Thursday, December 31, 2015

End of year odds and ends

Last year, my New Year's theme was getting rid of all the nuisances in my life that were interfering with my happiness or keeping me from reaching my goals. I organized every space in our house, getting rid of anything that we did not use. I no longer have a landline. I cleaned out computer files and apps that I didn't need. Husband had to put the antenna project on hold because of work demands, but he thinks he will be able to work on it soon.

 One of the biggest nuisances for me is Facebook. First, it is a huge time suck. I find myself surfing around mindlessly, only to realize that I wasted an hour. With a busy semester ahead of me, I don't have time for that. Second, the drama, other peoples' agendas, and wearing different social masks on FB is just exhausting. Also, there have been a couple of instances in which people have hurt me with their comments. I have debated mentioning this to the offender(s), but I believe it would be a futile effort. What I found during my time away was that I really didn't miss it, except for some of my old bloggy friends and a few people that are close to me. Honestly, it's like watching a soap opera for the first time in 10 years. Same faces, only a little older. Same drama.

I did spend more time on Twitter and even connected with some really cool people. There just isn't the can there be when you only have 140 characters to bitch and moan? Only a few bloggy people are there and most of them are pseudonymous. There's an unwritten rule that what is said on Twitter, stays on Twitter.

I am also trying to move back into blogging. A couple of bloggy folks are still out there, and I am glad to read their posts. I hope more will comment here too. I am also testing out Tumblr, so I will be cross-posting there too. You can find it at here.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Teaching 2015

In continuing my end of year evaluation, I should mention what is going on with HBCU.

This was the first semester that I taught on campus. For the past two years, I have taught online, so I was quite happy to be back in the classroom. Well, if you have been following any of this on the old blog, you would know that this semester was one of the most challenging semesters I've experienced in a very long time. I had 12 cases of students engaging in academic dishonesty, with four committing two acts which resulted in failure of the course. Many of my students were very disrespectful and would rather spend time texting or playing games on their phones than participate in class. Despite my attempts to engage with them, they were not interested in learning, other than the "Just teach to the test" mentality. On the positive side, I did meet a couple of awesome students who really wanted to learn and be engaged. Unfortunately, they were a small number that was often over powered by the masses.

Needless to say, I was a very frustrated, angry professor. I found myself just going through the motions toward the end of the semester.  The cheating and the caviler attitude of those who cheated offended me to the point that I really took it personally. I was also so hell-bent on making my course cheat-proof that I believe I neglected my students who really wanted to learn.  I didn't like this side of me. I've always been great at engaging students and getting them excited about learning. In retrospect, I think the problem may have been bigger than just my class. There is a culture of this kind of thing at HBCU that developed over a long period of time. It will take a long time to change.

Also, I felt that my department was not supportive in my efforts to deal with the situation. Although my chair and I determined that there was a miscommunication about how to handle the situation, as well as my chair stating his support for me, I am not sure how I feel about whether I want to continue to teach there. My chair thinks I do a great job and does not want me to give up on the students. I believe I am getting to that point, if I am not already there. Not a good thing.

One of my courses for the PhD this semester was in program assessment and evaluation. The concepts in the course made me think about the course that I teach. Am I really meeting course outcomes? Are there course outcomes that don't make sense for the goals of the department?Am I making the activities interesting and authentic? To that end, I am spending part of my semester break doing a full assessment and evaluation of the course and drafting a logic model to help me revise the course. I am actually glad that I am back to teaching online for the spring, as I will have more time to through the revisions without having to deal with traveling to campus. Also, my schedule at PhD U will be very hectic this spring, so being at home will help. Also, I have a new group of student with only two repeat offenders, so I think I will be able to get some good results.

As for my feelings about teaching at HBCU in the future, that is something I will have to work though over time. There are pros and cons to my staying. At this point, I am just waiting and seeing what happens with this course revision. It might be a way to make lemonade, from a whole bunch of lemons.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015 Fitness Evaluation...Keep on Running

