Sunday, December 21, 2008

anti-anxiety/anti-depression meds

A recent post at Candid Engineer inspired me to share a somewhat different, though not conflicting experience with anti-anxiety/anti-depression medication.

I was on an SNRI for about a year to prevent migraines. It also reduced unaddressed depression and anxiety. Actually, it completely got rid of any depressive symptoms (my mom said I was a cheerleader) and reduced my anxiety to a probably undesirable level.

While I was overall much more cheerful, my grades suffered tremendously. My semester GPA dropped a full letter grade in one year because I could not focus on school work. This laid a somewhat shaky foundation for advanced undergrad studies for which I had to compensate later. The experience did, however, show me that there is not nearly as much to be anxious or depressed about as I previously believed. Even after I went off the medication, I was less anxious and depressed.

I've tried to hold on to that learning experience, but the farther removed from it I am, the harder it is to recall. I do not have nearly as many problems with depression as I used to, but the anxiety seems to be progressively returning. I know many of the thoughts are unreasonable. Sometimes I just can't stop the unreasonable ones and can't reign in the ones that are reasonable but overgrown.

I know this contributes to my headaches/migraines because many of them start as tension headaches and turn into migraines. I've also come across another problem recently: if I hold my arms above my head for too long, my forearms start to hurt. It takes quite a while for the discomfort to go away. The doctor said it is probably something pinching the blood vessels in my shoulders (I suspected this). I'm guessing the cause is also muscular. I'm working on a bit of a solution to this (strengthen the muscles by going to the gym). Perhaps more exercise will also help the anxiety, or maybe it will add to it because I will have one more demand on my time.

I do not have the courage to try meds for this unless it becomes unbearable. The psychologist I once talked to said it sounds like I'm just a more anxious person and don't require extensive treatment. I stopped going shortly after that due to time constraints and not being convinced that it would do me any good. Perhaps it's time to try it again. I need better stress and anxiety management.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A leg up?

During a student discussion with a faculty candidate, it came out that undergraduate mentors often help their students navigate their way to grad school. How prevalent is this? What exactly do advisors do to help their students? Some students even have the advantage of having parents in academia. How much of a benefit do both these provide?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

my personality based on this blog

Thanks to a link at professing mama, my blog has been analyzed to determine my personality. It's pretty close, but not completely accurate.

ISTP - The Mechanics

The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

macs are not wonderful

30 slides.

I know, I'm not sticking to NaBloPoMo at all. That's okay because I say it is.

I've been hoping for a while that my work macbook would give up and die (I won't intentionally kill it, but I'd like to). It randomly restarts sometimes and I don't know how to reproduce the problem on demand so the IT people can locate the problem. I've been carrying two laptops to work in case this one suddenly decides to take a dump.

This computer has been a problem from the start. It's DVD drive had to be replaced after a few months. It was out for almost a month for that. Then over the summer it started the random restarts. It was in the shop for a little over a month. First, it took a week and a half for them to reproduce the problem, then they didn't know how to fix it. They tried replacing several parts. I'm still not sure what they settled on...I think they only replaced the main board.

The macbook worked okay for a while, but it started randomly restarting a few weeks ago. I used the temporary fix (take out battery, unplug, and hold power button down to reset something) so I could back up some stuff and I haven't been able to reproduce the problem since. I took it to the department IT people anyhow. They ran all the diagnostics they have on the hardware and nothing showed up. All they could do was tell me to hope it dies. My advisor and the IT people want to throw it off the top of the building.

The disease itself is kind of interesting. It starts with not-so-random restarts. When it has been sitting for a bit and I move it, it restarts. If the computer is on battery power, it restarts without my input. If it is plugged in, it asks me to restart it, but doesn't give me another option (at least that's a bit more polite). As the disease progresses, it gets ruder and never asks me to restart. Eventually it restarts whenever it wants to (don't have to move it to make it restart) and may get stuck at the grey start-up screen. If it gets stuck on start-up, it emits the first half a second or so of the start-up sound once every one or two seconds.

