Monthly Archives: May 2014

Cookout Cookin’

One thing that seems to go hand in hand with the summer is cookouts. It just seems like a fun thing to do – make a dish and then go hang out with friends, family, or coworkers. The high volume of cookouts is conducive to my desire to cook, and today’s dish is Feta Basil Pasta. Basically, in the spirit of using up food in my kitchen (we have to be practical and prepare for the move!), I needed to make pasta. In addition, I have these massive basil plants – they’re growing so fast that I can’t eat it fast enough.

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Left: My basil, thyme, and cilantro plants back in October. Right: My plants today AFTER I picked 1/2 cup of basil. So much green!

With that in mind, I did a quick Google search of basil pasta to see what I could find. This website was the winner, but I didn’t feel like doing the exact recipe, so I left out the mushrooms and olives – of course I didn’t actually measure anything either.

Here’s the result!

2014-05-15 17.01.08

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Break time!

What does a PhD student do to celebrate the end of a long (and tiring semester)?

This PhD student loves to cook. For some reason, cooking = celebrating. I like to try new recipes and to cook old favorites, so I want to share a few with you.

The first, an oldie but goodie (to be sure) is my glazed lemon sugar cookies. I LOVE lemon cookies. They are amazing. I discovered them while working in Memphis. I’ve made a few variations because I always make them and then lose the recipe, but now I am going to cite my source so that I never have to find the recipe again! I got the recipe from this blog and it is the perfect recipe. Of course my pictures don’t look quite as good as theirs, but who cares! These are actually an orange version, because I’m pro-citrus of all types. I think next time I’ll try some lemon-lime cookies to see how they work!

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Glazed Lemon (or whatever citrus you have on hand) Cookies

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp lemon zest
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (or whatever you have, I don’t discriminate)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Lemon Glaze

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, vanilla, and lemon juice and beat until combined. With mixer on low, beat in flour mixture. Drop dough by heaping tablespoons, 1 inch apart, onto two baking sheets. Bake until edges are golden, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Let cool 2 minutes on sheets, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Spread cookies with Lemon Glaze and let set, about 1 hour.

Lemon Glaze

  • 2 cups of powdered sugar
  • 2 Tbsp lemon zest
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice

Of course, not every recipe turns out well, like my attempt at a carrot-apple smoothie. NOT good. I can’t help it that I got a new Ninja blender (this thing is amazing) and I have a lot of carrots that I need to use up…somehow.

I also made some pretzel bites and mustard sauce, and let me say they turned out quite well, but I forgot to take a picture of them. I think I might have been too busy eating them. More pretzels are definitely in my future. Also in my future is some bread and pasta. I’m trying to get rid of stuff (pasta & flour) as I get ready to move this summer, so I have to use up the food in my cabinets! Sometimes I like the challenge of using what I have on hand with as few extra ingredients as possible. But really, I’m dreading this move. I’ve moved a lot on my own (in and out of dorms, to Memphis and now to Virginia), and I will be so glad when this move is over. Let’s hope I can stick with my new apartment for longer than a year!


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Easter Festivities

I think this is one of the first times I’ve spent Easter away from my family. To some, that’s not a big deal, but we tend to do holidays together in my family. However, I have a family in Blacksburg that ensured that I had a great holiday. It started the day before Easter with brunch and an “egg hunt” at my friend Amy’s apartment. Our “eggs” were  little non-traditional, but we managed to have a great time and it was so efficient in the small space! There was even a special golden egg with a prize associated.

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This rousing adventure was followed with an egg dyeing/painting contest. We were very pro-postit notes, and used those to help with voting.

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While I didn’t win that competition, my egg DID get a vote. (Second from the left, woohoo!)

On Sunday, I got to spend some more quality time with a family from my church. They have two daughters of their own and just decided to add in some “extras” since some of us couldn’t go home. The day was filled with lots of food and an epic Easter egg hunt. They had a list of rules, and there were four, let me say that again, FOUR different ways to “win”. Did I mention that winning involved a monetary prize? EPIC Easter egg hunt.

Easter 2014

Chris and Sarah St. Jean made sure that I had a great Easter Sunday, and I so appreciate their effort to take care of all of their “children”.

Easter 2014 (2)

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“The inner world wanes; professional intensity waxes”

I just read this NY Times article which is a longitudinal study of college freshmen. I thought it was incredibly interesting as it showed the generational differences. I think the last sentence of the article summed up the story best:

“The inner world wanes; professional intensity waxes.”

After our intense (and extensive) discussions about grades, it was really interesting to see the statistics about how the average grades have changed. Grades have gone up, but the workload has decreased. With all of this…students still feel more anxiety. Long term, we’re more unhappy. To me, this makes the point extremely clear – something has got to change in education. There are some major disconnects in our educational system. But where do we start with the solution? What do you think falls under our responsibility as professors? Is it our job to try to change this in higher education or is that a problem for elementary, middle, and high school teachers?

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What would I change in higher education?

This is an interesting question…one that I’ve thought a lot about but somehow I keep getting stuck on it.

I think the thing that sticks out to me is the expectations that are placed on faculty. On the first day of class, we came up with a list of 22 distinct jobs that faculty are called to do. If they did a 40 hour week, that means they have less than 2 hours to do each task per week. Most classes meet for at least 3 hours a week, so they’re already behind without even beginning to grade. “Research” was listed as one of the 22 tasks, without breaking it down into components. Can you imagine a world where faculty only spend 2 hours a week doing research? I don’t think Virginia Tech would continue to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in research grants every year with that philosophy. So what ends up happening? Well, professors work. A lot.

