I am not a young kid, and I’ve been on a lot of job interviews, including some bad ones. But this past week really took the cake.

I even got offered the job. With a reduction in my rank and a $10k pay cut over my current position.

Because, after all, it wouldn’t be fair to put me ahead of the other new hires. No matter that unlike the others who are fresh out of school, I’ve got experience and awards behind me to establish my worth.

There was reason to see this coming, and I put my chin up and my best face forward for the interview knowing that was the only possible way to succeed.

The guy got on a power trip talking about all the other people who he had forced into taking a pay cut and/or reduction in rank.

But not me.

Funny how you can even see it coming, know it’s wrong, know it isn’t about you, and it still hurts. A lot.

Do I write to withdraw my application for the position early next week? Or I can let them go through the paperwork to make me the offer on paper, and then refuse it. Which will have the biggest effect?

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.

Good at it

A friend stated, “I love what I do, but am I any good at it?” Since she is a fellow teacher, I presume she is talking about teaching.

My first reaction is that we generally love to do things we are good at, so loving it is a good indication that you are probably good at it.

A second thought is that it is really hard to define good. You have to articulate your values or standards before you can evaluate how well you meet them.

My thoughts about myself are that I believe I am a good teacher. What I want is to be a great teacher. I do not think I am there yet, but I am working on it.

What are my standards?

  1. Show up to class prepared.
  2. Regard students as human beings and treat them like human beings.
  3. Take opportunities to learn about how people learn and build in rewards for students who do the things that cause them to learn.
  4. Be kind when possible.
  5. Recognize that kind is not always doing what the student wants.
  6. Be conscious of fairness and always critically look at my fairness.
  7. Offer inspiration and wonder.
  8. Catch students doing things right.
  9. Open the door to creativity.
  10. Admit when I don’t know or I screw up.

How do I do?

  1. I often feel like I had a plan (was prepared), but it didn’t work the way I wanted it to.
  2. I usually do pretty well at regarding students as human beings and treating them like human beings, but some really just wear my patience thin quickly. Treating someone like a human being includes enforcing your own boundaries, but that doesn’t always feel nice.
  3. I’ve gone to a lot of seminars with the Center for Teaching Effectiveness, I read widely, I’ll go to the Wakonse South Conference on College Teaching again. I’ve incorporated these ideas in my classroom. I am working on this.
  4. Usually yes, I am kind.
  5. Sometimes the only way to get through the day is to remind yourself that being kind is not doing what others want.
  6. I’m still grading too much writing with the “I know good when I see it” standard. I should work on creating more objective standards.
  7. I try to bring in things that inspire me and make me wonder. I am not sure how that goes over with the students sometimes, but I keep trying. I can’t inspire them if I am not inspired myself.
  8. Yes, I catch students doing things right.
  9. Yes, I have at least a few assignments that open the door to creativity. I wish I had more.
  10. I am pretty good at admitting when I screw up, or I don’t know.

Just for fun

There’s been a lot of things stressing me out lately, and I don’t have energy to tell you all about it. Instead lets talk about a few things that are fun.

Several months ago, one of my oldest and best friends pointed me to the very fun and simple Guess My Word. You can play Joon’s word and Mike’s word daily. Thanks, Debgpi!

A friend recently published a game (for iOS, Android and Blackberry) called Swapagon. It’s free, try it out. I was a beta-tester for it! Swapagon is reviewed here.

For at least one day of spring break, we went and enjoyed one of Texas’ lovely state parks: Pedernales Falls. We went mountain biking and geocaching in the park. We didn’t swim this time, and I also didn’t slip and fall in one of the pools by the falls. (Guess what happened last time?)

On the way to Pedernales Falls, we stopped and had dinner with a friend who actually reads this blog. I am always surprised and honored to find that friends actually stop by and read what I write.

Today I had lunch with one of my former students. I am glad I have a few who like to keep up with me! I enjoy her joie de vivre, and I am very proud of what she’s accomplished.

Posted in fun


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

Rats, foiled again!

Last spring break we wanted to go to the Texas Geocaching Challenge. The weather turned cold and rainy, and we bailed. This spring break the weather is again predicting cold and rainy, and we are bailing out on a trip to Tyler State Park. We might go later in the week when the weather clears up. And stay in a motel where we won’t care if it is rainy and cold. Pfui.

Maybe it is for the best. Last night we both started thinking about our work and our taxes. When the hell am I going to find time to file my taxes? Tomorrow when the weather is bad, that’s when.

