31 January 2013

Don't make eye contact! Or perhaps maybe you should...

I've written briefly about the flipped classroom format being implemented in the intro bio class I'm helping to teach this semester. I get really jazzed about the increased amount of interaction I have with students. Even though there are twice as many students this semester as last, I still feel like I have more in-depth, meaningful conversations with more students, without an appreciable increase in face time. I've had time to think about how to facilitate interactions with students, and here's what I've found:

  1. This is a tip I picked up years ago in education classes at my alma mater, MU. Ever been in front of a class, ask a question, and hear crickets instead of answers? That just means you need to wait longer for an answer. Students will respond eventually if you wait, and chances are, the next time you wait, it won't be as long.
  2. Ask students how they are doing. It's shocking how many have questions they won't ask until prompted.
  3. Make eye contact with students who are looking around while thinking. It's a less invasive than the previous tip, and easier to do in a large classroom.
I feel almost silly by posting these, given how simple they are. It makes a huge difference in personalizing yourself to students, though, and making them feel more comfortable coming to you for help. 

30 January 2013

On science writing and boredom.

I'm trying to finish up revisions for a manuscript and I'm kind of bored.

The research I'm writing up is a pet project from my dissertation. It's a molecular phylogeny of a group of plants which I particularly fancy, and I enjoyed the background on pollinators and inflorescence structure I learned while finishing up the project. For all intents and purposes, I should be eager to finish it.

The problem, it seems, is that I'm stuck in a writing rut. I write frequently, for various personal and professional purposes, and feel very comfortable expressing myself in a written format. I completed minors in history and communication studies, and in the process, finely honed my tone and ability to express arguments. My writing errs on the side of informality, sometimes even to the chagrin of my colleagues, but I enjoy and embrace it.

Writing academic scientific articles, however, leaves me feeling lackluster at best. I started the introductory writing for this paper over five years ago, during the early years of my dissertation, and I find myself wholly sick of it now. I struggle to find balance between clarity necessary for academic publication and the verbosity to which I've grown accustomed for other types of writing. I want to edit the paragraphs that are plaguing my revisions so that they actually sound like me. However, I'm also eager to be rid of the damn thing for awhile, so I may move on to fresher projects, and I fear putting off reviewers with my modified tone.

So I wallow in writerly despair, blogging and whining. Perhaps it's time to suck it up and be a big adult scientist...boredom be damned.

27 January 2013

Welcome back to myself!

It's been longer than I intended since my last post, but research and teaching deadlines left me drained. Never fear, loyal readers...I've many things to report!

First, the retrospective pensiveness of the turnover into a new year made me realize how many steps I've taken to really act on my commitment to open science. Here's what has happened:

  1. I started posting my presentations and posters on SlideShare. I'm still blown away that people actually view and even download these!
  2. After following advice early in my graduate education to always review academic papers anonymously, I decided to start signing my reviews and offering to discuss my comments with authors.
  3. I received my first signed review for a paper from a colleague, and was gratified with how much easier it was to interpret her comments knowing her background.
  4. I attended a Software Carpentry bootcamp at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill at the end of November. I loved the pedagogical approach used for this class, and was glad to finally receive the catalyst needed to start adding my scripts to GitHub
  5. My teaching responsibilities with Duke University this semester involve teaching an intro bio course. Mohammed Noor is integrating this class with a MOOC (massive open online course) offered through Coursera. My responsibilities involve assisting during the 450 student lecture sessions (these are flipped-classroom format, where students watch recorded lectures ahead of time and participate in class with active learning) as well as teaching my own lab session. I'll be doing some lecturing later in the semester, as well as piloting a new inquiry-based phylogenetics lab I'm developing.
As you can see, exciting things abound! This doesn't even start to cover the awesome things I have going on with particular research projects, which are shaping up to be a bit mind-blowing. Hooray for science!