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A student, H., flagged me at the beginning of tutorial today saying he and another, G., had an announcement to make, if that was all right. (Important backstory: at the Philosophy Society Ball a few weeks previously, H. apparently proposed to G., and G. eventually agreed.) He showed me what they wanted to say, and I knew immediately, how could I say no?

So I called class to order, and mentioned that there was an announcement someone wanted to make, and H. got up, walked over to a third, I., and proceeded to request that she marry both he and G., complete in iambic pentameter and down on bended knee.

This is the best thing that I think will ever happen in one of my classes. I have been watched relationships blossom from day one, and while I have no idea how much of this is a joke and how much isn't (I'm not even sure any of they know!), I am loving it so much.
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Today my advanced seminar switched gears from the formal logic we've been doing since October to philosophy of math. I still want the presentations to be student-given, but it's very different covering a chapter of philosophy, including motivating discussion, than it is covering a bunch of technical definitions, lemmas, proofs, etc., so I wasn't sure how things were going to go.

I couldn't have been happier. The student who volunteered for this week smashed the presentation and was very good at guiding and directing discussion, and pretty much everyone in the room was willing to talk -- and more importantly, to talk to each other rather than to me. I tried to stay in the background as much as possible, because as soon as The Teacher speaks, especially to ask a question, then the discussion suddenly becomes Students Answering the Teacher's Question, rather than a philosophical discussion.

Today was an overview of issues in philosophy of mathematics, which boil down basically to: What is the ontology of mathematics? and What is the epistemology of mathematics? I.e., what are mathematical objects, and how do we know things about them?

A lot of people already have some strong leanings towards various positions, either from their own mathematical practices, or from other metaphysical or epistemology leanings they have independently from math, and it was fun seeing them beginning to articulate these leanings to each other. At one point, one student boldly proclaimed that "THIS is what philosophy is for"---not those 'soft' questions in ethics about utilitarianism vs. consequentialism, etc. (I LOVE that "determining the real nature of mathematical objects and how mathematics relates to the world" is what they think is the most important goal/pursuit of philosophy. I guess I shouldn't be surprised; they're all taking this class!).

Another brought up the very good question of what the difference is between dragons and numbers, on an anti-realist position. One person had an answer: "Practicality. We use numbers and dragons differently".

Someone else advanced the rather bold claim that not only do we apply numbers to the real world because they work, but also the converse -- numbers work because we use them.

I am really looking forward to the coming weeks' discussions.
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....except not quite.

One thing I love about teaching is getting to revisit old favorites from my own undergrad days. When my 2nd years last year indicated they wanted to do some philosophy of math this year, I knew exactly what book to go to -- Stewart Shapiro's Thinking About Mathematics, which I had as a textbook in Mike Byrd's grad-level philosophy of math course. (This will not be the first time that I'm teaching undergrads things I either got in a grad course or have previously taught in a grad course. I'm working under the assumption that if I don't tell them this is hard, they won't know. So far, it's working beautifully.)

We're starting this topic next week in seminar, so today I spent the day curled up reading a book and taking notes. It feels like being an undergrad again, the entire process is one that I don't often have to do any more (particularly this year, I have rarely had to do any teach prep earlier than about 1-1.5 hours in advance of when I teach. Reading something almost a week in advance and taking notes is uber-preparation for me!)

One thing I love about teaching from books I used as an undergrad is seeing all my notes from that era. The name/date in this book is from almost exactly 15 years ago -- January 2002. It's not as heavily annotated as some, but there is one page where the entire margin is covered in a rant against intuitionism:


And in another place you can tell from the non-verbal notes alone the strength of 20-year-old me's realism:


Sometimes I still agree with 20-year-old me's comments, sometimes my views have tempered a bit over time.

It does feel very much like being an undergrad again, except not in one very specific way. Poor Gwen had a cough yesterday that developed into an awful chesty phlegmy thing overnight, and then woke up crying "my ear hurts!" and a bit later "my heart hurts!" so we took a trip down to the doctor in the morning. The diagnosis was viral, so plenty of rest prescribed. Since I'm still feeling under the weather myself, we've both spent most of the day in bed watching movies (and look over, I think she's now on to her second nap).

