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).


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.

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.

A few of my friends have asked me about this. What does it mean to be an adjunct professor? People with at least a masters can be adjuncts. There are perks and pitfalls of being an adjunct, from what I know. I thought I’d briefly explain those issues, from the employee’s point of view.

  • You have no contract beyond the semester. What’s good about it is that you can leave if something better comes up after you fulfill your duties (or if you just plain don’t like it). What’s bad is that the school isn’t obligated to keep you.
  • No benefits. I’m lucky that I’m in MA, so I can get state insurance, but many others aren’t so lucky.
  • Pay can be low. Mine is decent, but it isn’t outstanding. Well, it’s outstanding, in my opinion, compared to what I’ve received in the past and what I had set my threshold at, but I imagine if you have more of a work background, it isn’t great.
  • No desk/office. I’m going to end up sharing a desk and starting a home office to do some of my work. I prefer working from home, but it would be nice to have the option.
  • No research. This can be simultaneously a blessing and a curse. For many professors, they have to churn out research (“publish or perish”) in order to gain tenure. I don’t have pressure, but I also can’t have a lab or have money to start one. I’m thinking about inquiring to do some volunteer work in a lab around the area to keep my skills sharp and network.
  • You are there to teach. I like that a lot, because some people do become profs not because of love of teaching but because they want to do research and the teaching is essentially a burden for them.

So there you have it. Right now, the job is a decent fit for me. It feels good to breathe¬† little and slow down on the job hunting. I felt a little bad canceling some interviews and wondered about the possibility of what they would’ve brought. However, without an offer on the table from them, I don’t think it’s wise to take the risk.

My thesis defense was yesterday. It went okay. I was disappointed by the lack of crowd (one adjunct admitted he went to the beach). The presentation was not flawless. I use Keynote, which is the Mac version of Powerpoint; I prefer it, though I have Powerpoint. The day before, when I rehearsed, Keynote had an aweseome presenter only display, where I had a clock and my notes on my screen, and the presentation on the big screen. True to how life rolls, I wasn’t able to get that back the next day, even though I hadn’t changed any settings on my compuer and no one had used the room for my presentation.

The defense part (the part behind closed doors) was intense. At least mine wasn’t a friendly meeting of professors; we were there for business and nothing nice. I have to do rewriting. Everyone has different standards; some things that my advisor had wanted me to do and loved were things the committee hated. Go figure. The only bad thing about the edits are that some of them I need to have access to stuff at school. Due to my job search and lack of job, I am moving in with a friend in Providence, RI next week sometime. I have to work hard to get stuff done all while packing.

The other thing that made yesterday rough was a friend wanted to cancel on me for moving. I was relying on this, since I’m moving within a week or so. I have since found a reasonable mover, but I now need to figure out how to move my cats. Airlines won’t let me fly with three cats or buy seats or anything like that. I’m not sure why, but that’s what I found out from customer service tonight. Anyone have any advice?

That’s where my life stands. My big relaxing stuff today (and part of yesterday when I wasn’t freaking out about my move) was eating malai kofta from my favorite Indian restaurant, playing Sims 3, and sitting around in my PJs.

Tomorrow is my defense. My advisor, the kid who defends Wednesday, and I did a dry run, along with two others.

Remarkably, my dry run was painless. I have to make some corrections tonight, but beyond that- it went well for my first, last, and only dry run. I have to admit I was nervous- I respected everyone’s opinion in the room, and I don’t have that much time to make major corrections. Also, being questioned is not fun at all. I was particularly scared when M, the guy going on Wednesday, was asked a series of difficult questions. My questions weren’t easy, either, and my advisor has one mean poker face (I couldn’t tell until I finished answering if I was on the right track or I was completely wrong). Thank goodness, I was right with my answers.

Around this time tomorrow, I will most likely have an answer of whether I have successfully defended my thesis. Please send happy, good vibes my way.

I’m just terribly busy with my thesis. My advisor thinks I can defend in approximately a month. The research section is over, now we’re analyzing the data. My life, due to the deadline, has been frozen a bit. I TA, I work on my thesis, I take a brief break at home, and I write more at home.

I have been debating about going part-time with TAing, because we has a permanent substitute TA. While I really want to earn the money, I need a break and more time. I’d gain about 3 extra hours per day, which would be nice. While that may not sound like much, at this point, 3 extra hours would be amazing to take a quick nap or relax a bit.

I’ve been trying to make a point to go to yoga and dance. However, I find myself having trouble to make the time and then occassionally turning off my brain from outside cares. Last night at yoga, it was very easy to resume thinking about what I needed to do with my thesis, even though I normally try to relax and concentrate on breathing and movement during yoga.

I plan on still blogging, but if my posts are less frequent, this is why.