Atoms and Molecules – A Child’s Guide to Chemistry

June 27, 2012 at 2:22 pm | | literature, science and the public, teaching

My labmate wrote a chemistry book for children … and his daughter did the illustrations. It succinctly describes atoms, orbitals, bonding, molecules, and biomolecules.

I highly recommend it.

great science fairs

February 27, 2008 at 8:31 am | | science and the public, science@home, teaching

Some great science fair projects here:


Runner-up would be electroworms.

stipends changing

July 19, 2007 at 9:07 am | | grad life, stipends, teaching

Charles has been posting his calculations about graduate student pay partially because he is moving and partially because our department has recently had a clandestine change in the pay policy for teaching assistants (TAs).

From the plots below, you can see that, over the last few years, while a TA position pays more or the same one year to the next, the pay increase above the base research assistant (RA) stipend has been decreasing. (HTA and ATA are two different types of non-first-year grad student TAs.)

stipends_real.JPG stipends_ratio.JPG

The real reason for this is that, in 2007-2008, graduate student TAs will now be paid less by their PIs during the quarter they are teaching. And, because our Department Chair went to bat for the students to the University, TAs will be paid above the minimum rate.

It actually makes sense that a PI shouldn’t have to pay his teaching students as much, and that the department should pick up the tab. But that’s not the way Stanford Department of Chemistry has done it in the past. I suspect we’re now in line with how most other schools pay TAs.

Motivated by unhappy granting agencies and an auditing University administration, the faculty decided to fix the students-being-paid-more-than-100% issue by, effectively, paying TAs less.

Frustrated grad students have been reacting to rumors of this happening for the last few months, and then it sorta happened while our back was turned.

Personally, I think it makes sense that a PI not pay a student full-time while he or she is TAing (on top of paying the student’s full tuition and overhead on the stipend)—I don’t want my PI spending more time working on grants. And students should TA for the sake of TAing, not for the extra pay itself. But it’s alway too bad when the University, the Department, and the Faculty make decisions that negatively affect student without even warning them of the impending change, or without explaining the reasons for what feels like a pay cut.

Who’s on First?

January 29, 2007 at 9:27 am | | grad life, teaching

A modern day “Who’s on first,” that most lab teachers have experienced…. attributed to “Unknown” on the internet.

    TA: What went on in this lab?
    Student: What do you mean?
    TA: What did you do in this lab?
    Student: Lab 3.
    TA: And what did you do in lab 3?
    Student: We measured the result.
    TA: Assume I’ve never seen this lab before, and you’re going to explain it to me. What would you say?
    Student: (pause) Well, it was all about getting the slope.
    TA: The slope of what?
    Student: The slope of the plot.
    TA: I know that, but you have to assume I’ve never heard of this lab, ok? How would you explain what you did?
    Student: We got the wires and measured at each point.
    TA: Measured what?
    Student: What the meter said.
    TA: (pause) Look. Your report tells me nothing; this could be an experiment about baking cakes. What’s this number here?
    Student: 5.
    TA: Yes I KNOW it’s 5. What did it measure?
    Student: The slope. Of the line.
    TA: What line?
    Student: The line. On the plot. We measured the points and plotted them.
    TA: Why?
    Student: (knowing smile) Because that’s what the lab said.
    TA: If I was a total stranger, how would you explain this to me?
    Student: You just connect it up–
    TA: Connect WHAT up?
    Student: The circuit.
    TA: Why?
    Student: I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re asking.
    TA: I’m asking: what is this lab all about?
    Student: Well, we put in the wires and got 5.
    TA: 5 what?
    Student: The slope.
    TA: WHAT was it’s slope?
    Student: 5.
    TA: I KNOW that, but what was it a measurement of?
    Student: The meter.
    TA: (sigh) One more time — consider me a total stranger. How would you explain this to me?
    Student: You just put on the wires and vary the dial until you get the readings.
    TA: What dial?
    Student: On the power supply.
    TA: Why was there a power supply?
    Student: Well, for the circuit.
    TA: And what readings are you talking about?
    Student: The readings in the plot.
    TA: They gave you a plot in the lab manual?
    Student: I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re asking.
    TA: Where did the plot come from?
    Student: We drew it.
    TA: From what?
    Student: From the experiment.
    TA: The experiment about what?
    Student: About lab 3.

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