I think 20-year-old me would've been pretty pleased to find out that 15 years later, I not only get to read the same things that enthused and inspired me then, but they still enthuse and inspire me now, and not only that, I get to touch them as they were taught to me, and not only that, I get to do it while cuddled up in bed, sick kid in one arm, cat in the other. Okay, she probably would've preferred the kid to not be sick, but if the choice is between sick kid and no kid, I'll take the sick kid any day of the week.
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Here's a good one.

Last Thursday a student apologized and said he wouldn't be able to make it to seminar next week. Fine with me, he knows what we're covering and if he has any questions he can come to office hours.

He showed up this afternoon with a stack of questions that we worked through, and as he left I said "see you Thursday," and then caught myself "oh, wait, you're gone then, right?" And he a bit shamefacedly admitted that he was going to be around, but his girlfriend was visiting from Italy. Then he mentioned that she's in finance, and he'd passed on a joke I'd made last seminar about people working in finances (namely, they are probably utterly uncaring about Gödel's incompleteness results), and was wondering if maybe instead of him skipping class she could come along with him? If there's be enough room for one more?

Outwardly I laughed and said of course she'd be welcome and there's plenty of spare seats in the room, and inwardly I am trying to sum up all the kinds of awesome this is, that one of my students thinks "inviting my girlfriend along to class" is a wholly commensurate alternative to "skipping class to spend time with my girlfriend".

This entire year has been just utterly surreal with the amount of romance and flirtation going on in connection with my logic classes. Whoever would've thought?
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That's what I've been caught up with since October when the academic year started again.

This year, I've finally gotten what I've dreamed of. I've got the 1st year introduction to logic class and the 3rd year advanced logic class. We are having so much fun.

The advanced logic seminar was scheduled at the same time as last year, meaning we have the same conflicts with maths courses, which no one seems to care about resolving. So again I have a split seminar. About 2/3 come to the scheduled time, and the other 1/3 meet at another day/time in my office. Hosting logic seminars in my office is one of my true joys in life.

For my intro students, I set them a take-home exam to do over Christmas break, to ensure that they didn't go 4 weeks without thinking about logic. We finished grading them on Tuesday and I told people they could come by my office hours today to pick up their exams. It's really, really fun handing back work to people when the grade they've gotten is much higher than they expected. (Many of them were expecting the worst.) One of them didn't believe the mark on the front, and when I assured him it was right, said, "I feel like I want to hug you, but that would inappropriately cross bounds." I told him I'd be satisfied with a happy smile. His friend was tremendously impressed by my rocking chair -- which he first identified as a throne. So he was even more impressed when I told him it rocked.

The two of them approved of my choice of music -- Nightwish -- never having been exposed to Finnish operatic metal before. One commented to the other that he could just imagine me kicking back in my throne with my music turned up loud and doing logic.

I'm glad that's the view of logic/logicians my students are getting.

It's been good. It's been busy. I tend not to do much other than teaching during term time.
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Last night I dreamt it was my first introduction to logic tutorial, and as I was waiting for everyone to file in I realized there was a lot more people there than I was expecting -- instead of 10-12, or even max 20, it was more than three times that (as the people kept filing in, the room kept growing, but even so, it was a small room and it was full). And then someone else professorial showed up, expecting to teach there at the same time; his course was on the Swedish/Danish October 1844-1846 Revolt between the red coats and the green coats. But we compared notes, and realized that I was scheduled to teach there at 9:00am, which it was, and he was scheduled to teach there at 8:00am, and had thus missed his first lecture. Oops.

Nevertheless, the room was still awfully full, so I realized this must've been the first lecture, not the first tutorial, and adjusted my plan correspondingly and when the trickle slowed, I launched into my "What is logic?" with full vim.

Lots of vim, because right about then was when I realized that I was lecturing in my underwear. On the other hand, I also had my coronet on, so it all evened out, and I blithely Emperor's New Clothesed my way through the opening words until someone tentatively raised her hand and asked "Uhhh, what class is this supposed to be?"

"Introduction to Logic."

"Not dance?"

"Uhhh, no. But what kind of dance? I can teach medieval and Renaissance dance, as well as tap, ballet, and jazz."

"Modern hip-hop."

"Sorry, no, not this room." And about twenty of the students filed out.

