Ask-an-Atheist, sneezing, and much head-shaking.

(by Ethan Rop) Jan 26 2012

Atheist students on campus set up an Ask-an-Atheist table, presumably to increase awareness of other religious opinions and give people a chance to see that they won't be drinking the blood of your children anytime soon. Seems pretty straightforward, right? They're not looking to cause trouble, but to spread awareness. And cookies. Consequently my question was "can I have an Oreo"? This was apparently the most popular question of the day. Since I'm an atheist myself, I didn't see that we'd have much more to discuss anyway. Agreeing is sometimes boring.

One would think that maybe, just maybe, people on our campus are a little more enlightened than the general public and can at least cope with the reality of dissenting opinions, which is why conversations are cookie-centric. And you'd be right. Except for some of the staff, especially when they have no idea what my religious proclivities are but try to involve me in their clandestine passive-aggressive gripe-fest.

Me: *Sneezes*
Lab Tech: Bless you. Wait, can I say bless you?
Me: Huh?
Lab Tech: Well there's the Ask-an-Atheist table out there today, so I don't know if I can say that anymore.
Hyperreligious Office Support Staffer: *rolls eyes with her voice* Oh yeah, they're out there.
Me: Oh, ok. What difference does that make?
Lab Tech: Well I just said "bless you" but I don't know if that's ok. Do people have a problem with that? What do you say?
HOSS (self-righteously, as if somebody asked her opinion): I say "Bless you".
Me: *shrugs* I just say "Gesundheit". *walking toward copy room*
LT (getting smarmy): Well I just say "Bless you".
HOSS (getting exceedingly full of herself from the other room): I think that's just the right thing to say.
LT: I hope that's ok with you.
Me: I could care less, especially if you're the one doing the blessing.
LT: What do you say again?
Me: Gesundheit.
LT: That just means "God bless you in German". I took German in high school. Now THAT was an awful experience.
Me (who took French): Actually it means something more like "to your health", literally. "Gott" is German for god.
LT: Oh.
HOSS: starts to board the clue bus and wisely chooses silence

I refrained from adding "you know, Gott, like from the popular Third Reich phrase the Nazis had on their belt buckles? "Gott mit uns"? Or from pointing out that if they want to be snarky about it, they ought to keep in mind that probably 50% of the professors they work for in the science center's 5 departments are at least agnostic if not atheist, and definitely not Christian. I may not care much, but other people might think they're being rude.

The thing that blew my mind after I left the room- if you can't figure it out, why not just go out to the table and ASK THE MOTHERFUCKING ATHEIST?

7 responses so far

Brief moments in evolution conversations

(by Ethan Rop) Dec 01 2011

While discussing the merits and flaws of chimpanzee symbol acquisition studies and whether different evolutionary trajectories have made it biologically easier for bonobos to pick up language skills more readily than the common chimpanzee, one of my students stopped mid-sentence, looked up, and asked

"Are there really people who don't think evolution is relevant?  Because I had my first conversation the other day with a creationist and I was so dumbstruck I didn't know what to say."

Everybody else in the class agreed they hadn't encountered but maybe one or two people younger than their parents' generation who thought creationism was true.

I smiled a little inside.

3 responses so far

The Fallacy of Adjuncts part 1- the short term

(by Ethan Rop) Nov 29 2011

In these troubled economic times, more academic departments turn to untenured teaching options as a way to meet staffing needs.  Many R1 investigators are finding it harder and harder to capture grants, which means fewer indirect monies for departments.  Adjuncts, visiting professors, and lecturers (oh my!) are increasingly called upon to take the load off.  It ain't hard to see why.  Today, I'm going to deal with just adjuncting, or the practice of paying someone to teach "by the class".

If your primary academic mission is not teaching, then it makes little sense to have your profs devote hours per week to teaching Intro Psych or Gen Bio when they could be writing multimillion dollar research grants.  And since funds are low for everyone, new tenure track hires are even more painful; thousands of dollars go into a search, hundreds of thousands go into a startup package for your typical assistant professor labspace.  If you have the option to staff your classes with cheap, temporary labor, why wouldn't you?

To be fair, there are clear benefits to adjuncting for both the institution and the wayward adjunct.  These include-

  • Minimal application process/expenditures-  You can often get a job simply by emailing a department chair and asking "hey, you need any courses covered?"
  • Defined hours- The adjunct is there to cover a course, period.  No departmental meetings or other bullshit time sinks.
  • Money- Adjuncts don't make great pay, but it is nice when you need a little extra money in a short amount of time.  You can work as much as is available.  The Uni benefits from not having to spend as much on searches and bennies.
  • Entertainment- Admit it, you like teaching.  Why not dabble, and get paid for it?
  • Full time transition- at least at community colleges, if you've been a successful adjunct for a while, you may have a leg up if a TT spot opens.
  • Sharpen your skillz- never taught before?  Here's a chance to get some teaching under your belt.
But, some things about adjuncting really, really bite.
Continue Reading »

4 responses so far

Work-life balance and the eye of the storm

(by Ethan Rop) Aug 05 2010

There seems to be a lot of discussion about balancing (optimizing? streamlining?) careers on this site. Rebecca has a post up, Mike weighed in from the nontraditional guy perspective, and Janet has her usual shiny two cents.  Scicurious and DrugMonkey weighed in too. DM has a whole freakin' carnivale!  I'm sure I'm missing people but I can only hyperlink so much without going nuts.

