Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Friday-Saturday, AGU 2009

Friday was my big AGU day, the day of my poster session. One of my group's collaborators had a talk first thing in the morning, so we all got up early for that. It was quite good--one of the best I saw at AGU. We left a few talks later to pick up my poster from Kinko's. Along the way, we picked up some caffeine and breakfast from Peet's Coffee. I highly recommend the California Raisin Roll. It's like a honey bun filled with some creamy filling and raisins, then glazed. After all my (mock) worrying, the poster turned out fine. Huge, but fine. Like a good little group of lemmings, we all trooped back to Moscone South to put up my poster. The advisor had a lunch meeting planned and invited me and my lab mate to join them. My lab mate went along, but I declined. I wouldn't have as much chance to look at the posters in the afternoon as they would. That set me up for another solo lunch outing.

I wandered back to the hotel, checking menus posted in windows along the way to see if anything appealed to me. Cafe Mason seemed like a good option, so I grabbed my laptop and headed back there on my way to the afternoon poster session. I ordered a turkey club sandwich with fries. Not exciting in itself, but it was really well done. Thin sourdough toast, tomato, lettuce, turkey, and crispy bacon for the sandwich and light, non-greasy fries on the side. Perfect for a pre-poster session meal.

The poster session technically started a few minutes before I got back to Moscone South. This was my second poster presentation ever and I was late. Oh well. I met several scientists I knew only by name about my research. All of them gave positive feedback. If I told them my plans for wrapping up this work, they said they look forward to the publication. If they made suggestions before asking me about future work, it was already on my to-do list. In other words, I didn't get much new feedbck on my research, but the reassurance that someone values my work outside of my little research group was valuable, especially with my recent motivation issues. One of the scientists commented that my poster looked very nice, too (someday he'd learn to make a nice poster :P). If nothing else, I got to meet other people in my subfield and they got to associate my name with my work. I'd say the poster session was a success.

My group left the poster session an hour or so early since we had dinner planned in Berkeley. Most of the attendees were in the free beer line anyhow. We caught the BART to Berkeley and found Beckett's Irish Pub for dinner. I ordered a fish fry, which was again excellent. (I'm fairly certain this area does not know how to make bad food.) I didn't intend to order a drink unless something sounded particularly interesting. Of course, my lab mate found a something that fit that description a few minutes after we ordered our food: hot apple cider with brandy. How could I pass that up? It was tasty! I was stuffed and happy by the time we left the pub. We had a bit of time before we needed to catch the BART back to San Francisco, so we wandered the Berkeley campus. Beautiful campus, at least in the dark.

We'd hoped to fit Muir Woods in somewhere, but our flight was too early in the day to make it on Saturday. My advisor suggested a self-guided bike tour of the city instead. Sure, why not? San Francisco only has a few hills. Eight miles later, we'd toured a good chunk of the city between our hotel and the Golden Gate bridge. We ran out of time to cross the bridge. My advisor was sore the day after the long bike ride. I was fine :).

After returning the bikes and retrieving our luggage from the hotel, we made it to the airport with just enough time to grab a bite to eat and board our plane. The San Francisco adventure wound down with a 15-minute delay on the tarmac for air traffic control delays at our destination and a quiet flight back.

Monday, December 21, 2009

AGU09 blogging delay

My last day of AGU and last two days in San Francisco were such a blur that I didn't get a chance to blog about them yet. Rest assured, I will get to it. It might be a few days, though, because I'm leaving for the holidays on Tuesday and have a full schedule until then.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Thursday, AGU 2009

I haven't picked up my poster yet. Kinko's called me this morning to tell me that they couldn't laminate anything larger than 36" and my poster is 48" on its smaller dimension. I chose to have them print it on the regular paper anyhow and just not laminate it. So, it's printed. I just didn't get a chance to get it today since I refuse to go there by myself. The advisor and I will get it first thing in the morning. I promise.

Other than the slight snag with the poster, my little group had an interesting start to the morning. Mostly my lab mate. She was supposed to be registered for the conference, but they couldn't find her name on any of their registration lists around 7:30am, when registration first opened. She had an early morning talk that still wasn't uploaded. Our advisor and I didn't have any problems with registration, so he took her presentation to upload it and I stayed with her to get the registration worked out. She ended up paying for it on the spot (again). If AGU later finds that she was charged earlier, they won't actually charge her card. This is not a helpful beginning to the day of her first talk at a major conference.

