You are enough

Dear Student,

You almost walked out on a Team Exercise today because you weren’t prepared, and you didn’t want to freeload. I admire that, but I asked you to stay and to learn, because the point of the Team Exercise isn’t the grade; it’s to help the members of the team to better understand the lesson.

At some point we will all walk in unprepared, and have to ask our team to help us out. That’s why some of the hard stuff is Team Stuff, rather than individual. Because I think that having you work together will cause more learning than if I just preach it at you.

I still felt terrible because you did today. And I questioned myself and what I was doing.

I talked to you for while late this afternoon, and there are other things going on in your life. This class isn’t easy for you, and logistics lately have been difficult. I get the feeling there are other things too. You apologized to me, but no apology is necessary. This is my job. I am here to try to help you learn. I know that other things get in the way. I know how they get in the way. I’ve lived that. I just wish you knew it too. You are worthy of being here. Worthy of my effort. Worthy of the help from your team. Worthy of being taken seriously. Worthy of help. Maybe worthy of better than I am capable of giving you.

I know that you are the type of person who wants to be the one to help others. If another came to you unprepared, or unable to get something, or struggling, you’d be proud to be the person to help them out. You’d treat all their problems with loving kindness. That loving kindness that you’d so easily give to someone else is the loving kindness I want you to give yourself right now.

Just hang in there. Just keep trying. And seeing the high level of frustration and pain I saw in your face today, just in case, I want to say: if there comes a point where you realize or decide that this is not for you, I want you to know that is okay too. You are still worthy and worthwhile. Sometimes it feels like we are deep in a dark tunnel with no way to climb out. And I can’t even tell you how to get out, except that you have to just keep at it.

I didn’t have the exact right words to say to you. I can only hope that the ones I had were enough to plant this idea, for it to grow and blossom later. You are enough. Just as you are. Deserving of respect and love and help. If you can’t trust yourself to judge that, I hope you can trust me.


Dr. Jinx

Trust the Process

My first interview for tenure-track today!

I felt a little … screw-uppy at first,

  • “Am I saying too much?”
  • “Am I saying the wrong things?”
  • “Oh, I should have sounded more sure of myself when I said that!”

My talk went well, which was a big confidence boost. The afternoon and rest of the day seemed to go well, maybe because I felt more self-assured.

But still, there are those worries.

  • Can I do the type of teaching they want? It is so different than what I’m used to! But so much like what I often think I want to do.
  • Would I fit in here?
  • Will they offer me the job?
  • What if they do, can I handle what they want from me?
  • What if …

I remembered something I tell students.

Do the work, and trust the process.

Ultimately, the school and I have the same goal. They want a candidate that is a good fit for their position who can thrive here. I want to be a good candidate who will thrive. We are not enemies, there is no right or wrong, and while it would be nice to be picked, it is not the end of the world if I am not.

I’ve done my work. From here I have to trust the process will provide an answer. That answer won’t be the answer for always. Whatever I do, things will be different.

“We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart.”
Pema Chödrön

One step at a time I move forward. Two more interviews (scheduled, ticketed, paid for) to go, guaranteed, and maybe one more than that. I will know a lot more about my options are when they are done. And more yet if I do or do not get job offers. And no matter what, I will be okay.

A Month of Excitement, Coming Right Up

Monday I leave for my first tenure-track interview. My talk is mostly (?) prepared, and I will do a dry-run with some generous colleagues today. I still have to research the people I will be talking to; trying to find things in common, questions I want to ask them.

I return Wednesday and leave Friday for my next interview. I leave Friday in order to visit friends on the weekend in the city where I am flying to. If I get in early enough on Sunday to my interview site, they are talking about taking me hiking. I like this bunch already. Interview Monday, and I return on a red-eye flight that night with the hopes of being back in time for class on Tuesday.

That next weekend, I had arranged a reunion with some old friends, but now I have to fly out that Sunday. I think I can still do all, but there will be some juggle in there. That will be interview #3, and I will be flying back super-early Tuesday morning and hoping to make it back just in the nick of time for class. Whooooooo. It will be a trick to get everything done.

