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Brand new professor  August 27, 2016

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, teaching, Uncategorized.
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I finished my first week as a new professor. It was exhausting. I spent most of the week drinking from the firehose of information about my new institution. A colleague says every institution does the same thing to new faculty and he doesn’t understand why, but I think I do: it certainly creates empathy for the students. Going to college is at every bit as stressful as being a new faculty. 

The hardest part for me is just being around unfamiliar people all day. While my colleagues are almost entirely warm and welcoming, my introversion was severely stressed and I really needed down time in evening with no people. As much as I don’t like the commuting arrangement, I greatly appreciated the much-needed down time it afforded me.  I also was short on time for running (also good stress relief), so I tried to tell myself that the multiple flights of stairs I was taking daily to reach my office were an adequate substitute.

I finally met some students yesterday. Many of our students are athletes, and I saw an unexpected and very interesting side benefit to this: 2/3 of my advisees were minorities.  I am very excited by the possibility that there may be enough students that they won’t feel out of place. Unfortunately, there are no women, though I think we should start a SWE chapter anyway.

My final experience this week as a professor was with one of my advisees. We shook hands and, after he sat down, saw the hand sanitizer on my desk and asked to use some. I said feel free, but then became worried that I should be using some, too.

Conversations with the kid February 25, 2016

Posted by mareserinitatis in physics, science, Uncategorized, younger son.
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Younger son: “I don’t care if Tesla was smarter than you, I still love you.”

Me: “But he was only just a bit smarter, right?”

Younger son: “Nope.  He was a lot smarter.  You just do physics.”

Me: “I also do electrical engineering.”

Younger son: “Oh.”  *wanders off to kitchen*

Thanks for the vote of confidence, kid.

Adventures in high school classes January 5, 2016

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, science, Uncategorized, younger son.
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The younger son was very adamant that he wanted to take high school biology this year.  He wasn’t in my face about it, but whenever the question was put to him about whether he was sure he wanted to do that, he was pretty firm.

My approach to dealing with this, after seeing he was sure was, “What the hell?!”  Worst case scenario is that he fails and has to retake it in four years with his age mates.

The first couple assignments were great.  However, when he hit the second unit of the class, I started having second thoughts. It wasn’t going well.  And would failing a class leave a long term scar on his academic record?

He was worried, too, but he started asking me how he could improve things.  I noted that he started saying he needed to “study harder,” but when I asked him what he meant, he wasn’t sure.  I started giving him specific suggestions and pointers and told him that doing those things is what “study harder” meant.

I learned a few things from this experience.  First, younger son didn’t know how to study when he started this class.  To anyone who has ever dealt with a bright kid, you’ll identify this as a common problem.  It’s hard for kids to learn how to study when the subject matter they’re tackling is relatively easy and doesn’t require the type of effort that a seriously challenging class does…or any other life obstacle.  I think we’re all convinced this was a good experience in that regard.  Second, I’m probably more worried about his grades than I thought, but I think I’m managing not to be a helicopter parent.  There were some assignments he submitted that he didn’t ask me to review.  Some came back with really good grades and some didn’t, but I really wanted this to be his own work.  Honestly, it’s a bit more stressful to be hands off than I thought.  I keep reminding myself that I should be celebrating a good effort instead of relatively effortless higher grade (that probably indicates he wasn’t seeing anything new).

To all of our surprise, he pulled his grade up to a B- for the first semester.  This guarantees he won’t be a straight A student in high school, but I personally think he got a lot more out of it now than if he’d taken it when he was supposed to.

End of the season  November 12, 2015

Posted by mareserinitatis in running, Uncategorized.
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I had plans to do 7 half marathons this year.  Unfortunately, I had to scrap 3.  I injured myself and couldn’t do one of them, the second revised its time limits to significantly below my estimated finish time, and the last ended up being financially problematic after our old car kicked the bucket.

But it is two more halfs than last year and four more than any year before that.  I still often wonder how I ended up becoming a runner.  The medals are a nice reminder of that huge change.

Merry Christmas! December 24, 2014

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Merry Christmas to all who celebrate!  And even if you don’t, you can learn a bit about geography by following the NORAD Santa tracker!

Math is useless July 5, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in math, physics, Uncategorized, younger son.
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A lot of kids later become adults who think that math is a useless field of study.  Why would I need to know that?!  I’ve come across a lot of math books that are trying really hard to express how one can use math in order to motivate the learner by connecting it to an application as well as make it more interesting.  Connect math to the ‘real world’ is not something that comes easily to most people.

Independence Day motivated a lot of discussion with the younger son about fireworks.  While driving to our pyrotechnic fix last night, the younger son started asking what he would need to study in order to make fireworks.  Mike and I both said, “Chemistry.”  We both were assuming you need to know a lot about which chemicals to add to make particular colors.  I guess it didn’t help that I’d seen this image earlier in the day:

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We were both surprised when the younger boy said, “And I’d need to know math, too!”  We agreed.  And then he continued:

You can calculate how much of each chemical you need, how high it will go (a bigger explosion should be farther away), how fast it will go, how long it will take to before the explosion happens, how hot it will get…

He elaborated on each point and ended up spending somewhere between five and ten minutes telling us all the ways one could use math in making fireworks.  I was completely stunned.  There is this huge difficulty in getting a lot of people to understand that you can quantify and predict (through physics) so many things we take for granted.  Yet, here is a kid who hasn’t even reached an age in the double digits who seems to understand that all of these things can have some sort of number associated with them and that they behave in ways that can be predicted by mathematical equations.  Mike and I both sat there with our mouths hanging open, shocked at what we were hearing.

However, as soon as the fireworks came out of the box, the little kid in all of us came out and just wanted to go blow things up.

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.

Thank you, I think I will February 22, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in photography, Uncategorized.
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Only in North Dakota… January 29, 2013

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Heard the most amusing water cooler chit-chat today:

We somehow wandered onto the topic of rodent infestations, when the Minion began talking about a story he’d heard.  Someone was burning down a grain bin which had a mouse infestation.  Unfortunately, one of the mice, once on fire, was feeling rather vindictive.  It ran into the barn, where there was a bunch of hay, and the whole barn ended up burning down.

I was wondering what you’d tell your insurance agent in a case like this: are flaming rodents covered under most policies?

Merry Christmas, everyone! December 24, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in Uncategorized.
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I may have shared this last year, but it doesn’t matter.  It still makes me giggle like a five-year-old.  Merry Christmas!

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