Spring break was nice, but I spent a lot of it getting over a bad cold from the week before.  Mind you, I never get as much done as I plan.  I suppose this is just the problem with being an over confident optimist. So  I am still writing lectures for my chemistry courses just before giving them, which is very stressful.

Before Spring break I was worried about covering all the material by the end of the semester because I spent longer than scheduled on earlier information.  My thinking being that if my intro chemistry students cannot do basic algebra or my general chemistry students cannot do chemistry stoichiometry they are going to get totally lost when we move onwards and upwards into the wonders of chemistry.  Yesterday, I checked the timetable and, while we are behind the original timetable, it is  only by a lecture or so.   Next semester I change the timetable!

Finally, I thought I had graded everything that was submitted before  Spring break. Even the cat was being graded.  [He gets an A in attention seeking and an F in being really annoying while demanding attention. So he passes with a C.]  In the shower yesterday,  I realized that I had forgotten about my food science students’ essays.  Oops,  I must grade these by Wednesday afternoon.


Teaching Tuesdays: Starting Out (only a day late)

Now I’ve taught a whole week at my new County College (CC) I can make informed comparisons with my old Research University (RU).  The biggest differences is the number of contact hours and evening classes.

Previously,  I taught two courses a semester, and that was a lot for my department, with 7 – 8 credit hours depending whether the course had a laboratory or not.  Contact hours were more as I attended and taught every lab period.  Thus, one semester I had 9 contact hours (6 hours lecture and 3 hours lab) and the other semester I had fourteen contact hours (5 lecture hours and 9 lab hours) as food analysis had a double lab.  So far at CC I have three courses with release time for recruitment.  As one course does not have a lab that means I have fifteen contact hours – I should have eighteen.

I am teaching three evenings a week, whereas I never taught evenings at RU.  I actually quite like it except for the limitation on my social life.  I certainly prefer commuting at off-peak times.

As I taught an unpopular major at RU, most of my classes were small sometimes as few as 3 or 4 students, but often around 8-12.  I did teach one medium sized course which I set at 50 students after two years of trying to teach it with sixty-five students.  All my courses at CC are set at 24-26 students.  If they get more students, a new section will open.

Another major difference is that at CC I am contractually obliged to provide office hours – 5 h per week spread over three days. I’m doing slightly more than that as I am at work anyway.

Non Traditional Academic Careers

In a recent comment to one of my posts Flicka Mawa wrote:

Also, thanks for your comment on my post about less traditional science professor careers. If you have any blog posts that have already addressed your experiences around that, I’d love for you to direct me to them!

Which was in response to my comment on her post on non-traditional academic and research careers.  I haven’t written any posts about teaching at a community college because I do not start until the fall.  I have written about teaching in a research university (RU), and as some of my teaching in non-traditional, people may be interested in checking them out:

Food Chem Group Project Dilemma

Writing in the classroom


Fortunately at my RU, there were a number of faculty that were very supportive good teaching.  I excelled at this which is why I am excited to be starting at an institution where teaching is its central purpose.  I will post about my experiences as they come along.

New Job


Crocuses herald spring for me. This one is from a pot of forced bulbs I planted in January. The bulbs just never made it outside last fall.

Spring is a time for looking forward and making plans. More so than the New Year, which to me is a time for hunkering down and slogging through dark, long, cold nights. This year, in particular, spring is a time of renewal as I just started a new job. It is an ideal position for me as I will be at a two year college in a nearby state teaching and helping to develop a new program. I will be working closely with students, which I enjoy. I do have regrets giving up research, but I am hoping eventually to offer undergraduate research experience. What is great about this new beginning is that I am planning how I want to the new program to grow. These plans will change as I get to know the college and the types of students being taught there, but it is pleasant making such plans for the future.

This optimism is echoed by the arrival of spring. At the same time as planning new classes, I am planning a garden again and starting, unsuccessfully so far, seeds. The days are getting longer and soon they will be warmer. Gardens are very forgiving, you can start anew each year. Even if you failed last year, a new spring heralds the opportunity to succeed this year, or next year or sometime in the future. Similarly, my new position offers me the chance to succeed and excel and continue with my career.

End of the Semester

Finally! I always try to not to get overwhelmed by the end of the semester, but for some reason it is impossible. My students launched their food products to the college on Monday. We had two exciting food products developed this year:

PiTZa – a pita bread stuffed with black bean spread and covered with mango salsa and cheese. The meal will be sold fresh in packages with the pita already stuffed; the mango and cheese provided so that you can build your own. Shelf-life is expected to be about two weeks.

Stuffed Sweet Potato – like a twice baked potato but made with sweet potatoes. The mashed sweet potato is flavored with cayenne pepper, paprika and garlic. This will be a frozen dish and take about 15 minutes to reheat in a 425 F oven. There are plans to develop other flavors including Old Bay, Thai Special and Thanksgiving Traditional.

