Recently my daughter started asking me “who is the lady on your shirt, Mommy?” when I wear the shirt. Usually I just say “That’s Grace Hopper. She was a famous computer scientist.” Yesterday she pressed me for more info, so I explained a bit more about who she was, how she was one of the first computer programmers, etc. I showed her the clip of Grace Hopper on David Letterman. During this whole exchange, my son sat nearby, listening intently.
Later that afternoon, as I picked my son (who’s not quite 3) up after his nap, he took a good long look at my shirt, pointed to the picture, and said as clear as day, “Grace Hopper.”
Now where did I put that Ada Lovelace shirt….?
We’re still in session around these parts—our last day of classes for spring term is tomorrow, followed by reading days and exams, followed by the mad dash to get senior grades done 36 hours after the final projects come in…good times. This has been a particularly brutal term, work-wise and stress-wise, so I will be happy to see it end.
This week I’m juggling both wrapping-up-the-term activities and ramping-up-for-the-summer activities, which frankly is making my brain hurt. I’m ending the term like I started the term: frantic and behind on my work. I like to try and end each term on a strong note, but this year I am definitely exhausted mentally and physically and feel like I’m limping into the summer instead of leaping energetically and enthusiastically into the summer.
This summer’s workload will be substantial, with five major initiatives (just thinking about it all makes my head hurt even more!). Here’s what I’ll be spending my “lazy” summer “off” doing:
- Starting a new research project. I submitted a grant application late last year for a new project. I’m super-excited about the project: it combines my previous research on rich media and quality of experience with some network measurement, human-centered computing, and tool-building thrown in for good measure. But starting a new research project is always a bit daunting: what if it turns out this is a bad idea? what if we don’t get anywhere? where the hell do we start? And starting a new research project with students (see below) is doubly daunting. I have a vague plan of where to start, but frankly part of me is terrified. We could easily spend the entire summer just trying to get things up and running and still not have anything up or running at the end. I think the chances of that are small, but it’s enough to keep me up at night. At any rate, I’ll definitely be busting my ass this summer trying to get this project off the ground.
- Teaching in a brand new high school program. Because clearly starting a new research project from scratch is not enough excitement for one summer! Seriously though, Carleton is starting a new CS summer program this year for high school students for 3 weeks. We teach the students in the morning and work with a subset of them in the afternoon, in our research labs, on “real” CS research problems. I am very excited about this program, but know realistically that it will be a lot of work. We had our curriculum meeting today, so I’ve already done a bunch of planning for my classroom portion of the program, but still need to hammer out details about the research problems, as well as the software/programming language. Not to mention that the research problems, as I envision them at this point, rely heavily on progress we make on the new research project leading up to the high school program….yeah, there’s no way THIS could fail!
- Supervising 3 undergraduate research students. I took a hiatus last year from supervising students in my lab, mainly because I thought I’d be on parental leave, but this summer my lab will be full of students again. None of the students working for me have experience doing CS research, so my involvement will be very hands-on at the start of the summer. However, most of my former research students had no experience either, and things turned out well, and this group seems really eager and ready to get to work. (Plus I’ve been working with 2 of the 3 of them this term.) The one worrisome part is the new students + new project combination. I think I just need to go in with a flexible mindset and plans B-Z if things go awry. Again, what could possibly go wrong?
- Taking over as department chair July 1. And just like that, my service commitments increase exponentially. My big tasks out of the gate will be getting the agenda together for the department retreat in August and sketching out job ads for our tenure track search—and, of course, figuring out how to be department chair.
- Planning a brand new course for the fall. I’ve always wanted to teach a human-computer interaction (HCI) course. I sort of did so with the dyad a couple of years back, but this time around I’ll be teaching an A&I (freshman) seminar on the topic. I’m wildly excited about this opportunity, but (a) this is not my area and (b) we don’t have a senior-level class which I can raid for ideas. I met with some great people at SIGCSE this year who gave me some great teaching and course construction ideas, and my high school course in the summer program is on HCI, so I’m not completely starting from scratch. Still, this should be quite the adventure. (And did I mention that by definition this is a writing-rich course? Yikes!)
In addition, I have some assessment tasks to wrap up in July before handing over the assessment reins, and organizing our contingent for Grace Hopper will of course take place throughout the summer. And did I mention I’m running a half marathon in early August?