At that point I was poking my head out the door to see if there was anyone else planning to show up, and realized there were people with pitchforks running through the halls! -- the red coats and the green coats. A red coat, pursued by two green coats, saw my open door and dashed into the lecture hall, swooped me up, flung me over his shoulder, and ran down the stairs. I did have to ask him if he was one of the good guys or one of the bad guys, because, to be honest my knowledge of the October 1844-1846 Revolt was quite minimal -- the only thing I knew about it was that Joel has a wargame based on it, entitled "Bugles and Bubbles" -- and I didn't even remember who won in the end. I don't remember his answer, and things became a bit fuzzy for a bit, but eventually I escaped him, found some proper clothing to match my crown, snuck through various halls and into the cathedral where the funeral service for the king was happening, and somehow by the time I woke up, I ended up queen of Sweden.

So, you know, it wasn't all bad.
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This is the first week of term and I'm handing back essays that students handed in at the end of last term. Normally they get their marks and feedback via the online marking system, but I detest that system and have made a policy of not using it (except for the final assignation of marks); I print the papers off and mark them by hand, meaning I have physical copies to hand back. I told students I'd be around half an hour before lecture this afternoon if they didn't want to wait until next week's tutorials to get their comments, and about half took me up on this.

And one of them was that one, who actually turned out quite a decent paper getting quite a decent grade, and when he saw the mark his mouth dropped open and he had to ask for confirmation that that really was his mark, and when I said yes, it really was, the biggest smile lit up his face and transformed it -- I don't think I've ever seen him smile in a non-sarcastic/sardonic way, and he just couldn't keep the grin off his face. It was so delightful -- I love it when I can be the first person to ever hand a student a piece of work which was marked as a 1st. I love it when people get a high mark without expecting it or without presuming that they will get it.

I have warm fuzzy feelings in the cockles of my heart.
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The street we live on is only a block long, but it comes off of one of the two main drags leading into town, at the top of a big hill, along which most of the houses are student tenanted by students. I know at least two of them live on that street -- one I ran into once on the way home with Gwen and it took me a moment to recognize him out of context, because he's a face in a lecture but not in one of my tutorial groups. The other lives about three houses around the corner from us and is one of my supervisees, Gwen and I run into him coming and going pretty often. A result of this close proximity is that I sometimes get unprompted thesis updates, such as today when I was heading down to nursery to get Gwen just as he was leaving his house, suitcase in tow headed off to visit family, and, he was quick to assure me "I'll get my thesis to you next week!"

I had to laugh.
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Over Easter break, they're painting and replacing the carpets in my building, so last week we were delivered stacks of cracks to pack up all our books, etc. Over the course of this morning, people came in, and took, a few at a time, all my books away.

It was actually really unsettling. It was bad enough having them packed up, and seeing the blank shelves on the walls, but at least the books were still in the room with me. But then people I don't know came and took them away, to a place I don't know, with the mere promise that I'll get them back on the 19th of April. And I'm actually not especially happy with this.

Around lunchtime, someone else came in and packed up my computer and printer. The entire office is bare and lacking in color. Except for the fact that my rocking chair is still in its corner, it feels rather like the day I moved in, which in turn makes it feel like I have to move out, and I think that's part of why I don't like it. I don't ever want to leave.

I wanted to meet with each of my advisees before the end of term, to ensure they're all on track for finishing up their dissertations over break, so of course a couple scheduled meetings with me today. Half an hour ago the last one left, after an absolutely lovely hour of discussion, and now I won't see him or any of them for five weeks and this makes me rather sad. Monday afternoons and Thursday mornings are the highlights of my week. Now I've got five weeks' break, then three weeks of teaching, and then all good things must come to an end. They'll take their exams, they'll graduate and...I hope at least some of them stay in touch.

I'm thinking of taking them all out for drinks after our final seminar. I have loved this class and teaching these students so much.
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[This post makes more sense if you've read the previous one, but that one is locked to people with LJ accounts]

The one who takes your class as an elective even though he's already carrying a full load -- and still does all the homeworks and presents seminars as required of those who are taking it for credit. The one who responds to your plea at the end of one seminar, "Does anyone know any topology?" by offering to come back in an hour after his next class to offer advice. The one who goes through a few rounds of definition tweaking and discussion via email, and then brings a library book to lend you at the next seminar. The one who shows up, unannounced, at your office one morning bringing another library book that he thought might be relevant. The one who, when you send out an email offering to do informal logic seminars over Easter break for anyone who is around and is interested, writes back saying he is. The one whom you suspect you might be able to sway away from pure maths into logic, which is ALWAYS a joyful conquest.

