Thursday, January 8, 2009

I Think I Sold My Soul . . .

Behold my schedule for this semester!! (Please click for larger version if print is too small to read.)
I don't quite know how this happened and I don't know how I'm going to survive this semester. I'm SO glad I dropped Infectious Disease Epidemiology. How do I manage to do this to myself every semester?! Every semester I tell myself not to push myself too hard, to take things easy so I have time for "fun," but this happens invariably! This is why I don't date or do anything right now, haha (partly true).

As one can see, I have 4 "true" courses: Biostatistics; Virology & Molecular Lab; Genetics, Health Behavior & Health Education; and Cancer Epidemiology. My 5th course is research, so I also have 10-13 hours of research that I have to do.

And I'm a GSI (again, GSI = grad student instructor). I have 3 discussion sections to "teach," each of them are 1 hour long. But I failed to realize (until today) that GSIs have 4 hours of office hours. I'm not looking forward to office hours, because I've been told that undergrads will mob GSIs for answers and explanations, hoping to get any leaked info on exams and quizzes. Not cool. I think I just sold my soul to GSI-ing . . .

I brought up something interesting at the meeting earlier today where all 6 of us GSIs and the two professors for the course met. I asked about how much "freedom" each individual GSI had in teaching his/her own discussion sections. Apparently this has never been asked before - the GSIs and the 2 professors traditionally met once a week, planned, and detailed what was to be done in every single discussion section to maintain "equality" across all discussion sections. This meant that everyone had the exact same problems to do, exact same activities, etc. It sounds pretty rigidly structured, but the professor(s) seemed hesitant to quash my "enthusiasm to teach."

So clearly I singled myself out and now I've reached a mild dilemma. Should I push to have more freedom for each individual GSI to teach how he/she sees fit (the other GSIs seemed kind of opposed to this) within a semi-structured outline of the discussion? Or should I conform to everyone to maintain equality between everyone else's sections and mine? Maybe I can, from within, influence what activities and materials will be handled in a significant number of discussions in my favor? I just don't know. Granted, we all get together once a week and collectively determine what points are most important to cover in discussion sections, what problems to go over, and what activities to do. Still . . . it's kind of like prescribing the same blood pressure medication to everyone, rather than tailoring which blood pressure medications to give to which patients.

The thing is I come from a vastly different background than pretty much all the other GSIs. I have more experience in "applied" genetics in relation to research, public health, and particularly epidemiology. I understand how genetics is used in the "real world" and how to get students interested in these applications. Most of the other GSIs are real biology grad students, so they work on such and such gene in species such as fruit flies, nematodes, mice, plants, etc. Basically, not people, and basically students will come to the point where they'll ask, "Why should I care about genetics?"

I don't want to become a "rogue GSI" and get my sections all excited over something I can't, or am not allowed to, deliver. I want my undergrads to care, I want them to see that genetics is useful, and is becoming ever-increasingly important in medicine, public health, and science in general. The course I'm GSI-ing for is the undergrad intro genetics course, so I know it's going to be focused on fruit fly, nematode, plant, mice, and bacteria genetics. Aka, boring (to most of the students, a large chunk of who are pre-med). I don't think they realize this as I don't think any of the other GSIs were pre-meds themselves.

Thoughts anyone?

So I went to the gym today for the first time since before finals, like a month ago. I'm going to be sore and in pain tomorrow, haha. You may/may not have noticed my random 1-hour or 2-hour breaks in the "middle" of the day Mondays through Fridays. Those are for going to the gym (and resting/prepping as necessary).

Because of the ridiculous-ness of my schedule, I'm relegated to eating what I'd like to call the "wandering grad student diet." Basically, breakfast and lunch consists of fruits, a mix of nuts, and cereal bars while they still last. Dinner stays normal, though I think I'll be too tired to cook a ton.


Fiction Writer said...

Uhm what the hell? That looks like a math in, how do you manage such crazy courses and research and teaching? Ugh. I know I will have to do grad work and hopefully be able to teach, but I can't imagine all of that in super-advanced science! Although I realized at the end of this semester that my studies are trending more and more to more difficult and abstract things that I fear. But no genetics or statistics here!

