Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sea of Sickness

We have been bobbing about in the sea of sickness for the past week. Last week King Boo had a 24 hour stomach bug, lots of vomiting, a little fever, some lethargy for a day and then, BOOM, back to normal.

This week on Monday I woke up with a scratchy throat. By Wednesday I was full blown flu symptoms, cough/congestion/aches/throat swollen/pain and went to the doctor where I tested positive for influenza. Of course, I had been sick too long to get on Tamiflu and just have to suffer. The Dr. said it would probably be at least a week until I was back to normal. Great.. this cough better not hold on that long.

The bright part about all of this is how King Boo has really stepped up at home. Usually I'm dynamiting him out of bed and doing everything as he barely drags himself into his clothes and eats his breakfast. This week he has mostly helped out, made his own breakfast, offered to bring me tea (i don't let him actually bring me tea.. too hot), carried around his hand sanitizer, and not begged me to play with him. There have been some rough spots, he broke down into tears when I told him I could not kiss him until after I was better to try and make sure he did not get sick. We finally compromised to I could kiss his foot.

sleeping now

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Encouraging Junior Scientists

"What books do you recommend to teach my kid science?" "What experiments can I do with my kids at home?" "How do I get my kid interested in science?" Since I'm a science mommy, I get these questions a lot from parent friends of mine. There are a few things I feel are important to inspiring young scientist minds. There are a lot of great resources out there, websites/books, which I will list at the end but I want to start with some basic principles.

Kids,even toddlers, are instinctively doing the scientific method. Think back to your first science class, the scientific method is laid out as observe, question, hypothesize, predict, test, conclude. How many times have you seen a toddler walking around asking Why? Why? Why? about everything they encounter? I know I lived through it for years, and still get the why question from King Boo. Boom! Scientific method :) Kids are awesome at it, they are constantly observing the world, always asking questions, and often, they are experimenting to see what will happen. They will do the same thing over and over again to see if the same results occur each and every time. Innate scientists! So how can you encourage this behavior in a safe, fun way? These are the techniques I have used to keep King Boo interested in science.

Ask questions! They do not have to be answerable or even incredibly deep. Something such as "Why do you think X is happening?" can be a great science conversation starter. Or when your little one comes and asks you WHY?, turn it around and go I don't know.. what do you think? :) You might be surprised by their answers, and even if it is completely wrong and totally insane be sure to tell them that's a great idea/hypothesis! For older kids try pointing them to a place where you can look up the answer together.

Compare and contrast! It's a common practice in biology, such as compare and contrast animal cells vs. bacterial cells or plants vs. animals, etc. Pick two things or group of things to examine what is the same and what is different. It can be anything, from cat vs. dog, Lego vs. Lincoln Logs, Action figures vs. Barbie, orchid vs. sunflower, etc.

Make science special! I bought him the Learning Resources Primary Science lab because it comes with test tubes, beaker and Erlenmeyer flask that are good for little kids hands.This way when we are mixing red baking soda water with yellow vinegar into an orange volcano it can spew out of a Erlenmeyer flask. It just "looks" more science-y ;) Now you do not need to have special equipment, just make a big deal about let's do SCIENCE! Set up a special spot and do a simple experiment.

When you do any experiment, I highly encourage you to use the following format. With younger kids just talk about it, with older kids have them write it! There is a great quote from Mythbusters "The difference between screwing around and science, is writing it down." So first no matter what you are doing have him/her write/answer these statements before/during/after the experiments:
The observation/question/point is _________.
My hypothesis/guess/prediction) is __________________.  (before)
At first _______________ happened. In the middle _____________ happened. At the end ________. (during/after)
I conclude _______________. (after)
After you get comfortable with an experiment you can try changing things to see if they can figure out what is the critical step that makes the experiment work. A fun one to try is Mentos in Coke, spoiler, it EXPLODES everywhere so do it outside!! You can investigate different properties with different solutions, so try it with Coke (original experiment), Sprite (is it the color?), flat Coke (open it the night before, is it the bubbles?), water (is it the sugar?) that makes the explosive reaction occur.