Once she got her badge, we headed up to the speaker ready room. Our advisor texted her to let her know that her animations weren't working. They eventually got the issue fixed and re-uploaded her talk. The people running the room said that even though they uploaded it, the revisions may not make it to the room she'd be speaking in by the time her talk started. *cross fingers that it works*

We all trooped up to the room where she and my advisor were presenting nearly back-to-back. Her turn came up and the animations worked flawlessly. *whew* The advisor's talk went fine as well.

By the time lunch arrived, my advisor had disappeared and my lab mate left to meet a friend. I was on my own. Since I've never been to San Francisco before, I didn't want to eat at a chain restaurant even if it would be cheaper. I walked probably half a mile in god-awful uncomfortable shoes. My feet were killing me by the time I collected my matzo soup, sirloin with Brie sandwich, and banana from Soup Freaks. Instead of being smart and heading back to the hotel to change my shoes when I was already part way there, I hobbled back to the conference center to feast. All of my lunch was tasty and out of the ordinary. Perfect! I saved the banana for an afternoon snack.

Half way through the afternoon I finally gave up on my shoes. I felt like I was walking on stubs and the bones in my foot were trying to poke through at my ankle. That can't be a good sign. I planned to catch the shuttle bus back to the hotel... until I found out the bus doesn't run during the day. I walked back to the hotel, about half a mile again (everything is half a mile today). It was quite a painful walk, so I wasn't walking very fast by the time I got to my room. My feet were relieved when I pulled off the the modern torture devices.

I hung out at the hotel for a bit to let my feet rest, then headed back to the conference with the intent to see a few more talks. Instead, I ran into the department head and followed him and another professor to the exhibit hall to find free stuff. My favorite two items were a NASA calendar and a star-shaped five-color highlighter from DoE GCEP. Then I joined a bunch of people from my department to find dinner.

We hopped the cable car to Fisherman's Wharf (my first cable car ride!) and decided on the Sea Lion Cafe. It was the most expensive dinner I've ever had at $55 and per diem certainly won't cover it, but it was scrumptious. I had a plate of squash and onions, baby lobster tail, prawns, salmon, sea bass, and jasmine rice. I'd never had lobster, prawns, or sea bass before. There was also a dish of some sort of creamy citrus sauce, which complemented the lobster especially well. A couple of friends insisted that I consume alcohol, so I ordered a Sunset Splash--essentially a mix of rum and vodka with a splash of cranberry juice for color. It was strong and it was yummy. I have yet to find bad food here.

Our department group scattered pretty quickly after a failed attempt to find an open ice cream shop. All my little group has left at the conference is my poster tomorrow afternoon. If it wasn't for that, we'd probably fly out tomorrow. As it is, we're leaving Saturday afternoon. We may work in a trip to Muir Woods Saturday morning. I hear it's all the rage :P.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Let the San Francisco adventure begin! (AGU 2009)

I put the finishing touches on my poster for a Friday poster session while flying to San Francisco (my companions--my advisor and a lab mate--finished their powerpoints on the plane, too). Our plane arrived at the San Francisco airport a little late tonight because of air traffic control issues (read: it's foggy). Then my advisor looked it over and approved it after a couple of minor revisions as we rode the BART (like DC's metro) to the hotel. We knew there were several Kinko's within walking distance of the hotel, but first order of business needed to be food.

My advisor, a lab mate, and I dropped our luggage at our hotel before walking to a Japanese restaurant for dinner. I had some excellent Salmon Teryaki (served with a small salad, miso soup, and rice). I ate a whole dinner in a reasonable amount of time with chopsticks! That is nothing short of amazing to me since I've never been very good with chopsticks. My companions had sushi. I've never been a big fan of sushi, but I didn't mind one of the kinds my lab mate shared with me. I should check with her what it was.

After dinner, my advisor and I set out to have my poster printed. The nearest Kinko's was only a few blocks away... and closed 20 minutes before we got there. Perhaps a quarter to a half a mile away, there was a 24-hour Kinko's. That'd work. Our path took us into an area that had progressively fewer (working) streetlights. Perhaps half the windows had bars on them and there seemed to be an abundance of local spray paint artists. Regardless, we soldiered on and found the store.

