Time for #acwrimo!

It’s hard to believe, but November is almost upon us. And with November comes AcWriMo, that annual frenzy of academic writing virtually hosted by PhD2Published. I participated in this last year and found it tremendously helpful for my accountability and productivity: I finished a draft of my grant proposal, sent it out for review, and filled in some of the other sections as well. 

Setting my goals for AcWriMo has been tricky this year. It’s not like I wasn’t busy last year, but this year my busy-ness has grown to new and frightening heights. I alluded to this in my last post: with my service commitments and being chair and the new prep and everything else going on, I’ve struggled mightily to keep up this term. (Let’s not even talk about how far behind I am with grading.) I have had a very hard time finding regular time for research this term, and this is highly unusual for me, self-appointed Queen of the Pomodoro. At the same time, I am very cognizant of the need for self-care and the damage that trying to do and be everything takes on me—about three years ago, I tried to do and be everything and ended up having a series of panic attacks over a period of months. It took me a long time and some therapy to unlearn the habits that got me to that point, and I’m not keen to fall back into those habits.

So, how do I make goals that push myself a bit out of my comfort zone, while at the same time taking into account my crazy current life?

I’ve decided to focus more on time goals this time around, because I think that’s something I can manage. I don’t have the time or space for open-endedness right now. But knowing myself, I also need some “larger” goal to keep me focused during my daily “research sprints”. I’m also going to go “off-script” a bit and have some of my goals focus on research rather than writing, although as often happens I do write up as I go along, so there will be writing, rest assured.

Enough already! Here are my 2013 AcWriMo goals:

  1. Spend at least 30 minutes a day (6 days a week) on research or research writing. Since this is a bit longer than a pomodoro, I’m calling each 30 minutes I spend a “research sprint”.
  2. Finish all of the major experiments that I need for my grant resubmission. (And write up the results as I go along.)
  3. Draft an outline/plan for the rest of the grant narrative revisions. I have a tentative outline at this point, but I’d like to flesh it out more fully so that I can just start filling in the blanks in December.

I think this is a good mix of manageable and ambitious. I’m excited to start—bring on November!


Random vignettes (bullets are sooo 2012)

autumn leaves


Knowing that this year would be crazy busy for me, I chose my service wisely. I tried to select things that were staggered throughout the year, so that I could give my time and attention to them without stressing out too much. I tried to avoid January and February since that’s when hiring season will kick into high gear around here. I said no to some opportunities because I knew I wouldn’t have the bandwidth for them.

Even with all this careful planning, several of my service activities are now ramping up all at the same time, and all of them seem to require attention at precisely the same times.

So much for careful planning, huh.

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This term, I’m experimenting with all-electronic grading. I’ve always felt a bit squicky about all the paper involved in take-home exams and essays. But I’ve felt more comfortable grading on paper, so even when students turn in take-home exams or essays on Moodle, I tend to print them out to grade them. Moodle introduced a blind grading feature recently, and with this feature I decided to try and go all-electronic.

My system goes like this: Students turn in exams or essays in either Word or PDF format. If they turn in a Word file, I use track changes to make comments and/or indicate how many points they received on a question. If they turn in a PDF file, I use the annotation features in Preview to make comments, mark up the text, highlight passages, etc. Usually I also have an associated rubric on Moodle, but since I comment on their papers/exams directly I just refer them to the document for comments rather than repeating them in the rubric.

I was worried about the clunkiness of this, particularly with annotating PDFs. But I’ve been annotating PDFs I read for research for quite some time now (also to save paper), so I’ve gotten used to how to annotate in Preview and I have a pretty good workflow. And I’m actually enjoying it quite a bit. I can copy and paste comments between papers/exams (good when many students miss the same question or make the same mistake for the same reasons). I had all of my Networks exams open on my computer earlier, and I found it easy to switch back and forth between them, allowing me to grade like I normally do (one part of a question at a time for each student in the class). I find I make longer and more constructive comments and it takes me less time.

Interestingly, my Networks class appears to favor PDFs while my freshman seminar definitely favors Word docs. I’m not sure why this is.

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Tomorrow I embark on a new-to-me adventure. I’m serving as an external reviewer for a CS department review at another liberal arts institution.

I’m pretty excited about the opportunity. We went through our own department review a few years back (right after we brought our son home), but since I was on leave I had a pretty fractured view of the process. I am looking forward to meeting new people, talking about trends in the field, and seeing how another institution does things.

That said, the schedule for this thing looks pretty daunting! I am an extrovert and usually thrive on interacting with people, but I’m thinking I will need to sit and stare at a wall for a few hours after I get back to my hotel, especially at the end of the first full day. I know that the schedule has to be this way due to the short time frame, but ay caramba, this will test my extrovertedness for sure.

This is not an Ada Lovelace Day post

October was gearing up to be a great month. It started with the always fabulous, always inspiring, always rejuvenating Grace Hopper Conference, which was here in the Twin Cities this year. (4800 technical women in one venue! Can’t get much more awesome than that.) Then earlier this week was Ada Lovelace Day, a day in which we’re all supposed to share stories of women scientists, engineers, mathematicians, computer scientists, etc—essentially, reminding the world that women have and continue to contribute great things to these fields. I’ve always found Ada Lovelace Day inspiring and was looking forward to working up a (belated) post this year.

But sometimes the world has a way of kicking you in the gut. And that’s certainly what this week has felt like in the science/tech blogosphere.

