems.

* Which meant I had to scramble and find little pockets of time the rest of the day in which to do work.

* Which also meant that I did not finish everything that I intended and needed to do.

* And to add insult to injury, the code I was working on for tomorrow's class wasn't working, and it took me way too long to figure out why. Sometimes I really hate computers.

* The little free time I had was spent folding laundry.

* I was totally exhausted, but had no time for a nap.

* Mr. Jane and I sniped at each other all day long.

* Baby Jane peed all over herself twice during one diaper change.

* A disgruntled student decided to take out his frustration on me.

* I'm still awake.

What saved it from being a horrible day:

* This morning's impromptu living room "dance party".

* Baby Jane trying (more like practicing, all day long) to stand on her own.

* Dinner, cooked by Mr. Jane: one of my all-time favorite comfort food dishes. Mmmmmmmm.

* Yoga.

Heading into the homestretch


Today, at the coffee shop, while making some changes to one of the Journal Articles That I Still Haven't Submitted, a strange thing happened. Something clicked, and I realized that this journal article is not going to get any better at this point (without peer review, anyway).

It's time to send it in!

Just one more pass, in which I make sure that the terminology is consistent and the flow is acceptable, add one more diagram, and merge two sections into one, and then the paper is DONE.

I just have to do the easier stuff: identify a journal (I have a couple in mind, so I just need to make the final decision), make sure the formatting is acceptable for said journal, draft an email to the editor, and send it off.

Oh, and decide on the authorship thing. I never quite know what to do with journal authorship. Conference papers are easier: smaller set of results = easier to identify the key contributors. But what do you do with a journal article that combines two conference papers, plus includes a whole bunch of new work (done solo) and was pretty much written as a solo effort?

If I had a solid chunk of, say, 6 hours, I could get this sucker done once and for all. Sadly, I do not have that luxury, unless I want to forgo sleep (and we all know what happened the last time I tried that little experiment...). So I will finish this paper much the same way I worked on it all along: in daily, mostly half-hour chunks. And barring some unforeseen weirdness, this article should be in print before I go up for tenure.


Hopefully this will serve as incentive to just finish that other Journal Article That Still Hasn't Been Submitted, Damnit, and get that in the pipeline too.

Home, and desperately trying to catch up


I'm back from what was a very productive, very worthwhile, but very exhausting trip. I'm still behind and trying to catch up; the next few days will be somewhat lighter, so I'm hoping to be able to catch up then.

Highlights and lowlights:
* Burning the midnight oil for too many nights before the trip + staying up too late too many nights during the trip + airplane/hotel air + stress = sickness. I'm feeling a bit better today, but let's see if my voice holds up in class tomorrow. (I'm betting it won't.)

* Baby Jane was fine in my absence. I'm not sure she noticed my absence, to be honest.

* Traveling on my own was interesting. I can't remember the last time I was only responsible for myself. It was quite freeing. I missed Baby Jane and Mr. Jane, but even that was easier than I anticipated (although saying goodbye was heart-wrenching).

* Running into people I met last year at this same meeting/conference, remembering them, and having them remember me too.

* A marathon dinner with an old, dear friend. We disagree on lots of things---politics, religion---but it never gets ugly. It's nice (and rare) to be able to talk civilly about controversial topics.

* Traveling to meetings and conferences always gets my creative juices flowing. This trip was no exception. So many good ideas! So little time!

* Comparing notes on tenure expectations with colleagues at peer institutions. Apparently, lots of places, across the board, are really unclear about conveying tenure expectations to junior faculty. It was comforting to compare notes across institutions.

* Transporting several days' worth of breastmilk home in my checked luggage, and worrying that it wouldn't survive the trip. (It did, thanks to my MacGuyver-like skills in rigging a cooler-like thing in my bag.)

* Having to yell across a crowded security area that the strange-looking contraption in my carry-on bag was a breast pump. So much for discretion.

* Having to pump after checking out of my hotel room, only to find that none of the hotel bathrooms had an outlet (??). The employee who let me use a hotel room for a half hour was an absolute angel. Yay employees that go above and beyond the call of duty!

I have a bunch of substantive posts brewing, but they will have to wait until life settles down a bit. In the meantime, please head on over to FairerScience for this month's Scientiae!

Light posting warning


Posting will be light around here for the next week. Besides the fact that this week is already completely kicking my butt, I will be traveling. Alone. For the first time since the baby arrived.

Surprisingly, I am not freaked out by this. (Talk to me again before I get on the plane and I may be singing a different tune...who knows.)