One of the ones who makes it all worthwhile.


Feb. 26th, 2016 08:34 am
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Last night's was a fun one, falling in the category of "SCA/academia mash-ups". These come in various kinds -- sometimes it's all of my SCA acquaintances showing up in garb to conferences, sometimes it's SCA events co-located with conferences, and sometimes it's bringing academic colleagues to the SCA. Last night's was of the latter kind -- I don't remember much, but I remember that all my logic seminar students were sitting in on various classes of the sort you get at University or Raglan Fair, and LOVING it. One moment stuck with me, which is why I remember the dream at all, when I looked across a room and saw one of my quieter, more reserved students with his head thrown back grinning as he learned about medieval hunting practices.

These vignettes always amuse me.
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So this year I'm doing something with my advisees which I don't think anyone else in the department does -- namely, I've now twice gotten them all together in my office to talk through their thesis work with the others. (I think I wrote about this after our first meeting last term). I do this mostly for selfish reasons: I really really really want a research group. Building a research group takes time. I haven't been here long, so I don't have one yet. But I can pretend my undergrads are my research group in the interim. But it's also for some unselfish reasons: I think it's useful for people to have to articulate their ideas in speech, not only in writing, and for them to field questions from people who aren't directly doing the same thing. I also think it's useful for people to see what kinds of research other people are doing. (Again, I feel like I said all of this before in a previous post).

We had our second group meeting today, and it included (unsurprisingly) all the people who have so far sent me a draft chapter or two, minus one person who is busy Wednesday afternoons, and plus my MA student whom I've added to the invitation list so that he at least can begin to feel a part of a research group, too. I enjoyed it as much as I did the last one, and had two concrete indications that it's not just a personal indulgence. First, one student (doing probability theory), when it was his turn to discuss, turned to another (who is doing basically applied phenomenology) and said "Your suggestion of a random selection process last time was really helpful, thank you" -- showing getting all these people with disparate backgrounds and disparate topics can be useful for getting new ideas or seeing new angles. Second, as we wrapped up, they all asked "Are we going to do this again before the end of term?" Well, sure! I'd be more than happy to if we can find a free period.

So, yay.
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I saved all my notes, papers, course lists, homework assignments, reading sets, etc. from when I was an undergrad, grad student, and teaching assistant at UW-Madison. I saved them because "someday". Someday, I might have a need to revisit my proof of Theorem 3.6. Someday, I might reread those papers and find them more understandable. Someday, I might be teaching this course and want a ready made set of homework assignments or exam questions. Someday....

Oh, 15-years-ago-me, bless you, bless you so very much. I have to hand in my exam questions next week, and I've just spent the last hour going through said notes, which I extracted from storage over Christmas, and THERE ARE SO MANY QUESTIONS. I have a surfeit to choose from, and they're all so fun and exciting. The trouble is going to be deciding which to put on the exam and which to make them forego!
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"how to run a class when all you want to do is be in bed, when you're uncertain how long you can stand upright in a single stretch, and when the words don't make it from your brain to your tongue in order".

It's going to involve me giving as much of an overview sketch as I can at the beginning, and then trying out the feasibility of group work with 60 people in a lecture hall that sits 200+.
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I knew things weren't looking too bright when I went to bad last night thinking "either that cider + 1/2 pt I had this afternoon were MUCH stronger than I thought they were, or I've got a massive head cold coming on".

When it crept past 10:05 and no one had shown up for tutorial, there was a small part of me that rejoiced in the possibility that no one would, and I could cancel it with impunity. (Then four people showed up late, but at least it was four, and not three, so I could divide them into pairs and make them argue for contrary positions. It turned out to be a really good discussion, with little effort on my part.)

Then I had to face up to the reality that I was in charge of logic seminar today, and pretty much the worst state in which to try to do two-hours of proofs is when you've got a head cold and are waffling between being freezing cold or far too hot AND you're not entirely sure how long you can stay standing. Thank goodness today's the day we meet in my office, so there's a comfy chair on hand. Thank goodness when I asked them to take pity on me if I ever wrote anything stupid on the board, or when I completely lost my vocabulary and had to stand there shaking a finger going "um, thingie", they kindly did. Thank goodness when I told them "and now I'm going to sit down for awhile, you prove the rest of the results yourself in small groups and then present them to the class", they did, and didn't mind me staring blankly at the floor for awhile. Thank goodness when I demonstrated that my equilibrium was sufficiently gone that I couldn't draw a straight line between two dots (it started off okay, and then I missed the mark...), they only laughed with me and not at me.