Needless to say these computer issues have been an impediment to my research. If the computer would just die, I might get a new one that doesn't have so many problems. Failing that, I could rely completely on my personal laptop. It's not as powerful of a computer, but it seems more reliable.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

random tidbits

I may be the first person ever to start working on her seminar almost three months before it is scheduled. I have 27 slides so far that show me exactly where I need more explanation.

It seems that a bit of caffeine makes me more able to stay away (duh) but also makes me more cheerful. Caffeine also prevents headaches by not making me fight to stay awake and concentrate. This does not apply to migraines, just simple headaches (which could, however, turn into migraines if left unchecked).

I'm tired and I have an orchestra concert tomorrow. I'll have to update more later.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

starting seminar early

I've started my seminar powerpoint. My seminar is February 4th of next year. I figure this way I can see where the holes are earlier and have plenty of time to fill them. No rushing to finish at the end for me.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thesis agreement? What thesis agreement?

Yah, I know. I fail some more at NaBloPoMo. But at least it's reminding me more often to post something.

I've somewhat regained my brain, I think. In my department, there is this thing called a thesis agreement that is supposed to be submitted before you start any significant research. It outlines a project that the student and advisor agree is reasonable for a master's degree. It is intended to protect the student from added expectations and the advisor from a slacker student.

I'm in my second year of the master's program and expect to finish by August 2009 (then continue directly into a PhD). My thesis agreement is still not submitted. I just sent a draft of it to my advisor this afternoon.

This may seem like a problem since it conflicts with the departmental guidelines. However, it is not an issue at all. From what I've heard, most students don't submit their thesis agreements on time. I'm comparatively on-the-ball.

That seems to be the way in academia...

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Fellowship application is submitted. Finally. Now I wait.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

so far, I fail at NaBloPoMo

I didn't post November 3rd, and technically I didn't post November 4th. I claim this post as my November 4th post because I haven't slept yet.

I barely started working on research again when I got feedback from my advisor on the fellowship proposal. At least I got my mind partially wrapped around the program I need to expand. I haven't looked at it in months. Friday starts my focus on research again. Three months from today, I need to have enough done to give my seminar.

I finished the fourth draft of my fellowship proposal today. That consumed about eleven hours of the day. My life has been exceedingly dull because of this major time sink. Tomorrow should be a bit more interesting. I'll at least go out to dinner to celebrate my officemate's seminar completion. Otherwise I expect a lot of the same through Thursday to finalize the proposal.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

shopping sucks

This was an unproductive weekend. Yesterday I went to a hockey game and that's about it. Today I went bra shopping. That is a major accomplishment considering how much it usually pisses me off. Unfortunately for something that fit comfortably, I spent $100 on four bras. I hate bra shopping, I hate the bra industry, and men must design them because most of them fit like shit. And to Victoria's Secret: how can a bra possibly be worth $48? You're ridiculous.

Still no word from the advisor on any of the fellowship stuff.

I'm currently battling a migraine (again). It's not really bad, but it has potential. If this round of over-the-counter stuff doesn't work, it's on to prescription meds.

I hope tomorrow is more productive. I at least have class in the morning, ice skating around lunch time, and orchestra in the evening. I have to do something tomorrow. I also hope the advisor gets back to me in a major way on the fellowship essays and proposal.

By the way, count this as my second post of NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month). My goal is to write one post here every day. Some may be short and unexciting, but this blog has gotten a slow start due to my busy semester. NaBloPoMo should provide some motivation to pay more attention to writing, which is somewhat therapeutic for me.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

I'm trying to be patient...this is not the first time it hasn't worked very well

The boyfriend says I'm not a very patient person and in many cases he's right. This fellowship application is a prime example.

I emailed my advisor all the written portions last Thursday for him to comment on. I got comments on the first half of a two-page proposal Friday around lunch time. I emailed him an edited version that addressed all but one comment so I could get some more input on the second half and see if I'd interpreted his comments correctly.

I have yet to receive another email on the proposal. There are also two other written parts to this fellowship, neither of which he has read. I realize that he has family obligations, especially having been out of the country for two weeks and now his wife being out of town, but I really want to get this thing out of the way so I can return to research. And it's due Thursday, which doesn't leave much time for procrastinating if I do more than one round of edits on it.

