Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Afternoon office visitors

"Hi! Mind if I invite over some friends?"

"This is Flappy. He and I go way back."

"I saved his life this one time, when—oops, there he goes again. Grab hold, Flappy!"

"It's okay now. Everything's under control. Hope you weren't too worried."

"Now, about that birdseed... Whenever you're ready. We'll just be waiting here."

Gah, doctors

One particularly irritating thing about the egg donation I have decided to do* is the amount of contact I have to have with doctors. I am yet to meet a doctor who doesn't have some serious personality flaw that s/he lets out to play during patient-doctor interactions.

I used to go to the university clinic, until the doctors there made me cry one too many times.

Then I picked a random doctor out of the phone book, and turned up to find that he made me fill out a form that included such information as "marital status" and "religion". His receptionist, one of my students, told me she has to hide her feminist studies homework from him because he gives her such a hard time about it. Needless to say, I wasn't about to go to him for the egg-donation-related tests I have to have.

So I went back to the university clinic, hoping I had just been unlucky in the past.

When I made the appointment, I handed over the list of tests the IVF clinic had given us for me to have done, and specifically asked (1) if there was further information they would need, and (2) if I could have an appointment long enough to do them all.

These are actual things the doctor said to me during my visit:

"What, you want a pap smear AS WELL? You'd better realise you are going to be charged for an extra long visit today."

"This list of tests says, 'cystic fibrosis'. Do you want the Delta F test or the 33 mutagens? [...] How can you not know? If you come in here wanting medical tests, you need to find out which ones you need."

"How do I do a chromosome test?" (Um, I thought YOU were the doctor. Don't you have ways of finding this sort of thing out?)

"This is all going to cost you. I hope you're well off." And when I explained that my friend is covering the costs. "Hrmph. Then I hope your 'friend' doesn't mind that you don't know which test it is you need. If we do the wrong one she'll be paying for useless results. In fact, why don't you phone the clinic now and ask which cystic fibrosis test I should do?"
"Sorry," I said, "I don't have a mobile phone."
"Why not?"
"Um. Well. I never seem to need one."
"You need one NOW, don't you?"
Yeah. Because the doctor's phone, sitting right there on her desk, must have been mysteriously out of action.

And then she took six different blood samples for the tests, which, as a phone call from the pathology lab told me later, were taken in the wrong type of tube, and so can I please go across to the other side of the city to have them redone at the hospital, please?

The next installment in this exciting adventure is Thursday, when I have an ultrasound scheduled. My instructions are to drink a liter of water an hour beforehand, and not to pee until after the appointment. I can't wait.


* I was planning a post on the reasons for my decision, but really, it's kind of boring, so suffice it to say that I looked thoroughly at all the literature I could find on the topic, including medical journals, and it seems to me that (a) the risk of known side effects is acceptably low and (b) the unproven risks, which may be of more concern (e.g. increased risk of cancer later down the track) have less evidence supporting them than e.g. the dangers of storing food in plastic, or using mobile phones, or various other modern conveniences which I'm not about to give up. I was pretty comfortable with the non-medical side of things already, and added to that it's not often you get a chance to change someone else's life so much for the better, or to "try before you buy" with something like having kids. So I feel pretty certain that I've made the right choice.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

One Apple product might be a coincidence; two is a trend. (I've gone to the dark side)

Look what the wonderful Jana sent me for graduation!

Now I need a plausible cover story in case anybody asks about the inscription...


The last of our visitors has left. For the past two weeks we have had a constant stream of relatives staying. First my mother, then my parents-in-law, and yesterday and today my father and his new wife. When they finally went, Geekman and I did a little Happy Dance of Freedom (TM) and now our lives can return to normal.

A particular highlight of the past week has been my father-in-law's complete obliviousness to everything going on around him. He has a very stereotypical Swedish name, so for the purposes of this post, I'll refer to him as Lars.

Special mention goes to the following moments:

We are walking through a mall, trying to find a particular type of sieve that my mother-in-law wants and can't find in NZ. After 20 minutes of this, Lars remarks in a puzzled tone, "This looks a little bit like a mall."

All week my mother-in-law has been longing to go to a walk-in aviary that we took her to last time she visited. We decide (within Lars's hearing) to go on Saturday. Saturday comes. We exclaim that the weather is nice, so we can definitely go to the aviary. We get in the car, Lars asks for directions, and we tell him to drive until he sees a sign saying, "[Generic Village Name] Aviary". We turn off at the aviary. Park. Walk across the road, and Lars points and exclaims, "Look! It's an aviary! Shall we go look in there?"

We are in the car and Lars is driving (it's a rental that they hired while they are here, since ours is still dead). Geekman says, "You'll need to turn left soon, so move into the left lane."
"Ja ha," says Lars. Doesn't change lanes.
"The left lane," repeats Geekman. "Change lanes."
"Ja ha."
"Before these lights! You are going to turn left at the lights."
"Oh! LEFT!" says Lars, and turns into the right-hand lane.