2015 was a good year on the fitness front.
  • I completed four 5Ks this year, including the Walk to Cure Arthritis. I ran that one, just to prove to my RA ridden body that this girl can run. My RA doc is very happy and supportive of all of my efforts. I am her poster child for being fit with RA. I never thought I would run again, especially with the RA. But, I am and I'm going to continue to do it until I can't anymore. 
  • No major flares with the RA. Plus, my RA doc decreased one of my medications. That is a huge deal! 
  • I have dropped eight seconds from my first 5K time. I'm not the fastest one out there, but I'm doing it. I would like to continue to drop my time and do a few more races for 2016.
  • I am doing yoga again to help strengthen my muscles and stay sane. I slipped off the yoga mat a little toward the end of the semester, which was not the best idea in the world. I really could have used that zen to help me through the end of semester and holiday heinousness. Note to self...You do a lot better when you are not a stressed out crazy woman, so do the yoga. 
  • I have maintained my weight loss, although, I did put on a couple of pounds over the holiday. It's only two pounds over my maximum weight and about five pounds above my happy-weight. I am back on the Lose-it program. I should be back in black by my two year weight loss anniversary in February.
  • Husband has lost 20 pounds and has returned to running. He has 25 more pounds to go before he hits his happy weight. He wants to be at the weight he was when he could run 7-8 miles four days a week He would like to have the weight gone before his 50th birthday, which is in October. I must say, he is looking fierce! Also, he is not snoring as much as he used to, which is good news for both of us.
  • Junior and I either walk or run four or five days a week. Junior lost 10 pounds, which his vet is very happy about because the poor pup was getting a little chubby.  Junior is very good about making sure that I take him for his walkies/joggies. German Shepherds can be very persistent. 
 Husband and I signed up for Commitment Day, which is a 5K race that is a commitment, or continued commitment in our case, to fitness.We did something similar last year and it really gave us a kick-start for the new year.  Part of our commitment to continued fitness in 2016 is to work toward a major goal. Husband and I want to return to Hawaii for our 25th wedding anniversary in the summer of 2018. I will most likely finish my PhD during that same time. That's when I remembered about an article in Runner's World about a woman who paid herself $1.00 for every mile she ran. She would use the money to treat herself to something special after she completed a race. I told Husband about it. We came up with a plan to pay for our trip by exercising.  We came up with the following:

1 mile run = $1.00
1 mile walk at a brisk pace (<4 mph) = $.50
20-30 minutes of strength training/yoga = $.25

We started on Christmas Day and we already have $15.00 in the pot. It's a good start. 

The fitness mantra for 2016 is Keep on Running!

Friday, December 25, 2015

So this is Christmas for an atheist

As an atheist, most people wonder how I am able to celebrate what is, for many, a religious holiday. Growing up Catholic, I am well versed in all the traditions and rituals of the religious significance of Christmas. But as an atheist, many suggest that I have no business celebrating Christmas. 
I am not going to go into the historical facts about why Christmas is celebrated at this time of year. It is well documented and needs no additional comment from me. And, I will not go into the fact that many non-believers celebrate the secular message of peace and good will that is a part of Christmas. I will; however, tell you how this atheist and her atheist husband spent this Christmas. 

First, we were roused by kisses and snuggles from one very happy German Shepherd, who is grateful for having two humans who recused him four years ago and gave him a loving home. The three of us snuggled together, grateful for being together in a warm house that is filled with love. Then, we went downstairs and opened presents that we gave to each other that were thoughtful and represented how much we love each other.  Afterward, the three of us went to our favorite running path and held our first Christmas 5K run. Although it was cloudy, the weather was warm and not too muggy. We did an easy run, not a race pace. We marveled in the glory of nature and the peacefulness of the woods that surrounds the running path. We smiled and greeted fellow runners and walkers as they passed.  We came home to have a light lunch. We called, texted, and left messages of Christmas cheer to friends on social media. As I write this, we are in the process of making dinner. Mostly likely, there will be a nap, followed by a relaxing evening at home. 

For our atheist family, Christmas is about enjoying time with each other and doing things that bring us peace and joy. Sounds like a nice way to embrace the holiday. 

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas Meltdown

I tried...I really did. But once again, my depression got the best of me and I had a meltdown over the weekend.

Long time followers from my days in the Waiting Room know that I have battled depression and anxiety for my entire adult life.  During this time of year, it's not just about the stress of completing work, school, and holiday demands, but there are some very painful holiday memories for me that just make this time of year very difficult. In all honesty, I hate the holiday season. I'd rather hibernate from now until New Year's Day.

I tried to alleviate much of the stress and depression by focusing on positive tasks and memories. This year, I even made sure that I got plenty of exercise in order to keep the endorphin happily bouncing. I even had a massage after I submitted all my work for the PhD. Despite those efforts, I just couldn't keep it together anymore, and I broke down crying on Saturday.

I think part of my meltdown was a release of all the stress from the fall semester. It was a very trying semester, especially at HBCU. The last two weeks of the semester at PhD U was a huge push to finish all the projects and assignments. Also, my mom had a small medical issue that had her worried that the cancer was back. Maybe the meltdown was needed, I don't know.  I was walking around in a state of cat-like readiness that was building up all semester and was in full effect by Thanksgiving. So add those to all the usual feelings that I have this time of year, and I guess a meltdown was inevitable.

