Archive for the ‘academia’ Category

Adv. Glasses?

There is a professor where DH works who makes their female graduate students wear glasses during conference presentations.

It is unknown whether they make the male students do the same because all of them already wear glasses.

What is your gut reaction to this “policy”? Does your reaction change whether the professor is male or female?


Course Selection

Well, I have taken another couple steps closer to starting school in September! I paid tuition (OUCH!! Haven’t done that in a while) and registered for courses.

Since some have been asking what I’ll be doing/learning, I thought I’d share the summaries for the courses I’ll be taking (these are not the full descriptions).

Core Courses (everyone takes)

Practicum: The practicum is integral to teacher education, offering teacher candidates opportunities to learn first-hand about schools, classrooms, curriculum, students, and teachers.

Educational Psychology and Special Education: Basic concepts, principles, and theories of learning and human development as they apply to teaching and learning; particular attention to the education of students with exceptionalities.

Social Foundations of Education: A multi-disciplinary course addressing the historical, political, philosophical, social, and legal dimensions of the organization of Ontario education.

Teaching Subjects

Curriculum & Pedagogy in Mathematics (2 courses): An introduction to exemplary practices in the teaching of mathematics

Curriculum & Pedagogy in General Science (2 courses): An introduction to the nature of science and technology education, how students learn science, and contemporary curricula for science and technology.

Co-Curricular Courses (mandatory for teaching subject(s)

Teaching Environmental Science, Grades 9 to 12: An introduction to basic concepts in environmental science and to the integration of environmental science with subject areas in the secondary school curriculum.

Supporting Inquiry Science: The theory and practice of designing inquiry-based learning opportunities for students in grades 7-12 science.


Classroom Management and Assessment (This elective is “strongly recommended”, so everyone is pre-registered – so isn’t really an elective!): An overview of theories of student behaviour and classroom management, and of assessment and evaluation, with emphasis on classroom applications.

Special Topic: LGB2TQ Issues in Education (all students must choose 1 social justice elective): This course will foster a comprehensive and critical understanding of the political and cultural landscape of education for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, two-spirit, queer/questioning (LGBT2Q) youth.

Computers in Education: An introduction to the computer technology used in Ontario classrooms. (My plan is to drop this course so I can do an independent study on unconscious gender bias in the classroom).

Special Topic: Education Philosophy: No course summary yet (but I thought the title sounded interesting enough).

All of these courses sound really interesting, and I’m super excited to get to it already!

Still Upset

I’m still upset about how my work situation was handled before I went on maternity leave* back in September.

I have not written about it much yet, but it’s still bothering me, 9 months later. So, here’s the story.

Basically what happened is that I was going to cut my contract on Sept. 13th to go on “leave” (not really a leave, since I was on contract, and would have no guaranteed job to go back to). I was told that the $$ was there to pay someone to take over the position for at least the duration of the contract (March 31, 2014), with a possibility of give them an extension on the contract until I want to come back (plan was August 1, 2014, if there was funding at that point).

At the end of July, we interviewed someone, really liked her, and my boss gave her a verbal offer. She was going to start September 1st, to overlap with me for about 2 weeks to learn the ropes. The contract was drafted, and her references were being contacted…until it just stopped. During August, both me and the person who was to take over, contacted several people several times about the contract, and why it was taking longer than expected.

Then, near the end of August. she was contact by my boss and another staff member to have a meeting over Skype to talk about the position. She asked me if I knew what this was about, and I didn’t..I had no clue what was going on. They had the meeting on the 26th, and it turned out it was actually another interview (without telling her that). They told her the position was NOT going to be what it was at the time, and told her how it would be different (totally different duties, and much lower pay).

In the meantime, I was left out of the loop completely on all of this. I was frantically preparing everything to train the new person the next week, and to make sure everything was all organized for her. Three business days before she was supposed to start, she was offered the new job at the new pay and she turned it down. Again, I had not be told any of this, and never was.

I spent the last 2 weeks of my time there wrapping up loose ends. I knew there was not going to be a replacement for me, but not from my boss or other university staff. In fact, to this day, no one at the university has told me that 1) there would be no replacement for my position, and 2) there would be no option for a job for me to go back too (though we agreed I’d go back August 1, 2014).

Needless to say, I was not happy about how the situation was handled. It still upsets me. Nothing was done wrong in the legal sense, but it was just unprofessional. I have pretty much cut all contact with those I worked with/for**, but I have never brought it up with HR, my boss(es), or anyone else at the university.

What would you have done at the time? Would you do something now?

*Not really maternity leave, since I had no just to go back too.

**Though I do see one of my bosses from time to time with things unrelated to work, which can be awkward (for me, at least…can’t speak for them)

Why Doing a PhD Might be a Waste of Time

I’ve mentioned this before, but one of my few regrets in life was forcing myself to finish my PhD even though I knew 6 months in to it that I hated what I was doing and did not want to continue in academia. I often reflect upon my time as a PhD student as a waste of time, and that I could easily be doing what I’m doing now with “just” a master’s degree.

