--1--First of all, today is the last day of the semester. No more classes for a couple of weeks (then summer session starts up). I'm teaching the same physical science class again in the first session of this summer--it's the first time I will have done this in the summer, however--and the class runs for 2 hours/day, but 5 days/week instead of the usual 2 (normally, my appointment would be for 2 sections, in the summer I have only 1). It's nice to be paid an average of $2,000/month through the summer--it's the most I've made during a summer since starting grad school, though I usually made more than this as an undergrad during the summers--but at the same time, I could (and frankly, should be able to) make more if they would allow me to teach during both sessions. The two sessions don't overlap, and the total workload is actually less in-class time per week than would be a 30 hour appointment during the semesters: which are often available (and encouraged). However, there is some institutional rule which says that these summer sessions count as a 40 hour appointment, and that we cannot take more than one such appointment during the summer (they're not available at all during the year).*
*For what it's worth, this is not a problem with low enrollment: the classes fill even during the summer, and our supervisor practically begged us to take summer appointments. I wonder how many other people would be perfectly willing to take a second appointment during the summer for an extra $6,000: especially since this would in effect be a 25% raise for the year for us. I probably wouldn't this time around because I haven't done it in the summer before--but then again, I probably would have taken a single summer position last summer if there was the possibility of a double appointment for this summer. All things considered, though, I am grateful to be able to teach in the summer, and to thus continue to draw a steady paycheck (ok, a lump-sum at the beginning), which is better than tome summers since I've been here.
--2--Between now and the start of the summer session, I need to make up a syllabus, and (more importantly), to implement my (rather Machiavellian) new participation grading policy. That will work something like this: each group gets 32 points distributed among its 4 members, and each member is responsible for distributing up to 24 points between the other 3 members. They don't have to use all of those points, but they cannot save up points for future days, and each person will receive the average number of pints assigned by the others. If the points are distributed evenly, everybody can get up to 8 points each; the daily score will be out of 10. This system brought to you by the necessity of curving the scores to an average of a B (which is in my grading scheme a 75%-80%). I'm working on making a few fail-safes, just in case. But it would be nice to have a real and (more) meaningful participation grade in a participation-based class.
--3--One more about teaching, which is honestly at least as big a reason why I teach instead of seeking a research assistant position* (which my advisor would happily grant). Here at UT, we have a faculty appreciation week which is run by the student government (it's one of the few good things that comes out of our student government, which is more than can be said about some university's student governments). Occasionally, I get a thank-you card from a student during these. This year, I received arguably the kindest one yet, and from one of the few students who was a bright spot in an otherwise frustrating semester. I will quote it in the next take, but let me just say that it gives me a reason to reflect on the power of simple gratitude. That latter quality--virtue, really--is all-too-often if not quite altogether lacking in the present generation (and the upcoming one, for that matter). We're all a bit too self-important and over-entitled, though as one friend of mine has observed, it appears to be getting worse. I reflected on this point a few years ago when I attended my wife's graduation: that of all the farewell and high-hopes speeches made, none was quite as good as the simple thank-you offered by one grateful outgoing senior. This is especially true given the sacrifices that some families (parents and even siblings) must ultimately make in order for sometime to spend 4-5 years at college--to say nothing of sacrifices made by spouses for those of us who spend another 6-8 years doing graduate work.
*The teaching position admittedly pays better than the research assistantship; on the other hand, it also leaves me with less free time.
--4--Here is the main text of the note which my former student sent to me:
"I just wanted to send you a little note, thanking you for basically putting up with me last semester in PS303. I initially had a lot of difficulty in your class, but your help and encouragement led me to those wonderful 'Aha!' moments. Thank you for being so welcome and understanding in your office hours (I think I was there every week except twice!) and for your humorous anecdotes (especially when you would compare us to your other section). I hope you enjoyed my dramatic antics as I tried, and later succeeded, in learning the material. I survived (and made an A!) Thanks again, [student]"I also just received the following email in my inbox (like, literally as I finished typing the previous note's text):
"Hey, I wanted to say that I really did enjoy your class like crazy. It was really fun and even though it was at 8am I looked forward to it alot. Some people didn't give the best reviews only because the work was harder than they expected/wanted but don't listen to those a-holes, you're a good teacher and you made the class interesting. Thanks for everything, [student]"I guess this also helps explain some of the bad reviews I get at the end of the semester.
--5--Speaking of graduation, etc, my 12th semester review has been officially submitted. It basically describes my work so far, my current status, and some benchmarks, and the committee's summary finding. Here is an excerpt:
"During the next year, JC will carry out an original experiment that demonstrates 2-color optical control of relativistic self-focusing. Co-propagating 800 nm and 870 nm terawatt laser pulses will be focused loosely to overlapping spots of about 25 micrometers radius in a supersonic helium gas jet. Alterations in self-focusing of the main 800 nm as the parameters of the 870 nm “control” pulse vary will be measured and compared with theoretical predictions. All major apparatus required for this experiment is in place, and JC is efficiently taking care of remaining details. Based on JC’s accomplishments to date, his current progress, and an assumption of no major equipment failures during the coming year, he should be able to perform this experiment and obtain publishable results by the summer of 2013."
The no major equipment failures is an awfully big assumption, though.
--6--As for what I've been working on with research: I'm in a more-or-less planning phase: talking to vendors, ordering parts, waiting for parts, drawing designs* for other parts which we'll build here, and designing the over-all layout of this experiment. Just for fun, here is a draft of the adapter tube which I made:
And here is one showing how the adapter will fit with our current experimental chamber:
*On the theme of gratitude: thanks to my high school drafting teachers, Mr Warren and especially Mr McGuire. I still use autoCadd to make the occasional drawing to submit to our student machine shop.
- Because the plan is to get a haircut (and thus a beard trim) this weekend, and I wanted to note that I had a pretty epic beard. It might qualify as an apologist's beard, or a philosopher's beard. My wife, on the other hand, thinks it qualifies as "too long."
- For visual representation of how many pockets a pair of men's pants (or shorts) should have. Dear designers of men's clothing: more pockets please!!! Bonus points if somebody can design the pockets to fit seamlessly such that we can get this utility out of dress slacks without ruining the look of the pants.
Seven Quick Takes Friday is hosted by Mrs Jennifer Fulwiler at her Conversion Diary blog.