Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Here's an article about the latest "editing" of Canadian TV show Degrassi by the American cable channels who choose to broadcast it. This episode deals with a young woman who chooses to have an abortion. Explain to me what the U.S. is so afraid of. They show violence, drug and alcohol abuse, infidelity etc. etc. on TV but are all up in arms about this? It's actually pretty common for things to be broadcast in Canada (on government/public airwaves) that don't make it past the U.S. "censors." Remember that Tom Petty song "You don't know how it feels" that had the line "Let's get to the point/and roll another joint"? or did you get the dubbed over "and hit another joint" version?

- maki girl

Friday, July 16, 2004

Is bipartisanship the answer? Certainly I would say that it's great when people and organizations and political parties can work together. More gets done and less time is spent fighting and aggravating the other people. However, I think bipartisanship can lead to compromises that may not always be best. For example, maybe Democrats and Republicans could both compromise and agree that two men can be "united" in a civil union, but cannot be married. That would give the men many rights such as health insurance for their partner etc. But it would "preserve" the "sanctity" of marriage. That would be BETTER, in my opinion, than outlawing any sort of union between two men. However, I think what is BEST would be for them to have the right to get married just like a man and a woman can. Someone once told me that "best" is the enemy of "better." Maybe. But I would rather fight for what I think is best than just settle for a compromise.

However, if I now put myself in the place of a politician and the choice is something like "Republicans don't want to fund head-start programs for young children" and "Democrats want to fully fund head-start for three and four year olds" I could live with a compromise of "Let's fund head-start for four year olds."

I guess it's the difference between being idealistic and pragmatic. I used to look for a political leader who I agreed with on ALL issues. Now I just look for one I can agree with most of the time.

Ok, ready to hear your views.

-maki girl

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Again, from www.mydd.com there was an interesting question that came up today. Is bipartisanship the answer, or is there a benefit to a polarized political culture? I think this question is important on many different societal levels. I'll give you a day or so to think about it, and then I'll jot down my feelings.


Monday, July 12, 2004

Here is a really cool insider view on the Dean collapse in Iowa. If only something different would have happened.


Thursday, July 08, 2004

Go America!!!!!!

I shook hands with both John Kerry and John Edwards last night. I love them so much. When I heard Edwards speak it was amazing. In my heart of hearts, I know that in 23 years, I want to be doing what he does.

Interesting side note. We met a Kucinich supporter when we got out of the car, and then ran into him again as we were leaving. He was a decent person, and a good liberal, but certainly way more to the left than I am. He goes to war protests, and he buys into alot of the lefty conspiracies, like Fundy Christians linked to Israel, Halliburton, and Wellstone being murdered. He probably has it in him to not like Kerry/Edwards because they are too main stream. In another election he may have voted for Nader or just stayed home.

But none the less, he was still there last night standing up against Bush. He was able to get to the front of the rope line after the speeches and came face to face with John Edwards. He told me he thought about saying something very political like asking Edwards to support the Palestinians, but then thought better of it, because it wasn't the time or place. He shook Edwards' hand and asked him to 'not forget about the working man'. He said Edwards stopped, looked him in the eye, put his hand on his shoulder, and then promised our friend that he wasn't going to forget at all.

You can say that this little exchange is politically motivated, and that Edwards had to say what he did, but there's something more priceless here. By taking 1 second to listen, Edwards took this guy and made him emotionally a Democrat for life, regardless of what his policy thoughts might be. He touched this guy in a way that I find just beautiful. I love how politics can inspire people with a one second exchange. I love this stuff, and I love John Edwards.

I guess the only problem is that W does exactly the same thing for different people. It's why none of the protesters across the street from us looked rich That one emotional connection can overcome a whole lot of thought process.

Four More Months!!!!!!!!


Wednesday, July 07, 2004

To be honest, I never used Career Services at my college either. They only seemed to be very useful if you were looking for a job on Wall Street or something like that (we had a lot of those business/econ people).

I had the idea, when I was applying to graduate schools, that being a graduate student would be just like working with my undergraduate advisor. He said I was already doing graduate level work, so I knew I could handle the research. He treated me as an equal and was always looking out for me and figuring out what would be best -- what meetings to send me to, finding opportunities to go observing with colleagues of his, etc. I had no idea that most advisors are a lot more selfish than he was, and a lot less socially adept.

