I have been using the same inkjet printer since 2006, a Canon Pixma iP4200. It was free after rebate when I bought my first Mac, and since then it has been The Little Printer That Could. It got me through college, grad school, my first job, and it’s still serving well three years into the tenure track.Read More
Thoughts on chemistry, general science, and whatever else is banging around in my mind.
"The last student who went to graduate school after working with me was hit by a bus," my research advisor said to me as I began to figure out what I'd do after graduation with a Bachelor's degree and a desire to work in industry. He has an odd sense of humor, and I took the comment as a reminder to keep my eyes open and not get wrapped up in my head. This same advisor had encouraged me to apply to graduate programs, warning me that it would be hard later to "take the vow of poverty" after an industrial-sized paycheck if I decided to pursue a PhD after a few years on the job.
I didn't know the first thing about the graduate school application process and wasn't even sure where to apply. He encouraged me to set my sights high, nudged me toward higher profile programs and, in retrospect, he also guided me away from programs that I later learned had reputations for treating their students poorly. I was accepted at multiple schools thanks to his efforts, my letter writers, and the good advice I got about writing personal statements.
Skip ahead three years and his voice is in my ear, though it's only a memory speaking: "the last student … was hit by a bus." I cross the street like I'm five. Look left-look right-look left. All clear. I'm going to finish this thing and I will not become a pancake.
It's not until another year later, maybe two, that I hear something different as the memory speaks: "the last student stepped in front of a bus."
I don't know the story. I never knew the other student, but I can't unhear this version of the story now. And I understand it in a different way: Be careful, and Come back safe, okay?
During graduate school I learned about my anxiety, and I experienced the emotional quicksand that is depression. I felt sad for no apparent reason. Blue. Down. There were days I was unmotivated to leave home. Days when the failures of my research felt like failures of my self. And I realized one day that my predecessor had probably felt the same way.
I wish I could reach back through time and tell him that depression lies. But I can't. It doesn't work that way.
So I'll tell you: Depression lies. Don't carry that burden around alone. You are worthy of love and worthy of help.
And please, for the love of whatever you hold dear, be careful crossing the street. Come back safe, okay?
My internal clock is perpetually off. I am very, very good at arriving 5 minutes late. Reminders and alarms help, but they aren't a cure.
I am also an Olympic-level procrastinator. Something due at noon? I may finish at 11:57 that morning. (If it didn't rank high enough on my to-do list, I may have started at 11.) More than once I have stayed up late (or, in some cases, gotten up early) to finish something I ought to have done weeks before.
So when a student arrives to class late, or scribbles down the last of their homework just before handing it in, I don't get mad. It doesn't seem fair to judge them for behavior I also exhibit. (Pot, meet Kettle.) I try to set reasonable expectations for workload and due dates. I try to be forgiving when they miss class, or forget to come to a meeting. Because I have also had to miss class, and I have also forgotten meetings, and I have also had to respond to unexpected events in my life that were out of my control. Sometimes I am the person asking for their understanding.
I try to teach by following a form of the Golden Rule:
Expect of others what you would have them expect of you.
I see it as an act of mercy. Some of my colleagues call it coddling. "They need to be prepared for The Real World! In the Real World you'd be fired. In the Real World blah blah blah!"
They're already in the real world. They're holding down jobs, and some have kids of their own. They're participating in service, and active in athletics. They're people with responsibilities, hobbies, and demands on their time and attention. I am not the only influence in their lives. My class is not the most important thing in their lives.
And I can live with that.