A very friendly employee greeted us. He asked what we needed printed and took us right to the computer to look at the file. When he double-clicked to see the contents of the memory stick, the computer claimed it was not formatted and asked if he wanted to format it. He did not understand what the question meant. I informed him that we did not want to format the memory stick. I'm still not sure if this was a mac/PC problem (I have a mac, they use PCs) or something else. He asked if we could send him the file. Sure, as long as I have my poster printed by tomorrow evening and it turns out well.

After our lovely sightseeing on the way to Kinko's, my advisor grabbed a taxi to take us back to our hotel. I jumped through all the required hoops to get on the free wireless, emailed my poster as a PDF (which involved a bit of patience since I was emailing a 20MB attachment), and confirmed the printing options when the friendly employee called me. My poster should be ready by late afternoon tomorrow. Thank goodness! I hope they print it correctly.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The fun of coincident exams and big conference

Flying to AGU tomorrow. Poster will be printed in San Francisco since it is not done yet. I beg the five Kinko's within a mile of my hotel to not have simultaneous printing problems or large orders.

Final exam due in two hours. Stressed? No, of course not.

By the way, I've added myself to the AGU blogroll. I will be blogging what I can during the time I'm at the meeting (see the blogroll for more coverage).

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

December Scientiae 2009

The call for posts asks for my wishes that would make my professional life easier. I always hesitate to think of these things because I'm afraid it will make me less satisfied with the current state of things. Occasionally, however, I think it is good to take stock of what can improve to see if any of it can be addressed. In light of that, here's my list, in no particular order (I have an unhealthy fondness for lists):
  1. My work computer dies and I get a new one. The keyboard and touchpad on my little macbook don't always respond very quickly and there are visible ripples that emanate down the screen. That can't be good. If it's going to die, it may as well do it before the warranty is up.
  2. I regain motivation and excitement for research and classes. This semester has been a struggle. I quickly lost interest in my classes and they turned into larger energy sinks than they should have been. Also, once I get the paper resulting from my MS research submitted, my research motivation should improve as I start on a new topic for my PhD. I always like starting new things better than wrapping up the details of old projects. I am hopeful for next semester.
  3. Small windfall of money to help pay for new professional clothes. I have lost about 15 pounds since I bought my last dress pants and they are quite baggy. I'll have to remedy this one way or another by AGU next week
  4. Doctor approval for me to return to my regular exercise activities. I strained a ligament in my knee just before Thanksgiving. The doctor does not want me returning to them until I'm evaluated by the sports clinic on campus. I have an appointment early next week. Since I leave for AGU on Wednesday and will only be in town for a few days between that and heading home for Christmas, so I may not get to jujitsu or rock climbing until January again. That makes me sad. It also makes it much harder for me to work off excess energy or frustration.
  5. More regular advising and help setting goals from my advisor. I haven't heard much from him lately and I feel like I've been floundering a bit. Maybe this is just a natural process in which I need to be more self-directed. I don't know where along the continuum I should be by now
Number 1 is not likely. Number 2 is semi-likely, but its duration may be more questionable. Number 3 is not likely either, so I'll have to work that into my budget. Number 4 is only a matter of time, but I'm not very patient. I don't know if number 5 will happen unless I specifically ask for it. Maybe if my motivation returns I won't need this as much.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

EOS Fall 2009

I have two exams, one on Friday the other whenever I pick it up. I'm glad this god-forsaken semester is almost done. I'm tired of my classes.

I'm also preparing for AGU. I should be in the final throes, but I'm not. I'm still making figures. Then I need to design a poster and dream up content (based on the figures, of course). Anyone else going to AGU?

After the poster and probably after AGU itself, I'm supposed to submit a paper by the end of the year. I don't know if that'll happen. I hope it will just to get it over with. I want to be done with this stuff.

Then I can start on my PhD work and make the mad dash for my prelims and a conference in May. Does it ever stop or slacken?

For tonight, I'm tired. Goodnight.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy TG! My brief list of giving thanks

It may be a bit of a cliche topic, but helpful things and people deserve recognition. Thanksgiving is a good time to remember that.

I'm thankful to have a secure, steady income. That's partly due to my advisor, partly due to the DoE, partly due to department policy. Between the three of them, they will not leave me without a paycheck unless I catastrophically fail (which then makes it my own damn fault).