Thank goodness I have a group of students with whom I don't feel that I have to always be performing, who are willing to pick up my slack rather than feel like "this is a waste of time, why did I come today?" I'm going to be very sad when this year is over, because I have delighted in these students so much so far. They're a good crew, and basically what every teacher wants.
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Today, I covered roughly 6 white boards with definitions, lemma, theorems, proofs, and scary set-theoretic notation, knowing that I could write in a compressed/abbreviated form while speaking the sentence aloud and everyone would either follow me or be confident enough to ask for clarification ("What does 'QED' stand for?"). After having built up the importance of completeness to them since the beginning of my 2nd year course last year, we were finally in a position to prove the completeness of K, T, D, B, S4, S5, and other systems. (Proof of the completeness of K, verbatim from what I wrote on the board: "trivial".)

I had to pause the students for a moment to reflect on this. This time last year, if they had come into a room with all of that scribbled on the boards, they would've fled in terror or said "there's no way I can do that, that's way too hard." Instead, one of them commented on how it seemed almost a let down, how easy it was to prove completeness results, though it's only in retrospect, after 6 chapters and almost an entire term's worth of work proving other results along the way, that it is so easy.

But that's how logic should be: If you set up the definitions right, the results should be almost automatic. The question, then, is getting the right definitions...
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I will preface this by saying that these comments come from a position of incredible privilege, and that much of what I do that I will talk about here I am only able to do because of that privilege.

You hear a lot about work/life balance in academia -- when you're writing a PhD and it threatens to swallow your entire life, when you're a woman trying to figure out when/if to have kids during your academic career, after you've had kids, even if you don't have kids but have a full-time position where your duties are amorphous enough that it's easy for them to spill over into the evenings and weekends. If anything, having a kid has forced me to balance the two better than perhaps I had pre-Gwen: I don't do (much) work on the evenings or weekends because I simply can't. I'm either actively involved with Gwen or I'm too tired.

But there's a tenor underneath a lot of the conversations surrounding this that I have found increasingly problematic, and it's this unspoken feeling that a proper work/life balance involves a sharp division between the two. Don't let your work encroach on your life, don't your life encroach on your work. But over the years, I have grown less and less comfortable with this.

It used to be that I kept my onomastic research and my medieval re-enactment proclivities under wraps when hanging around with logicians. I didn't want them to think I wasn't "serious" about logic, or that I wasn't "serious" about academia/research in general. And then I gave the game away one year at the Leeds Medieval Congress, when both I and my future-PhD-committee-member were both in the audience of a session on medieval Scotland, where one of the talks was about names and it turned out during the Q&A that I knew more about medieval Scottish border names than the speaker did...

And that caused me to start thinking: Why do I try to keep my two lives separate? Is it healthy to do so? Is this the right way to balance things?

The conclusion that I've come to over the years is, NO. It is not healthy to pretend to one half of my life that the other half doesn't exist -- it isn't healthy in either direction. It isn't healthy for me to pretend to Gwen that I don't have work responsibilities; it is fine for me to abrogate them on weekends to spend time with her, but it is important for me to explain to her when she says "I don't want you to go" that it is important that I do, that part of my job is to travel and go to conferences and give talks and part of my job is to not be there to read her stories and sing her songs and cuddle her at night. It is important that she know that I will miss her tremendously, and that I am sad to leave her -- but that I am going to leave her anyway, and that I will come back for her. This is important for her.

It is important that when she is ill and cannot go to nursery and neither of her parents an escape their work responsibilities that we respond by bringing her with. It is important that I sit in research committee meetings with a feverish toddler asleep in my arms. It is important that I attend faculty meetings armed with stories and paper and markers, and that I read to her, quietly, while attending said meetings.

It is important that I run a tutorial in my office with toys scattered across the floor and her constantly climbing in and out of my lap to put "stickers" on my shirt. This is important not so much for her as it is for the students who will see me balancing my life and my work simultaneously, and see that it can be done.