Writing centers are nearly ubiquitous on college and university campuses. Typically, students can bring in a piece of writing and have someone help them improve it: from catching typos or grammar errors to restructuring the text to strengthen the main argument. I wish for an equivalent Math Center.Read More
The spring semester was rough. I was constantly going full-tilt and couldn’t find time to stop and breathe. This fall couldn’t be more different, though I’m busier than ever. I’m teaching an overload (15+ contact hours), wrangling four research students on three separate projects, picking up more service work for the department and university, and chasing a toddler at home. Yet somehow I feel more like I’m surfing on top of the wave of work and not getting dragged down into it. I've joked that I’ve leveled up from “well, nothing's on fire, so it must be fine” to “I got this.” In short: I feel competent.Read More
Today I had an idea. I had a research idea, and I got very excited about it. I did a quick literature search and came up with almost nothing. That got me even more excited. And then it got me worried.Read More
I went to the ACS Mid-Atlantic Regional Meeting (MARM) at the beginning of June, and, since she’s still nursing and refuses to take a bottle, Sweet Pea came along. My husband did not. The conference was Sunday to Tuesday, and he wasn’t able to take Monday and Tuesday off. Sweet Pea has a wonderful daycare, but we still don’t have a babysitter, and arranging family to babysit was a challenge because of distance and scheduling. So I just took her along and spent three days solo parenting.Read More
I spent the fall semester on maternity leave. My daughter arrived in August, a new and wondrous source of joy in my life. I needed weeks to recover physically from the stresses of childbirth, and months to figure out what my life looks like with another little person in it. The first few times the three of us (my baby, my husband and I) left the house, it felt like an endeavor. The first time I took Sweet Pea out on my own was a monumental challenge. With time and practice, it’s all gotten easier. You can get used to almost anything if you do it enough – like wake up in the middle of the night every night for months.Read More
Meghan Duffy tweeted a CHE article by Anne Curzan about using (or overusing) em dashes, which led a few folks on Twitter to point out ways to type a true em dash (— instead of --, for example). On an iOS device, you can simply press and hold the hyphen to get a pop-up list of other dashes. On a Mac, you can hold the shift and option keys (some know option as the alt key) while typing a hyphen. But you have to remember which key combo to press, and if your habit is to type --, it can take a long time to get used to Shift+Option+-.
Making your own shortcuts
If you don’t want to relearn the keys you’re pressing, you don’t have to. You can make your own shortcut so that when you type -- it becomes —. The best part of this trick is that it applies well beyond em dashes. You can use text shortcuts like this one to save yourself time in all kinds of ways.Read More
When I got married, I changed my last name. I was very attached to my maiden name, and couldn’t bear to let go of it completely, so I dropped what had been my middle name, took my maiden name for my new middle name, and finished off my new signature with my husband’s last name.
I’ve been Mrs. (and now, Dr.) Haas for about seven years. I’m content with my name change choice. I’m content with the way my identity has changed.
Now it’s changing again.Read More
We've reached the end of the semester and the end of my first year on the tenure-track. I've been thinking a lot lately about how different this school year feels than last, and where those differences come from.Read More
Last fall I taught polarity in a different order than I have before. In every previous class, I introduced polarity in the VSEPR unit: first bond polarity, and then molecular polarity immediately after. Instead, last semester, I introduced bond polarity after Lewis structures and tried to get the students in the habit of identifying polar bonds and drawing dipole moments for those bonds alongside their Lewis structures. Then, after working through VSEPR theory, we brought polarity back into the mix. Anecdotally, they seemed to have a better sense of which bonds were and were not polar in the 3D molecules than my previous classes. (I don't know that the order of topics improved their understanding. I suspect it's simply a matter of having had more time to "digest" the idea and practice it more in 2D before moving to 3D.)
Even though they were quite good at identifying polar bonds, the students still had trouble identifying polar molecules. Specifically, they used the simple rule of thumb that if the bonds were polar, the molecule had to be polar, which fails when the symmetry of a molecule is such that the polar bonds all cancel out (e.g. BF3 or CF4).Read More
Every chemistry department I have studied or worked at has banned the use of contact lenses in teaching and research labs, but lab safety rule sheets and lists of guidelines don't often provide a lot of reasoning for the ban. I've long wondered: is all the caution necessary?Read More
I listened to some of the inaugural episode of "Late Night with Chemjobber" last night. As a whole, I think it was a decent start. There were some technical issues (the audio cut out several times), some glitches (at one point Chemjobber accidentally hung up on the callers), and I get the feeling that nobody involved was practiced at radio or podcasting. All of that was understandable. For the most part, the topics were interesting or amusing, and (after a little dancing about deciding who should respond first) generated good discussions. I have one bone to pick with the show, though, and it's a big one: significant air time was given to a troll.Read More
Chemists are trained to use lab notebooks, whether paper or digital, to record their observations, measurements and preliminary conclusions. Good lab notebooks include not just what you tried, but why you tried it and even what expectations you had for the outcome. Lab notebooks are a record; reading over previous entries can help you notice patterns and plan future experiments. Someone else should be able to read your notebook and understand what, why & how you did everything. Ideally, they could reproduce your work with that knowledge.
Teaching involves a lot of experimentation: choosing examples, refining explanations, developing ways to address misconceptions, rearranging the order of topics, yet few professors I know keep a teaching notebook, even among scientists who would surely defend the importance of a notebook in lab.Read More
Geoff Marcy recently resigned from Berkeley after word got out that he’d been a serial sexual harasser of women in astronomy, that a Berkeley investigation concluded he had violated campus conduct policies, that the university had barely even slapped his wrist for it, and that the women in astrophysics (and the rest of the sciences) were sick of this same old crap.