So what would I change about higher education today? I would put less focus on doing everything and more focus on doing some things well. While this may not seem like it would have a big impact on the way education is done in the US, I think our culture has become so focused on doing everything and doing everything better than the next person that we don’t just enjoy life anymore. I’ve seen it in the workplace, but the place I see it the most is in my faculty. They are all swamped with work, running around and trying to do a million different things at one time. While many of them do manage to do a good job of teaching, researching, and giving me feedback, I know that there are other areas of their life that probably suffer.

Did my adviser just miss dinner with his family because he stayed late to meet with me?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think this is a problem that is limited to education, but it’s the thing that I most want to change about American culture, and academia is just one place to start. What if our college students saw in their professors people who know how to say no in order to have the time to say yes to the things that really matter in life? Would they enter the workforce with a different perspective? Would that result in those students, now professionals, making choices that will enrich their lives rather than just their bank accounts? Could we learn how to just chill out in America?

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Faculty and Social Media

I found this infographic about Faculty Use of Social Media and thought it was pretty cool. I imagine many of my classmates will find the same one because it’s like the first thing that shows up, but it is just so colorful and pretty that I couldn’t resist.

Overall, it summarizes a variety of different aspects related to faculty and social media. The bullets below are the highlighted points from the infographic:

  • While most faculty are using social media, the majority are using it for personal reasons, rather than professional or teaching use.
  • Across all personal, professional, and teaching use of social media by faculty, it is clear that younger faculty are leading the way.
  • Different sites are used for different needs.
  • One area where adoption is almost universal is in the use of video for teaching.
  • Attitudes towards social media are fluid and evolving. All perceived barriers have decreased. The largest decrease was seen in the perception that social media is time-consuming.

What picture does this paint for us? I think one of the most clear things is that social media is consistently working its way into higher education. As faculty age, digital natives – or those that grew up in a digital age and using social media – will join the ranks of current faculty. This alone will result in increased use of social media in higher education. Video is one of the older forms of technology as far as dispersing information, and it makes sense that it would be the most widely used. It also has clear uses and additionally it can easily parallel the traditional face-to-face classroom experience that is deeply ingrained in our educational system. I think the need that this infographic brings to light is the need to better understand how to incorporate social media for the benefit of the instructor and the students. The one thing worse than completely excluding technology and by extension social media from the classroom is using technology in an inefficient or inappropriate way. This will result in frustration and aversion from incorporating social media.

Overall, there is room for social media to be incorporated into our higher education system. In a world that is increasingly incorporating technology throughout all aspects of life, it is vital that our students experience this integration from early on so they can learn to navigate it effectively.

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Being Faculty – feedback appreciated!

Hey! I’m still formulating my being faculty statement, and I would really appreciate any feedback that any of y’all have to give…

On the first day of Preparing the Future Professoriate, we discussed the wide variety of hats that every professor must wear. From grader to mentor to fundraiser, the different roles required are often time consuming and sometimes incongruent. Because of this huge workload, not all of which is actually outlined in the job description, it is important for every faculty member to carefully assess the components of the job and prioritize time based on personal goals and beliefs.

I want to be a faculty member that chooses to make a difference in the lives of students and an impact on the world for the better. I want to choose people first, even at the sacrifice of some aspects of my career. For me, being faculty means taking the extra time to invest in mentoring students both casually and through formalized programs. I would not have made it as far as I have without a lot of hours that other people invested in me. I spent hours talking to professors, crying in their offices, and discussing plans and options. This time did nothing to promote them or their research, but many people simply listened to me when I needed it and I recognize the huge impact that this had on me.

Obviously, as a professor I expect to do a fair amount of teaching as well. In my opinion, this is one of the two major components of being a professor. As such, I want to be the type of professor that puts forth the extra effort to be engaging and open with students. This follows with choosing people first. Teaching could be made more efficient and easy by simply doing lectures and tests, without much classroom engagement. I think the interesting part of the classes occurs when professors bring in examples, ask for engagement, and provide opportunities for discussions. Projects are far more interesting and provide a better experience of how things work outside of classes. This better prepares students to work in the real world and apply their knowledge rather than regurgitating theories, facts, or working problems just like what they’ve seen before. Projects give a chance to problem-solve, think outside of the box, and set goals. I want to be a professor that chooses the classroom structure that is more engaging even if it requires more preparation from my end.

The other major part of being a professor is doing research. Being a faculty member means taking on this challenge with enthusiasm and performing the highest quality research. I won’t take shortcuts to save time, because without doing the best research I feel like I’ll be selling myself and others short. I will try to incorporate as many students as possible in my research, both as participants and as researchers. I have valued the research experiences that have been offered to me by other professors, and I want to pay this opportunity forward. In doing this, I need to continually remember that these students are learning so I must be patient and maybe invest a little extra time in training and piloting.

Overall, I have some pretty lofty goals. I want to be amazing! More than anything else, to me being faculty means recognizing my limits and accepting them. I need to work within my abilities and give myself the freedom to be less than perfect. In an ideal world, I would be a great mentor, teacher, and researcher, while also filling the other duties that come along with being a professor. However, that may just not be possible, and I simply want to have a balance of work and personal life that allows me to wake up every morning and be thankful for the great opportunity that I have to make a difference with my skills. As soon as I start waking up and dreading the thought of going to work, I want to recognize that things need to change. Knowing my limits, I simply want to be a faculty member that doesn’t lose sight of the main goal which is to make a difference in the lives of my students and to positively impact the world.


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