Did I mention that this is my first proposal, so much of my first draft is guessing what a proposal is supposed to look like? It's going to take more than one edit to get it reasonably good and within the page limit.

It'd be nice if I could blame someone, but it's been an accidentally badly scheduled semester all around. The advisor wasn't supposed to teach, but another faculty member bailed on his class after the semester schedule was made. My advisor got to take up the slack. That means that next semester he'll be teaching one class instead of two with very little travel--just in time for both of his advisees to be studying for the qual.

Speaking of his other advisee, I feel bad for her, too, because she's trying to put together her seminar, a required part of a master's degree, so she can graduate in December. Her research has not been going as planned and she's been very stressed. It's more evidence for the bad timing of everything this semester.

I've also received preliminary news that my spring semester will be rearranged in such a way that I won't get much break over winter break, but more on that once the details are confirmed.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Second post of the day so I can catch up and blog about something current for once

I know, when it rains, it pours, and now I've given you two posts at once after a week and a half of nothing. At some point I'd like to return to blogging about current events. No time better than the present, right?

Recent events have caused me to disappear from my journal and blog. I hope to remedy that now that a couple of deadlines and other important dates have passed. What were these events, you may ask. Well, I'll tell you (and I'm not going to sing it)...

When I got back from the conference late on October 1st, I had to catch up on a week and a half or two weeks of class work that I'd ignored while working on my poster. It was worth ignoring classes to the extent I could because my first ever poster turned out quite nice. I was somewhat disappointed with the poster session, as I mentioned, but the poster itself looked good and had good information on it. I think the problem was more with the conference and lack of interest than the poster itself.

Back to the missed class work...I had a homework assignment due the second day back in town, which I finished on time, and loads of reading. Reading is easy to ignore.

I was also a bit burned out on research because of spending so much time working on my poster before the conference, so I needed a break. My first full week back, I did very little research and focused on classes and house stuff. Did I mention that housework was very low on my priority list? Frankly, the house was a mess. It hasn't really recovered yet and I don't expect it to recover until we have to pack everything up to move out. The boyfriend and I will be very busy next semester, wo I expect to be eating a lot out of boxes, bags, and cans.

My advisor was also very busy. He only had a week and a half before a two-week international trip to attend two conferences back-to-back. His wife had already been alone with their two small children through the other conference and single-handedly cared for them while he went to the international conferences. In the time between travel, he needed to give her a break to get some of her work done (she's finishing her dissertation). He also needed to work on a seminar, a talk or two, and a poster. I tried to bother him as little as possible.

Then the advisor was gone for two weeks in a foreign country with poor internet access. He was barely available via email. I spent the first week of that reading background papers for a fellowship proposal. The second week I worked on massive data transfer and processing. The computing cluster I was putting it on had a few issues with its setup, so those had to be worked out in the process, and I initially didn't have the permissions I needed to put the files in the correct directories. It took a large part of the week to get all that worked out. I also learned a bit more about shell and batch scripting, which I'm sure will be useful in the future.

Now that the advisor is back, things are getting a bit easier and moving more quickly. He's still busy this week because he's filling in for the person who subbed for him last week, but he'll be in town for the rest of the semester.

The long-promised post-poster post: not very exciting

Written in early October, shortly after the conference. I've been swamped with a variety of activities, which I will relate when I get a chance to write about them.

The poster presentation went well. I'm disappointed that I got so few new ideas from the poster session, but at least it gave me confidence that there is nothing terribly wrong with my research. No one asked very tough questions--many of them I had to answer with "that's part of my future work" because my current results are very preliminary. The meeting as a whole was underwhelming in quality and interest, and too long. I was ready to leave after I presented my poster.

Going back in time a bit, I think my time management worked as well as any could have. There was no way for me to know how much time my poster would require. I finished it the afternoon it was due, though I would have preferred to finish it a bit earlier in the day so I could have taken a nap. I see no reason to try to schedule my time further because I think it would only add stress to try to stick to a schedule.

As outlined in my recent post about the qual, my overall strategy will probably have to change again. I'll need to work hard and quick on research through January so I can submit the paper my advisor wants by the end of spring and have enough for a seminar in mid-late April. If those two work out, I will naturally have enough done to write my thesis over the summer (or nearly so).