I still have their final reports to read and grade. In addition to the course, this semester, I had three great undergraduate researchers working in my lab. I need to read their reports and I have to prepare posters for a conference in July.

I’ve been enjoying the fine weather in the garden and I am trying to knit an afghan for Afghans for Afghans, which has to be mailed for May 25th. This means that I haven’t have much time to think about blogging or take pictures to post. Normal(ish) service should return after the weekend.

Myers-Briggs Test

I am waiting for my take home finals to come in – they are due by noon tomorrow and then I will be swamped with grading again. It is at this time I wonder “What was I thinking, I must have been drinking” when I had the bright idea of this particular assignment. Never mind, all will be over by Friday pm. Fortunately, the TAs kept me in order and stopped me from letting the students write more than two pages.

In the meantime, I allowed myself to get distracted by a Myers-Briggs personality test. My Mum did her Masters in Educational psychology (or sociology) and I remember having fun doing questionnaires with her. So I am still a sucker for personality quizzes. This one came via Selva and the test is here, if you want to do it at your leisure.

Today’s results showed that I am a INFP. Continue reading


Grading GraphicAt this time of the semester, grading is taking over my life. Why is grading so hard? I’m not talking about the physical effort of sitting down with a numerous number of essays, reports, quizzes, exams etc. While that has its own challenges, what I find most challenging is deciding what is worth 100% [nothing?] and what is worth 90%, 85%… Continue reading

The Food Chemistry Group Project Dilemma

I am really excited about my teaching this semester. I have used many successful ideas and they all seem to be going quite well. So I was wondering which one to share with you this time. In the end I decided that it was time to share one of the projects from my food chemistry class, especially since the project made me take a good look at my teaching objectives.

Some background information about my food chemistry class:

I especially love teaching when I can be innovative with group problems, to which the students mostly respond quite well. I find the idea of teaching of food chemistry in the traditional style very boring. The idea of regurgitating facts about water, carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, vitamins, minerals ad nauseum is very dull. As most food science students have taken general and organic chemistry and biochemistry by the time they are studying food chemistry they should already have the basics. What they are lacking is practical experience applying these basics to food. So I designed semester long team projects for the students to work on and gain this experience.

As I believe that written and oral communication is probably the most important skill the students can learn while at university, every three weeks they prepare a report – the first is an introduction/literature review and the final report is almost a scientific journal article; the other reports fit somewhere in between these extremes.

Group members rotate so that they all have the chance to be a group leader and work on at least two different projects throughout the semester. This also means that they have the experience of joining an established team and having understand the new project’s research quickly so that they can be involved.

The Project Dilemma:

My food chemistry students are great this semester. Currently, there are three different projects, but I want to tell you about the fourth project that was stopped at the second report. I am not sure that closing that team down was the right decision in the long run; in the short term it was the only solutions as there was no where else to go with this project.

Just before the semester started I was given, as a door prize by the local food co-op, a can of hemp seed meal. That was intriguing as I did not know anything about this product so I wondered if it had any interesting properties that would give it unique functionality as food ingredient. So I decided to give it to the food chemists and see what happened.

Nothing is known about hemp protein powder except its nutritional value. It appears to be hemp seed meal except it appear not to be defatted. Not having any information was very, very frustrating for the food chemistry students. They did not know which way to turn. The first report basically reported on the nutritional facts and they did some studies – they baked a cake with and without hemp protein powder and tried making a smoothie containing hemp. The cake was green:

Hemp cakes

The smoothie was also green and the hemp did not stay in solution. By the time of the second report, we had basically exhausted the possibilities of hemp seed meal and it appears to have no interesting properties. When added to a liquid it does not alter the properties of the original solution. Hemp seed meal would not even make a paste when combined with water. By this time they were very frustrated, so I agreed that their second report should be the final and last report for the this project. To take up the slack, I made the other project teams larger. All the students were happier as the hemp project had become the joke project and probably the one to hope you would not rotate into next time.

So why am I now, three weeks later, thinking that ending the project was a mistake? Ending the hemp seed part of the project was correct. It is practically useless as a novel food ingredient; it even made the food products look less appealing by turning them green! However, looking back at my learning objectives, I wish I had kept the team going. The purpose of the hemp project was to experience what it was like to be handed a new ingredient and told to find out if it was any use. All my food chemistry students should have had this experience. As it was only three did. This means only three students experienced the frustration of trying to find information when there was none. Only three students had to design experiments from scratch with no information to find out if an ingredient had any potential in food production. Only three students had the opportunity to work on a project that even their instructor did not what to do next. Obviously, I have not short changed the other students by not giving them this experience, but they would have benefited from it if they had got it.

In future classes, I plan on having a few (two or three depending on class size) food ingredients with unknown potential. I may even ask local ingredient suppliers if they have appropriate products for this purpose. This way all students shall have the opportunity to design experiments with no information, with little help from their instructor. You never know, next time we may even find an ingredient that has some interesting properties.