It must be nice on Planet Lars this time of year.

But now we are free, and there's going to be a sleeping, healthy eating, and plenty of computer games in our future.

In other news, I am apparently teaching a course to one student this semester. Two-and-a-half hours contact time a week. One-on-one. This struck me as a spectacularly good deal, both for me and the student. In fact, I was so dazzled by the fact that they are paying me around half of last semester's pay in order to teach 1/140th of the class size, that it wasn't until now that it struck me that I don't know HOW to teach a course one-on-one. At least, I don't know how to fill up 2.5 hours a week. He has readings and homework and interactive online exercises. And he presumably will have some questions. But I doubt he has 2.5 hours worth of questions. And did I mention this is one-on-one? One-on-one??? There's nowhere to hide! I don't even know how to start adapting the materials I usually use for this class for one student. I usually have two hours of lecture, and one hour of the students doing exercises or discussions in groups while I wander round and see how they are going. None of that is going to work AT ALL.

Any suggestions?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Open letter to visitors to this city

Dear visitors (including, but not limited to my in-laws),

The Aboriginal Tent Embassy is not a tourist attraction; it's a political protest. While I don't suppose they object to people dropping by to express support, you don't get to whine about them not looking the way you had expected, not having the views you think they should have, or not being "able" (or perhaps willing?) to give you a potted history of the region.

Yours a little bit horrifiedly,

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The only thing missing from this silly outfit is a sword

Between the start of my PhD and graduation:

We moved from Denmark to Australia
Then moved three more times
We bought our first car
My parents split up twice, then divorced
My closest relative apart from my parents had her husband threaten her with a gun
She moved into a women's shelter
He killed himself
My father tried to kill himself
My grandmother died
My mother got cancer
My father got remarried (like, four days ago) and I gained two teenage step-sisters.
I decided to donate eggs to an infertile friend (yes, I've said yes!)

I read the Iliad in the original Greek
I took up bell ringing
and rock climbing
My bench press decreased by 5 kg
My mad programming skillz increased 10-fold
and people started paying me money to do computer stuff.

I visited the USA for the first time,
presented at an international conference for the first time
and at too many local conferences to count
I tutored for the first time
I taught and convened my own course for the first time
and then again
with 140 students
In total, I taught around 350 students
three of whom also graduated today
(one, despite my best efforts)
I submitted a major grant proposal (which I haven't heard back about yet)
I was offered (and declined) an academic job

and, y'know, apparently I wrote a dissertation.

Yay me!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Doomed squared

...and now I'm in trouble with the higher-ups (Head of School - not a member of our department) for this. Because HE doesn't think we should have been passing everyone. And he's the one who had to sign off on my "amended" results.

I actually agree with him, but can't exactly explain that without making it sound like I'm siding against the senior staff who told me to pass these students. I simply told him I changed the marks on the advice of certain senior colleagues, told him who they were, and to speak to them about it for more information.

And now I'm really really worried they are going to throw me under the metaphorical bus. ("What? She's passing the students who earned a fail? We never told her to do that! No! Not us!")

On the positive side, I got my student evaluations back, and one in particular made me smile. Under "Good aspects of this class" the student wrote, "StyleyGeek is excellent! She is the best teacher I've ever had!" Under "Suggested improvements", they wrote, "Raise her salary!"

Hah, if only they knew.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Reality? What reality?

You know you have been spending too much time online when, walking down the (real) street in the (real) world, you see a building with distorted-looking lines on it and think, "Huh: photoshopped."

Saturday, July 12, 2008

When the job market attacks.

I just turned down an academic job.

I decided a while ago that I would rather be jobless than do the long-distance marriage thing. We did long distance for 4 years and it was horrible. I never want to do it again.

So the obvious solution was to just not apply for any jobs that meant moving away, right? It's not like I'd have to turn down jobs if I wasn't applying for them. Academic jobs aren't exactly going begging.

And then one did.

I got pulled aside at morning tea yesterday by two academics who I admire greatly (and who I didn't even know knew my name), from a university about 1000km (500 miles) from my city: "Have we got a deal for you!"

They had just had a faculty member suddenly leave. Two weeks before semester starts. The deal they were offering me was: 6 month contract, full time, level B (i.e. one promotion/salary level higher than the usual straight-out-of-grad-school position). They will have to advertise for the permanent replacement, but I think the suggestion was there that if I did a good job in the next six months, I could apply for the advertised position and would have a reasonable chance of success.

When I brought up the husband thing, they offered to provide guest lecturer replacements for two weeks during the semester, so I could have an extra two weeks back home as well as the two week mid-semester break. And they said half the course online, so I could be present only part of the week and commute.

