Reflections on Teaching a Three Hour Evening Class for the First Time

Since I’ve started teaching courses at the university level, the classes that I have taught have been 1 hour timeslots three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, or 1.5 hour slots on Tuesdays and Thursdays between the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. This semester I taught a 3 hour class for the first time and it was on a Monday evening.

I think that when dealing with timeslots that you haven’t experienced before that it is important to go into the experience with an open mind. Prior to teaching this particular course I spoke with some colleagues who had done 3 hour classes before to get an idea of what they liked and didn’t like about the experience. I also went online and looked more broadly about what other professors said about preparing for and teaching a 3 hour class.

Here are my lists of pros and cons that I experienced:

Pros

1) I liked teaching once per week as opposed to 2 or 3 lecture slots per week. I think this considerably decreased my overall stress level because my days weren’t as fragmented this term. While I enjoy teaching, it was great to know that my classroom time was completed by 10 p.m. on Monday. I felt like the rest of the week was open and full of possibilities.

2) Monday evening was a good timeslot as my students were coming off a weekend and were definitely more lively than if the class had been scheduled in the early morning. Getting them to participate in class was fairly easy.

3) I never felt rushed going through my teaching material. I also felt that I could deliver the material more efficiently and in less time in a single 3 hour block compared to three 1 hour blocks.

4) I was able to offer my students some class time to work on a major group project.

Cons

1) Three hours is a long time to teach and to hold the attention of students. The first hour was always good. I then gave a 10 minute break and we launched into the second hour. After that I gave a 5 minute break and moved on to the last hour. I have to admit that the 3rd hour was pretty tough. I was starting to get tired and holding the full attention of the students was very challenging because they were reaching the limits of their ability to focus.

2) It was disheartening to lose a few students after each break. The vast majority did stay for the second hour, but larger numbers left during the second break. This was at its worst on my very last day of class.

3) I found it harder to run active learning exercises in a 3 hour class compared to a 1 hour class. This might have been because there was more time and less urgency to get through an activity and I think this threw off my sense of timing a bit.

4) If a student missed class on Monday evening, they missed a lot of material.

Overall, I liked teaching a 3 hour class Monday evenings and it’s given me a lot to think about in terms of my teaching, classroom management, and pedagogy.

 

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Personal Productivity: Meal Planning and Grocery Shopping

Personal Productivity: Meal Planning and Grocery Shopping

At my house we are pretty good about eating dinners at home together every night. My partner and I decided early on that we were going to make it a priority and it allows us all to chat over a meal and find out what is going on in everyone else’s lives. My kids have activities several nights a week, but thus far we have still managed to do this by eating earlier on some evenings.

Over the years we have gotten better at planning, buying food, preparing, and serving dinners at home. A great deal of the credit goes to my partner, who does the actual cooking, while I am on clean up duty. It’s a split of chores that works well for us.

On Saturday mornings we update our finances and determine how much money is available in the grocery budget for that week. Our goal is to come up with 6-7 dinners for the upcoming week. Once those are decided, we go through the recipes and our cupboards and freezers, in order to determine what needs to be purchased to make the meals. I enter the required items into an app on my iPhone called Flipp. This is an awesome app as it allows us to have a grocery list and the app shows us where each item is on sale that week. You can circle the sale items in the store flyers right in the app and this makes price matching so easy! We buy the bulk of our groceries at a store that price matches and this easily saves us several dollars each week.

Once the menu is planned for the week, we list the meals on a white board in our laundry room. This allows our kids to see what the dinners are for the week and this means that there are no surprises and a lot less whining about what’s for dinner. On the white board there is also a place for the kids to make requests for meals for the upcoming week, and a running grocery list where they can request that certain food items get purchased. If we run out of a type of food, everyone is pretty good about putting it on the list to be bought the next week.

The 6-7 meals get made the next week, but we don’t slate them into particular days. On days where someone has an activity or event in the evening we often make something easy in the slow cooker. On days where there is more time, my partner will make a more complicated meal. The dinner list also helps us to remember to defrost or marinate food the night before in preparation for the next day’s meal.

Most weeks my partner and I do the grocery shopping together. The kids usually don’t come and that is an advantage as fewer impulse items make it into the cart. We often shop on weekends, but are playing around with going during the week in order to avoid the crowds. We select our own items, but have toyed around with the idea of shopping for groceries online and picking them up at the store, but we haven’t tried that yet.

This pre-planning and purchasing cuts down on a lot of stress and has mostly gotten rid of the dreaded “What’s for dinner?” question in our house. It also saves us a huge amount of money as we are less tempted to eat delivery, take-out, fast-food, or at a restaurant during the week out of desperation.