I'm a bit irritated about the change in qual time, but part of that I'm sure is because I had everything planned out and had already accepted the good and bad of the situation. I'm also concerned about putting the final touches on a paper for publication while I'm preparing a seminar and studying for the qual. That is very similar to the situation my officemate would be in for the January qual. The advisor approves of either qual schedule, so at least I won't have to worry about that.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Analyzing scientists at a meeting: 5 of 5

Written 10/1/08, posted later
This is the fifth and final post from the grant agency meeting.

The organization of this meeting is okay. The schedule could have used some proof-reading. Today there were two talks scheduled for the same time. Yesterday there was a 15-minute void.

My poster was also listed wrong. The title was completely wrong and it was listed under my advisor's name on the printed list. At least they fixed it on the website.

There was half an hour at the end of each sessions for discussion, but each half hour was way over-scheduled. It was another case of scientists-have-no-sense-of-time. These discussions were also dominated by a few people each time. They were generally not terribly enlightening. They more served as a summary of the session, so if you were listening to the talks, the summary was useless.

My advisor seemed to know that this meeting would be dull and hinted that most academic meetings are like this. I suppose I'll have to suffer through them for quite a while. When I am my own PI, I'll be able to choose the meetings I attend and I'll choose ones that are more generally interesting to me. I hope to include some that emphasize education as well as science research.

Anyone want to ruin my rosy view of the future?

Up next: the post-poster post

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Analyzing scientists at a meeting: 4 of 5

Written 10/1/08, posted later
This is the fourth post from the grant agency meeting.

Why is something considered unprofessional in a young scientist seen as funny or charming in an older scientist?

Why is disrespectful behavior more tolerated at a meeting than in a classroom? I've heard conversation that makes it difficult to hear the speaker and cell phones ringing, sometimes quite loudly. Many people (like me) have been using laptops during talks, and I doubt they are all taking notes on the talks. It is regular practice for a scientist to finish a talk at a meeting during another scientist's talk.

I realize that there is some difference between professional meetings and classes, but why is there such a divergence in manners? A teacher would never tolerate a ten-minute quiet-down period at the beginning of a class.

Such conduct also makes me wonder if these scientist respect each other equally or if there is a hierarchy (either well-defined or varying by person).

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Analyzing scientists at a meeting: 3 of 5

Written 10/1/08, posted later
This is the third post from the grant agency meeting.

I do not like traveling alone. Granted, the advisor is at this meeting, too, but I do not want to follow him everywhere. That leaves me confined to my hotel after dark because it is not safe for me to walk around alone at night.

Last night I had to get my supper quickly because the sun was setting. I ended up settling for a meatball sub. I got no dessert because it would have cost at least $10 from a hotel restaurant.

I know of no remedy for this besides going places with random people from the meeting or traveling with more people. The former is difficult because I'd be tied to whoever I left with, whether or not I wanted to do everything they wanted to do. The latter is difficult because I don't have a choice when I travel for work. I did not even include my usual idea to carry a spiked bat because I think I'd be arrested and it'd be difficult to get through airport security.

At least this is not a big sight-seeing location or I'd be even more disappointed.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Analyzing scientists at a meeting: 2 of 5

Written 10/1/08, posted later
This is the second post from the grant agency meeting.

Many of the "questions" are comments that bring up something about the speaker's research that was left out of the presentation or relate the commentor's research to the talk. Such exchanges do not initiate very good discussion.

I'm trying to decide if this group is too heterogeneous or too homogeneous to generate really good discussions. I'm leaning towards both.

They are too heterogeneous in that there are a few distinct cliques in the group who work on a particular phenomenon or project together. These are the people that comment on talks rather than ask questions.

On the other hand, they are too homogeneous within these cliques. As a result, they have largely the same view on the overall results and only reinforce each other's views rather than critically questioning them.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Analyzing scientists at a meeting: 1 of 5

Written 10/1/08, posted later
I've been at a meeting related to my grant agency for the past three days. It has highlighted several oddities of science and scientists. This is the first of five posts from this meeting.