I often get a terrible feeling in my stomach when I hear someone is entering into a PhD program…especially if they say they’re doing it because they don’t know what else to do with their life at the moment. I want to yell “DON’T DO IT!!!” at the top of my lungs, and go into the myriad of reasons why they should, at the very least, think twice about it.

The other day, DH was telling me about an article in The Economist about just that (Doctoral Degrees: The Disposable Academic (why doing a PhD is a waste of time)). This article does a wonderful job of explaining those reasons. DH and I agree that this side of the story is rarely written about, so I wanted to share some of the highlights:

– There is a HUGE oversupply of PhD students. Even if someone really, really, REALLY wants to be a tenured professor, there are so few of these jobs out there that the chances of finding one is ridiculously small.

– PhDs are trained for academia, not industry…so your skill set is shit if you “can’t” (or don’t want) an academic job.

– “PhD courses are so specialized that university careers offices struggle to assist graduates looking for jobs, and supervisors tend to have little interest in students who are leaving academia.”

“…the skills learned in the course of a PhD can be readily acquired through much shorter courses.”

“Writing lab reports, giving academic presentations and conducting six-month literature reviews can be surprisingly unhelpful in a world where technical knowledge has to be assimilated quickly and presented simply to a wide audience.”

“The fiercest critics compare research doctorates to Ponzi or pyramid schemes.” Universities love cheap labour. Graduate students and post-docs are cheap, will work long hours, and are disposable. “In Canada 80% of postdocs earn $38,600 or less per year before tax—the average salary of a construction worker.” (who, by the way, has not spent years and mucho $$ educating themselves for their job).

– “A PhD may offer no financial benefit over a master’s degree. It can even reduce earnings.” An interesting example explains how, 30 years ago, physicists were being hired in the financial sector because of their training in advanced calculus, but that is no longer competitive when MBA students can take one such course AND have the requisite business and financial training. Though, the article does note that a PhD in medicine, the sciences, and business can be beneficial over having a masters…by 3%.

As I stated above, a lot of students continue to the PhD because they don’t know what else to do, or are doing it because “they love it”. It’s even easier to press the ol’ snooze alarm on life when stipends are available (being paid to learn seems attractive, even though the going-rate is abysmal). ” But there are penalties, as well as benefits, to staying at university. Workers with “surplus schooling”—more education than a job requires—are likely to be less satisfied, less productive and more likely to say they are going to leave their jobs.”

Yes, the pursuit of knowledge is important for society, but “doing a PhD may still be a bad choice for an individual.” because “The interests of academics and universities on the one hand and PhD students on the other are not well aligned.”

Students enter graduate school with a naive and idealistic view that universities are dedicated to training the best and brightest, and actually care about the future of their graduate students.
Few realize that the system is fully designed to benefit others.

The article is definitely worth a read – it’s nice to hear a more realistic (albeit, fairly negative) viewpoint of the academic world, rather than the one we all hear when being wooed by professors who want more graduate students.


Last week, the first ever Western Conference on Science Education was held here at the university. I was on the organizing committee from the very early stages, so it was amazing to see our ideas and hopes finally come to life.

This was the first conference of its kind in Canada – we brought together staff, faculty, graduate students, librarians, and others from across all science disciplines who do research on science education at the post-secondary level. The initial goals of the conference were to just get all these people together in one room, to learn what everyone else is doing, and to figure out if we can (should) work together to create a cohesive group.

The answer to the last part is an overwhelming “yes”.

As we heard from many speakers, including Adam Bly (the founder of Seed Media Group), the science world, and the world in general, is moving from departmentalized issues to complex issues. For example, climate change is not just an atmospheric or meteorological problem, but traverses many disciplines from biology and chemistry to urban planning and sociology. We live in a time where there is such an immense amount of data that scientists need the help of designers and architects to visualize it in new and innovative ways in order to understand it. Everything is moving toward a more collaborative environment, and science (and science education) is no exception.

The major problem facing science education research at the post-secondary level in Canada is that we are miles behind that of the United States, Europe, and Asia. Why? Well, as with most things, it all comes down to money.

Representatives from both NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council) and SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) spoke at the conference, but neither gave answers we were looking for. NSERC kept re-iterating their mandate is to fund research, but NOT education research, as education is under provincial jurisdiction. SSHRC does fund education research, but mostly for primary and secondary school. They also have a much smaller pot of money, but a much larger pool of applicants. Science education research at the post-secondary level falls through the cracks.

Many suggestions floated around on how NSERC could change their mandate, or even just their interpretation of their mandate. After all, education research IS research, so it really shouldn’t be that difficult. But, as with many government institutions, they have to stick by their guns and dig in their heels to change.

So, what can we do? Well, we can try to conform to the rules of NSERC and/or SSHRC but try to bend the rules within their boundaries. Maybe we can find collaborators in the United States and other areas and tap into their funding resources. Or, maybe we could just say “screw the government” and find some billionaire to give us an extremely large private donation (any takers?).