Where can you do this? EVERYWHERE! Go on a nature walk  and compare grass with a bush, look for bugs, look around an ask questions, count the number of animals you see, make an identification key for different trees what makes each distinct so you can identify them again next time, etc. At the grocery store compare nutritional information or fruits/veggies. At home, baking soda volcanoes + color mixing, track the weather for a week and make a chart, extract strawberry DNA, investigate what materials will make static electricity (rub a balloon vs aluminum foil on their hair, what sticks?), etc.

Some good general supplies:
Magnifying glass
Optional but a lot of fun for little kids: Learning Resources Primary Science Lab but you can use glasses/measuring cups for the same things

Books that I like:
175 Science Experiments to Amuse and Amaze Your Friends by Brenda Walpole is my favorite, it's out of print, but our library has it so I would encourage you to check your library.
101 Science Experiments by Neil Ardley looks like it has fun things in it as well though we have not used this book.
 The Animal Book by DK Publishing is full of beautiful pictures and great information on all sorts of animals!
If there is a specific topic you are wanting to explore check the best science resources list from the National Science Teacher's Association and  Children's Book Council, each book is fantastic:
There are lots of good kits out there as well that include the random/crazy chemicals that are harder to acquire. I have been really happy with the Magic School bus and Scientific Explorer (Poof-Slinky) brands. Do not just limit yourself to the kit either, try changing variables and see what happens to your results.

No matter what you use, be sure to have fun!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Information Overload

Ever make or help your Mom make Thanksgiving dinner? Every burner on the stove top occupied, the microwave buzzing, the oven baking with as many items as you can shove inside of it, all bubbling and baking simultaneously. It has to be a carefully coordinated production to get everything served up hot at, reasonably, the same time. I have often marveled at my mother's ability to successfully complete this dance year after year: the turkey comes out, the stuffing goes in, a little bit of time and the rolls join it, all while the mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, sweet potato casserole and green bean casserole are all going on either the stove top or microwave re-warming cycle. It is incredible to watch and humbling to try and assist as I know I would never be successful at the same task.

That same overwhelming sensation that I experience when trying to help with even half of the Thanksgiving stove top prep has been hovering around me the past few weeks. I have so many different projects on various burners that I cannot seem to devote enough attention to any of them. It feels like I am jumping around like a cartoon character on hot coals, I never rest my feet long enough to get settled. And even when I do pause and focus on one thing, I can almost smell the smoke off the burning neglected projects.

Focus comes briefly when I can temporarily assign one project a higher priority than the others. Unfortunately, that means studying for quals often gets shoved down to the bottom of list because the threat is imminent but not immediate. I have the "honor" of lab meeting this week, so most of the reading/studying focus will go to writing my presentation. I have a few PCRs to do that I am hoping will be done by Wednesday so that I can include the info into the presentation. Otherwise all I have to say is, I'm waiting for soybeans to grow! They grow slow.

The course that I am taking this semester is a plant biology seminar, with the current topic being development. Seminar courses are cool as you get to explore topics outside, but related to, your work. They are annoying in you have to become the "expert" on your chosen paper's topic and present it to the group in a relatively short time. I picked my papers at the beginning of the semester with a naive hope that I could spend more time reading the background information and really become a faux expert. For the first talk that did not happen, I have two more chances to be more on top of things. But more realistically, these presentations will end up as the sweet potatoes on the back burner, left to simmer until suddenly a smoky scent fills the air and panic sets it to try and recover.

12 weeks until qualifying exams begin. I just finished the biochem book and am moving onto the molecular biology books. Do I feel confident about the biochem material? Of course not! :( But I need to keep reading and try to fill in the holes during study times which I hope to set aside starting this week. This will be a time set aside for studying previous material notes and not learning more.

I also am trying to find other projects to do while I wait for my soybeans to grow up, which means reading as many journal articles as I can squeeze into my schedule. I try to sprinkle this in when I need a break from quals, trying to make it a small distraction, read an article then go back to quals. While that sounds like a great plan, what usually ends up happening is disappear into a rabbit hole and end up in Wonderland.

