succumbing to peer pressure

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Dilemma of the Hourly Wage Slave
(or why I can't wait to have a job that pays for performance rather than time)

My advisor set me up with a research position for the month of June, and the budget is set aside to pay me an hourly wage for full-time work. I have to call in all the hours that I work, using this horribly insulting automated clock-in system. The problem, as I see it, is two-fold. a) I'm a fairly fast and efficient worker. I'm not trying to brag, but I have noticed that it generally takes me less time to accomplish tasks than those around me. So while the organizations funding the research project I'm working on have placed a dollar value on the analyses I'm running, the only way for me to actually receive that entire dollar amount is to lie about how long it takes me to accomplish their tasks. b) since these analyses require a certain amount of deep thinking, and this inevitably occurs in the background from time to time, I inevitably end up feeling bitter about the whole clocking in system of recording my hours. If I'm in the shower and suddenly realize how to solve a problem, how do I log that time? What's more, it's not just worth the five minute realization, it's the ongoing noodling my brain has been doing, the time spent thinking about the problem while driving to work and grocery shopping and eating lunch, and the 'worth' of my knowledge and experience to solve the problem.

I know everyone goes through these experiences, it's part of the dues you have to pay while working up the research ladder. But I can't help but feel that both parties are getting short changed when research is organized in this way. It's unfair for me to bill my employers when I'm sitting around pounding my head against the wall and not making progress on a problem and it's unfair for me not to get paid when inspiration does strike during 'off' hours. Maybe it's all meant to average out, but it seems much more reasonable to say survival analyses are worth $x to us, regardless of how long it takes you to do them, because the worth is in the work and the results, not the hours. Like a menu. Simple linear regression is $a, complicated longitudinal analyses are $b, etc. etc.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

My brain hurts. In high school and college I used to feel like I was working so hard to grasp some new concept that I could literally feel the new wrinkles forming in my brain (I realize that this is not even the slightest bit true, for a myriad of reasons, only one of which is the lack of physical sense receptors in the brain; but is it true that our brain gets more wrinkled as we develop?). Anyway, today I'm trying to arrange the knowledge already contained up there to work together and figure out a solution to my coding problem. Meanwhile...

I remembered that I used to read this blog, written by a professor at Swarthmore, linked from Amelia's blog. Haven't been there in a while, but it turns out Prof. Burke is embroiled in a debate about a report from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). Turns out ACTA has really run with this whole idea from Horowitz et al about liberal bias in higher education and have commissioned a report to bring attention to this problem, cite examples of 'politicization' in the classroom and generally shame teachers into policing each other. I've written about this before, and how I have a very different perspective on this (alleged) problem, since I believe it's much harder to get into these problems in math/science courses. But Burke makes the point (and I wish ACTA (and others) would listen) that this is a worthwhile endeavor, if instead of addressing politics we focus on 'good' vs. 'bad' teaching.

When I arrived at Swarthmore, one of my colleagues in the Education Program brought in a videotape that had been prepared at Harvard that was designed to sensitize us to diversity issues in the classroom. My problem with the videotape wasn’t so much its politics as the fact that every staged example of “insensitive teaching” was really just a case of bad teaching. The worst was a staged example of a professor in a course on American constitutionalism talking about the Lincoln-Douglas debates and getting annoyed by an African-American student who wanted to talk about the issue of slavery in the debates. The tape was stopped and we were asked what the professor had done wrong. I said, “The professor’s problem is that he’s an idiot: how could any historian regard slavery as irrelevant to a discussion of the Lincoln-Douglas debates?”.

Bad teaching is bad teaching, regardless of if it's under the guise of narrow methodology or narrow-mindedness regarding the socio-political beliefs of one's students. And like Burke, I think it's both dangerous and incredibly counter-productive to the goal of higher education to go around labeling courses as too politically charged or criticizing syllabi for containing potentially controversial topics. As Burke lays out far more eloquently than I, a) learning should make you uncomfortable and challenge your beliefs; laying out a strong rhetorical argument for your beliefs is an invaluable tool and b) just because a subject is included on a syllabus does not even remotely imply that that particular point of view is being endorsed. Many (all?) subjects contain scholarly works from a variety of perspectives, and in a well-taught class a diverse collection of those points of view will be provided. Examples that are flawed or problematic or contradictory are every bit as valuable to learning (if not moreso) than generally accepted truths. What sort of education are critics of such classes seeking? Burke's essays are a bit long (an initial reaction, an example, and further thoughts parts I and II) , but if you've got some time on your hands, they're well worth it.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Always Something

So I took the Intrepid Snowflake (as she was dubbed on the great road trip of '03) in for an oil change and general once-over in preparation for Bonnaroo this weekend. Now, I love my baby and have grand plans to hang on to her until the very end. But this is the second time that a planned oil change has turned into a non-trivial (about $600 this time) repair. I've spent about $2,000 on repairs and maintanence in the past 2-3 years (primarily replacing two axles, the driver side last year and passenger this morning). She's 9 years old with 81,000 miles. She's a subaru, so she should last several more years, right? The salt in Cleveland was hard on her, and the heat and humidity here have been causing the latest round of problems. So my question is, as someone who knows very little about cars, at what point does it become more cost effective to stop repairing Snowflake and start saving up for a new (used) car?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Embarrassing Behavior

I find these protesters just as offensive as the hateful individuals who shout God hates fags at funerals for homosexuals. Who does these sorts of things?

How, she asked, would she tell her daughter, still a toddler, that her father had died in Iraq?

For the last few months, she told me, she has been replaying the moments of her husband's life, and his death. Antiwar protesters turned out at the funeral, the woman said. They lined the streets across from the service. Some carried signs and others shouted as her husband's flag-draped coffin was carried past.