Tuesday, January 09, 2007

(Dis)Satisfaction

The fact that this blog is unable to satisfy, interest, or convince 100% of the people who read it reminds me in some ways of the experience of teaching a large class.

A major difference is that in the case of this blog, I don't care. In the case of teaching a large class, I always wish I could reach each student so that they will listen, understand, and be interested in science in general, and the specific course subject in particular.

There are so many variables in a large class at a big university, there is no way to succeed at this completely. In my last big class (hundreds of students), the number of students with their own or family illnesses/emergencies to deal with was considerable, and then there are the student-athletes who travel a lot, students with language difficulties, students with disabilities, students with complicated social lives, student not prepared to take a science class, students terrified of science, and so on. Being compassionate and (somewhat) flexible goes some way to helping these students, but there's only so much a science professor can do.

Even so, I like teaching the big classes, but am glad I don't do it every semester or even every year. This semester I will be teaching a mid-sized, intermediate-level course for science and engineering majors. Mostly this week I am working on updating the course content and thinking about trying a few new activities and different ways to explain/present things. That's the fun part of getting ready for a new semester.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I like reading your blogs. I'm 23 Female, finishing my Diploma Thesis in Chemistry, in one of European countries and going to Grad School to Zurich. I guess I always wanted to be a professor, and for the first 22 years of my life I lived in beautiful dream that men and women are equal...

... so, just keep writtng, we young women need a Role Model.

Ms.PhD said...

Reading your posts about teaching, I have to wonder if I'm completely delusional about being a Professor.

Much as I want to help students who are interested, I can't talk about science like it's this great career path and we should persuade more kids to follow it. I don't believe that.

I think it's a strange career path and there are only a very few people who are both smart enough and have the personality type uniquely suited to the lifestyle. And nobody can predict who those people are, early in their careers, based on classwork.

Much as I like academia, this is the part I struggle with the most about applying for faculty positions. The expectation seems to be that you must glow and gush about science all the time, or you don't belong in academia.

Female Science Professor said...

You don't have to convince all these students to BECOME scientists, but it is very important to teach as many people as possible about science in general: what scientists do, why it is important (for everyone), how to use basic knowledge of science to make major life decisions and understand the world. It is so important to be part of that effort.

Anonymous said...

Well. This is an appropriate post for me to leave this comment on--

I discovered your blog a few days ago and since have gone back to read all the archives. I'm a female grad student in the natural sciences at a research instutition; in my department the more enlightened of faculty members are willing to admit that it sure sucks that there are so few women out there qualified enough to be asked to join our esteemed department.

Doesn't exactly lead to many opportunities to talk to people about being a professor who will have to deal with issues that come up because I am a woman. So it's been wonderful to read about your experiences with these things, and just about life as a tenured professor in general, because I don't have a lot of other resources to get this sort of information from.

So: thank you for this blog. It helps to fill a very large need in the community of women physical scientists.

sciencegirl said...

As a young female entering grad school in the fall, I love reading your blog, but share some of ms.phd's concerns. When trying to answer what I want to do with a Ph.D, I get stuck on the teaching part. At either of my top choice schools I'll graduate without any experience teaching. I love research, but how is one supposed to know if they like teaching or are any good at it with no experience?

Female Science Professor said...

It's too bad that your top choice schools don't provide some exposure to teaching, but maybe you will work with undergrads in your research and get a sense for whether you like the role of being an advisor/mentor. The universities might also have some courses that give you a sense for what is involved in teaching and other aspects of being a professor; these courses go by different names that are variations on "preparing future faculty". My department encourages students to take such courses for credit once they have completed their major coursework and preliminary exams.

Ms.PhD said...

Actually, you've given me an idea for another blog post. So, since I'm procrastinating, I may go write that up before I move on to doing more work tonight...

Anonymous said...

"The fact that this blog is unable to satisfy, interest, or convince 100% of the people who read it..."

"WE" are content.