That's four different pots going right now, and that does not include any of the non-reading pans. My kitchen is very full this semester.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Dr. Seuss week

Next week at King Boo's school they are doing Dr. Seuss week in honor of his upcoming birthday. They are having an event at school every day. Monday is dress as your favorite character. When I asked King Boo who his favorite was he replied (to my surprise) the Lorax (I was betting on Grinch). I had to remind myself what the Lorax looked like, so with a quick peek on Google I found him. 
Now we set out to create a Lorax costume, with as little drama as possible. He decided he could wear his orange dinosaur shirt inside out but needed orange pants. Luckily I remembered Gymboree had orange pants earlier this year, and one of the stores by us had one pair left in his size which were on sale since that line was discontinued (SCORE). Boom outfit done.

back                                      front
Still missing one critical piece of the Lorax though, the big bushy yellow 'stache. We tried Micheal's for feather boa/fluffy yarn or something but they did not have any in yellow. Came home and raided my mixed up, random craft box. Dug around and found yellow pipe cleaners and yellow feathers. After measuring the pipe cleaners so they would sit around his ear and pass beneath his nose, me and my hot glue gun got to work! It took two pipe cleaners to make the backbone, I twisted them together and folded the ends down so it will hang over his ears. Then, I layered the feathers onto the pipe cleaners using the hot glue to secure them. I left it hanging over the chair with a paper plate behind it to dry. Then came the test. He put them on, ran to the bathroom and laughed with glee and with a super loud, goofy voice said "Hi! I'm the Lorax!" Mommy mission complete!

Tuesday is wear your favorite hat or make a silly hat like the Cat in the Hat.. of course he loved the mustache so much he wants me to make him a crazy hat! Sometimes being a crafty Mom can backfire......

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Geeky Respite

One of my weekly breaks from the hustle and bustle of both parenthood and PhD life is simming. I can hear the legions asking, what is simming?? Simming - online role playing games, the name is based off simulation. The group I am involved in, Federation Sim Fleet, have real time chat sims, play by email sims, and message board sims. And despite what the name suggests, they encompass lots of genre's not just Star Trek. Though Star Trek is the best! (Yes I'm a Trekker, have been for life! \\//,). And I have been doing this off and on since the early 90s.

One of things I loved about simming as a teen, still holds true as an adult, it allows me to pretend for an hour that I am an integral part of a fantastical world. I can be anyone I want, a nice person, a jackass, smart, stupid, naive, worldly, whatever background I create for my character I get to explore. It is a great character development exercise, especially for exploring the types of characters you struggle to write. And if you decide you do not like this character, or they have served their purpose, you can transfer them/kill them and get a new one!

Currently, I am on two sims. One, based in the Stargate universe, is a very active real time sim. Everyone meets at the same time on AIM (yes it still exists!) and types in real time to advance the storyline. These sims are great for not a lot of time, the only requirements are setting aside that one hour each week to be part of the action. The downside to chat sims is that most of the character development takes place during the hour and therefore is usually focused only during times of high action. The other, based in Star Trek, is an email sim that has it's ups and downs with posting. Email sims can be nice if you do not have a strict schedule and can make the weekly timed sims. They also provide the ability to post more in depth thoughts/opinions/actions of your character then you can do on chat. The downside is that story lines often progress slowly, they can grind almost to a halt for a while then start back up.

Recently, the group has started to put more energy into radio shows and I have started to do some voice work for them. I must admit I LOVE it. I started out just reading a post that I had written and the odd group Ramble On Skype chat, now I am getting to read other people's posts for the radio. I hope I get to do more of them. You can find the latest show here

If this voice acting things works out, maybe I will try reading my novels and publishing them sometime ;)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Round and Round We Go

Quals are just about 3 months away, my dreaded written exam takes place on May 19th. I can never seem to find enough time to get all of my reading in each week. Right now I am almost 4 full weeks behind the pace I wanted to set for myself. Ouch.

While I usually try and have more to say here.. today I am simply going to disappear back into the Biochemistry textbook! More later.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Family Olympic weekend!!

