Semester start up checklist

Semester start up checklist

I want to formalize a start up checklist that I will aim to use at the start of each semester. My goal is to reduce the amount of time I spend wondering what to do next, to make clear to myself what depends upon others (frankly, so I can bug them to make things happen!), and to make my semester start up more efficient but understanding what tasks I can batch together. (Right now, for example, I am running some code on a cluster and waiting for a revised dataset to come my way, so writing this blog post and thinking about my checklist is a good use of my time.)

As a physics professor at a small teaching-focused institution, with no lab staff (yet - we have a job opening for this!), I find that I have to take on a lot of tasks that are not usually done by faculty at larger institutions. For a long time I have felt like much of what is published online about being a professor ignores this level of work needed for being a physics professor - so I'm sharing here in case my list helps others and so others can chime in with suggestions.

Here's my list so far. 

Blogging Best of Both Worlds: Episode 17, Gender

This week's episode of the podcast Best of Both Worlds was broadly on Gender, although a good bit of the discussion was on gender expectations at work and home, and gender expectations that can be present in toy design and selection.

I'm a physicist so the issues of gender expectation are not unfamiliar to me. I don't have the bandwidth or brain space or ability to write about the issues of gender in physics in one blog post, so I will not attempt to do so. The only thing I would add on that topic is to trust a woman in physics when they say they have faced issues related to their gender. I would also add that men face gender assumptions as well in physics, often assumptions that they will be very aggressive in leveling up in employment or in badgering for a position, or that something is wrong if they are not. We would do well in physics to avoid gender stereotypes for anyone.

RSNA 2017 presentation, and thoughts on taking students to conferences

 Our presentation during RSNA. The room wasn't *that* empty, but indeed there were not 4200 people interested in the talk. (photo credit: Allen Newton. Hurrah for grad school friends who will come and sit through a long session on research that doesn't really relate to their own work.)

Our presentation during RSNA. The room wasn't *that* empty, but indeed there were not 4200 people interested in the talk. (photo credit: Allen Newton. Hurrah for grad school friends who will come and sit through a long session on research that doesn't really relate to their own work.)

Yesterday I gave a talk at the 2017 meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago, IL on some research that I have done with my sabbatical lab. The work itself actually started before my sabbatical officially began. In January 2017, one of my physics students (the first author on the abstract) was in a mathematical modeling course and the instructor solicited faculty to see if they had projects the students might work on for their course. I was wanting to work on a project to jumpstart my sabbatical research, and the Giger lab had the data ready to go for this assessment, so it was a good fit. Nathan worked on the project from January-May 2017, going to the University of Chicago occasionally to talk with the collaborators. I joined in a few times but was limited due to my course schedule (and then my foot injury), and we also called in to some conference calls. We submitted the abstract to RSNA in April and then I took over the project, reviewing, revising, and finalizing our research, preparing the poster and the slides for the talk, and writing a manuscript for publishing our results. 

I've attended RSNA most years since starting at Wheaton -- I mean, there's a world-class medical imaging conference every year within driving distance, why not? -- but it is the first time I have presented at it. When I applied to and interviewed at Wheaton, it was clear that I would have to give up doing (magnetic resonance) imaging at my home institution, as it is just not a good fit for a liberal arts institution to have magnetic resonance imaging on campus. It was a tradeoff I was willing to make, because I think there are interesting quantitative imaging questions to ask at the spectrometer level, as you can get out the factors related to the imaging itself and focus on factors that affect magnetic resonance of the substance in question. But I did miss imaging tremendously. Thankfully, I did find out about a colleague in our Applied Health Science department who does ultrasound imaging, and we formed a collaboration and published. But I've been really glad for the sabbatical work and the connection to clinical questions and methods as part of a bigger research endeavor. 

So, giving the talk and presenting our poster was great, but get this: every year I invite my students (broadly - I'm talking every physics and engineering student in our department) to attend RSNA. They can go for free, which is an amazing opportunity. They don't even need to go every day; I ask them to seriously consider going just one day. But in my eight years at Wheaton, only three students have gone without it being required as part of a course (I require my Introduction to Medical Physics students to attend the conference). This year, no one came at all. It baffles me. I've asked some students about this, and the reason is almost always that they feel pressure to understand through and through every single talk they attend, that they are afraid a vendor will ask them a question they don't understand - which sounds to me like it boils down to imposter syndrome. Then, I try to explain to them that I don't always completely understand the ins and outs of every single talk I go to, that the posture of a physicist (or really anyone in research) is to constantly be learning, and that's good. And they seem totally unconvinced.