In every case I have someone providing back-up should I not be able to make it back.

And school #4 is getting more interested, so I bet I have another trip coming.

I am a little scared walking into these next few weeks. Everything that must get done, will get done. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other. I can do this, I can do this. I can I can I can I can. At each one, I walk in as prepared as I can get with the attitude that I am the woman for the job. And with all my strongest characteristics shining through. In a small school you want to hire someone who will be personable and responsible. Pleasant to work with and who will pull their weight. And that’s who I am. I think. I hope. All I have to do is make it show.


One of my students last semester told me he was working 50 hours a week to support himself and go to school. Adding 13 hours of coursework on to that, which means an ideal 39 hours of homework, I calculated he would be working 92 hours a week. Plus transportation to and from. Which is a life without relief or rest or relaxation. It is nothing but work and work and work and sleep. There are some people that can handle that, but productivity studies snort at that. All it does is wear you out.

I did the math with him and told him most people can’t handle that pace. Can you find a better job, or make do on fewer hours?

My student indicated his parents weren’t helping with college expenses. I can smell a story in things like that. I’m from a dysfunctional family that was threatening to cut me off while I was in college. Family crap is hard to take, and he sounded like he had a truckload full.

Now I’m a busybody and a meddler, but there are boundaries that you have to really watch with current students. I kept a weather eye on that one, considering my next move. I thought about asking him (and an adult male friend/colleague who is also dedicated to the well-being of our local college students) out to lunch sometime over the holidays, but I bailed on that idea at seeing some lack of effort reflected in the grades in my class. Maybe that was unfair considering the pressures he was under. I have a principle to hold back a little until I see the effort going in.

But, he showed up in my office earlier this spring semester. I extended the invitation to lunch. I brought my friend along, someone comfortable with uncomfortable truths, who also comes from a background of dysfunction. I allowed myself to pry a little.

Fair is fair, if you are going to pry, you better give the other person a way out, and agree that they can ask you to answer first. My friend and I answered first. Then we got a long story that I am sure wasn’t even the half of it.

It is amazing the things that 15, 16, 19 year-olds have dumped on them by their parents. We know there’s nothing we can do to fix it, but we try our best to provide this one with two functioning (if imperfect) adults who are willing to help watch his back and who are willing to receive that phone call when things are tough. “There’s a lot we can’t solve, but one thing we can do is make sure you get a warm meal and someone to listen.” And if there are bigger problems that seem overwhelming, we’d like you to call us rather than taking on the world alone. Every young person needs an older adult person at their back to help navigate. Every young person needs an older adult person who thinks they are worthy and worthwhile.

That was one part of my work today. Probably the most important part. I can look back at my past, and I can’t help the younger me-that-was. I can help this one. This is how we make peace with our past and all the darkness we’ve gone through. You can’t pay yourself back for those times. You can only pay it forward to some one else, and let those you help do the same.


Some of you may already know that I put my credentials out on the tenure-track job market. Oh, not the Tier 1 Research University market — that’s definitely not my thing. I applied at liberal arts schools and master’s granting institutions where teaching is clearly highly valued.

My ideal position would give me breathing room to do both teaching and research/scholarship. Let me do my thing teaching. Let me explore some ideas. Let me not be so overburdened that I am working every weekend and always freaking out.

I wasn’t even sure I was tenure-track material. All those positions that required research statements. S-C-A-R-Y. I’d seen one of the graduate students’ research statements, and something like that wasn’t coming out of me. So I worked on the things I knew how to do. The CV. The teaching statement. So grateful to the advice I got on those.

But the research statement. What I’ve gotten into I’ve gotten into through my teaching. Undergraduate research projects. I do undertake some collaborative projects, but that’s where they come from. There are some more papers on teaching that I’d like to write. I had one (now accepted) under review at the time. Could that possibly be good enough? I went out and searched the internet and I found Dr. Karen’s Rules of the Research Statement. One page long? That doesn’t sound so scary. I didn’t think I could get even my simple ideas in to one page. She said short. Maybe two pages. And give an overview. I can do that. The simple mathematical biology projects I work on, and my ideas for things I’d like to write got all put together. It ended up going onto a third page with the citations, but there it was. A research statement.

