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Role with it December 12, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, work.
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I am always nervous when I have to deal with the middle and high school crowd.  I’ve had such mixed results in the past.  A couple years ago, I helped out with an astronomy workshop for middle school girls.  My job was fairly easy: I just had to help them find the sun in some solar telescopes.  It was pretty obvious, though, that the girls in the last group just weren’t interested and wanted to be done.  That may have been the time of day, but they weren’t particularly subtle.

I was therefore nervous when I was asked to give a tour of my workplace to a group of high school girls.  How in the world do I keep them interested?!

While we were waiting for the last couple people to turn up, I started out by asking where they were from.  This was a good move: I found out they all went to my old high school, and so we talked about some of the teachers there.  I think that having a way to connect was helpful for all of us.

It also turned out that they were already rather interested in the topic and had lots of good questions and comments.  After I thought we were done, one of them asked another question which led us into another part of the building and looking at even more stuff than I had anticipated.  They didn’t seem all that eager to leave at the end, and I’d wished I had more to share with them.

I know that doing tours is a formality, but it’s nice when the people are actually interested.  It makes it seem less like work and more about conveying how exciting it is to be an engineer.

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The amazing, oozing Macrocat September 18, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in pets, work.
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There is a definite disadvantage to working at home.  In some cases, it comes in the form of a four-legged furry creature.  One that wants you to pet it.  While you’re typing.

Today that creature was Macrocat.  The following is a series of pictures I took while I was attempting to work.

mc1

Apparently the keyboard looked like a great place to perch and keep an eye on me.

mc2

Pretty soon, though, he was trying to run things for me.

mc3

But when I switched over to something else, he got bored.

mc4

He started to ooze over the keyboard a bit.

mc5

I tried to move him away, but he just turned his head.

mc6

Then a paw creeped up beside the first one.

mc7

And he moved his head over again.  Actually, this is after I moved him off the table and he came back.

mc8

And that wasn’t quite doing it for him, so he stretched out again.

Finally, he put his paw on the trackpad and put pressure on a key. The computer started making a beeping sound to protest, but macrocat thought the computer was purring at him and merely laid down and purred more loudly in response.

And that was the point where I finally had to banish him.

Oh, that’s right! I have a blog! August 29, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in family, grad school, older son, personal, work, younger son.
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Summer, at least the social construct of summer, officially comes to a close this weekend for most people.  The younger son has been in school for a week, and I’m scratching my head, wondering where the time went.  It was the summer of “the best laid plans of mice and men,” if you get my drift.  

I did accomplish a lot at work.  However, shifting deadlines there required I push off other stuff.  In response to that, I decided to take some time off and get caught up on some of those other things, which will be easier now that the younger offspring is busy plodding through the halls of a reputable educational institution rather than ones created in Minecraft.  I have a couple weeks of crunching numbers at home before going back to work to do it.

The other thing that will help is that the older offspring has decided that his odd work schedule really isn’t doable, despite a serious effort on his part.  I am relieved because I seem to be getting more sleep again, which has made me a saner, kinder, and more productive human being.  Also, I appreciate being able to form a coherent sentence…

I hate to say it, but I’m glad school has started again.  I usually love summer, but I’m very glad to have a routine and time to work on my own stuff back.

How was your summer?

Rapid reviewing August 12, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, papers, research, work.
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I was on a trip this weekend and forgot that I had agreed to review a conference paper.  Not a problem, though, because once I got the reminder, I figured I’d still have plenty of time.  Except there was a problem: when I got home from my trip, I realized that the review was due at 1 a.m. that morning and not midnight of the next night: it was due 23 hours sooner than I had expected.  I realized this about 2 hours before the review was due.

I am a slow reader, so this immediately put me into panic mode, but rather than wait until morning and send it in late, I decided to see if I could at least get something in before the deadline.

Despite it being a bit stressful, I actually managed to read through the whole thing and get a decent review written up.  In fact, when I looked at it the next morning, I was rather shocked at how long the review was.  I did realize later that there is one minor point I missed, but I think that, overall, I caught some important errors and that my assessment overall wouldn’t have changed.