So, commuting. The first problem is there are no direct flights between my city and this new one. So it would be a minimum two-step process. I estimate the quickest door-to-door trip would take around five hours. The second problem is that return flights are around $500. I couldn't do that every week, and keep two households, without it eating up most of my salary. If I came back once a fortnight, that and the extra rent/bills would take up at least $10,000 of my $35,000/6 months salary. Taxes would take another $8,000 or so, so I'd essentially be working for $17,000/6 months. So, not great, but not bad compared to my other prospects. (I estimate I'll probably earn around $3000 in the next 6 months.)

But there are other problems too:

  • I'd lose visibility in my current location. As it is, everyone sees me every day. They all know I am hugely under-employed, and so tend to think of me when there is work going. If I were out of sight for six months, I think I would drop off their radars. It would be much harder to get my office and library privileges back afterwards too - whereas holding onto them by sheer inertia is much easier.
  • I'd have to drop the ball on a bunch of things I have already arranged for the next few weeks/months. Some are important (my father has booked tickets to come visit, I agreed to organise a big workshop), others not so much (some research assistant work, a couple of guest lectures, responsibilities in a few clubs and societies). But each thing is going to piss someone off, which is okay if you are leaving the city for good; not so great if you want to come back and pick up where you left off.
  • I had no time to publish anything last semester. My teaching experience is unusually good for my early-career status. What I'm missing is the publications. If I teach yet another new prep this year, I won't get any papers written. The next round of grant apps is in early February, and I won't have a chance without more publications.
  • The classes they want me to teach start in two weeks. Two freaking weeks, people! And for one of these, my mother and my parents-in-law are visiting, plus I'm graduating. So I would essentially have one week to prep an entire new class, find accommodation in a new city, and move. I don't know if it could be done even if I wanted to.
So I'm not going to take the job. But DAMN, I feel guilty. I feel like if I never get an academic position and end up giving up on this career path entirely, it will all be my own fault because I turned down a perfectly good job. And NO ONE, but NO ONE in the academic world (except Geekman) seems to understand my decision. They all say, "But it's such a great opportunity!" and "It's only for a few months".

And I say, "Boo to you. I can turn down a job that would suck. And it doesn't mean I can't keep complaining about the academic job market."

(But I still feel guilty.)

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Getting the geekiness level right

So I've been taking this short summer-school-type course on parsers and realisers (software for analysing sentences syntactically, or generating them based on a set of syntactic rules).  We spent the last couple of days on theory, and today for the first time got let loose to play with some parsers.

The instructor suggested we input just one sentence each to start with, and then we'd go around the room and briefly say whether or not the parser had correctly analysed the sentence, and if not, why not.

But even he had to laugh when it turned out that, of the 10 people in the course, seven had decided independently to use the sentence, "All your base are belong to us."

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

I need this on a t-shirt

Monday, July 07, 2008


Because the university paid me for five hours of exam marking, and it took 40...
...and because I "irresponsibly" took some of the weekend "off" to attend a conference where I was presenting a paper...
...and because the final grades deadline was three working days after my class's final exam...

...I was faced with a choice of meeting the grades deadline but not getting the fails cross-marked in time, or canceling my trip to the next conference, submitting grades late, and waiting until a colleague had time to cross-mark the (three) fails.

I chose the former.

Two days after the grades deadline, the colleague, in front of a bunch of other senior academics, told me to "just pass" the fails. She admitted she hadn't read the exams yet, but that we really couldn't afford to fail anyone this year, as we need the student numbers. The other academics agreed with her. They all told me to resubmit new (passing) exam marks.

I tried to do so (against my better judgment), but by then the students had been notified of their results. Technically this delay is my fault, since it is against university policy to submit final grades without getting all fails cross-marked.

I now have three emails in my inbox, from the three failing students, wanting to know if there is "anything" they can do to pass (and reminding me, for which they get minus points, of how much they paid to take the class).

And the thing is, there is something they can do. If they were to lodge a grade appeal, which by university policy I should now tell them they can do, the appeal goes to my colleague who told me to pass them. She will (a) be highly pissed off I didn't do so, and (b) pass them.

So do I do that? Or just tell them there was a "mistake" and their passing grades will come out soon as an amendment (and then lodge that amendment)? Or remind them that they failed every piece of internal assessment, AND the exam, AND didn't attend half the classes or do the homework (like, EVER), and ask them if they really think they deserve reconsideration (and hope they don't call my bluff)?


From the "I can't believe he said that" files

If you are the Vice Chancellor, and choose for your opening address to a conference the topic of "Why linguistics is very important", do not expect to be taken seriously when you have just disbanded your university's linguistics department.

Dude. Get a clue.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Hi from Sydney

I'm just poking my head briefly out of my hole to complain about conferences with sucky internet access.

And to say that if I owned a cafe, I would call it "Bite Me".