April 2009


Learning new things is always gratifying, but sometimes bloody difficult. As an example, I’d like to take ballroom dancing. A little less than 2 years ago, my partner and I started with ballroom dancing. It’s gratifying, it’s fun and you can immediately see progress in new figures. Sometimes, at least, some figures are a lot more difficult than others (but that’s besides the point). Now that we’re a bit more advanced we’re also looking a lot more at posture and techniue. This is the part were I can get quite frustrated with myself. I should be able to hold my posture (look left, stretch that right side, baby!) but sometimes I just don’t notice that I’ve lost it because there are other points in the dance that need my attention.

In other words, I would like to get feedback on my posture through other means than the mirror or the dance teacher. Would there be a market for these kinds of gadgets?

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Not too long ago, somebody took stock of the way things are going for PhDs in VCR. Turns out, nobody’s ever done anything on that before, let alone kept track of whether anybody actually gets their PhD after being here for 4 years. Or being on lone from a university. Very interesting situation, to say the least. It also dawned on some of us that there is a very real need for representation of post-docs & PhDs. There’s quite a lot of us, but we’re also quite scattered, meaning that as a whole it’s difficult to find us.

Additionally, there are no guidelines for managers from VCR on how to judge us, or use us. This brings some very skewed experiences and expectations from both sides. Mind, managers are usually not supervisors, and might not have a very firm grasp on what exactly you’re doing (content-wise). All of them have gotten their own PhD, but that doesn’t mean that it’s in your area.

While all this was going on, the crisis hit, and so were our salaries. When I started (in 2005), I was promised a steady increase in gross salary every year, and now this wasn’t going to happen. This wasn’t communicated very properly, so quite some people were upset. Upset enough to take action, so now we have a committee / community set up, and a letter sent to the HR department with some of the issues that people mailed us.

One of the very real issues is orphanage. A typical PhD lasts about 4 years, but a lot of projects in VCR only last for about 2 – how do you deal with that? What if you didn’t see it coming? What if your supervisor took a new job and now you need to get a new supervisor, but this person isn’t involved in the project? All these are very valid questions, but they’re dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and unless you happen to have some personal experience it’s rather hard to come by information on how to handle this situation. One of the things the committee aims to do is making sure managers have some sort of guideline on how to deal with this. Not only managers, also (prospective) supervisors, and obviously the newly minted PhDs and post-docs.

Now I’m wondering, which other kind of information should be in guidelines for wannabee supervisors of PhDs?

After reading Prof. Chaos part on the lost generation, it seems fair to assume that a couple of those have ended up in my class as well.
All the necessary information is in the syllabus, which is on the website and you can even get a paper copy from me if and when you manage to find my office. We have classes on monday and discussions on wednesday or thursday, according to what was scheduled by the administration’s office (don’t blame me for having to be there at 8:45, I wasn’t consulted either). Deadlines for essays and such are all on wednesdays and no, you cannot get an assignment before the rest of the people just because you’re going on vacation and didn’t notice discussion are on thursdays for a change.

Also, to the students who were giving comments on my comments: if you insist on doing this in the hallway while my door is open, don’t be surprised that I’m prepared for annoyed faces. Also, don’t tell me that asking for clarifications and definitions has nothing to do with the content of the essay and that there were no comments about the content of the essay itself. They did catch me unprepared for that, since I’m not sure how to explain that if you don’t tell me what a term means (according to you), then I can’t assess whether or not you’ve understood the literature. Also, if a couple of those terms are essential for your argument, why would it not be a good idea to define them?

I understand it’s not that easy to write a clear, concise (i.e. limit of 500 words) essay sometimes, but that’s partially what you’re here to learn for. If you’re not prepared to listen to my comments, don’t ask for feedback (although that might not stop me giving feedback) and only look at your grade. Now, if you’re interested to learn ask how you can improve and we’ll continue to have a constructive discussion. Up until that time, maybe you might stew a little longer and feel like you’ve been treated unfairly. Next time, be prepared to be tested on whether you got breast milk or formula as a baby! Or whether you were dropped on the head…

In the interest of full disclosure: when I was about 3, I managed to fall and drop myself on the head.

Last weekend, a new and interesting stress relief activity presented itself: hitting people with a sword. (Actually, latex was in there before, but while talking to colleagues that did seem rather wrong.) It means I’ve indulged in a spot of live action role-playing activity, with the emphasis on live and action.

Elf in SOLAR LARP

Somebody else appearing in the guise of an elf (a la Isis)

While my ears itch like mad now, the satisfaction of killing several highwaymen, undead, werewolves, ghouls and vampires seems to last longer than expected. Also, the simplicity of this weekend was refreshing. The main question was, when bored: should I go out in the woods and try and find some more highwaymen or go and take a nap to make sure I last the evening/night?
Chances are high that this activity will be repeated, as long as it enables me to safely hit / kill whatever is available. Maybe one day I’ll even volunteer to play one of the monsters, since that might give even more scope for action.