‘Historical legibility’ for women’s iniatives

I was lucky enough to have some time today to spend at a workshop for women’s leadership. At that meeting there was a great talk centering on the many steps women have taken, specifically at my institution but I took it to also mean more broadly, towards advancing equality of women in the workplace. It’s easy to forget and it’s so important to remember. This is what historical legibility means – as I understood it. You have to be able to trace the historical legacy and know what has been done so that we can move forward. Otherwise you end up reinventing the wheel again and again.

I was moved today and genuinely grateful for so many women that came before me and fought the good fight to gain access to leadership positions and represent women’s interests. Occasionally I have thought about how far women have come in society in a relatively short period of time, but today’s talk really hammered that home. The speaker also mentioned  some ways that women are still left out of opportunities because of ‘gendered culture.’ For example, women not getting to speak with donors because they mainly meet out on the golf course and discuss terms in the locker room. My favorite quote from the talk was, “Enough with the golf!” Given the history of golf clubs in this country there are all kinds of gender, racial, and religious biases associated with the sport. I definitely saw her point!

Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for all of the workshops but I did get to hear the personal account of a woman that worked for 3 years to get the raise she deserved. After trying over and over to get paid for the work she was doing that was beyond her job description she basically had to give an ultimatum. Either pay me the raise or I am going to stop doing this extra work. I thought to myself – can you do that? Won’t you get in trouble?? And maybe this is part of the problem. Part of what I’ve been taught is to follow rules and to be subservient. I don’t know that I could have done what she did. I do know that I am so grateful for all the women “troublemakers” that got women in this country to the point where we don’t all have to fight so hard for opportunities! Now let’s take it global!

Welcome, Wren!

It has been almost a year since my last post. Not blogging has actually become a new source of guilt – as if a working mom needs another one of those! Instead of feeling guilty I decided to just write a quick entry. What better way to kick off a mommy blog entry than with the great news that I had a baby!

Welcome Wren James! Wren is my second son and is basically an angel! He sleeps, he takes a bottle, he giggles and coos…did I mention he sleeps!

I am happy to say that I had Wren as a VBAC – which was a personal goal of mine. I was really happy with the whole birth experience. It was a long labor (is 80 hours long? Uh yeah.) but worth it!

Miles loves his little brother and never fails to kiss him gooodnight.

I took four weeks to cuddle and enjoy that new baby smell. Then I started working again – mostly from home at first, but gradually have gotten back to being at the University every day. More on that later. Suffice to say it has been a fantastic year. I’m looking forward to 2017!

How much screen time is too much?

baby-with-ipad-4It has happened. Degree by degree, minute by minute – television shows, apps, and e-books have become a daily part of life for my 2 year old. I think it started with his nanny (as a mom, it’s always easier to blame the nanny ;)). She would sit him to watch nursery rhyme videos and Pocoyo. I pushed back – not seeing the purpose for a 9 month old   to see any tv. I won the battle, but we are losing the war. Starting from about 18 months (which coincided with the last few months before I defended my dissertation), I would have him watch Wall-E*. Not the whole movie, just 10 minutes here and there, but he LOVED it. Wall-E was among his first 50 words.

How much screen time does he get now? I should know the answer. I know that I should know, but I don’t. In our house there is a tag-team approach to parenting. Mom needs to go to the doctor, TAG – you’re in. Dad needs to run to the market, TAG- you’re in. Mom and dad are going out to dinner, TAG – you’re in, Lolo (Miles couldn’t pronounce ‘abuelo,’ so my dad is now and forever more Lolo). I know that we all on occasion let him watch tv.  I don’t know how much exactly, but maybe….probably…definitely… too much.

This is actually a very confusing part of parenting for me. My relationship with television was…well…let’s put it this way. Television was my third and favorite parent. I have just as many memories of Full House, Saved by the Bell, and My So Called Life episodes than I do of family vacations and one-on-one time with my parents. Actually, who am I kidding. I remember TV way more than anything else. I could much sooner recall every TV show theme song than the elements of the periodic table. I had a small TV in my room starting in middle school. I used to stay up late and watch Nick at Nite. Did it fry my brain and make me unable to concentrate in school? No. Did it keep me from playing sports, doing plays, having friends, etc? No. However, when I think about the cumulative hours of my life spent watching tv, I am not at all proud. I see a huge opportunity cost in time.

TV, videos, and games are even more pervasive on our lives than ever. When Miles is beginning to melt down at a restaurant I can easily play an episode of his favorite show to calm him down. It’s convenient, but not my finest hour as a parent. I guess this must be how our parents felt about Walkmans and Gameboy, and how their parents felt about color tv and Elvis.

Do you have a strict time limit for screens for your kids (or for yourself)? Is there such a thing as TV addiction? How do you think technology is changing the way we watch TV? Have you seen this adorable babies with ipads blog?


* As an aside, there are no scary villains in Wall-e and very little dialog. It’s not exactly educational, but Miles did learn the word ‘plant.’



