Saturday, December 14, 2013

What I do for a living?

I have always been interested in learning more about what you do for a living. It doesn’t matter what field you belong to, whether you work for money, work from home, or work in the weekends. I’d love to know what one random day in your work life looks like. By you, I mean anyone in this world, from any location, who might be reading this. When I browse through LinkedIn profile of friends and contacts, I sometimes understand what they do, but most of the times, I do not. I get stuck in jargon. I don’t understand the matlab (meaning) of MATLAB. P2P networking to me means peer-to-peer networking for professionals. Data architecture makes me think of the architecture of European cities.

            If we had to explain to an eight year old about what we do, what would we say? If we had to leave behind all the heavy duty jargon, how would we explain what we do? If we had to get creative and draw on a postcard what we do, what would we draw? It seems like a fun, but challenging project. I think that writing about one’s work in simplified words actually requires a lot of thinking, processing, and strong communication skills. As a writer, who writes for the academic crowd, I know how tempting it could be to get lost in the complexity of ideas when you write. Yet the simple and most eloquent writings are the ones that have been well-thought, structured, and have come from writers with years of practice.

So what do I do for a living?

I teach teachers how to teacher better.

What are my work tools I play with?

A computer. Lots of books. Lots of data analysis software, both statistical and qualitative. A notepad. A pen. My brain. And a lot of creative ideas.

And what does a random workday look like for me?

            Well, I do a lot of discrete things. Let me choose one in particular that might interest you. J I’ll try to leave out any academic jargon.

            I watch 10-12 hours of videos every week. Imagine having a big computer screen and Bose headphones at work, and the fun of watching movies every day, and being paid for it. I watch and score 8-10 videos every week. These are graduate level or undergraduate level science courses that professors across the US teach. Someone records these lectures and sends them to me. Sometimes, I go to these classes, camera and tripod in hand, and record them myself.
            Every morning, the first thing I get to work, I plug on my earphones, and watch these videos. Sitting in one place makes me restless, so I munch on puffed rice while I watch. Buttered popcorn would be great, but I figured out that puffed rice is healthier. I am not kidding when I say that I have multiple containers of puffed rice stocked up at my desk.

            These videos are anywhere between an hour to two hours long. I note everything they say, everything they do (or do not do), even how many times they say, “Do you have any questions?” After I am done, I score their teaching. There is a set protocol for this that contains 25-30 questions, with five different scales for each question. I score them, and so do others in my team. Then we sit together and discuss our ratings, and their justification. Sometimes, our ratings match, and sometimes, they do not. That is why I take detailed notes about what is being done in class. We discuss our ratings all the more when they do not. This recalibrates the way we see things when we score the next video.

            We do statistical analyses on our scores to see how effective teachers teach, and what good teachers do to make their classes more effective (and enjoyable). I moved to the US for my PhD, and always wondered how undergraduate courses were taught. Now, I know it all. I have watched videos for every science subject from all over the US- chemistry, biology, physics, astronomy, biochemistry, you name it. Isn’t that wonderful? It is like sitting in classes and not having to pay tuition. And then at the end of the class, you get to say what was good and what was not so good about the class.

            Of course I explained things in a simplified way, and it involves more that sitting with food and enjoying a video. Every minute of what you watch is important. You cannot doze off in the middle of a boring class. I have grown so addicted to watching class lectures that I feel that something is amiss in my weekends.

            Care to share a snippet from what your work looks like, in a simplified way, so that even a child can understand what you do? If you write about it, do share the link with me.



Rakhi said...

All i can say that your field of research is inspiring and on some days I contemplate getting a PhD anew, start afresh on exactly some such breakaway field. Sighhhhh!
Wish you all the best with your work.

Ruminating Optimist said...

Interesting question. It is really difficult for me to answer that question in simple language, without using any jargon. But will try this one for sure :)