I may try to blog from Destination City, but I'm not sure how busy I'll be while there. I'm sure I will have plenty to blog about when I return.

Will our heroine relish her baby-free days, or will she spend her nights weepy? Will pumping go on as normal with the stress of all-day meetings among strangers? Will she manage to sneak out to see old friends in the area? And, most importantly, how is she going to get that breastmilk back home, intact and hopefully still usable?

Stay tuned!

Unexplained feelings


All day long, I've had a feeling of....I'm not quite sure what. Nervousness? Panic? Dread? All of the above?

It's like that feeling you get right before a big test or event, that panicky/restless/what-if-things-go-horribly-awry feeling in the pit of your stomach. Like that.

Except there's no reason at all right now for me to feel panicky/nervous/like the other shoe is about to drop.

Hmmm. I hope this is not a bad omen of some sort.

Stay tuned.

Life on the treadmill


I often hear parents talking about how they feel like they are always on a treadmill. I never knew what they meant. Until now. I have to say that the analogy is not quite correct: to me, it feels more like I'm on a treadmill while simultaneously trying to juggle two balls and a dagger.

I'm tired!

Here is a glance into a typical day in the Jane household:

6:30am: I get up, get dressed and ready, and check to make sure that there are no messages from daycare. If I'm lucky, I may get to grab a glass of juice.

7:00am: Wake up Baby Jane. Nurse and dress her.

7:30am: Wake up Mr. Jane. (Yeah, yeah, I know, but he wouldn't get up otherwise.)

7:45am: I finish getting ready and grab breakfast while Mr. Jane feeds Baby Jane her breakfast.

8:15-8:25am: Clean up Baby Jane, buckle her into her car seat, and off to daycare.

8:45am: Daycare dropoff.

8:45am-5:45pm (on a good day): Drive to campus, teach, pump, sterilize pump parts, meet with students, squeeze in some research work, prep classes, pump, squeeze in lunch hopefully, deal with normal workday stuff, drive home. Try to squeeze in as much productive work as possible.

5:45pm: One of us feeds Baby Jane while the other preps dinner. Then one of us eats dinner while the other one entertains Baby Jane, who is most likely crawling to somewhere she shouldn't be or trying to grab food off of our plates.

6:30pm: Playtime, pack daycare bag, bath.

7:20pm: Get Baby Jane into pajamas, nurse, story, bedtime.

8:00pm: Workout, shower (hopefully)

9:15pm: Back to the computer for more research/class prep/doing whatever didn't get done during the day. And blogging (hopefully).

11:00pm: Pump

midnight: Bedtime, hopefully.

6:30am: Get up and do it all over again.

On a good day, it all works out ok, aside from the relative lack of downtime. On a bad day like today, when Mr. Jane was sick and I had all of the before and after daycare, after staying up way too late to watch tennis? Yeah, it pretty much sucks.

Oh, and I have no idea at all how I'd do this if I didn't have a spouse that was putting in equal time in terms of childcare on a daily basis. (yay for Mr. Jane!)



Baby Jane has always been a pretty good sleeper. She started sleeping through the night at about two and a half months and is also pretty good about going to sleep and putting herself to sleep (and, most importantly, putting herself back to sleep if she happens to wake up at some ungodly hour). She may cry when we put her down, but typically for no longer than a few minutes.

Last night was the rare exception.

We put her to bed at her normal time. Typically, the whole routine on non-bath nights takes about 20 minutes: she gets into PJs, I nurse her, then it's storytime if she's still awake, then kisses and lights out. Well, last night she wanted to nurse for what seemed like forever---she must have nursed for a good 45 minutes! She was still awake, so I read her a story, tucked her into her sleep sack, and said goodnight. All was quiet...for maybe 15 minutes.

Then, the wailing started. We waited it out for about 10 minutes, but it was clear that this was not the normal "I'm tired, but I don't want to go to sleep" complaining. It was definitely getting more insistent. So I went up there. Usually, that's enough to calm her down. But she was insistent that I pick her up out of the crib, at which point she *clung* to me. Mr. Jane and I spent the next hour sitting with her, rocking her, stroking her forehead, anything to get her to calm down enough to go back into her crib and back to sleep. It was bizarre. She finally went to sleep, but boy, was it a struggle.

Tonight, all is back to normal. We still don't know what that's all about.