The last session of the conference was a brain-storming session on where we should go from here. Since these conferences will only happen every three years, how can we keep the energy and excitement moving until 2014? There were many great ideas, from keeping a blog and having online meetings to hosting smaller, regional workshops and creating an official society. It will be interesting to see if ~100 multidisciplinary science education researchers from across the country can pull together, and what will happen if we do.

Scientiae: Change is the Only Constant

After some discussion, it’s nice to see that the Scientiae carnival will continue this year! Instead of doing monthly posts, the carnival will be done quarterly. I hope there are many contributors, both old and new, this year!

The first carnival of the year is hosted by JaneB over at Now what was I doing?:

A truism widely used in one of the fields my research area touches on (way to be vague?) is: Change is the only constant.

A recent post by Biochembelle has influenced my post today. If you’ve been a reader of this blog for any length of time, you know that my PhD experience was not stellar (to say the least). Looking back, I can see now that part of it was because I could not accept my mindset changing about my career.

When I graduated from my bachelor’s degree, I had no idea what I wanted to do. So, I took a job as an inside technical sales person for an industrial electric motor company. That lasted all of two months. At that point, I decided to go back to school, go back to astronomy, and get a masters. During that time, I loved research. I loved the people, I loved the subject, and I was having the time of my life. So, it was just natural to continue with a PhD with the future goal of becoming a tenured professor.

I moved across the country and switched fields. The first six months were okay. Not great by any stretch, but I attributed it to being in a new city with new people and studying something completely different. All of a sudden I didn’t have any close friends nearby for the first time in my life, and I had no idea what I was doing in my research. On top of that, a paper came out basically scooping my PhD project, so I had to start from scratch.

Things continued to get worse. I would get into these funks that lasted for days or weeks, hating my research and hating my classes. But, when I talked to other students or professors about it, everyone said they feel/felt that way during their PhD. Everyone convinced me that being miserable and frustrated all the time was perfectly normal. Clearly, they didn’t have a grasp of my particular situation. At one point it was so bad that, after a melt-down in our living room, my now husband suggested I see a therapist.

I knew I wanted to quit. My husband knew I wanted to quit. My therapist knew I wanted to quit. But, I just couldn’t do it. It wasn’t about letting other people down, though that was part of it. It was really about seeing myself as a failure. It was about finishing what I started, because I didn’t want to be one of those people who were never happy no matter what they did.

So, I pushed through. I finished my research, wrote up my thesis, and couldn’t be done fast enough. I was so incredibly happy when the committee told me I passed. Not because of the accomplishment (I couldn’t even stand to be called “Doctor”), but because it was finally over. I could move on to something I enjoyed.

I knew very early on that I no longer wanted to do scientific research at that level, but I just couldn’t bring myself to leave. I couldn’t accept that I had changed my view about research and about becoming a professor. Looking back, I would have to say it’s one of my very few regrets in life that I didn’t leave my PhD.

In the end, I do think I’ve learned from the experience. I now allow myself the option of leaving or quitting or giving up. I try not to do things I don’t want too (within reason, of course – we all have obligations and responsibilities that must be tended too!). Two years ago, if I had the problems I did with breastfeeding Evan, I would have just kept going, being miserable for months. Instead, I gave myself a specific time-line: if it wasn’t working after a certain amount of trying (six weeks), I could move on. And you know what? It worked. I was able to give it a good try. It didn’t work, so I stopped. No guilt (okay, some, but not as much as I thought), and things got so much better so much faster.

So, here is my advice to anyone out there struggling with something – be it your job, your relationship, or some other facet of your life: give yourself a specific time-line (don’t say “well let’s see what it’s like in a while”; say “I’m giving myself until July 1st”), give it a fair chance during that time, and if it doesn’t work out, change the situation. No guilt. There is nothing wrong with changing your path. In fact, it can be quite liberating!

Evolving Roles

There is a job possibility for me when I come back from parental leave. I don’t want to get into specifics because it’s not official or anything yet, but it would involve working with some of the same people (staff/faculty) I’ve been working with as a student and/or post-doc, and supervising graduate students as TAs.

One of my concerns about the position is that I really won’t have any peers, or anyone I can connect to on a personal level, because I’ll be working at the same institution. On one hand, I’ll be working with professors, and I don’t feel like I’ll be on the same “level” as them because I’ve worked for/with them as a student and now a post-doc, and don’t think they will change their perception of me. On the other hand, I’ll be working with students, and I don’t feel like I can/should make a personal connection with them either.

The job is right up my alley, but I’m still wondering if I’ll be happy in such a situation. I know from my PhD experience that having social connections with people I work with is also important. I don’t want to feel isolated like I have for the past few years.

I think maintaining a professional relationship with the students will be relatively easy, as there is such a high turnover rate for TAs. But, what about the flip side? How would I navigate the student to post-doc to staff role at the same institution (with the same people) so other staff members and professors will see me as an equal now?

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