Today I ran across this article: The Professor, the Bikini Model and the Suitcase Full of Trouble. It made me laugh because I’ve run across this ego-bound behavior before, as, I think, do all single women in their 30s. The pass from the 60-something (and frequently married) man, often successful in his career, who thinks that you are going to just fall all over yourself for his attention. To whom I want to comment, “a 30 year age gap is a big gap, guys.” Let’s not even get into the married-to-someone-else issue. The men just don’t understand this; they are aghast to hear no for an answer.

Relationships with a big age difference can work, I’m a fair amount older than my partner. (But not 30 years older!) It’s the arrogance here that chafes/amuses me. At least the guy in the NY Times story was divorced already.

Almost Spring Break

…and man am I tired.

It looks like my REU responsibilities will be less for a while, which is good, because I’m still the idiot-in-charge of the MiniFair (Department’s Open House) on April 20, and there is a lot of neglected work on that front to be addressed.

May I complain for a minute? I am tired of working 60 hours a week. Of giving up evenings and weekend days. I probably shouldn’t get into the low pay and lack of respect. Lecturing at a research university … stuck in the “female ghetto” (80% of lecturers are female). The lecturers constitute most of the women employed as permanent faculty in the department, the lowest paid, the least respected, with ever-increasing responsibilities. Am I missing what I should do to change the situation? My cynical side wonders how many of the men are just ignoring the situation entirely. We don’t have a discrimination problem, we just can’t find any qualified women. Right.

Maybe I just need to do less, but figuring out what not to do is tough. I will not do the MiniFair again next year. This is too much this semester on top of the REU.

In other words, spring break cannot come too soon. We planned 3 nights away camping in a screened shelter at Tyler State Park. Rain is likely one of the days we’ll be there, followed by uninviting colder temperatures. Not always nice to be outside all day in the rain or cold. We are wondering whether to go or stay.

Learn Something New

Frazz cartoon on making mistakes.

One thing I like about the Mathematical Modeling class is that I always learn something new.

I was familiar with the 3/5ths compromise, but I didn’t realize until this semester that it was enacted in 1787, before the first US Census in 1790. I thought that got hammered out in the 1800s when slavery became more of an issue. I didn’t realize the abolitionist movement had as much force in the USA that early.

Today I worked with a student who was having strange problems with one of our models on his dataset (I think it was Austin, TX). It is not finding a true minimum; if he changes the initial conditions at all, he finds a different set of parameters that does a good job of minimizing the data. Mathematically I recognize the problem. If you think of finding the minimum as finding the lowest point in a bowl, and the bowl is very flat at the bottom, you have a hard time finding the exact lowest point; the entire flat area looks like it is good enough. Algorithms searching for a minimum often do something along the lines of heading downhill looking for the lowest point. If they get into a relatively flat section, they can just walk around; everything is close to the minimum. There are a lot of choices of parameter values that do a good job.

I know that can happen, but never really considered that it could happen in this project. I wonder how many times it has happened without the student noticing? I don’t think this is the first time we’ve used the Austin, TX dataset.


I came out to some women faculty colleagues and told them about this blog. Sometimes sharing part of yourself is scary. I keep remembering the TED talk by Brene Brown on The Power of Vulnerability, and I am resolved to embrace it. If you are new here, welcome!

If you haven’t seen Brene Brown’s talk, click on the link above and spend the 20 minutes. Well worth it. If you’ve seen that one, then maybe you haven’t seen Kathryn Schulz On Being Wrong. Totally worth 18 minutes. I should watch those videos weekly.

Wrapping up from earlier:

The student who complained about me met with me and my supervisor. The good news is that my supervisor got a first-hand look at the problems this person brings to the table. I think she was at least as frustrated as I was by the end of the meeting. The bad news is that there seems like very little way for me or anyone to help this student succeed. It became obvious that the student had no grasp on what was required for the assignments for my class or to succeed in my class. I took the student down to the dean’s office to see if the dean can let the student drop my class. (The student is, unsurprisingly, out of drops.)

We made our selections for the REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) program today. I will send acceptance letters out to the students on Wednesday. The amount of REU email I’m receiving has reduced to a trickle of tardy letters of recommendation. For now. We’ll see what happens when the student letters go out. I am still feeling wiped out on this project, but at least there’s some light in the tunnel.

Project 2 (on population) is due in Mathematical Modeling this week. The students all noticed that in the USA, the data point for 1940 is skewed low, under the fitted curves. Some didn’t realize that WW2 didn’t start in the USA until Pearl Harbor in 1941. WW2 is not the cause of that lower value; the Great Depression and Dust Bowl are more likely causes.

Not a one noticed that in the early years of the USA, slaves were not counted fully in our census totals. There was the 3/5ths compromise. I told them they needed to look that up! And who knows what else I don’t know about US history that is important in analyzing census data?