I was a little horrified when I started graduate school and was told I had to teach two lab sections per week, prepare a syllabus and so on. It's like they thought we would magically know how to be effective in the classroom. Even the college I'll start teaching at next month has done better than that, despite the fact that they only hire people with previous teaching experience. They've sent some sample syllabi and guidelines and things to give us an idea of what we need to prepare for classes. It's not much, but it's more than I got from my graduate department when none of us had ANY teaching experience!

But you know, I would do this all over again, too. I don't even know if I would make any slightly different choices. Would I have really chosen a different advisor? I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had gone to the Physics Education program instead -- something I was really interested in, but at the time I decided I wanted to take my chance and do astronomy research. You know the crowd I would have been with -- would I have become a clone?

In any case, I'm glad you're not the alternative you! I cannot see you as a go-go astronomer. Can you see me as a PER clone? Yikes.

I think you hit the nail on the head that in many ways it's not how good you are at doing research or solving equations or things like that that gets you through graduate school. But can you take the weird stresses and pressures? Can you do some things that make you miserable? Will you have enough (emotional) support?

Thanks hoagieboy.

- makigirl

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

I have to admit that I honestly don't know what my answer to my hypothetical question would be. I guess that's the luxury of being the question asker.

I used to hate the fact that the career services office at my college discouraged just about everyone from going on to graduate school. They sent you on to Andersen or something. I felt so restricted by that. Supposedly the reason was that OCS thought that most kids went on to graduate school because their parents wanted them to (whether spoken or not), or that they were just trying to hide from the job market/real world. I knew at the time, though, that I just really wanted to do research. Normal jobs weren't appealing to me, because they weren't academic in nature. I wanted to do pure science, and that's all I wanted. I didn't bother going OCS , because I didn't want to hear them try and pursuade me from going to graduate school. That was probably a mistake, because I didn't fully explore my options. However, given what I knew then, I don't think it was a mistake to go get my phd. I wanted to do science more than anything.

Given what I know now. . . I still would have done the same thing. (Boy, it really pains me to say that.)

I almost chose a different advisor before I actually came to graduate school. One of the professors wanted me to work with him, because we had some strange alumni/friend connection. Had I worked with him, I would have travelled to all the best telescopes in the world, worked on my own instruments, published a ton of discovery papers, have people in the field really know who I was. I would be starting a post-doc right now, probably at a major observatory, and looking at a research I job 5 year from now. Part of me would have been skeptical and cynnical about myself and the world, because I will have that in me. However, a large part of me would have been a go-go astronomer. The person who I actually am today, would absolutely hate that alternative me.

How would I explain to my 21 year old self that graduate school is such a strange place, that one phone call to the professor mentioned above placed in May of my Senior year would determine so much about my future life. How do you acurately explain that the choice of your advisor in your first year (if not sooner) will be the biggest decision of your professional life? That you better know what you want to do in 6 years, because it's going to hurt if you pick an advisor who wants you to do something else? That you better know how to make a great support system for yourself (and I do have a good one. . .Thanks, Makigirl), because if the experience does start hurting, no one is going to care (at worst) or know how to do anything about it (at best)? That some of your friends are either going to severly struggle or simply not make it through the program for no good reason? That a little part of you is going to believe that you're better than those friends, because you hear so many people talk about how your friends weren't good enough to make it? That unless you're a pompous bastard, you're going to feel inadequate everytime someone else (even your closest friends) talk about their research? That no one is going to teach you how to get a job? speak? write? That the values you hold dear will be considered irrelevant by the majority of your field? That so many people will live in a little box called tenure track?

I don't know that my 21 year old self would listen anyway. But, stranger still, if I did somehow truely convince my 21 year old self of all those things, and probably reduce myself to tears, I'd have to tell me to go, because I loved the experience, and I wouldn't trade who I am now for anything.

I think I would encourage students to go to graduate school, but I think I would be a hell of a lot tougher about it now, then I ever thought I would have been when I was 21. I think I would be grilling every student who brought it up to me. I think I wouldn't even care about their academic/research abilities. I would suggest graduate school to those students who were self-aware enough (like you and I) to appreciate the experience for what it is. If an academically capable student wasn't prepared mentally/emotionally, then I would be spending a lot more time with them on studying their self-awareness, then I would practicing for the GRE.