Have no fear--I will provide a post-poster analysis in a subsequent post. At the moment, however, I would like to talk about the meeting for which I made the poster

The most apparent thing was the lack of quality in presentations and sometimes posters in comparison to a national, large professional organization meeting. The talks here seem ill-rehearsed or not well thought through. Does it have something to do with the perceived importance of each meeting, the quality/experience of the scientists, or something else? In many cases, I think I could present my research better.

They also seem to have time management issues. Most talks go over time. Scientists should have a better sense of how many slides can fit in 15 minutes, or, failing that, one practice run should clue them in. This is not a difference from the large organization meetings--it seems to be a larger habit.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Update on blog policies

I've removed comment moderation. It doesn't seem terribly important and it's kind of neat to see your comment pop up right after you submit it. Well, I like that at least.

Time management

Soon is a relative term...really.

Time management has become more important than ever in my life over the past month. I like to have a lot of possible projects to work on. At the moment, I have a couple of equal importance and several others that become more important the longer I leave them go. That leads to my head spinning a bit if I think about them all at once.

The most important has been my poster that is due to the printer Wednesday (the meeting is 29 Sept-1 Oct). It is my first poster. The design looks good and the figures are reasonable, but I'm struggling a bit to figure out what I want to say about them and how to say it.

I'm registered for one class and informally auditing another (both for the qual and for my own information). They both involve variable amounts of reading, so that is hard to schedule. I'm never quite sure when we'll proceed to the next unit or chapter. I also have homework for registered-for class. That is not too bad--I just need to remember to do it. The first homework for the audit class was completely out of line for a homework assignment. It was a mini research project. I didn't do it.

I've nearly stuck to the study schedule for the qual. I only missed a partial chapter that was due yesterday, but I made it up today. I can't fall behind on this because I have a whole field to study by the end of January. It will only pile up and make me more stressed and less likely to pass the qual. For the coming week, I have five more chapters. I'll miss the next group study session, so I'm accountable only to myself for these. In the final week of intro material studying, I have four chapters. After October 4th, we are moving on to the department's core classes. Needless to say, my studying textbook is coming to the meeting with me.

On top of all these macro-tasks, I have a variety of micro-tasks that I would like to accomplish: audition four possible thesis-writing programs (InDesign, OpenOffice, Word, and LaTeX), practice my cello, write an update to family and friends I haven't talked to much over the past year, and plan and cook food to eat. In the short term, I also hoped to go shopping for black shoes with heels of some sort to go with my suits for the conference so my pants don't drag on the ground. Of course I ran out of time this weekend. I hope to find more time for these after the poster is done. Perhaps I can squeeze shoe shopping between turning in the poster Wednesday afternoon and flying to the meeting Saturday morning. If not, I'll have to wear my old boots. They're passable, but not terribly professional. All these tasks become more critical as i leave them go, but at the moment they are relatively ignorable.

With all these threads tugging me in different directions, last night was my first night away from work in over a week. Otherwise, I get up, go to work, work through lunch, come home, work all night, go to bed, repeat. Occasionally I'll intersperse some household chores, like laundry so I can wear clean clothes. I've been pushed, pulled, and stretched. With several people sick at work and the boyfriend getting over a minor cold, I'm surprised I haven't caught anything yet (not that I'm complaining, universe).

How is this (lack of) balance working? Well, I'm still alive, aren't I? I wonder if this is as good as it gets without a rigid schedule. I hate following a rigid schedule. I prefer to work on whatever I feel I can focus on best rather than what is on my calendar. The problem: it is easier to get overwhelmed with all the stuff in front of me when I allow myself a choice of immediate task. When it is possible, I also need to work more leisure time into my schedule. I don't think that'll happen in any significant form this semester.

I suppose my current time management methods work reasonably well. There is a point at which it doesn't matter how well I manage my time--there is too much to do for the time I have. I think I'm beyond that point for the moment, but it will recede after the poster is done. Yes, I'm banking a lot of hope for a slightly less busy schedule on finishing the poster. Stay tuned to see if my hopes are dashed...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Not dead yet

I've been absent for the past couple of weeks because I have a poster due next Wednesday and I've started studying for the qual. Sorry about that. I should keep up with my blogging better for my benefit as well as to maintain the blog. I find that blogging gives me a welcome break from programming and my field. I have complete freedom of what I want to write and writing is to some degree therapeutic for me, no matter the topic.