I'm thankful that my advisor has been extremely flexible and let me chart my own path through grad school. It certainly isn't traditional, but so far it's working for me. He also makes my work easier by providing all the technical goodies I need or want (within reason :) ). Thank you, advisor!

I have to acknowledge my friends, family, research groupmates, and professors for their undying support through personal and professional challenges. I would be much worse off now if they hadn't been so understanding.

Despite all the difficulties of the past 2+ years, things are going surprisingly well. I attribute that largely to a supportive environment and understanding people. I suppose I should take some credit for it too, but that seems rather unimportant because this is just the way I function. Everything else is extra :)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fall Break!!! Yay!!!

Ahhh, fall break!

My mom may have helped me figure out why I've felt so apathetic towards school this semester (in addition to the stress of drama into the beginning of the semester and a bit of burn out from seminar, qual, and thesis in less than six months). I'm not excited about either of my classes this semester. They are both related to my research, but only indirectly. Well, two more weeks and they're over.

Next semester looks brighter class-wise. I'm taking a new class directly related to my research in my department. Granted, it is a bit of an unknown being a new class, but the course title is promising. It is also in a sub-field that I like, but find hard to grasp. Maybe this will help me understand it better.

I'm also taking intro Spanish. I took a year of Spanish in high school... ten years ago. I didn't retain much, as shown when I assumed that nombre had to do with numbers rather than name. It'll be a challenge to learn a year of college Spanish in one semester, especially since I cannot roll Rs to save my life.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Soggy and gloomy

Rain, I am done with you. You may leave now.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Another deadline

I returned to Grad School City on Wednesday. After hashing through recent drama with a friend Wednesday evening, taking a midterm Thursday morning, going to jujitsu Thursday night, and organizing finances Friday, I'm finally ready to say something here again.


I also met with the advisor on Friday. He wants a paper draft by next Friday. He's okay that I don't have all the research done that I need to make the paper publishable. As long as I can write up something that looks like a journal article based on my thesis and whatever I've done since, it'll give us a starting point for the article. From there, I can add whatever details I produce and pretty up some figures before we submit.

Even though the idea is a bit daunting, I'm glad he's giving me a more concrete deadline. It should light a fire under my ass to get moving towards a more defined goal. We're hoping to get the paper submitted before Christmas and I have a poster at AGU, so stoke the fire!

Still, ahhhhhhh! But in a good way :)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Love, love, LOVE hot apple cider, especially spiced

Please excuse a bit of a hiatus while I am away from internet access (only twice in the last four days!). Blogging will resume shortly.

Brought to you by a coffee house that serves tasty hot apple cider :D

Monday, October 26, 2009

back on track and rarely at home

Monday... again. I haven't decided if these seem more or less frequent than they are, but they sure don't seem to come at the frequency they should.

I went to a family reunion this weekend. My great-grandparents have something like 300 descendants. Only a fraction of these people showed up, but it was still a sizable group. Given that my family is quite loud, this event was pretty sedate. I met a few more distant relatives and ate a lot of good food. My grandparents made sure to introduce me to the lone PhD in the family :).

I produced a bunch of plots for the meeting with my advisor last Friday. He was very pleased with the results. Unfortunately, that means we've expanded my to-do list :P. Most of the additions are details that I hope won't take too long.

I finally feel like I'm back on track with research. I think it really helped that I got my house set up and clean the way I want it. It feels comfortable again. I also think my weekends away have helped. I needed to get out of town and do some new things. I've noticed a bit of a dichotomy between academic success and happiness. I'm generally not very happy when I'm doing really well in school, and I'm generally not doing as well as I would like in school when I'm at my happiest. Maybe this time I can combine happiness and academic success. It's been working for a week or two now... :P

My advisor is gone this week until Friday. We have a meeting scheduled Friday morning and I drive to my parents' again Friday afternoon. After a brief visit with some family, I'm catching a flight out of town for a week and a half. I'm unbelievably excited about this trip. I haven't had a real vacation in over two years. Even though I will probably do some research while I'm gone, I expect to have a great time.

Monday, October 19, 2009

random update

Huh, it's Monday again.

I went home for a dress fitting for my brother's wedding over the weekend. Did you know that they use clamps to hold the dresses on when you try on the samples in the store? Some of them were so big on me that I had a hard time telling how they'd actually fit.

I also tried on a couple of dresses from high school. I had to borrow some chip clips from my mom to keep those on. Apparently I'm significantly smaller than I was in high school.

