The Quote (Revenge Ratings)

Image: Marie Espenido, The Gateway

I don't appear in the media very often. Occasionally, there's a mass email that goes out to Department of Psychology members, asking if anyone with a certain kind of expertise would mind talking to a reporter. A lot of the time, none of us are expert in what they're looking for. More often, you'll see a story on some of great research being done by UAlberta psychology researchers. Want to know the truth about "midlife crisis""? Maybe geographical differences in bird behaviours? Or why snunkoople is funny? Is the psychology of leadership your thing? Effects of screen time on young children?

I've been mentioned in the Gateway once or twice. There was the memorable front-page story about me proposing to my now-wife--in class. (I'm not going to do that ever again...) I also had a little story published in 1989 or 1990 about my experience getting to campus in the middle of a massive snowstorm (called "Black Friday" I believe).

Recently, I was approached by a student who writes for the Gateway. She wanted my opinions on the topic of "revenge ratings", online postings made by disgruntled students that trash their instructors. In particular, the article mentioned and how their policies (and postings) seem to have changed recently.

I had a nice chat with the writer--about 20 minutes long. I thought I had lots of really quotable things to say--but then, I always think that. She ended up using one line of mine in the article, published January 19.It's a good read, if you're interested: Rate My Prof’s “revenge ratings” offer nothing constructive.

Why aren't you studying?

The Sunshine List

You've probably heard that the Government of Alberta has a "sunshine list" that discloses the names and salaries of government employees who make more than $100,000 per year. (This number is indexed to inflation, and is now at $104,754.) The idea behind it is to disclose who is making what, and (presumably) to allow the public to speculate on whether the person receiving their hefty salary is worth it.

The Government, however, now wants to expand the sunshine list to include publicly funded people like doctors. The point of doing this is not clear to me. You can find physicians' fee schedules online. Want to know how much your family doctor is getting to do your annual complete physical? It's in there. Why would you need to know how much they're getting paid per year? What difference does that make to you, as a patient? If a doctor is getting paid more, is that better? Or worse somehow? If they're earning more, that means they're seeing more patients, working longer hours, working more days. The sunshine list data only gives the doctors' billings, it doesn't show what their overhead is. It's the doctors who have to pay their receptionists and nurses, pay the rent, update their equipment. But all you'll see on the sunshine list is their gross, not net, income.

Worse yet, the Government also wants to reveal the salaries of employees of post-secondary institutions. That means--yes--your instructors could find their salaries posted online. I'm okay with seeing how much the higher-ups in central admin are earning. This data has been discussed in the news before; it's not private, confidential information. And if you want to know how much academic staff, support staff, or graduate students make, the salary scales are easily available online (this includes my pay scale, for CAST). True, this data doesn't tell you how much a given individual makes--that depends on the merit increases they have accumulated over their careers, and and "top-up" funds that are often given when hiring academic superstars. But do you need to know how much your chem prof is making? Or your English TA? Do you care? Does it matter? Aren't there other data that are more relevant, like maybe USRIs? Or number of publications?

The Arts Squared blog has pointed out that the legislation contains no rationale for exposing professors' salaries, and that Alberta post-secondary institutions have been chronically underfunded for years. Are profs being overpaid here? Not compared to other universities in Canada: UAlberta (Full Professor, minimum) salaries are a pitiful 17th overall (see section 2)--awfully low for the 5th-ranked university in Canada. (It's also interesting to see how much less lecturers get than full professors.) If you want to shed sunshine on some numbers, it looks like we're substantially underpaid. What's more, some research suggests that sunshine lists will actually end up increasing salaries. (Incidentally, I'm happy with my salary. I love my job, and I'm not complaining. Academics, though, will leave a job if they can get paid more somewhere else. That will end up affecting the quality of teaching and research, and in a bad way.)

To me, it looks like this is a bad case of governmentitis: "Hey, this worked over here! Let's try it over there!" Seeing how much Alberta public servants make is one thing. Applying it outside of public workers makes no sense. There's no good reason for it. In fact, there's no reason for it at all.

Why aren't you studying?