I had orchestra practice tonight. I didn't want to go, but I went anyhow. I signed up for the group because I knew my over-active sense of guilt would make me go. In other words, it forces me to take a break from work for something other than housework. It went okay, but I really need to practice more.

I'll write a post with some real content soon...I promise. In the mean time, I figured I'd let you all know that I'm still alive.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

qual on!

I posted on August 12 about taking the qual early my reasoning at that point. Well, the saga has come to a close: my advisor agrees that I can take the qual early. That means I'll start studying now and really hit it after my poster presentation at the end of September. Until the poster is sent to the printer, I need to get as much research done as I can.

It wasn't a straight path to my advisor's verdict. He was on a field project on the other side of the globe for two and a half weeks, then on jury duty for most of this past week. We'd barely communicated for the past four weeks. I sent him an email with my reasoning attached on Thursday in case we weren't able to meet Friday. He replied that we could meet Friday after our morning class. He also said he was torn on the qual issue. He understood all my reasoning, but was concerned about a grant renewal deadline coming next summer. The email gave me the impression that he was unlikely to agree with me easily.

I was funded by this grant last fall and this summer, with a teaching assistantship and three more classes in between. Due to personal circumstances, I did not get significant research done until the beginning of July. This may make him a bit nervous, but I think he understands all the problems that have kept me from progressing more quickly. Since Independence Day, however, I have made significant progress. I showed my advisor all the stuff I've gotten done, and with a couple more weeks' worth of work, he thinks I'll have a great poster for the workshop at the end of September. I hope he believes that this is a more normal work ethic for me even though he has a short sample.

I understand his concern that the rest of this semester will be relatively low-progress with respect to research due to studying for the qual, but I think that Spring semester and next Summer will be plenty of time to get enough research done to renew the grant. (I tend to make quicker progress than I or others expect.) He apparently agrees. At the end of our meeting, I asked if he had deliberated any more on the qual issue, and he told me he'll support my decision to take it early. I didn't even need to argue the point. After all the effort I'd put into making sure I had a convincing argument... :)

This revelation around lunchtime had one unfortunate side-effect: I was so excited about my advisor's qual decision and positive view of my research that I had a hard time for the rest of the afternoon concentrating on anything that took much thinking. I ended up transferring class notes to the powerpoint print-out, scanning PDFs of the department qual exams since 2000*, and working on other menial tasks. I am still excited about all of it, but I think I've relaxed enough that I can concentrate on programming and reading again.

A couple of my officemates are also planning to take the qual. One section of the test involves answering questions from the elective classes you've taken in the department. The test only includes questions from classes taken by someone who is taking the test, though anyone taking the test can answer any of the questions, no matter if they have taken the class or not. My officemates are not registered for a certain class that I am, but they are sitting in on it anyhow with the assumption that I will ensure the qual will include a question from that class. They've gotten anxious to not waste time attending a class that will not help them on the qual during the first week of classes, so my advisor's decision yesterday pacified all three of us. We are concocting plans for study groups.

*Until now, they've been keeping a single paper copy of every qual--that's it. I decided that was a really bad idea when the copy machine tried to eat a page of one of them recently.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"Normal" people vs. academics

I've noticed at least a couple of times in the past month that fellow academics sometimes refer to the general populace as "normal people." It carries the implication that we are fundamentally smarter or better than them, not just that we are a minority or odd. It is often a reaction to someone's story about a frustrating interaction with a stranger or non-academic.

This seems condescending, elitist, and narrow-minded. Many people have talents that do not lie in the academic realm. Are all talents created equal? Is a great, dumb athlete equal but different to a smart, ungraceful scientist?

I don't believe the people making these comments completely subscribe to the opinion, but I can't help but internally fight every casual mention of it. I feel a kernel of truth to it in some cases, but I've always tried to guard against blanket statements.

Is this a wider symptom of academia or relatively isolated? What bred this opinion?

