Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Guest Lecture

So I've been asked to give a guest lecture for a class on [male-dominated sub-sub field] and its application to [male-dominated field] and [another, slightly less male-dominated field]. I'm supposed to talk about my own research and how it fits into the grand scheme of the field in which I work. Which is, of course, male-dominated. And the lecture is supposed to be "very technical", as requested by the man who is running the course. Which I interpret to mean "with lots of math". Though I've been working on this stuff for a while, now, and generally feel that I understand what I'm doing, it's been a while since I've had to discuss the theory behind it all, let alone in front of a bunch of posturing Ivy League students. I'm a little bit nervous, to say the least.

It's not that I can't handle the material. I did all the problem sets and exams in [male-dominated field] as an undergraduate and did them well enough to land myself a slot in a top tier graduate program. It's really that I haven't quite shaken the idea that when people see me, they won't buy that I know my stuff. And it's hard to give math intensive lectures. It's hard to write a derivation on the board and not lose track of where you are in your notes, or just make a mistake. When I was an undergrad, I used to get an perverse pleasure out of catching the professors' math mistakes and pointing them out. I must have been a really annoying little prick. And now, I have to stand in front of a room full of annoying little pricks and try to keep track of my notes, while worrying that I'm not being taken seriously. What a nightmare.

Still, it's a good opportunity for me to get more teaching experience. It's one lecture, not the whole semester, and it's material I'm familiar with. At least in theory. Oh, who am I kidding! Why the hell did I say I would do this?


Mike said...

Maybe "very technical" just means that you don't have to pull any punches when you explain the ideas. I don't think math for math's sake is ever very illuminating (well, unless it's a math class). There are lots of great, compelling lectures that a very light on math (for example, Purcell's Life at Low Reynolds Number). If I were a student, I'd be much happier getting clear explanations of big ideas from someone who's working in an exciting field than seeing someone do a lot of complicated integrals or something.

acmegirl said...

You are right, and I have actually revised my approach in that way after beginning work on the lecture. I am bringing up a handful of relevant topics, explaining the theory behind them, and then describing how the stuff actually works in the lab. It also helps that I found out they already covered the most math intensive part of the material I will cover.
And I agree, "Life at Low Reynolds Number" is a classic. It's on my list.