Thursday, October 26
I normally frown on the use of multiple exclamation points, but I'm making an exception today in the title of this post because this open letter from the President of the American Statistical Association is very cool. It's cool because:

1. An academic discipline is reaching out trying to make the world a better place on an important issue with timely, practical, and reasonably cheap solutions.

2. Voting is a crucial right in a democracy, but a lot of us feel helpless about how to fix the problems with voting, especially now that there are stupid voting machines that can be hacked. The key breakthrough idea that the ASA is offering is that you can use random audits to provide data to estimate the size of the problem, instead of relying on anecdotal evidence or trying to find universal fixes. The idea of sampling is definitely under-used in public policy, which is almost always stuck in an entire-population-or-nothing mentality.*

3. The letter discusses the need to look at multiple sources of error at each step along the chain. The reality is that officials need to be focusing on minimizing error instead of devising systems that are completely error-proof, because it isn't possible to be error-proof. The point I'm inelegantly trying to make is like the debate about the census v. sampling for getting an accurate picture of the American population.

4. The president of the American Statistical Association is a woman. (I'm assuming that because the President is named Sallie).

* example = No Child Left Behind which mandates testing for every kid in the nation, when sampling approaches would allow testing with higher validity (like not multiple choice) and be a lot cheaper and not waste the time of millions of schoolkids.
Wednesday, October 25
Why don't students realize that "Hey" is not an appropriate way to address a professor? In fact, it's not really appropriate for communication with anyone when it is your first note to them. Does anyone point this out to students? If yes, how?
Monday, October 23
I went to class the other day a bit frustrated with the quality of my students' papers. One paper I'd just read had relatively good ideas, but the writing (cuz, lower case i, fragments, etc.) completely detracted from it. Unfortunately since I have them submit these assignments online, some people seem to think that they're IM-ing their friends. I don't teach English, but I expect students to write a quality essay. So I gave the students who had not yet submitted their papers a bit of advice - treat it like a real paper: with paragraphs, full sentences, and without the IM language.

Fast forward to today, when I'm sifting through all of them and grading those who heard my advice before writing. Almost all the papers (in an assignment, mind you, where the students are supposed to write about themselves) are in the third person, not the first ("I am").

This is what happens when you mix over-achieving freshman who actually know the difference between first and third person with a clueless professor who thinks students spend time on instant messenger.
Friday, October 20
Dear colors of this lovely secret society,

I am writing to ask for some procrastination material. I love reading this blog, and let me tell you I cannot go a week with no new posts! Of course dear colors, you are probably saying, why strawberries, why don't you post a secret!?

Here is my quandary. I had some lovely (read: annoying and frustrating) academic experiences this past week, that I would love to share with you all, but here is the problem. I already told my real-world friends. As this is a secret society, and well, I am always very careful not to post something that I have already told my friends about, in the off-chance that they come across this blog and figure me out, and well, that would not be pretty.

So this week, as my frustrations were exceptionally high, I spoke with many friends in other institutions/locations and revealed to them the sadness that is my current institution. And so, I cannot tell you.

So please, help a strawberry out. Tell me what's going on in your colorful worlds!

And since I cannot but leave you with a secret from right now, though it is not academic, here is something to keep you procrastinating by invoking laughter and thinking about how weird this member called strawberries really is:

I am currently wearing a flannel dress and a T-shirt over it. Yes, you read correctly, a flannel dress. My defense? It is oh so comfy and well, comfy clothes lead to productivity no? Or was that blog reading....? Anyways, I am wearing comfy clothes I cannot ever leave the house in, or ever be seen in, in the hopes of eventually accomplishing some work today.

Your secret correspondent anxiously awaiting your secrets so she can continue to put off work,
Friday, October 13
I've long recognized that one of the ways I am suited to academia is what a friend once called "high solitude needs." Given such solitude needs, spending days in relative quiet, reading and writing often suits me quite well.

At the same time, academia sometimes demands what is for me excess solitude. To be sure, the scope conditions of "excess" are shaped by life circumstances external to my work (e.g., I am, as of late, getting used to being single for the first time in a long while...). However, in general, it is not uncommon for me to check my email (too often!) or read the newspaper online when I'm supposed to be writing, in search of human contact (however virtual) and/or ideas other than my own.

When I began teaching, I thought that classroom time would probably so tap my extroversion quotient that excess solitude would no longer be a problem. As it turns out - and as I should've known! - facilitating seminars (even really interesting seminars! even seminars with smart graduate students!) is not the same as meaningful and intellectually stimulating social interaction with ones peers.

This is not to whine, however, as a really wonderful solution to this conundrum seems to be emerging. Specifically, a small group of the faculty in my department have begun experimenting with different modes of co-teaching. At an informal level, we are guest lecturing in each other's classes. We also are experimenting with occasionally combining our smaller classes and tag-team teaching them. At a formal level, we are setting up courses that we will co-teach over a year or more, with each of us counting the course towards our teaching load on a rotating basis.