I am so grateful for the mentoring I got; I was surprised to hear from that senior colleague that she thought I’d be competitive at the good liberal arts schools.

Soon (days) after getting my first applications complete, I got my first request for a Skype (phone) interview. It’s been about a month and a half since I first put myself out there. I’ve done three Skype interviews. I have two more coming. Today I got invited for two site visits. Whoa.

I’m excited and scared and intimidated and eager and afraid and mind blown! What am I going to talk about at the general audience 45-minute science talk where I can’t use calculus? How am I going to find time to prepare the talks and classes I’m going to have to do while interviewing? Who will teach my classes while I am gone? How to bring this up with the departmental administration that got me mad enough to apply elsewhere in the first place? Will I be able to negotiate a good starting salary; because I am not in a fresh out of school or fresh out of a postdoc position; I’ve got more behind me than that. After my last promotion I’m doing okay salary-wise where I am (not that I couldn’t do better).

But some of that is tomorrow’s problem. Here I am. Success. Now we make the best of the next step and keep moving forward.

Radical Compassion and Preparing for Class

In the Sunday paper, I read a bit in an advice column about dealing with difficult and unpleasant people. Instead of getting angry, frustrated, complaining, or trying to change them, practice radical compassion. What kind of a life must this individual have to exhibit these behaviors? You don’t have to like the person. You don’t have to agree with the behavior. And you don’t have to stand around taking abuse. Just remind yourself of what the other would have to go through, daily, in order for the unpleasant and difficult behavior to seem like the best option. Then see if you do not find it easier to deal with them in a healthy constructive manner.

That said, there are still a few people around that are above my pay grade. I can apply this principle and deal better, but boy … I would still rather not deal with them at all.


The semester started today, and officially starts for me tomorrow. I audited a graduate level statistics class on Advanced Stochastic Processes today (I bet I could scare someone with those words alone!), and the rest of the day was spent scrambling to prepare my own materials. I am teaching Linear Algebra this semester. I’ve decided to try an experiment in Team Based Learning, where I split the class into 7 teams (45 students so 6-7 students per team) and have them do some work together, some work in teams, and peer evaluate each other. I carefully wrote the syllabus so that if I find that I can’t hold this plan together, the 10% of the grade that would go to team, individual, and peer-review activities instead gets thrown onto homework, or the activity part of the grade gets reduced and homework gets increased.

The first team activity will be a think/pair (team)/share that has each team address a different topic, and hopefully will help the team members get to know each other.

  1. What does it mean to be fully present, whether this is in class, or with a friend, or simply by yourself? How can being fully present help you with with your coursework and grades? How can being fully present help you with making friends and with your relationships?
  2. What are the characteristics of your favorite challenging classes or team activities? How did liking the class or activity influence your actions and attitude?
  3. What are the characteristics of a least favorite class? How did disliking this class influence your actions and attitude?
  4. How do you think that I (the instructor) am a ffected by a class I really enjoy or really dislike?
  5. What are the characteristics of a good teacher? Make a list of actions and attitudes and rank these by importance. (Side comment: they will be giving me standards for performance of my job. These should correspond well to the characteristics of favorite challenging classes and team activities.)
  6. What are the characteristics of a good student? Make a list of actions and attitudes and rank these by importance. (Here they give themselves the standards for performance of their job. These should correlate with behavior in an enjoyed class or activity.)
  7. Identify 5-10 things it is important for you to know about the class from the syllabus or that you have questions about; rank these by importance. (Because so rarely do students actually read the darn syllabus that it takes so much time to put together.)

If we get good answers to those questions, I think we’ll all know what we need to do for the rest of the semester.

I do have some mathematics prepped for tomorrow too!

A picture of strength and grace

A rain lily to represent how I am feeling.

