Friday, February 27, 2009

The after shocks

of returning an exam started a mere hour after class let out.

The first e-mail rolled into my account.   It began in a great way, an attempt to compliment me on being a good teacher.  However, the compliment failed as the student misspelled my name in the greeting.  And addressed me as "Mr."   Last time I checked, I was very obviously female.  Not even Prof. or Dr.  but Mr.?!?!?!? 

Moving past that little (what the heck) BIG faux pas, the student then proceeded to ask me to drop the lowest "quiz" grade.  I believe he actually meant exam in his statement.... since this was directly after he received the score of his not-so-great exam.  However, due to the massive amount of grammatical errors and misspelled words, I am a tad unsure to the true meaning of his e-mail.  I responded very politely (although I had to resist the urge to write back to Ms. Student) and informed him that if he reviewed his syllabus he would recall that the lowest quiz grade is in fact dropped, however all exams will count towards the final grade.

I don't think that was the answer he wanted.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

To Curve or Not to Curve

That is the question tonight.

And if so, what is the best way to "curve" a course?

So any helpful suggestions from out there in the vast (more experienced) internet teaching world would be most appreciated.

My gut right now is telling me to wait till the end to curve.  Not to curve each individual exam.  Curving now might give students false hope that they are doing well.  But curving in the end means they don't know what grade they are going to get.  Though I don't suppose anyone could complain about getting a better grade than expected.   

But then again, these student constantly surprise me, so I shouldn't cross that possibility off the list.

On a related grading note- why do students think it is acceptable to hand in an assignment weeks after it is due and then get disgruntled with me for not accepting it.  Assignments are due the DAY that you are told or that is written in your syllabus.  What part of "assignments will not be accepted late" do you not understand?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


does the copier always jam or break down when you have 10 minutes till class time, need to finish copying enough quizzes for the entire class....and still need to wolf down the crackers that are serving as your dinner?


It's going to be one of those nights.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Understanding Advisor

Do I have an understanding post-doc advisor?    There is only one response to that... hells yea.

When I first thought about adjunct-ing in addition to post-doc-ing, I knew it would be a lot of work, and I'd have a lot on my plate.  But I went in to talk to Awesome Advisor (maybe I should just call him Dr. AA from here on out) and his response to me was....

"If you are thinking of that for your long-term career, then you should definitely jump at the opportunity if it comes your way.  The only thing I would request is that when you are here in the lab, you are doing your research.  And all the prep for your class is done on your time."

Now I think that was a very valid request on his part, and in no way was I ever planning on spending my time in the lab working on lecture prep.  So of course I agreed immediately.  Then when I got offered the adjunct spot, he was just as excited for me as I was.  And he now waits in baited breath as does the rest of my lab (maybe not, but I can pretend they all do), to hear the "stories" of my latest class.

The one unfortunate thing I have to admit... and please don't tell Dr. AA... is that I have worked on my lecture during time I was in the lab.   Sometimes there just isn't enough time in the evenings to prepare entire lectures.  Good lectures.  Lectures that will be informative and entertaining.  And to grade quizzes.  Write new quizzes.   Prep the laboratory experiments we will be doing that week.  Write lab quizzes.  Grade lab quizzes.  Grade lab reports.  Prepare lab lectures.

So I cheat.   

During 5 minute incubations.... I grade another quiz.  During 10 minute spins... I fix a lecture slide or answer my adjunct e-mail.

So please...please... don't tell on me.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Are they learning?

This is the question that is running through my head tonight.

I just finished grading my classes first exam of the semester.  And to be honest, it is the first exam I have ever written completely ON MY OWN.  And let's just say, the grades are not too stellar.

The highest grades were a pair of 85s.   The lowest?  A 20.   Yes, you read that right.  A 20.   

Now some of my thoughts:

- there was not a single question that everyone in the class got wrong.  If that was the case, I would have deemed it either a) a really badly phrased question or b) a topic that I did not teach well, and promptly discarded that question.

- I admit that I took some questions from the text bank provided with the book.  I looked through all the provided test questions, and found a couple that I thought were good.  So I used those.  Turns out the students did worse on the "book" questions than on questions I personally made up.  So either my questions are WAY too easy or  the book's questions are way too hard.

