Thursday, August 30, 2007

A good story gets even better

It turns out they ARE twins.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Why maths should be a prerequisite for ALL university classes

(Disclaimer: I know that this complaint does, itself, conform to a certain stereotype, and that you've all heard it before. But I still can't help but marvel. If students themselves weren't such stereotypes, we wouldn't have to be them either.)

So the first major assignment for my course was due on Monday. Eighty students. Approximately 10 pages each. They will each take me 20 minutes to mark, minimum.

Forty-eight hours later I got my first enquiry as to whether I had marked the assignments yet. Would I be returning them today?

That explains the weird conversations

There's a tall blond guy who sits most days in the linguistics library and studies. He always seems to be there, no matter what time of day. Now and then I see him in the tearoom too, making himself a drink. Sometimes I try to have a brief chat, though this seems to fluster him a little. Simple observations like, "You were working late last night," or questions like "Have you recovered from that cold you had last week?" often receive confused replies.

He seems very industrious: the student I wished I'd been as an undergraduate, doing extra readings, writing up his notes, reading multiple perspectives on each topic, preparing assiduously for tutorials. He arrives before me in the morning and leaves later at night.

Today I walked into the tearoom and did a double take. He was in there. Standing next to himself.

It turns out there are two of them, similar enough to pass for twins. Suddenly all is clear. (And he's only half as industrious as I had thought.)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Some mysteries solved

I guess the possum in our roof wasn't dead; just busy.

And it also explains where the leftover bird seed is going (look at that nose!)

The market worth of a PhD

Half an Acre had a post a few days ago about the financial hardships of grad student life (thanks to Ancrene for reminding me of that just before I wrote this). Anyway, I've just realised how much better things won't get when I graduate:

I just discovered that the payscale for casual and sessional lecturing and tutoring here goes up for people with a PhD by a whole—wait-for-it—$5 an hour.

I guess it adds up fairly quickly if you are doing a lot of hours.

I really hope it adds up quickly.

And I hope I can get a lot of hours.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Delusions of adequacy. (I am lacking them.)

I now have all my feedback on the dissertation back from my committee members. The last lot came in this morning. And I am concerned.

None of them have given me much at all beyond formatting and editing suggestions (pointing out typos, tables needing fixing, references that are in the wrong format, and the occasional ambiguously worded sentence). There is a handful of comments that are a little more substantive, but nothing I can't fix in five minutes (1 x "This argument unnecessary and can be left out"; 2 x "more detailed glossing needed on these foreign language examples"; 1 x "add in another paragraph of background to this section").

I was expecting many more, and more major, revisions. And no matter how often I tell myself (or other students tell me) that if my committee thought it were necessary, they would have told me so, I can't suppress the anxious goblins of paranoia that whisper:

"Maybe they just didn't read it thoroughly."
"Maybe they think fixing it would be more work than it's worth."
"Maybe it's unfixable, so they don't even know where to begin."
"Maybe they all assume that [main supervisor] will address the substantive problems, and perhaps she thought the others would bring a fresh perspective."
"Maybe they just don't care."

Finally I caved in and wrote the following email to the committee member who provided the least feedback (seven small points), and who I was expecting to get the most revisions from, since he is one of the world experts in a topic very closely related to mine.

Dear [Committee Member],

Thank you very much for the feedback that you sent this morning. I have to say, though, I'm a little surprised that you suggest so few revisions (you and the others too, actually). I guess I should assume that means you are generally happy with the content and structure and think it will pass. (Alternatively, of course, it could mean that you think the whole thing is an unfixable disaster, but I'm enough of an optimist to hope it's the former explanation!)

Anyway, I'll get on to making those changes in the next day or two.


And this is the reply I got:


Glad to hear the others didn't have many revisions either.

[Committee Member]

Did he just not hear the barely disguised plea for reassurance? Or did he think I was fishing for compliments and deliberately failed to come through?

I don't need compliments. I just need someone to come out and say unambiguously that the dissertation is adequate. Just a little bit adequate. The PhD process has made me too insecure to read between the lines.

A difficult decision

The university rock climbing club I belong to is offering three days of skiing for the cost of petrol to get there + national park entry fee (total = $50) + super cheap hire of club gear ($10 total for full ski equipment, snow camping gear, etc).

It would be morally wrong not to go, right?

But, snow camping? I have a nasty suspicion that this is, like, camping. But worse (see: in the snow). Won't I get cold? I'm not sure I do so well without regular hot showers.

And backcountry skiing? Won't I fall off a cliff and die?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

So inferior that I beat him by 42 points

Now that I've been playing so much online Scrabble, I'm finally getting good enough to beat Geekman. After today's game, he sighed and said, "Next time we're going to play challenge rules. I'm sick of losing."

I gave him an incredulous look.

"I am! It's happened twice now!"

"So now you know how I've felt all these years!"

"That's different," he grumbled. "You're inferior."

Bliss is a super-cheap ski trip. Also:

Perfect weather, powdery snow, 11°C (52 F) temperatures

Empty slopes

And more trails than I can ski in a day (purple are the runs I got through).

(Images stolen from other people's shots and the ski-field's own website, but perfectly representative of the conditions yesterday.)

