Wednesday, June 24, 2009

No-Sweat FCQs

I have only had 3 semesters of FCQs, but the experiences of reading that first set and reading the most recent set seem light-years apart.

With my first FCQs, I avoided opening the envelopes for months, opened it to mediocre scores and one very negative comment, and required a considerable amount of moral support and encouragement to teach again. I still have that negative comment memorized word for word.

With my most recent FCQs, I couldn't bring myself to be worried. I had a moment, toward the end of the semester, thinking that if the FCQs were worse than the last semester, after the training I've had and the work I've put in, I would be incredibly depressed. I haven't thought about it since, and when I learned that FCQs had been returned, I went out of my way to pick them up. I took a careless glance at the scores immediately, in the minute before a meeting.

The scores did not disappoint. It was extremely gratifying to see a row of 5-point-somethings on a 6-point scale. TA's interest and knowledge: 5.9. Instructor overall: 5.7. Use median instead of mean, and both were 6.0.

My teaching portfolio now shows a lovely increase in FCQs, a learning curve that seems (to me) perfectly reasonable in showing that I have improved my teaching skills as part of my graduate training. With any luck, prospective employers will be impressed. And if all else fails, at least I can look forward to teaching the class again in the Spring.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Two Down, Two To Go?

In six hours, with 21 emails sent between 4 people in 2 countries/time-zones, and one last half-hour trying to figure out how to edit a TIFF on a Mac (eventually accomplished in 30 seconds in Paint, one last reason to love Windows), and the usual obsessing over journal formatting requirements, my second manuscript has been submitted.

Representing Experiment 2 of my dissertation, and one of those findings that convinced my advisor/committee that the research was worthwhile, it has been sent to a major journal (impact factor > 4) due to my advisor's philosophy of "aim high". Not quite as high as a lab-mate, who is submitting to Science, but high enough that I have no expectations.

The submission comes with perfect timing: Yesterday I finished collecting data for Experiment 3, and with the submission of Experiment 2 I can turn to all-new data analysis. Of course, I have just 2 weeks or less before learning whether the journal will even review our manuscript (they decline to review 60% of submissions), so I might not have much time to devote to the new data before the manuscript is back in my lap in need of a new journal and any relevant revisions. Still, it's reason enough to go out for dinner on a Friday night, even if I will be going on vacation on Monday.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A New Job, and Funding Complications

My advisor has a knack for turning a small triumph into a small headache. It is no doubt a knack shared by advisors everywhere, resulting from the different interests of grad students and faculty.

The triumph: I was offered the adjunct professor position at a nearby university, teaching an introductory graduate seminar. It's my first real job, outside of grad school, and I will be a "professor", for two months at least. Receiving the news was a much-needed motivational boost for my upcoming job search.

The headache: My advisor's reaction was, first "hooray!" (the text of her email responding to the news) and then, within hours, "so, how much do I have to pay you next semester?". It's hard not to interpret this as "how little can I get away with paying you next semester", and that the small salary that comes with the position is to make life easier for her grant, not for me. Unfortunately, I'm having a little trouble convincing her that my tuition waiver is linked to my employment here, not at a university in another city, and the potential loss of the tuition waive to "equalize" my pay with other grad students is setting off a mild panic.

I would like enjoy the thrill and challenge of designing my first real course, and anticipating going to a nearby university and teaching a new group of students. For now, though, thinking about the course is tinged with worry about administrative headaches that should never have existed. Just another reason to be taking off on a week-long vacation to visit family next week.

Monday, June 1, 2009

An In-Person Interview

Time to brush off those long-forgotten interview skills, last used some four (four!) years ago during the grad school application process. Friday afternoon I have an in-person interview at the University of Major City, my final chance to convince someone that I can teach a graduate proseminar while ABD.

I am more excited than nervous. It really helps that there's no pressure: I don't need the job, it would just be a very cool opportunity. And, since I am ABD, I can always shrug off rejection on the grounds that I just don't have that final qualification - although I'm not entirely sure how an extra six months of working on my dissertation is supposed to improve my teaching. So it's really just an excuse to practice my interview skills, and take breaks from research in the next few days to brainstorm ideas for a seminar in my field. What topics should be covered? How should different theoretical perspectives be covered? (My advisor taught the course 12 years ago, and it was entirely theoretically oriented. I don't think I can do that - and finishing the dissertation certainly wouldn't help. But how close can I get?) What topic would I choose for a final paper?

The problem with the interview is that it's going to jolt me out of my careful focus on my dissertation and start me thinking about after the dissertation. I can't even begin looking for jobs yet - they aren't being posted, everyone's still trying to fill the last-minute positions for this fall - and I'm going to start daydreaming about when I have a real job. It might help me get through the next few weeks of intense data collection; it might not.