Category Archives: Personal

August 22, 2014, 9:58 am

Approaching balance in an academic life

3832406129_c81191cc27_mRecently, I received an accolade that not only meant a great deal to me, but also set many thoughts in motion about how I think about work. OK, this is just a Twitter mention, but it comes from a person whose own work I respect; and for me, “succeeding at research and teaching while staying human” is a pretty economical description of a successful academic career.

This tweet has come into sharp relief lately. Our semester is starting up on Monday and the ease with which I can find balance will lessen considerably. Also, when I look back on some of the comments I’ve received on recent blog posts, there’s a pattern showing up that has me concerned for some of my fellow academicians, namely that there’s a desire to have a more balanced approach to work – excellent research and excellent teaching – but this balance is disincentivized or downright impossible. There seems to …

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August 18, 2014, 9:30 am

The four things I am really working on this semester

14825779592_d5263cf57e_mThis week at my university, like a lot of other universities and colleges in the US we are making the transition into the new academic year. It’s the end of the summer. I’m sad that the break is ending but I’m very happy with what I was able to get done. For the first time in years, I didn’t teach a summer class. Instead, I spent a lot of time on the road, speaking and giving workshops in places ranging from my own university to North Carolina, Indiana, and Cardiff, Wales – even Paris, via prerecorded video. I’ve dug into Haskell, object-oriented Python, and category theory. I indulged in a lot of the “someday/maybe” items I’ve been squirreling away. And I managed to spend a ton of time with the kids, hitting the beach, going on hikes, hanging around the house playing Mario Kart, or whatever the day and the mood called for. I didn’t waste a lot of time, and that’s…

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December 31, 2012, 9:01 am

A conversation about teaching preparation

Here’s a piece of a conversation I just had with my 8-year old daughter, who is interested in becoming a teacher when she grows up.

Daughter: Dad, if you want to become a teacher, do you have to take classes?

Me: Yes. You have to take a lot of classes about how to teach and a lot of classes in the subjects you want to teach. You need to be really good at math to teach math, for example.

D: Then do you have to go out and teach in the schools, like Mr. D___ [the young man who student-taught in my daughter's elementary school this year]?

Me: That’s right. You have to take classes and you have to go into the schools and practice.

D: Do you have to practice with the little kids?

Me: That depends on who you want to teach. If you want to become an elementary school teacher you work with elementary school kids. If you want to teach in a middle school, then you work with middle …

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December 24, 2012, 3:34 pm

Merry Christmas

It’s not Thanksgiving, but during this season I’m very thankful:

  • For all of you who check in on this blog from time to time, who have it in your RSS feeds, and who add your comments.
  • For the Chronicle, for having the momentary lapse in judgment that led to me being part of the blog network since last fall.
  • For the Chronicle web development team, working behind the scenes to keep all these sites up and running.
  • For my online friends from Twitter and Google+ who interact with me these and give me a tiny slice of a tight budget of attention.

Being able to write about math, education, and technology here at Casting Out Nines is a great privilege. I’m humbled to be able to do it, and I’m looking forward to good conversations in 2013.

I’m taking the rest of this week off to hang out with my wife and kids and friends. In the meanwhile, enjoy Christmas. In my Christian faith…

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July 31, 2012, 8:00 am

Finding your next job: Variety is the spice of (professional) life

The first two parts of this series (part 1, part 2) on Finding Your Next Job were about coming to terms with the motivations and parameters behind looking for a next job in the first place. These aren’t stressed enough in most discourses on job searching. The last thing you want is to blunder into a job search without a good idea of why you’re doing it, what you hope to accomplish, and who (besides yourself) needs to be involved.

But once you’re done with this kind of soul-searching, you have to begin. This part of the process can be just as varied as the first two parts, so rather than lay down a “how to” list, let me just share some experiences and what’s worked for me and people I know. Here I’m going to focus on one important and often-overlooked point about what sort of job you consider when you search.

