For my qualitative research project, I’ve been talking to physics students. Although I have a big pile of transcribing to do (2.5 hours of recorded goodness), I’ve begun noticing a pattern through the interviews. The pattern is a lack of confidence from the people I talked to. In my experience with physics, the culture lends itself to feeling doubtful about one’s ability; a popular phrase is “it is obvious” or “it is trivial” when it comes to things that well- aren’t obvious or trivial. My personal opinion is that statements like that are frequently covering that person’s lack of confidence in explaining the topic and/or their lack of knowledge, but I digress.

I found this article today called “The importance of stupidity in science.” Very good thoughts to keep in mind when doing research, regardless of whether it is science. Even though the article was written by someone who is likely a cell biologist, I related to it, especially the part about seeking new things to be challenged at (hence, doing dance).

Dr. Tae is featured on the front of the Chicago Reader website. I met him during my time in physics grad school; he was an adjunct professor. Because of his work on the Tony Hawk video game and his unique position of being both a physicist and skateboarder, the Reader decided to write about him.

I recommend reading about him. He is very friendly, interesting, talented guy and is very passionate about education, skateboarding, and making amusing videos.

A huge difference between my education grad experience, thus far, and my experience in physics grad school is that I’m mostly by myself, without a pack. I have become accustomed to having the same group of classmates in my classes. Particularly in undergrad, where I was pretty close many people, it was nice to have that community. Sure, people annoyed me (and I’m sure I annoyed them) at times, but we all got along. Considering how lonely college can be, I like having a group of people I genuinely respected and enjoyed.

Grad school in physics wasn’t quite like that, but I still had a posse. Education school? Every class I have is filled with different students. The nature of the classes, as well, don’t foster making tight friends. We have a little group work, but compared to pounding out problem sets weekly, we spent basically no time working together. I’m not sure how much it’ll change with research. I’ve heard universally dissertations are a long, lonely process, but about half the work I did for my masters was in a lab, with others. While I have not fully formed my dissertation topic/research, I am convinced that it’ll be kind of lonely.

Although I was hesitant about staying and committing myself to being in Boston for about 3-4 years, one of the nice things is that I established myself. School/research may not be the most social time for me, but I have other things and other people in my life, so I cannot complain too much.

Even with the holiday Monday, I feel ever so slightly behind on life. Photos and adjustments to my costume haven’t happened yet, because school, MassRaqs, and Bharatanatyam are taking up time.

Yesterday, I had 6 hours back to back of lecture, which was a bit hard to sit through. Not impossible, but I was definitely feeling antsy. I’m glad that I brought a snack along, because I was starving after the first class.

The schoolwork, thus far, doesn’t seem bad. A fair amount of reading, but besides one class where we have a presentation every week for awhile, nothing too crazy. One of the things I’m struggling with in school isn’t the work but knowing how to gauge things. A physics or math class is fairly predictable, and I’ve done it numerous times. I have a firm grasp on the time and effort it takes me to do physics, plus there is typically a definitive end point. With humanities, not only have I not taken a humanities class in about 5 years, but also I don’t know how much time a grad humanities should take me. Physics grad school was kind of similar to physics undergrad for me, only more difficult material and in-class exams.

MassRaqs is slowly culminating. I work on the program, so it’s sort of rush rush time to get things in and then for me to make it happen.

As for Bharatanatyam, I’ve been going to practice twice a week, as well as trying to practice on my own. I think it is coming along, although we have not had a consistent group of dancers to rehearse. The choreography has place changes and parts where only certain people dance, so the vision is a little lost when only a handful of people are there.

The other big project, my new website, unfortunately has been put to the side. I’m hoping to have completed it by the end of this month, though. Like most things in life, making my website has taken a little more work than I had anticipated. Things have changed a lot from when I made websites, and making a site with a CMS wasn’t as easy as I had thought it would be.

As of Thursday, I have begun what should be my final degree: my doctorate.

The last week has been a crazy rush of stuff. My thesis work from my masters was riddled with issues from the school and department, making my completion long and laborious beyond what it should have been. I honestly felt like it wasn’t going to be finished, which is why I haven’t been writing much about starting grad school again. This also put me behind with gathering school supplies, ordering books, etc. I’m still getting over that experience, and I’ll write more when I feel like I have a better grip of what happened and really made peace. The whole situation is a lot to digest in such a short period of time; I literally had my degree conferred on Thursday morning, which was right before I began class that evening.