As far as research, I finally figured out the problem with my code that was giving me 170 lines of zeros. Either the input or output variable list did not match between the function call and the function heading. I'm surprised it ran at all.

Monday, October 12, 2009

My new motivational program

I finally made some progress on research today! It may be modest, but it's a good start. And it resulted from a method that I can keep using to get me back to where I was.

Last night, just before I went to bed, I made a short list of tasks for today. Some were home things, some were work. It is nowhere near my full to-do list. Then today, I got up and started on the list right away. It was much less daunting that trying to choose something from my full list. I also spent less time deciding what I wanted to do and less time task-hopping (don't like what I'm doing, try something else, repeat).

If I don't complete the list, none of it has to carry over to the next day. This allows me to start every day fresh... no guilt, no punishing myself for what I didn't do the previous day. Today was my first day doing this, so I'll let you know how it progresses.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Things are settling

Well, well, it seems I've taken a bit of a break from here again. At least they're getting shorter.

So much has happened recently... new experiences, new plans.

The personal issues are resolved. At home, I've been working on redecorating and cleaning. What a difference all that is making! I feel much less cramped in my house. And the second bedroom is usable as a guest room because I moved all the kitties' stuff into a cubby in the kitchen. The kitties are adjusting well to the new arrangement. I want to find them another bed or two, but there is no rush on that. I'm also hoping to find an inexpensive futon on craigslist for the guest room.

At work, I've been keeping up with my class that actually has homework. The other class is mostly reading. I've been a bad student and not read most of the "required" reading. I'm catching the gist of everything in lectures, at least. I subbed for my advisor's class yesterday--that was fun. Several of the students complimented me on the lecture, so I guess it went well. I haven't gotten to research yet. I am quite unhappy with myself for that, but trying not to be too hard on myself.

As far as new plans, I started jujitsu. It seems to fit me well, so I ordered a judogi, the uniform that's required if you join the club. I also tried judo, but I'm not as excited about that group for a couple of reasons: I don't really want to compete and I feel like the jujitsu club has a better sense of safety. I've come home sore from both of them :). It's a good kind of sore.

I'm also traveling a lot over the next month and a half. After this coming weekend, I have four weekends away from home, then one or two at home, then Thanksgiving. I know this doesn't seem like the "normal" semester I hope for, but this is better than that. I've always wanted to travel more. Occasionally (every few weeks to every couple of months) I get a feeling that I can only describe as wanderlust. I feel like I need to get out of town and go somewhere. Visiting my parents does not satisfy this unless I get to do something new with people I don't usually see. Some of my travel this fall will fit perfectly.

Since I haven't done research yet, I'll leave this as a short update with no interesting stories or useful discussion. Just so you know that I still haven't defied gravity and fallen off the Earth.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Grad student confessional

Forgive me, advisor, for I have stalled. It has been seven weeks since I've done research and at least two since I've backed up my computer. I really want to get back to research, I swear. The personal issues are nearly resolved, so I hope this will happen soon.

Granted, I finished my master's in two years while carrying a heavy load of person ordeals and TAing a semester (not common in my department). And I haven't backed up my computer because I recently wiped its hard drive, haven't done any research since then, and need to reformat my backup drive as well. Perhaps I should just blame the equipment... except that my guilty conscience is less understanding than my advisor and would never accept that excuse.

I am quite lucky that my advisor has been so accommodating. My current situation would be much worse without that.

Thank you.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

haitus... again

Research hasn't happened lately. I'm keeping up with my classes, so that's at least good. Posting has been sparse and will continue to be sparse while I work out some unbloggable, non-professional issues. Sorry :/

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


I live in a soap opera (but it's so much more than that).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Let the semester begin! I said, BEGIN!

On the fourth day of the new semester, I don't feel any different.

In an uncharacteristic bit of procrastination, I have not yet purchased the required book for one of my classes. Speaking of classes, I have two this semester. The one I mentioned above is a stats class, which should be useful for research but may not be particularly interesting in itself. The other, which I'm first attending this afternoon, is on the economics and law of global warming. That one sounds interesting on its own merits. I may be the only scientist in a room full of law students.