* * *
I haven't been sleeping very well lately. I had been very good about getting enough sleep (after the extreme sleep deprivation of the first couple of months post-baby), a habit I got into while I was pregnant, out of necessity. But last week, I had one late night when I was trying to meet a deadline, and I haven't been able to catch up since. Usually I can sneak a nap in on the weekends, but not so this weekend. To top it all off, my brain has decided that anytime I wake up during the night, that's the signal for it to go into overdrive. "Oh good! We're awake! We've got lots to think about, so let's get to it!" So I'm dragging, really seriously dragging. My brain is fuzzy and my head hurts. I just wish I could stop time for a few hours, just long enough to catch up on those few lost hours of sleep. Then I'd feel much, much better.

Persistence: How much is too much?


Man, is this week kicking my butt. Hence, the silence. But I do have something that's been on my mind all week, that I've been turning over and over in my mind but haven't really come to a good resolution.

So. We all have students in our classes that are maybe not doing as well as we think they could or should. That would benefit from coming in and talking to us during office hours, for instance. Asking questions about the course material, yes, but also discussing strategies for how to study, how to read the text, how to approach the homework assignments, even how to ask for help from the TAs and/or other sources.

Some of these students, left to their own devices, may in fact find their way to office hours, will figure out how to be successful in class, and find enlightenment. Many, though, will not, and will struggle unnecessarily.

For some, laziness may be the main factor. But for others, it may be a fear---of the professor (hey, I was scared to death of my professors, and never went to any office hours until my senior year), of who knows what. And it may even be one of those tricky "cultural capital" things---not coming from an environment where you know how to utilize the available resources, including professors. It's hard to tell, sometimes, what forces are at work.

How, and when, and how much, do you reach out to these students?

I probably do more than most. I keep a careful eye out early on to catch those who are struggling right off the bat. I reach out to them as soon as I sense there's an issue---usually by email, because I figure that's less awkward than confronting them face-to-face. ("Hey, you're failing! Why don't you stop by and see me?" Yeah, awkward.) I do this throughout the course, too, especially after exams and other milestones. And I try to check in periodically with those who have taken the time to come and see me.

Many students, though, never take me up on my request, and continue struggling.

Now, I'm not talking about excessive hand-holding here or dealing with lazy students. But sometimes I wonder if I should be doing more for some of these students who maybe fall into one of those latter camps: the fearful ones, or the ones lacking cultural capital. Should I be more persistent? Where is the line between persistent and annoying? In short, how do I help the ones who want my help (but may be too intimidated to take advantage of it, even if I'm the one who reached out) without annoying those who don't?

Maybe this is one of those questions that doesn't have a nice, pat answer.

A new year, a new attitude?


It is Sunday night, and I am working. Yet, I am not panicked or moody or in a bad mood about the fact that I am working. I am actually having fun, and getting excited about the coming week and the work I will get done this week.


I think a large part of this has to do with the fact that I did not spend all day working. Or, I should say, thinking that I should be working and then beating myself up for watching football instead of working, and in general not enjoying the time I spent watching football or lazing around the house or doing whatever instead of working.

I used to operate this way.

Now that I am a parent, however, it is not possible for me to spend all day Sunday working. And so I've stopped expecting that I will spend all day Sunday working. I know that I have a finite amount of time to work on Sunday---an hour or two in the morning (a habit I started when I was home full-time with Baby Jane), plus a few hours in the evening after Baby Jane goes to bed. Rather than being panicked about the "lack" of time to work, I find this very freeing. It frees me up to actually feel fine about *not* working all day, to not feel guilty about playing with Baby Jane or just staring at the TV for a bit, and to enjoy my Sunday afternoon, for once.

The crazy thing is, I think I'm actually getting more work done this way, too.

Having a kid is apparently better for my work ethic than reading self-help books ever was. Who knew?

Pluses and minuses


+: Everyone's finally healthy and we are back on a normal day care schedule.
-: No more excuse to leave work early.

+: Lots of potentially good stuff looms on the horizon. I have a lot of big-picture, long-term stuff I need to think about and plan for over the next few weeks. Most of this involves projects that I am very excited about.
-: Unfortunately, there's also a ton of short-term stuff that needs to get done, too. Finding the balance between long-term planning and short-term survival is tricky.

+: Baby Jane is mobile!
-: Baby Jane is mobile, and fast, and damn inquisitive.

+: Work is mostly good. I'm excited to be back and mostly managing my days, and feeling good about things....mostly.
-: When bad things do happen, they often send me into a tailspin of despair and "I'm never going to get tenure here!" Clearly this is not healthy.