What I Did on my Winter Vacation (2015 edition)

Happy holidays! That is, I hope your holidays were happy. Me? Nothing as exciting as last year. I went through most of November and December with a persistent cold that I couldn’t shake. Congestion, cough, and a sore throat that lasted 6 weeks. Bleah. That’s why these posts have been scarce lately. By Christmas, I was starting to feel (and sound) better.

If it seemed like last term dragged on longer than usual, it did. The new Reading Week prolonged Fall term by 3 days. Not a lot, but enough to notice. It seemed like I went directly from marking term papers to marking exams to prepping for Winter term. Although it was nice to have a break in the middle of term, I think I prefer being done earlier.

Hey, here are some pictures of Quad that I took in late November, coming back to get my car after going to dinner and a concert with some of my friends. Even though there’s no snow, I loved how it looked.

On Christmas Eve, my family was invited to a friend’s house for their annual Christmas party. There was lots of food, a lot of people, and a white elephant gift exchange. Much to our relief, the gift exchange all worked out okay in the end. I got a USB charging station, my elder daughter and wife ended up with the gift cards they wanted, and my youngest daughter stole the big box of chocolates/candies/treats that was one of the gifts we brought--and no one dared to steal it away from her.

A. Lot. Of. Chocolates.

Speaking of treats, some of my wife’s patients gave her boxes chocolates, candies, or cookies for Christmas, which was very generous of them. Um, too generous? I counted 12 boxes--and that doesn’t include the treats we got from my parents, sister-in-law, and Santa, or the two gifts-from-patients that haven’t been unwrapped yet, but sure sound like boxes of chocolates when you shake them. Hey, I do like sweet treats (I handed out over 200 chocolate chip cookies to one of my classes at their final exam last term), but I don’t want to end up in a hyperglycemic coma. These boxes of chocolates (the unopened ones) are going to find good homes, thanks to the Edmonton Food Bank.

Going out to visit friends and share a meal is a usual part of the holidays, and this year was no different. But we also have two birthdays to celebrate--which means going out for special dinners. All that food and lots of sitting around (I’ve barely broken 10,000 steps on my Fitbit in a month) mean that I’m going to resolve to...actually, I don’t make new year’s resolutions. But I better try harder to hit my goal of 10,000 steps a day if I want to fit into my Speedos by summer. (Just kidding about the Speedos. It’s a thong.) (Just kidding about the thong. I go to nudist resorts.)

Amidst the holidays were a couple of disappointments. Our furnace gave out (again). That’s our third inducer motor in 6 years. Grr! Oh, and I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Yes, it was a disappointment. Not just for all the many plot holes, but because it made me feel old, obsolete, and irrelevant--like Han, Leia, and Luke. (Did I mention I also had a birthday over the holidays?) My eldest daughter thoroughly enjoyed it, however. Hmm, maybe it’s time to pass my lightsaber on to the next generation...

Did the Force rock your world? Did you go anywhere exotic over the holidays? Ah, never mind. Keep it to yourself. No one posts comments anyway.

Why aren’t you studying?

The Universal Grade Change Form

Universal Grade Change Form
To: (professor/teacher)__________
I think my grade in your course,__________, should be changed from___to___for the following reason(s) [check all that apply]:
  1. The persons who copied my paper made a higher grade than I did.
  2. The person whose paper I copied made a higher grade than I did.
  3. This course will lower my GPA and I won't get into: 
    __Med School __Law School __Grad School
  4. I have to get an A in this course to balance the F in ___________.
  5. I'll lose my scholarship.
  6. I'm on a varsity sports team and my coach couldn't find a copy of your exam.
  7. I didn't come to class and the person whose notes I used did not cover the material asked for on the exam.
  8. I studied the basic principles and the exam wanted only facts.
  9. I studied the facts and definitions but the exam asked about general principles.
  10. You are prejudiced against: 
    __ Males
    __ Females
    __ Minorities
    __ Poor people
    __ Rich people
  11. If I flunk out of school my father will disinherit me or at least cut my allowance.
  12. I was unable to do well in this course because of : 
    __ mono
    __ acute alcoholism
    __ drug addiction
    __ VD/STD 
    __ broken baby finger
    __ pregnancy
    __ fatherhood
  13. You told us to be creative but you didn't tell us exactly how you wanted that done.
  14. I was being creative and you didn't appreciate it.
  15. Your lectures were: 
    __ too detailed to pick out important points
    __ too boring 
    __ not explained in sufficient detail
    __ all jokes and no material
  16. Some of the questions in your exams were not covered in the lectures.
  17. I was always prepared except for the few times you called upon me in class.
  18. This course was scheduled: 
    __ too early
    __ too late
    __ before gym 
    __ after gym
    __ before lunch
    __ after lunch.
  19. My (dog, cat, gerbil, baby sister, baby brother) (ate, wet on, threw up on) my (book, notes, paper) for this course.
  20. I don't have a reason; I just want a higher grade.
(credit/blame: Ed Reilly )

