two weeks in the trenches

S. Boomer sarai at u.washington.edu
Sun Oct 12 17:11:51 EST 1997


Hello again,

I'm always surprised to find my account still going so here goes...

I've made it two weeks in the world of small college teaching and I am,
even to my surprise, surviving well.  The work is exactly what I
envisioned and so I am having a great time and keeping up.  I have had my
moments, though - a few incidents with the autoclave, a few really out
there students.

I've been reading all the comments on asserive vs. bitchy and sort of
laughing a little.  I work in a dept. with basically men (I am the only
tenure track female and very well could be the first one who gets tenure
if I make it to 2001... a tenure odyssey!) - 3/5 of the tenured faculty
are older near retirement guys.  The dept. head is the youngest one other
than me.  I was flabberghasted to receive two incredible letters from
former colleagues of the chair, asserting the fact that he is, in a word,
awesome (insert:  supportive, encouraging, professional, human) from women
who read this group and realized where I was and who I work with.

Anyway - I don't suffer from the assertive vs. bitchy thing but I
definitely have a strong personality and am not afraid to be vibrant,
dress a little colorful, or speak my mind if I want to - and I don't feel
funky for any of it.  If anyone puts the pressure on me for coming across
as bitchy - sadly it is ME.

The teaching is really awesome... I have really enjoyed working with the
molecular biologist here - Bob and I team-teach the majors General Biology
class. Bob is as old as my dad but we have this synergy that the students
verbally respond to.  We have very different styles in many ways (Bob is
into less lecture, more alternative stuff but I am doing a straight
conservative style in many ways;  we agree on things like frequent quizzes
and have revamped the curriculum to include weekly study sessions with a
lot of hands-on problem sets - ideas that I "stole" from teaching the
class at UW). Bob has taught this course for several years - it is the
typical "weed-out" bad publicity majors biology class.  I was thrown into
it heavily the first week when I had to cram basic chemistry, organic
chemistry, and all macromolecules into three lecture hours - with a 15
minute quiz!  But I did it and I had students tell me I am incredible (I
think the fact that I bring in food demo's and hippee beads with which to
talk about protein structure may have something to do with this).  My
lecture style is to use prepared overheads that are about 25% filled in. I
have lots of room for questions and demo's but I can still cover massive
amounts of material.

I think the most flattering compliment I have received came when Bob
himself (who has never prepared overheads) approached me before his
subsequent lectures on metabolism and said - look!  Beaming, he held up
prepared overheads and said I inspired him.  We go out for Biology
Beers/drinks/social Fridays and regroup about crazy things to do with the
students.  We go to the neighboring "wet" town and I have been actually
enjoying the local Merlot's - and so it's nice to "drink" in a way that
is comfortable socially... after my comments about scientific meetings, I 
had to note that. Anyway - I have had students who failed
last year come up and say things like:  Sarah - you've changed Bob... this
course is so much better - not easier... just better.  I don't know that
*I* have changed Bob... we simply work very well together and are open to
change.

I tell all these anecdotes because Bob and I obviously are different
genders, different ages, and have very different styles.  In August, when
we talked about the course and the team teaching component, I was very
intimidated because Bob wanted to do all these really alternative things
and I simply didn't see having the time to make a lot of big changes to my
style given that it was my first year and HE hadn't even tried them - and
so it was intimidating and hard for me to be assertive.  He was more than
supportive - and now we both have these equal and synergistic styles and
the students think it's great.  We joked about getting up and doing a
physical demonstration of crossing over wherein we line up like homologous
pairs (make an X with hands and legs) and then exchange gloves or
something (we could each wear a different colored glove) - and then I
could start acting like Bob and he could act like me and then we would
explain that I had his allele for lecture/quiz style and vice versa.  It's
definitely something we will do - I might even have to haul out the
climbing harnesses and ropes and make "centromeres, kinetochores, and
spindles" so we could separate.  Apparently, one of prof's who just
retired actually did things like choreograph the central dogma to music on
the football field - Bob and I are putting that in our two year plan.

In many ways, being a young, somewhat loud woman in this environment feels
really novel but not threatening or something (maybe even a little
priveleged at times). My neighbor is a part-time instructor, female, who
has been here three years (she will likely go tenure track next year) - we
obviously have been bonding and so I often confess to her that I sometimes
feel like I am rocking the boat just by being who I am.  But Irya just
smiles and says - Sarah, you are a professor now... you are not below
anyone and everyone knows what excellent work you are doing - stop acting
like you are in graduate school!

It's hard, I must say, to "stop acting like I'm in grad. school" - which
is sort of a sad commentary on what that process (at least for me) was
like.  Maybe that is a product of gender for me, though.  I don't know.

Anyway - no qualms here about assertiveness, bitchiness, male, female,
whatever.  I do what I do and see what happens.  After my last ten months,
nothing matters except that I am happy, frankly.  Bob smiled at me over
beers Friday and just said something like - it's nice to know someone who
really doesn't take everything SO seriously.  I laughed and said - Bob, I
lived through grad. school... in a program that took everything WAY too
seriously - I have seen some interesting things over the years (I laughed
at him and said - shoot, and I'm only thirty and I'm saying this to you -
like I have ANY relative worldliness!).  There are so many other things to
be serious about.  I haven't been so happy about science or work in years,
frankly!


If you want to write, you are best to use my WOU address:
boomers at fsa.wou.edu - the UW account will forward but I don't know how
long it's good for.  

Professor Boomer




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