Archive for the ‘department’ Category


So, I had my meeting with the department head yesterday to discuss the future of the observatory. I was hoping for an indication of whether or not I can still push ahead and develop an education/outreach program for the facility. As you might guess from the title of this post, I did not get an answer either way.

During the meeting, held with another professor in the department who is supportive of the program, the head brought up a few of his concerns. Each time, either I or the other professor had a reasonable answer. Yet, by the end of the meeting the head was still not convinced the initiative is worthwhile, and I got the feeling he will never be convinced but doesn’t want to be the one to say “no”.

Where does that leave me and the program, then?

Well, he wants to discuss it more in another month or so. Before then, he wants us to come up with a proposal that outlines what outreach can be done at this observatory that can’t be done on campus, how it can be tied into the priorities of the department (research and student recruitment), what we need in terms of support, and what our plans are to prove the viability of the program.

If you’ve been keeping up with this particular sub-plot of my life, this might sound familiar. About a year ago, I was asked to write a very similar document.

In addition to the proposal, the head also wants us to prove the viability before he commits any funding to the project. This is a Catch-22, because we’re not allowed to use the facility before December 31st. But, if we wait until after this date there is a whole host of issues that arise: I’ll be on maternity leave; the weather is awful until about the end of March; the telescope won’t be maintained (and so will basically degrade); etc..

So, here I am again – I have to decide whether to jump through another hoop, or just give it up already. On the one hand, writing the document won’t be too difficult or time consuming. So, jumping through that particular hoop won’t be particularly onerous. On the other hand, a year ago I told myself I would give this project a year, and if nothing comes of it, then I should move on.

I have put a lot of time and energy into this project (for free), put together a draft of a business proposal, put together a steering committee, ran two very successful events this summer, and still haven’t been able to convince anyone to give me the full go ahead. I’ve done everything that’s been asked of me, and still no progress.

Is it worth it for me to jump through yet another hoop? Maybe after this, I’ll actually get backing from the head; or maybe another hoop will appear and I’ll have to rethink this whole thing again.

Lots to consider (but nothing at the same time). I’m not going to rush into any decisions right now. I’ll just sit on it and see how I feel in a week or two.


Proud of Myself

Yesterday I had a bit of a confrontation with a professor. I don’t want to get into any details, but he didn’t like the way I did something, and he accused me of a not-so-nice character flaw over email.

When I first read it, I was pretty upset. I went for a walk, grabbed lunch (trying not to cry), and then went back to read it again. I started writing my response – what I really wanted to say (making sure not to have any email addresses in the “To:” field, just in case!). That was very cathartic, and I was then able to edit it so that it was respectful, yet still got the point across. I even brought attention to his accusation, by using the absolutely wonderful technique of “I’m sure you didn’t mean to attack my character and insinuate that I *enter bad thing here*, as that was not my intention.” To score yet another good-confrontation point, I added at the end how we could work together to solve the issue.

I felt really good about myself when I sent the email back, and wasn’t really worried what his response would be (which is a huge step for me). I knew that I handled the situation with grace and respect. He emailed back, saying he thinks it would be a great idea for us to work together, clarified some of the things he was talking about before, and even apologized for what he said! After another couple emails back and forth, things seem to be settled.

I am so proud of myself! Now, if I could only translate email confrontation skills to in-person, I’ll be set!

Nesbitt Wins Gold!

Christine Nesbitt won gold in 1000m long-track speed skating yesterday!

Photo from CBC.

Why am I writing about this particular medal winner? Because her dad works in the Earth Sciences department (the same one I am in)! A bunch of us got together in the faculty lounge yesterday afternoon to watch the event. It was pretty exciting to have an Olympic-connection like that…it made it more real somehow.

How awesome would it be if she brings the medal in to the department?

A Big Meeting

Tomorrow afternoon I am meeting with a few key professors in the Physics & Astronomy department. I will be outlining my ideas for an outreach program centered around the university’s telescope (which is scheduled to be shut down this Fall). Then, as a group (hopefully), we will decide whether this program is worth pursuing.

I’m nervous, and for a few reasons:

1. There hasn’t been a ton of support to keep the observatory open. During a departmental meeting, when the faculty was asked if they cared about the observatory being shut down (in order to save money, of course), most people didn’t even flinch. The good news is the people that do care are younger, bring in a ton of money, and seem to have quite a bit of power in the department.

2. Two of the people that will be at the meeting have been using the observatory almost exclusively. Therefore, they pretty much have the reign over the thing, and it might be hard to convince them to convert the observatory from a research facility to an education & outreach one. The good news is one will be retiring this summer, and the other probably will in the next few years. So, it’s hard to justify keeping it as research-only just for them.

3. I seem to be the last line of defense for the observatory. If this program doesn’t go ahead, then the observatory will surely shut down. However, if the program does go ahead, I want to be in charge, and I have a feeling that will be met with some resistance (even though no one else is willing to step up to the plate). Not sure what the good news is here.

It will be interesting to see how this meeting goes. I have met with each of these people individually to discuss this project, but am getting conflicting messages: what they say to me and what they (apparently) say to others has been different. I figure if I get them all in one room, then there will be no mistake on who says what.

I will post an update tomorrow – keep your fingers crossed for me!

