Friday links: syllabus puppies, job talk entrance music, and more

Unlikely as it sounds, a link about the academic job market is one of our happier links this week. Sorry. But we make up for it at the end. There’s also an extremely Stephen Heard-y link involving lichens and werewolves.

From Jeremy:

Stephen Heard at his most Stephen Heard-y, on folk taxonomy and postal service regulations on mailing live animals. Great post. And don’t skip the comments, where Ian Medeiros wins the intertubes with his stories of mailing lichens:

“It’s a box of lichens.”
“You mean… like… werewolves?”

Erin Sparks’ excellent reflections on the academic job market. (ht Stephen Heard, via Twitter)

Merging my interests in popular science and fiction, this looks interesting. (ht @kjhealy)

On the value of an “aggressive” seminar culture. Really, it’s about the difference between a culture of productive criticism of ideas, and a hierarchical, status-seeking culture in which everyone kisses up and punches down.

Mengel et al. (unreviewed preprint) analyze a dataset of over 19,000 university student evaluations of faculty teaching at Maastricht University’s business and economics school. The evaluations come from various courses, from a context in which students were randomly assigned to male or female section instructors. Female instructors got lower teaching evaluations even though both student grades and self-study hours were unrelated to instructor gender. Note that student grades are based on centralized exams not graded by the section instructors. The gender bias was driven by evaluations from male students, was strongest in mathematical courses, and was strongest for grad student instructors (there was no gender bias in evaluations of senior faculty). The effect sizes aren’t massive (male students rate female instructors 0.21 standard deviations worse than male instructors on average), but that they’re there at all is depressing. Extra-depressingly, the bias shows up not just in evaluations of the instructors, but also in evaluations of textbooks and other course materials, which of course were identical for all sections of any given course. I skimmed the paper, it looks very solid to me. My only minor complaint is that, like many economics papers, there are no figures for the main results, just big tables of effect size estimates and p-values. Related: Brian’s rant on the uselessness (at best) of student evaluations of faculty teaching. (ht @ShellyJLundberg)

Continuing to depress you (sorry): The US Dept. of Education recently announced that it is revisiting Obama-era rules that threatened to withhold federal funding from colleges and universities that mishandled allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault. I don’t pretend to any wisdom on this, since I only know what I read in news reports and first hand accounts of the handling of particular cases. Even recognizing that it’s only the most poorly-handled cases that are likely to come to public attention, it’s depressing that those reports range from kind of scary to bad to utterly horrifying. (Note that those links include stories of innocent people being punished or put through the wringer, as well as of guilty parties going unpunished while their accusers were ignored or demonized; the latter sorts of cases are surely more common.) I wish I could link to the story of even one case in which a college or university handled a case of sexual harassment or assault well, just to offer a bit of hope or some positive examples that other institutions could follow, but I can’t. It just always seems to be institutions trying to protect themselves from whatever they see as they biggest threat to themselves. And I wish I could link to some ideas on how to change that, but I can’t. If anyone can point to ideas or reporting that offer any reason for hope on this front, please do share them.

This week in syllabus Easter eggs. Previously. 🙂

And finally:


I’m torn between All You Zombies, For Science, and 4’33”. Share yours in the comments! No promises I won’t make fun of your taste in “music”, tho. Said the guy who still likes The Hooters. 🙂

17 thoughts on “Friday links: syllabus puppies, job talk entrance music, and more

  1. Just came from my entomology lecture, and I got asked several questions I didn’t know the answer to. So I’m tempted to say “Rocket Man”: “And all this science I don’t understand/It’s just my job five days a week”. But probably too obvious!

    • Re: too obvious picks, I’m probably guilty of that with “For Science”.

      Now I’m waiting for someone to pick “She Blinded Me With Science”, for an astronomer to pick “Why Does the Sun Shine?”, for a zoologist to pick “Mammal”, etc.

      • The other obvious song would be Guided by Voices’ “I Am A Scientist” though further claiming “I am an incurable and nothing else behaves like me” and “I am a pharmacist, prescriptions I will fill you, potions, pills, and medicines to ease your painful lives” is unlikely to get you the job.

      • “For Science” is a guy offering to “kiss the girl from Venus” and become her “love slave” for science. That also would be unlikely to get you the job. 🙂

        And then there’s Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science”. “She blinded me with science/And failed me in biology” Another obvious choice probably best avoided.

        They Might Be Giants has a whole album of science songs to pick from that would probably go over better with a seminar audience. 🙂

      • A slightly offbeat pick that could work, especially for a nuclear physics job talk: Timbuk 3’s “Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades”:

        Studying nuclear science, I love my classes
        I got a crazy teacher, he wears dark glasses
        Things are going great, and they’re only gettin’ better
        Yeah, I’m doing alright, gettin’ good grades
        My future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades

        Though it would take some guts to walk up to the podium wearing dark glasses while this was playing. 🙂

        EDIT: just remembered that you’d want to cut the song off before the line about “I’m a peeping Tom with x-ray eyes”.

  2. I taught a first year bio course for non-scientists in our university TV studio last year. There were students in the studio (Biology 1102 was performed before a live audience…) and at home (video on demand). I had thematically appropriate theme music to preface each lecture. I can forward a list of tracks if you like….

  3. At ESA this year, one of my slides had a video of some protists and bacteria swimming around and I forgot that I had previously added a fun soundtrack to it (because why not…). I also didn’t realize that the room’s computer was hooked up to the sound system, so the audience was briefly treated to a György Ligeti piece while I clumsily fumbled around with the volume. Whoops!

  4. I would go with “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” from Nightwish. The title is a quote from the last sentence of Darwins “Origin of Species” and the song is about evolution and “the beauty of nature”.

    • p.s. This may be the most unexpected evolutionary pop cultural reference from our commentariat since a commenter pointed me to a horror film based on the Price equation. (It’s called “W delta Z”).

      Have I mentioned lately how much I love our commenters?

  5. Since I work on (among other things) photoinhibition in plants, I would consider Bruce Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light.”

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