May 2009

In the spirit of ScienceWoman’s call for June Scientiae, I’ve been thinking about what keeps me moving these days.
One of the things that I’m aware of is that I have a comfort acitivity: I read books when I’m feeling down, uncomfortable or don’t know how to go on from where I’m standing or how I’m feeling. While reading, I try to figure out what’s really bothering me and how I’m going to solve it (books reread are often from Tamora Pierce, Lois McMaster Bujold, Anne MacCaffrey, Jane Austen, Diana Duane, … anybody noticing a trend?).

Sometimes what is bothering me means I have to be ok with not being liked by everybody. Or, yes, I did look stupid, but other people say and do stupid things too. And if I didn’t make mistakes, I would be unable to learn from them. So it’s not so much about trying to achieve perfection, but about moving on, learning from mistakes and others’ mistakes. There are also a couple of slogans hanging around on post-it, for those reasons (from the last lecture, Randy Pausch):

Brick walls are there for a reason.
They let us prove how badly we want things.

Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.

There’s also some serious thinking going on about the future. My PhD contract/funding runs out, and I need to find another job. So, what do I want to do with my life? I would like to see whether I can make it in academia, instead of on the cusp of academia and industry (as I am now). I want influence on educational programs (or program, to start with), especially in psychology and/or human-technology interaction. I want to be able to teach in those fields as well, and preferably on a college/university level. Last but not least, I would also like to be able to do some research in the field. As a child, I wanted to make a real difference in how education was organized and done, not only on a high-level, but also on a low-level, standing before the class, interacting with students kind of thing. I wanted to be a minister of education. I still do, come to think of it.

Since post-doc grants are usually given out for research, it would be logical to start from there, and see what I can get done. Preferably a post-doc away from the country I’m in now, to learn How Things Are Done at other universities. So, while my slogan reminds me that the experience I will get is probably not what I wanted, it will still be experience, and I will come out as a (probably) different person. Getting a grant or a post-doc is my second brick wall at the moment. The first brick wall is getting the last experiments set up, and this PhD thesis all written out. For now, that’s what’s keeping me moving.


While lots of FAW’s friends and colleagues decided to use the Memorial Day Weekend to work some more, FAW herself thought this was an excellent time for some time away from her laptop and other work-related stuff.It helped that FAWmama and FAWpapa decided to take some time away as well and kindly offered her and FAWpartner a ride to one of the more beautiful European cities.

The drive was well worth it, and so FAW has spend quite some time walking around, admiring buildings and views, listening to classical concerts FAWpapa picked and visiting several museums. The musea offered splendid displays of fabric, glassware, drawings/paintings and timekeeping machines.

However, the weather was a bit more splendid than expected, and therefore FAW needed different walking shoes quite urgently:

North Face Sidney

North Face Sidney

They are so comfortable, as if I’m walking barefeet on little pillows. Definitely worth the investment, and while not particularly elegant, still pretty.

After all this walking around and admiring, I’m ready and recharged to pick up where I left off.

If you’re going on vacation, and said vacation happens before we give a new assignment, we CANNOT give you the assignment beforehand.Why do you think we should make an exception in your case?

We don’t think we should make exceptions, except when they’re study related. You know beforehand you’re getting assignments. Plan accordingly, and don’t go on vacation 3 weeks before the semester ends.

No love,


As stated, the PhDs from VCR sent an email to HR to inquire about certain monetairy aspects of our lives. We finally got an appointment (to which I didn’t go, since there are 6 people on the committee, and all 6 of us might have been too much) but we tried not to expect too much.

That was a good idea, since we didn’t get much either. HR emphasized that this un-increase in gross salary was a one-off (but no promises for later either, or whether it would be made up since that will depend on the economic crisis). HR also mentioned that they wouldn’t tell people in the future to expect such a pay-raise (although how they want to keep it equal with the university is unclear). Furthermore there are apparently new contracts which should address this, but we’ve been unable to see them. We’ll just have to ask the next PhD student to come in whether we can see their contract, I guess. Actually, the HR people seemed somewhat pissed off that we dared to ask for our promised increase because while we got half, they didn’t get anything. Of course, they probably are on a higher pay-scale than we are anyway, so an increase might not make such a big difference for them.

HR also felt disinclined to discuss guidlines for managers, so we’ll have to see how we’re going to approach this and whether we need a different set for managers and for supervisors. The problem is that the only people we can be consistently certain of that new PhD students will see are the HR people. So we would need their cooperation to distribute these kind of papers. Maybe it’s time to find out who the real diplomats amongst us are.

Our semester is now 2/3 over, so we’ve still a ways to go. Last week students got an exam on the first 7 lectures, in which we covered mostly basic cognition / cognitive psychology. To be beforehand with the world (and because I want to do some quick and dirty experiment next week) I decided to get on top of the exams straight away and get them corrected. So far, my strategy consists of reading all answers to the questions, to check how students interpreted my questions. After adapting the answer key to be consistent, I start grading the exams. It’s probably a good thing that we only have about 60 students, because this might not be sustainable otherwise. I’ve managed to grade the whole thing in one day though (there were very few people around, and no meetings).

After checking the frequenties of my grades, it looks as though 50% is average or above average, so that’s quite good. At least my questions managed to discriminate between people who had no clue and people who did! Of course, my grades are only 40% of the whole exam, so it’s possible that their grades can still go up (or down) but that depends on how my co-teacher is grading. We’ll also check correlations, although last year we graded people suprisingly similarly. We see eye to eye on a lot of issues, which is a very good thing in this case.

Grading exams last year, and dealing with essays this year has left me a lot less nervous about the whole process. Partially because I’ve accepted that not everybody (i.e. students) is going to like me, and so be it. I’m not here to be liked by everybody, although it tends to make the process of teaching easier. Partially there’s also experience now, and how to deal when a student thinks their grade is unfair. I don’t know how much / many complaints there will be, but it is always interesting and enlightening to see who shows up and who doesn’t.