We have been spending the last week watching the Winter Olympics in Sochi. King Boo often ends up falling asleep on the couch watching them with me. He has learned various terms in figure skating, curling and slopestyle. The other night while watching the pairs skate threw his head back and went "UG why do they ALWAYS do the backwards death spiral?!"

Backwards death spiral. Img credit:
This weekend it was finally time for our family Olympics! We've been doing this since Vancouver 2010 when King Boo was only 3 and the games were pretty simple. Now that he is 7, we went all out this year! We always start with a torch relay, I made the torch at our first Olympics out of a paper towel roll covered in white paper, which I drew the Olympic ring colors on. The flame is tissue paper, and this year my brother added a flickering red light in the center.
London - Our Olympic bear got all dressed up for winter!



I bought one of those small table top air hockey tables and we did a single elimination tourney. King Boo got the bronze. I had the idea, but not the time, to make a hockey rink on our big dry erase board, the put it on the table and use a small pompom as a puck and bendy straws for sticks so both people on the team could play with one being goalie and one defending the middle. But it did not happen this year, maybe in 2018 ;) 



We used our Nerf guns and various targets posted around my parents house. I cut skis for everyone out of thick poster board and we used rubber bands to attach them. We timed the skiers through the circuit and added time based on their shooting. Hit the bullseye, no time was added, miss completely add 10 seconds with intervals in between. 


Short Track Relay. 

In this event we put balloons between our legs and ran around the track (my parents have one of those houses where the first floor is wrapped around the stairs so you can run in a circle). Had to pass the balloon to your teammate who ran it. Fastest time wins!


Cross Country Relay

"Skis" were used again to run a path around the house then you had to switch skis with your partner who ran the same track. Fastest time wins! We got gold on this one!


Speed Skating

Shuffle around the track, feet can't be picked up at any point.


This is my favorite of the events. I use a silicon cupcake pan to make ice "stones", to color them I cut out construction paper and sink in the ice before I freeze them. Then using painters tape I make a house on the wood floor. From across the kitchen, you slide the "stones" across and aim for the button. Score it just like normal curling, team closest to the button gets one point per stone in the house that is closer than the other teams. For example on the picture below, the blue team would get 3 points as they have 3 stones within the house and the red team has none. We won gold here too!

We always do a medal ceremony for each event. I made these medals for our first year, using cardboard from a box, glitter glue and clear contact paper. I cut the cardboard out, covered one side with the colors (for bronze I did half red and half gold glitter glue) and then after it dried covered them with contact paper and cut that a little bigger than the medal. Then I hole punched at the top and put a red ribbon through them.

We always enjoy family Olympics! Sad the day is over but at least we have real Olympics to watch for a little longer!

*Yes I know it's not technically Friday but I wanted to have the whole Olympics so I delayed my post by a day ;)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Wayback Wednesday!

As I am incredibly swamped this weekend, I decided to take a quick trip down memory lane. I recently stumbled upon an essay I wrote back in 2008 when I was between Masters/PhD about scientific diving. It was supposed to be part of a larger collection of essays about the different type of SCUBA divers but only the first one was ever written. I will be back to new stuff Friday ;)