- The student that scored a 20 has only attended one class of the 7 we have had so far (our class meets once a week for 3 hours each session).  This particular individual has also never contacted me via e-mail or during my office hours to ask for help.  Does that mean I think the 20 is warranted?  Not sure.

- I posted a study guide for the exam on the classes website.  On the website, I can track how many people, and importantly which people, downloaded the study guide.  Of my class of 32 students, only 8 students downloaded the study guide.  Now, I know that that does not imply the rest did not get the study guide from one of the 8 that actually downloaded it, but I find it a tad unlikely that ALL remaining 24 students got a copy of the study guide from a classmate.

- The 2 students that scored the 85s did not download the study guide.

So now the questions in my head are:

1) Do I let them correct their exam and offer them some points for the correction?  Say 1/4 point for each correction?

2) Do I change my style of teaching?


3) Do I just hang up the "professor"hood and pick a new profession?

(Note- 3 is probably the least likely)

Friday, February 20, 2009

More necessary background

I'll tell you a secret.

I'm still thinking about academia as my career goal.

Well, its not exactly a secret.  Most people who know me, already know that I haven't yet veered off the traditional academic career pathway.   From graduate school I looked for post-doctoral positions and was offered one in the lab of my choice under an amazing PI (PI = principle investigator, aka- lab head or boss).

Don't get me wrong though.  I have attended more than my fair share of "alternative career" seminars*.  Listened to consultants talking about consulting, patent lawyers talk about lawyering, and science policy fellows rave on and on about their work on "the Hill".   

I have considered all of those as potential career options and haven't crossed them off my list (in addition to others, including starting my own business in organizational techniques- yes, I am an anal organizer).  But in the end, the idea of educating and performing research always comes back.

That is why I have thrown my hat into the realm of adjunct professor.  I decided in order to make an informed career decision, I needed to know whether I enjoyed teaching.  I had taught during graduate school, but only as a TA (TA = teaching assistant).   There I had the experience of teaching a short laboratory introduction lecture and grading exams that someone else had written.  But I never planned an entire course, developed a syllabus, given an hour+ long lecture, or written exams.  So if I stayed on the academic pathway, would I actually enjoy being a professor and teaching?   

So in addition to beginning a post-doc position (started early in 2008), I sought out opportunities to teach.  I was amazed at how quickly I found an adjunct position (that story will be told in another entry) and soon I was set up to teach a Baby Bio lecture and its associated lab.

And let me just say, being the professor is very different from being just one of the TAs.

* I'll state it up-front that I do not like the phrase "alternative career".  It makes it seem like there is something wrong with getting a Ph.D. and then choosing to do something other than becoming an academic.  And I do NOT believe that is the case.  

The First Post

I have been debating whether to start a "professional" blog for awhile.  And finally today (during a spurt of procrastination) succumbed to the desire.  I am not sure how witty or entertaining the general public will find my stories, but its worth a shot.  And we will see how this blog develops over time.  Together.

To start off, I need to tell you a little about myself, without giving away completely who I am.  Why the shroud of secrecy?  No real reason... besides the fact if any of my students were ever to see this site, there might be some issues.  So for now, I will be Temporary Prof.    Or, Dr. Temporary Prof to be more accurate and reflective of the 7 years it took me to get through graduate school (and that hard earned title of "Doctor of Philosophy").

Now my background in as little words as possible:
1st) Oldest child (out of 2) born to two non-scientist parents

2nd) Undergraduate at a private university where I got my first introduction to research by performing a summer student internship that turned into a part-time student internship during the remainder of college.

3rd) Graduate student in biological sciences at a prestigious private university.  (Why did I feel the need to add prestigious there?  I guess for my own ego boost)

4th) Thesis lab was thankfully very well funded, so I had (what I now realize to be) a non-average graduate career where money was not a limiting factor and there was no trouble with doing the  $$$ experiments.

5th) Currently employed full time job as a post-doctoral fellow at a site of major research.

6th) Also, currently employed as an adjunct faculty member at a local community college, where I teaching an introductory biology course (hence forward referred to as Baby Bio or Bio101) and its corresponding laboratory.

7th)  Oh, yeah..... and I'm female.   Married to a non-scientist and mom to two fur-babies, that would be of the canine type.

So I think thats good enough for now.   And either later today or tomorrow.... the stories of my first year teaching will start.