On Creating New Classes

When I was hired into this position, my department had few core classes to fill. Instead, there was a need for new elective courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. My position includes a 2/2 teaching load. Of the 4 classes I teach in any given year, only one is an established core class. The other three were open for new topics – one at the undergraduate level and two at the graduate level.

The new undergraduate course was offered my first semester here and was also open to graduate students. As it turned out, approximately two-thirds of the students enrolled were masters students while the remaining third were undergrads. Never having taught a class with students at different levels, I overshot by a lot. It was a graduate class, no questions asked. The undergrads actually did quite well but they probably worked disproportionately hard. After finishing that semester and reading my course evaluations, I asked my department chair if the class could be split into specific undergraduate and graduate sections for this fall. There was a concern amongst the faculty that they would need to be two distinctly different classes so that a student could take one as an undergrad and the next as a grad student. As a result, I spent a lot of time ensuring that would be the case.

As much as I’ve struggled in all areas this semester, one thing I am happy with is the progression of the graduate class. We’ve really been able to have some great discussions each week and my students have produced quality work thus far. I’m looking forward to seeing what they turn in for the upcoming assignments.

The undergrad section is not going nearly as well. Almost every session I feel like I’m just stumbling through. This is not what I expected for the second semester teaching this class. I reviewed my notes from last time, have altered the class schedule and readings, spent a lot of time “improving” lectures I didn’t think went well last year…and I just don’t feel much improvement.

Late last week I decided this class just works better at the graduate level.

Unfortunately, fast forward a few months and it looks like the two sections are going back together again. Some staffing changes in the department mean I’ll be teaching that core class twice a year for the next 3 years or so. That means my three “new” classes cuts down to two and we still have needs at both levels. Now, the class I’ve been working on will be cross-listed again and I’ll be creating a new graduate class – in my research area, thank heavens – for the spring. It also means I’m taking the two distinct syllabi I created and working them back together again. Hopefully somewhere in this process I can figure out how to successfully mesh the two and come up with a class that’s appropriate for students at each level.




Wow, this semester is just flying by. Training and travel since my last post have kept me very busy and meant too much time out of the office, so I’m even more behind. As I sit at the kitchen table watching the snow fall, it seems like a good time for reflection and a look ahead.

The second year on the tenure track has certainly been an interesting one thus far. Most times it feels like a roller coaster – the kind people stand in line for hours to ride – lots of twists and turns, steep drop offs, and maybe some inversions just for kicks. The scenery flashes by as the coaster careens around bends but occasionally there are mechanical problems and the roller coaster comes to a complete, and jolting, halt. This seems to especially apply to my research this year. Currently I have 10 papers at some degree of completion. Eight of them could be submitted in a matter of hours if I could just gather the hours (when I have enough mental power remaining) to polish them up and send them out. On top of that I’m percolating several ideas for new studies and really need to get grants out for at least a couple of them…but which? An opportunity opened up completely unexpectedly last week and necessitated pushing one of those ideas to the forefront when I’d really been planning to wait a year or more on that one. That leaves me with the options of pushing another idea back for a year or submitting something extra and taking the chance of winding up with more funded projects than I’d planned on. Of course, nothing’s ever guaranteed til the money actually comes through, so…

We’re settling into a routine at home though I have to admit I never really feel caught up there, either. Now and then – like earlier this week – my old fears of doing a mediocre job of everything come roaring back in again. I mean really, how hard is it to fold and put away laundry? Nevertheless, two-thirds of my wardrobe seems to be piled in the corner of our bedroom. At least most of it is folded. The baby is doing well at her new daycare facility and learns something new every day. She is sitting like a champ and no other position will do. Unless, of course, she can put her feet in her mouth and then she’s happy on her back for ages. She isn’t trying to crawl yet but as active as she is in her relatively immobile state I think we’re in for it when she can figure out how to crawl.

Finally, it hardly seems possible to blog this week without mentioning the large issues surrounding sexual harassment that have surfaced on twitter this week. To be honest, I’m having a hard time keeping up with it all amidst everything else that’s going on, and I find myself having a hard time coming to grips with it all and forming coherent thoughts to share. It has been an eye-opening week as a young scientist and someone who is relatively new to twitter. Prior to this week I would have told you I’ve never experienced any sexual harassment. Some of the stories I’ve read – particularly the blog post by Hannah Waters – have made me rethink that and question why I interpreted things as harmless in the past when maybe, really, they weren’t. Perhaps one day soon I’ll have contemplated this enough to have clearer feelings but for now I just feel…lost.

The snow is really coming down hard now, it’s becoming quite the winter wonderland out there. Baby is sleeping and I think I’ll make myself a cup of tea before the roller coaster starts up again.