Taking tests means learning best

Test takingI was forwarded this article (entitled, To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test) as part of an ongoing discussion on active learning for STEM classes. The idea is that active learning is more effective than passive learning. Active learning encompasses a lot of things – but fundamentally switches the focus to the student’s learning by doing.

One way I understand active learning is in comparison to passive learning. Imagine the typical large lecture hall where you sit and passively listen to the professor tell you what you need to know. Have you ever felt your eyes drooping, or maybe even fell asleep during a lecture? The professor might think the information is interesting an engaging, but listening to someone talk at you for an hour can be exhausting. This is likely why even NPR has interludes of punchy music to break up the monotony of talk radio.

The active learning strategy discussed in this article is to have students take tests early and often. Students retained more information after taking several tests than after having one study session or even multiple study sessions. I have to wonder if the stress and adrenaline that accompany test taking for most people plays a critical role in solidifying information retention. There’s nothing like that jittery-about-to-take-a-test feeling – usually it’s combined with caffeine and lack of sleep for me!

When I prepped for the SATs in college and the GRE’s for graduate school, I took practice exams and prep courses in which we took more practice exams. Then I took the SATs 3 times until I got the score I wanted. I studied for the test by taking the test. So for me, at least, I see some merit in this strategy. I also see a downside though, one I am facing right now in teaching introductory statistics.

When you teach through tests, or even through practice problems designed to help students through tests, that is emphasizing that the purpose of the class is to pass a test. This is somewhat limiting. All of the example problems in the world may help a stats student ace the final exam, but they won’t help her design an effective data collection scheme for her class project. They won’t help her figure out how to choose the best figure to illustrate her data, or how to analyze the data. My point is that learning is not ONLY about information retention. It’s also about thinking critically and applying problem solving skills to problems where there isn’t a single solution. We need to start brainstorming more effective ways to have students practice using their creativity to solve important problems – lord knows the world has enough of them to go around.





Are college freshman prepared for STEM classes?

Grading has got to be the worst part about teaching, no contest. It’s so time consuming and, frankly, a bit depressing at times as well. As a teacher I genuinely want all the students to do well. I really want everyone to test well and score high. More importantly, I want to know that these young people are actually absorbing this information.

Right now I am teaching intro statistics for non-majors -a course in how to understand and interpret information. The material seems very basic to me, but I know that after so many years in school and doing research, it’s difficult to have perspective. I try to look at it with fresh eyes and remember it is their first time seeing this stuff. But often I find that there is more of an issue than the newness of the concepts.

One interaction made me realize that what I consider totally basic may be very advanced for some students – even in their first or second year of undergrad. I was in office hours, and explaining the difference between two measures of center – the mean and the median. We were calculating the mean of a bunch of numbers. This is stuff I remember learning in middle school, but here we covering it a bit of a different way – like when is it more appropriate to use the median or the mean in describing different datasets. After I finished my schpeal, the student asked me how you know when to round up or round down. Honestly, I was shocked. I think I hid it well and went on to explain the rules of rounding.

Several other students have asked me similar questions about fundamentals in math such as the order of operations (remember PEMDAS from high school or middle school?). One student even asked how to take the square root of something. These building blocks should have been mastered before starting college, but there is evidence that high schoolers are not well prepared.

What is my responsibility as a college instructor? Am I meant to fill in these gaps? Do I press forward with the material that is meant to be covered? Because of course there are many other students that are ready for all of coursework and then some. At some point a bar must be set.

6 UNsurprising sources of stress

Recently, the Washington Post published an article by Erinn Bucklan on 6 Surprising Sources of Stress – and how to do away with them. I think the word “surprising” must have been added for the sake of alliteration in the title rather than its meaning. There is nothing surprising about this list except that it’s only six items. In the article itself the author use a scientific publication for each item to bolster her arguments – which is a good start. I decided to take a closer look at a couple of them to see if I could round it out a bit.

Top of the list was clutter…I’ll pause while you get over your surprise. Barring those with mental illness (as anyone who has watched an episode of Hoarders knows), no one like clutter. A friend of mind used to say all the time, “messy room, messy mind.” But the jury isn’t out on what this means for workplace productivity. While some evidence suggests clutter can reduce your ability to focus (McMains and Kastner 2011, J. Neurosci), others show that one person’s “clutter” is another’s meaningful and comforting display of self-expression…like your workplace binky. Allowing meaningful personal displays has been shown to increase job satisfaction (Wells 2000, J. Env Psych). I’ve struggled with finding the right balance on my desk. Too tidy and I feel like it’s someone else’s desk. Too messy and I want it to be someone else’s desk. Your office (whether it’s 2 feet of lab bench space or the corner office) is your place, your territory. You have to make it your own to feel comfortable to do good work. Heck, even when I go to the library I make myself at home, so to speak, by spreading out my stuff. I think this is a case of confusing the consequence with the cause. The clutter comes from all the stressful work you are doing. Clearing the clutter may help set the stage, but it won’t empty your inbox or get your papers submitted.