I'm going to weigh in about my personal experiences, since I too have a nontraditional career path in the academic world.  Currently, I'm living with my wife and her kids.  I moved here to be with them, which meant giving up on a research career which was on life support anyway (my postdoc did NOT go well, but that's another story for another day).  My subsequent career path hasn't been as varied as Mike's, but as I had more free time on my hands when I moved in with my new family, I pretty much stepped into the "traditional" wifely supporting role.  My spouse, you see, is a tenure-track academic who is in the final phase of the tenure process.   So when I initially moved in I had no job, therefore I cooked and cleaned, did the yardwork, took the kids to school and their programs, and did all the normal supporting work.  It went fine and I derived great satisfaction from it, but when it came time for me to find a job I felt pretty inadequate.  We agreed that there would be a transition to equal house responsibilities as I tried to rebuild a career.  Boy was that ever wrong.

I'm not the primary breadwinner, which I will admit is hard to accept since I was raised in a single-income "traditional" household; my ingrained perception is that the man has to at least pull his weight.  I recognize, however, that things don't exactly work that way and am not threatened by my spouse being the sole income or the  primary income (although I am extremely jealous since she has the job I want.  But in a good way).

But work has been hard to come by due to my geographical constraints in a low population density area.  I am currently working the adjunct circuit, that nether world between having an actual academic job and "you want fries with that?**"  Salary is highly variable depending on what classes, if any, are available.   Previously, I'd also worked as a research assistant while adjuncting and maintained a good, stable income and benefits, but that grant ran out so now I'm only teaching, and that is very inconsistent from one semester to the next.

I have a decent gig teaching Brain and Behavior on a regular basis at the local state U.  This earns about 8 grand gross per semester (no benefits), and during the normal school year I can usually count on that as a base salary.  It barely pays the bills.  On top of that I've been able to add other biology courses at the local community college, about $900-1000 per semester hour.  Community colleges are a great way to build a teaching resume but you put in more work for much less money.  But, it sounds functional, right?  Not always, damn you natural variability.

For instance, this summer I had to team teach one course with a graduate TA.  So I got half my normal base "salary".  That's it.  Considering that during the summer we have to pay out the wazoo for kids' programs, this is not a good time to be barely employed.  I could be a stay-at-home dad with them, but we also have projects around the house that need serious attention (such as tearing down and rebuilding the garage, which was sided in Masonite and is now water-logged and literally falling apart) but have to be done by us, since we can't afford a contractor.   I can't really watch the kids effectively and do that at the same time (not to mention it's dangerous for the kids to be around that much construction), and also babysit the grad TA.  Blah.  I have found wonderful monetary conservation endeavors, however, such as making my own laundry soap.

This fall, however, is the exact opposite.  I have Brain/Behavior, Human Bio, A&P, and now a last-minute offer for Research Methods.  I could potentially be teaching 4 courses (one of which is a double section too) at 3 separate schools.  But because I'm an adjunct, I'm pretty much second shift.  All my classes but one are after 3 pm.  2 nights a week I will get home at 10 pm and have to teach again at 8:15 am, an hour away from where I live.  3 nights a week I don't even get to tuck my kids in bed, or see them off to school the next day.  So now I'm in complete role reversal; half of the week I won't even be around to see my family or do chores; I have primary breadwinner commitments that don't translate into financial or career successes in the sense that my station is not advanced.  Technically, yes, I'll be making bank for a few months. But there are no new salary benchmarks, no benefits, hours don't improve, no job security, no titles or privileges other than I get to log new courses on my CV and hope that the next time a teaching position opens, I'll have the magical right combination of experience for it.  Every semester, I'm back at square one, or potentially back solely in the spousal supporting role.

So what I have discovered out of all this is that I can be happy as a career-minded man in the supporting role of a career-minded woman, with a family.  It isn't easy, because I'm at a natural job-hunt disadvantage.   But I've definitely learned that the threats don't come from her, they come from myself and my upbringing and it is my responsibility, as a dude, to fucking deal with it.  I don't begrudge her because I have no reason to (my parents were open-minded enough to teach me that women can do all the shit men do, even though their situation was the straight-up Ozzie and Harriett model), and every reason to rejoice in being a part of her successes.   Plus, I usually have the freedom to make most of the kids' events and be a stable part of their lives, but that is a whole different set of rewards for a different post.

Where does balance come in, then, for work and life?  Balance is being the calm eye in the center of the storm as it rains destruction around you and everyone you love.  That, too, is for another post.

**nothing against "you want fries with that", but since I spent so much time in pursuit of another career path I'd prefer to avoid that one unless I'm out of options.

5 responses so far

Greetings and Salutations

(by Ethan Rop) Aug 02 2010

Got me a brand new blog and lots of space to fill.  Therefore, I am promptly going on vacay with the fam-fam and will be back next week.  Really awesome way to open a new blogging network, I know.

One response so far