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You could be a teacher October 16, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, education, feminism, research, science, teaching, work, younger son.
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math_teachers_tshirtAs we were settling in for the ride home after swimming, the younger son asked, “Mom, you’re good at math, right?”

The older boy snickered.

“I like to think so,” I responded.

There was a brief silence followed by, “Welllll………you’re good at math, and you’re a teacher…maybe you should teach math at a high school!”

What followed was a long explanation about how I just physically can’t handle the idea of teaching K-12.  Teaching 6 hours a day, grading, prep, etc.  Actually, it’s mostly the teaching.  Teaching more than 4 hours turns me into a puddle that can’t function until I’ve had a good night’s sleep.  Teaching high school is not the ideal profession for introverts.  There’s also the fact that, frankly, it would get boring to teach high school math after more than a year or two.  The math is what interests me more than the challenge of helping students to understand (though that is an interesting problem when the material is also sufficiently intellectually stimulating).  I think he gets it, but he still likes the idea of his mom as a math teacher.

This did bring to the surface some thoughts I’ve been mulling over.  Does he see me as a teacher because he already knows I teach or does gender roles have something to do with it?  I’ve been pondering this a lot because I get the sense that there are some academics who really do view teaching through a gendered lens and therefore think I’d be better off at a community or liberal arts college.  In fact, I imagine there’s a blog post where I discussed someone telling me as much, but I’m not going to dig it out now.

One thing that has occurred to me is that, if I want people to look at my research, I may actually actively have to avoid things that will stick ‘teacher’ into their heads when they think of me.  That is, it’s probably a good idea to actively avoid involvement in education conferences and societies except at a cursory level.  Teaching should be kept at a minimum.  I enjoy the service work component and the idea of exploring interesting aspects of STEM education.  I also really enjoy interacting with students (but not all day long).  I don’t like the idea that it means that my other abilities and accomplishments will be overlooked.  Maybe that’s taking things too far, but I don’t really know how to cement the ‘researcher’ thing into people’s brains unless that’s the only thing they see when looking at my CV.  Maybe once the ‘teacher’ version of me has been wiped clean, it’ll be okay to begin dabbling in serious educational research pursuits.

That’s obviously not what my son was worried about.  He simply wants me to have a job I enjoy…and maybe there’s a bit of an ulterior motive as he hopes I’d be home more during the summers.  It’s a nice idea, but the other nine months of the year probably wouldn’t be all that enjoyable for me…especially if doing research was secondary, or worse, nonexistent.

All that being said, I think that if I do ever become a math teacher, I want the above tshirt.  (You can get it here, if you’re curious.)

I wonder where that came from? October 15, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in family, science, younger son.
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Mike was helping younger son study for a science test.  After they were finished, Mike turned to me and said that younger son seems to have a very good handle on the subject.  The younger son, in response, said that he really likes science and thinks it may even be “his talent.”

I smiled at Mike and said, “Gee, I wonder where that came from?”

Younger boy, apparently not realizing that the question was rhetorical, said in the most definitive tone, “You, Mom!”

I sure wasn’t expecting that but I certainly appreciated it.  For the record, however, I’m guessing Mike had a little something to do with it, too.

Friday fun: The best videos I’ve seen this week September 20, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in Friday Fun, physics, science.
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In hearing about all the racism that surfaced regarding Nina Davuluri, I heard someone mention she’d done a Bollywood dance for her performance.  I had to check it out, and I have to admit that I’m very impressed.  Her kneeling spins are something else.

I wasn’t nearly as impressed with Bill Nye’s cha cha on Dancing with the Stars, but you have to admit it’s kind of cute (if a bit stereotyped).

And speaking of science and music (but not dance), I also came across this wonderful remake of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody called Bohemian Gravity.  I think this one is my favorite this week…it combines some pretty amazing talent with really amazing physics.

 

 

Academic freedom: “I’ve got no strings to hold me down” September 14, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, research, science.
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It’s no secret that I can’t stand the word “novel” when used to describe research.  (I talked about that here.)  Therefore, I was quite interested when I saw, in one of my newsfeeds, an article titled, “Academic spin: How to dodge & weave past research exaggeration.”  The post is about a discussion that biomedical journal editors at a conference had regarding some of the items that are being published and how to avoid hype and conflict of interest.  In general, the topic was interesting, but I had to pause at this paragraph:

Later, we heard from Serina Stratton that out of 313 trials studied, 36 required sponsor/manufacturer approval for text or publication and 6 had gag orders. Leading to some inevitable questions: why aren’t all academic institutions protecting researchers and trial participants from industry restrictions on academic freedom – and why aren’t potential participants being warned about this before they agree to be in a trial?