+: I am working out every day again, and it feels great. Exercise has always been fun and relaxing for me, and I'm trying new things out to mix it up a bit.
-: Trying new things = working new muscles = OUCH!

+: Being back on campus after being gone for a year is making me feel like a rock star.
-: No one wants to hear about my research.

What's on your to-don't list?


Things have been super-crazy here in the Jane household. I knew going into 2008 that I'd have to hit the ground sprinting right after the first of the year. Throw in sickness (Baby Jane and Mr. Jane) and day care closures (we have not had a "normal" schedule day since the year began) and you've got yourself some interesting and stressful times.

Rather than boring you all with how stressed we all are around here, though, I wanted to talk about an interesting idea I saw. Sometimes Baby Jane will allow me to read while nursing, so I've been slowly making my way through the January issue of Real Simple magazine. There's a little card in the back that's titled something like "Your Not To Do List for 2008". The idea being, of course, that just as we spend time thinking of all the things we should be doing, we should spend some time thinking about the stuff we do that's harmful to us, or not fun, or not productive, and resolve *not* to do that this year.

So here are a few things I will try NOT to do this year:
* Feel guilty, about anything (how I'm spending my time, how I'm raising my child, not cleaning the bathroom, etc.)
* Compare myself to others (especially when it comes to things like publications, grants, enrollment numbers, etc.)
* Martyr myself. If I need help, I will ask for it. Period. Asking for help does not make me a bad person.
* Feel frantic about my teaching. One less than stellar class every once in a while does not make me a bad teacher, and is not the end of the world, and does not mean that I will never get tenure.

So, what's on your to-don't list this year?

It's a new year's Scientiae party!


Hosted by Jokerine. Go check it out!

A first lesson in backup child care arrangements


It's the call that every parent dreads. Day care called early this morning. Apparently every kid has come down with the same nasty virus (flu? stomach bug?) within the last 48 hours. Day care is open, since Day Care Woman is not sick, but her kid just came down with it, too.

We decided to keep Baby Jane at home as a precaution. (And we're thankful that she didn't go to day care on Monday!)

Our backup child care plan, at least for now, is Mr. Jane. So he's taking most of the day off. Luckily, I don't really need to be on campus today, so I also decided to stay home to give Mr. Jane some breaks (and just in case some work crisis comes up that Mr. Jane has to deal with). In other words, we're really fortunate that this happened today, a day in which both of us could be flexible with our work schedules.

But I also know that we won't be so lucky in the future. And that has both of us a bit worried, and rethinking our backup child care plans.

UPDATE (Thursday): Well, we now have a sick kid on our hands. She's not too bad: feverish and sneezy, but still pretty much her normal self (if a bit subdued). I guess we're lucky in that this is the first time she's been sick, ever. So the child care shuffle continues...

Theme for 2008, and looking back at 2007's theme


Last year, rather than doing resolutions, I followed the lead of others (see profgrrrl) and set a theme for the year. Last year's theme was Take Back Control of My Life.

So, how'd I do? Well, looking back on the year and judging from my blog posts, I'd give myself a B.

Being on sabbatical certainly helped matters. I was completely burned out at this time last year, contemplating whether I wanted to stay in my job or not. (Hm, some things never change, do they?) The year away from teaching and toxic colleagues and the daily grind of the tenure track was refreshing. I still sometimes let toxic colleagues and situations get to me, but having some distance really helped matters and gave me some much-needed perspective. Not working insane amounts of time per week also was very nice.

Having the kid certainly turned things upside down, but I think for the most part we're all doing a good job of keeping things from dissolving into chaos. We have a routine that works, for now. At least until things really heat up right after the new year. I don't always take the time I need for myself, although I'm working on rectifying that.

So I guess I feel sort of in control of my life, as much as I can at this stage. Which is a good thing.

Now, on to this year's theme. When I look back on what really disappointed me about 2007, the thing that jumps out at me is that I often stand in my own way. For instance, I have 2 (2!) journal articles that should have been sent out for review by now. Yet I am still sitting on them. I had an epiphany the other day about what specifically is holding me back on both articles, and on sending things out to journals in general. (Maybe I'll blog more about that later.) There were also some projects that I really should have done while on leave, but didn't, because I allowed myself to be overwhelmed by the "what ifs" and the thoughts of failure. Again, standing in my own way. And preparing to reenter the classroom has been a bit of a nightmare, because I keep thinking about all of the negative comments from my third-year review, which is making me a bit afraid to do or try anything in my classes.

In light of this introspection, the theme really named itself for the year.