I am really excited about this. Selfishly, it's both interpersonally and intellectually fantastic for me. I have great colleagues and now I both think with and teach with them far more than I would otherwise (prepping for class has never been so deeply interesting!)! Moreover, thus far, our students seem really excited about the more engaged, more interactive mode of learning that becomes possible when 2 or 3 faculty are co-leading classes. Even if they don't fully get the synergy that so excites me, I think they realize also that they are getting "2 (or more) for the price of 1" and are happy for more interaction with faculty. Also, we are having fun...and what's more contagious than fun?

So, I'd be really curious to hear of any ways y'all have experimented with co-teaching...successes, elations, frustrations, failures, ideas not yet implemented?

Thanks...and happy weekend!
Thursday, October 12
Bush opened a new front in his ongoing War on Science in a press conference Wednesday, when he claimed that a standard social science survey methodology has been "pretty well discredited".

Bush was responding to a question about a study appearing in Lancet estimating the number of Iraqis who have died as a result of the war. The study used cluster sampling, where survey respondents are chosen from specific communities rather than at random from the population as a whole.

Now, I'm no expert, but every book on sampling I've ever seen talks about cluster sampling as a valid approach to large-scale surveys. And it's my understanding that most national social science and education surveys right here in America use some form of cluster sampling. This is because the SRS (simple random sample) you learn about in Stats 101 isn't feasible to generate for a national population.

Bush went on to insult the scientists behind the Lancet study by saying of the number the study arrived at, "600,000, or whatever they guessed at, is just -- it's not credible." (emphasis added)

A considerable amount of work from a large team of professionals went into that "guess". I find that "guess" more credible, in fact, than the Bush administration's guesses about whether there were WMD in Iraq before the war, whether their diplomacy with North Korea has been effective, and whether the mission was really accomplished when Bush stood on the carrier in a flight suit.

But demographers and public health researchers be warned, you are now evidently part of the Axis of Academic Evil, along with global warming researchers and believers in evolution.
Wednesday, October 11
So, I happen to be a visiting scholar somewhere presently. At first, I told myself, okay, different system, must get used to it. No use comparing it to other university I was at...

Day 1: Printer is out of ink. Can't get ink, since it requires filling out so many forms, and then where will the money come from, etc etc. Ok, fine I think, I will use the other printer. Things are laid back here, I like laid back.

Week 3: Colleague, who treats me as less than colleague, suggested that I find other person in other department to talk to re: certain thing that is his specialty. Ok, will do. Each department has a secretary/gatekeeper here. I go and ask for him, when he receives appointments, etc, as you can't actually get to the offices unless you get past the gatekeeper. Gatekeeper says: He's not here, I don't know, try another day. Fastforward to today. I see colleague and she asks if I met with him yet. I explain the situation.

SnarkyColleague: So is this how you do research?
Me: (What did I just say wrong?) I'm sorry, what?
SC: You just give up? You should just tell the gatekeeper where you are going and ask the dept. secretary for office hours.
Me: Oh, well I don't really know the system here, I didn't realize there were two
gatekeeper/ secretaries... (Shocked that she thinks I am a poor researcher simply because I
believed the first gatekeeper that person was not in when he called his office)
SC: (Proceeds to explain in a very condescending way how exactly one gets to this place, finds this person, what one asks to obtain this person, etc.)

Week 3, Later that same day: Go downstairs to the secretary person for our dept. and explain that I need to get some books that they do not have in their library. How does one get them from the other libraries? Do I need a card? (I have yet to receive one and my dept's library books are signed out by hand). Is there some sort of ILL situation?
He looks at me, seems frustrated. Oh I see. He has to start his computer again to find out. It is 3 hours before he leaves but he turned it off because "its so loud and annoying, sometimes you just need some peace and quiet."

What did I get myself into? I thought this would be dream position....
Tuesday, October 10
My university IT people keep messing around with the email servers. Over the last couple of days it's been 50/50 whether my email was working. At one point, I didn't receive email for twelve hours. This interrupted a tense email exchange with my advisor.

I'm so codependent with my advisor that not knowing whether she had emailed me back and knowing that she was mad at me sent me into a panic attack. I almost called her to say that my email was down to prevent her from thinking I was ignoring her.

I want to drag the IT people into my therapy session this week, so they can see the devastation they hath wrought.

Update: 23 hours later
My advisor got over it, and we are now back to being the best of friends. We had a super productive substantive meeting yesterday. The kind where you realize your advisor is actually smarter than you, and knows amazing things.
Saturday, October 7
A week or two ago, I was going to post the secret that things are not as bad as I sometimes make them out to be. I complain a lot about not doing any work and letting my advisor down and so on. Lately, people have been responding to my complaints by encouraging me to think about what I would do if I dropped out of grad school (or got kicked out). At first, this took me aback. For all my whining, I hadn't seriously considered quitting, and my suprise and indignation that people actually believed that I might be at risk of being forced out suggested that I might have been exaggerating for effect. Or at least, I thought I was exaggerating. I always assumed that at some point I would stop being lazy and unmotivated and be the relatively productive student I like to think of my "real" self as (never mind the fact that that "real" me has never existed outside my head).