The good news is, with the exception of #4, everything on my plate this summer is fun-to-me and exciting and intellectually stimulating. Yes, I’ll be working hard, but it’s all on things I’ll enjoy immensely. So that definitely makes things a bit less daunting. That said, my goal is to get through the summer sustainably, without burning myself out….because I’m really going to need to be fresh and well-rested and renewed before the absolute insanity that will be my next academic year.
The 2013 NCWIT Summit wrapped up yesterday, and as always it was time well spent. This is my 4th NCWIT summit, and my 3rd as a member*—Carleton joined, I believe, in 2011. It’s always great to see old friends and colleagues from other schools and these summits are always in great locations (this year’s setting, in Tucson, was especially nice). But the main draw, of course, is that I learn so much and take so many ideas back from these summits, year after year after year.
There was so much that went on at this year’s summit, but here are a few of the highlights from my perspective:
- NCWIT is big on “best practices backed up by research” and so every year we hear from social scientists on relevant research (stereotype threat, implicit bias, etc). These talks tend to be very powerful, and this year was no exception. On Tuesday, David Neal spoke about disrupting habits, and how our habitual self combined with familiar surroundings can make even the best intentions from the best people go awry. (He used a great study to illustrate his point, in which people in a movie theater setting would eat stale popcorn in rather large quantities, even moreso than fresh popcorn if memory serves. Here, the theater is the trigger to eat popcorn, even if the popcorn is yucky.) This of course has implications for changing attitudes and culture in STEM: even if your entire organization is on board, if your cues are the same and the environment hasn’t changed, you’ll keep doing what you’re doing, pretty much subconsciously. Food for thought…er, no pun intended. Wednesday’s plenary featured Carol Dweck, who spoke on fixed vs. growth mindsets (i.e. do you believe that intelligence is something you’re born with or something you can develop?) and how fixed mindsets can not only harm learners, but basically have the same effect as stereotype threat. It was an amazing talk, and one of her last slides was the most powerful. She showed that the more a field believes that “raw genius” is required for success (*cough* CS *cough* Physics *cough* Engineering) rather than effort, the fewer female PhDs the field has. It’s definitely made me think about ways I can give feedback to my students….and to my kids, too….that will help them adopt a growth mindset. (Hint: Focus on the process, not the outcome.) I also loved her anecdote about the Chicago school that swapped out their F grades with “Not Yet” grades, and what effect that’s had on the students *and* student achievement.
- Speaking of plenaries, Michael Schwern, Perl developer extraordinaire, gave a truly fascinating (and often depressing) talk about his own experiences in open source, which has a notoriously dreadful diversity record. He had some great insights about how to talk about privilege with people who don’t want to hear about privilege, and in general about getting the conversation started with people who don’t want to or don’t feel the need to have these conversations. He also brought up Nóirín Plunkett, technical writer and open source contributor extraordinaire, who spoke in very real and very raw terms about her (often awful) experiences in the open source community. This was one of the more powerful talks I’ve seen recently, and unfortunately shows just how far we have to go still to broaden participation.
- Capitalizing on last year’s wildly successful flash talks, this year also featured flash talks, and they did not disappoint. Funny, touching, poignant, funny….did I say funny? Awesome.
- This was my first year as a project team leader, and so I got to see things from “the other side”, as it were. Our project team (recruitment and engagement) was very busy this year, running 2 sessions during the Academic Alliance meetings. We rolled out a new goal-setting initiative (our big project this year!) and kicked it off with a great panel featuring three institutions that have done some really neat things with NCWIT seed funds and resources. They were inspiring and frank. And we also got to have breakfast with the newest Academic Alliance members, which is always fun. In general, it was interesting to see how the decisions the co-chairs and project leads made about the summit in the months leading up to the summit played out (mostly fine).
I head back home today, full of new ideas and new contacts and a renewed sense of optimism about what we can accomplish. And as always, I’m already looking forward to next year’s summit!
* Genius move: I went to my first summit in Portland in 2010 as a guest (the regional women in computing conference coordinators were brought in as guests that year), and of course the whole thing was so fabulous and I learned so much and promptly went back to my institution and said “We need to be a part of this.” Smart recruiting move, NCWIT!
- We’ve now officially reached the point in the term/school year where there is no schedule—there is just running from one crisis to another. I am too tired for planning anything beyond the next half hour.