It is important that I talk about my experiences raising a child in my classes, when relevant -- and when you talk about language and meaning and successful conversation, having a young child gives you plenty of fodder. It is important that I share duplicate copies of my books and tell my students I have them because I married one of my classmates, who had the same text books as me, and that's why I have two.

It is important that when I am invited to give a short course at another university, I say "I'd love to, but at that point I'll have a 4 month old baby, and, assuming I'll still be nursing, she's coming with so you need to provide childcare during the lectures." (And they did, except for one where the plans fell through and I brought her along and one of the organizers held her and entertained her in the back of the room, and I found just how impossible it is to lecture when you have a 4 month old child in the room because your attention is so very zeroed in on her. I could probably do it now, now that she's older, but it was the strangest experience.)

It is important that when I am invited to give a talk on relatively short notice, I say "It depends on whether I can leave the solo parenting to my husband for the weekend -- " (because we try to keep parity on this) " -- or better yet, invite both of us. For the topic you're interested in, we can both speak, so pay for both of us to come, we'll pay for Gwen, and you'll get two interesting, and relevant, and different talks."

[[Which is how it turns out that Joel, Gwen, and I are likely going to Bolzano for a few days in late December, just before we head to the US for Christmas. I've never been to Bolzano, and Joel has never been to Italy (despite the fact that I love Italy and have wanted to go there -- anywhere there -- with him for some years now!).]]

It's important that academic connections see pictures of me in funny clothes and a crown on FB. It is important that they see pictures of my child, and my growing happiness and delight in her. It is important they see pictures of my purple hair.

It is important that my non-academic friends see me post about my research, that I ask specialist questions of my academic friends with them in the audience. It is important that when I do something I find particularly interesting, I share it with everyone, not just the inner circle of academics.

It is important that I do the research that matters to me and that I don't pretend to half of my academic contacts that I'm not. It is important that I don't do the research that matters to me because sometimes it matters more that I spend all day away from the computer with my daughter.

It is important that I have hobbies and that people know that I have hobbies. It is important that there is a LIFE to be balanced with the work.

All of this is important, because I think that "work/life balance" is in fact the wrong way to describe it, because it implies that your work is not a part of your life and that your life is not a part of your work, and if that is true, then you will never be able to balance the two.
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3rd year undergrads have to write a 12,000 word thesis here (8,000 if they're in certain joint honors programmes), and I was very pleased when the best and brightest students from my 2nd year class last year all asked if I'd be willing to supervise them. Supervision doesn't involve much: Students are told they are entitled to 6 hours of contact time with their supervisor and one read-through of a draft -- but with 8 students that does add up!

Yesterday I had them all come over to my office for a joint meeting, in part because I wanted everyone to know who else is working with me as there might be some people who would find it useful to talk to each other while they were working (and in part because it would be easier to say some of my expectations once rather than multiple times). And it was really pretty awesome. I've got 5 who are doing more language-y topics and 3 who are doing more math-y topics (one is looking at the stable marriage problem and assorted matching algorithms -- thank you, ILLC, for letting me write a PhD on medieval logic and yet be in an environment where I've come away qualified to supervise undergrads in my husband's area of research, broadly construed. Osmosis FTW), but there was quite a bit of interaction, with people on one side having questions for people on the other side, and it seemed like a genuinely interesting and useful afternoon for all of them. I hope to have everyone together again at least once during next term.

But one thing I told them flat out was that the 6 hours of supervision entitlement? They can basically ignore that. I don't want anyone not making an appointment with me just because they think that they'll "use up" their 6 hours. As I told them, I can think of plenty of things I'd rather do less than meet with someone to talk about research. (In fact, some of the best times I had during last year was with one of my Language & Mind students whose thesis I wasn't in fact supervising but to which I nevertheless contributed at least six contact hours of discussion. We still have two papers that came out of those discussions that we need to finish up). When it comes to both what I want to do, in a cushy academic job, and what I think it is important that I do, given my cushy academic job, I'm not entirely sure that there is anything much more important than supervising students.

So I'm looking forward to the rest of the year.
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It's the end of the first week of lectures, and I'm reminded of why it is I wanted to do this in the first place.

