Saturday, August 25, 2012

culture clash or what?

Since a few months I have a new colleague in my office: smart guy, very focused and concentrated, but always nice and friendly. Somebody you can chat with for 5 minutes and then go back to work. 
All seemed well and the sun was shining innocent in our office and no one expected the thunder storm that recently broke out - or at least I didn't!
A PhD student and I had a discussion in our office while NewColleague was there and suddenly NewColleague switched on his music. At first I thought that was not on purpose, but he didn't stop the music after a few seconds. So I thought, that might be a "hint" that our discussion is disturbing him and I asked him about it, but he negated - twice! So I told him, that his music is actually disturbing us and if he could switch it off. Ooohhh, totally wrong move! He just went so crazy, telling me in a very aggressive way, that there are rules - internationally accepted rules! - for offices and people should stick to them. But he of course could not make people stick to these rules and yes, sometimes discussions turn out to be longer than expected, but still... one has to stick to the rules. And if a discussion takes longer than 15 min, one should leave the office for that, there are meeting rooms and coffee shops for these occasions,.... . 
I couldn't make out his point from what he was saying, because he never said, that we are actually disturbing him. He just went on about internationally accepted rules and that he sticks to them. I told him several times during his speech that in case I'm disturbing him, he must tell me that. But he didn't! And as I thought it was very rude of him to "educate" me in front of my PhD student, I was not willing to follow his un-spoken wish. Instead I turned around after he was finished and continued my discussion. He interrupted us once more to continue his speech and after that I again turned around and continued talking to my PhD student. And finally then he managed to say, that we are disturbing him and we should leave the office - what we then did.
The temperature in the office dropped by a few degrees.
A few days later the discussion continued, after I - not very diplomatic, I know - reminded him of his internationally accepted rules, after he had a discussion in the office, which exceeded the magical 15 minutes. There was nobody else in the office at that time and he got so mad at me, interrupting half of my sentences, was offended, when I asked him to repeat something, because I didn't understand it through all the anger,... .
I offered that we could set up some rules together with the other colleagues in the office, but he said, that's not necessary, because I am the only problem in the office. As I did not agree to his point of view, he decided, that it's a waste of time talking to me and dropped out of the discussion.
The temperature dropped below freezing temperature and there it is.
I know that I could have been much more perceptive in this situation and could have stopped the escalation of the topic. But if I would have given in, while my PhD student was there, I would have lost my standing with both of them - and the situation was just to surprising and ridiculous and rude!

I'm not sure where NewColleagues sudden emotional release came from. I never had any problems in the various offices I worked in and none of my "older" colleagues ever mentioned, that I'm disturbing them.

Three theories:
1) It's a woman-man problem, as I'm the only woman in the office and NewColleague has a problem to fit in his big Ego into the same room with a woman, without being accepted as superior right away.
2) It's a culture problem, as he comes from an Asian country, where people are maybe not used to being direct, when they feel disturbed. From his point of view being direct might be impolite and so he sent subtle signals to express his discomfort. I, on the other hand, don't have the sensing abilities to deal with this, as I never needed them - this might as well explain, why my other colleagues never said something so far, as they come from Asian countries as well ( that's a very generalized statement, of course)
3) I am an unpolite and rude person and was just lucky so far with the offices I've worked in, that the people could deal with it.

Any other suggestions?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

first baby steps in teaching

As I forecasted in the last post, my teaching kept me quite busy during the last weeks. It's the first class I'm teaching at all. I did a lot of lab course supervision for students from various disciplines during my undergrad and PhD time, but this is my really first serious class. I don't know how this is handled at other universities, but I just got pushed into the cold water. I got the old slides of my supervisor and the PostDoc, who gave the course last year. But that was about it. And slides, which mostly show graphs copied from various publications without any bullet points, are not sooooo helpful. So, I'm learning how to swim right now within a topic I haven't fully mastered myself. 
The first lecture was just awkward. I have never seen how a lecture within my school is "usually given", I don't know much about the curriculum and what the students are supposed to know. They are not all directly connected to our School. Some are enrolled in different studies and can do my course as an optional one.
 So, I gave a classic teacher-centered class, mostly me talking, mostly rushing too fast over important topics and I looked at quite a few confused faces at the end of it. I find it very hard to balance between explaining stuff on a too basic level and overwhelming them because I assume to much pre-knowledge. In the first class I definitely took too much knowledge for granted.
In the next classes I tried to implement more interaction with the students, asked more questions, let them use the stuff I talked about right away. That worked a bit better and there were a few bulbs lightening up once in a while. It still wasn't a totally amazing class, but at least I didn't drown half way through the course.
And now I just recognized how much I remind myself of all these young teachers I had in High School, who were fresh out of university, trying to test all the stuff they have learned during the last years on their students. Sometimes I liked that and sometimes I felt like a little lab rat with electrodes connected all over.
But its exactly what I'm doing right now for my class: Digging out everything I have ever heard of "engaging" teaching practices and test them out. And it's actually fun. I don't know how much for the students (I'll see in the evaluation, I guess), but at least for me. Next time I'll bring paper, cord and modeling clay. And then we'll see if this is a good learning experience or if my students feel relegated to pre-school.