I’m afraid this may sound a bit judgmental, but I felt like the question about academic institutions protecting researchers and participants was a bit naive.

It is my observation that universities are very much gearing operations toward a business model and are less concerned about education.  (I’m not passing judgement, by the way…just stating my observation.)  Bringing in research money is a huge component of creating a successful university in the business model, and this is reinforced by things like the Carnegie rankings.  The level of research effort is one of those criterion for the rankings, and that is measured not in hours or publications but in research dollars.  (The methodology for these rankings is here.)  Being a RU/VH (research university, very high) is something nearly every university aspires to.  (It was a huge deal when my own university joined the ranks…despite the fact that no one outside the university seemed to realize it.)

But how does one become a tier 1 school when federal budgets are shrinking?  You have to fill the gap somewhere, and a lot of places do that by doing contract research for industry.  Given the choice between research funding and the prestige that goes with it versus academic freedom, it seems pretty obvious that the whole academic freedom issue is rather inconvenient.  The rankings don’t look at academic freedom, they’re looking at research expenditures.  Obviously, given the choice, the university is going to catapult whatever prevents receiving funding.

If you’re doing contract research for industry, there is almost always some limitation on academic freedom.  Companies are not going to fund research that doesn’t generate proprietary information.  Heck, a lot of them won’t fund research if they think the research might leak out and make them look bad.  Trade secrets are the norm in industry, and the choice researchers make when they work with industry is the loss of academic freedom.  This is a choice that is being pushed by the universities in general, however, because, like most businesses, decisions revolve around the bottom line.  Because of that, researchers understand that tenure, and for those on soft money, continuing employment, is heavily dependent on funding.  There are few researchers who are going to turn their nose up at a major funding source, even if that funding comes with some pretty serious strings attached.

This is NOT what a scientist looks like August 26, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, science, younger son.
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The younger son’s school is starting a new science curriculum this year. Mike and I were very excited to learn about it as it’s supposed to emphasize hands-on learning. But this came home today, and I could only roll my eyes. Can you see what’s wrong?

20130826-234914.jpg

Making your mom proud (if she’s a physicist) August 19, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in gifted, homeschooling, older son, physics, science.
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One of the classes that the older boy is doing this year is physics.  Rather than give him something very math intensive, I instead chose to have him study from Paul Hewitt’s Conceptual Physics text.  It’s a book I came across after I’d already had a couple years of physics, and I regret not having had that book first.  It does a wonderful job of explaining how physics works and what the concepts mean without drowning the reader in math.

When I picked up the older son after his study session the other day, he began talking about how imbalances in forces are what cause objects to accelerate.  For instance, a car will move forward when the force created by the engine to move the car forward exceeds the forces of friction, gravity (if it’s on a hill), etc.  After listening, I asked the question, “What happens then if the forces become balanced?”

I fully expected him to say that the object would stop moving.  I really did.  This is what the vast majority of students in my physics labs assumed when asked that question.  Their assumption is that the forces must always be out of balance if the object is moving.

His response:

It would really depend on if the object were moving or still to begin with.  If it was moving, it would continue to do so, and if it wasn’t moving, it would continue to stay still.

My response was to yell, “Yes!!!!!” at the top of my lungs and pump my fist.  I’ve been proud of my son many times over the past few years, but few things make me beam as much as displaying a clear understanding of Newtonian mechanics.

Friday Fun: Cool toys August 9, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in Friday Fun, physics, science, science fiction.
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My birthday is coming up in a few days, and despite the fact that my husband already got me a present, I’m still thinking of other fun things that I want.

He knew I had to have the purple cover.

He knew I had to have the purple cover.

I thought a new pair of running shoes might be in order, but those are no longer in the category of ‘fun’ and more into the realm of ‘must have’!  Also, I got running shoes last year for Christmas, so it would be boring to always get running shoes.

I decided to get in touch with my inner geek and see what she really, really wanted if she had an unlimited budget, space, and time:

Yes, it's a Barbie.  But it's Mars Explorer Barbie!  It's probably the only Barbie I'd ever want to own, but I have to give two thumbs up to Mattel for this one.

Yes, it’s a Barbie. But it’s Mars Explorer Barbie! It’s probably the only Barbie I’d ever want to own, but I have to give two thumbs up to Mattel for this one.

I've been eyeing this one for a long time.  I wanted to have space battles between it and my lego space shuttle.  (Sadly, I'm sure the shuttle would be outgunned.)

I’ve been eyeing this one for a long time. I wanted to have space battles between it and my lego space shuttle. (Sadly, I’m sure the shuttle would be outgunned.)