How I spend my time: the conclusion, with pretty pictures

(The red represents work, the yellow is fun activities, and the blue is routine tasks.)

In total, I spent 35 hours and 40 minutes on work (teaching and dissertation) last week, just over 32 hours on fun, and 28 hours 40 minutes on routine tasks like eating, cooking, chores, etc.

Last week was atypical in a few minor respects: two people I know had parties (a house warming and a birthday) and someone came over for dinner. Usually we do nowhere near that much socialising. Also, I had no marking to do, and spent no time on planning assignments, exams, etc. Finally, I only went to the gym twice, since Geekman was away for two days and I don't tend to go without him. Usually we go at least three times in a seven day period. Otherwise the week was pretty average.

On my busiest day I spent 8 hours 15 minutes on work, 3.5 hours on fun, and 3.5 hours on routine.

On one day I did no work at all.

So mostly my week is pretty bloody good. A whole day off, less than 8 hours work most days. Less than a 40-hour week all up.


I hadn't realised how much time I spent in meetings (5 hours 30 minutes a week!) or on routine tasks (an average of 4 hours a day!).

If you had asked me, I would have guessed I spent more time on the internet than I do (9 hours a week). I was pretty relieved to discover that. As I was to see how little time I spend watching "TV" (actually DVDs; we don't have a TV): 4 hours a week.

And there are still a few things I would like to change

I would like to have more evenings without any work at all. This shouldn't be hard, since an evening (e.g. from 6:30 pm to 10:30 pm) is only four hours, and if an hour of that is taken up by cooking and eating, that's only three hours of my "fun" budget. I spent at least three hours on fun activities every day except Tuesday. So the time is available: I just have to stick it into my evening rather than spread it through the day. I find psychologically that having a whole free evening feels much more relaxing than taking lots of shorter breaks during the day.

I would like to spend less time on "routine" tasks. Most mornings it took an hour from getting up to getting out the door, and none of that was spent doing anything fun. On a couple of days I managed to cut that time down to half an hour or 45 minutes, and I'd like to do that on a regular basis. The 15 or 30 minutes saved could be spent doing something I actually enjoy. I like cooking, eating, and (mostly) exercising, so I don't want to cut that time down on a regular basis, but I need to be aware that if I have a really busy day in other respects, I could save a lot of time by managing routine tasks better or just putting them off until I'm less busy.

I would like to spend more time reading than I did last week (5 hours 30 minutes). I had run out of library books for the first three days I recorded, though, so maybe I usually read more than that. I would like to spend more time reading non-fiction, too.

Actual changes I am going to make

  1. I am going to try and cut my morning routine down to 40 minutes from now on.
  2. I am going to try to get all my Wednesday prep done by Tuesday afternoon, and my Monday prep done on Friday. That would balance my days much better so that there isn't such a big difference between my busiest days (8 hours 15 minutes on work) and my slowest (less than 3 hours on work.)
  3. I am going to skip one meeting a week, when possible. There are some that I only attend out of a sense of duty and no one would really notice my absence.
  4. I am going to make a real effort to take no long breaks for fun things during my time in the office (15 minutes for coffee is fine; 1 hour for web surfing is not). That way I should be able to stop bringing work home in the evenings.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Representative student/lecturer email exchange


I'm really confused about the assignment. Can I come by your office tomorrow to talk about it?

Stud. Ent.

Hi Stud Ent,

That's fine. I can be in my office at a time between 10--12 and probably from 2--4 as well. Let me know when you want to meet.

Teach. Er.


Thanks so much. That will be really helpful. I think I've worked some stuff out, but I'd still like to talk to you. See you tomorrow.

Stud Ent.

Why don't they ever READ the bit where I ask them to specify a time? And then if I'm not in my office when they do drop by, they interpret that as, "I made an appointment and she wasn't even there!" and I get skewered on the evaluation forms where it asks, "Was the lecturer available for questions and discussion outside class hours?"


(And today's one didn't show at all, even though I was in my office for the whole of the suggested time windows.)

Misanthrope, c'est moi.

Too grumpy to post. Back on Sunday.

(You'd think going to a public lecture where the pre-lecture "refreshments" turned out to be gin and tonics would have helped. But no. Still grumpy.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The student confessed

My cheater, that is.

But you know what? Apparently it's my fault. She told me she had been on holiday, and then I insisted that she sit the quiz anyway. Without preparation. She therefore had no choice but to copy someone. And she didn't really copy, anyway. She did rewrite some of the answers into her own words. Which is practically the same as writing her own answers. Because, it's not, like, plagiarism.

If I had wanted her not to copy, I would have given her an extra week to prepare.

I'm beautiful but irrelevant

Because I am innovative or stupid, or maybe just in an insidious attempt to make my students think I care about them, I gave mid-semester evaluations today. Most people in my department, and probably my university, only give end-of-semester evaluations. But I figured that if the students are hating something I am doing, I'd rather know about it now while there is still time to change than get my arse kicked on the evals that matter and be able to do nothing about it.

There were a few multiple choice questions (Are we covering material too fast, too slow, just right, and how is your porridge?) and some short answers (How many hours per week are you spending on this class? Don't lie, God and your mother are watching you.) Then there was a space for them to add any further comments.

