All good things must come to an end.

My life has been full of endings lately. I’ve told some friends privately about the wrap-up to my disastrous interview, but not everyone. If you are a friend reading this here, and I didn’t contact you, please forgive me. It hasn’t been easy to talk about, and this was not appropriate fodder for an emotional Facebook post. May I even make a request? If you are a personal friend and you want to say something to me about this that alludes to the actual real-life people involved as opposed to a general wisdom or insight on the situation as I’ve written about it here, please make it a private message, rather than a comment.

Here are the background links on the situation:

  1. What’s an Excellent Teacher (non-tenure track) worth?
  2. Survived
  3. Rebuttal

Thank you to all who took the time to comment, and, in several cases, discuss the situation and how it might be handled with me in depth. The wrap-up was that the relationship with my significant other has been difficult for a while now. Perhaps that was the main reason he was reluctant to go to bat for me or to even negotiate even a delay of his start date with this university. That ended the relationship. In some ways this has been very hard. In some ways it has been very easy. I am angry with him for not even giving a token protest over the way I was treated, when he was the reason that I was in that situation in the first place. That is absolutely unconscionable in my mind. That speaks, too, to the difficulties in the relationship predating these events.

Endings are always hard for me. This is no exception, but thus far, I think this time I’m earning an A in breaking up. There is no turning back. There is no fixing this. Nothing to do but face what is and move forward. I’ve been taking very good care of myself. Exercise. Good food. I like having nuts in the house and on my salads again. I’ve reconnected with friends that I haven’t seen in a while. I’ve tried some new things. I’ve asked for help, and I’ve gotten help. I’ve had some bad days, but I’ve also been surprised to have quite a few good days. It is nice when someone else’s mess moves out of your house, and the only ones you have to deal with are your own. And, my gosh, it is nice to realize that so many people care about me.

* * *

Second, the semester comes to an end. I am glad to get done with the grading, but I am also sad to realize I won’t see most of my students again. Our final class meeting was last Friday for the final exam, which, for my class, is the remainder of the project presentations and pizza. And then a wrap-up.

I was pleased that one of my faculty colleagues came and stayed for the entire class period, even participating in writing out the good points of the presentation on the slips of paper for my students. Another came as long as she could.

The presentations were all good this semester. One or two wobbles here and there, but that’s to be expected. The students all gave competent professional presentations geared toward an audience of non-experts.

I asked the students what they learned. A lot of LaTeX and Matlab, which is always to be expected. A student even said something like, “I never would have believed this at the beginning of the semester, but I will use LaTeX in the future. It is a good tool.” Time management and how to approach projects. I think someone even mentioned the steps in mathematical modeling, in particular, making assumptions and simplifying when approaching a problem.

I teared up trying to do my wrap-up. I told them that having many students from prior semester taking the course is always an honor, especially since this is a purely elective class. Waking up a student with the line “Now we are going to talk about sex.” Working with students on LaTeX and Matlab. Listening to students do peer review and thinking, “This is really going all right.” The excitement of seeing the final projects come together.

Last, I gave them a few things that I wanted them to take from the course that don’t have all that much to do with mathematical modeling.

First, from the Efficient Portfolio Frontier, pay yourself first. Once you are out of school and start working, take money out of your paycheck before it hits your checking account and put it away for savings and investment. Pay yourself before you pay anyone else. Save for a rainy day. I told them how having savings saved me from worry when I needed to quit my software job without having figured out what I was going to do next.

Second, writing is a skill. Practice and you will improve. You can do it.

Third, you will be a different person at 40 than you were at 20. Your life will have high points, but it will also have some real defeats. Keep your honor, grace, integrity through it, and you will get through it.

I should have told them something that always comforts me when things go really wrong. Your worst moments will always end up being your best stories. Once they stop hurting so much.

Last, if you have the opportunity to do a kindness, take it. You will regret hard words you said to someone else. The kindnesses you will be able to hold close to your heart when things go wrong. You will regret the times you passed up an opportunity to do or to say something kind. So don’t pass them up. When you see them, take the opportunity.

This certainly relates to my thinking on the first item discussed in this post and my regrets.

My students did take the opportunity to say kind things in those final portfolios. About me and about each other. I am looking forward to sharing some highlights with you.


It is the year 2013 isn’t it? I am encountering articles today that make me believe otherwise.