I'm now an actual PhD student, but I'm still refining my MS research for publication. I have more motivation to start on PhD work because it will be new and I have the opportunity to make some big strides quickly. With the MS work, I'm mostly wrapping up details. Granted, these details will significantly strengthen the research, but they don't provide any great visible progress. I also need to clean up some of the background sloppiness of my MS research. None of it should affect results, but it will substantially improve re-usability. Somehow, I need to find motivation to tie up loose ends before moving on to something shiny and new.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

stories of mother-scientists

My sudden absence again was due to a family camping trip. Besides the dead car battery in the middle of the trip, it was rather unexciting: two days of driving for four days of camping. I did enjoy getting out of town for a bit and getting some reading done.

During the four days of actual camping, I read quite a bit. I finished a book about scientist-mothers, Motherhood, the Elephant in the Laboratory. While I probably won't do actual lab work, these mothers' stories contain useful compromises and warnings for my future. Between that and Mama, PhD, I've gotten a good reality check on the benefits and challenges of career and family. I highly recommend both of them.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Proposed method of taking research notes

After several days of thought and input from a friend (thanks hankdmoose), I think I've come up with a good way to take research notes while I work on my PhD (see #4 in Master's as PhD training).

For my master's degree, I made dated entries into a single text document. I thought it would be easy to take notes while I worked since most of my research requires a computer. The text document was right there with all my other windows. What seemed like an advantage turned out to be a problem. My notes document got lost among all the other windows I had open. I also couldn't sketch diagrams, tables, or figures.

These notes were not very useful a month or two after I'd written them, much less by the time I wrote my thesis. It made me exceedingly glad that I did a master's degree on the way to a PhD. If I had used this method for a PhD, writing my dissertation would have been pure nightmare (I mean, more than it will be already).

As a result, I've devised a new plan. I have high hopes for this one. It is more complex and requires more time, but ultimately it should save me a lot of aggravation and time.

For daily notes, I'll use an old-fashioned notebook and pen. That way it will not get lost in my digital mess and I can carry it with me wherever I go. It will also give me tangible evidence of my accomplishments each day, something that is scarce in scientific research. I will use a contrasting color of pen to tag each daily entry with relevant key words so I can easily find related entries. To maintain consistency, I'll keep a running list of tags inside the front cover of the notebook, probably on a replaceable sheet of paper so I can organize them. (My current plan is to make two blocks of tape on the inside of the cover itself and tape a sheet of paper to the blocks of tape. That way the sheet of paper is easily replaceable.)

To make my notes more searchable by keyword, I'll post a weekly summary to a private blog (thanks to mareserinitatis for the blog idea). I'm not using the blog as my main medium because I know I won't take regular notes if I have to go to a web page to do it (much like the problem I had using a text file). The blog will also give me a more concise version of my notes so I can filter train-of-thought ramblings that will undoubtedly show up in my notebook. While I may not be able to easily include diagrams in a blog, I can more easily include actual figures I produce simply by linking to them. If I'm really desperate to include a hand-drawn diagram, I can scan it.

I'm really excited to see how this new method works. I hope it will make my dissertation a bit easier and make my research progress more smoothly. It is one of many habits I need to improve and piecewise progress is still progress.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

One advantage of being a minority

There is at least one distinct advantage to attending a male-dominated workshop. The ratio of women to women's bathroom stalls is 7:5.

No lines. Ever.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Two days into the Petascale Workshop

Now that have reached the end of my self-imposed research hiatus, I am not working on research. Instead, I'm attending the Scaling to Petascale workshop this week. This should give me a good introduction to massively parallel computing, which I hope will be useful for running the Weather Research and Forecasting model as part of my PhD research.

I was late to the workshop on Monday because some genius thought it'd be fun to throw eggs at my car overnight. Around 7:20am, I found yellow goo smeared across the side of my car and broken egg shells littering the road. After half an hour of scrubbing the side of my car with dish soap, I got most of it off.

However, I could not head straight to the workshop. I had to first take my car through an automated car wash to get the dish soap off (yay, its first car wash since I bought it a little over two years ago!). I still need to find some clear coat touch-up to fix some chips where the egg hit. At least the whole thing only cost me about $4 plus a bit of clear coat touch-up. I missed part of the opening speakers, but nothing substantial.

A continental breakfast of the usual pastries and fruit was provided, so I decided I'd eat breakfast at home the rest of the week. Honestly, I've had a very hard time paying attention to the speakers. I really want to be interested enough that it holds my attention. I think a lot of the concepts we're learning are neat, but I'm somehow unable to pay attention for more than a few minutes without doing something else.