Weirdest comment:
I don't get what the point of this class is. I mean, I'm an English teacher, but I don't see how knowing what a pronoun is, how verb agreement works, or how to diagram a sentence is going to help me with my job, let alone my real life. Is this just meant to be some sort of geeky fun, or is there a practical application that I don't know about?

I can see how your average arts student might find linguistics a little irrelevant to his or her life, but for an English teacher, I would have thought the benefits would be clear. Also, what sort of "real life" application is s/he expecting? Would s/he ask the same question of a chemistry class? (Excuse me, I can't see how this formula will help me with my cooking!) Or of English literature? (Will being able to quote Shakespeare help me get rich quick?)

Favourite comment:
I like your class very much. I like that everything is on the website. And you are the most beautiful teacher I have ever seen.

Mostly, though, the comments were very helpful.

For example, I have been putting all my examples and terminology on overheads during class, and then uploading them to WebCT directly afterwards, so that students can download their own copies. Almost without exception, students said they would prefer paper copies in class so that they can write notes directly onto the examples. Which is fair enough. I was avoiding it because (a) it kills trees, (b) I worry that students don't really listen if they feel they don't need to take notes and (c) I have a copy limit of 1000 pages, and 80 students x 2 pages x 26 lectures goes four times over that. But I'll find a way to make it happen.

I also asked if they want a tutorial on how to write essays, and was expecting that most of them would. Instead, they mostly noted that they have had these already in many other classes, and would just like a handout or short briefing on how expectations for linguistics essays differ from other arts subjects. I can do that.

Overall, I think the evaluations were extremely useful, and I'll not hesitate to do them again. Especially if it means anonymous people tell me I'm beautiful.

Tuesday time-sheet

Routine essentials
Morning routine: 1 hour
Exercise (at the gym): 1 hour
Travel (cycling): 30 minutes
Cooking and eating: 45 minutes
Total: 3 hours 15 minutes

Teaching preparation and admin: 5 hours 15 minutes
Meetings: 1 hour
Teaching: 1 hour
Thesis revisions: 1 hour
8 hours 15 minutes

Just for fun
Blogging and surfing: 35 minutes
Toastmasters preparation: 20 minutes
Knitting: 1 hour
Reading: 1 hour
2 hours 55 minutes

And that ends the week of this little experiment. Tomorrow I'll total up the time I spent doing various tasks and see what conclusions to draw. My preliminary impression is that I am mostly more productive than I had realised, and that I didn't understand how much of my time goes into routine things that have to be done. Also, I don't think there is as much difference as I had thought between how I spend time on a day that feels productive and how I spend time on a day that feels unproductive.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

PSA: When learning to knit, don't make things that come in pairs

I just finished my first ever knitting project!

Guess which sock I knitted first.

(In the background you can see the colour that our landlady thought was appropriate for a rental property carpet. We've had it a week now and it's survived. But I'm very, very nervous. There will be rugs in our future.)

Monday's time-sheet

Routine essentials
Morning routine: 1 hour
Eating and cooking: 1 hour 30 minutes
Travel (cycling): 30 minutes
Total = 3 hours

Meetings: 2 hours
Seminar: 1 hour
Teaching prep: 2 hours 30 minutes
Teaching: 2 hours
Total = 7 hours 30 minutes

Just for fun
Parrot watching: 15 minutes
Taking a walk with Geekman: 25 minutes
Blogging and surfing: 39 minutes
Watching DVDs: 1 hour
Reading: 1 hour
Total = 3 hours 19 minutes

Monday, August 20, 2007

Under stone, over my dead body

Since I've always wished I'd owned this set of books, I guess I need to get them soon, otherwise I'll be left with no choice but to pay double the price for a set whose jackets feature irritating American children and Lovejoy impersonating Merriman Lyon.


How can you expect me to work, with a view like this?

The crimson rosellas that visited my office window sill at university have come back every day since, and today I had this lovely little visitor (an eastern rosella) as well.

I just wish the university cleaned its windows more frequently than, well, never. How am I meant to take bird photos through dirty glass? Don't they understand the needs of their employees?

Anyway, now that I am putting out birdseed at home and at work, I am going through around 3kg of the stuff every week. My zombie* parrot army now consists of at least two pairs of cockatoos (Flappy and Flappy, and the other Flappys), plus one loner (Mr Psycho McFlappy), one galah, one king parrot, eight crimson rosellas, one eastern rosella, and some civilians non-parrots (currawongs, magpie-larks, wood pigeons).

Soon, soon, my pretties, we will take over the world...


* I blame too much Facebook. (For everything).

Hee hee

Email question from a student: "Is it okay if I write the assignment on double-sided paper?"

I'm thinking of telling her to do it on a Moebius strip instead.