Tuesday afternoon I walk into a sprawling lecture hall, and watch it fill up with students. The part I hate the most is that awkward period between when I arrive and when I start talking, but I never manage to minimize that because I am almost physically incapable of not arriving early to things like this. But then right from the start I get them to talk, to each other, to me, to raise ideas half-formed, with probably 8-10 people (out of ~60, so that's a fantastic percentage for a big lecture theatre!) volunteering questions, comments, and answers. When plotting my lectures, I often earmark questions and the answers I expect/want to receive, and this time, the students basically went bang bang bang down the list -- even in the order I had them! It was fantastic, and it set the foundation for the rest of the term: If they know from the start that this is how things are going to be, hopefully the ones who didn't talk will feel comfortable doing so in the future. And even if not, even if it's the same dozen or so people who participate in lectures, that's OK. Some people don't have the snap-ability to come up with questions or objections. Those can prepare their thoughts in advance and contribute in tutorials. Afterwards, I received an email from a student asking to set up a meeting to talk about the logic side of things (which we won't reach for a few weeks! Pro-activity on the part of a student!), and it ended, "P.S Tuesday's lecture was wonderful. Thank you!"

Yesterday was my first logic seminar; I had 13 people signed up, knowing that 2 of them (and possibly one more not formally enrolled yet) were going to be coming on Mondays instead, I figured there was a good chance of getting a good crowd. I realized a bit belatedly that it would be worthwhile advertising this course to the MA and PhD students, so the email didn't go out until Thursday morning, but nevertheless 12 people showed up -- 10 undergrads and 2 master's students. Of the 10, 8 I had in my class last year, and four of them are writing their dissertation with me. :) I'm especially pleased to have these four back, I had some really interesting discussions with a few of them over the course of last year (and one of them, his dissertation topic has me very excited, it's a bit bizarre, really, because all my hanging out with the computational social choice people in Amsterdam (i.e., Joel's research crowd!) is paying off, because what he's planning to write on falls squarely within that remit.) We get two hours, so I spent the first hour sketching very briefly basics, to ensure that we're all on the same page w.r.t. propositional logic, and then after a break I gave them some exercise sheets just to brush up on truth tables, and got to listen to that glorious sound of groupwork. Judging from the discussions I overheard, it was a good idea to have them do some of these exercises, even if they're the sort of thing they should've mastered in their intro logic class two years ago. For the remainder of the year, I want every student to be in charge of running the seminar twice -- since there are 12-15 people, that's 2-3 people each week, which will give them the opportunity to work in depth with someone else, a skill that I found so tremendously useful in my early logical career that I want to encourage whenever I can. (They were rather shocked when I told them that I encourage them to work in groups on the homeworks, and if they do, they should just hand in one answer sheet with the names of everyone who contributed. I don't want to have to read numerous duplicates!) Because the assessment comes in the form of a single end-of-term in-class exam, those who put their names down on homeworks w/o actually contributing will feel the full consequences then!

When I met with the few who can't come on Thursdays earlier this week, one of them asked if I was planning a 4th year follow-up module. Now, in philosophy, there are only three years, and then we switch to the master's modules, and I'm pretty well certain that the dept. is not going to be interested in having me offer an advanced logic module to the master's students, since most of them wouldn't have had the basis necessary to take it. But apparently the maths programme either is or can be four years. I mentioned the very vague possibility of a 4th year follow-up in Thursday's seminar, and afterwards another student came up to me and said "If that happens, I'll take it." Now I need to look in how exactly to get that set up: I think it would have to be an actual maths course, with a maths code, etc., because it appears that there is no such thing as cross-listed courses at Durham. I have no idea what the protocol is for someone from one department leading a module in another, if that's even possible. If it is, and I can get this done, then I would be in a position where I'm contributing teaching to modules in philosophy, maths, and modern languages and cultures (that's the dept. that handles the MA in medieval studies, which I currently give one lecture in one module for; someday I hope to expand that to entire module). And you know what? That's a pretty awesome feeling. THAT is true evidence of interdisciplinarity. I bet there are not many other people out that who teach in three different departments.