Part of it is lack of sleep (nine hours between Sunday and Monday nights), but it's also difficult to listen to computer science talks, especially when the speaker has a heavy accent. I find the workshop as a whole overwhelming. The talks involve a lot of terminology that I don't understand even when it is clearly pronounced and they are pretty dense. Programming is better learned through experience than through lectures anyhow. I'm hoping that the presentations and websites will be enough to help me through the example exercises, which seem very good.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Master's as PhD training

In completing a master's degree, I learned a few things that will help me immensely in maintaining sanity while working on my PhD. Most of them derive from mistakes I feel I made in the way I handled research for my master's degree. Without further ado, here are my lessons:
  1. update reference manager tags as soon as I add a new reference--It makes it really difficult to find things when I don't keep them consistently tagged.
  2. start writing the literature review as early as possible--It is a nasty beast.
  3. start notes for other sections of dissertation asap--This would force me to think of my current work as part of a larger project so that I stay focused on a single large-scale goal and remember how all the smaller parts fit together
  4. take copious notes on daily progress and problems--I confronted several similar problems throughout my master's research and I had to re-solve them every time because I didn't remember how I did it the last time. This would also help me write my dissertation and work more efficiently because I wouldn't have to spend so much time and effort trying to figure out what I did and did not do.
  5. note the next steps I need to take the next day to keep work flowing smoothly--A running to-do list is not good enough. It needs to tell me what to do next so I can dive right into work every morning.
  6. have an idea of the structure and content of target publications while working--This should help keep me focused on a publishable, coherent line of research. It should also help me keep my thoughts organized.
Now all I need to figure out is how to make sure I implement these ideas. I bought a notebook for taking notes while I work. I haven't decided if this will just be research notes or if I will also use it to tell myself what the next steps are when I leave work every day. My plan will also involve more pre-planning and administrative time, but I think that will save sanity and time overall. Administrative time can be kind of therapeutic, anyhow.

Next week I have a workshop on supercomputing. The following week I'll start revising my thesis for publication and start implementing some pre-planning and organization for my PhD. Exciting stuff!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Next Step: Prelim, but first a week off

So I just finished my master's degree--deposited the thesis on Friday. I'm taking a week off from work as part of my reward/celebration. Despite this break from actual work, some part of the back of my mind is working on the next step.

Since I've already passed the qualifying exam, my next big hurdle is the preliminary exam. The qualifying exam was a written test that took ten hours over a day and a half. It tested me on everything I've ever learned in atmospheric sciences. For the preliminary exam, I'll have to write and defend a proposal of my planned PhD research (and I have to choose a PhD committee). After that, I research, write my dissertation, and defend the dissertation.

Looking at the next step, I am a bit intimidated. According to the online description of the prelim, I need to write the proposal and prepare the defense without help from anyone. I've never done this before. I have a few versions of a fellowship proposal that won me three years of funding from which to start, but this proposal needs to be much more detailed and longer than the ones for fellowships.

I think seeing an example or two will help. If I can't get advice specifically about my proposal, I can at least use other people's proposals and presentations as examples so I know the structure and quality it needs.

In any case, I may not be starting on that right away in a hugely meaningful way. I still need to polish the research and writing from my thesis to make a paper or two. I also need to introduce myself to some tools I'll be using in my PhD research. I hope to wrap this up well before the end of the fall semester and get a good start on my prelim proposal before the end of the year so I can present it by the end of next summer.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Aaaand, we're back! Four months to the day.

Whew, I've been away for a while! In the last post, I had just presented my required department seminar. Now that it is four months later, I have passed the PhD qualifying exam, procured a Department of Energy fellowship, and finished my thesis (which will be deposited Friday or early next week). In less than a week, I will have a master's degree. *yay!*

I have also discovered that I seem to have a problem acknowledging the magnitude of my accomplishments. I seem to think that having a camcorder set up to record my seminar, the first recorded seminar in department history, is a bigger deal than:
  • making my first poster
  • presenting said poster at my first grant-funded conference
  • winning a department award for said poster
  • presenting my department seminar in my fourth semester
  • passing the PhD qualifying exam at the end of my fourth semester, before finishing my master's degree (apparently this is not normal)
  • finishing my master's degree in two years with enough research to possibly make two papers,
which I did in a little under a year. Is it sinking in yet? That's a hell of a lot of stuff!