When I was thinking about writing that post, I was having a couple of productive days and it seemed like the problem was my representation of my situation. I decided I should stop misleading people about being on the edge of dropping out, since everything really was going to be all right in the end. Unfortunately, that confidence didn't last long and now I'm feeling worse than before, because I'm taking people's reactions to my complaints more seriously. If everyone I talk to gets the impression I should be looking for alternative careers, maybe there's some truth to that view.

I wish I had a better sense of perspective. It would be good if I knew whether to believe my own Chicken Little-esque views, or my more optimistic moments, the post-doc who claims I have good data, or the well-meaning people who assure me that there is life outside academia.
I hesitate to include this, because I don't want to be making excuses for my lack of productivity, but I wonder as well how much of my pessimism and apathy is due to depression. I'm nowhere near as depressed as I was a year or six months ago, but my motivation is still gone. Is it just laziness at this point, or genuine loss of interest, or will it come back?

I started writing this post as a comment to Orange Ina's post about students who constantly let their advisors down. The posts about writing recommendation letters for mediocre students made me feel similarly guilty. This is the downside to reading academic blogs. It's all too easy to imagine the snarky posts my advisor would write about me, if she had a blog, and weren't as loath to badmouth anyone as she is. Perhaps the disappointed and concerned posts I can imagine her writing would be worse.

Do the students their advisors complain about ever manage to become productive and get decent jobs? I'm starting to imagine the half-hearted recommendation letters I might get (if I even ever make it far enough to graduate) and wondering if I should just give up now.
The relationship between a faculty member and said faculty member's advisees at times is way too heavily based on codependency. And I am strictly talking about professional relationships here. Let's take a student who keeps disappointing. It's like a romantic relationship where the partner keeps cheating or lying or whatnot. Nonetheless, the codependent other half continues to go back to the partner. How many occurences of disappointment will lead to a permanent fracture in the relationship? Too many.

That's the somewhat abstract version of where I'm going here. Take a student who disappoints time and time again. The faculty member has a talk with said student directly addressing the concerns and offers suggestions for how said situations should be handled in the future. Student thanks faculty member for advice and all seems good. Until the next time. When said student disappoints again not even in a new realm, but repeating the same old mistakes.

And Salmon, before you freak out and suggest that this must be how your adviser sees you, etc, from everything you have told us I can confidently say this has nothing to do with your situation. I am talking about very simple things here, like returning emails in a timely fashion, keeping others abreast of goings on and everday little whatnots of that sort.
Friday, October 6
The blog's not showing up. This is an attempt to see if we can kick some life back into it.
Tuesday, October 3
I got a rejection letter today. It's not my first, and it won't be my last.

My main complaint about reviewers continues to be that there are so many who clearly don't read the paper. To make matters worse, I think that the people who are least likely to read the paper are often higher status individuals whose reviews editors weight more heavily (particularly if the editor, who has a lot on their plate, didn't read the paper carefully themselves).

That's not today's gripe, though. I'll save it for another day.

This wasn't my first rejection of this particular paper. In the previous round of reviews (from Journal A in the specialty area of Politics of Primates) I got, "This research is an example of a much larger and more interesting phenomenon, focus on that." So I did when I reframed the paper. This time I got (from Journal B in the same specialty area), "This research claims to be looking at this much larger phenomenon, but what's more interesting is the specific example that it highlights."

Argh. Why couldn't I have had those same reviewers that second time around? Or even better, that second set the first time around? How do you decide whether you cater to those reviewers before you send it out again, or if you just send the same thing out and hope that it doesn't go to the same person? This is a game I haven't learned to play yet.
Over at See Jane Compute, there is a discussion about how to tell rude students who are talking in your class to be quiet without losing your cool. There are some interesting ideas, I was especially intrigued by the suggestion to use humor.

But what if none of those approaches work? I have wondered in the past, is it okay to tell students to leave the class? After all, if they are paying for it, can you tell them to get out? What if it doesn't say explicitly in your syllabus that you expect people to be respectful and quiet unless they are contributing to class discussion? (And how often does one explicitly add that to a syllabus? Hmm.. I wonder if I should in the future.)

Is that something you would ever say to a student? Or do you think that may be problematic? If it's problematic and the other methods don't work, how do you get students to be quiet?
Monday, October 2
I'm a total NPR addict. It's one of the reasons I've become middle-aged before my time. NPR's normal target audience seems to be the older end of the boomer range. So imagine my shock when the 'local' sponsor of Morning Edition last week on my public radio station was 'And I Feel Fine: Best of the I.R.S. Years 1982-1987'.

While I love REM, and am happy that there is a newer (older) version of Eponymous, I'm a little weirded out that REM has anything to do with NPR, MarketPlace's bad-ass music selections notwithstanding. Even stranger, the way they said it, the album itself was the sponsor - not the band, not IRS records, but the album. I can't get my head around an album being the local sponsor of a radio station, especially since albums are now more conceptual than tangible in the age of IPOD. It's kind of like the War On Terra, except benign.