I would hope that the majority of academia is enlightened enough to realize that they are only slightly extraordinary people who have chosen a somewhat uncommon career that explicitly pays one to create new knowledge. Many people of equal or higher intelligence or talent choose other careers.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bike rant

This is related to academia in that many people use bikes for transportation in college towns, which usually involves some riding in traffic. This topic will likely appear again due to drivers' ineptitude and stupidity at handling bicyclists on the road.

I don't care how long you've been waiting at an intersection or how far you (dumbly) pulled your car into traffic. You do not tap your bumper to the back tire of a bike in front of you! Not only is it rude, but it is also a safety hazard. If you accidentally tap too hard and push the biker into traffic, the biker is getting squashed or thrown and likely injured. I hope you have good insurance.

That is all.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

qual early?

The default procedure in my department is to take the qualifying exam after finishing a master's thesis in the January of one's third year. For someone with an undergrad degree in a different field that may make sense. They need time to get used to the new terminology and concepts. It may even make sense for someone who doesn't take a full load of classes through all of his/her first year because s/he hasn't taken enough electives for the choose-four-questions-to-answer-of-more-than-four-options section. However, my undergrad degree is in the same field I am in now, and I took a full load of classes both semesters last year.

In short, I want to take the qual this coming January rather than wait until 2010.

I am working on a convincing argument for my advisor, which will include all my reasons for taking it early, rebuttals or admissions of the reasons to wait, and a plan of how to study for it.

The pros of taking it early include:
  1. the foundation classes from this department will be fresher in my mind
  2. The electives from this department will be fresher in my mind.
  3. I'm only attending one meeting this fall, so I won't need a lot of prep time for posters.
  4. If I fail the first time, my second try will only be one semester after I hope to finish the master's thesis. If I take the traditional route, I may be working on PhD research for a year without knowing if I can even complete a PhD. Talk about motivation issues...
  5. #4 also provides a benefit to my advisor: he will know sooner if he needs to fund me for PhD work. It's less time and money wasted for everyone.
  6. I can study with the only other person in my research group because she's taking the qual in 2009.
  7. It'll be over before I have to write the bulk of my thesis or prepare for my seminar.
  8. The stress of anticipation kills me more than the stress of doing things.

Pros of waiting include:
  1. Studying won't slow down my master's research because most or all of it will be done, so I might finish that a bit quicker. (How much will this really affect my progress? Also, see #4 above. If I'll be here for a PhD anyhow, what does it matter if I take an extra semester but already have the qual done?)
  2. I'd be able to take another couple of electives to widen my pool of optional questions on the qual. (I took classes in undergrad that are analogous to several of the classes here, so I'd have a good chance at answering questions from classes I haven't taken here.)
  3. I'll be taking it with more people from my year? (I don't think this makes a difference, but advisor might. I want to be prepared for any rebuttal he has.)

What do you think? Are there any flaws in my reasoning or anything I should add to either side?

Any tips for studying--how much time it takes, how to go about it, etc.? I know that may vary by department, but there has to be some commonality.

One possible major snag is that the curriculum here has been in flux due to a new undergrad program. I don't know how this will affect the qual.

I think this is a pretty convincing argument. I'm probably being over-prepared for the advisor's unlikely denial of my request, but that's the way I am. Better that than get blind-sided by things all the time.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

August 2008 Scientiae - Transitions

This post is a bit late, though I submitted the text in time for the release of the August 2008 Scientiae.

The topic for August's Scientiae is transitions. God knows I've had a few of those in the past year. Approximately six of them, in fact. Most of them have been life sneaking up on me with little relationship to academia. Some were primarily good, others primarily bad, but none of the major events were wholly one or the other because I learned something from all of them.

