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Friday, July 9, 2010

Group Dynamics: Stuff Hits Fan

OK, so this week took a whole lot of patience. I don't like stepping on people's toes, and I refuse to do it unless there's a really good reason, and I've tried a few other things first. So I didn't. And this is what happened...(not the comic..that's there just for the fun of it.)

(Cartoon courtesly of XKCD. Comix for the engineering minded. Warning - some of them are not totally clean, and some are just dumb. But but but... some are priceless!)
It was absolutely nobody's fault that our group was set up the way it was - we are one high school physics teacher, one middle school science teacher, and two undergrad engineering majors. We're supposed to form a working group that can order equipment, test procedures, and write curriculum for some pretty heavy undergraduate science labs.

To give you an idea of how much of a mess we were, the lab where we were working was a disaster area, but we didn't know to ask before cleaning things up. We all agreed it would be uncool to wreck ("clean up") someone else's experiment without their permission, so I asked three different people for permission and all of them said "I'm not sure... probably it's OK." So I did it anyway. Nobody's yelled yet, so maybe it was OK... or maybe I'll get yelled at next week. Guess I'll find out!

Anyway, at actually producing labs, we were hopeless - we made lots of moves in the direction of working together, but to me, group editing is hard even when you know people well, and you're all on the same page, and we were definitely not. It's not that things ever got unhappy between us, it's just that stuff didn't get done, or followed through on. Soooooo....our professor got pretty unhappy with our group. I suppose I can't blame her - we were not too effective, but like I said, I don't claim to be the boss of anybody, especially when I'm NOT their boss.

Anyway, the upshot of the meeting is that everyone now has very, very clear jobs, which I think will work: Alex and Nick are going to run the test procedures and record how long it takes to do stuff, along with any things they notice. Rick and I are going to do the same thing, and then he and I will write up the step by step procedures. That's the theory anyway...I did find one great source of help in the midst of this though, and that came from Helen. She's so knowledgeable and knows how to get things done. I was stuck in trying to find laser holders - should I try to steal them from another lab? Should I order more? How much money were they? After I got off the phone with her, she called our PI who came down for a visit. In fifteen minutes, I felt like we'd worked out a solution to the whole awkward social arrangement. I was able to find a cheaper solution that what we were thinking, and took charge of ordering stuff from there. We have a lot of work to do and one day to do it on Monday, but at least we're moving in the right direction.

Got a great deal on green and red laser pointers for the lab BTW. I'd tell you where to get them, but then you might poke your eye out with one, and then my kids would go hungry, and that would be bad. Let's just say that I have learned more respect for lasers after our laser safety clinic. They're everywhere around this building, including some class 4 lassers that will slice and dice you if you're not careful. Our lab has class 3B lasers, which are just a notch below in intensity, but still very much worth respecting. If you can make out the graphic, you should probably think "Be serious! I would never shine a laser in my eye!" That's nice to hear, really it is... but what you might not know is that the heavier duty lasers can blind you from light reflected from a.... get this.... a wall. Or a table... or just about anything. There are several levels of safety interlocks that go along with the big lasers - doors, curtains, goggles, key switches - seriously - a lot of thought goes into keeping people safe in these labs.

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