I have to admit that this was also made easier by the fact that the paper was reasonably well-written.  Reviewing papers and grading have one thing in common: the worse the submission, the longer it takes to review.

Not that I plan to leave all my reviews for the last minute, but it’s a good thing I realized I can do this in less time: two more review requests showed up this morning.

“I’m busy” is a euphemism July 22, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, family, grad school, personal, work.
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I’ve read a couple articles about how we all get caught up in being so busy.  A lot of them talk about how we need to escape the busyness spiral.  Xykademiqz expressed frustration with people who are always busy.

I guess I’m coming at it from a different angle.

I’ve come to realize that the phrase “I’m busy” is just a polite way of saying, “My priorities are different from yours.”  That is, the requested action is more important to the person asking than the person who is supposed to perform the action.  Particularly relevant to my personal situation, it’s also a way to avoid saying, “I need time to work on my thesis.”

Because I’m starting to find that pretty much nobody cares if you need time to work on that.

“Aren’t you done with that yet?”

“You sure have a lot of time off.”

“I’m sure you can do that some other time.”

“Can’t you put it off for just one day?”

Except I’ve been asked to put it off more days than I even have available to push it off from.  As much as I hate telling people I’m busy, I hate even more that people won’t respect my schedule.  Part of the issue is that I am technically only part time at my job.  If you’ve ever had to work part time at a job without a very explicit schedule, you can forget that.  People want things done on their schedule, and when you’re gone you’re taking “time off.”  Apparently raising two kids and a PhD is “time off.”  I’m jealous of those people who actually get to take vacations on their time off.

A lot of times the outright rejection of working on a dissertation isn’t verbalized.  Kids, in particular, really don’t get that you have other things to do besides take care of their needs night and day.  Not that I can blame them as I sure wouldn’t mind if my mom showed up to clean my house once in a while.  (I know, Mom…you’re busy, too.)

Admittedly, doing all of this is a choice.  It’s just unfortunate that a lot of people don’t respect that choice.  It’s particularly frustrating when people want you to do things that they’re capable of doing but are “too busy” to do themselves.  It seems that rather than get into a verbal sparring match with them about how they disagree with my priorities, it’s just easier to say, “I’m busy.”

Doing the victory dance…on my own July 14, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, research, work.
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Over the past couple months, I’ve been putting insane amounts of time into a project in preparation for some field testing.  Once the widget was deployed, I was fully expecting to feel this great sense of accomplishment.  In particular, this was something that some people were skeptical would work, so getting working widgets out for use is a big deal.  Even some people who advocated for the widget were probably not expecting I’d be able to get it to work as they seemed surprised when I informed them I had finished.

One would think I’d be overjoyed.  I should be waiting for people to pat me on the back.  I should be intensely satisfied that I can tell the doubters, “Told you so!”  I should feel vindicated and totally kick-ass.

Except, I don’t really feel that way.  I just feel a huge sense of relief that the crunch in over and maybe I can actually sit and focus on finishing the never-ending dissertation (aren’t they all?) for a while.  I can disappear for a few days and not have constant distraction.  I don’t have to field questions and phone calls and emails even in my off time.

It’s not that I even want to go on a vacation or do something like that.  I’m okay with working…I just don’t want it to be around other people.

This, friends, is success for an introvert: being left alone for a while.  But I’m dancing on the inside.

dilbert

I smell a (lab) rat June 25, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, research, work.
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There are times in one’s life when we have to reinvent ourselves.  This has been one of those times for me.

I’m turning into a lab rat.

I’m much more comfortable in front of a computer, designing simulations.  I vastly prefer debugging programs to troubleshooting hardware.

ESD jackets look fugly on me.  (Okay…I know they aren’t flattering on anyone, but it’s yet one more annoyance with the whole ‘working in the lab’ thing.)

I hate taking data.

However, whether I like it or not, I’ve been stuck in the lab for the better part of a month.  My student left a month ago, and that leaves me to do a lot of the testing and troubleshooting on the latest project.  I had hoped she’d be here through the end of the month, but she decided a post-graduation job was more important.  (I can’t say I blame her.)

I really miss running simulations.

It’s not a lab coat June 16, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, research, work.
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I’ve been doing some work in the lab, and after I fried something, decided I needed to be a bit more careful.  So out come the blue smocks.

