Sep. 18th, 2017 10:38 pm
liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
I've never left a job before. I spent my 20s as a contract researcher, and when my project came to an end, I just... didn't work in that lab any more. So I didn't know how to give notice, how to do the tax paperwork, it was all completely new to me. Also, the people I've been working closely with for the past eight years were all actually sad to see me go and wanted to mark the rite of passage. That was new to me too, in a mostly touching but slightly bittersweet way.

last days )

I started my new job the following Monday. I need to work out how much I should talk about that in detail here; for one thing it's looking to involve somewhat more blogging and social media presence as my professional persona than the old job did. Also I am still adjusting to living in Cambridge full time, which is probably another post, and I'm up to my eyes preparing for the High Holy Days beginning on Wednesday, so I am going to stick with posting about leaving rather than about arriving for now.

Group work

Aug. 8th, 2017 03:18 pm
liv: Cartoon of a smiling woman with a long plait, teaching about p53 (teacher)
I'm on a mission to redeem group work in education. I expect this to be controversial among many of my friends. So if I'm right and lots of you have terrible memories / experiences of being made to do bad group work, I invite you to comment here and tell me what was bad about it. Do you think it's just awful, or are there problems that might be fixed? I believe strongly that while it can be dire, it can also be great, or perhaps I might phrase it as, there are things that look like group work superficially but are actually great.

Because I'm on a mission this may turn into a more formal research survey at some point, but in that case I'll pose the question in a formal context with ethics and everything. Right now I'm just trying to gather some opinions and not just rely on my own ideas. Plus I am eye-deep in paperwork and I could do with some distraction, so do rant away.
liv: Cartoon of a smiling woman with a long plait, teaching about p53 (teacher)
Thank you all so much for all the supportive comments on my post with squee about the awesome bar mitzvah. I feel really loved!

In another instance of my students being brilliant, I ran a session recently to introduce the first year medics to the concept of public health. We ended with an exercise which I found rather fun, so I thought I'd offer it to you to play:

A philanthropist is offering a grant of £250,000 to someone who can propose a way to improve the situation in a deprived housing estate. Population ~10K, annual healthcare spend roughly £100 million. The philanthropist wants to see improvements on a 30 year timescale, and wants the actual inhabitants to be involved in the project in a community building sort of way. What would you do?

what the students thought of - you might want to have a go without reading this )
liv: Cartoon of a smiling woman with a long plait, teaching about p53 (teacher)
I must say I really like teaching the Tumblr generation. They get a lot of flack from older pundits for caring too much about social justice and identity politics, but I just find it really refreshing working with people half my age who take gender and sexual diversity completely for granted, and have a sophisticated analysis of racism, and are constantly asking for the curriculum to be more globalized and more diverse.

recent examples )


May. 20th, 2016 05:45 pm
liv: Cartoon of a smiling woman with a long plait, teaching about p53 (teacher)
Remember when we used to make posts to show off new icons? Well, I have the most adorable students ever: for an end-of-term present they made me a custom mug with a little cartoon of me teaching the class about p53. I asked the artist if I could use the cartoon as a profile pic, so here it is. (Click through to DW to see both the icon and the full-sized version.)

I am so very endeared by this. In fact, I squee'd so much when I saw it that my students declared me adorable, which I'm not sure is how it's supposed to work. But hey, I like 'adorable' better than 'intimidating'. (They've also given me a 100% positive evaluation this term, which is going to be very nice evidence to present at my appraisal next week.)

Full size original behind the cut - I think maybe it wants cropping a bit closer so it's just the picture of me, as you can't see the detail of the molecule or my speech bubble. I do love that my characteristic comment is "coolness", which I totally picked up from [personal profile] lethargic_man.

pic of Liv teaching all about p53 )


Jan. 19th, 2016 02:27 pm
liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
I ought to write a review of the year, I'll be glad to have done so when I look back at old journal entries in future. But I keep getting stuck because I have strange feelings about 2015. It feels like a year I will look back on and conclude that it marked the start of a change in my life direction, but that change hasn't happened quite yet.

2015 was the year of being in love, the year of establishing lots of new relationships. I mean, it was late in 2014 that I realized my friends were romantically interested in me and [personal profile] jack, and I think by Christmas 2014 I was unquestionably and intensely in love, but it was the months of 2015 when the new relationship energy coalesced into actually functioning as a quad. 2015 when all four of us told our parents and where applicable sibs about the relationship, when we started to have tentative discussions about some kind of future together, though we still don't know exactly what shape that will look like.