Racism: Georgia high school students organize first integrated prom. Thank goodness for the high school students for having the maturity what the adults should have done decades ago.

Homophobia: Student senate passes ‘Religious Funding Exemption Bill’ (which I think should be known as the “We are some hellacious hypocritical Christians” bill, but then, what do I know?)

Sexism: Groundbreaking Female Rocket Scientist Sure Could Cook. Man, I was worried about that! What if one day I woke up able to simultaneously solve 5 differential equations in my head, but I couldn’t cook for my significant other. What a tragedy that would be.

But yes, all of that still happens today. After my experience in the interview last week, I am saddened but unsurprised.

Dear dear dear Students,

Please see to it that your generation does a better job than mine. I’m sorry we screwed so many things up for you.


Dr. Jinx


The question for you, my dear and knowledgeable friends and supporters, is if I would like the position although only at an appropriate rate of pay (and, hopefully, rank), does sending this help or at least not hurt the situation? I will refuse any offer that is below my salary for 2013.

Truth is my partner is going to have to do the real negotiating for me. The one power I have is to say no.

Thoughtful comments welcome and encouraged. My emotions on this are still strong.

Backstory. I didn’t put all the details of the conversation in. The chair was bragging at one point about forcing other women to take a pay cut to come to his institution. Then he argues that to do anything else to me would be unfair. There are other damning and insulting details. It was outrageous and grossly out of the usual rules of professional interaction.

Dear Chair and Protege,

I have to admit, I am still reflecting on our conversation Friday at wondering if that was an early April Fool’s Day joke that I just didn’t find funny.

With the exception of that conversation with the two of you, I very much enjoyed talking to the other people I met in the department, and in many ways I think the position would be a good match.

However, I am sure you understand that I cannot consider accepting an offer that is not at market value for my level of experience and qualifications. Given my current salary at Texas A&M, this would be between <$12,000 and $15,000 above the salary we discussed> per nine month appointment.

I am also concerned with the rank appointment. It is standard practice in faculty hires to keep employees at the same rank or even to hire them at a higher rank than they had in their previous institution. Given the tone of our conversation, I would like to speak with the dean or someone in higher authority about this.

I hope we can come to terms on this matter.


A few days later

A few days later, and what have I learned?

  1. You can know someone is being abusive, but it will still hurt.
  2. When something like this happens in a job negotiation to a woman, there will always be at least one or two well-meaning friends to ask her if she tried negotiating. It was worth it to me realize that they meant well and to fight down my indignation.
  3. Anxiety problems and abuse are not a good combination. It’s been tough these last several days.
  4. That department chair and his protege were so out of line.
  5. Yes, in 2013, there are still men who go on power trips trying to take advantage of women financially in professional contexts. Unbelieveable, but true.
  6. I still need feminism. We still need feminism. Oh my gosh, do we ever need feminism.
  7. I am fortunate in my friends.
  8. I have friends who are knowledgable about academic hiring who are willing to take the time to talk to me, reassure me, and advise me.
  9. I am still angry, and I expect to be for a while.
  10. Fair or unfair, the tenure-track hire in the relationship has more negotiating power in these situations than the person who would actually be doing the non-tenure-track job.

In case you never saw it, or forgot about it, enjoy Jon Stewart on Teachers and Wall Street.

And one more for shared outrage with my feminist friends: Saudi Arabia lets women ride bicycles, but only for fun, not for transportation. This is not from the Onion. This is real news. Yes, in 2013!

Link Dump on teaching evaluations, gender, academic gender bias

Critical mass of women in academic science. They say critical mass is at the 15% level. When I used to talk about this with women friends doing the martial arts we talked about the 25-30% level. Who knows where we got that from. I’d like to see more research on this.

Another article on gender bias in teaching evaluations that also points to the fact that teaching evaluations often have little to do with what the students learn. Apparently personality of the instructor is the biggest influence on teaching evaluations. Ouch.

The chilly academic climate toward women. Road blocks, road blocks, everywhere.

The Torment of Teaching Evaluations; advice for getting better ones. What should you do if you don’t like your teaching evaluations? Ways to influence them without modifying real course content.

Gender bias in teaching evaluations of high school teachers. Some nice graphics showing the differences.

ETS weighs in.

Teaching evaluations

My friend’s question about whether she is a good teacher got me off on a research binge. Her question arose from negative teaching evaluations; something that I think even the best teacher has to put up with.