On the positive side, if there is such a thing when one has a meltdown, is that I held out as long as I did. The coping mechanisms did help to some extent. When I woke up yesterday, I actually felt a little more at peace. I still have some negative thoughts banging around in my head, but they are not as loud as they once were. We'll see how this week goes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Learning to Fly

PhD U is sponsoring a conference in the spring. When the call for proposals arrived in my email inbox, I told myself that I would submit something for consideration. But, I would have to wait until after the fall semester insanity ends, because that was my priority. I figured that since the deadline is December 18th, and that I would be finished with all my other work, I would have a solid week to crank something out and submit it.

Yesterday, I started digging around for articles on my topic and thinking of a framework. As I began to read the articles, the words were swimming on the page. I recognized fonts, but not much more. I closed my laptop and said "NOPE" out loud. Even today, I just could bring myself to read anything that required intense concentration or analytical thought.As much as I would love to present at this conference, especially with many PhD U and faculty from other universities in attendance, I just can't do it. I am just to fried right now. I really need some downtime. I need to recharge.

This was a huge thing for me...saying no to an opportunity. I've always had trouble doing that. I have this inner voice, you know, the perfectionist, super-competitive, always trying to prove I am worthy voice that tells me I have to take advantage of opportunities. When I give in, I end up more exhausted and over-committed. This time, I told myself that it is OK not to submit. I have two conference proposals already for next year, with one already accepted. I will be busy enough. It's OK not to do this one. I was also able to shut down the guilt voice that usually is in the background. No guilt, no regrets. I can apply for 2017. I'll be a stronger academic then. Right now, I am still learning to fly.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Evaluation, Part 1

Well, I survived.The fall semester is over with a couple of mouse clicks. Papers and projects submitted to PhDU and grades submitted for HBCU.

On my run this morning, I was thinking about the semester and how everything turned out. I found myself using my advisor's method of giving feedback. She uses the phrases "I liked", "I learned", and "I suggest". It really is an effective means of giving someone positive and negative feedback without feeling like you are being too harsh or just focusing on the good stuff.

With that in mind, I began to evaluation my semester by diving it into three areas: PhDU, HBCU and myself. So here goes part one.

The fall semester at PhDU
This was my first semester as a fully admitted student. I also took two classes instead of one.

I liked: My classes, especially qualitative methods. My instructor for qualitative methods was just amazing. She used the scaffold method to help us build on the poster presentation and final paper.  She kept the class very active, especially for it being at such a late time during the day. I am bummed that she will not be teaching the second half of the course in the spring.

I also like my Assessment and Evaluation Theory course, although I don't think my classmates shared the same feeling. It was one of those courses which required the student to do a great deal of self learning and discovery, something I am used to from being in law school. I don't think my fellow classmates have not experienced or were not used to doing. The project really wasn't too bad, just a lot of sweat labor getting all the pieces together.

I liked that I have the opportunity to work on two research projects with my advisor. The projects are two conference proposals that will ultimately become something that we will submit for publishing. I get second author status, which is super cool. I will receive credit for my work with my advisor, which means one less class I have to take.  It really boosts my confidence that my advisor is confident in my skills and knowledge. One of the proposals was accepted, so now we are waiting on the other conference proposal. Next year is going to be super busy.

I learned: There is a lot more to doing qualitative research than I realized prior to the course. Transcription sucks. I told Husband that he needs to use his computer programming and software engineering skills to come up with software and an app that would make the process less painful. I noticed that my lawyer skills really worked well with drafting interview questions and interviewing participants.

For evaluation theory, I learned that I am actually pretty good at it. I think mainly because I've been though the process as a department chair, but I also think it's part of my personality of constantly wanting to see how things are working. I also learned that I really need to revamp the course that I teach. I used my course as part of a learning activity and I found that I am not hitting the outcomes that I have set. Over the break, I am going to reverse engineer my course.

I learned that I actually know what the hell I am doing with respect to this PhD thing. I have a good grasp of the concepts for my program, thanks in part to my extra reading outside of class, but also because I really like this stuff.

I suggest: I am trying to find a balance between writing like a lawyer and writing like an academic. Writing like a lawyer is very analytical. You are trying prove something and using the law to back up your assertions. No where in legal writing does your personal opinion come into play. To quote Denzel in Training Day, "It's not what you know, it's what you can prove".  I would follow that with what my Constitutional law professor told on day one of class "Check your ego and opinions at the door." Needless to say, my academic writing is very structured and very analytical, and no where do I indicated what I think about the data or theory. If I do put forth an opinion, it is qualified. So, I am working on finding my voice in academic writing. It's a work in progress.


Overall, It was a good semester at PhDU. I am confident in my work there and I am learning and growing as an academic. I am looking forward to next semester.

Up next, evaluation of my semester at HBCU.