2015 was also my worst year at work. Not really horrible compared to a lot of what people experience in a bad workplace, but it's been difficult and at times I was really scared for the future. I had a 'not meeting expectations' appraisal in early summer, which is not a terrible disaster in the scheme of things, but it was the culmination of several months when I found myself really anxious and just somehow falling more and more behind and not keeping deadlines and that all spiralled a bit. Some of this was related to the fact that my senior PhD student has had a pretty troubled final year of her studies, and it's still not certain whether she'll come out of all this with a PhD. To recap, I have essentially two half-time jobs, one in the medical school and one in the research institute; the medical school have been very helpful and supportive and done all the right managerial things and given me lots of support to make sure that one bad quarter remains only a blip and chances to sort things out. The research institute not so much; they've switched unpredictably between ignoring me and leaving me to struggle, being actively hostile, and occasionally coming through with some random and not very systematic help.

I spent the summer clawing myself up out of the mess I'd got myself into. And of course starting from behind made that hard, and I was scared, and I suffered somewhat of a setback when my junior PhD student failed her "Progression", the process where the institute decides at the end of first year whether a student is suitable to go on and do a full PhD. She and I both worked really hard through the last few months of the year, and the medical school supported me by reducing my teaching and admin load so I could be there for my students. And this week she passed the resit panel, so as soon as that is formally ratified I can breathe much more easily again. So in many ways I can be proud of myself for extracting myself from a bad situation, but somewhere along the way I lost track of my love for research.

so what now? )

So anyway, yes, that's 2015. I really don't know where I'll be by the end of this year, but I expect to look back on 2015 as a kind of watershed. Any comments or advice very much welcome!
liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
So I thought some people might not know and might be interested in what my job actually looks like. So here's a summary of how today has gone. It's not a typical day as such; one thing I really like about being a university academic is the variety, but it's also not wildly atypical either, it's a non-special day of the summer season.

so how was your day? )
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
Recently read Some very good stuff on my DW reading page:
  • [personal profile] lizcommotion is hilarious on the subject of cats and internet security

  • [personal profile] seekingferret challenges the popular simplification that Einstein overthrew Newton

  • [personal profile] jack wrote some interesting meta on Magic in Jo Walton's Among Others. Personally I found that one of the most satisfying depictions of magic I've encountered in fantasy, precisely because it falls into neither of the traps of being completely random and depending on the needs of the plot, nor completely systematic so that it's just like a parallel type of physics or a dice-based role-playing system. The linked posts are somewhat spoilery, mine more than [personal profile] jack's, but don't completely reveal the main plot; anyway they probably won't make much sense if you haven't read the book.

    And one Tumblr post, which is just quintessentially Tumblr, a conversation between people geeking out about the ridiculousness of folk song tropes. I particularly liked [ profile] elodieunderglass' contributions, including a playlist of I guess my corpse is a swan now: a weird folk education. Well worth following that link for [ profile] elodieunderglass' annotations and the discussion, even if you don't want to listen to the songs themselves.

    Currently reading Most of the way through my friend's long unpublished novel, so hopefully there will be interesting reading Wednesday posts again soon.

    Up next Possibly Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie, as I'd like to read that before Worldcon.

    I'm also pondering what leads to interesting online conversations. I had my first actual interesting discussion on FB in the decade or so I've been (mostly reluctantly) using the site, because I Tweeted that I'd found myself trying to explain to a Christian child the difference between magic and miracles. Turns out lots of people have opinions about that topic. And FB have sort of half-heartedly introduced threading, which maybe helps a bit. Whereas over here, people had absolutely masses to say about the topic of modest dress, which I had expected would be one of those obscure things that only one or two religion geeks would care about. I'm really enjoying the discussion, anyway.

    My post about the broken system that is PhD training still reliably accounts for nearly a fifth of all the traffic to my DW, even two and a half years after I wrote it. Again, I didn't expect it to be of more than specialist interest, but it's turned out to be the thing that made me internet-famous. And I'm reminded of it right now because both my PhD students are having struggles and I'm trying to be more supportive than a typical bad supervisor, but we'll see.

    Also today I initiated my newer student into mammalian cell culture, and I'm reminded of when I got sent to a collaborator to improve my technique and she informed me that her culture hood was 'The Holy of Holies'. I'd been missing the mental focus of trying to work 'in total purity', and I even almost miss my hands smelling of disposable gloves. And now my student knows I talk to my cancer cells; I reckon she still respects me.
  • Film: Wit

    Mar. 3rd, 2015 11:02 am
    liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
    Reason for watching it: We screened it for the second year students, who are getting to the point where they're spending enough time in clinical environments that there's a good chance they will see someone die in the coming months. The idea is that they get a supportive environment in which to do at least some of the emotional work ahead of dealing with this for real, and hopefully they then won't completely fall apart when that happens. (There's a ton of research about the detrimental effects of medical students and trainee doctors not being adequately prepared to deal with death, but nobody quite knows what "adequately prepared" looks like. So we're working on it.)