My theme for 2008, then, is FEARLESS. I am going to go right up against my worst fears this year. Stare them down, laugh in their faces. Basically, I'm not going to be afraid to fail and, more importantly, not be afraid to try in the first place. In fact, if my first thought about something is "I can't do this", well then, there's my answer: I'm going to do it.

OK, maybe not skydiving. But stuff related to my career and my personal life and relationships, sure.

I hope you all have a wonderful new year, full of fearlessness!

End of the year meme


I've been tagged by ecogeofemme! And just in time, since I was looking for a way to procrastinate...1. Will you be looking for a new job?To be honest, it all depends on how things go this coming semester/term. I think I will have a clearer picture by the end of the school year as to whether or not I have a good shot of getting tenure at my current institution (and/or whether I want to stick around long enough for that). So the next few months will be interesting, to say the least.2. Will you be looking for a new relationship?I'd like to meet some new moms near me. I feel like I'm the only mom on the planet who's not a part of a moms' group.3. New house?Thankfully, no.4. What will you do differently in 08?Try not to sweat the small stuff.5. New Years resolution?I like the idea of the New Years Theme (a la profgrrrrl---can't seem to find the exact post, unfortunately) rather than resolutions. I am still deciding on a theme, but I'm pretty sure my theme this year is going to be Fearless. More on that later.6. What will you not be doing in 08?Sleeping, apparently, given how hectic my life is becoming lately with going back to work full-time.7. Any trips planned?Yes. I'll be taking my first trip without Baby Jane (yikes!), coming up soon. We're also tentatively planning a camping trip for the summer with Baby Jane, an anniversary trip to celebrate our upcoming anniversary, and a few trips to visit various friends and relatives.8. Wedding plans?Not for me. :)9. Major thing on your calendar?Well, there's the start of the semester/term, which puts me back in the classroom after a year away. And our anniversary. And the official start of my tenure review in the fall (eek!). 10. What can’t you wait for?I can't wait to see how Baby Jane grows and changes this year. It seems like every day brings something new with her, and it's really a treat to be a part of that.11. What would you like to see happen differently?My tenure review (in comparison to my third year review).12. What about yourself will you be changing?I'd like to be more true to myself, less worried about what other people think of me, and less concerned about fitting into some arbitrary mold. I'd like to be a bit more uninhibited in the classroom, and trust my instincts more when it comes to both teaching and research. I want to stop standing in my own way when it comes to pursuing my goals, like applying for funding or submitting journal articles or finding new ways to mentor our women students. Should be easy, right? ;) 13. What happened in 07 that you didn’t think would ever happen?I had a baby.14. Will you be nicer to the people you care about?Yes. When I'm stressed out, I can be a real pain in the a$$. I'd like to stop being that way.15. Will you dress differently this year than you did in 07?Yes. For one thing, I won't be wearing maternity clothes. Since I'm now more or less back to my old size, but with a changed body, I'm reevaluating my look and recommitting myself to only wear things that make me look and feel fabulous. Which reminds me, I think I need to go shopping for some new work-appropriate clothes (that I can also pump in)....16. Will you start or quit drinking?I will continue to enjoy the occasional adult beverage, as long as it's not too near nursing time.17. Will you better your relationship with your family?See #14.18. Will you do charity work?Yes. I have a cool project that I'll potentially be working on, that I'm so very excited about.19. Will you go to bar[...]

Christmas is winding down


When we found out that we were pregnant, one of the many things that excited Mr. Jane and I was that we would finally be free to define the holidays as we wanted to. We could decide whether we wanted to travel or stay put. We could start our own traditions, borrowing/modifying ones we liked from our own backgrounds and adopting others that we had heard about and liked. Our holidays would finally be our own, and not dictated by whichever family we happened to be visiting that year.

So this year was our first "true" holiday as a family. And I have to say that it was probably one of the most enjoyable holidays I've spent as an adult. Low-key and relaxing. But still with way too much sugar consumed (note to self: it is not a good idea to keep a plate of cookies out all day long, especially when one is chasing after an infant and does not have time to make a proper, healthy snack).

Of course this is also Baby Jane's first Christmas, and that was really neat to witness. She is way too young to understand what is going on, but she did immensely enjoy the piles of wrapping paper and the boxes. She has officially become mobile (finally got a hang of the crawling thing!), and is having a blast exploring the tree, everyone's presents, and whatever's going on in the kitchen. With her around, Christmas definitely has a different feel this year---it feels more meaningful, in a sense, in a way I find hard to describe.