The first two major transitions happened voluntarily last August: I moved out of state and began graduate school. This wasn't as difficult of a change as I expected. When I moved a shorter distance from home for undergrad, it was much more traumatic. It was my first time living independently and so far from home. Most of first semester was riddled with anxiety attacks, but I shoved my way through them because I wanted a college degree. This time I had that experience behind me--only the location and distance from home had changed. I still moved to a new town where I recognized nothing and no one. The incentive to stay was much the same, to earn a graduate degree, but staying wasn't as much of a struggle. I started classes soon after I moved into my new apartment, which I'm sure helped the transition by keeping me busy. The classes weren't much different from undergrad and I had no time for research, so it only seemed like the same thing in a new place. I

The next major change was a shock. I got three calls on September 13th from my parents saying that I needed to come home that weekend because Grampa wasn't doing well. In fact, the doctors didn't know if he would live five minutes or five weeks. Of course, I rushed home that night, arriving at my parents' house around midnight. I spent the next five days keeping track of Grampa's medicines, taking care of Gramma, and making sure everyone else was eating. I didn't let my sadness show in front of other people if I could help it because they needed support and someone needed to provide it. I wasn't about to leave my family to fall over. He died September 18th, 2007. This was the first family death I've ever experienced (being the youngest of my cousins, I don't remember my great-grammas' funerals). The following couple of days I helped arrange the memorial. After we all said goodbye, I only had two days at home before I needed to get back to my classes. I'd missed more than a week.

A month minus a day after Grampa died, the universe threw me another life-altering event. I didn't realize it at the time, but I had my first date with the man I want to marry. This was a really good transition. Through all of undergrad I had occasional bouts of loneliness and depression because I felt so alone. I no longer have those. He is far from perfect, but he is all I want.

Transition five was closely related to transition four: the new boyfriend moved in with me. I'd never lived with a boyfriend before. It has been surprisingly seamless in our relationship (moving of belongings is another story). Finances have been a bit rocky because he lost his research assistantship and has had a very hard time finding other employment in our little city, but things are looking up in that department. We plan to get engaged as soon as we can afford it.

Transition six was not so much an independent transition as a reiteration of transition three. In May, my gramma (widow of the grampa who died last fall) was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thankfully she is doing well after surgery, but she still needs to go through many rounds of radiation.

Through all of this, I've seen a counselor a total of three times, two of which were to get help for my boyfriend's depression during unemployment (the third time was not related to any of these transitions). My boyfriend has helped keep me standing through my family's health problems and the general stress of grad school, so he is definitely a good change. I'm not sure what I'd do without him anymore. Even in the mostly bad transitions, like Grampa's death, I learned my own strength. I though I would fall apart when any of my family died. I ended up holding together as well as or better than most of my family. I learn more from transitions than any other part of my life, no matter if they are mostly good or mostly bad changes. I suppose that means I've learned more in the past year than I remember learning in any previous year, and most of it had nothing to do with formal education.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


Welcome to Scientist Rising. I am NJS, a graduate student working on a Master's degree in Earth science at a large research university in the United States. My research is in its childhood yet, but is growing quickly. I still plan to finish the Master's by the end of next summer. That may be a bit of a dream, but it's a nice dream to have.

In my free time, or what's left of it, I enjoy playing string instruments, reading myriad novels and non-fiction, and watching movies. I am addicted to stories of all sorts. Perhaps I'll more seriously try my hand at writing for (non-scientific) publication sometime. My local family consists of an orange tabby, a black tabby-siamese mix, a step-turtle, and my boyfriend. The rest of my family resides several hours away by car.

I plan to become a professor after at least four more years of grad school. Somewhere in the middle of all that I also plan to integrate children and a spouse. How does that balance work? I don't rightly know yet. I suppose I'll make it up as I go along. I hope that between some blogs I read and discussions on this blog, I'll have a few good tips with which to begin.

As my description says, I intend to blog primarily about science, education, and their interactions with a semi-normal life. After all, who in academia has a normal life? There are many issues in science and education that do not get the breadth or depth of discussion they deserve (at least in my experience). This is one of my partial solutions to that.

Regarding discussion on this blog, I am moderating the comments to avoid blog trolls I've heard so much about. If my experience is good, perhaps I'll remove moderation. In either case, I expect civil discussions--that means no antagonizing someone else's views, no matter how off-the-wall they seem, and no yelling at each other (to the extent that is possible in writing). I will, of course, allow tactful disagreement and opinions. Anyone who chooses to not observe these rules risks not making it through moderation. (Rules subject to change.)

Now that all that's covered, I hope you enjoy reading Scientist Rising!