    Circumstances of watching it: Ugh, this term! I've had a solid six weeks with a heavy enough teaching and marking load that I feel I've been running a Red Queen's race since the new year, I haven't had time to do anything at all non-urgent, and it's making me really anxious. In theory things were supposed to slow down by the end of February; in practice everybody's kind of scrabbling, and the school were short of staff for running a bunch of sessions through March, so I've ended up roped into more teaching in the coming weeks. And because it's all last minute cover it's all in bits of the curriculum well outside my expertise. I really didn't want to be a facilitator for this session where we get the students to talk about death, but needs must. I kind of feel like this is one of the times where it's more important than usual to have a clinician leading, cos it's not just factual knowledge, it's being able to speak from experience of dealing with death as a doctor. But I suppose I was better than no-one.

    Verdict: Wit is thought-provoking if at times over-dramatic.

    So, look, the whole point of this film is that it's 90 minutes of the protagonist dying of cancer. Not in real time, it covers several months from diagnosis to the end, but the whole film, and therefore my review, is about illness and dying within the medical system.

    fictional death )

    It seems possible that I'm somewhat emotionally affected by this; the film is genuinely harrowing in places as well as a bit over-dramatic. And running the discussion where I had to manage a lot of the medical students' emotions was pretty draining, I think, especially coming on top of generally stressful stuff. So lots of things that should be fine are feeling daunting, just now. Send hugs pls?
    liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (Default)
    [personal profile] silveradept requested: around the end of the month: Things ending, things beginning. And I'm a couple of days behind on posts which means I'm writing this right at the end of the month, not just around it. And, well, I've just come back from [personal profile] blue_mai's mother's funeral, having started 2014 with joining [personal profile] lethargic_man at part of the shiva (memorial prayers in the week after a funeral) for his mother. So my head is very much in lives ending, not just things in general. Which means this post is working out a little melancholy, and I'm sorry this in the slot where I meant to answer [personal profile] zhelana's much more positive prompt for my favorite moment of the month. Might manage that before the day, the month and the year roll over into the new, we'll see.

    a time for every purpose under heaven )

    And in my personal life I find myself at the beginning of something which is too early to be comfortable talking about publicly, but I am ending the year brimming with joyful hope.

    Not entirely on topic, but [ profile] siderea has written an absolutely brilliant and inspiring reflection for the end of a year which has included so much awfulness, notably police forces in America going rogue and killing African-American children and young men. I strongly recommend: Long Night (Staying Woke).
    liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
    [personal profile] falena gave me a very thinky prompt of:
    Work/family/social life balance? You seem to be doing it right, despite all geographical limitations and full-time work.
    Honestly, I'm not sure I do get it right, but let me try and talk about this a bit.

    work is part of life )

    I hope that isn't depressing, [personal profile] falena! To give an example, and because I'm doing daily posting and therefore not having much time for typical journalling, last weekend [personal profile] jack's parents visited, and I spent some of the time hanging out with them and some of it working on the lecture that needed to be done by Monday. And managed to fit in playing board games and drinking tea with [personal profile] cjwatson and [ profile] ghoti and their children for a couple of hours. And this weekend I've spent quite a lot of the mornings asleep, and managed more gaming with [personal profile] cjwatson and [ profile] ghoti and family, and dinner with [personal profile] ceb and IWJ one evening and with H WINODW another. And I've been working from home today, which meant I had time for lunch with [personal profile] cjwatson and time for a longish tea-break writing this post, and tonight I'm going for dinner with [ profile] ghoti. At the same time I worked late several evenings last week because immediate student welfare crises came up when I didn't have any slack in my schedule to deal with them. And it's nearly chanukah which is needing a bit of organizing, on top of my normal Friday night services and Hebrew teaching, so that's taken up a lot of the remaining evenings.

    I really admire people who manage to balance serious caring responsibilities plus a full-time job, or have a work-life balance in spite of chronic illness or disability which may well be hard to plan for and schedule round. But from my relatively comfortable and easy position, this is about how I manage, or don't.