Next was working with high strung people. That can be stressful? Shocker. I didn’t look into the literature for this one much, but I do wonder if the “empathic stress” that comes from working alongside stressball coworkers is as important as the stress that comes from the inevitable conflicts that arise while working with said coworkers. The other thing this made me think of was schadenfreude. According to Avenue Q, this is defined as happiness at the misfortune of others. Like the study cited for this list item, it’s German. Maybe I am a terrible person, but sometimes when I was in the muck and mire of graduate school, seeing my fellow graduate students become unhinged with stress from classes, quals, or just life in general had a positive effect on me. It didn’t necessarily make me less stressed, but it didn’t make me more stressed. More often than not, it gave me perspective. I could say to myself – woah – is that what I am like? I need to take it down a notch and stop taking everything so seriously! Time for a massage (sidebar – I desperately miss the massage places in Buford Highway. Where else can you get a 1 hour foot massage for $20!)

Apparently, being “too composed” can be stressful. The author recommends sharing your feelings with of anxiety or stress with your colleagues or superiors can improve your mood. Should you really be sharing your feelings with your boss? According to research, it depends on the feelings. Several studies have shown that men who express anger at work are conferred a higher status than men who express sadness. It gets even worse for women though. The chairman of the Republican National Committee asserted that Senator Hillary Clinton was too angry to be elected president (Nagourney, 2006). Expressing anger can hurt women’s chances in the workplace – more-so than it does for men (Buscholl & Ulhmann 2008, Psch. Sci).

I wish I had time for more today, but Miles has made a tunnel and he insists that I play too.

The tough transition to stay-at-home mom

A lot has happened since I last blogged on thephdmommy. A lot of life happens in four months. We moved from Atlanta, Georgia to Narragansett, Rhode Island. Four months after the move, and there are still rooms (garage, basement, attic, closets) filled with miscellaneous STUFF. Perhaps by the time we are ready to move again I will have tackled those piles. Another major transition was from working full time in Atlanta to staying home full time to take care of housework, cooking, and my (now) 2 year old, Miles. It only took a few months of that to realize that I being a homemaker is not for me…at all. THE END. So I want to describe why it is I feel that way, and why I might go ahead and do it anyway now and again.

First, I’ve never owned a small business, but I would imagine it is similar the experience I had ‘running’ a household (*that should probably read ‘running a household into the ground’). You are basically the boss. This has its perks, though not as many as it should. You set your own hours (unless you have a toddler that wakes up at 5am…then he pretty much decides when your day starts). You set the agenda (i.e. what food will be in the house, what’s for dinner, will anyone have clean underwear, I had a brief 10 days obsession with coupons that I could not sustain due to utter boredom). You decide the rules (these are the things your family members ignore and roll their eyes at you for reminding them). Oh, and the final thing – you don’t get paid. Homemakers and small business owners tend to have this in common.

I’m am sure many go-getter organizational genius types are GREAT at running a household. I am much more of the spacey academic gets-lost-in-thought type. I found the endless organizing of our moving boxes, endless cleaning, endless laundry, endless cooking to be WAY too much reality for me. I started to miss abstraction.

When I worked full time I thought that stay-at-homers had all the time in the world. I didn’t. I don’t know where the time went though – which was/is SO frustrating. I would be on my feet all day – cleaning this, organizing that, preparing lunches or snacks or dinners, or after dinner snacks (hmm…are we eating too much?), and then…I don’t know. At the end of the day I never felt like I had accomplished anything. I knew the next day I would do it again.

For me, I found being a housewife, stay-at-home mom depressing and unsatisfying. Of course, I then felt tremendous guilt as well for not relishing in my “great opportunity” to stay home with my son. This was my big chance to be there for him, and I felt like I was blowing it. I would think to myself – am I a terrible mother because I find this exhausting and I want to do something else? Probably not. But I know that I am a much better mother now that I have some other things in my life keeping me balanced. The time I spend with him and my family is richer because I am not the emotional equivalent of Eeyore (you know, the sad donkey from Winnie the Pooh).

So what has changed? Gradually, the piles of stuff were organized to an acceptable level (and what I couldn’t organize, I hid). I got a gig teaching statistics at the University of RI starting in January, so I now interact with adults two days a week (yippeee!). Recently, Miles transitioned to staying at school until 3pm – which gives me enough time to make tangible progress on projects instead of treading water! Case in point – I am writing this blog post!

I’ve been grappling with a lot of emotional issues and social issues during my somewhat brief tenure as a homemaker. I wanted to value my work at home in the same way that society values my husband’s work at his job. But it wasn’t society that was devaluing my time at home (although society didn’t send me a check in the mail either). I did that to myself. Whether because of my implicit biases on being a housewife or my explicit bias against laundry, I just did not feel useful. It was particularly difficult to come off of the experience of getting a PhD – which in some circles garners some amount of respectability. For months after we arrived in Rhode Island, whenever I met someone I was introduced as ‘Miles’ mom.’ It’s a hat that I wear proudly, but it’s not my only one!

I think it’s fair to want balance in your life. If I were suddenly asked to work full time and never see my family, I would rebel against it. I need to find the right balance – and I am still working that out.