Wednesday, December 21, 2011

(Eleven) months of blogging

Joining in on the end-of-the-year meme, despite not having blogged for a full year yet...

January: Lurking, some commenting. 

FebruaryAfter spending months reading, lurking, and periodically commenting on a number of blogs, I'm finally caving to the urge to create my own. 

March: You use a Gantt chart to help plan your wedding.

AprilThe next month isn't looking promising for advisorial feedback: his committee duties apparently require vast amount of reading, two (2) students are defending within the next month, the project funding roughly 1/3 of the group has an annual review, and he submitted a semi-speculative abstract months ago to a conference in May, and the student doing most of that work got stuck out of the country due to visa issues. (holy run-on sentence, Batman!)

May: At GiantU, there is a common complaint from undergraduate engineering majors that none of their classes cover some of the more practical things employers expect them to know, like Matlab coding. 

June: As mentioned in my wedding post, I mentioned Mr.ME and I are having a steampunk wedding. 

July: I should have the wedding picture post up soon, but there's some picture editing to be done first. 

August: Project A data frenzy is done, which means Project B data frenzy is now in full swing. 

September: The engineering school here at GiantU runs a training session for new TAs, and I have to say that I was surprised by how well done it was. 

October: So this is a topic that was mentioned on EngineerBlogs back in February, but in preparing for my first ever lecture, I've been very thankful for my rather extensive bookshelf. 

November: It has not been the most productive week of my life (other than knitting, which I learned this weekend). 

December: This semester has been my first real teaching experience, though by no means my first grading experience. 

So what have I learned? As soon as I get busy, my blogging drops to almost nothing, unless I'm super-stressed. I've learned that I'm not crazy, my advisor is, and that I really do love teaching, even when I find individual students frustrating. Now, to keep it going another 11 months...

Monday, December 19, 2011

Final Push

The final assignment of the semester is due today, which means I will be spending tonight and tomorrow grading so that grades can be turned in on time. At some point, I also need to pack, do several more loads of laundry, get keys to the cat sitter, and see if I can manage to breathe through my nose again...

I'm starting to look forward to next semester. For the first time, I won't have classes, as a student or TA. I have a fantastic undergrad working with me who is very motivated. I've realized that there's nothing I can do to get my advisor to read my manuscripts any faster, so I really have to figure out how to keep myself motivated in spite of him. Even though I have fewer distractions, I think next semester is going to be hard, partly because I won't be as busy. The less time I have available, the less I tend to procrastinate. With no other impositions on my time, I worry I won't get anything done...

Monday, December 12, 2011

End of the Semester

Today is the last day of lecture for my class here at GiantU, and I'm finally feeling a bit less busy. Which, as usual, means I'm getting sick. It seems that as soon as I stop running at full speed, the stupid cold I've managed to avoid all semester catches up with me. So expect the lack of thoughtful posting to continue for a few more days...

Monday, December 5, 2011

Luck and Research

Recently, an undergrad joined my research project, and I really feel that I won the lottery with this one. His project was supposed to be fairly straightforward, but we've been running into some unexpected obstacles, liking needing to rebuild executables. However, this morning he said that he's sort of glad things aren't working, because he feels that he's learning so much more this way. I am seriously lucky to have him working with me.

There are days when it seems that half (or most) of research depends on luck. Persistence is also important, but if you get lucky every nth time, it pays off to stick with it for at least n+1 times.

Of course, you still need to know how to take advantage of luck when it comes your way.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Lessons from teaching

This semester has been my first real teaching experience, though by no means my first grading experience. I always knew I was a rather atypical student, but it's really been driven home this term. Here are a few of the things I've learned:

1. There are students who will come to office hours without a coherent question or concern, because they were told they ought to take advantage of them. They will sit there in silence, hoping someone else will start asking questions. It will be awkward the first few times.

2. Some students legitimately expect me to grade their assignment before they turn it in.

3. Prompt replies to emails are expected, even at 1 AM.

3a. These students are the least prompt about respond to requests via email.

4. There is a roughly inverse relationship between the length of a lab report and the quality of analysis.

5. Any simple assignment can be made complicated. Any complicated assignment can be made impossible.

6. A minimum number of things will break every lab session. This includes things you are breaking on purpose.

7. If you write lots of comments on reports, students ignore them. If you don't write them, they complain about the lack of feedback.

8. The native English speakers make the most interesting grammatical errors.

9. The department admins in charge of registration at GiantU have no respect for prerequisites, and will override the system so students can graduate "on time". Furthermore, our undergraduate advising system is not working. I would like be able to discuss moments of inertia in a junior level class without losing half of them because they haven't taken statics yet.

I've been writing up a list of comments for improving the course for next year, as requested by the professor. It's been a fun and interesting experience, and I'm glad he's encouraging us to reflect. I've also been flattered by the students asking if I'm TAing next semester so they can be in my section (sorry, fellowship says no). On the other hand, I'm excited by next semester. It will be the first semester since I was 5 where I have no classes of any type. Maybe I'll get real research done (ha!).