Sunday, May 06, 2007

Multi-Tasking for Sanity

I have not completely solved the problem of feeling brain-damaged during and after doing a significant amount of grading, but I have discovered a partial solution that has been working well for me tonight: I am acquiring data in my lab at the same time that I am grading. This only works if the graded materials don't require undivided attention for lengths of time greater than the time required for the lab activity. Fortunately, I have been able to work it out tonight so that I can bounce between lab things and grading things in such a way that I am getting something scientific done and making progress with grading. And even when I'm grading, I feel happy knowing that things are moving along in the lab at the same time. This is the best kind of multi-tasking.

Little by little, the pile of ungraded exams is getting smaller. After grading an excellent exam, I usually do the next one right away. When I get to a not-excellent one or one that is difficult to read, I tend to go back to the lab activity sooner.

Still to do: the alchemical transformation of number grades to letter grades.


A.R. Linder said...

It would seem to me that the not-so-good papers need just as much, if not more,attention than the good papers. Challenge the minds of your young people at

Female Science Professor said...

I do not spend less time on the not-so-good exams. I tend to grade two exams in a row when I get to a good one. I tend to take a break after I grade a not-so-good one. The comment about going back to the lab sooner referred to the number of exams graded between lab activities, not amount of time spent on any one exam. I think my young people's minds were quite challenged by my exam, from what I can see so far.

Crabby McSlacker said...

I admire people who can multitask. I don't know what you call the part of the brain that monitors multiple ongoing activities, but I don't seem to have one.

The sad thing is I always think I can to do two things at once. But I can't even make toast and coffee at the same time without some sort of disaster happening.

Female Science Professor said...

If I were really good at multi-tasking, I would also be ambidextrous and I would grade with a pen in one hand while operating lab equipment with the other, keeping an eye on both and not screwing up either or injuring myself. That's not going to happen, so I will content myself with the serial type of multi-tasking.

Dr. Lisa said...

The multitasking that gets me through grading involves hot chocolate. Finals week can be very fattening. Good luck!

Apathy Jack said...

One of my students went through my desk yesterday and found her book, chock full of essays that I habs't marked.

I had had the book for some weeks.

I hadn't noticed.

Neither had she...

Anonymous said...

Don't we all have some brain damaging work on our job descriptions? I'm a journalist and need to do stuffies like finding out prices, checking adresses and telephone numbers, finding new tactful ways of saying no to paying advertisers who want their products punted enditorially and even checking my own spelling on the spel cehcker. ALL homework is totally brain damaging - dishes, cooking, paying accounts, buying food...
But I suppose it is the brain damaging part that gives us the brain gain section. Wasn't it Goethe who said no flowers without carrying water? (And he lived in Germany - not nearly as much water needed as we in dry Africa!!)So, that is how get beyond the boring stuff but an assistant would have been a nicer option!
I'd love a job having only 10% brain damaging aspects, or 20%. or 30% ... How much is tolerable? And how does this relate to your personality and health and productivity? Should lead to some interesting graphs!

BlackBerry said...

Interesting site keep on!

mineIsay said...

Multi-tasking is an excellent way of making sure your brain does get too complacent. Unfortunately, too much of it also ensures that you wil never be able to concentrate on a single aspect of life ever again :)
tread carefully.

scarlettscion said...

Great blog, I've been reading for a little while now. I'm a grad student in complit, so not facing the exact same gender/career problems, but I certainly find your perspectives on things such as the 2-body problem very helpful!

RE: a.r. linder's takes an amazing amount of energy to grade terrible papers, in addition to the fact that it doesn't feel at all positive, and is in fact somewhat depressing.
I would take a break as well...

Anonymous said...