- Signs your job might be adversely affecting your family life: You joke about quitting and your spouse says “can you? really? please?”. Uh-oh….
- Everyone (neighbors, day care parents, random people on the streets) keeps asking me when my summer starts. This is the problem with the term system: we have 3 more weeks of classes. Heck, I just finished grading midterms! This is the tradeoff with terms: August is awesome, May stinks.
- 2/3 of the readings in my Software Design class have been, well, let’s say not your typical textbook readings.* The tone is easy and conversational and a bit irreverent, but the content is still pretty hefty. Which is why I chose these readings—they get all the important points across in an engaging but nontrivial way. What I’m finding interesting, though, is how the students are reacting to these readings. A few off-hand comments and questions from a few students indicate that the tone obscures the fact that there’s quite a bit of substance there. This is especially true of the web usability reading. Next time I teach this course, I will make a more conscious effort to point out the theory behind the readings, but it’s been an interesting lesson.
- We are not quite there yet, but someday (someday!) I will not find it remarkable that I have an all-female final project group.
- Officially I don’t become department chair until July 1, but it’s kind of already started for me. Students have started coming to me asking all sorts of complicated questions about graduation and major requirements and special cases. I have a hiring meeting w/ some deans later this week. I’m already getting all manner of chair-related emails (particularly about budgets). I’ve started thinking about all sorts of processes and agendas and such. I’m glad for this transition time, but at the same time part of me is like IT’S TOO SOON! AAAARRRRGGHH!
- One particular chair-related issue that’s keeping me up at night: We have 57 newly-declared CS majors. Yes, you read that number right. I’ll wait for you to pick yourself off the floor…. So, we need to put all these majors in project teams for Comps in 2014-15. How do we do this without completely overwhelming our faculty resources? Great question. Let me know if you figure it out.
- Next week I’ll be at the NCWIT summit in Tucson. I look forward to the Summit every year (look for live tweets again!)—I always learn a whole bunch of new things, and it’s a great excuse to see the people I see at Grace Hopper and/or SIGCSE again (there is a lot of overlap in those crowds). This year I’ll be running a session in the Academic Alliance meeting along w/ my other team leaders. I’m excited—we have a great plan and great panelists lined up—but also nervous because part of our session involves a software demo. Trying not to panic about the many things that could and might go wrong there…yikes!
* Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think! and Freeman/Freeman/Sierra/Bates’ Head First Design Patterns
(Guest post) A Call to Action: A Student’s Perspective on Gender Diversity in the Carleton College Computer Science Department
Note: This is a guest post by Alex Voorhees ’13, a Computer Science major and Educational Studies concentrator at Carleton. The post is an assignment for EDUC 395: Senior Seminar. For this assignment, the students write and publish an editorial on some aspect of the seminar’s topic, which this year is Gender, Sexuality, and Schooling. When Alex approached me about writing a guest post, I enthusiastically agreed, because I thought it would be interesting to get a student’s perspective on our departmental culture, something the CS faculty here spend a great deal of time discussing. I encourage you to chime in with your thoughts in the comments, and hopefully Alex will engage back here in the comments as well. Now, without further ado….
Sixth-Term sophomores just declared their majors at Carleton, and the Computer Science (CS) department saw huge gains. Not only did it become the second most popular major on campus, but it garnered 55 new majors. The percentage of women CS majors for the new class is at an all-time high, 30%, and is even more than the last two years, 20% and 18% respectively. Carleton has been tremendously successful in increasing the fraction of women CS majors, yet it remains far below the percentage of women at Carleton. Thus it is quite clear that new initiatives are needed to encourage more women to enter the field. I am calling for more action.
I have noticed many positive changes during my past four years as a major in at Carleton’s Computer Science department. Most notable has been the faculty. When I took my first CS class as a freshman, there was only one female professor in the department. Now, in my senior year, there are now three, making up a third of the department. While this may seem small, compared to other small liberal arts school in Minnesota this is actually quite large. This larger number of female faculty has certainly helped attract women to the department. However, this is far from the only positive change. For example, a subtle change recently caught my eye: the backgrounds of the computer screens in the computer lab show pictures of famous male and female computer scientists. I think this is a great idea to show every student in the lab that women have played an integral role in the development of the field, despite being outnumbered by their male counterparts.
