Sunday, August 31, 2008

not all tears are an evil

We all mark time in our own way and as Einstein said time is relative. The reality of my job is that the success of an individual year and the continuation of my university depends on 18 year old girls and the decisions that they make. The demographics of my university (and pretty much all universities in north america) are now heavily skewed towards female students and a program that it not attractive to 18 year old girls is doomed. Thus it is that this is the time of year that we meet the parents. I have over the past week (and will for the next week) met any number of girls and their parents. The parents all want to be reassured that our university is not some corrosive bath of liberal thought and that we will somehow open their daughter's minds but not their lives. And through it all I have been distanced from the delusional parents who somehow think that their children are intellectually and biochemically made from a different cloth than they were at the same age.

Now it was my turn.

My son was fated to attend the university that I taught at (no matter where it was) because my academic career has been marked by decisions based on ideals rather than rational thought. This has meant that we have never been able to save a small fortune for our children's education. But that was OK, if my children attend the university where I teach at then they can live at home and they only have to pay half tuition. Nothing, and I mean nothing beats the 75 cent bowl of cereal for breakfast.

When I explained this to my son he thought about it for a long time and about half way through high school made an important decision. If I could not afford for him to go to a larger university and he refused to go into debt for his education then there was only one solution. He worked very hard for two years and got a full ride academic scholarship (tuition, residence and fees for four years) to a good university. It was like hitting the lottery.

I dropped him off yesterday and all the emotions that I have seen ripple across the faces of parents must have rippled across mine. At the end, he was surrounded by young people that moments before were complete strangers and now could quite possibly become lifelong friends and there was only time for a manly handshake and a long look into his impossibly independent eyes and the tide pulled our boats apart.

It was a long drive to get him there and we listened to selections from my vast collection of "driving" music from my youth all the way. Somehow the music sounded different on the lonely drive home. It was all rather melancholy and it reminded me of the end of Lord of the Rings where Merry and Pippin show up flying Deus ex Machina Airways to accompany Sam back to Hobbiton. Gandalf famously says "Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep;for not all tears are an evil."

I had to get past it so rummaging around under one of the seats I found an old tape of Monty Python skits. It got me home.


I have work to do and my son has a life to get started but I think I can look into the eyes of those parents with a bit more empathy now.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Sad Sad Situation

It seems like the return of the regular teaching semester has renewed people to the point where blogs once laid down have been revived. I am speaking of course of the resurrection of Post Doc who has re-named her revived blog Lecturer Notes. One can only hope that her new position will afford some of the vitriolic public catharsis that made Post Doc a must read in the early days (shades of Professorial Confessions but written by Hemingway not the editors of Teen Heat).

My sabbatical ended horribly with my appointment to Head of the Science Department which means that I get to attend committee meetings until my ears bleed.

Today I spent a lot of time with physical scientists and I realized at one point that I was trying to solve the unit cell of the graph paper shirt being worn by the professor in front of me. I realized that what we need is a decent classification system of graph paper shirts. I pulled a couple of shirts out of my closet and saw this ...

So this shirt is dichromic with a slope of 1/1 and each repeat unit diagonal crosses 5 lines so I came up with D11x5. Leading to these ...

I dunno I think I might be missing something. Any crystallographers out there? And then there is the sad fact that this is but a small subset of the graph paper shirts in my closet. At least with the return of fall I can stop wearing socks with sandals.

Anyway, my ears have stopped bleeding so it must be time to go to a meeting with the Biologists. Light a candle for me.

About Me

My photo
For a while it was all about research and then it was all about teaching and now it's all about trying to find a balance while teaching at a small liberal arts and science university.