Okay then. One down, more to go.
Marcy is not the last harasser. His resignation does not mark the eradication of this disease. There are more creeps out there. There are more people making science and unwelcome place. We’re not done.
Hearing about Marcy, his misdeeds, and his shield of privileges and achievements, I was reminded of another creep, one I could have called out, but didn’t. I feel guilty hearing about these cases. I know of sexual harassment in science that has gone unreported. Am I, by staying silent, complicit?
I will tell you the story, but I am not prepared to name names. I am not the victim, and I have no wish to bring her unwanted attention. I wasn’t even present when it happened, but when a person tells you of her harassment, you’d better believe her. It’s been over a year, but that doesn’t make his actions any less wrong.
Last year at a conference I attended, a graduate student, who I’ll call Annie, was groped by a senior professor, who I’ll call Jack. It was the last night of a week-long conference. There was a party, with dancing and booze. Jack was on the dance floor. Annie walked by him, and he grabbed her butt. As Annie’s companions emphasized, this was not a case of “accidentally” bumping into or brushing up against someone. This was a middle-aged man grabbing a young woman in a clearly sexual way. Annie and her companions left the party immediately, unwilling to risk more time in an unwelcome space.
I heard about the incident moments later from Annie and the other junior scientists (grad students & post-docs) who had seen it happen. My initial response was shock: He did what?! My next thought was discouragement and disappointment. It had been a pretty great week: I’d learned about exciting science, had some great conversations, and met some delightful people. But Jack’s inability to keep his hands to himself tarnished my impression of the conference. And – even though it didn’t happen to me, and I hadn’t been in the room – it made me feel unwelcome.
We didn’t report Jack. We talked about it, the group of us. Who would we tell? Jack wasn’t just an attendee; he chaired the conference. The best we could foresee was one of our advisors just saying ‘steer clear.’ So we said nothing. The conference was over, anyway. What was the harm?
The harm is that Annie is almost certainly not the first woman Jack has grabbed. She probably won’t be the last. Annie and Jack are at different institutions in different cities, but we’re all in the same field. We’re likely to cross paths again. Even if those of us who know about his harassment of Annie warn others away, Jack just becomes another open secret.
Jack made our group feel unwelcome at the conference party. Who else is he pushing out? What if Jack is harassing women in his own department? Who is listening to them?
You might say “It’s not so bad. He just grabbed her butt, it’s not like he really did any damage.” Except it is that bad. Someone is getting pushed out every time. And it’s damaging for every single woman. It shouldn’t have to take four women multiple years to get a man to keep his hands to himself.
Jack has a name, and a home department, and a publication list as long as my arm. Jack has a reputation and a position of privilege that far outweighs mine, or Annie’s. I can’t fight that battle right now, even though I feel guilty for letting another creep skate by. So the guilt buzzes in my ear when I hear these stories, and it reminds me that I need to do better next time – and that, sadly, there is likely to be a next time.
I haven’t posted here in a while. I’ve written, but I haven’t shared much, and the reasons why have a lot to do with Impostor Syndrome.
I am very good at convincing myself that everyone else knows what I know. This line of (faulty) reasoning leads me to believe I have nothing new to contribute. Though I often encounter evidence to the contrary, it is a habit of thinking I tend to fall into.
Recently, some colleagues and I got talking on the topic of classroom ‘tricks’ for things like getting student to do assigned reading and encouraging participation in class. I mentioned some things I’ve tried and things I’ve considered trying but haven’t tested yet. My colleagues weren’t familiar with these ideas. They asked for more details, and I was happy to share what I knew, but I was also surprised: how could I, the “newbie,” know things they didn’t? They have more experience than I, surely I should be learning from them?
I recognize, of course, that my colleagues and I have had different experiences. My students teach me new things all the time, and I think nothing of it. But then, although I am often surprised by my greater knowledge than someone else, I’m rarely surprised by my comparative ignorance. This realization bothers me.
If someone offers me help, I am grateful, but if I provide help to others, de nada. It’s nothing. Somehow, I am in the habit of sabotaging myself: I undervalue my own knowledge, expertise and efforts, as if my thoughts, opinions, and ideas are somehow less worthy than those of the people I encounter, so I’d better keep them to myself so nobody else can know how inferior I am.
This is not a productive line of thinking.
So. A new resolution of sorts. I am going to keep posting here. Maybe you, dear reader, already know everything I will say. But maybe you don’t, and I have the pleasure of sharing these things I have learned with you. And maybe I will learn to keep sharing and stop measuring myself against the giants I see and imagine around me.