While these changes have been positive, there is still much work to be done. I have witnessed instances of women in the department experiencing various kinds of bias. Most of these are micro-aggressions ranging from comments made in passing to actions. For example, I was in a course taught by a female professor and certain male students acted in a way that I am sure they would never have in a class taught by a male professor. At the end of her lecture, one of these male students literally walked out of the classroom in a clearly disrespectful manner. I felt horribly because of how the student acted, and the fact that I did nothing about it. Overall, I think the CS department does an excellent job creating a positive culture for women. We need to not only encourage women to take CS classes, but also to work to change the attitude of some male students in the department. Moreover, the male students cannot act as bystanders when they witness micro-aggressions. When you see or hear something that might be considered a micro-aggression, do not be afraid and say something! I think a great idea for the CS department would be to offer a class on the history of computer science to illustrate the important role of women the development of the field. With women acting as the CEO of Yahoo and the COO of Facebook, such a class is a no brainer.
This term I am teaching in Carleton’s “interactive classroom”, more commonly referred to as the Sandbox. This is my first time teaching in this particular classroom, although I’ve admired it from afar since it opened for business in 2011.
The classroom is set up for collaboration. It’s a long, narrow room with 8 round tables, 6 chairs per table. Each table has a microphone, a large wall-mounted monitor, and a hookup to the projection system so that students can hook their laptops, etc to the monitor. (As the instructor, I can theoretically project this input onto the projection screen too, although I haven’t tried to do that yet.) The room also has whiteboards on 3 of the 4 walls (the 4th, narrow wall has windows), allowing each table access to plenty of drawing/scribbling space. There’s a teaching station in the middle of the room which also hooks up into the room’s projection system.
The setup of this room is perfect for the type of class I’m teaching. My class, Software Design, focuses on the art and science and practical aspects of programming, design, and development. It’s the perfect class for flipping, since much of the content is best covered by doing and not by telling. It’s also the perfect class for collaboration of all sorts: small group discussions, code reviews, design critiques, etc.
So, now that we’re five weeks in, how is the classroom working out? Is it everything I envisioned it would be and more? Or am I desperately wishing for a more conventional space? I thought this would be a good time to evaluate the good, the bad, and the ugly of this little interactive space experiment.
I’ll start off by saying that there’s a lot to like about the space and overall I’m really enjoying teaching in it. The students have really utilized the space well from the start. Sure, they sometimes still play with the microphones before class starts, but in the first class meeting students were already playing around with the laptop hookups and using the whiteboards. The tables are excellent for discussions. One thing I didn’t anticipate is how loud the room gets during group activities (there are 38 students in the class, so we fill most of the room), but I think the round tables help everyone hear and participate (and focus!).
The room layout is also a good visual cue for me. As I’ve mentioned before, one thing I still struggle with in my flipped classrooms is just shutting up already and letting the students get to work. Seeing the students all set up and ready to collaborate reminds me (most of the time, not always) to make my remarks brief so that the students can get to the task(s) at hand. The layout also makes it easy for me to visit each group during collaborative work and to interact with everyone in the group. It’s harder to hide/not participate at a small, round table! There’s definitely a community and a camaraderie in the classroom, and a pretty relaxed, comfortable atmosphere, and I think the space plays a large role in that climate.
Basically, the room makes collaborative work so easy and natural that it seems a shame to “waste” it on lecturing, so I’m more mindful of how I structure my class meetings. My pedagogy has really benefited from the space as a result.
There are some definite quirks of the room that take some getting used to. Luckily many of these quirks can be creatively managed.
First, with the teaching station in the middle of the room, I have my back to about a third of the class when I stand there. This forces me to walk around the room, which I tend to do anyway when I talk, so not a big deal. But it is problematic if I have to do a demo, or write notes (see next paragraph). I made a few jokes early in the term about my “rudeness”, so I don’t think the students mind too much, but it’s a bit off-putting to me.
Second, even though the room has tons of whiteboard space, the glare and sight lines mean that there’s no good spot for ME to write notes for the class. This is the biggest drawback, because I primarily teach using the board (I only use slides for complex diagrams and discussion questions.) So I don’t write on the board—I write notes on a tablet PC which is projected to the main screens in the room. It works, but it’s not the most natural thing in the world for me, which means I don’t write as much in terms of notes, summaries, etc. as I usually do on a typical board. Which means I think much more carefully about the points I do write/project for the class, so I guess that’s a net win.
