Thursday, November 20, 2008


My supervisor was mad when I told him over e-mail. He wanted to be asked not informed. He set up a meeting. I did not want to have this meeting. He was also upset about this artery project which has hit a wall. The problem is that I don't have the time to solve the problem, and the other two people on the project (he and another cool lecturer friend, my age) don't have the expertise. There are three of us, but I'm the only one doing the work. I don't mind if someone gets upset with me if I'm not working. But if I am working, my supervisor should rather join me in getting upset at the problem. It's not he versus me; it's us versus the problem like in a marriage. Having been prayed up and ready and calm, the meeting went unbelievably well.

He said I should inform him first before making decisions on leave (I am not sure why since we don't really work together like he does with his masters or PhD students). I explained to him I actually was not trying to request a month off. This was a serious situation due to money and missed flights and quick decisions. I wasn't trying to ask permission to take a month off. But I will come and ask him in the future as I didn't know I was supposed to do that. He said I don't need to find him; an e-mail is fine. He just didn't get it; he still said I should tell him first. I think in the future if I have to make a quick decision, I will just e-mail him and though it's decided, I will frame it in a question. May I take the ticket on the 10th? There's no way he or the centre would pay for a ticket for me to do otherwise. As for the research, with the visa issues and lecturing and TA'ing (we call it tutoring), etc., I have had no time for the past 4 weeks or so. I wrote that in the e-mail (without saying 4 weeks). I also suggested that Andrew work on it with me; Andrew is a research officer/employee and a PhD student at the same time (it just means he gets a salary to get a degree in a sense; but he was an employee before starting the PhD part). Andrew does everything here; he's invaluable. I knew he might like Andrew taking a look at the problem. So we discussed that. And it was nice; it was he and I against the problem.

Then funny enough, the students in the 2nd semester course rated it poorly—the pace was too fast, the material too difficult, the project too long and hard, the book too horrible, the lecturing style too strange. This is attributable to a few things (the class is only 5 people; you might think it wouldn't be so bad since they can voice things). I don't lecture whole courses. These are the courses of my supervisor, and he gets post-docs and PhD's to lecture them with him (or without him). So I wasn't told that the project I should give for my half of this particular course was only worth 8%. So some options there were more time-consuming than an 8% project. Luckily I had an options (out of 3) that could fit the 8% allocation. Only one person chose it because the other two options were more interesting. I kept saying they didn't have to choose the harder one but the other four stuck with it. Also South African students in maths and sciences are not used to having to read at all for courses (not before lecture). So when I ask them to do it, it's strange and some don't do so. They are also not used to rigorous courses. One student even tried to compare the course this year to the course last year saying the students didn't have to do what they are doing (bad move). I explained that this was FEM II. In FEM I this year, you did MORE than FEM I last year in 2007. So FEM II started from a much deeper point in the material (FEM stands for Finite Element Method—a mathematical method to solve engineering problems like solid deformation, fluid dynamics, heat conduction, etc.). So FEM II had to add material, and I was told to add topics like Numerical Methods and nonlinear equations. These were the sections they hated. One child wrote “I used to like Finite Elements before, but now I have lost all desire to do it.” I can laugh at it now. Moreover, I lecture exactly the same way I did in the first semester (Jan/Feb – June). In fact, in the FEM I course, I received higher ratings as a teacher than my supervisor who is one of the top in the world in computational mechanics (doesn't mean he can teach, though) and higher ratings than Andrew. This time I received lower ratings than Andrew. I even had the SAME students in the FEM I course. So I know it wasn't the teaching style.

So anyway, I've had a brief break since lectures ended last week on Monday. And after the Tuesday meeting with my supervisor, I could actually sit and work on paper submissions (something else that he told me to prioritize over the research). So even though I was supposed to do the artery project this week since the meeting, I've had to work on paper submissions because if I apply for US professorships, I need publications in order to be competitive.

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