Right after Christmas, I had breakfast with two bicycling friends from Austin. I didn’t think about it at the time, but the three of us, in larger and smaller ways, have all struggled or are struggling with spiritual wounds. One friend’s wife passed away suddenly about a year ago. The other was denied tenure at his university in the cruelest possible way. He was passed by the department and the dean and then denied by the president of the university. He’s still working in the same department as a senior lecturer. Me, I lost an important relationship this past spring.

We talked about a myriad of things. Bicycling. Loss. Continuing forward. Still being angry. Things we hope for the future. The good things about our lives right now. How much it hurts.

I didn’t think about it when I made the invitation, but the one thing I took away from that breakfast was a picture of strength and grace. What I saw in my two friends, dealing with their situations, is how I want to deal with the adversity in my life. I would beg not to be sent that much pain. But if I am, that is how I want to I deal with it.

Happy Dance!

I just got an informal acceptance notice for my article to PRIMUS! Backstory here and here.

I’m a little embarrassed that this draft was riddled with typos. But, accepted! Happy dance around the house! This is what I’m doing tonight:

Dancing around the house
(Ally McBeal animated gif with the dancing baby is shamelessly stolen from the internet.)

The small mistakes can be fixed, and I was tired, stressed, getting to the end of my rope, and grateful for some help from a very kind colleague and mentor with the final revisions on it. That minor issues were missed shouldn’t surprise anyone.


  1. Have an idea? Write it up and submit. Just try. And try not to worry that it won’t be good enough.
  2. Stuck on revisions? Little bits of effort, epsilons, can move you forward.
  3. Still struggling? Ask friends, colleagues, mentors for help.
  4. Finally success? Celebrate!

…but first thing tomorrow, I get to work on those last revisions and resubmit.

I am grateful, grateful, grateful to see this through and for all the help and encouragement I got along the way.

Epsilons and all the Little Things that Make Me Happy

I just looked back at for 2013. I made 101 posts. There are 52 weeks per year, that is almost 2 posts per week. I a pleased with the result. I updated regularly. I think my writing improved. I know some friends, at least, read my posts here regularly. I spent time thinking about and writing about things I needed to think through. Often it helped. It always felt good to put something up. I think that is success. I won’t make a formal resolution, but a goal for 2014 is 104 post, or exactly 2 each week for the year.

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, but I think I am going to make one. The most powerful lesson I learned last year was the power of the epsilon > 0 philosophy ([1] and [2]) and the 15 (or 30) minute rule. I’ve been preaching the 15 minute rule for a long time, at least when my kitchen has become an OSHA hazard and something must be done to fix it. This year I broadened its applications, and I saw good results. There are a lot of things I need to do that I am scared of. I faced them with the thought that I would just try for 15 minutes. There was a lot of work I despaired getting done, and finding time to get done, but when I decided to just get after it for 15 or 30 minutes, I made progress and I saw it done. So my resolution is to use the epsilon is greater than zero (something is better than nothing) philosophy along with the 15 minute rule this year soon after I realize that my problem is that I’m feeling stuck. And to tell students how this has worked for me when I urge them to try it.

It is both this easy and this hard. Some jobs are so big they overwhelm me. Break them into smaller pieces until you get a piece you can deal with, and then go after that. And then look for another piece. Repeat as needed.

These little pieces of progress make me happy. As do many other little things in my life. On a day to day basis, I think it is the littlest things that often make the biggest difference. Of course it would be wonderful to win the lottery. Or to be offered my dream job. Neither of those is likely to happen to day. But I can buy the ticket and embrace a little bit of unreasonable hope. I can spend 15 minutes on my job application materials, write a cover letter, send my things to someone else to look at and critique, and feel good about getting that done. I may not get started on that book I want to write some day, but I can write a blog post (200 words. Your goal is 200 words. And 100 or 150 is just fine in a pinch). I will be satisfied that I got that done.

1. My original post on the epsilon > 0 exercise plan

2. And a post about an application of the epsilon > 0 philosophy to getting things done.