There's my short answer.


I used to wonder if I should stay in the "research" field just so I could try to change its structure/environment. But I reached the same conclusion you did -- I wouldn't be helping anything because I would be completely miserable. Plus, it could actually drive me insane. All in all, my graduate school experience wasn't ALL negative, I just feel it could have been much more positive. Or rather, I wish that the positive mentors I did have had as much "power" and "influence" as my actual advisor. But in general I think we are both still pretty optimistic. So there is hope :)

About your hypothetical question -- I would not encourage any of my potential future students to go into a physics/astronomy graduate program simply because they would be woefully underprepared, having no physics beyond General Physics, in the curriculum. If that was the path they really wanted to pursue, I would hopefully catch them early enough to recommend they transfer to a different college or university with a physics program.
Now, about in any other field -- this is tricky. The only current way to a job like the one I will start soon, even though it involves little research, is via a Ph.D. in physics or astronomy. So if a student expressed interest and ability in something like that, I don't think I would shut that door for them, but really talk to them and make sure they know what they're getting into and how to make it the best experience possible. If a student, on the other hand, is really interested in research, I would do a similar thing. I think graduate school has the potential to be very good -- time to focus on research, learn from an "expert" and so on. And I would like to believe that some graduate programs and advisors really help you make the most of your experience. But I think people should enter into it much less naively than I did. I would, however, also present other options for students beyond the typical M.S. + Ph.D. route.

I don't think we'll get very far if we actively discourage students from pursuing graduate school. There must be some way to improve it from within, even though we are sort of working from with-out?

If you were in my position, what would be your hypothetical answer?

- makigirl

PS Thank you :)

No, I don't think I can say that I know anyone who is happy in graduate school. I mean, yeah, there are people who are optimistic in general and have a positive outlook on life no matter what, but I'm not sure I believe that there are people who are satisfied at their core with their graduate school existence. Look what it did to me.

I think you're very justified in your pessimism about things not changing, and that women (and men who aren't the typical scientist) will probably feel exactly the same 15 years from now as well. I think we definitely run the risk of not helping anything by leaving the field. I think we run an even higher risk of not helping anything if we stayed in it, either.

But, of course, I still carry alot of my optimisim around with me even after this experience. Our voices are going to be limited because of our carreer choices, but that doesn't have to mean a whole lot. Screaming and yelling isn't going to do a whole lot, as we've witnessed with some of our colleagues. However, If there's one thing that I've learned in the past year, it's that organizations have pressure points. If we're smart and committed, we'll find them.

Question for you -- Hypothetically, since you don't have physics majors in your new department, would you encourage a bright 21 year old student to go on to a PhD program in physics/astronomy or in any other field?


P.S. I still think that you're a hell of a researcher, whatever your advisor may have done to you.

Hurray for America!!!!!!!!!

Kerry/Edwards is going to win.


Monday, July 05, 2004

I just finished reading this Spring's issue of Status -- "A Report on Women in Astronomy" (from the American Astronomical Society). You probably read this a while ago as mail takes a long time to make it to Hawai`i. It's also on the web at this link under June 2004, but only as a PDF.

Anyways, I was struck by two things as I read through this issue. As I read an article entitled "Voices from the Pipeline," essentially an excerpt from Sheila Widnall's **1988** AAS Presidential Lecture, I was struck by how much things have NOT changed in over FIFTEEN years. I feel just like many of the female astronomy and physics graduate students she quotes felt back then. For example:

"More women report that [...] interactions with faculty do not provide helpful feedback on their research progress. There seem to be qualitative differences in the type of feedback that some women students are looking for. To quote one woman from the MIT survey: "My advisor tells me whether it's right, not whether it's important."

"Women students give their advisors a great deal of power in assessing their ability, and women are apt to internalize and validate their perceptions of this assessment."

"Men often feel comfortable with a communication style that seeks to reduce one of the protagonists to rubble in the course of a scientific discussion. After the storm is over, they quickly forget about the incident. For many women this style of interaction is unacceptable, either as a giver or a receiver. A woman student may take weeks or months to recover from such an interchange, and it may contribute to permanent loss of self-esteem."

(I know these things don't apply to all women, just as they can apply to some men.)