Saturday and Sunday time-sheet


Routine essentials
Morning routine: 1 hour
Shopping (groceries, birthday presents, rugs): 5 hours
Haircut: 1 hour
Cooking and eating: 1 hour
Travel: 45 minutes
Total: 8 hours 45 minutes

Just for fun
Reading: 2 hours
Scrabble: 1 hour
Blogging and surfing: 1 hour
Socialising (party): 3 hours
Total: 7 hours


Routine essentials
Morning routine: 1 hour
Cooking and eating: 1 hour
Travel: 30 minutes
Total: 2 hours 30 minutes

Teaching prep: 2 hours
Department social event: 2 hours 30 minutes
Tax return: 1 hour 23 minutes
Total: 5 hours 53 minutes

Just for fun
Scrabble: 1 hour 5 minutes
Hanging out with Geekman: 1 hour
Watching DVDs: 1 hour 15 minutes
Reading blogs, blogging: 1 hour 30 minutes
Reading: 30 minutes
Total: 5 hours 20 minutes

Sunday, August 19, 2007

One of these ads is not like the others

I came across this ad in the sidebar of the Herald Sun online today.

Is it just me, or does that sound like no fun whatsoever?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Friday timesheet

I have no excuse for Friday. Fridays always bother me, because I intend to do lots of teaching preparation, but the day gets sucked up into procrastination, weekend planning, and meetings.

Routine essentials
Morning routine: 1 hour
Travel (cycling to, from and across campus): 30 mins
Cooking and eating: 1 hour 30 minutes
Phoning my mother: 50 minutes
Total = 3 hours 50 minutes

Coffee breaks: 30 mins
Meetings: 1 hour 30 minutes
Diss revisions: 1 hour 10 minutes
Teaching prep: 2 hours
Total = 5 hours 10 minutes

Just for fun
Scrabble: 1 hour 30 mins
Blogging and surfing the web: 1 hour 35 minutes
Knitting: 1 hour
Reading: 1 hour
Total: 5 hours 5 minutes

Actually, that wasn't as bad a day as I thought it was. Although I didn't get much time, most of the "wasted" time wasn't me procrastinating, but rather unavoidable things like meetings, phoning my mother and the usual routine.

Things my hairdresser said today that made me want to bite her

  • "Have you just had a baby, darling? [What, right now? Let me check. I think I would have noticed.] Or are you going to have one? Because your hair is very strange. Often hormones do that."
  • "When did you last wash your hair, darling? This morning? Because feel this.... Does that feel clean to you? No, me neither."
  • "Do you ever tease your hair on top? Well you should. Because with larger ears like yours, darling, it looks funny if it is wider at the sides than on top. I guess that's partly your glasses, too. It's funny how they stick out from the sides of your head so much. Most people's glasses sit much closer in."
  • "See this protein spray that I'm using on your hair now?* You really need to buy some of this. It's quite expensive, but with your hair... It looks awful if you don't smooth it down with a product like this one."

And the final Conversation of Doom

"Now, let me just blow dry your hair."

"Um, don't you guys charge lots extra for blow drying?"

They are a cut-price salon ($20 cut) and they make their money by up-selling to blow-drys ($10 extra) and shampooing ($25 extra). I figure I only come out ahead if I don't request any extras. Usually this is not a problem; I have never had an aggressive hairdresser before.

"It's only $10."

"I don't blow dry it at home, anyway. My hair goes fluffy if I use a dryer. I'll just let it dry naturally."

"Well, darling, I'm sorry, but I can't let you just walk out of here like that. It looks awful. And I can't tell whether I have cut it evenly or not unless I dry it."

"Every other time I've been here I've left with damp hair. It's fine."

"Your hair, darling, is so fine that it will look uneven until I dry it. And I just can't tell if it is finished until it is dry. What do you have against drying it, anyway?"

"My hair gets fluffy and damaged if I dry it too often." This is true. I never blow-dry it at home.

"Well just this once you are going to have to trust me."

I was so ready to just storm out and complain to the manager that the hairdresser was acting like my mother, but I am a wimp, so I let her dry it. Then:

"Oh dear! Darling! Your hair is horribly fluffy and dry. You see now why you need to buy this protein spray? Look how it smooths it all down."

Yes, it solves a problem that she created in the first place. Grrr! (And no, I didn't buy the product.)


* What is with putting protein in hair products? Hair is dead. Protein is not going to help.

You guys need to learn the language

Brazen Hussy's post this morning reminded me of something that makes me laugh every time I think about it.

I'm editing a proceedings volume from a workshop I ran last year, and my supervisor submitted a paper to it. We recently (finally!) got her paper back from reviewers, and they said it needed editing by a native English speaker.

My supervisor is American.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Yesterday's timesheet

Thursdays are all about recovering from Wednesdays. I got up late and went to bed early. So my total awake time was less than usual too (just over 12 hours).

Routine essentials:
Morning routine: 45 minutes
Cooking and eating: 2 hours 30 minutes
Travel (cycling to and from home and across campus): 42 mins
Exercise: 1 hour
TOTAL = 5 hours

Dissertation revisions: 2 hours 20 minutes
Work-related emails: 20 minutes
Coffee breaks: 10 minutes
TOTAL = 2 hours 50 minutes

Just for fun:
Knitting: 1 hour
Socialising: 1 hour 30 minutes
Internet surfing and blogging: 1 hour
Watching DVDs: 45 minutes
TOTAL = 4 hours 15 minutes

I guess I could cut some of that "just for fun" time. And I hadn't realised how much time cooking and eating takes up. I wonder if that is usual? I guess I'll see over the next week.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

My students crack me up

Yesterday I spent some time explaining to the students how to identify an infinitive. "Beware!" I told them. "They don't always come with a to in front of them. To go, to eat, to play: all of those are easy to spot. But sometimes the to is omitted. And then you have to look for other clues to see if your verb is an infinitive or a finite form."