Doctor Al Digest #25

bacterial-diet-spotlight

Poster by Dr. Tristan Long

Some great articles in the past few weeks…

The Feminism of Black Panther vs. Wonder Woman

We are All for Diversity, but… How Faculty hiring committees reproduce whiteness and practical suggestions for how they can change

Addressing issues related to child-care at conferences

Pushing back against the quick turnaround to serve as a reviewer for journal manuscripts

How some relationships are ending because of the #metoo moment and current politics, and it’s not due to the reason you think!

My colleague and I talk about our #Scicomm efforts.

 

Angry Women

Angry Women

angry woman

Today is International Women’s Day and it seems timely to publish something about a topic that I’ve been wrestling with all of my life, but that I’ve been thinking about deeply for a few weeks. Doing science as a woman is tricky business due to the societal and cultural constraints on what constitutes appropriate and professional behaviour in academic settings. These rules aren’t written down anywhere and often the only way that you find out that you’ve violated them is by being told (explicitly or implicitly) that you’ve behaved inappropriately.

I’d like to start by challenging these rules and to suggest that they are not correct. I believe that there are many ways to be a scientist and to do science and that showing strong emotions can be appropriate and professional. We are people first and scientists second. Emotions are not a minor inconvenience that should be supressed at every turn; they often serve as warnings that something is not right with our world.

I’d also like to unpack the gendered lenses that we all use to view the emotions of others. Single emotions do not belong to only one gender. Women are not the only people who experience sadness; men are not the only people who experience joy. The scientific enterprise is full of moments of various emotions, and I would argue that these emotions are not good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate, professional or unprofessional.

I think what matters is not so much the emotions themselves, but what we choose to do in response to them. I have also recently realized that I am not responsible for managing the emotions of other people and I refuse to bear that burden any longer.

Many times in my career I have been an angry woman. This is natural and fine. It is not an inherently bad thing that I need to be ashamed of. I am allowed to feel, experience, and embrace my anger. That anger has allowed me to do great things in the face of adversity. Anger has permitted me to speak my truths. Anger has enabled me to right some wrongs and to help other people when I have identified injustice and discrimination. If I’m angry, believe that I have good reasons for being so.

I do not need to be tone-policed, mansplained, put in my place, given “friendly” career advice, or concern trolled. I am not in fact uppity, bitter, man-hating, or need to be told I can catch more flies with honey. I’m good.

Career Benefits of Blogging as a Faculty Member

I’ve been on Twitter and blogging since the fall of 2013. When I first started, I didn’t really have any goals other than that I wanted to help early career scientists navigate academia and I wanted to become part of some communities that I didn’t have access to in my daily life. Both of these activities have led to some unexpected positive outcomes.

I would say that the top benefit has been increased visibility of my research and my ideas to a broad community. This has involved interactions with other scientists, various academics, and members of the public. For example, a blog post from April 2015 called “The Advantages of Live Tweeting a Research Talk” led to an invitation to moderate a live Twitter chat comprised on Knowledge Mobilization officers across Canada and the U.S.

The second benefit is the honing of writing and communication skills. These skills are transferable to many other facets of my job and are valuable. I took a stab at writing an article for The Conversation Canada called “The Force of biology is strong in Star Wars” and my aim was to talk about mitochondria and cloning with a general audience. To date the article has received over 17,000 views; nothing else that I have written in my career has received so many reads.

The third benefit is that the blog allows me to share my opinions and to offer advice to early career biologists. The blog allows me to quantify some of my outreach activities and include them as part of my university service. My blog post on “Research Budgeting for Scientists” from March 2015 was re-published on the University Affairs website the next year. I’ve been interviewed for two articles for the journal Nature; one on networking in 2017 and one a few weeks ago called “Why science blogging still matters”. More recently I was invited to join the Science Borealis blog network that features Canadian bloggers who focus on various scientific fields.

I’ll point readers to this fantastic article written by several of my blogging heroes that explores this topic in more detail and talks about other impacts that science blogging can have for an individual and the broader community.

 

Mitochondria are hot!

There have been some very interesting developments in the field of mitochondrial biology in the past two months. This is very exciting for me as someone who works on bioenergetics in a variety of organisms.

The first paper made quite a splash in the community when it came out because the findings suggest that mitochondria operate at much higher temperatures than were previously believed. The paper by Chrétien et al. 2018 appears in PLOS and is entitled “Mitochondria are physiologically maintained at close to 50°C”. I will admit to being pretty open to this idea and it’s because of two reasons. The first is that I perform research on plants and have specifically worked on the enzyme alternative oxidase (AOX). Several plants are capable of shunting electrons through this enzyme and are able to heat inflorescences up to 42°C when ambient temperatures are much lower. Secondly, I’ve always been bothered by the fact that mitochondrial respiration assays using oxygen electrodes are often performed at 37°C regardless of what organism the mitochondria have been isolated from. It doesn’t made sense to me and I question the physiological relevance of assaying mitochondria using a temperature of 37°C when for example the study organism is a fish that has been acclimated to an external temperature of 5-12°C. Mitochondrial respiration is definitely more sluggish when you run these measurements at 5-12°C, but the mitochondria are still active. So for me, someone attempting to tackle the question of what temperature mitochondria actually run at is an important and highly relevant one.