Now that I've finished up my dissertation and have had some time to think about what just happened -- that part of my life is over! -- I feel more disappointed than happy. I felt I was a better astronomy researcher when I began graduate school than I feel now that I've finished. And I feel profoundly disappointed that even in the end everything I did was not "good enough." But I am not writing this to feel sorry for myself because it's over with. But I wonder if women felt like this 10 years ago, and obviously some of us still feel like that today, what can we do so that in another 10 years graduate school can be a much more positive experience? (For all students.) The article has plenty of tips about how advisors need to learn to "communicate differently" and be more sensitive and so on. But that presupposes that your advisor actually thinks he/she has room for improvement or has the desire to improve.

I think nothing will ever change, because the people for whom the current system of graduate school doesn't work don't end up in Research I departments and don't end up being the Graduate chairs with the power to change the graduate school experience -- Catch 22.

Moving on to point two. There is a small article on a report called "The 3Rs -- Recruitment, Retention, Returning" published by the Institute of Physics (UK). It really irks me that they go into detail about how much money is "lost" if a woman leaves the sector early in her career. E.g. it costs approximately $80,000 to put a physics student through a three year post-graduate degree and if she doesn't stay in physics for XX years that money is lost. Then later in the same article they talk about how they have to give better career advice to children so that they know the full range of careers available to them if they study, for example, physics. An example they use is the current editor-in-chief of Good Housekeeping (the magazine) who is an astrophysicist. But, wouldn't she count as "lost" under their accounting system and we should have never spent the money to train her? What are they really trying to say?

How did our academic system get to be so messed up? Whatever happened to enjoying learning? Do you know anyone who is actually HAPPY in graduate school?


Friday, July 02, 2004

Congratulations hoagieboy! We are now both pau*. Time to move out of student life and into "real" life!

* done.


Good job at uncovering The Nation article I was talking about, hoagieboy. We are, of course, on the same side but I do have to semi-disagree with you. Sorry! I know it's hard.

I agree that we cannot just blame the poor performance of some students on their background, socio-economic status, etc. Of course we should fund schools better, support pre-school/head-start programs etc. But at the same time, I don't think it's ridiculous to also focus on those "other" factors that are affecting learning and achievement. If "we" (they) are really concerned about the economy in this country, in wisely using "our" tax dollars, wouldn't it make more sense to support single mothers on social assistance as they try to raise and nurture their children instead of making them work 40 hours a week and placing their children in sub-standard child care so that they can get that welfare cheque?

I just see the actions the government is taking as very short-term band-aids, and that really frustrates me.


Here's an intersting look at the pay scales of teachers and superintendants. My dad has always suggested to me that I should become a school superintendant in a suburban district, because they make the big bucks without actually having to deal with any real problems. It looks like this article agrees and shows that schools are like the rest of corporate America.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Happy Canada Day, Makigirl.

I think I found the article in the Nation about standardized testing , that we were discussing by phone the other day. Or perhaps its actually this one. In either case, I'll try to address the problem a bit more eloquently than I did before.

Yes, we have an achievement gap in this country. Rich, white kids score better on standardized tests than do poor black kids. The problem is just as much class based as it is race based. Poor white kids don't do score as well on these tests as do rich whites, and rich blacks don't score as well as rich whites. Of course, this is America, so when we do deal with the problem, it is primarily in the racial sense. No one likes class warfare here.

There are several ways to look at the causes of the achievement gap and the solutions to it.

1. Racist -- Well, those black people just aren't as smart, anyway. Maybe there's a couple smart ones, like Colin Powell, but really we should stop sending our money to 'those people' in the cities. The smart ones will find a way out. I'm pulling my child out of public school and putting them into a Christian school. If he's smart, then he'll do well. If not, at least he'll get some good old fashioned southern values.

2. Conservative -- The education gap just proves that public education will never solve anything, if we even have a problem. We've been throwing money at education for years now, and it just doesn't work. We need to provide resources for kids who are truely smart, as measured by their test scores, but the other students should learn at least learn discipline, to read and write, and then get a job at Walmart or something. Private enterprise, aka vouchers and choice, will make the education system better for the smart kids and cheaper for the rest of us.