 

 

I may have to scrounge Ebay to find a Star Trek pizza cutter.  ThinkGeek is out!

I may have to scrounge Ebay to find a Star Trek pizza cutter. ThinkGeek is out!

I do realize they're coming out with a scaled down version of the LHC...but I want the full-blown version.

I do realize they’re coming out with a scaled down version of the LHC…but I want the full-blown version.

And finally, I think I’d book a trip with these guys.  At least the $250k is refundable.

So if you could have anything you wanted…what would you want?

Slime for sale August 5, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in science, societal commentary.
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I really hate listening to sales pitches.  Really, really hate it.  Part of it is that I’m skeptical enough to look at a lot of the claims the way a scientist does.  I can’t imagine why.

I was walking through a department store after a purchase when the clerk who’d been helping me said she’d like to show me something.  So she started in on a sales pitch for a ‘newly reformulated’ skin care product.  She started by rubbing it on the back of my left hand.  Then she sprayed water on both hands and told me to shake them.  She pointed out that the water on my bare hand had formed into balls while the water on the other hand was spread evenly over the skin.

I nodded and said, “That’s interesting.”

I was thinking: “This is bogus.  There’s some sort of surfactant in there that’s minimizing the surface tension of the water.  This has nothing to do with how well moisture can be held by the skin, and I know from experience that skin health is much more dependent on diet than anything else.”  (This last point has been a huge point of discovery since I’m no longer starving because of my celiacs.)

Okay.  So she keeps going on and I’m getting ready to leave, but she puts some of her elixir on a couple sponges.  I’m curious to see what she’s going to do next.  I should have left.  As she’s talking to me, she suddenly reaches up and starts dabbing this goop all over my face.

If she were my child, I would have shouted, “Hey!  Personal space!  Stay out!”  But she wasn’t.

She then asked me how it felt, and I wasn’t inclined to put on a show for someone who just used cosmetic sponges on me as though they were nunchucks.

If that lady had tried to put makeup on Chuck Norris, I'm sure she' would've been seeing double.

If that lady had tried to put makeup on Chuck Norris, I’m sure she’ would’ve been seeing double.

Having been assaulted with foam, I wasn’t inclined to be nice, so I just said, “Weird…and slimy.”  Then I smiled, said I’d think about it, and made a beeline for the bathroom so I could wipe that stuff off.

It’s bad enough when they’re trying to sell me on something that makes no sense, but smearing stuff on my face is definitely over the top.  I’m not sure what she thought she accomplishing, but I don’t think I’ll EVER buy any of her slime.

Rihanna has it wrong! June 27, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in physics, science.
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I heard Rihanna’s song “Diamonds” for the first time yesterday.  (I know…I live under a rock…though, unfortunately, not that kind of rock or I’d be rich.)  I rather liked the song except for the line that keeps popping up: “Shine bright like a diamond.”  Something about the way it sounds doesn’t quite fit the rest of the song for me, or maybe it was to repetitive.  But what really bugged me is that, every time I heard it, all I could think was, “Diamonds don’t shine!  They refract!”  I suppose refraction doesn’t sell as much pop music, though.  I will suggest, however, if any of you are aces at making music remixes, that the song would benefit from more accurate physics.  (Maybe she should take some notes from Britney Spears?)

Anyway, I hate it when science gets in the way of enjoying music.  When it’s not wrong, though, it can sometimes make the music more enjoyable.

I only wear goggles when swimming May 21, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, physics, research, science, societal commentary, Uncategorized.
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I was recently chatting with an acquaintance when they mentioned they had seen me in the local paper a while back.

You were wearing goggles, right?

No.

Well, you did have a lab coat…

No, I was actually wearing a sweater.

I have had articles on my work run in the paper a couple times in the past few months. However, only one had a picture, and I cringe every time I think about it. I learned the hard way that it is important to wear solid colors on such occasions.

The picture involved me standing in front of several racks of computers wearing a rather ugly ombré sweater. I find it interesting that this acquaintance knows I’m a scientist and equates that with the goggles and lab coat schtick so heavily that they remember me wearing one even when I was not.

I remember reading about a project where kids drew pictures of scientists, visited some at Fermilab, and then drew pictures after their visit. The contrast was striking.

Having talked with this person on and off during the years, never once while wearing a lab coat (probably because I haven’t worn a lab coat since freshman chem and certainly wouldn’t out in public), I’m very surprised that they still imagine me that way. I guess it goes to show how powerful those stereotypes are.

I think I need to have a “Visit Cherish At Work” day where people can watch me sit at my computer, lab coat free.

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