Why aren't you studying?

The Reading Week Reading List (Fall, 2015)

Welcome to the (new) Fall Term reading week! If you've got all your work done (ha!) and are looking for some good reads, I've got ya covered.

BTW, these are not the books I'm reading this week. These are leftovers from my summer reading list. Wait, that sounds bad--like I'm not reading all the time. I read constantly, either book-books or ebooks or audiobooks. Listening to an audiobook is a great way to make the commute go a lot faster. Time travel? Nope. Psychology!

So, in no particular order...

Thinking, Fast and Slow
This book has been on my to-read list since it came out in 2011. Daniel Kahneman is one of the few psychologists to have won the Nobel prize (in Economic Sciences). He gave a talk at UAlberta a few years ago. Totally worth cancelling my class for. In this book, Kahneman describes his research, which includes behavioural economics, judgment and decision-making, and subjective well-being. Along the way, he generously gives props to his colleague Amos Tversky, who died in 1996. Kahneman's work (and this book) is broadly applicable to everyone--it's not esoteric, inaccessible academic blatherings. Read this if you have a mind and want to know how it works.

The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control
Mischel is best known for his research study that has come to be known as "the marshmallow experiment." You know, put a kid in a room with a marshmallow--if they can resist eating it, they get two marshmallows. Waiting is taken as an index of self-control. Years later, Mischel started to wonder about these kids, and what their lives were like. The follow-up research showed that high self-control is predictive of a staggering array of life outcomes, including increased educational attainment, longer-term marriages, higher incomes, greater career satisfaction, better health, lower incidence of drug use, and more fulfilling lives. Mischel even consulted with Sesame Workshop on the application of his research in episodes of Sesame Street. Mischel describes some good self-control strategies in later chapters.
Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives
Gretchen Rubin is not a scientist...and it shows. I was eagerly waiting for this book, stoked by Rubin's frequent blog posts about the book's progress. Teaching behaviour modification (which includes habits), this book seemed to be right up my alley. Unfortunately, I ended up disappointed by this hot mess of anecdotes and personal stories, with supporting research only tossed in briefly if and when it supports the anecdotes. Looking for a better book on changing your bad habits? Try Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit. Or Jeremy Dean's Making Habits, Breaking Habits. Or even Kelly McGonigal's The Willpower Instinct. Or Roy Baumeister & John Tierney's excellent Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.
We Don't Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy
In my first ever post on this blog, I admitted my fondness for behind-the-scenes director's commentaries. As if there's not enough goodies in the new Blu-ray BTTF set (for the record, that's a triple-dip more me: the third time I've bought Back to the Future discs), this book has loads of interviews with and stories from Bob Gale, Robert Zemeckis, Neil Canton, Dean Cundey, and actor people like Christopher Lloyd, Michael J. Fox, Lea Thompson... It's a love letter to the movies and fans; don't expect a lot of trash talk. Well, maybe a little about Crispin Glover.
Finally, we come to my guilty pleasure read of the summer. (No, the previous book was not a guilty pleasure. What's guilty about it?) Ernest Cline wrote one of my favourite fiction novels of the past few years, so I was hoping for, well, more of the same. I got it--sort of. Once again, it's a book bursting with 1980s pop-culture references to movies, music, and computer games. Just the thing for a middle-aged guy like me. But it's a bit harder to justify some of the more implausible twists when the characters are not in a "game-world," but are in the "real world." Not as much a page-turner as Ready Player One, but it was an okay summer read. Even I have to turn my brain function down to "low" sometimes.

