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Responsive regardless April 24, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, feminism, research, work.
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NPR did an overview of a study showing that there is a bias in academia against minorities and women.  The study looked at response rates by professors to solicitations by potential students to meet.  The letters were identical except for the names attached.  They found that women and minorities received a different response rate than names that appeared to belong to white males.  They also found that the bias was greater when the faculty were at prestigious private schools or in fields that are more financially lucrative.

My response: “Well, Duh!”

In the comments to the article, some people were complaining about how many letters they get, particularly from Indian and Chinese students.  How could they be expected to answer every. single. one?!

While I admit I’m not inundated with such letters, I have gotten several.  As one of the other commenters mentioned, form letters are great for dealing with these, and I pretty much do that.  I also use an additional filter: “I currently don’t have funding for an additional student, but if you want to discuss what you’re interested in, we could look into avenues to fund such a project.”

It’s amazing how I never hear anything back.

But you know, I always do respond.  And I am hoping one of these days that I get a response back.


Wordless Wednesday: Pictures in food April 23, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in food/cooking, photography.
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Traveling off the wheaten path April 20, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in food/cooking.
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One thing I discovered pretty quickly is that I am incredibly sensitive to even small amounts of wheat/gluten.  I am finding that this makes traveling with celiac disease a lot more challenging than I ever anticipated.  It is also frustrating as one of my favorite parts of traveling used to be finding all the cool places to eat.

Unfortunately, travel seems to have become a fairly regular thing for me now, so I’m having to get used to it.

I’m learning some things that help.  First, I have to either be sure there are places I can eat that are reliably gluten-free, or I have to get a hotel room with a kitchen.  (I’ve become a fan of places that end in “Suites.”)  I’ve also discovered that Whole Foods and Trader Joes are my favorite pairs of words when I travel (although probably Whole Foods, moreso).  Planning ahead is pretty vital.

The gist of it is that a trip that involves me driving usually involves me packing a bunch of food to bring along, maybe even a cooler.  If I’m flying, which was the case earlier this month, I have to have a hotel room with a kitchen and a rental car to go pick up food.  I also then have to find this balance between having the right food and not overdoing it so that I don’t leave food to feed an army in the fridge when I leave.

So what do I eat?

I usually do sausage (assuming I can find a safe brand) and scrambled eggs with peppers for breakfast.  Lunch involves salad with chicken (I can usually find precooked breasts or sandwich meat, although I will cook it myself in a pinch) or hardboiled eggs.  For sides, I like baby carrots, and I can even make a very simplistic potato salad fairly easily.  I’m finding there are a lot of packet sizes of things like coconut oil or other stuff that comes in handy as condiments.  If I need something that I can’t get in packets, I just try to buy the smallest available size.

I usually find a place for dinner, but if not, there are options in the frozen foods like fish sticks or corn dogs (with more salad and carrots, of course).  I’m always relieved when there’s a PF Changs nearby.  We don’t have one in Fargo, so not only do I get my Chinese fix, I can do it without any gluten.  And cookies…there are gluten free cookies out there.

Though it’s not the best, I also have a stash of M&Ms or something similar with me…because it’s a good idea in case schedules or something get off.  (While I don’t usually get sick any more, I can’t say I feel the best if I overdo it on snack foods.)

Believe it or not, I pack a few ziploc bags, a lunch box, and a blue ice pack into my suitcase.  I stuff the lunch box full of food before I leave the hotel room.  I imagine I look pretty sporting hauling it around with me (it’s a soft-sided, purple and pink box), but it at least removes the temptation to eat anything that could be dangerous.  And it’s better than spending half the trip sick in the hotel room…or coming back very sick.

The biggest inconvenience is the time it takes.  Going to conferences can be rather tiring, and some days are very long.  If I can get there a day ahead of time, I can do a bunch of shopping and prepare food, which makes it easier.  I also go through and rewash all the dishes by hand before I use them, just in case someone didn’t do a thorough job and there are crumbs or other things on there.  (I imagine this is a good idea, either way.)

I’m getting more practiced at this and finding that it’s not as difficult now that I’m getting better at it.  I don’t even get too many comments about my lunch box any more.

Wordless Wednesday: Good idea! April 16, 2014

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Married to my work April 13, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, family, personal, societal commentary.
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In the past two weeks, I have been introduced as Mike’s spouse twice in professional settings.

I usually view this as something akin to the Kiss of Death: the person receiving this news is likely to consider me an appendage to my spouse and therefore rather useless.  It’s not that I mind people know I am married to Mike.  He’s very competent and he’s a nice person, so I’m certainly not ashamed of it.  It’s often the reaction I get that bothers me.  We have both noticed that some people will make a point of talking to him and ignoring me entirely, even when the project is mine and has nothing to do with him.  (Of course, people do this even when they don’t know we’re married…)

In the first case, I found this rather interesting because it had a couple oddities relative to other introductions of this nature.  First, the person I was being introduced to had no idea who Mike was, and in fact, never did meet him.  I’m not sure why my marital arrangement was the first thing that came up, but I just sort of sigh and roll with it.  Second, I think one of the people we were with was more annoyed about the way I was introduced than I was.  While I just sort of shrugged and carried on as though nothing happened, shaking hands with the visitor, one of the other people who knew me repeated my name to the person two or three times.  As much as I’m resigned to this sort of thing, apparently other people are not, and my inner voice yelled, “Huzzah!”

The second situation was very unnerving.  Mike and I coauthored a paper which was accepted at a fairly selective conference.  The introduction to our presentation explained that we were a husband and wife team, and I inwardly cringed.  I was expecting the fallout to be very awkward for me.  What was odd is that, for the most part, this didn’t seem to make a difference to anyone.  Or maybe they already knew so it didn’t matter.  Mike has had a paper accepted there before, and I was invited to give a presentation last year, so we’re not complete strangers to this group of people.  With perhaps one exception, there wasn’t any noticeable difference in the way anyone treated him versus me.