    [December Days masterpost]
    liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
    So I'm attending a careers course at the moment. it's prompted thinky thoughts )

    So, people, what shall I do with my liiiiiife? Should I try to continue in academia even though it's not looking like I'm going to get very far? Should I do something academic related but with more focus on teaching and / or management? Should I consider a totally new career, and if so what?
    liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
    [personal profile] ceb asked me about ambitions, continuing her trend of coming up with excellent prompts.

    when I grow up )

    [January Journal masterlist]
    liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
    It's a requirement of my job that I had to take a course in higher education teaching. In principle I approve of this, because I think people who are good at academic research shouldn't just be assumed to be capable of teaching undergrads without any training or QA. In reality, the course I had to take was... let's say seriously flawed. I don't want to bitch about everything that was wrong with it because that doesn't make for an interesting post. The thing is that I have learned a whole lot, more in spite of the official content of the course than because of it.

    professional teacher )

    Anyway, over the past few years I've become far less intimidated by the aspects of my job that require me to be able to engage with social sciences as well as natural sciences. And I've just about got to what I used to think of as the starting point of learning a new subject: I have the tools and the structures and the basic concepts to be able to go on learning. And I'm proud of getting there, even if I'm not at all proud of the underhand methods I used to get myself an undeservedly high mark for a really shoddy piece of work.
    liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
    Wow, Three Weeks for Dreamwidth went by fast. I have run out of time and haven't even come close to posting all the stuff I thought I was going to talk about. However, I obviously still want to carry on creating content after the fest is over, so I will work my way down some of the queue. I made 8 substantial posts I think I wouldn't have made otherwise, plus another 4 long thinky posts which I didn't tag as belonging to the fest since they were more personal than I quite wanted to promote to strangers following the site-wide tag.

    So that's a dozen "big" posts in three weeks, which is verbose even by my standards. It has felt a bit like DW has consumed more of my time than usual during the season. Then again, it's a time of the academic year which is relatively quiet for me. And I've had a blast, met lots of cool new people and got some really lively discussions going; I'm going to carry on exploring some of these things in the comments.

    Anyway, one of my Three Weeks posts was a discussion of why I'm interested in the research I do. [personal profile] forestofglory quite rightly pushed me on talking about my feelings rather than just abstract factual things. She says:
    I'd still like to hear more about how you feel your research is going. I know scientists aren't supposed to have feelings, but I want to know how you are doing as well as what you are doing.
    This seems a very reasonable request, and although I do most naturally talk about more abstract things, I've often got some good out of being a bit confessional here.

    feels )

    So there you go, that's what keeps me awake at night. I do welcome advice but please be a bit tactful; if there were an obvious answer to this I'd have figured it out by now!
    liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
    This worked really well when I had to lead a seminar about obesity, so let's try it again. I've somehow been volunteered to run a first year session on childbearing and reproduction. It's a bit of a grab-bag of stuff, like a lot of our first year curriculum it's pretty much just introducing the students to the issues that exist. They will revisit this stuff later in the course, don't worry, we're not trying to teach them absolutely everything they need to know about childbearing in a single afternoon.

    The rest of the module is about the actual mechanics of reproduction, conception, pregnancy, labour, foetal development etc. This session is about childbearing in social context. So, does anyone have anything they'd like me to convey to some future doctors about:
    • Teenage pregnancy and young parenting
    • Treated or untreated infertility
    • Involuntary childlessness (ie unwanted childlessness caused by not finding a partner or not being in life circumstances to have children, as opposed to physiological inability to successfully sustain a pregnancy)
    • Deliberately delaying childbearing for career and other economic reasons
    • Social gender roles and expectations affecting childbearing decisions
    • Cultural variation in all of the above
    Like I said, quite a grab-bag, and to me the glaringly obvious hole in it is that there's absolutely no GSM perspective, but that's tied up with other stuff about the way the curriculum is structured (basically we don't really introduce complicated advanced concepts about gender and sexuality until the third year). Though at least there is explicit acknowledgement that this stuff is important for men, it's not purely a women's issue.

    Me, I'm happily childfree, and I haven't even experienced much of the pressure to reproduce that some childfree women report. So I can't bring the same degree of personal experience I did to talking about the medical profession and fat people. But if there are any misapprehensions you would like me to address, or hurtful stereotypes and ways of talking about these issues that I should avoid, I'd be glad to hear about them! Again, I want to be very aware that these issues affect the actual students in the discussion as well as their hypothetical future patients; some of them are mature students who might have had any kind of life experience, a minority but a few of them are right now combining parenting with medical studies, and I shouldn't make assumptions that none of this stuff is relevant to the more "traditional" ie 18-year-old students straight from school.
    liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
    I feel really good about myself today. several minor accomplishments )

    Of course, I still have loads of large and small urgent tasks on my list, whose deadline has already gone whooshing by. So even when I'm kicking butt at several quite challenging aspects of my job, I am still falling short in some ways. But that's kind of the nature of being an academic, and I think I get to feel proud of what I did do well regardless.
    liv: cup of tea with text from HHGttG (teeeeea)
    The major good thing in my life at the moment is long conversations with friends. I've managed to speak on the phone to [ profile] darcydodo for the first time since the wedding, and to [personal profile] hatam_soferet this week. At the weekend I went to London purely for the purpose of spending time with [personal profile] khalinche and [personal profile] doseybat; I didn't have any plans and I wasn't bothered when the weather was too miserable for much sight-seeing, I just enjoyed some really good conversations and catching up.

