Tuesday, June 29, 2010

fake graduation

I attended my Ph.D. commencement on June 10, 2010.
If it wasn't because my mom suggested that I do it, and that Kumitaa wanted to attend, I wouldn't have bothered with the whole affair.
Nevertheless, I must say that I enjoyed it.
Sitting through the whole event was kind of boring, but it was also quite touching to bask in the enthusiasm and gratification of the 700 graduating graduate students around me. One girl who sat two rows in front of me actually broke down and cried during the event. Her supervisor had to console. I presumed that the grad student was just overwhelmed that she was finally done. I can understand that, though my own emotions were surely much calmer.
My Ph.D. career has been a fortunate and fairly smooth-sailing one. When I began my Ph.D. 4 years ago, I had thought of writing the experience as a memoir. Good thing I was too lazy to execute the plan, for if I did, it would have been a VERY BORING piece of reading. Perhaps due to the lack of drama, I wasn't overly excited by my own graduation.
Well, I haven't graduated yet. Submitting thesis in September, exit seminar in October.
I won't be surprised if by then, I will be overwhelmed by emotions and cry too. If only because Sept will be so unbelievably hectic for me that living through it will be enough drama to compensate for the dull 4 years before.
Thanks to the Malaysians, Hanayo and Fabio who turned up to make me feel like a celebrity on my commencement. Thanks to Jay for making it in time hahaha.
Now let's hope I graduate in September :)

and to Kumitaa: your day will come soon too!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

why a rose?

in your absence,
joy loses its direction.
in your presence,
anguish wins an embrace.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

FRS02-11 Spring 2010

I didn't take a picture of the First-Year Seminar (a.k.a. Freshman Seminar) that I just finished teaching, so here's a illustration of a typical class day. Yes, cellphones (texting) and snoozing in class were weekly antics of my students. I didn't really stop them from doing it...poor students so tired, wanted to sleep then sleep lah. Texting..well, they texted but could still respond to me in class, what could I say to that?!

I really enjoy teaching. At first I was going to TA two introductory biology labs this quarter, but Jay advised me to organize and teach a FYS instead. His point was that I have enough experience teaching, but little experience in organizing a class from scratch. I took his challenge and voila~FRS02-11, Spring 2010 was made.

I shall spare you guys the details of my class. Suffice to say that we learned about animal behavior, its ecology and evolution, how animals cope with challenges with behavioral adaptations. I focused more on theoretical concepts than actual detailed examples. My objectives were primarily: 1. stimulate the students to think of animal behavior in an evolutionary and scientific manner, 2. stimulate interest in the students for behavioral ecology and evolution.

UC Davis offers FYS that cannot be lecture-style. No final exams. Classes need to be as interactive as possible with class discussion almost mandatory. I would like to think that I accomplished all that, and more. My personal challenge was to teach in a purely "Question-driven" manner, something similar to the Socratic method. I tried to restrict my role to just asking questions, and use those questions to guide the students to the answers without giving the answers myself. I was not 100% successful--often I had to drop obvious hints or provide the answers after several questions, in the interest of time. Never had I however, just gave the answers without making the students think and discuss first.

Those were the logistics and academic stuff. I am writing this post for the emotional stuff.

I like my students. I know each of them...somewhat personally. I know their majors, their hobbies, and the reasons they missed classes. I told them quite much about myself too, usually in the several minutes before classes started. They knew that I spend too much time on computer gaming, they knew that I frequent OldTeaHouse, they knew that I like to talk to myself (which I often do in class too 0_0). Over the course of 10 weeks (20 classes = 20 hours total), I found myself 13 new friends, each of whom I cherish very much.

At the end of our last class (2 days ago), I had in my mind a 3-4 minute speech. I wanted to thank them, to tell them what I hoped they had learned and gained, what I got from them, that I was very honoured to have them as students for my last class in UCD, and to wish them all the best. Yet, partially due to my current personal issues, I was a bit too on the edge and I knew that I ran the risk of crying if I talked for >1 minute. Thus, I just told them "Thanks a lot for joining us in this class. I think you guys should be proud to know that you were the students of my last class in UCDavis, and I am very happy to have you guys. I wish you all the best. Thanks." I didn't even look them in the eyes, instead I scanned the floor and my own laptop. Lame, I know.

After that I wrote them an email that more properly conveyed my initial message. Surprisingly, some of them responded with encouraging emails that expressed their appreciation of my effort, and that they enjoyed the class. To say that I experienced instant gratification is an understatement.

In my course of teaching and doing research, I realised that both avenues promise many rewards. However, teaching grants you both instant and long-term satisfaction, whereas research usually hides its rewards behind veils and veils. To see that sparkle in a student's eyes...is to give me satisfaction yet unmatched by any research result I have had (and I have had quite several awesome ones!). More importantly, in my class, I have the opportunity to contribute to my students' well-being right there and then. Research?---heh.

Dear friends of FRS02-11 Spring 2010, I sincerely thank you for everything you have given me. I wish you all the best, and may our paths cross many more times.

-your teacher who forced you to evaluate the probability and reasons that your lover will cheat on you.