While the “being married to my coworker” thing has it’s problems, it seems like some people aren’t letting it be as big an issue as it used to be.  It’s kind of nice to be considered a colleague and not an appendage.

It’ll make my day when people regularly introduce him as my spouse, though.  (It has happened once or twice, but not nearly as often as the reverse.)

This title isn’t nearly innovative enough April 12, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, research.
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I’ve been pondering a question…and asking a few people, as well.

What do you consider innovative?

In particular, I’m wondering if people say it is only innovative to have a new idea that no one has thought of before.  What about a different scenario: would you consider it innovative if you came up with a viable way to make something work when people have already had the idea for a long time but never been able to make it work?  Are only abstractions innovative, or is there innovation in pragmatism?

I have more to say on the topic, but I first want to see what others think.

Beautiful, elegant models March 27, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, geology, physics, research.
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I’m interested in the different uses of the word model.  Of course, the most common reference (outside of science and engineering) is to someone who wears expensive clothes.  Upon encountering such a model, most of us in the sciences and engineering wonder how they could charge so much for so little fabric.

In science and engineering, however, I’m discovering that I don’t like the use of the word because it’s ubiquitous and therefore nearly useless.  The problem I’ve run into is that everyone uses it but not necessarily for the same things.  In one field (or to one person), it means the equations describing a phenomenon.  In another field, it’s a computational model incorporating those equations in a specific configuration.  In yet a third field, it can describe a computational framework.  Then there are models that are simple calculations to describe inputs and outputs of a system.  And finally, I’ve also heard someone refer to it as a non-quantitative description of a process.

I’m slowly realizing that a model depends on what you and your field emphasize.  It’s used to describe an abstraction or an idea of the process, but what you’re describing as a model is extremely dependent on your training.

I think I may go back to using it to describe the walking mannequin.

Cynicism and the academic market March 25, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, grad school, research, work.
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I recently had someone ask what I was planning to do after I graduated.  I’ve had this question asked of me before.  When I responded, “I’m interested in a tenure track position,” I have, more often than not gotten the “Yeah right.  Let me know how that works out for you” response.  Not in so many words, of course.

This time, however, I responded that I was interested in a TT position, and added that I knew it was highly unlikely.  The reaction to that was, “Not necessarily.”

I was appreciative of the comment because I think, without reading too much into it, it was meant to be encouraging.  However, I still have to stick by my stance that it’s pretty unlikely, mostly because I think it’s not best to be wed to the idea.

The data seems to back me up on this one.  There was a study done on those who make it into TT positions in political science, and the conclusion is that there are very select schools from which everyone is trying to hire.  I don’t have any direct info for my field, but this seems like a reasonable proxy.  The conclusion is that 20% of TT hires come out of a half dozen elite colleges.  And as your school goes down in ranking from there, so do your chances of getting hired.  I’ve also seen numbers, at least for physics, that only 1 in 10 grads finds a TT spot.

Just looking at these numbers makes me think that I would be rather stupid to count on getting a TT spot.  So as much as people may want to be encouraging (and I do appreciate it), it seems like I should try to stay pragmatic and keep in mind that there is life after academia.

A filtered education March 3, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, math, older son, physics, science, societal commentary, teaching, younger son.
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The older son is a lot of fun.  Despite his statements that he has no desire to go into science, he seems to get and make a lot of science jokes.  I know he’s not a scientist, but I feel comfortable that he’s scientifically literate.  As he was homeschooled, I’m feeling pretty proud of myself.

I’m more anxious about the younger son, though.  This weekend, he brought home his science homework, which focused on optics.  The kids were studying filters, and one of the questions asked about what kind of light would you see if you shined a flashlight through a blue filter and then a red one.  I asked him what he saw, and he said nothing.  Unfortunately, he was told that he saw nothing because the flashlights just weren’t bright enough, but that what he should have seen was purple.

I’m pretty sure that if I had ever been bombarded with gamma rays in the past, I would’ve turned into She-Hulk at that very moment and started smashing things.  Fortunately (or unfortunately, if being She-Hulk happens to be a goal of yours), that didn’t happen.

I find it infuriating that, throughout my years of homeschooling older son and teaching younger son math, I have constantly been questioned about my ability to teach them.  The implication has always been that I may have a degree, but they are experts on teaching.  In fact, this particular teacher attempted to take me to task earlier this year about the younger son’s math curriculum…the same teacher who apparently doesn’t understand that light and pigments work completely differently.

After I managed to calm down, I explained that light filters are like sieves, except that they only let one size of particle pass through: nothing bigger can pass through the holes, but nothing smaller can, either.  After this explanation, the younger son was able to correctly explain that the reason he saw no light from his flashlight is that the two filters together had blocked all the light.

I’m going to be watching very carefully to see what kinds of scores he’s getting on his answers and whether the teacher realizes she made a mistake.  This was very disappointing.  There was a new science curriculum introduced this year, one which I was very excited about.  The focus was supposed to be on hands-on, problem-based learning, which is great for science.  Despite that, it seems that younger son’s science education may be lacking.  What good does it do to have a top of the line science education curriculum (or math…or anything else) when our teachers don’t understand what they’re teaching?  And how is it that these same teachers can justify questioning the ability to teach material that some of us understand far better than they do?

An engineer’s desk (not mine) February 27, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, food/cooking, research, work.
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deskThe challenge in engineering is not to make the best technical decisions but to determine how to stay alert enough to make technical decisions…



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