Scientific diving. The very nature of the phrase signals the end of your recreational diving days. SCUBA ceases to be about blowing bubbles and becomes a tool for the greater good of scientific discovery. Upon entering the world of science diving, there is no turning back.
            Once you were a nervous open-water student, standing on the edge of a boat waiting with excitement and trepidation at taking that first giant stride into the underwater world. Jaw clenched around the regulator with one small step for man, the chilly sea rushed over you and changed you forever. Suddenly weightless, drifting slowly down like a feather falling from a great height, the marvelous achievement of breathing underwater was fascinating. At first the only sounds you are aware of is the metallic sound of your own breath though the regulator. You can not help but think of Darth Vadar and mutter softly “Luke, I am your father”. Each breath shoots streams of bubbles racing to the surface, glittering like gems in the sunlight. The diversity of the ocean critters staggered your imagination before you took the plunge, now existing as one of them it is even more unfathomable.
            In the beginning, inhabiting the three dimensional world is awkward, floating and sinking wildly. Every small movement produces gangly results that make you feel like a baby just learning to toddle. However, with time, you learn to streamline your body more, easing your passage through the liquid. Each fin kick starts to bring elegance out of clumsiness. Each dive teaches the finesse of manipulating your buoyancy, up when you want to go up, down when you want to go down, until eventually, perfectly suspending yourself in this 3D environment. Once buoyancy and breathing become second nature, your thoughts change from survival to exploration. For some this takes on the appearance of becoming global divers, seeking out new habitats. For others a camera is added to the basic SCUBA equipment, to attempt to bring pieces of your wet world onto land. And there are those who pick up hunting, adding food to your table from beneath the sea caught with your own hand. Then there is a smaller group, those that pick up bizarre and unique equipment to conduct scientific research, like me.
            Research – studious inquiry or examination aimed at the discovery and interpretation of new knowledge. New knowledge truly is the aim of scientific discovery. Oh sure scientists wrap it in a package of how it will impact or improve mankind but in reality the heart of research is simple discovery, the answer to every three year olds standard question of “Why?”.  My particular research to this point has been focusing on coral reefs, particularly the photosynthesis that occurs within their symbiotic algae. This particular algae is known as zooxanthellae or by its genus of Symbiodinium. The nice part of this is that coral reefs are only found in beautiful tropical and sometimes exotic locations such as the Florida Keys, Hawaii, Belize, Australia, etc. etc. Rough places to dive, full of warm, clear water. It is a dirty job but someone has to do it!
Using the Diving-PAM
Personally, those first few research dives were more harrowing than my first open water dive. No, I was not scared of dying but I was taking a $20,000 piece of equipment with me! This particular piece of equipment is used to measure photosynthetic activity and is cylindrical in shape and can be quite a drag, literally destroys your streamlined form underwater and has the added bonus of appearing as a bomb in airport X-ray to make sure travel is not simple. It is known as PAM, and is a 15 in long cylinder with a diameter of 7.5 in and a 3 ft fiber optic cable coming out of one end. The cylinder casing is impressively sturdy even while getting scuffed up when it is banged against rocks, boats, other divers, and yet the delicate internal machinery is not affected. The Achilles Heel is that evil cable. The optics are made of glass, very thin glass that is surprisingly pliable but if you bend the cable to hard you can break them. As each one breaks it leaves pin prick black dead zones in your light transmission and reception through the cable. The movement of light through this cable is very critical to the proper measurement of the health of the photosynthetic process so even single fiber breaks can have large impacts on the accuracy of the readings.
Another critical piece of equipment that accompanies our research group is a light meter. It 
Setting up the light meter
simply records the amount of light passing through the water column so that we know exactly how much light the coral is receiving. This is a little more precise than the weatherman’s grading system of sunny, partly sunny, partly cloudy etc. The fun part of this piece of equipment is that it is meant for use in aquariums, therefore the sensor is water proof; however, the logger is not. This is a common problem found in underwater research, how in the world do you get that to work underwater?! Solution: Jury-rigging! Most experienced underwater scientists would give MacGyver a run for his money with their improvisational skills, but with cable ties in place of duct tape. In this particular case, we had a custom housing made for the non-waterproof logger. Unfortunately, the company that made our housing simply cut a stock cylindrical piece of plexi-glass with a diameter the width of the logger. This would not have been a problem except for the fact that the length of the cylinder was a good 6 inches longer than the unit! The amount of extra air that gets trapped when sealing the air-tight lid results in a positive buoyancy that can not be overcome with less than 15 pounds! Adding the weight inside the cylinder might damage the logger in transit to the bottom, therefore we return to the underwater scientist’s best friend – cable ties. With a quick flick of the wrist you zip weights to the outside of the cylinder ensuring it will not float away with the pricey logger. Once these weights are attached, the lucky diver assigned to deploy the logger simply rides the housing down like a missile and then at the end of the dive struggles with all their might and a BC full of air to make headway inches at a time to the surface.
While all scientists are smart, the most important feature of working underwater is the ability to improvise and jury-rig. This includes building your own equipment or accessories to get the job done. Grey PVC pipe, cork stops, and rubber bands can be combined to make dark acclimation platforms for the good ol’ PAM. Pexi-glass, screws, bolts and Petri dishes can be fashioned into chambers for chemical or nutrient studies. Or for smaller applications, Ziploc bags cable tied to things works just as well. With my brain, and a BC pocket full of cable ties, I feel confident jumping in to the world of scientific diving.
One final note: all underwater research requires permits and permission from the waters owner, private or government, before being conducted. If you are interested in following research beneath the waves check out the Aquarius habitat ( the American Association for Underwater Scientists ( for more information.