I explained what these other clues were, then gave them a quick test. "In the sentence I must go now, is go a finite form or an infinitive?"

"An infinitive!" One of the students answered immediately.

"Excellent," I praised her. "And how do you know?"

She beamed proudly. "Because there is an omitted to."

Don't you hate it when....

... your notifier tells you you have a new email message, and you get all excited, only to find out it's something you sent to yourself?

A day in the life

For some reason, I have been feeling an odd desire to make some new year's resolutions. Maybe it's that I'm now far enough into the teaching semester to feel like I'm in control of my life again.

One of my big struggles at the moment is managing my time. Getting a good balance between spending enough time on teaching to do a good job, but not letting it suck up every available minute. So you know how they say when you are thinking about changing your eating habits, you should start by keeping a log of everything you eat? Well I'm thinking about changing my time management habits, so I'm going to start by keeping a log of everything I do.

Obviously that would get kind of boring to read, so I'm not going to do it here. I thought (inspired by Anastasia) that I'd do one "day in the life" post here, and then post a daily summary (e.g. 3 hours teaching prep, 1 hour teaching, 3 hours watching parrots, 6 hours writing down what I was doing, etc). Maybe for a week. I'm keeping notes on what I'm doing every hour in a notebook and I'll work out totals at the end of the day.

Here's the detailed "day in the life" version from yesterday.

7:20 Get up. Shower, etc.
7:40 Sweep balcony, vacuum, clean bathroom and kitchen (landlady is dropping by after dinner).
8:30 Quick breakfast, check emails.
8:45 Cycle to university.
9:07 Start prepping my 11:00 tutorial (I prepared for my 10:00 last night).
10:00 Teach.
11:00 Teach.
12:00 Student asks me for the "short version" of how linguists work out what languages were like in the past. I explain the entire discipline of historical linguistics in 5 minutes.
12:05 Student asks really really smart question pointing out a methodological flaw in the way compound nouns are analysed. I spend 10 minutes tying myself in intellectual knots, then promise to get back to her.
12:30 Toastmasters meeting. (I am president of our local group).
1:30 Fielding questions from visitors to Toastmasters who are thinking of joining.
1:58 Finally back in my office. Eat lunch. Try to play some Scrabble turns on Facebook, but the server is down.
2:15 Make overheads and run through lesson plan for my 3pm lecture.
3:00 Teach.
4:15 Back in office. Drink well-earned coffee. Read blogs and email to recover from all that teaching.
5:05 Cycle across campus to meet Geekman
5:15 Public lecture on how astronomers discover planets.
6:30 Coffee with Geekman
7:00 Choir practice.
9:30 Cycle home.
9:45 Eat dinner. Play Scrabble on Facebook.
10:30 Watch Star Trek episode (DVD)
11:30 Bed.

Obviously Wednesdays are atypical. Otherwise I would be dead or insane.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

PSA: Facebook spheres collide

If you forget you have granted Facebook friendship to all your highly conservative and intensely religious cousins and ex-friends from high school


if you then post a status update which says, "going to a gay bar to watch a pole-dancing competition"


you will get many concerned emails from people threatening promising to pray for you.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

And I thought I had nothing to blog about

Since no one usually records it for posterity when things turn out this way, I think it is important to note that I just dropped two pieces of cheese-on-toast on the floor, and they both landed face up.

I guess the inherent advantage of my current favourite snack—toast with philadelphia, chutney, and cheese, grilled until bubbly—is that all the bits tend to stick together.

So: intact, unfloored toast.

I declare today a success. <- Look! A speech act! (Yes, I've been spending too much time teaching undergraduate linguistics.)

Monday, August 13, 2007

A disturbing coincidence

  1. It's been a week or so since I heard the possum that lives in our roof making any noise.
  2. There's a funny smell in the bedroom.

I really hope these two observations are not related.

Geekman, watching a cockatoo on the balcony

"I wonder how old it is. Do you think we could cut it in half and count the rings?"

Someone cheated on the quiz

and (Quick! Everyone pretend to look surprised!) it's this student.

The evidence isn't rock solid, but I'm certain enough. (Two pieces of terminology used wrongly and weirdly and one made-up term that doesn't even exist. Both identical to the mistakes of the girl who was sitting next to her. None of these particular mistakes appeared in any of the other 88 students' quizzes.)

I'm not sure what I'll do if she doesn't confess, though. Even if I could prove that the two quizzes are too similar for it to be coincidence, it could have been that the other student copied from this one rather than vice versa. Considering the circumstances, I don't think that's likely, but I can't prove it isn't so. And I can't penalise both students for something that one of them was probably unaware of.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Geekman demonstrates how introverts regard department retreats.

"It's not going to be any fun at all."

"You'll be at the beach!"