    I introduced [personal profile] khalinche to the ever-wonderful Diwana, since she was kind enough to meet me at the station and it was lunchtime and raining. But then we went back to her place and just talked and drank tea for the entire afternoon. At that point I joined up with [personal profile] doseybat who had been gaming with [personal profile] khalinche's housemate [ profile] timeplease, and went out for some nice Thai food and more conversation with her and as bonus, [personal profile] pfy and [ profile] fluffymark. Then I spent basically the entire day on Sunday chatting to [personal profile] doseybat and [ profile] pplfichi and drinking even more tea. That was a seriously wonderful weekend, I should do that kind of thing more often.

    The mixed but generally positive thing in my life at the moment is work. I'm very busy, I'm doing lots and lots of interesting and enjoyable things. Interesting teaching, interesting pastoral work, interesting organizing and running stuff (primarily the disability bits of the course and my mentoring programme), and very interesting scientific project with my ever-wonderful minion.

    The biggest problem in my life at the moment is that it has more good things in it than there are hours in the week. I want to have more conversations with friends, I owe dozens of emails including some that involve making arrangements to meet up or speak on the phone. And I would like to get deeper into various DW and LJ conversations, and just, it's a little overwhelming. And work too, I'm at that stage where pretty much everything is urgent or high priority, but I can't actually do all of it. The thing that's tending to slip is handling email, I have about 150 mails in my work inbox (having already triaged out the ones that don't need any replies or actions). This isn't actually a clever strategy because it means that my to-do list, while over-full, is also incomplete and unreliable.

    I've never been quite this type of busy before, because I've never had the kind of job that requires me to juggle this many different things and people who need stuff from me. I think what I'm experiencing is making the transition to a new skill level, rather than things being imminently about to fall apart, but still, I have a bit of a sense that I'm running to stay in place. Two more teaching weeks before the Xmas break, though.


    Sep. 4th, 2012 08:48 am
    liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
    I have a PhD student! She started yesterday, and she is brill, I am so looking forward to working with her. I'm also a bit nervous, because I've never done this before, and I'm in very large part responsible for her career and quite possibly her happiness.

    The PhD system is really weird in how heavily it depends on the relationship between supervisor and student. Modern academia is just starting to put safeguards in place to salvage the situation if the relationship goes wrong, but it's still essentially like a Mediaeval apprenticeship: your supervisor all but owns you and has almost unlimited power over whether you get your PhD, which is the essential and almost the only entry route into an academic career.

    So I'm taking a leaf from [personal profile] rachelmanija's book: if you've ever been a PhD student, tell me stories! Tell me something your supervisor did that made things better for you. Tell me something they did that made the soul-killing struggle of getting through a PhD even worse than it should have been. (Like [personal profile] rachelmanija, I don't really need to know about obviously disastrously wrong things like sexually harassing students or completely ignoring them or stealing their work, because I already know I'm not going to do that. But hey, if it's cathartic for you to tell the internet how your supervisor was an evil crook who exploited you, go ahead!)

    I have no problem if you want to give me general advice that doesn't come from direct personal experiences, or if you want to chime in with stories about a similar relationship that wasn't specifically a PhD. Also feel free to comment if I don't know you, if you found this by chance eg via Latest Things or Network. Anon comments are allowed but you may have to fill in a Captcha.
    liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
    As someone who teaches university undergrads, I've been asked for my opinion as part of Ofqual's consultation on A Level reform. And I figure this is a topic that exercises a lot of my friends, so have at it, express your opinions! (If you have some experience of English education this is probably going to be a lot more meaningful to you than otherwise, but hey, opinions are always good.)

    secondary education policy details )

    So, what do you think? Is a linear course primarily assessed by final exam a good or a bad thing? Should AS qualifications be scrapped or demoted from their half A Level status? Which A Level subjects should be mercifully retired, and which new ones should replace them? This is probably less important than the marriage equality consultation, but it's somewhere where I have a tiny amount of influence, and you're very welcome to try to persuade me to your view.


    Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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