I think I'm starting to understand that, but the transition from a lifetime of minimizing accomplishments either to fit in or to avoid becoming an egotistical asshole is slow. I'm still worried about the latter, so I hope someone will tell me if I start down that path.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

My brain is recovering...

I have not, in fact, disappeared off the face of the Earth. I just finished my seminar and a literature review for an NSF-style proposal that is the semester project for my class.

The seminar is an oddly justifiable and valuable means of torture. I spent three weeks working 12-15 hours most days leading up to the seminar. The house went to hell, my sleep went to hell, and I may have told the kitties to go to hell at some point.

I've never been very comfortable speaking to large groups, nor very good at it. Somehow, this seminar was amazingly successful. I got good ratings from the group at large and a couple of people even commented that it would shame most conference talks and many invited seminars. Maybe I can do this scientist thing after all.

After all the stress of preparing the seminar, studying for the qual, and immediately having to write a literature review for my class (due today), I am again questioning my intended career path. A large research university seems to fit my skills and interests best as far as the balance between teaching and research, but I'm not sure I want the pressure to perform and publish that comes with that job.

I still want to teach and do research, so I don't think I want to work at a teaching university. (I understand that professors at teaching universities still do research, but I think I'd rather it be a more explicit and significant part of my job.) I don't want to be a researcher because that tends to remove teaching. Maybe a researcher who does a lot of outreach? Or maybe I can still do this professor thing after all, too.

How does grad school compare to being a professor as far as stress and time consumption? And where's that advisor of mine?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday accomplishment

This semester it is especially important for me to find stress relief. I don't feel unusually stressed (yet), but I have a tendency to not realize how stressed I am until I'm strained beyond easy remedy. It takes days to recover.

I've also finally found enough incentive to get some exercise, mostly to strengthen my shoulder area. Exercise for the purpose of exercise has never appealed to me. As a result, I've never been able to stick with an exercise program or even to classes.

You may guess, rightly, that these goals can intersect. It's been a twisted path to figuring out what may work for me. I considered a work-out buddy and forcing myself into a gym, drop-in classes at the campus rec center, and looked around my office for suitable weights to lift. I haven't completely discounted the last one, but the others would never stick. What other options are there?

Thanks to an officemate, I may have come up with the perfect upper-body supplement to the lower-body and cardiovascular exercise of skating and biking. I've done it before, enjoyed it immensely, but never though about doing it consistently because of cost. The campus rec center opened a new facility that will make it very affordable (assuming they don't jack up the prices as demand increases). Can you guess what it is yet?

It's rock climbing. Well, wall climbing to be more accurate. I know I'm not supposed to pull myself up with my arms. I'm not looking to do pull-ups all the way up the wall. But it takes the exact kind of strength I'm trying to build to keep myself on the wall.

Maybe I can even convince the boyfriend to go ;).

Sunday, January 11, 2009

a ditty for late-night proposals

A-proposing we will go, a-proposing we will go,
Hi-ho the funding-o, a-proposing we will go

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy 2009!

First of all, Happy New Year! I hope 2009 maintains any goodness from 2008 and adds some of its own.

Now, here are my goals for 2009:
  1. apply for a few more fellowships: three to be exact. The research proposal is already written, so I'd need to revise it to fit each application.

  2. present master's seminar in February. This is a bit of a gimme. I already have a large part of the seminar ready and I will present wherever my research is.

  3. pass qual in May. Part of this is making sure I still enjoy my life while I'm studying for the qual. My brain will more effectively remember things if I get enough sleep and take breaks from studying.

  4. submit thesis by August deposit deadline, which is in late July. This might be a bit of a stretch, but there's always October as a back-up.

  5. incorporate regular exercise into my schedule, both as stress relief and to strengthen my problematic neck-shoulder-back muscles.

  6. take a real vacation. I haven't had a vacation since I moved to GradState, and it has been a particularly stressful year and a third.

  7. find a place to rent where the boyfriend and I can stay until I'm done with school. We want space to expand in addition to having enough space for us right now.

  8. take vitamin daily. I was doing really well with this until sometime last spring (I think).

  9. do something for other people. I don't have any details about this. The boyfriend's goals for 2008 suggest donating blood. I'll consider it, even though last time I donated I nearly passed out.

2008 in review is yet to come...