Starting at my new school is different. Not only am I starting at an entirely new school, but also this is the first time in the last 10 years of my schooling (with some breaks) that I haven’t taken a physics class. Very strange feeling. My departure from physics feels sad and odd, but I hope that my arrival in education will outweigh the nostalgia factor. I also realized that I’m taking humanities classes for the first time since 2005; my senior year of college was filled with either theatre/dance classes or physics classes.

The change has me curious and a bit anxious about the workload. With physics, it was pretty bread and butter what would happen. Weekly problem sets, some exams, and a final. Occasionally, quizzes or project would be tossed in, but the material and amount of time needed to complete the work was easy to anticipate. With my classes- I’m not sure. I never found my humanities classes (sorry if this comes out as elitist) as strenuous as my physics classes and did well. However, I’m not sure how different the humanities are at the grad level. I’m not teaching this semester, so at least I’ll have time to devote to my schoolwork.

The other day, I read an article in some popular magazine (I don’t remember which) about how women science students should prepare themselves for college life. While I think women should be aware of how to survive some unfortunate aspects of being a women in science (less of us, sexism, etc.), I think there is a lot of accountability on the professors and that should be addressed just as much, if not more, than how women should just put with certain behaviors, like sexism, and not take it personally.

As the school year is beginning or has begun, I’ve been thinking about my education experience in science. I realize that while students have some autonomy on how things affect them, professors have even more choice in how they affect students. Speaking from experience, a bad situation can really be detrimental to a student’s confidence in science. I’ve been holding back on writing about this, and I’m sure more will come out with time, but right now, if anyone in the sciences is reading, I’m hoping to encourage professors and teachers to treat women and minorities right.

The most important thing, in my opinion, is to treat people like people. I don’t want to be treated as less of a science student than my male classmate. Tangential to this is don’t assume things. The article I read seemed assumptive about women in science. I don’t really fit that mold. Up until recently, I’ve had very good experiences in physics. I’m one of the few people I know who had a phenomenal high school physics teacher. My undergraduate physics department is amazing. I’m not afraid to ask questions, speak up, etc.

Building on the theme of treating people like people, don’t use “mansplaination.”  The short version of what a mansplaination is when a male condescendingly explains something to a female. He assumes the woman doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Often, opinions are stated as fact. Today I realized that in one research situation, I had been subjected to “mansplaination.” In this situation, I would tell the professor what I was going to do, prior to doing it. I figured, in case I was wrong, I should confirm what I was doing and not waste time. He would then say, “No, here is what you should do” and then tell me exactly what I said. It had happened several times. Because I had several people in the lab at the time and I remembered what I said, I knew I was right. Because the lab was small, I cannot confirm that the behavior was directly a result of me being female, but I never saw such behavior towards the males in the lab. Mansplaination is really obnoxious, to say the least. Even though I didn’t doubt myself, that kind of behavior created a poor work environment. Who wants to work around someone who feels the need to behave so condescendingly?

In short, treat others with kindness, respect, and dignity, regardless of other attributes.

You know it’s the end of the year when the tutoring center has people show up and suddenly, you get to tutor everything. I tutored for about 2 hours today. I did physics, calc, and English.

Since final grades are due Friday, I have a lot of work ahead of me. My math students are taking their final now as I type this entry. My physics students take their final tomorrow and Wednesday. I’m more or less set up to just grade the final and then have the final grades done. There is some leeway, but on a whole, I feel most students have performed consistently throughout the semester. I don’t look forward to the grading; I used to not mind grading so much, but there is always so much to be done.

Although I enjoy teaching, I’m looking forward to the summer. It looks like I have employment (I have to do one last interview/talk with some people this week, but my new advisor basically told me that the job is mine). The pay isn’t amazing, but it is indeed enough to get through the summer. I’m also looking at other small ways to supplement my income.

In terms of next year with the school, I hope to teach one or two classes. Since I’ll be a full-time student, I can’t swing a lot. However, I want to stay actively involved with everyone here. I enjoy the environment a lot, and I’d like to become a better teacher. I’m not sure if I could ever teach full-time (I’m hoping to do more education research), but I think that part of me will always like teaching. Besides helping guide people in their education, I like that teaching helps keep things fresh in my brain.