Of course, some people prefer to call them ESD jackets.  I’m one of them, but I absent-mindedly revert to ‘smock’ when I’m not thinking.  I prefer to call them jackets because ‘smock’ evokes images of an granny in a ruffly apron who speaks in a high, squeaky voice (almost as annoying as Karen from Will and Grace).

Come to think of it, they’re about as flattering…

My coworker had a pretty good description: he said we looked like the Bobbsey Twins.  I’d never heard of them, but after seeing this, I think he’s right:

Bobbsey Twins

 

That’s approximately the correct shade of blue for an ESD smock.  However, I wish my ESD jacket had a ruffled collar.  Or that it was actually purple.

Reviewers say the darndest things June 11, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, research, work.
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I’m not sure what happened this year, but as the feedback from this past fall’s proposals have come in, I’ve been a bit flabbergasted.  It seemed like last year, the feedback was a lot better.  There were a lot of suggestions for improvement.

This year’s comments were…stupid.  There was nothing constructive about it.  There was nothing that could be used as suggestions for improvement.

Aside from the commentary I mentioned yesterday about my marital status, there were lots of other fun oddities to pick on.

I think the first thing that was frustrating were the contradictory comments.  Reviews like “excellent detail” coming alongside “too technical.”  Some of that is to be expected.

What I wasn’t expecting was a resubmission from the previous year having stellar reviews in comparison with the first year (totally nailed the broader outcomes, which were cited as rather weak the previous year)…yet the ratings didn’t change at all. Huh?

Next there was the reviewer who obviously pasted some of his/her review from another proposal into our review.  Ironically, I think this reviewer also commented on formatting issues in the proposal.  (I apparently didn’t notice that Word puked on a reference.)

Then there was the reviewer who cited some ‘scientifically based’ concerns about a chemical that we were using.  There were supposedly health issues associated with use of this chemical…which had nothing to do with what we were doing.  Worse yet, he was completely wrong.  One only need to look at the CDC website to find toxicity info saying that the claims the reviewer were saying had been “well established for a decade” had never been proven and were probably related to something else.

Finally, I’m really beginning to wonder how many reviewers actually read the proposal at all.  When you’re inundated with questions that were clearly addressed in the proposal (including the above mentioned toxicity issue), you gotta wonder how effective the skimming really is.

Maybe divorce is the answer… June 10, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, family, feminism, research, science, societal commentary, work.
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I think I am going to change my name.  It’s very annoying.

My last name, anyway.

If I had it to do over again, the one thing I would’ve done when getting married is to keep my maiden name.  Hyphenation was not the best idea by a long shot.

This has been an issue (a lot) because I worked with my husband for so long.  I suspect it will die off as we are no longer coworkers.  However, one of the most bizarre things that has come up is that I recently received some reviews of a proposal that we wrote before he changed jobs.  One of the reviewers noted that as a co-PI, I had the same last name as the PI and so a conflict of interest was a possibility.

Huh?

My university has a clear and very detailed conflict of interest policy, and I’m not clear how this applies.  As far as I can tell, this has nothing to do with conflict of interest as these policies are almost exclusively focused on outside financial obligations.  I checked with the funding agency, and that was all they had listed for conflict of interest, as well.

If he were supervising me or vice-versa (that is, one of us was a subordinate), such a scenario would violate internal policies to the university.  However, even if he is PI and I’m a co-PI, we both reported to someone else.  Further, a PI isn’t necessarily a supervisory role.  Do faculty members who collaborate on research supervise each other or collaborate?  (My experience says there are very few faculty who view their role as co-PI is that of being supervised by the PI.)

In any case, it’s a completely ridiculous comment to make on a proposal review because we could have been two completely unrelated colleagues who happen to have the same last name.  I can think about some of the areas of research I do, and I know of several groups of researchers, particularly in Asia, where many members of the team do have the same last name.  I never once jumped to the conclusion that there was a problem with this.

Of course, it’s obviously my fault for the name, so I should probably fix it.  Do you suppose it’s cheaper to go through the legal name-change process or to just divorce and quickly get remarried?

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