The paper is an elegant one and what struck me in particular is that the authors have attempted to proactively counter the most obvious challenges that they would face from other researchers in the field. It hinges on the supposition that no energy transduction process in nature is 100% efficient and that some of the free energy of the electron transport system (ETS) must therefore be released as heat. They are obviously limited by the technologies currently available, but they have done an excellent job in using both positive and negative controls to validate their experiments and data. They have used the temperature-sensitive probe MitoThermoYellow to attempt to determine the temperature of mitochondria in a mammalian cell line background. As I read the paper, every few minutes I thought of another potential factor that could be responsible for their results, and in the very next sentence they addressed each of my particular concerns; it was a pretty surreal experience. The mitochondrial temperature is directly influenced by the level of operation of the ETS and what components are present (they do some very neat work with the alternative oxidase and uncoupling protein). They do some preliminary enzymology work on crude extracts to demonstrate that several ETS complexes exhibit temperature optima ~50°C, but that this is only true if the mitochondrial membranes are intact. A fascinating next step would be to examine the role of supercomplexes in these effects.

The authors themselves admit that one of the key questions that needs to be considered is whether mitochondria and cells can maintain temperature gradients, or whether any heat would immediately be lost to the rest of the organisms and/or the environment? Here we need to consider what is known about the physical shape, size, number, and localization of mitochondria in cells and what is known about the insulating capabilities of phospholipids, membrane components, and the contents and composition of various cellular compartments. Much of this information is lacking. These issues and other possible critiques of the paper are addressed by Nick Lane in his article “Hot mitochondria?”. Lots of new questions and concepts brought up by the Chrétien et al. paper which makes it a very valuable contribution to the field.

The second article is one by Cory Dunn entitled “Some Liked It Hot: A Hypothesis Regarding Establishment of the Proto-Mitochondrial Endosymbiont During Eukaryogenesis”. This paper was a lot of fun to read and presents a simple, but profound hypothesis: the initial usefulness of the proto-mitochondrion and the evolutionary driving force for its retention was due to its ability to generate heat and that it wasn’t until much later in evolutionary history that its ability to biosynthesize ATP could be harnessed. It’s a pretty neat idea and the figures in the article help the reader considerably. The premise of this article will be further supported if the conclusion of the Chrétien et al. holds up over time.

 

Product Review: Instant Pot

Yes, I am in fact reviewing a kitchen appliance. I am moved to do so because of how amazing said appliance is. I am not even the primary user of this particular appliance.

My partner and I have owned a couple of slow cookers in the 18 years that we’ve lived together. Our first one was a very basic model. We upgraded a few years ago to a version that had various programmable features including a time delay and different heat settings. My partner is the one who does the bulk of the dinner cooking at our house and we generally use the slow cooker several times every two weeks, especially on days that are hectic with kids’ activities when we don’t have the time to prepare and cook a meal in the late afternoon. That’s the beauty of slow cookers; you can set them up in the morning with your meal and forget about them until you are ready to eat dinner. We also use a steamer that we bought some time ago to do vegetables with many of our dinners. We save time and money (by avoiding fast food purchases); what’s not to like?

For Christmas this year, we received an Instant Pot. Prior to this I had never heard of these things, but we got excited just reading the outside of the box. We cracked it open the next day and have used it many times during the past 5 weeks. What’s great about it is that it is a steamer, slow cooker, and a pressure cooker, all in one! It’s designed really well and the instructions for use are clear. It’s also easy to clean because the pot can go on the top shelf of the dishwasher. (Cleaning our old slow cooker was the bane of my existence every time we used it…curse you ceramic pot!). I’ve never had a pressure cooker, mostly because they are terrifying and I always thought that they might explode if the lid wasn’t put on just right!

So far we have used the Instant Pot to make boiled eggs (perfectly done, no more guessing if they are soft or hard), mashed potatoes (you can keep them warm until just before you serve them; no more cold potatoes!), beef roast with potatoes and carrots (done this twice and both times the kids raved about how good it was), beef stroganoff, and broccoli cheddar soup. We’ll be able to replace two different appliances with a single one. I am impressed!

This appliance has achieved cult status and many resources are available on the internet, so there is no lack of recipes available to try out. It is a huge time saver and can really help with the dinner rush as the preparation time can take place in the morning and is often only 10 minutes or so. It’s really useful if you have multiple kids with multiple activities and if you and your partner have to divide and conquer and therefore must eat at different times.