Earlier in the semester another faculty member mentioned that students’ evaluations of teaching don’t correspond to their learning. That study shows that professor quality has an effect on student learning measured through their grades in subsequent courses. Student evaluations of teachers are heavily influenced by the grade the student expects to receive in the current (contemporaneous) course.

Inevitably, in freshman weed-out courses you will get worse teaching evaluations than for a small senior seminar.

This paper also shows that professors who do well at helping students with contemporaneous learning on average harm the students in subsequent (more advanced) classes. Whoops! Student evaluations are positively correlated with contemporaneous achievement and negatively correlated with follow-on achievement. Academic rank, experience teaching, whether or not you have a terminal degree are negatively correlated with performance in the current class and positively correlated with student performance in subsequent classes.

Perhaps my friend should embrace the painful teaching evaluations?

On the other hand, this worries me; my teaching evaluations are fairly good. Am I teaching to the test or am I promoting deep learning? I hope I am promoting deep learning, although I also think that exams should not come as a surprise to the students provided the student is doing what he/she is supposed to do. I will have to reflect on this in future semesters. I know that having taught broadly within the curriculum has influenced my teaching; when I know what expectations are in later courses, I make sure things get covered in earlier courses to promote the later learning.

I’ve taught differential equations three times, and I have consciously tried to make the course more difficult each time I’ve taught it.

Another complicating factor in evaluating student evaluations is that they aren’t gender-blind. Male students rate female professors more negatively than male professors. Female students tend to rate female professors more highly, but this doesn’t help if you are a female teaching in a predominantly male discipline (like upper-level math).

This got me thinking about my mathematical modeling course. The best semester I had with it was Spring of 2012. That class produced great work and awesome outcomes; I had a lot of fun with them, and they with me. The Fall of 2012 class was a real let down; there were a lot of weak students in the class, and I was too lenient early in the semester. This semester is going well and students are performing well, but there’s not that extra oomph I recall from Spring 2012.

I wonder what I’m doing different or not as well.

After reading the article, I started wondering if it is me. In Spring 2012, out of 18 students, I had 8 women in the class. In Fall 2012, I had 5 women of 17 students. This semester I have 4 women out of 34 students split into two women in each of two sections of 17 students. I think that is one of the major influences on the dynamic of the class. You need a certain critical mass of women in the class for the culture to change. I had it in Spring 2012, and I don’t have it now.


There’s a meme that goes around on my Facebook feed in which someone has her (or his) picture taken holding a sign that says, “I need feminism because …”

I used to sympathise with the camp that believes feminism is a dirty word. I believed it is anti-male. I thought that battle is over and won, so what are you women still complaining for?

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that the battle is by no means over and won. Progress has been made. But women still have an absurdly hard time making it into leadership positions. Viagra is health care, but birth-control is a religious issue. Strange how the math department has only 10% women on tenure track, but 80% in the the lecturer faculty ranks. You don’t want to get me started on trans-vaginal ultrasounds. Being pro-feminism has nothing to do with being anti-male and everything to do with believing women are humans, not inferior humans, but equal humans.

I’ve been reading Wen Spencer’s A Brother’s Price, part Western, part palace-intrigue, and 100% reverse sexism. Funny how the changed perspective makes things I normally take for granted all the more obvious.

This reminded me of another essay, Douglas Hofstadter’s
A Person Paper on Purity in Language, that turns gendered language into racist language. (The link is to a transcription of the entire article; go read it.)

There’s a note at the bottom of the Hofstadter piece above about a work by Bobbye Sorrels Persing and her story, A Tale of Two Sexes. I’d like to read that. A Google search led me to Why are there so few female computer scientists?
and Barriers to women in science and engineering. All these pieces are a bit dated. All of them speak loudly to the things I see today.

This brings up my disappointments with my own career. Did I ever really have a chance in math? I’m no Emmy Noether. And I’m not terrible at it. I know I’ve made many mistakes. I still feel like I’ve been shortchanged of many opportunities I should have had. Crying about it won’t do any good, but I sure hope we can change things for the next generation. Our female students, whom I’ve noted are consistently at the top of the class, deserve an opportunity to perform to their full potential, and to be appreciated as productive and complete human beings even they aren’t super stars. There’s a hell of a lot of excellent work done in academia by people who aren’t stars.

Sometimes we even get to see some small steps of progress, like this one. A Dad made it for his little girl: Donkey Kong, Princess-as-Hero Edition