How Not To Suck, Teaching Your First Class

A few nights ago, one of my teaching assistants (TAs, for short) was in my office, bawling. Crying, sweating, shaking, and a nervous wreck. She asked me if she could close my door to my office, which usually means some stuff is about to go down.

first day jitters

(Photo courtesy of

A little background on me – I have taught Biology at the university for seven years. I’ve taught over 11,000 students. I’ve mentored over 150 TAs. Every week of lab, I teach the first lab of the day, and model to the new TAs how to teach. I’m pretty good at it now. I thought this TA seemed a little nervous, but I didn’t know she was in meltdown-mode.

How to Change Your Schedule to Get Important Projects Done


Sometimes, when I feel overwhelmed with work, I get kinda snippy with the people around me. People keep asking me to do things, but I barely have time to eat or even shower!16c2d00

I remember, when I was completing my dissertation, I would often be a real jerk at home (there’s some honest reflection). I had so many things to do. And not enough time or energy to do all the stuff I wanted. My brain was fried. I wanted to just zone out, and watch TV. Why did people keep asking me to do stuff, when I was already so busy?

The One Trick for Completing a Dissertation That No One Tells You

There are plenty of advice articles out there on how to complete a dissertation. Articles that tell you to plan your day with working on your dissertation first. Articles that say you should spend at least 25 minutes each day writing, instead of reading. Articles that tell you how to deal with such a large project. But one piece of advice I never hear given is creating a “Dissertation Swipe File.” A Dissertation Swipe File is a folder on your computer where you keep the best dissertations that you’d like to remember for examples of “what to do right.”

Creating a -Dissertation Swipe File-

When I was writing my dissertation, I had thousands of articles that I read. I kept them all organized using Zotero. Zotero is a bibliographic manager that is free (yay!!!), easy to use, and has a Word plugin so you can manage your references easily, as you write. By the end of my dissertation, I had 307 references. Most of those were journal articles. A few were books, webpages, and other peoples’ dissertations. Other people’s dissertations are what I want to talk about here.

“Biology With Technology” Podcast is Coming!

One of my goals for 2015 is to create a series of podcasts called “Biology With Technology.” I’m going to answer questions I’m often asked about creating quality biology curriculum on the go, using technology so that students can take their learning with them on the phones, tablets, and laptops, and how to create digital content to supplement your current curriculum. I’ve been taking a podcasting course by John Lee Dumas over at over winter break. I think I’m ready! So be on the lookout for that in the next few weeks!

“When I was young, I observed that nine

Embracing a Growth Mindset

I have always believed that I can do anything, if I put my mind and energy into that thing.

When I was 17, I wanted to be done with high school. Don’t all kids face the feelings of wanting to quit? (Has anyone ever graduated from high school? Of course!) I just hadn’t done it – yet.

When I was in undergrad, I wanted to be done with college. I told my mom I wanted to take a break from college, and work as a waitress for a semester. She told me no – if I took a break, I’d likely not go back. (Has anyone ever graduated from college, despite wanting to take a break? Of course!) I just had not done it – yet.

When I decided to move to the Mexican border, to take a job teaching, despite never teaching before, I was scared. (Has anyone ever crossed the country, chasing their dreams? Of course!) I just hadn’t done it – yet.

When I wanted to change the way my high school was run, I chose to go back to school to get a Master’s. (Has anyone ever gotten a Master’s while teaching full time? of course!) I just hadn’t put in the time – yet.

When I saw the opportunity to get a doctorate, despite not believing I was that smart, that knowledgeable, or able to write that well, I questioned my sanity. With each challenge that doctorate brought in front of me – staying in school despite having complications with my diabetes, having a new baby at home, being a single parent, working full time, writing a dissertation – I thought about giving up. (Has anyone ever gotten a doctorate, despite being faced with immeasurable challenges? Of course!) I just hadn’t figured out how – yet.

Carol Dweck did a TED Talk about “The power of believing that you can improve.”

Some people have a fixed mindset – “This is all I’m ever going to be able to know.” They are stuck when they uncover a problem they don’t know how to fix.  They are “gripped in the tyranny of now” – I don’t know how to do it now, so I’ll never know how to do it. Other people, like me, have an “improvement  mindset,” or a “growth mindset” where, I may not know how to do it now, but I know I can figure it out. Let me give you two examples….

5 Simple Sleep Hacks to Get Better Grades in College

I’ve been thinking a lot about sleep lately. It is winter break from school, and so I’ve been staying up later, and waking up at odd times, to accommodate my son’s schedule. I am not usually a good sleeper – I’m one of those people whose mind races the minute they lay down – but I’m usually in a pretty good routine of going to sleep right after I put my son in bed, and getting up a half hour before he has to be up for school/camp. All of that has been blown over the last two weeks. I also cut my cable, so I lost the two clocks (on the two cable boxes) in my house that I regularly look at. It’s on my to-do list to go buy a few clocks. Since I have no idea what time it is, I’m not getting much done, and that makes me frustrated.

5 Simple Sleep Hacks to Get Better

My Routine Helps Me Be Productive

When do you feel most productive? Because of my routine, I am usually pretty productive in the mornings. I have noticed, since I’ve been off my routine, however, that I’m not getting a whole lot done. I’m not going many places, just laying around with my son. I’ve been starved for a nap in the afternoon, I’m sluggish when I get home from work (and just want to lay on the couch and play Bejeweled), and I don’t want to go to the gym (something I usually LOVE, because it’s my podcast/run time).

Most research shows that we don’t get enough sleep, and our deficit is seriously hurting our productivity, our physical health, even our mental well being. I know this is true for me – if I don’t snooze, I lose. When sleep deprived, I am cranky, feel very emotional, my body hurts, and I don’t get anything done. I have accepted that I need 9 – 10 hours a night, and I plan for it. I know people who exist on 5 – 6 hours of sleep – that is not me. I’d be a zombie….