Heh. Oh, as far as teaching - just stick to the bullshit they feed you. Honestly, your students will thank you. You will have those few who ask you about your own experiences and you will gain a lot more from their engagement than you would from the rolling of eyes when you bring up valuable personal stuff that the rest of the class sees as pointless. Rough, I know...but I remember a historical linguistics course that never once touched upon East Asian Languages; but I had an instructor who spoke better Korean than English. Well, Korean phonological shifts are honestly not that useful in a class that analyzes primarily Western philology. I loved the engagement, but I would have gotten a better grade if I got the other guy who was very cut and dry.

Oh, and you'll be rewarded with less work to do. I doubt that you'll be all too endeared to the silent majority who barge in to office hours demanding homework you can avoid the extra work and stick to the syllabus. I think the few you'd gain on account of their personal interest will make it seem worth it. And even if it doesn' least you can balance your work load!

Steevo said...

Blaze away and have fun, as long as students learn about genetics and its importance.

Go, Rogue!

Push the envelope...

Live life on the edge...

Maybe you will get rave reviews from the undergrads and the profs will try your ideas more.

Keep us informed if u have any time to blog FFS!

I am sending email with a possible answer to another questsion you asked, well at least implied...

hugs n quiches

s in c

naturgesetz said...

Seems to me that you need to be with the program, since it's not your course, and the students need to do well in it, which means satisfying the profs. But use whatever freedom you have to help them see the value in it. I also like your thought about bringing things up in the weekly planning sessions. It could help everybody to make the course more interesting and valuable.

Anonymous said...

Um, you're insane... :) Seriously. There's hardly any room in your schedule for eating. And you're supposed to study AND prepare lessons to teach? I'd get burned out in a week from this schedule.

So...good luck!

Mike said...

Best of luck this semester!!!

Steevo said...

P 2

As to the schedule... O M G!!!

But you are done by 6:00 or earlier every day? Or is there something snuck in there you did not put down?XD

Busy is fine. Very busy is OK for a bit... but so busy you hardly have time to take a crap; well as joshie [always hard] would say... that's mental!

s in c
. [disitima] -- intestinal condition caused by trying to wring 25 hours or more out of 24?

John Halcyon von Rothschild said...

Eeeeek! I won't complain anymore about my Corporate Taxation and Governmental Accounting class...major snoozefest. You've got your work cut out for you!

Aek said...

Fiction Writer: The higher up you go, the easier some things get. Genetics isn't so bad (but statistics kinda is, for me). I don't really mind doing the things they "feed me," but I just wanted the leeway to go off of what's given if it suits the needs of my discussion sections better. I don't really "plan" a whole lot - I'm more of a "on the fly" kind of person when it comes to teaching, haha.

naturgesetz: Well, all of us GSIs discuss with the profs to determine how discussion sections should be led. Most of the time I don't actually expect to raise up interesting things that I'd personally like to do, but should that arise, I'm just wondering how much "effort" I should put forth to have things my way every now and then.

aron2631: Actually, I'm not quite insane. :P You may not have noticed, but I do have 30-minute, 1-hour, and 2-hour breaks each day. Those are intended for working out, eating, napping (if that's possible), and studying. :P

Mike: Thanks!

Steevo: I'm done by 6:30pm every day, but I don't get back to my apartment until about 7pm-ish due to the bus schedules. I haven't gone mental (yet). :P

John: Hahaha, I sure do have my work cut out for me. Here's hoping I don't go insane/mental halfway through the semester. XD

Anonymous said...

Why do you do this to yourself?! AEK!! NAUGHTY!!

As for your TA duties, as much as you might dislike it, I recommend consistency. With this many TA's and this low level of instruction, it's not a good idea to get too fancy. Save that for when you have a class with upperclassmen and you're one of like two (or the only) TA. That's several years advice right there.

charlie said...

Wow, that's a heavy schedule! considering that you also need some time to work outside the lessons... :S It's also important to have so time to relax once in a while!

at my uni the fitness room is open untill 9:30 pm, so that I can go three times a week, wich I couldn't do between the lessons.

Good luck for the beginning! I was supposed to start my work tomorrow morning, but my "instructor" is sick, so I will just have a nice day in my bed! :)

call.the.shots said...

geez ur schedule looks like it will lead to a lot of stress. i hate how school always gives u stress, but whatever, it'll pay off in the end hopefully.

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