"It will be cold."

"There'll be good food! And chocolate!"

"I could have good food and chocolate here. And then I'd only have to hang out with people I like."

"You like some of your colleagues, don't you?"

"But I could like them from here."

Friday, August 10, 2007

Quick poll

What do you do when your supervisor tries to friend you on Facebook?

(a) Select "ignore" and hope they are able to overlook any feeling of offense when reading your next draft?

(b) Give them a "limited view" only, and hope they are able to overlook any feeling of offense when reading your next draft?

(c) Freak out and delete all incriminating parts of your profile page? (E.g. membership of groups like, "Arghhhhhhhhhh! Why did I do a Phd?!") Then accept the invitation?

Does it affect your answer if the friend request is accompanied by a message saying, "Help! Everyone's laughing at me because I have no friends!"

A bedtime story

I was feeling good about my teaching.

And then I had a craptacular day.

So I was feeling bad about my teaching.

And then I had some beer.

And I was feeling good about my teaching everything.

And then an acquaintance complained to me about how his wife has to put up with being taught by a tutor turned last-minute lecturer who doesn't know what he is doing. And all the problems he describes are exactly the ones that I had on my craptacular day. And even when I tried to explain how these things come about, he said they are unforgivable, considering how much students pay for their classes.

And I felt bad about my teaching again.

The end.

Happy things

  • The PhD comics guy is coming to my university! I am kind of resigned to the fact that cool people and things never tour this end of the world, so this completely flabbergasted me. Since he always writes a comic about the universities he visits, I've been wondering what you have to do to end up as a character in it. *scheme* *scheme*
  • Facebook Scrabble. (The Scrabulous application.) If you know my real name, come play Scrabble with me!

Did I ask for your opinion?

At a non-university meeting last night, a man who I have spoken to a total of once ever, and don't really remember, came over to talk to me and we had this intensely irritating conversation.

"Hi, I think we met somewhere. You're studying, aren't you? How's that going?"

"Good, thanks. I've finished my thesis, except for some revisions."

"So have you got a job yet?"

"I'm lecturing at the moment."

"But have you got a position?"

"What do you mean?"

"Is the lecturing just temporary, or is it a long-term position?"

"Oh! No, just temporary, unfortunately. I'll probably be in temporary jobs for a while."

"You need to get a post-doc."

"Well, that would be nice. But there's not much around, and I want to stay in [this city] for the next few years because my husband has a job here in the physics department."

"You will find you have to make sacrifices, if you want to work in academia. You can't just float around and hope to land a job."

"Well, obviously. But I'm hardly floating. Anyway, I haven't even graduated yet. I refuse to worry about things like this until after that."

"It doesn't sound to me like you are very serious about academic work, then. I think you should look for a job outside the ivory tower."

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Any questions?

"So before I hand out the quiz, does anyone have any last-minute questions?"

Girl at the back waves her hand frantically.


"What quiz?"

"The one I reminded you all about in the last lecture. Remember?"

"I haven't been to any of the lectures yet. I was on holiday in Europe."

"Well, it is stated on the syllabus that there was a quiz scheduled for the fourth week of classes."

"Where can I get a syllabus?"

"It's on WebCT. Anyway. As long as you've done the readings, you'll probably be okay. There's a couple of questions on things that weren't in the readings but only discussed in the lectures, but you'll still be able to pass."

"What readings?"

Things you don't get to do

If your husband promised to referee a paper for a proceedings volume six months ago, and has ignored subsequent email reminders and in-person requests to hurry the fuck up, you do not get to complain to me that this volume is taking a "ridiculously" long amount of time in the making.

If you are not a woman yourself, you do not get to pull up your car next to a woman walking alone in the dark and then yell at her for not being "friendly" enough to come over and see if you needed directions.

If you did not read the syllabus or attend any of the seven lectures or three tutorials I have held so far, you do not get to complain that I didn't tell you there was a quiz today.

What other things, in your opinion, do people not get to do?

Monday, August 06, 2007


I really, really hope there is more behind this story than appears in the newspaper report. If a lecturer truly was sacked for no more than telling a student he would not accept a late assignment and that she had no aptitude for graduate study, then that is kind of scary.

Questions that make me so happy I could cry

At today's lecture I unexpectedly got to experience one of the greatest rewards that teaching brings. Something that never fails to leave me buzzing with happiness for the rest of the day:

Of a queue of five students lying in wait for me after the lecture, only one wanted to ask about some administrative matter. The other four had questions like:

"Since last week's lecture, I've been thinking a lot about [concept], and was wondering, how would you apply it to [some more difficult data]?"


"I was reading [optional recommended text], and I couldn't stop thinking about [concept]. So what do you think about how [concept] relates to [something discussed in today's lecture]?"


"What you said today about [theory] was really interesting. I was trying to work out how it applies to [other language]. I think I can see how to make it fit, so if I explain, can you tell me if I'm on the right track?"

And the best thing is that the final student waited 15 minutes for me to finish with the other students, just so that she could ask this sort of in-depth question. It's not something she will need to know for the exam. It's not anything urgent that she has to deal with today. But she was interested enough in the subject matter to wait a quarter of an hour to get to discuss it with me some more.