What have you been reading lately?

Why aren't you studying?

The Cheeps

I've got a bunch of items, but none of them deserve an entire blog post because they're too short. If only there were some way of sharing these. Maybe I can create a new kind of social network for these--call it "Chrpr," and people can sent out "cheeps". I'll work on it. In the meantime...

  • A big WELCOME to the Department of Psychology's new Faculty Lecturer, Karon Dragon! She will be teaching courses like intro psych (PSYCO 105), personality, and clinical psychology. We've been trying to hire someone for this position for years, and we're very glad Karon is joining us. (Interesting personal connection: I went to high school and university with her husband, and we still keep in touch!)
  • I had to get a new ONECard, because I just noticed that mine expired. In 2012. (My account hadn't expired, just the card. I could still use it to check out library books, but I would have been in trouble if I had tried to use it to take the LRT.) If the card expired in 2012, that means I got it in 2007. That explains why, in the photo, I had a lot less gray hair.
  • Speaking of 2007, it's been a long, long time since a provincial budget came out that didn't make me worry about my job. Cuts to the Campus Alberta grant reversed? Check. Tuition freeze? Check. I'm just waiting to see what the "trickle-down" to Faculties and Departments will be.
  • Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Right to Strike is fundamental to the collective bargaining process and is constitutionally protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Why is this relevant? Under the Alberta government's Post-Secondary Learning Act (PSLA), staff associations (like the UofA's AASUA and NASA) do NOT have the right to strike. Our new government is going to have to make legislative changes by March 31, 2016. (Not that I ever want to go on strike. Or be locked out.)
  • Speaking of acrimony about contracts... There was a letter to the Gateway in September that claimed, "It’s...the first year in our history that the Fall academic term has begun without a contract between professors and administration." What the--? Shocking, right? (There was, as usual, a bunch of crap in the comments section like, "These professors who have no motivation to excel without raises and bonuses should look into changing professions." Sure. Try to hire top-notch people in a field and promise them no raises. Go ahead. Try.) Don't worry everypony, your instructors still have a contract in place with the University. According to the AASUA, the old contract doesn't "expire," it just continues to be applied--but there are no cost-of-living increases or changes to anything like benefits. A bigger problem is that many AASUA members were due raises in July, which are being withheld by the University until all the disputes surrounding negotiations are resolved. This may take a while, as there are grievances and lawsuits flying back and forth. President Turpin has yet to comment on this situation, which is disappointing.
  • The Department of Psychology, as you may know, is in both the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Science. This is awfully confusing for students, and it necessitates a lot of work on several fronts. For example, the Department Chair has to sit though two rounds of FEC (Faculty Evaluation Committee) meetings, which take up a huge amount of time. This is particularly relevant this year, as our current Chair, Prof. Jeff Bisanz, is ending his term and we will be searching for a new Chair. The position is much less appealing with such a high workload. That's why there's a discussion underway about "consolidation": moving the Department to a single Faculty (either Arts or Science). This is the third time that this issue has been examined in the past decade or so. Don't freak out: if it does happen, it would be years away, and you'll still be able to get a BA or BSc in Psychology. However, not all professors are keen to change Faculties.
  • Did you know there's a reading week this term, for the first time ever? Here's a tip: don't put off all your studying and paper-writing until then. You won't get it all done. Your SU proposed this week as a breather to help ease the stress and improve mental health. If you pull all-nighters and wear yourself down, you'll only make things worse.
Why aren't you studying?

The Edmonton Comic and Entertainment Expo (2015 edition)

This past weekend was an important event for my people: The Edmonton Comic & Entertainment Expo. As usual, I had my weekend "Celebrity Fast Pass" and was ready to get my geek on!