Why wasn’t I told that?

I had a look at my earnings statement for this month – because I get paid from multiple sources, I’ve learned to check it ahead of time in case something is messed up. So, I wasn’t surprised when I saw there was something missing: my pay from one of my outreach programs.

Now, I’ve had this issue before. Due to problems with the department and grad studies, the woman who takes care of my salary for that job has to put in my hours manually each month. Once in a while she misses it, and she either gets a cheque cut for me, or it just ends up on my next paycheque.

So, I figured it was the same deal, and just let her know what was going on. I was surprised by the response: all “new” positions have to now be approved by the provost. First of all, my position is not new – I’ve been doing it for 4 years (and there were others before me). Second, why is she just telling me this now? I have a feeling that this wouldn’t have even surfaced if I didn’t ask her about my pay!

This isn’t the first time that I’ve caught an issue like this – I’ve had problems with my department paying me less than they should pretty much every semester. Why is it that I have to make sure I get paid the right amount? You’d think with 100s of faculty/staff, they’d know how to pay people properly. I swear, they try to lowball people and just hope no one catches it 😛

So, now my paycheque for this month is super low and I don’t know if I’m actually going to get paid for this job anymore (and even if I am…when is it going to be approved?). Damn this university really sucks ass about things like this.

News and Notes

It seems there are a lot of little things I want to write about, so point form it is!

  • I finished the first draft of the intro chapter! I read it last night, and I can certainly tell that I wrote the first part two months ago. That’s okay though – I have the rest of the week to edit it before I give it to my supervisor.
  • The bulk content (i.e., not including title page, abstract, apendices, etc.) of my thesis is sitting at 90 pages right now. That’s short. I do plan on adding to the intro chapter, will add a few more figures to my second chapter, and I still have the conclusions/future work chapter to write. Hopefully that will add about 20 pages. Is there such a thing as a thesis that is too short?

    The problem is the two papers I wrote are pretty short – there was a lot of work involved, but it kind of looks like there wasn’t based on the length. Maybe I’ll read the science chapters and see if I can add more info or images to make it more complete.

  • One of the staff members in the department lost their job this week. I guess the university is really being serious about cutting a certain percentage of their budget by getting rid of people. It’s a sad thing.
  • I already told you that my science abstract was accepted for a talk. Well, I also got word that my outreach abstract was also accepted for a poster (which I asked for because then it can be used at other conferences). That adds two more things I need to do before the end of July!
  • Next week I start a teaching workshop. It’s only a couple afternoons a week for 2.5 weeks, so not a huge time commitment. Hopefully it won’t require too much reading or anything, otherwise I might have to drop it if it starts to interfer with my thesis progress.
  • DH submitted his first real job applicaiton this week!
  • Just one more week of the exercise study left! I started off working out at a mininum of 130 bpm (and thought that was hard) and now I consistantly work out at 150 bpm or more! So, my cardio has definitely imporved over the last 7 weeks!
  • I miss reading my books – I still have a huge stack of them, but unfortunately I think that hobby will have to be put on hold for at least the next month.

Academic Turn-Offs

Many times, when I’m asked what I want to do after I finish my PhD, I end up getting into a conversation about what turned me off academia. I usually use the “it’s just not for me” response. However, a recent post over on Sciencewomen has made me think a little harder about what specifically has turned me away from a life in academia. Here is what I came up with:

1. Complete lack of mentoring. And I don’t mean the science part, because that was rather good (thanks to my supervisor). Instead I mean things like seminars or workshops about writing papers, giving talks, career options, teaching styles, academic ethics/fraud, grant writing, telescope proposals, etc., etc., etc.. I really wish there was more guidance and professional development for graduate students.

2. Very little collegiality within the department. This relates to #1, but is more about the work environment. People just don’t talk to each other much, let alone creating scientific collaborations. There are a number of department members I pass in the hallway that know who I am, but they refuse to even make eye contact. It’s just not a very nice place to work.

3. Big heads at conferences. I specifically don’t like people that think Astronomy is the end-all and be-all in life, and what they are doing is so incredibly important. Yes, your research is interesting, but don’t act like you’re God because you have some data of some random object that someone else doesn’t. In the grand scheme of things, you’re not that important, and neither is your work, so stop acting like an asshole and have respect for your fellow researchers.

4. The definition of “success”. It bothers me that success means making your research your life, and anything you do outside of research is taking away from your career. I generally get the feeling that having a family is still looked down upon in this day and age – and taking maternity leave is basically the equivalent to career suicide.

5. Selling out. I don’t understand the attitude that taking a job besides a purely academic one is considered selling out or failing. Why is working in industry selling out – because you make more money? Because you may not be able to direct your own research? Perhaps there are people out there that don’t want to run their own research lab (the shock! the horror!). Or what about teaching? Is the old adage “if you can’t do, teach” correct? I have to completely disagree with this – how can anyone think that teaching is not totally important to our society? What ever happened to choosing a career path based on what one enjoys, instead of having to fit into some mold of what is deemed successful?

As you can see, there are many things that absolutely turn me off from a life in academia. Something that I have recently realized is perhaps it has just been my PhD experience that has generated this attitude. Maybe things could be better for me elsewhere.

In my next post, I’ll talk about what it will take for me to stay in academia.

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