Early in September I was invited by one of my 3rd year students from last year, who stuck around Durham to do a Master's and is now running the Arts & Humanities Society, if I'd give an evening lecture as part of their series, possibly on some of the material I'd covered in the class she took. This seemed a perfect time to talk about the paper that I co-write with one of her fellow students, which will be published next year (and which I got the final On-line First version last night, conveniently enough), discussing what lessons for traditional theories of meaning we can learn from looking at fictional discourse and fictional languages -- i.e., I got to talk about Santa Claus, Pegasus, Sherlock Holmes, Klingon, Quenya, Dothraki, Minionese, other nonsense languages, and play a couple of video clips. The lecture was yesterday, and probably 60-70 people came, including a few of my students. :) Gwen had been home from nursery the last two days after a stomach bug in the middle of the night on Tuesday, so she helped me make my slides -- they were just individual sentences to consider the truth values of, which I illustrated with random images from google. She helped pick them out. :) And then she helped me watch three Minion movie trailers to find the best one to link to, and there I was, sitting on the couch at home with her tucked under my arm, watching movies and laughing together, and calling it research. Work/life balance: It works sometimes.

Walking out to my talk last night, in the dimming twilight falling over the city, with the sun behind the clouds and the lights coming on, and the cathedral illuminated against the gloom, I thought about how amazing it is here and how lucky I am to have landed here. I intended to write this post about how Durham is the city where (my) dreams come true, but I need to break this off now as it's almost time to skype into the St. Andrews Latin reading group. Maybe I'll pick this back up after lunch.
aryanhwy: (Default)
Durham has an interesting system wherein courses leaders are required to respond to their evaluations to the students; in our department, any aspect of the course that got a cumulative score of 3.5/5 or less has to be addressed, specifically with comments about how things would be done differently. When I first got the evaluations, I skimmed them, mostly reading the comments and not looking at the numbers. It was...interesting; and then I put off dealing with them until I'd finished my marking, and finally sat down to tackle it today.

* I was pleasantly surprised that when looking at the Language & Mind evaluations, some the numbers were actually pretty high, including 4/5 for "did you find this course interesting". Because this course is going away after this year, there wasn't much to say about "how we'd do things differently next time", but there were still nevertheless a few things we'd tweak if we ever did something like this again, so it was pretty straightforward to write up the response to this.

* I knew reading the Philosophical Logic evals was going to be hard, and they were. Some of the complaints the students raised were legitimate: There were aspects about the course that I wouldn't have done the way I did if I weren't constrained by the fact that the course description was written 6 months before I joined the staff and I had no way to change any of it. But some of it was dealing with the deep unhappiness many of the students had at doing something which is radically foreign to what they generally do in their philosophy degree. And while I have some sympathy with being unhappy at taking a formal logic class when what you really want to be doing is reading Nietsche, the fact remains that logic is (or should be!) a central part of the philosophical curriculum, and if you want to do philosophy at Durham, you've got to do logic: It's part of the deal that you signed on for. So to the complaints that many people voiced about it being hard work, this is was my response:
Yes, the course was hard: It's supposed to be! If it were easy, something that you could do on your own, then there wouldn't be any point in having someone teach it. My role as the lecturer is to provide students with a deeper understanding of the readings and the broader context of the subject matter. However, this only works if the students do the readings and come to the lecturers prepared. I have to assume that students are coming prepared, because to lecture as if they have not is an insult to those who have, and a waste of their and my time. In the future, I will be more explicit about this: The assigned readings must be completed before the lectures they are assigned for. Additionally, I'd like to point out that every single person who came to all the lectures and tutorials, did all the readings, and did all the assignments succeeded in the course: So if you aren't one of these, maybe take a moment to ask yourself why, and what your reasons were for thinking that you could succeed in the course without taking advantage of all the tools we provided you with.

One of the reasons that I waited until after completing my marking before responding to the evaluations was because I wanted to see for myself that I was right, that people who put the effort into my course were properly rewarded, and I was. I bet that of all the undergrad philosophy modules this year, mine will have the highest number of mid and upper 1st class marks. On the other hand, due to the way that logic courses tend to have bi-polar rather than bell-curve distributions, I probably also have the largest number of 3rds and fails.

I don't really care if my students learned any logic this year, though of course I hope they did. What I really hope is that they've learned how to recognize when they're in a course that is going to require regular, continual, and extended hard work, and that if they let themselves fall behind, it's going to take extra effort to catch up. I think too many philosophy courses are compartmentalized enough that if you, say, miss most of one term, you can jump back in and catch right back up. That doesn't work with all courses, and I hope they've learned this going into their 3rd years.


aryanhwy: (Default)

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