Monday, February 10, 2014

State of the student

This week is sure to be a little on the insane side.. scratch that.. a LOT on the insane side. In addition to our usual 2014 winter activities (gymnastics and swimming), I have a 45 minute presentation due in my class on Friday morning and a practical to write for the course I teach. And then, of course, there is preparing for quals and lab work always pressing. Let's review where we stand on a couple of key issues.

The preparation for quals is becoming more and more frantic.. I have fallen 2 weeks behind on my reading and thus studying the notes I have made so far is non-existent. There are only 14 weeks left! I know that SOUNDS like a lot, but it will go by very quickly and there is still a lot of material left to study! Another student who took quals last year came by my lab and gave me some ideas and hints for preparing. Hopefully they will help, 50/50 molecular biology/biochemistry so at least I know I should be spending half my prep time on Biochem. I have not even moved onto molecular yet! Granted I took molecular biology last semester and have not taken a biochem course in a decade, hopefully that means molecular will be easier to study than biochemistry as I am having to re-teach myself a lot of details that have faded in 10 years. The worst part is I feel behind which overwhelms me and leads me to doubt my ability to make it which decreases my desire to work on it.

Transgenic soybeans are coming along quite nicely! I did the herbicide test on the first set last week and it will be ready to read tomorrow, though I peeked in on them while I was watering and I did see some really damaged leaves and lots of non-damaged leaves. Hopefully the ratio will be 3:1 when I count. My second batch of plants is very close to being ready, probably tomorrow I can herbicide test them. Those that are resistant I will move up to the greenhouse to let them go to seed.

I also need to finish the freezer inventory and get the transgenic Arabidopsis projects going. And that's just what's up on the student front ;)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Be the Best Parent You Can Be

Be the best parent YOU can be.. not the best parent your friend can be, not the best parent your sister can be, not the best parent your mom was, but be the best YOU can be. Today I saw a quote by Mr. Rogers:
"Parents can set the example by just being themselves rather than trying to be perfect." 
That is one aspect of parenting I have always struggled with. I look at my life and start comparing it to all of the plethora of fantastic mother's I know lives. Mine always falls short. I can see dozens of ways that I completely fail as a mom. I want to be the Mom who makes all these amazing, delicious homemade snacks, who creates artistic presents and projects, who doesn't lose her temper on occasion and yell back, who volunteers at various kids organizations, who is always composed, who has a perfect house, who likes hearing the same 2 lines of a song being sung over and over and over and over and over and over...... ok I don't think any Mom actually likes that last one..

Then quotes like the one above come along and I stop and remember I'm ME.. and I'M King Boo's Mom.. no one else! It doesn't matter if I'm not perfect, or as awesome as my friends, I'm still HIS Mom and he loves me. I do the best I can at any given moment, some days I am winning at parenting and some days I am failing. But I am the best parent I can be in those moments! Does that mean I don't want to improve? Of course not, but it is comforting to know that he still loves me even when I mess up and that messing up is not necessarily a bad thing.