Third, the room gets surprisingly loud. Now, I definitely don’t have a problem with vocal projection (I inherited my grandmother’s lack of brain/mouth filter and lack of an “indoor voice”), but even I have a hard time getting people to simmer down when I want to move on from an activity. There’s enough of a delay on the lights that flashing the lights doesn’t work well. I’m still working on a good mechanism to quiet down the room without destroying my voice in the process. (Suggestions welcome!)
There’s a lot of collaborative work we can do without computers in this course. However, at the end of the day this is a SOFTWARE design course, and every so often it makes sense to do collaborative work on computers (duh). There are no computers in the space other than the one at the teaching station, and students don’t reliably bring their laptops to class. This means that we end up sometimes meeting in the classroom and sometimes meeting in the computer lab—which is all the way across campus, in my building. (For instance, last week we met in the classroom on Monday and in the lab on Wednesday and Friday.) Now, there is a lab in the same building, but there was not enough time to get the software I needed installed in this lab before the start of classes, hence this imperfect solution. I do try to announce well in advance and multiple times when we have a classroom switch, but students are understandably annoyed when they accidentally go to the wrong room (it’s a 10 minute mistake—the time it takes to walk across campus). Also, I would much rather have the students working on computers in the classroom space, to facilitate cross-pair sharing and discussion (which is harder to pull off in the lab, set up like a conventional computer lab—long and narrow, computers in rows).
The room is quirky, and I wish it had dedicated computers, but it works, and works very well for this class. Here’s the most telling testimonial: I’m teaching this same class next spring, and I’ve already put in a request for a room switch so that I can teach the class in this room again. (Hopefully this will give me enough lead time to get the proper software in the computer lab in the same building.) I’m enjoying the way the space challenges my approach to class planning and to pedagogy, and I’m really enjoying the classroom climate fostered by the space. It will be interesting to get my students’ perspective on their mid-term evaluations—I am curious to see if their experience of the space is as positive as mine. Regardless, I’ve enjoyed the chance to try out a new-to-me space and break out of my normal teaching routine!
At 2am Saturday morning, I turned off my computer. My day had started at 5:15am Friday morning, and I’d pretty much been going nonstop since then: teaching, meetings, a crazy workday; then home to wrangle dinner and baths and the kids, by myself; then, once the kids were in bed, back to work. For hours. Repeat the rest of the weekend, substituting a crazy full day of kid-wrangling by myself for the crazy workday.
This week is a bit extreme, and is the result of a perfect storm of sorts. A short turnaround between winter and spring terms (I still haven’t finished wrapping up stuff from winter term). Two major service deadlines back to back. Another big service thing I’ve had to ignore out of necessity (so that I can get at least a few hours of sleep a night). Some departmental drama that I’ve been drawn into as incoming chair next year. Sick kids (and sick me) and single parenting. A late invitation to submit a journal article, due at the end of the month. I started spring term behind and I’m still not caught up.
The problem is, this seems to be my new normal. This has been the craziest year professionally ever. I work all the damn time. All. The. Damn. Time. Well, when I’m not parenting, that is. And it’s starting to affect my life, beyond the sleep deprivation: I completely flaked on two kind of important personal life things last week. This is completely unlike me, Dr. Uber-Responsible, and while I’m trying not to beat myself up over these things, it’s hard not to.
(Another sign of the craziness: the unfinished puzzle currently sitting on my dining room table, that I’ve been working on since CHRISTMAS DAY, largely untouched since January.)
Here’s the thing: I love my job. Love love love it. But I love my family too, and I love having hobbies and free time and relaxing…you know, the things that normal people do. And lately my job does not allow for anything outside of my job. And this fundamentally bothers me.
Prioritize? I’m prioritizing up the wazoo. I’m queen of getting stuff done and pomodoros and to-do lists and zero inboxes and <insert your favorite productivity buzzword here>. There’s still too much work. Too many expectations. I drop so many balls it’s not funny. And it’s still too much. Way too much.
I’ve heard the same stories from many associate profs I know. We’re all burned out, overworked, overwhelmed. Next year I’m going to be chair. This terrifies me. If I can barely keep things together now, how the hell am I going to manage next year when my workload goes up exponentially?
I want to be an effective teacher, an engaged scholar, and a colleague who gives back. I also want a life. These things should not be mutually exclusive. I want work to be on my terms and not be in triage mode all the time. But the further I go down this tenured road, the less possible I think that is.