… hello

Aug. 9th, 2012 11:41 pm
pergamond: ([Random] Look kawaii)

It was 3 pm on a Sunday afternoon when I finished the last part of my class preparation for the following day. Looking at the clock, I felt almost irrepressibly excited; I had finished early enough to go grocery shopping AND clean the bathroom!

… it was shortly after this that I realised I was failing at life. 

Arguably, the cat-biscuits-in-the-rice-cooker incident was an earlier indication but I've never been one for dwelling on events. 

I was planning to write long, insightful posts about my experiences as a first year faculty member. They were to be filled with thought provoking statements about the balance between research projects and teaching commitments; the rewards and difficulties, the pain and the pleasure. It would undoubtedly be nominated for a Nobel Prize and become a white paper for future developments in higher educational resources. 

... if only it were possible to move a touch further away from the odor of RAW HYSTERICAL PANIC that filled my mind each time I attempted to rationalise my situation into coherent thoughts. 

Guys. It comes down to this:




Who knew? Well… teachers. But who believed them? No one. 

I am now half-way through the year (Japan is a half-year out of sink with the West, so I've completed one semester and taught one course and still have a second semester and a second course to go) and have been sent a cheerful reminder that my first tenure-track assessment will be next month. 

Picture the gateway into Mordor.


Because one must teach a class. Then, the gateway is behind you, that small box in the top left corner of the form is ticked and the rest of the assessment will be on the WORLD CLASS RESEARCH YOU'VE SURELY DONE TO FIND THE ONE RING TO RULE THEM ALL.

Frankly, I'm holding out hopes for big marks allocated for keeping on top of things to the extent of not posing a significant health risk to the rest of the department.  

The saving grace is that I WAS in fact told life was gonna be this way. I was assured that first year faculty was tough but --unless you had the grievous misfortune of teaching a different class the following year-- the second year was significantly better and you might actually get to do research. Or shower. I'm hoping this means my review committee have seriously low expectations. 

Meanwhile I have six teaching-free weeks. I'm thinking 6 research papers. Or 60. Aim for the stars! Because if you fall short… I'll be doomed because I'm an astrophysicist. Darn. 

pergamond: From xkcd.com ([xkcd] Carebear stare)
If you select the paper work type of lectures, you can limit number of students in your class and you will get a teaching assistant.

I was discussing the undergraduate course I would be teaching next semester with my head of group over email. The basic idea of the lecture series was to teach an introductory physics course in English, available to all students enrolled in the university. However, there were options concerning the structure of the course that I was struggling to understand, having not gone through the Japanese higher education system myself. I wrote back:

Could you please explain what a "paper work type of lecture" is?

My best guess at present was that there was a course type that shunned written material and presented information through interpretive dance. I wondered if I could get a student to leap through a wall in a demonstration for quantum mechanics. A few minutes later, I got my answer:

"Paper work type of lecture" means that in this lecture a professor spends his class time to make training of student's ability to write their papers, presentations or something.

.... whereas in the other type of lecture, the professor just sets up a game of hangman and doesn't bother with anything educational? This seemed implausible. I walked next door to see if I could extract a more complete explanation but failed. The joys of a language barrier!

Just when I'd resigned myself to showing my class how to play 'Portal' and leaving it at that, my head of group came back with a more complete explanation. It turned out that there two types of courses at Hokkaido University; the ones I would refer to as 'core' and were needed to graduate in a particular field and others that were more general interest and could be taken by students in any discipline. This second category (which was the one to which my course would belong) was again broken into two variations: courses where the professor stood at the front and delivered material to a passive class and another with a workshop competent that involved a level of audience participation. The course I had proposed included presentations from the students on different scientific topics and would therefore belong in this workshop or "paper work" type lecture.

So no computer games but no jumping through solid walls either. Perhaps it is for the best.


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