For those of you not following along on Twitter or in the blogosphere, a quick recap:

  • Danielle N. Lee, biologist and blogger extraordinaire, turned down a request to blog for free on Biology Online. In response, the blog editor who sent the request called her an urban whore. As if that’s not bad enough, she posts about the incident on her blog (hosted by Scientific American), only to have Scientific American take the post down for shady and shoddy reasons (and a shifting story). Eventually the editor was fired and Dr. Lee’s blog post reinstated.
  • Several stories emerge about Bora Zivkovic, a highly influential person in the science blogging community, as a harasser of women. Bora resigns from the ScienceOnline (the conference he co-founded that brings science bloggers together) board. (update: also resigns from Scientific American, as more allegations come to light).
  • Twitter and the blogosphere erupt with stories from women and men about sexual harassment and microagressions, at once heartbreaking and, unfortunately, familiar.
  • I become aware of a certain unsavory tumblr. I refuse to link to it here, but let’s say it rhymes with “mop fleck lemminism”, and it’s peddling a lot of the same sexist bullsh*t that’s been running amok in the tech field lately (and forever).

Early on in my career, whenever I had a really bad day (or week, or month), I would cope by doing one of two things. I’d either compose my resignation letter in my head, or I’d come home and declare “That’s it, I’m not advising any one else to go into this stupid, stupid field.” (Yes, I tend towards the melodramatic—why do you ask?) There’s been a lot of that going on in my life this week. I’m demoralized, I’m saddened, and I’m furious. I’m reminded of my own experiences with harassment over my career, and sickened that this type of stuff is still happening and that the same sort of victim-blaming and gaslighting and minimizing of experiences I’ve experienced is still going strong. The last thing I want to do is think shiny, happy thoughts and write shiny, happy stories about women in science and tech, because I’m reminded of just how toxic both science and tech can be towards women.

But there is some good coming out of all this mess and yuckiness. Because people are talking. People are sharing their stories and experiences. #ripplesofdoubt is hard to read, but it’s trending strong on Twitter as I write this, and it’s so, so important to read and digest. The science blogging and tweeting communities are actively talking about this. Talking about privilege and power. Talking about allies, and decency, and what we should do when a “good person” behaves “unexpectedly”. Talking about what trust means, and safe spaces, and the power of listening, really listening. Not shying away from the tough questions and discussions. Just talking.

I had a conversation with my husband last month in which I told him about an unsettling story I heard about an interaction between a student and a professor, a typical microaggression. He said something like “I can’t believe that happens!” I looked at him and said, “What are you talking about? Of course it happens. It’s happened to me many times.” Now, my husband is a feminist and I consider him an ally, and yet he had a very real blind spot about this. My statement shocked him. I’ve thought about that conversation many times this week, about the importance of continuing to talk and educate even though it feels like we’ve been talking and educating forever.

We as a community need to keep talking, and telling our stories. The shiny, happy, Ada Lovelace Day ones and the ones we’d rather forget ever happened. We need to name names, too. This is how we bring to light what’s really happening. Most people, men and women, in science and tech are good people who want to do the right thing. Our stories hopefully help them begin to see beyond their privilege, and hopefully empower them to start asking “what can I do? how can I help?” I know that’s not nearly enough, but it’s a start.

The annual obligatory pre-Grace Hopper Conference Post


That’s how many Grace Hoppers I have attended, counting this year.

I joke every year that the more Hoppers I attend, the fewer Hopper sessions I attend. That is certainly true this year. While I’ve done a somewhat decent job in my work life and my personal life this year in terms of curating my commitments, I’ve apparently not done the same thing with this conference. I’m definitely overcommitted, although each of the things I’m committed to are worthy and fun in their own right:

  • I’m on a panel! (Hence the badge.) I get to talk about what it’s like to be a faculty member at a liberal arts college, with some powerhouse women as my fellow panelists. (Seriously, I got imposter syndrome just reading their bios!). The presentation looks like it will be a lot of fun and we’ll hopefully have plenty of time for Q&A. (11:45am Thursday, MCC 200 H-J.)
  • I am also on the posters committee and will be judging the student research competition on Wednesday evening (6:30-9, MCC Halls B-C). I love the poster session and I love talking to up-and-coming researchers, so this will be a lot of fun.
  • My NCWIT Academic Alliance duties continue on the recruitment and engagement front. We’ll have our usual reception for faculty (Thursday evening, 6:15, MCC 205 C-D). In addition, my co-team leader Doug and I will be in the NCWIT lounge Thursday and Friday afternoon demoing something new that we’ll be rolling out to Academic Alliance members soon (if you were at the Summit, you saw an early version of this). Look for the lounge and look for us there!
  • I’m helping staff the LACAFI booth. This year LACAFI’s a silver sponsor, which hopefully means our booth will be somewhat easy to find. Stop by and say hi when you find us!

This year’s conference is special. It’s in our backyard, practically! We have the biggest group in Carleton history going: 13 students, 3 faculty, and at last count at least 4 alums. (I’m sure there are plenty more, so Carl alums: If you’re reading this and will be at Hopper, email, tweet, or DM me! We’d love to get together with you and we have something planned, even.) It will be admittedly a bit weird to have the conference in our fair city, but not losing a day to travel is definitely a nice bonus.

Timing-wise, the conference is ideal this year. Recently I’ve had a series of borderline-demoralizing, unbloggable encounters that alternately have me feeling like I’m shouting into the wind, or I’m a fish way out of water. I need to recharge my batteries, and Grace Hopper always does that for me. I don’t know if it’s the energy or the speakers’ passion or seeing colleagues from other institutions or just the sheer joy of not being the only or one of few women in the room. Probably all of the above. Whatever it is, I need it this year, badly.

If you’ll be there, I hope to see you! If not, you can vicariously experience the conference through my tweets—assuming I can find some time to tweet. Grace Hopper, here we come!