Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Pandora radio is the bomb! If you haven't checked it out, you really should.

The concept is simple. You type in a song or band that you like, and Pandora will generate a radio station for you that has similar types of music. I created R.E.M. Radio and Indigo Girls Radio today. I'm encouraged, because the Indigo Girls station played Brandi Carlile and Cowboy Junkies, both of which I also like; it also played an artist I hadn't heard of before, which is a great way to learn about new music.

The best thing about Pandora is that it's free, as long as you can put up with the ads. The worst thing is that it might be the ultimate in ways to procrastinate, which I really don't need. And now I will stop my Pandora ad campaign.

Happy listening!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Ah, you crazy, run-on sentence loving, social scientists!

My father, who works in public health, often has to read sociology articles/books for his job. According to him, sociologists take the cake when it comes to run-ons (he must not have read much Faulkner in his day).

Anyway, I'm forced to agree that sociologists (and social scientists more generally) are, what my husband would say, "wordy bastards." I ran across one such example just now while reading an article. Does this sentence make anybody's else brain hurt? It makes sense, but it takes a couple readings to put it all together in logical order. Perhaps we should all strive for more parsimony in our sentences, even if we end up with twice as many.

"We hypothesized that this effect would be enhanced when youths were asked explicitly to focus on similarities between the self and successful others or on differences between the self and failing others versus situaitons in which they were asked to focus on similarities between the self and failing others or on differences between the self and successful others" (Oyserman, Grant, and Ager 1995).

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

This Makes Teaching Worth It

It will probably not come as a big shock to many of you that I care about teaching. I like research, and I care about my research, but teaching is where my passion lies. Thus, it has been difficult for me in the past to receive less than stellar teaching reviews. Actually, I usually have a split between students who really liked my class and students who really did not like my class, leaving me with average scores.*

I've come to the conclusion that I get lower results on my course evaluations than some of my peers because my 400-level class is, wait for it... hard. Yes, folks, I require my students to write (a lot), to critically appraise and analyze the information I give them, and in general, to use their brains more than they might in other sociology classes. In return, they get a teacher who is almost always available to them for help (although very few come to see me), who takes time to write comments on their papers, and who truly cares about what I'm doing.

I've resigned myself to the lower teaching evaluations, although this did take time and maturity. When I despair, I remind myself of the professor who once said, "If I get perfect evaluations, I'm doing something wrong. If I'm truly challenging students, some won't like it."

So, that's why it's so nice for me to get positive feedback from my students, like the email I got today from "Joe Student." I won the award he's discussing last year, but this is an amazing compliment all the same. So I'm going to take the risk of bragging today on my blog and present Joe's email in its entirety.

Thank you, Joe, for making my day.

Prof. Idealist -

I hope this email finds you doing well and enjoying your classes in this new semester. Recently, they handed out the nomination sheets for graduate student teachers in the sociology department. I was surprised to not see your name on the sheet, as i had called the department a few months back asking about how to nominate teachers. I feel that you deserve recognition for the amount of time and effort you put forth in our preparation and presentation of your classes. Your class, though very challenging, was as equally rewarding, and has molded me into a more successful student. Many of my classmates felt you had us do too much writing, and complained as such. I agreed that there was alot of writing, however, if anyone actually read the comments you left, it would become apparent that you spent just as much time reading and critiquing our arguments as we spent formulating them. Given the large size of the class, andthe manner in which you thoroughly graded our papers, i believe that alone merits recognition. Yet, i think its more than that. The in-class discussions were excellent and generated many different points of view. You challenged us to look past the status quo and question accepted points of view, and to put our thoughts into arguments furthering our academic development. Lastly, you were always extremly well prepared for class. Your enthusiasim for the subject matter shone bright, and helped spur our interest in areas that were perhaps less exciting. Throughout my college career, i have expreienced a smorgasboard of different professors of various learning styles, personalities, and approaches. However, i have not come across a professor who was able to balance being extremly challenging, interesting, and more than fair all in one. If for some reason you are precluded from being on this ballet, i will do my best to make sure you recieve recognition in some way, and i thank you for the opportunity you have given me, and making me a better student. Good luck this semester, keep up the good work!

- Joe Student

*I also do not trust teacher course evaluations in their current form. The primary question on our t.c.e.'s is "What is your overall rating of this instructor's teaching effectiveness?" There are quite a few problems with this question, but the main one is that this is very ambiguous. How are we to know that what I deem effective is the same as what Tom deems effective, or Marcy, or Julie, etc... For me as a student, a challenging course indicated an effective instructor, but for some, an easy course where the student learns a lot of facts may indicate effectiveness, and we haven't even yet touched on learning styles. From a methodological standpoint, teacher course evaluations are a nightmare.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Knee Deep

Do any of you ever feel like you've waded into an incredibly large swamp with your research, and it will take forever to get to the other side?

I'm sure this is a common feeling, but right now I feel that although I think I know a lot about the subject I study, in reality I know quite little, and that makes me feel very uneasy.*

When can you tell yourself enough is enough and start writing already?

It's probably not nearly as bad as I'm making it out to be, and I could be laboring under unrealistic perfectionist ambitions. But in the meantime, discouragement is setting in.

*This is after studying the same concept for the past 6 years. Ugh!!!