University of Guelph

The PSA, the compact and me (on parental leave)

I’m a little hot under the collar this morning. The University of Guelph Professional Staff Association (PSA) has just negotiated a new compact with the University. We’ve been without an agreement since May 1, 2010. A meeting, to share and then ratify the agreement, is scheduled for January 17th at 11am. I am, however, on parental leave. And, from an email I received earlier today, there are no accommodations for those PSA members who can’t, for whatever reason, make the meeting:

You will need to attend the meeting to hear the major points of the new Compact and to vote. Unfortunately there will be no proxy voting.


So now, to have the opportunity to hear about the new compact and vote on it, I’ll first have to decide that I want to take the time to come to the University while the primary care-giver to my son. I’m not the only other PSA member on parental leave and, if true, this is a somewhat surprising lack of accommodation for those PSA members who are off on leave.

That being said, the PSA constitution and by-laws does list (Article IV, rule #6) that “there shall be no voting by proxy at either General or Annual Meetings of the PSA”. Since this is the case, I’m left wondering how the PSA will support me being able to come to the meeting to vote. Given the by-law on meetings, I would expect that there are plans and support in place to allow as many members to take part in the ratification vote as possible.

We shall see.

Daily Photo

Do You Have This One?


Do You Have This One?, originally uploaded by Corbeau du Nord.

Setting my 91-year-old grandfather up on his new iPad.


Faceless many to important individual

No bull, cow escapes slaughterhouse and hoofs it through Queens:

The gallivanting hay-eater’s Houdini attempt apparently paid off. City officials said the animal – who they named Molly – will be headed for greener pastures.

“We will find it a home,” said Richard Gentles of the city Animal Care and Control. “We’re starting to reach out to farm sanctuaries.”

Not saying anything that hasn’t been said before, but it is interesting to note that when livestock escapes from abattoirs, something about it qualities change: rather than a member of the herd, it becomes an individual. In that moment, we seem compelled to treat it morally as a different object.


Letting the jobs come to you

Creative Commons License photo credit: jypsygen

The academic hiring season is going to start ramping up soon. If you’re new to the whole process, it pays to spend a little preparation time before the season starts so that you have to spend as little time as possible on finding and applying to positions when things begin in earnest. Trust people when they say that searching and applying is like a job in-and-of-itself and inevitably, you won’t have as much time as you want to dedicate to the task. So anything to streamline the process is a good thing.

I’m concentrating on the finding jobs part in this post. For my own academic job search, I found that searching for positions can be quite time consuming so I took the philosophy that I wanted the jobs to come to me. The underlying philosophy is push vs. pull. When you go out looking for a job in a paper, you’re “pulling” that information. It requires that you search the job ad out; more importantly it also means that you are spending time searching even if there isn’t a job you could apply for inside the paper. “Pushing”, not surprisingly, is the opposite. It’s about the job ad coming to you, much like a friend that connects you to a job they heard about.

I used three web-based services, two in conjunction, to help me: Google alerts, my RSS reader and a web page to RSS feed converter.

Google alerts

Once set-up, Google will send you an email containing the web pages that it has found containing the search terms you’ve provided. I had two alerts set-up last year:

“environmental studies” “tenure track” and “environmental education” “tenure track”

The same Google-fu you use for crafting your searches come into play here. So, I sent Google out to look for pages that had the terms tenure track (not just tenure or track, but both; that’s what the quotation marks do) and my two fields, environmental ed and environmental studies. I then chose what kind of notification worked best (Google can send hits immediately; I settled for daily).

Since setting these up in August 2010, I’ve received 185 emails directing me to pages with tenure-track and environmental studies and 10 emails for my environmental education search. Most were positive hits: ads for tenure-track jobs. Some results are false-positives. Most recently, for example, I got a link to a page trumpeting a University president’s record of starting an environmental studies program and the plans to hire new tenure-track faculty. Not exactly a job ad, but potentially interesting information none-the-less.

RSS reader & web page to RSS converter

Many web pages have a RSS feed that you can subscribe to using a RSS reader (e.g. Google Reader). I like subscribing to feeds because it means I can consolidate my attention in one place: visit my RSS reader once, and every new item since I last visited will appear. No need to visit all the blogs I’m interested in following individually.

Many departmental or faculty hiring sites lack an RSS feed. This typically means you need to bookmark the site and remember to visit it often enough that if a position is posted, you notice. Frustratingly inefficient. Thankfully, the web service Page2RSS can  help here. Rather than bookmarking a hiring site, I simply turned it into an RSS feed, then added it to my reader. When new positions were posted, I saw them appear in my reader. Page2RSS even will send you a tweet. Many disciplines have an aggregate listing of jobs (see the CAG job listing, for example). Page2RSS is perfect to set up this webpage as an RSS feed that will deliver new jobs to you, as they’re posted.