I love my students.

And I must be doing something right.

They've found me!

When I arrived in my office today, a rosella was having what looked like enthusiastic parrot sex with his reflection in my window. I only caught the *ahem* tail-end of it on camera.

When he realised he was being watched, he stared back brazenly, quite devoid of any sort of modesty or shame.

But then his mate turned up and he pretended he had only been interested in her all along.

The hussy.

It's kind of cool, though. Although I see parrots around campus frequently, this is the first time that they've hung out on my window sill. Maybe they've been talking to the ones on my balcony and have heard I'm a soft touch for food. I'll be putting out birdseed tomorrow. (Spread the word!)

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Things that are messed up. Example 2: communication in my department

I'm starting to think that maybe the whiners have a point.

Considering that we get an average of ten emails a day letting us know about things like whether the upstairs photocopier is working or not, what seminars there are this week, and that the chair of the committee on stamp design for library books has broken a toenail, how hard would it have been to give advance warning about the following events?

(1) A team of workmen arrived on Tuesday to replace the ceiling in the office of a friend of mine. She had 30 minutes notice to remove all valuables, cover everything else, and find somewhere else to work for the next four days.

(2) On Friday* at 5pm I was sitting in my office and heard the sound of a large truck or crane backing up. In the corridor outside my office. I tried to open my door to see what was going on. But there was a large** crane in the way. In the corridor outside my office.

It appears they were repairing water damage to the roof of the building three stories higher, and due to Architectural Design this can only be reached from the corridor right outside my office. Did I mention this was right outside my office? A crane? Inside the building? And removal of roof (leading to lots of coldness) and big flashing lights and beeping? I guess they figured they didn't need to tell me this was going to happen, since it was 5pm on a Friday, and what is the chance a grad student would still be in their office at that ridiculous time of night?

Looking on the bright side, at least this means that the last of the damage from the storm back in February has finally been repaired.


* I was waiting to post this until a friend who was with me had sent me the photos she took. (My camera batteries were dead.) But she hasn't, and by the time she does, the whole anecdote will be out of date. Sigh. So no pics. I don't think non-bloggers quite understand the urgency that drives a plea for photos to be emailed "right away".

** Obviously not "large" when compared to the set of all possible cranes. But large for a crane that is inside a narrow corridor. They managed to just squeeze it in through the double doors by folding it up like an accordion. And it toppled the photocopier over on its slow and beepy way through the department.

I love being part of a stereotype

The city I live in has 450 kangaroos per square mile.

I guess it's surprising that encounters like this don't happen more often than they do.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

This is awesome

It doesn't really get going until nearly a minute in, but it's worth the wait.

Always look on the bright side

"Hey, Geekman, I'm doing some washing. Do you have any clothes that need doing?"

"Just this jersey*."

"Uh, you know you aren't really meant to machine-wash jerseys like that, right?"

"Why not?"

"Because they felt."

"What do you mean?"

"You know the material felt? They make that by washing knitted things in a washing machine."

Excitedly, "So I could end up with an armoured jersey?!"


* Jersey = jumper in Aussie English, and uh, sweater? pullover? in American English, I think. I have heard you only use jersey for those things sports players wear. New Zealanders use it generically for all long-sleeved, usually woolen, tops. This is pretty much irrelevant to the anecdote I am telling, so I was going to just replace jersey with pullover, and avoid the tortuous footnoting. Then I thought, no, dammit, it's protecting Americans from information like this that is responsible for you going into foreign countries and talking about your fannies in polite company. Or continuing to name your children Randy. Stop hiding the secrets of linguistic diversity from the Americans, that's what I say.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Things that are messed up. Example 1: My bank

Although you'd think a bank would have an incentive to run efficiently and maximise convenience to their customers, thanks to competition and market forces and all, my bank is less efficiently run and much more irritating than any government department I have ever had the comparative good-fortune to deal with. This makes no sense to me.


Last time I went to the bank there was an impatient queue of eight people, and only one person serving. There were, however, four other staff members efficiently employed in hanging balloons and streamers around the room. You can imagine how I felt about that after my 53 minute wait to get to the counter.


The tail-end of today's bank experience:

The teller
: "Thank you. Goodbye."

Me: "Before I go, can I just say that every other time I come in here, whoever I have dealt with has tried to sell me something. I really appreciate that you haven't. It drives me mad when I want something simple, and have to fend off unwanted information on insurance, mortgage rates and financial advice."

The teller: "Oh no! I forgot!"

Me: "No! It was great! I was going to write and complain about all the unwanted pressure to buy extra products, but now I'll be sure to mention how much more relaxing my visit today was."

The teller: "No! Please don't tell them I forgot to try to sell you a new product! I could get fired!"

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Feathers are a-flying

Today our Head of Department had unexpected visits from three unhappy but resolute grad students that he co-supervises, all wanting to drop out of the program or suspend their enrolments. I know about this because all three of them met in my office for a cry/hug-fest before and after. It appears he didn't see this coming, which is kind of indicative of the problem. What the hell sort of supervisor doesn't know that his students are too depressed to leave the house and haven't done any work on their dissertations in nearly a year?

