Tuesday, October 17, 2006


This term, I am doing something that I really don't have time for but am doing anyway: I am taking a class. As a student. With undergraduates. My university allows staff to take one course/term, and we pay only fees but no tuition, but part of the deal is that we have to take the course for a grade or pass/fail (no audits allowed).

I am taking an introductory language class to improve my ability to speak a language that I need to know for some of my research activities. In the past, I've taught myself some basic skills in this language by tapes, books, a tutor, informal conversation groups, and of course travel, but I felt that I wasn't making any real progress beyond really basic conversation.

This class meets every day. We have homework every day, and right now, I am studying for the latest quiz. It feels very strange to be studying for a quiz. I am more than twice the age of any other student in the class, and I am older than the instructor. I was very aware of this at first, as were they, but after a few weeks we settled into a comfortable routine. The class is very interactive, so we have conversations in class about our lives: our families, hobbies,what television shows we watch, what grade/class we are in. The other students give presentations on their parents and siblings and so on. I give presentations about my husband and daughter, and otherwise I am getting a lot of practice with the negative form of verbs. I do not watch television, I am not in a grade/class, etc.

Aside from the strangeness of being an 'undergraduate' again, there are other things about this class that are very different from my usual day-to-day experience here in Scienceland. Some of these differences are related to the fact that the class is part of the Liberal Arts college:

- The class is 89% women students. I have not experienced anything approaching this ratio in any class I've taken or taught since my days at a women's college, decades ago.

- The instructor is a non-tenure-track adjunct who teaches 3 times as much as I do in any one term, no doubt for significantly lower pay and respect. She is amazing. She grades our homework every night and makes useful comments, and every day she is well prepared for class with an interesting activity and exercises. I know that universities rely on such people, but such reliance should come with better treatment: more respect, better offices, more job security, more pay.

Despite the time, which I don't really have, I am glad I am taking this class. It makes me stretch my brain in a different way, and I like that. It also gets me out of my building and my lab and into a new and alien environment, but an interesting one.


Ms.PhD said...

Good for you!

Languages are definitely good for the brain.

Interacting with the 'outside world' - even where outside is on the same campus, just a different department- also really good.

It's one of the benefits of being at a university vs. a research institute or a company. Might as well take advantage of it.

~profgrrrrl~ said...

How inspiring -- makes me want to take a class again, actually.

I keep thinking of doing a particular stats refresher (but that's a grad class) or a language (I fear I travel too much for attendance).

Anonymous said...

Fun post. I've been thinking about taking an art class - a 'real' university painting class. Maybe I'll sign up for spring semester!

Female Science Professor said...

My travel schedule is one of the biggest problems. It's another bizarre aspect of being a student: the role reversal when I have to make an excuse for being absent..

FemaleCSGradStudent said...

I'm having a very similar experience this semester. I'm taking Japanese, and it's very humbling to be the oldest student in the class, older than the instructor, with only a B+ grade. ;)

The word for "grad student" is a real pain to say, and of course I was called upon to say it first in class.


Yeah, like sensei, only longer.

Moreover, I have to travel at the end of the semester, and I'll have to get a note from the Dean to get the excused absence. So weird.

Good luck on you quiz. I'm glad to hear you are enjoying the brain stretch.

Ancarett said...

I'm back in the language classroom again this year, but in a class composed entirely of faculty and staff members (we're a bilingual institution and I'm not verbally where I am receptively in the second language).

It's humbling but eminently worthwhile. However, I wish I was in the classroom in a term when I wasn't teaching four classes of my own!