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A professor by any other name October 26, 2016

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, feminism, societal commentary, teaching.
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I decided that after my previous teaching experiences, creating a sense of distance between myself and my students was prudent.  I never understood this from the student perspective (likely because most of my teachers tended to the formal side so it was seldom an issue), but as a professor, I definitely see an advantage.  I want to help the students and be approachable, but being approachable doesn’t mean I want to be their friend and I also expect them to treat me professionally.  In the past, not all students have been courteous, to say the least.  Even when I started out more formally and then loosened up, it seemed like the loosening up was a bad idea because it was taken as a sign that I’d stopped having boundaries.

When I was in undergrad and later doing my master’s degree, I took several classes from a particular professor.  This professor had this quirky habit of calling all students either Mr. or Ms. LastName.  It was strange, particularly since, as a Quaker, I really shy away from using titles as much as I can.  It grew on me, though, and created this sense that you were being treated like the professional colleague he intended you to become once you graduated.  (I felt bad for him, though, when my last name kept changing because of a divorce and later a remarriage.  At some point, he said, “What am I supposed to call you?!”)

I decided to experiment and, with my former math prof as inspiration, I have been addressing all of my students as Mr. LastName, despite it being somewhat uncomfortable. (I have no female students, but I intend to call any I may have Ms. LastName.)  I also said specifically that I expected to be referred to as Professor LastName or just Professor.

While it has taken a bit of getting used to, I’m starting to get the hang of it.  When discussing students with faculty or administration, though, I have to use both first and last name since others will often refer to them by their first names.  This leaves me confused as I will have no idea about whom they are talking.

On the flip side, I don’t know for sure how the students refer to me when talking amongst themselves.  I have an idea, though, because I received an email from a student addressed to me by my first name.

*deep sigh*

I wasn’t sure what to do about this lapse and I needed to respond to the email promptly, so ignored the address, although I suspect I shouldn’t have and won’t in the future.  I figured I would check with my colleague, who goes by Dr. LastName.

I popped into his office the next day and asked, “How do you deal with students who refer to you by your first name?”

He cocked his head to the side, thought for a moment, and responded, “They never have.”

It truly is amazing to me that in several years of teaching, no one has ever referred to him by his first time, yet I can’t make it three months without it happening.


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.


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?

Your name in lights! October 28, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, research, work.
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Having an unusual name, I always felt unfortunate.  All those cheap little do-dads they sell that have people’s names on them?  I never got one.  Having a rather rare name means few things ever show up with my name on it.  On one occasion, I think my parents felt guilty about this and had some guy at the state fair carve out my name on a wooden key chain.  I have to admit that was pretty cool, but sadly the key chain broke after a couple years.

All of that is okay, though, because today made up for that.

I was recently awarded a small amount of money for a project, but the really cool part was that I was the PI on the project.  I got the final paperwork from the financial people at the university today.  When I opened it up and was ecstatic to see the following:

Principal Investigator(s): Cherish

I would rather have my name there than on any key chain (except for the one my parents got for me).

(As an aside, I do have to admit that seeing it in the Star Wars font is pretty darn cool, too.)


Time to get out of the lab November 3, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in electromagnetics, engineering, humor.
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I received a card in the mail from a friend.  When I opened it, and without reading it, my eyes feel on the letters Zo.

My first thought was, “Characteristic impedance?  I didn’t know she was interested in electrical engineering, let alone transmission line theory.”

Upon closer reading, I discovered she was actually making a reference to her daughter Zoe.

I think I need to spend less time around electrical engineers.

Inadequate introductions August 22, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in feminism, societal commentary.
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I have sometimes worried about being in my husband’s shadow.  However, over the past couple years, I’ve been feeling like a lot of people are starting to recognize me as having my own talents.

But sometimes, I see it happening.

Today, my husband and I went out for lunch and ran into someone we both know.  He works for a different group but is in our building.  In fact, he’s two offices down from mine, and we were working on our MS at about the same time.  He was having lunch with some colleagues.  When he saw us, he introduced my husband and then me…with my husband’s last name.

I’m feeling a bit irritated, but I try to blow it off since a lot of people make that assumption and don’t realize we don’t have the same last name.  I go by a hyphenated last name, but I prefer that if they’re going to shorten it, they use my maiden name.  (I don’t mind if they introduce us as “Mike and Cherish” with just his last name, such as on mail.)

However, the next bit got me very irritated.  He then said that my husband worked in our building…and failed to mention that I work there, also.  In fact, he failed to mention anything at all about my employment.

The funny thing is that this doesn’t usually happen if it’s me alone.  It happens more frequently than I’d like when I’m with my husband, though.

My husband is considering emailing this person to rectify the misunderstanding about my last name but is as surprised as I am by the second…and equally unsure if anything can or should be done about it.

Maybe we should name it December 28, 2010

Posted by mareserinitatis in computers, societal commentary.
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People love to give inanimate objects nicknames. Mostly it seems like fun (calling your truck, or your gun, or both, Betsy). However, in the case of computers, it’s often practical so you can keep it straight when working on something beyond your own computer.

The naming conventions for computers are very random. I think that most people view computers with neutrality, so computers can take on whatever personality or trait someone wants to impose using a name.

My personal preference has been to name my computers after Greek goddesses that I liked. Given the number of computers I’ve gone through, I may have to shift mythological settings when I complete my next upgrade.

When I was at Caltech, my house had a vote on whether to call the computers something along the lines of the ‘food groups’ (caffeine, chocolate, sugar, fat and alcohol) or practical items (duct tape, towels, etc.). I can’t remember exactly how it came out, but I seem to recall the resolution being a mixture of the two (mostly practical items with caffeine thrown in).

My favorite naming scheme was the use of natural disasters: tsunami, earthquake, hurricane, etc. It would have been very appropriate if the computers were being used by my geology colleagues, but they were actually being used by a bunch of electrical and mechanic engineers.

On the other hand, our simulation computers at work have very boring names: T7400 and T7500. I lobbied extensively to name one of them ‘Computerzilla’, but it never seemed to catch on. It might be a little more fun if we at least called it something like THX1138.

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