28 September 2005

An honest to goodness sea monster

Now this is cool. Giant squid! They've only been known from corpses -- until now. Finally, a television crew has seen and recorded a live one. The story is here.

26 September 2005

Me time

I didn't work at all this weekend. No going to the office. Didn't even check university email. After seven day work weeks for the last month, I felt by the end of last week that I was working incredibly inefficiently. And this time, I didn't even feel guilty about it. Not at all.

So what did I do with this time? I watched the AFL Grand Final. Not a visually exciting game, because it was low scoring, but it was a very intense, close game that could have gone either way, right down to the last three seconds of the game. I saw two movies: Transporter 2 and Corpse Bride, bnoth of which I rather enjoyed. Got to go out one night, shop a little, watch some anime, and generally decompress and try to clear my head.

Didn't spend much time outside, because... let me put it this way. There was a penny on the ground outside the theatre. I try to pick it up. And suddenly I was doing a Gollum impersonation. "Aieeee! It burns us!" It was just freaking hot from sitting in the sun on the pavement. It was screaming hot, record highs out both days, with temperatures around 42°C both days. It was dificult to handle the sunscreen and seatbelt in the car, and I felt like my bum was burning a little when I sat in the car seat. I didn't like it. Temperatures cannot drop soon enough for me.

I think my efforts to clear my head worked at least a little, as I was able to quickly pull together a short letter of intent for a grant today and get it into the mail before the mail guys picked up the outgoing mail. I also got a few other things finished, and was actually able to start planning ahead for a meeting I want to go to in a few months time.

23 September 2005

Great graphics

One of the things I'm very interested in is scientific graphics. So to find a link to the winners of a 2005 competition in scientific visualization in my mailbox this morning is really delightful. And a neurobiology image took top prize!

22 September 2005

Catch up

September has continued to work its own peculiar magic (translation: butt whupping) on me. Around Tuesday, I finally managed to put out most of the immediate fires, and have started turning my attention to projects that have been sitting around waiting for two, three weeks or more.

An unexpected invitation came my way a couple of days back. A textbook publisher invited me to an workshop in New Mexico on improving biology education. I'm going to try to go, if I can make arrangements for my class. The workshop's on Friday, which is one of the days I teach.

Oh, although I'm in Texas, hurricane Rita is looking to sweep far north of here. The effects on us locally are probably going to be minimal.

This time.

Yet even though I know we're in almost no danger and will have no disruption (apart from a jump in gas prices -- I wish we could have got that hybrid!), it's almost an obsession to check the track of the storm, just in case it does an unexpected pirouette.

16 September 2005

How is science like playing limbo with guitar strings?

Because you're always just getting in under the wire.

I am not sure if my last second remembrance of an abstract deadline for today means that I'm good -- i.e., I reminded Sandra and got it in in time -- or that I'm really naff -- i.e., because I didn't think to ask until five minutes after Sandra left, and then had to spend a while messing around with last second corrections. But it's done, and it's in.

But far too many things right now are just getting done one moment before it has to, or turns into a crisis. I don't like working this way. But this month is sort of forcing me to work this way, because September is just kicking my ass. Usually August is my bad month. (And that wasn't so great this year, either.)

12 September 2005

Dealing with flies

They say you will catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Maybe so. But sometimes don't you just want to crack open a can of Raid and see their little corpses on the floor?

This has been a Random ThoughtTM.

11 September 2005

More weekend projects

I'm having a Beowulf kind of day. Recap of the poem: Boewulf kills the monster Grendel. But does he get a break? No. He learns he has to go kill Grendel's mother (equally monstrous, natch).

Having slaughtered the tenure and merit annual review monster yesterday, today I am faced with not one bigger monster, but two slightly smaller ones. Unfortunately, they're both rather pernicious. The first beast was getting a quiz set up and a few other updates for my Neurobiology class. The second was this NIH proposal I've mentioned before. I am not enjoying the first-time introduction to NIH writing. The forms are horrid, and very difficult to work with. I think I've got that one under control -- at least as much as I could given circumstances. I'm pretty amazed I managed to get anything ready.

I did receive one perk while sitting an fighting the digital and paper monsters, though: I got the final proof for my upcoming paper in the Texas Journal of Science. It's a little number by Lambert, Faulkes, Lambert, and Scofield, "Ascidians of South Padre Island, Texas, with a key to species," set to appear in Volume 57, number 3, pages 251-262. Accept no substitutes.

10 September 2005

Weekend project

Today’s project involves trying to avoid getting fired for another year. I’ve been working on my annual tenure binder. Mine is 4 cm thick this year. It seemed easier to measure in thickness rather than attempting to count pages. Or perhaps I should just toss the thing on a scale. Every year I try to improve on tracking my annual achievements as I go, but every year, I find things I forgot.

Right. Lunch, then back to work on the NIH proposal. Or maybe a quiz for my neurobiology students.

09 September 2005

The expanding blogosphere

I've become a member of a blogging team for FUNFaculty. This is blog run by the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience, which I belong to. New Orleans has hosted the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting many times, so that is, of course, one of the initial topics for discussion.

I don't think I've mentioned it, but in fact, New Orleans hosted the 1991 Society for Neuroscience meeting, which I attended early in my graduate career. That was only the second meeting at which I presented my doctoral research, and the first national / international one I'd presented at.