I hope you all are enjoying your holidays, whatever holidays you happen to celebrate.

Getting back into the teaching mindset


In a post last week, I mentioned that I was struggling a bit with the whole class prep thing, since it's been over a year since I've been in the classroom, and how this came as a bit of a surprise to me. I guess that teaching is more of a skill than we tend to think, and like any other skill, if we don't practice it regularly, we get a bit rusty. That's what I'm facing right now.

I'm teaching two classes when I return: a section of intro and an elective. For various reasons---some externally imposed, some interally imposed---both courses are undergoing some not-trivial revisions this time around. So I'm trying to figure out how these changes fit into each course while at the same time trying to construct the flow of each course (syllabus, assignments, core concepts, objectives). And having a hard time trying to wrap my mind around it.

I was complaining about this to a friend and colleague from another department, and she gave me a great idea. "Why don't you start from the end, and work backwards?"

Well. This turned out to be brilliant advice, at least for the intro course. Once I started from the end, the course almost seemed to construct itself. Getting from Point A to Point B, it turns out, is easier if you've been to Point B and know what it looks like. And, as a bonus, I'm actually now really excited about this iteration of the course, and can't wait to introduce the series of assignments to the students.

Unfortunately, the advice is not working so well for the elective. The elective is less "linear", let's say. I have a very clear picture of where the students will end up, but because of the nature of this course, the path back from that to the beginning is not as clear. Actually, the unusual thing is that I've structured the first and last assignments already, and have some ideas for the middle assignments, but matching up the course concepts to the assignments (and some of the segues) is proving tricky. I do remember not being happy at all with the way I matched concepts to assignments the last time around (which was echoed in the student evaluations), and I want to avoid that this time around, but the way forward is not clear at this point.

(Changing the first and last assignments is not an option---I have very specific reasons for doing these two assignments when I do them and how I do them, and I think that these two assignments are the perfect bookends for this class. And the students agree with me. The issue is that the assignments don't neatly fit in with the "traditional" ways that this particular subject is taught. I have to think carefully about how I introduce the related concepts, so that the assignments don't seem so....standalone is probably the best way to describe it.)

I know that I will get unstuck eventually, but in the meantime, I continue to spin my wheels a bit. I think what I might need to do is take a step back from the details and spend some time thinking of the larger picture. Maybe that's the thing that will get me unstuck and get the course flowing again.

Where do you get stuck when you're planning your courses?

Year-in-review meme


As seen over at Adventures in Ethics and Science.

The rule: post the first sentence of the first post for each month. (Note: I'm cheating a little bit, here, because halfway through doing this post, I realized that the majority of my first-of-the-month posts were those announcing that the new Scientiae carnival had been posted. So instead, when that's the case, I'm including the first sentence of the first non-Scientiae post.)

January: I don't remember where I first saw this, but I last saw it at Dr. Crazy's. [New Year's meme]

February: Greetings from Top Secret Location!

March: As a way of getting past the journal article block I mentioned a few posts ago, I'm revisiting some of the papers that I've cited in most of my own papers, sort of as a way of reminding myself what differentiates my current work from others' work in the same space.

April: It's Monday.

May: In my last post in this series, I set out a series of three questions that I've identified as central to deciding whether I should stick things out until tenure or go look for greener pastures.

June: Back in the day, when parenthood was still an abstract concept, I looked forward to the arrival of Hypothetical Future Child as a time where I could take a nice little hiatus from my professional life.

July: So the first big post-baby conference trip/trip with Baby Jane went very well.

August: Subtitle: If you've seen my brain, could you please return it to me?

September: I spent a blissful long weekend sans computer access, hanging with family and friends. [This was actually the third sentence; the first two had to do with the latest Scientiae carnival.]

October: I am at an exciting phase in my work right now. [See note for September.]

November: Sometimes I really need someone to give me a good swift kick in the seat of my pants. [This post was about the importance of mentoring.]

December: OK, so, today was the big day: my first day back at work, and Baby Jane's first day at daycare. [See note for September.]

Strangely, I think this sampling of posts is actually quite representative of what's been on my mind this year. Since I was out of the classroom for the entire year (first on sabbatical, then on maternity leave), I was much more focused on research, and much more introspective about my research work. (The latter is a luxury I often can't afford while I'm teaching!) And of course, having Baby Jane made me much more keenly aware of work-life balance issues, and I think I probably blogged about those more than any other topic in the second half of the year.

It was definitely a full and exciting year, that's for sure.