For people looking for a second or subsequent job coming out…

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February 18, 2012, 12:00 pm

Random reality

In this month’s online issue of Books & Culture magazine, I have a short article called Random Reality, Part 3. This is (wait for it…) the third part of a series of articles written by science people focusing on the book The Matchbox that Ate a Forty-Ton Truck by Marcus Chown. This series itself is part of a larger series that B&C magazine is running called “Science in Focus” where a single book on science is examined from different points of view by people in the sciences. The first article in my series was written by a geologist, the second by a neuroscientist.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Bible describes the early universe as “without form and void” (Genesis 1:2). This is certainly true, according to Marcus Chown, in terms of how much information was in the universe then. Expanding on the ideas of physicist Stephen Hsu, Chown argues that, just after the Big Bang, the universe…

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February 1, 2012, 7:55 am

Why I believe in technology

Saturday was the fifth anniversary of the day when we received our middle child, Penelope, in China. My wife and mother-in-law traveled to China to receive her and complete the adoption process, while I stayed home with our then-2-year old (who was also adopted from China). Celebrating “Gotcha Day” for our two daughters is always a fun and meaningful time for us. But there’s another anniversary that shares the same date as Penny’s Gotcha Day: It’s the day that I mark as the precise moment in time when I became 100% sold on the power of technology, both in my personal life and in my teaching.

Here’s why:

  • At about 2:00 PM local time in Nanchang, China on January 27 — a Sunday — Penny was brought into the room where my wife and mother-in-law were waiting, and they met for the first time. Lots of pictures were taken with our Canon PowerShot digital camera. This was 2:00 AM local…

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January 18, 2012, 7:12 am

What I learned in 2011: There is always a backstory

Here’s a previous article in an ongoing series of What I Learned in 2011.

While it was still on TV, the show LOST was a favorite of mine. No, that’s not strong enough — it was an obsession. I discovered the show about halfway through its fourth season when I downloaded the series pilot from iTunes on a whim. I was hooked. I proceeded to watch the episodes online at a rate of about one per day — sometimes two or even three — until I caught up. I read the blogs, edited the wiki, listened to the podcasts. I was completely and totally absorbed. And this is coming from a person who otherwise watches TV maybe about an hour a week (modulo football and kids’ shows).

What was it about that show that I found so engaging? For me, the main thing was the deep humanity of the characters. In the first few episodes, it was very easy to pigeonhole them all. Sawyer was the criminal you had to…

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October 6, 2011, 1:19 am

RIP, Steve Jobs

I’ve been taking a blogging break this week to get caught up at work, but I wanted to say a few words on the passing of Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Those of us who are lifeless Apple fanboys follow Apple news know that Steve had been very sick for some time now. His passing is not unexpected, but it is still a shock now that it’s happened, and it’s a sad day.

My first experience with an Apple product was using an Apple IIe while I was an undergraduate psychology major. The psych department had a small computer lab with some Apples in it, and I used one to run statistical analyses of an experiment I was doing. I hated the Apple IIe. To me, it was a computer for English and art majors, or perhaps for elementary school children. All those cutesy graphics! And music! Hard-working and self-respecting science nerds such as myself shouldn’t stoop to such devices. But, it was the only machine in…

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August 25, 2011, 8:00 am

Good enough teaching, and trust

http://www.flickr.com/photos/nitsrejk/

I spent most of Wednesday at the 17th annual Fall Conference on Teaching and Learning, put on by my new employer, Grand Valley State University. It was a full day of good ideas and good people, and I really enjoyed engaging with both. One experience from today  has really stuck with me, and it happened during the opening session as Kathleen Bailey, professor in the Criminal Justice department, was speaking about the changing student demographic we are encountering (not just at GVSU but everywhere in higher ed).

Kathleen comes from a fairly unique position as not only a professor of CJ and assistant director of freshman orientation but also as a former parole officer for teenagers. In her talk, she drew some parallels between parenting, being a parole officer, and…

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