I've been thinking about this: it's a weird dynamic that students experience, to be in classes where they are graded on mastery of topics, and then be thrown into the research world and be told that the professionals are always learning. That must be very confusing to college students! So I don't quite know how to bridge this gap. (Throw in there gender issues about how students perceive female faculty saying they don't know something versus male faculty saying the same thing, and it gets even stickier.) 

Friends, how do you encourage conference participation by your students, even just attendance if that opportunity comes up? How do you coach them into balancing pursuit of excellence versus taking on the posture of a learner?  

Blogging Best of Both Worlds: Episode 15, Mornings

Episode 15 of the Best of Both Worlds podcast was about Mornings. I appreciated that the title itself was not "Morning Routines"! Sarah described her morning routine, and Laura talked about how she doesn't necessarily have one, and that you  might not really need one unless you need to accomplish things daily that can be accomplished only by a firm routine. She mentioned that there is no need to get up at 5:30 AM unless you really need to do so!

I'm fascinated with people describing their morning routines. Before kids, I found them aspirational, but now that I have children and they are quite intense, my ideas have definitely changed.  (I read My Morning Routine mainly for the comic factor.) Here are some things I've come to realize and do in the mornings, somewhat related to being in higher ed.

  • My children are awful sleepers. Things have calmed down a bit since they are both post-24 months, but I have learned that their deepest sleep is early in the night and their most fractured, most easily broken sleep is in the early morning. We live in a so-called "Top 25 Highest Earning Town" and I do not make that kind of a salary, so our house is small, old, and creaky. Thus, I have learned to not get up before they do unless I absolutely have to, because one of them will wake up if I just walk past their door. (However, at least one of them inevitably wakes before 6:30 AM at the very latest, so it's not like I'm lazing about in bed every morning.) 
  • Related to that, I have learned that the margins between kid school start up time and my institution's course schedules in the morning are just too close to have them closely related. So many things can go wrong with course prep and demo set up that it is too risky to have a tight timeline in which I drop off a kid and assume that I will waltz into the classroom ready to go fifteen minutes later.  At the very least, the most probable problem that will occur is that the projection system won't work for my 8 AM course, and our institution's tech office doesn't open until 8 AM, so it won't do me any good to get there early anyway. Additionally, sometimes I will need to doublecheck something related to course prep, which sometimes involves checking in with Physics Prof Twitter, my colleagues, or my husband, and I need to allow morning time to do that. We have also had our fair share of a kid waking up with some kind of medical issue (rash, coughing, etc.) and so I have learned that I need to have margin for my husband and I to call the doctor, make an appointment decision based on urgency and parent availability, etc. So I've learned (more about that later - the learning) for which courses I have flexibility to schedule as I wish, and I've done that so that I can focus on getting people to where they need to be and not having my first professional thing be teaching. For the past few semesters, I've been able to avoid scheduling 8 and 9:15 AM courses, and that has been better for all of us (including the students - they generally hate 8 AM courses).
  • Laura and Sarah talked about trying to use an alarm so that it doesn't wake up other people in the house. When I can't avoid waking up before the kids do, I depend upon my FitBit Alta HR to buzz me at alarm time. At the very least it reduces one element of sound that could wake everyone up. 
  • Most evenings, my husband and I make plans for who is going to shower when the next morning. Having that locked in helps tremendously with making a morning go smoothly.
  • We feed our kids the same breakfast most mornings: a handful of cereal (they don't like it with milk, so strange), cut up fruit, and some string cheese. And my husband just automatically makes the coffee - no wondering about who is going to do that.

Friends, what is your morning routine?

RSNA 2017 Presentation and Poster

I am thrilled to share that I will be presenting a poster and doing an oral presentation at the 2017 Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America later this month. I’ll be presenting on the “Additive Benefit of Quantitative Radiomics in Distinguishing Between Benign Lesions and Luminal A Cancer Subtypes on a Large Clinical Breast MRI Dataset.” The research was done in collaboration with the Giger lab at the University of Chicago, where I have been working while on sabbatical. The first author is Nathan Taylor, an exceptionally bright student at Wheaton College. 

 A screenshot of our title and author list. 

A screenshot of our title and author list. 

I'm especially thrilled because I am grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Giger's lab. The U of Chicago personnel on our abstract have all been great to work with, encouraging and challenging at the same time. I don't want to presume too much, but I think presentations and posters from liberal arts institutions don't happen very much at RSNA. So I'm very, very excited to be presenting there. 

 

Back to blogging

I'm going to dip my toes back into blogging. I love the exchange of ideas that happens on the internet and I'm curious about things related to being in higher ed, doing research a at liberal arts institution, and tips and tricks for being a parent and a professor. I do not deign to think that I personally have much to offer, but I hope to make posts that spur discussion.

Bravo to Educational Insights

 Image credit: Educational Insights

Image credit: Educational Insights

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