08 September 2005

Selling out

Now that I managed to submit my most recent NSF proposal on time, how did I spend today?

Writing another proposal.

This time, though, I'm writing up something for the American National Institute of Health (NIH). I feel like a complete sell out. NIH is all about human medicine and applied research. That's not what I do. Yet I will attempt to pretend I am something I'm not to try to get money. I feel dirty. The sort of filth that could be pleasantly washed away by a few thousand dollars.

That's how many roads to ruin starts off, don't they?

07 September 2005

Sock monkey of science

I am kind of feeling like a floppy little kid's toy at the moment.

This week is kicking my butt. Again. But the good news is that I managed to get a $260,000 grant proposal submitted by the deadline. Now, all I have to do is finish off my tenure and merit folders by Monday so I don't get fired, modify a grant proposal for another program and finish that by Monday, prepare for class, coordinate student trips so we can get more animals for experiments, pull together a poster session for HESTEC, fix the graduate program, and take the fight to the high ground.

04 September 2005

02 September 2005

Credit where it's due

Although I think it's a symbolic gesture more than anything else, it's a good gesture nonetheless: UTPA is opening up enrollment to students whose universities have been hit by Katrina. You have until 9 September to grab onto this, if you happen to be a hurricane-hit student. Additional: See here for more details.

I've been to New Orleans twice, attending Society for Neuroscience meetings, and there were a lot of things I liked about it. That said, I learned a lesson on my trips there: Never bet a shoeshine in New Orleans. I've been to lots of places, and nowhere else have I encountered so many people so quick to hustle you out of your money. I have to say that I think the city was definitely predisposed to the scary, ugly turn it's taken in the last couple of days, with looting and worse. New Orleans was never exactly known for being law-abiding place. But as was said on the TV series Red Dwarf, "They say that every society is only three meals away from revolution." Or anarchy, apparently.

01 September 2005

Blowing the whistle

Old joke: Guy runs a stop sign. Cop pulls him over and says, "Didn't you see that stop sign?" Driver replies, "Sure. But I didn't think it was meant for me!"

One of the things I dislike about this university is that there seem to be a lot of people who don't think the stop signs are meant for them. I've said sometimes, only half-jokingly, that a policy is a rule when applied to a faculty member, but a guideline when applied to an administrator.

Yup, I've got an example.

The universities in Texas are subject to the policies of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. They set rules for university curricula. One of those rules (Chapter 4, Subchapter B, Section §4.29: Core Curricula Larger than 42 Semester Credit Hours, if you're curious; click here for a PDF of that chapter) is that a university can't have more than 48 hours of core courses. Core courses are defined as courses that are required of every student (Chapter 4, Subchapter B, Section §4.23c).

The University of Texas - Pan American has 48 hours of core courses, which is the maximum allowed by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Click here for a PDF of the UTPA catalog, hop to "Requirements for a Bachelor's degree" over on page 66, and you'll read, "3. Core Curriculum Hours and GPA: 48 hours of University core curriculum requirements must be satisfactorily completed with a minimum GPA of 2.0. (See page 95-98 for specific coursework.)"

But wait! Read down a couple more paragraphs. You'll see another requirement. "8. University Requirement: All entering freshmen with fewer than 30 completed semester credit hours are required to enroll in the UNIV 1301 – Learning Framework course during the first year of college (Fall, Spring or Summer). Transfer students with fewer than 30 completed semester hours will be required to take the course, unless they have completed an equivalent course at another institution." (Emphasis added.)

What's "UNIV 1301"? It's a sort of "How to study at the university level" class. An "Introduction to university" or "Survival skills" package designed to prepare the students, many of whom are not adequately prepared by their high school education for the tasks they'll face in their first year. Fair enough. I've given enough failing grades in introductory biology to attest that many of our students need some sort of help, because they are not effective at studying.

Back to the point. If everyone has to take UNIV 1301, then by definition, it's a core course. But we're already at the maximum allowed. In other words, we're requiring more than is allowed by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

How is the university getting around this little problem? They're going around asking (strong arming) each individual department and telling them to make this UNIV 1301 class a requirement for their major. That way, the university can claim, "It's not a core course, because a core course is a university requirement. It's just that every department made it a requirement."

And a lot of the departments have capitulated. The new catalogue has this UNIV 1301 class listed as a degree requirement for English (pg. 111), Health and Kinesiology (pg. 154), Mathematics (pg. 197). To date, my department has resisted the pressure that's been applied for the better part of a year. I hope we continue to do so.

The goal of this class is to increase student success, which I'm all for. But they've gone about implementing in absolutely the wrong way. Rather than removing some other requirement, they're trying (and largely succeeding so far) in sneaking it in the back door. It's going to make every student take longer and spend more money to complete their degree.

My university's breaking the rules. Shamelessly. It's absolutely cut and dry. It's days like this that I'm embarrassed to work here.

Luckily, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board website has a page where they invite comments. And there's a little place to check off if the comment is a complaint, including complaints against an institution. I've already sent one. We'll see if it gets a response.

Additional: I did get a reply. Apparently, even a class that is absolutely required of every student is not necessarily "core." "Core" means something else. So the university isn't running afoul of rules.