I have noticed how he struggles with some of the same things I struggle with, like transition and disappointment issues. His take on the form of thinking he would get a toy at Target and then me telling he he would not, resulting in an epic meltdown... where mine are more like thinking the whole family will go ice skating and everyone poopoo'ing the idea and me shutting down and getting all moody. But they are the same root cause, we had a map in our head of how we thought things would happen and a detour was presented that was not planned or desired and it has thrown our world into chaos. So when I start struggling with things that I know he also struggles with I have tried to no longer suffer quietly but to explain to him how I am struggling and what I am doing to cope with it. Even if it is a simple, you know you got frustrated when X happened? Well Mommy is frustrated about Y and just needs a little quiet time to calm her mind down. I don't know if it's helping, he still goes straight to crying and screaming when frustrated, but maybe it is planting a seed.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Winter Wonder-will-it-ever-stop-land

Five days into February... 8.5 inches of new snow on top of all the stuff still hanging around from January.. we have broken the record for snowiest February on record by 1.6 inches.. and we are only five days in!

So far this winter has been insane. Since we returned from winter break (a week late due to the polar vortex), there has not been a full week of school for King Boo's elementary school. They have cancelled at least once a week with several two hour delays adding to the inability to get set into a true school routine. It is supposed to be very cold in the morning with more snow coming this weekend so the kids are home today and odds are a delay will occur at least once this week!

 I must admit to some.. minor.. little bit.. of cabin fever... I want to go out and do something, ANYTHING. Yet I know my car, love her as I do, is not great in weather like this so I stay in the house. All this snow and I have not been skiing or ice skating once! The roads have been too bad to attempt it when the snow has been nice and the budget has been tight when the roads are cooperating. And.. more snow is on the way this weekend. I hope it is not enough to cancel our weekend plans, another weekend cooped up in the apartment is going to drive me mad!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Teacher's Hat

I've said before there are many hats that a graduate student wears in the university setting: student, researcher and teacher. Last week I talked about the researcher part, this week I'm going to delve into the teacher's hat. I feel fortunate as I have the same class that I taught last semester so the prep time is a lot smaller than it was last semester. Grad students do not always have this luxury.

I teach a lab so preparation generally looks like writing the intro lecture, going over the lab materials and methods so I'm sure I know exactly what we are doing, and write the quiz and/or exam. The morning of lab involves setting up the lab materials. I always start with a lecture on safety and overview what they are going to see/do then I let them go do it. While the students do their work, I mill about and answer questions. After they have completed everything, they come up and take the quiz and then they can leave. Once all the students have left, I clean up and head out. Before the next week, quizzes and any lab reports have to be graded. Then the cycle starts all over!
Earthworm "station"

If it is an exam week, then dissecting and pinning specimens, setting up microscope slides and marking stations with the direction students should move at the end of the time period have to be completed during the pre-lab set up phase. We do practicals, they have to examine actual specimens and slides to answer the questions and they have a set amount of time (90s) to do so before they have to go to the next station. It is a lot different than your normal exam for both students and instructor. The set up takes at least an hour! One would think the dissection would be the part that takes the
Pointer must be carefully placed.
longest, but it is actually setting up the microscopes. I have to tape them 4 different ways so that the students cannot accidentally bump them and move where I have so carefully placed the pointer to a different structure. I had one today and I would not have made it without the help of two other TA's who came! After the students complete the practical, all of the specimens and microscope have to be cleaned up and put away properly.  I always try to leave the lab space exactly as I found it so that the next lab sections do not have to deal with my mess. Then the exams have to be added to the stack of things to grade before the next week.

Personally, I love teaching! It is the entire reason I am getting my PhD, to be able to make teaching undergraduates my full time, benefit providing, awesome job. I love seeing that light bulb go on when they grasp a difficult concept! I love watching them get excited about something they had either never considered or never appreciated before! I am not sure I have ever gone through a semester of teaching without a handful of students remarking how much I love my job. If I had the option to be on a research assistantship instead of a teaching assistantship I am not sure that I would take it. Teaching, even this class which is not my forte, and interacting with students reminds me WHY I am here. Why I am putting myself through the panic inducing qualifying exams, why I am staying up crazy hours trying to get everything done yet still spend time with my kid, why I am out here all alone, away from my support groups. If I did not have the teaching experience, I could see myself burning out quickly. For a lot of graduate students, teaching is something they do begrudgingly to get paid but for me it's re-energizing. And I hope it always remains that way.