I wonder how Ségolène Royal multi-tasked for sanity! She may have lost the presidential elections in France on Sunday, but she has nevertheless done something durable to French politics: She has shown that France can and will have a woman president in a not-too-distant future. Consider that the race started out as a description of the two main candidates as "Beauty and the Beast", that she was more often reported on for the outfits she wore than for what she had to say, and that she was criticized for getting angry and loosing control during the 2hr and 40 min debate, and the 47% of the votes she received on Sunday are clearly a credit to her tenacity and perhaps also to a French society that is getting gradually relaxed about the role of women in government. The May 2 debate was also instructive about Nicolas Sarkosy, above and beyond his political views. When they addressed each other, he kept calling her Madame, never Madame Royal, while she systematically called him Monsieur Sarkosy. He emphasized the fact she is a woman, while she talked to a man with a name. Mr. Sarkosy never addressed the woman anchor for the whole debate, only the male anchor, Mr. Poivre d'Arvor. I am a man but I have started to notice these things. I wonder if you and your readers saw more of these subtleties in this debate (if you happened to have viewed it on the internet) and if you have similar things to report from other circumstances.
Ségolène Royal has opened a new era for women on the French political scene. The result of this election is perhaps the most important political event in France since the resounding NO the French said to the European Constitution.

Anonymous said...

I'm impressed you still do labwork, period. My advisor hasn't been in the lab for years, since before tenure. Is the PI acquiring data usual for your disipline?

In my physical science, profesors, f and m, rarely collect data.

gs said...

Still to do: the alchemical transformation of number grades to letter grades.

Lead into gold...grade inflation?

I'm curious how you would record grades if the format were up to you. Would you stick with letter grades or do something else?

EuropeanFSP said...

Here's that alchemy you are looking for: Fire up Ex*el or some other spreadsheet program.
Set up a tab with your local grading ordinance, like this, in 3 columns (Column one is just for me):

Points Lookup Grade
0-49 0 5,0
50-54 50 4,0
55-59 55 3,7
60-64 60 3,3
65-69 65 3,0
70-74 70 2,7
75-79 75 2,3
80-84 80 2,0
85-89 85 1,7
90-94 90 1,3
95-100 95 1,0
110 1,0

Right, these are German grades, 1.0 is the best grade, 5,0 a failing grade.

Now go to the sheet where you have the sum number of points (normalized to procent, any scientist should be able to do this). In an empty cell in the column next to the procent grade, put in =SVERWEIS(T8;GradeTable!B$4:C$15;2;WAHR)
if you happen to be doing German or
for English.

T8 is the cell with the procent. B$4:C$15 is the table (just 2nd and third column in example above). 2 means "take the value in column 2 - which is C in this example - for the largest value in column 1 (that is, B) which is smaller than the value in T8. WAHR (true) is the moon phase... no, wait, something about exact matching or not. Anyway.

In English the function is called VLOOKUP (Vertical lookup) and there is also a HLOOKUP. Check out the help files

And suddenly, you just put this magic incantation in the first cell of the grade column, copy and paste it down (use the little + on the lower right hand corner if you are lazy) and PRESTO, final grades.

Someone showed me this once, I copy it religiously from one semester's gradebook-spreadsheet to the next!

dropout said...

number grade --> letter grade

Step one: Convert to moles.

You'll have to figure the rest out yourself, but I think there might be some stoichiometry involved.

bong serencio said...

I just wondered how much is the tolerable brain damaging activities? I'm asking the expert's point of view. I am doing also multi-tasking and always feel stressed usually at the afternoon. Can I have your solutions for this?

Monkey and banana said...

"I am acquiring data in my lab at the same time that I am grading."

Which is your confession that you are a grad student, at most a teaching postdoc, just thinking what it will be like to be a female professor. Imagination is a great thing, but hey once a liar always a liar? What do you do when your data doesn't work out but you really want to become a prof?

Female Science Professor said...

Thanks for the reminder that I was going to respond to a previous comment about whether it's typical for senior professors in my field to be in the lab getting data. I suppose it is unusual, but not bizarre. During the academic year, I seldom have time, but as soon as I have time, I get back into the lab. It's one of the things I love most about research/science. I don't want to get to the point where the only thing I'm doing is managing other people and writing proposals but never doing the research I propose myself. I am spending today examining and thinking about the data I got on Sunday, and this is very fun and interesting.

DJ Kirkby said...

Hello, a very enjoyable and thought provoking read yet again, thank you.

idunno said...

Everyone seems to assume that the hard part about grading is looking at bad student work. As an English teacher, I'd say the problem is that grading essays takes great concentration over a long period of time on a task that becomes increasingly boring (because inevitably the 21st essay doesn't have anything to say that the first 20 didn't say better).