Stan Lee was there. I mean, Stan Lee. He's very funny. No, I'm not going to qualify that with "for his age." He's just a funny guy. To create so many alliterative character names (including Fin Fang Foom), he must have a pretty good sense of humour.
A very small Stan Lee.
Autographed, NIP.

But, it's just...the con (sorry, I can't help but call it that) was a bit disappointing this year. To ensure you get a Fast Pass, you have to buy it months before most of the guests are announced, so you have to hope there will be a lot who you want to see. And this year? Yeah, not so much.

I mean, look at the guests at the Salt Lake Comic Con, also held this past weekend: Chris Evans! Anthony Daniels! Walter Koenig! Marina Sirtis! Richard Hatch! James & Oliver Phelps! Felicia Day! Maurice LaMarche! Tress MacNeille! (Shame on you if you don't know the last two. Gasp! Call yerself a nerd?) And more!

It was nice that the Edmonton Expo took over the whole, er, Edmonton Expo Centre this year for the first time. That must've cost. And the weak Canadian dollar isn't helping. But when you see amazing things happening down the road at the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo (Aliens reunion! ST: TNG reunion!), you gotta wonder. After getting past the "big names" of Stan Lee, and Michael Dorn (trivia: has played his Star Trek character more times that anyone else in the Trek universe), I wasn't too excited. I don't have a lot of time to watch TV, so I didn't really know most of the media guests. Yeah, I went to interesting panels by Natalia Tena and Jenna Coleman--but I don't even watch Game of Thrones or Doctor Who. (Gasp! Call yerself a nerd?) No, I don't watch those shows. Hey, having two demanding kids, a demanding job, and a demanding wife takes a lot of my time. Like, a lot a lot.

Did you know it was also Alumni Weekend this past weekend? When the University of Alberta puts on an insane number of "homecoming" (the American term) activities? Like, say, special 25-year reunions of the graduating class of 1990? Which is when I got my B.Sc. But, more importantly, it was also when my wife graduated med school. Dilemma: Comic con weekend is the same weekend as my wife's reunion. Unless I want the locks on my house changed, it's no contest: I will leave the comic expo (um, right after Stan Lee's panel), swap my con lanyard for a reunion lanyard, and be arm candy for my demanding wife at her reunion dinner held at the Royal Mayfair Golf Club. I know: tough life. (BTW: No, I didn't go to my reunion events. I literally don't know anyone else who graduated in 1990.)
My wife with a couple of other doctors.
(My wife is the one in the middle.)

Did I mention a demanding job? So while waiting in line at the comic expo, during lulls in panels, and during the hors d'oeuvres at my wife's reunion, I madly checked and answered emails. See, there was an assignment due Monday, and a few students had questions. A few. Like, 52. Not that I was counting. My phone did that for me.

Did I mention two demanding kids? I nabbed a couple of sweet MLP scarves for my daughters (Derpy and Rainbow Dash). (No, I did not name my daughters after ponies. I bought my daughters scarves with the cutie marks of Derpy and Rainbow Dash on them. Clear?) There was much of the squealing and the hugging and celebrating of the Daddy when I got home. As for myself, well...there was this comic that caught my eye. (I know, right? An actual comic at a comic con!) Sandman #1, signed by Neil Gaiman himself. (Don't tell my wife. Srsly.) Sadly, Neil wasn't at the con. Now that would have been swoon-inducing. Maybe next year?
The Sandman #1. Signed by Neil Gaiman.
Quest complete.

Although there was "free" Celebrity Fast Pass swag to be had, I'm going to be keeping it this year. There was a nifty T-shirt (that actually fit me for once), a bag (as always, but nicer this year), and a pair of...socks. That, right. Socks. Is that some kind of message to nerd-dom? You. Need. Fresh. Socks. I'm keeping them. I may even wear them, you know, ironically.

Selfie time!

Did you go to the Comic Expo? Did you wear a costume? Did you email me questions about your self-management project from the Comic Expo? (I did bump into one student who recognized the bathroom. This is what it is like being a very, very, very, very minor celebrity.) Excelsior!

Why aren't you studying?

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