Tomorrow our stand-in graduate convener* is organising a meeting that has become popularly known as "The Graduate Whinefest". Supposedly it will be an opportunity for grad students to air their grievances with the department and to talk about what practical steps need to be taken to make us functional again (as a department and as individuals). There is a lot of simmering anger and disillusionment among the other PhD students in our faculty, so I suspect the discussion will be heated.

I'm a little bit baffled by all of this, since my own experience has been overwhelmingly positive. I know that a lot of the other students are depressed, but I guess I assumed that was a common result of dissertating rather than directly resulting from anything our department has or has not done.

If I had to list what was wrong with our department, I couldn't go past the summary a fellow student came up with today: many of the faculty are both autistic and Amish.

I'm not taking the piss here. Several people in administrative positions who have control of the budget grew up in the Amish community and still really don't see why people need technology, travel or money in general. Hence they are financial tight-arses. Also, although I don't know whether they have been diagnosed this way, and I obviously wouldn't pretend I could diagnose them myself, certain faculty members (including but not limited to the Amish ones) display the same characteristics as some people I know who do have clinical diagnoses on the Aspergers–Autism spectrum. They openly admit to having problems with social interactions and interpreting social behaviour, and struggle even with tasks such as working out if someone is addressing them or not, or interpreting any sort of gaze or body-language. They therefore tend to be oblivious to departmental politics, tension, and to whether the department's grad students are happy or suicidal.

These two characteristics (financial tight-arsism and inability to interpret social behaviour) have led to the following specific problems:

  • Certain individual supervisors tend to forget about their students for years at a time. Unless the student makes an effort to connect regularly, there can end up being no relationship there at all. There are really only two or three faculty members who do this (the socially inept ones), but they each supervise a lot of students.
  • No one has enough funding for conferences and research expenses. (We each get a conference allowance over three years that pays approx. half the airfare to one international conference, or the conference registration (but not travel and accommodation) to the big Australian conference each year. We are expected to attend this Australian conference every year and at least one international conference). This is not just a problem for grad students, though: faculty have exactly the same allowance as us. There is no funding whatsoever for software or even essential electronic equipment. This does suck. A lot. And is evidence for why you should not put the Amish in charge of your travel and technology budget.
  • Certain faculty members (see above) tend to speak before they think. This has resulted in them unintentionally saying some hurtful things to certain students, and making stupid decisions that they have later awkwardly had to back out of.
  • Because we have relatively few students (and fewer new ones every year), and because they all start at random times of the year rather than in a group, our department has fallen out of the habit of holding any sorts of orientation events or even letting students know what resources they have, what is expected of them, etc. Good supervisors (like mine) fill this gap themselves, but others (see point one) don't.
I don't think these problems are unique to our department, and I don't think they are especially pervasive, and there are many positive characteristics that (in my opinion) balance them out. So I will be curious to see what people have to say tomorrow.

Maybe I have just been extremely lucky not to have affected much by it all, and the problems are actually a lot more serious than I had realised. We shall see.


* She is not the official graduate convener because our department has refused to provide appropriate teaching relief and therefore (surprise surprise) no one has volunteered for the job. This faculty member, however, felt bad that the graduate program was being left to sink or swim, so is kind of keeping it afloat temporarily.

Geekman the economist

Geekman describes the latest developments in the strength of the New Zealand dollar:

"It went up— up— uppity— PLOP!"

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The swings and roundabouts of outrageous students

Or perhaps that should read, "of outrageous policies for passing students who should have failed."

I have been reacquainting myself with a bunch of students who I failed a couple of years back. Students who turned up to one class in eight. Who completed almost none of the assessment. Who handed in scrappy torn paper with a few penciled and misspelled notes on it for the assessment they did complete. Who pled all sorts of excuses, and who someone must have taken pity on. Because they are still here and now taking my upper level classes.

I don't really understand how that works.


Then there's the opposite case. My wonderful hardworking failure from two years ago. She spent 20+ hours on some of the assignments that other students finished in two. She came to every office hour. She did all the extra practice exercises I recommended, and asked for more. She worked her way up from a 16% in the first assignment, to a 28% in the second, and a 54% in the final exam. That particular class had a policy for cases like that that if the final exam was a passing mark, and the student had shown diligence and progressive improvement, the final exam replaced the total that would have come from the aggregate mark. So she passed.

And now she is back, in my upper level class. Still a little confused (she accidentally enrolled for the wrong course and didn't realise until the third week). Still a little uncertain about some of the material. But full of really smart, thoughtful questions. The first to respond to anything I ask of the class. Doing all the reading, both required and optional, and looking likely to get some very good marks.

It's students like her that make it all worthwhile.

I keep coming back to this clip because it makes me laugh

I can't help but wonder what the American viewers made of this short snippet of last week's Flight of the Conchords:

Jermaine: "Bret, do you, uh, do you like penguins?"

Bret: "Yeah... no."

Jermaine: "In some ways I'm glad that we don't live in New Zealand anymore. 'Cause of all those penguins. Remember? How... how there'd be penguins?"

Bret: "Yeah."

Jermaine: "Bret, I'm kind of doing all the work in this conversation."