There can be a bit of “noise” with this method: any changes to the site will get pushed as an update. So if a department updates a news widget, you might get notification of that. On the whole, however, I found it to be of enough value that I didn’t mind the extra noise. It’s especially valuable when a site doesn’t offer to email you when new jobs are posted.

Job aggregation sites

A strategy that I didn’t mention as part of my web-based services but equally helpful are the job alerts that some (University Affairs being a notable exception) sites allow you to subscribe to. I’ll use the Chronicle of Higher Education job section as the example, though different sites offer similar services. After signing up for an account, you can set-up a job alert, which will send you an email when a job is posted that matches your search criteria. These sites are a rich source, which is why I wanted to mention them. No special hocus-pocus, however, in getting them to work. Register, subscribe and you’re getting job postings right away.


Would shutting Riverdale farm be a good thing?

Creative Commons License photo credit: vasta

So there is talk in shutting down Riverdale Farm in Toronto as a cost-savings measure (insert reference to gravy here). 2500 of the concerned have taken to Facebook to “Save the Riverdale Farm“. I’m feeling a bit ambivalent about this. On one hand, we have less and less contact with the animals that are responsible for the flesh we eat and modified sweat we consume. So if urbanites can see those animals and make the connection between the disembodied grocery store and a living, breathing organism, that’s a good thing. Is it a better world, however, if these animals weren’t kept at all?

“But,” I hear, “they’re domesticated animals.” How does that change the argument, though?


Somewhere in between tweets and my long-form blogging

Oh hai! Metapost here!

I’ve decided that I’m going to work at adding a few more posts here and there that fall somewhere in between tweets and what has emerged as my approach to blogging here, which is distinctly longer form.

My macro-blogging posts meant I updated infrequently (having to build up my psychic energy). Tweets have certainly taken over my micro-blogging practice and I have something of a constant stream (look at the sidebar for recent updates). I’m going to aim for meso-blogging posts, just like the one I just added: clocking in at 171 words, I should be able to add a few more of these in the same time-frame as my macro-blog posts. Anyway. That is all.



Email signatures

Mail signature
Creative Commons License photo credit: Peter Van Lancker

Email signatures are helpful, but not necessary all the time (like do your colleagues really need to know who you are for the umpteenth time?). I streamline my emails by not having a default email signature. When I do send an email to someone who I expect could use the context provided by my signature, I add it in.


Auto text expansion. By attributing _wsig as the trigger, I can type these five characters in my email and up pops this:

Gavan Watson, PhD | Educational Developer, Teaching Support Services

206 Day Hall, University of Guelph, Guelph ON. N1G 2W1.

Phone: +1 (519) 824-4120 x56856 | Fax: +1 (519) 821-8530 | Twitter: @guelphTA | Facebook: TAing at Guelph | Web:

Auto text signatures have the benefit of being program agnostic: I can add the same signature to my work email or my gmail account. Type once, use everywhere.

Now a Mac user, I purchased TypeIt4Me (and use and like). As a Windows user, I used the free version of PhraseExpress.

Educational Development

Playing with the episteme of educational development at STLHE 2011

dε noms d'oısεaux . .
Creative Commons License photo credit: jef safi (writing)

I’ve spent the past three days in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan as a participant at the 2011 iteration of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) conference (theme: From Here to the Horizon: Diversity and Inclusive Practice in Higher Education). It has been, in a word, great. This educational development gig is a new one for me and beyond getting settled in the day-to-day-ness of my job, I’ve spent considerable time thinking & reflecting (on a larger intellectual scale) about just what I do. The sessions I’ve attended through the pre-conference workshops and the conference proper have, unexpectedly, coalesced my thinking about some of the approaches I take and just what I do as an educational developer.


Introducing Lonán Peter William Watson

Well, I’m happy to officially announce that after 291 days in development (and 11 days past his due date), Lonán Peter William Watson made his grand extra-uterine debut last night, May 28, 2011, arriving at 10:30 pm and weighing in at 8 lbs. 5 oz. As you would expect, Heather and I couldn’t be full of more excitement or more pleased with his arrival.

Labour was long, and tough at times. Heather worked though it like I know someone with her strength would.

Heather has already decided that he has my ears.

The meaning of Lonán is Blackbird



PATH 2011 Keynote

I was in Toronto a week ago as a participant for what was a great conference on supporting and assisting graduate student development. As I’m want to do, I live-tweeted the keynote. Dr. Doug Peers’ talk turned out to be a really interesting and spot-on critique of the way that graduate school gets done today. I spent some time today piecing together Peers’ keynote using my, and other conference-goers tweets. A read through the document will provide an overview of just some of the issues facing Canadian graduate students and graduate programs today.