We haven’t come close to exhausting the possibilities of what the appliance can do, but so far we have been really impressed!

 

Doctor Al Digest #24

The #reviewforscience Twitter hashtag has been cracking me up this week. Highlights include gluing trackers on bees, using a body massager to attract spiders, nooses for lizard collection, and the winner: using nail polish for killing bot fly maggots prior to extracting them from your own body.

Looks like the #MeToo movement has caught up with Canadian politics and they’re clearing house (the House of Commons that is!)

Tooting my own horn a bit…myself and several other bloggers were interviewed by the Nature piece “Why science blogging still matters”

A very elegant and thorough study by Chrétien et al. that suggests that the mitochondria in human cell lines operate at ~50°C when at maximal capacity  and a thoughtful critique by Dr. Nick Lane . I suspect that some paradigms are about to be destroyed in the near future in mitochondrial and thermal biology.

Book Review: What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

Like many people, I watched the results rolling in on U.S. election night in 2016 in disbelief. The major question that I had that night was what happened? This book starts to put together some answers to this question and it will be interesting to see a few decades out what historians will say about this particular election and time in U.S. politics.

I was really impressed by this book and its author. She is an intelligent and hard-working woman who has been the best-qualified person ever to run for the office of president. I was constantly amazed by her restraint in this book. It would have been much easier and satisfying for her to let loose a wave of vitriol at the Republican party, the media, and Donald Trump. She also accepts responsibility for some campaign missteps that contributed to her defeat. She is a class act.

The book is a fascinating look into her personal and professional history and I can only assume that many Americans that read it will be disappointed that this woman is not their current president. There was a bit too much focus on policy for my liking, but at least this was a candidate with a plan for her time in the White House. Her and her campaign team expected that this electron would be an uphill battle for a variety of reasons, but nothing could have prepared them for the constantly shifting ground during the election and the roles that racism, misogyny, Russia, and the media would play in the outcome. Given the circumstances, her resilience is to be applauded.

Working women will find much here that resonates with them. Here is a woman who has faced everything that professional women have ever faced in the workplace, but had to do it on a national stage and while subject to double standards and ridiculous scrutiny. This is the reason that her loss to Donald Trump felt so personal. I hypothesize that it was a very large contributing factor to the #MeToo movement last year.

The book is well written, but I found it a difficult read because it brought forth strong emotions in me as I turned the pages; namely unbridged rage and sadness. She gave it her best shot, it’s now up to others to pick up the torch and cross the finish line (or more realistically, to break the glass ceiling).

 

Why 2017 was so hard for many of us

I’m still processing all of the revelations and feelings associated with #MeToo and the tipping point of the Harvey Weinstein exposure. It was like a dam broke in society and in me. It brought up a lot of memories that had been locked up tight that I choose to think of infrequently. I think it’s now safe to say that if you ask any women or female presenting person if they’ve experienced sexual harassment or assault the answer is going to be yes. In the past that response would have been oftentimes followed up with a disclaimer that it wasn’t that bad, but the fact that it happened at all says everything.

2017 was validating. When these things are happening to you it’s hard not to think that they only happen to you or that you are somehow bringing it on yourself through how you look or act. I refuse to think this anymore. That’s been liberating. I’m not going to accept excuses from other people to justify the poor way that someone’s behaving. I’m done with “he didn’t mean anything by it”, “that’s just the way he is”, “he’s just socially awkward”. I’m now firm in my belief that if he’s treating me that way, it won’t be the first time he’s done it, and he knows exactly what he’s doing. I’ll react accordingly.

The processing of all of this has been emotionally draining, but ultimately it’s been helpful. I was angry for most of 2017 about a lot of it, most especially that it seemed to be such a revelation for most men. Women weren’t especially shocked by the most egregious of behaviours in the same way as men. Given what’s happened to us and our sisters not much shocks us anymore. The fact that it took a movement and millions of voices in order to be heard was heartbreaking and rage inducing.

The sexually harassing and assaulting men who have been exposed are just the tip of the iceberg. We are no where near to cleaning house. Predators still lurk. Systems and policies are still in place that protect perpetrators and silence victims. It’s always been about power. Some men are worried that they may have behaved inappropriately. That worry that they feel is but a fraction of what women have had to bear for years.

I move into 2018 hopeful. There is power in speaking our stories. Power in solidarity. Power in ally ship. I think of all the amazing women I know and how fantastic and accomplished they are. I hope that the emotional burden, time, and energy that has gone into navigating dangerous shores has been lessened. I’m impressed with what we have all managed to do with anchors holding us down. I look forward to seeing what will come with self-assurance and freedom to be our full selves without fear of retaliation or shame.