3. Centrist/liberal -- Public education isn't so good at enhancing opportunity, but it is still an inherently good idea. Some people do very well in the system, others do not. We need to find a way to make sure that all students receive the same opportunities to succeed, no matter where they come from. Defining local, state and national standards is one way to do this. Testing is one manner in which to determine the performance of school or child. As a voting public we should be able to examine the ability of a school to educate children. Education reform is a national problem.

4. Lefty -- Problems or successes in education are purely a result of the social setting of a particular school. Standardized testing only tests the income level of a student's family. Schools need to be improved by creating loving communities, where students can decide what they want to learn for themselves. Standards are bad, because we can't force anyone to learn anything, and the standards probably just reflect a white eurocentric viewpoint anyway.

As you can see, I made some strawmen/womyn. Sorry about that. I think I fit comfortably in #3, probably at about at 3.3. I believe that education is the single most important governmental priority. I belive that education should be placed as a 4th inalienable right for all citizens. Unfortunately, I don't believe that our current education system provides opportunites for most childrent to succeed. I believe in (high) standards for all children. I believe in a national solution to education that is based in community reform. I believe in school accountability, and that standardized testing is one way to measure a school's performance. I don't like high stakes testing for individual children, but I would be comfortable with some sort of high stakes portfolio assessment. I do believe that poverty and race have a negative impact on many children's education, but that shouldn't serve as an excuse for inaction. I believe that action must be taken now so that more students can begin learning now.

I agree with large chunks of both of the articles listed above especially the recommendataions in the first article, even though both authors would be much closer to catagory 4 than I (the first less so). But I have some real problems with the lefty critique of education reform.

The first article discusses at length a study done in the '60s comparing the test scores of blacks in poor southern schools to those in the north. They found that there really wasn't a difference in scores, and that the money being put into the northern schools wasn't doing anything (a bit of a stretch for a conclusion if you ask me). Regardless, this finding is typically used by objectors to education reform on both the right and left -- either "ed reform doesn't work, so let's not bother" or "ed reform doesn't work because the problem is so much bigger than what goes on in the school." However, this discounts more recent evidence that shows that high poverty and minority shcools can score as well and better than more affluent schools on state tests. Visit the Dispelling the Myth section on the Edtrust website for plenty of examples. When schools committ themselves to improving the performance of their students, they can, even in a relatively resource poor environment.

The lefty critique of ed reform is often put out by Richard Rothstein who is cited in the second article, but it is similar to the research done by the author in the first. Rothstein had a column in the NYT for awhile, where he presented research to back up this view. One reason I heard once, as to why Rothstein had a column was to make the wealthy people in Westchester feel good about themselves. If the problems in schools are so deeply rooted in the culture of poverty and race, then there's really not much we can do about it, right? If advocating for better teachers and better resournces in poor districts really doesn't do anything, then we can just worry about our own kids. His work also tends to play well with the rank and file of teacher's unions.

Race and poverty obviously play a factor in educational success, but that should not limit the choices we make about how to teach children. Rothstein, and at least the second author completely ignore the problem and are not able to offer any solutions when they attribute everything to race and poverty. Well, black people are black and are going to stay black, and rightly so, so let's start talking about things that we can control. Similarly, poor children are largely going to stay poor while they are in school. So what? When schools and teachers start chalking up students' bad preformance to their race and family environments, they stop teaching. I've heard too many teachers (and I don't know that many) resort to this argument in a classroom that they've lost control over. It is a complete abdication of responsibility. Now, I'm not saying that it's easy to teach in some schools in America, and it's largely not the fault of these teachers. They've been put in horrible situations by their principals and superintendants. But it is an abdication none the less, especially when we know that poor and minority students can learn and succeed.

I try to have a willful ignorance of the Rothstein argument when I think about education. Chalking stuff up to race and poverty is an easy trap for liberals. We must remember that there are real solutions, and the centrist/liberal position above is the only one that provides real solutions. Yes, there are grey areas in the position, and some solutions are better than others. Overall, however, I must take this position because there are children out there that need to learn if they are to make a living. Future engineers need to learn math. Future doctors need to learn how to read and write. Waiting for a community movement to end racial tension and build a free-thinking montescori type school may work in the neighborhoods of people who read the Nation, but it won't in most. We're talking about children who have a right to succeed, so we better start fixing their schools now.