Saturday, November 19, 2011

Nature's "Womanspace" controversy

As many of you are already aware, Nature published a piece of fiction titled Womanspace. It talks about a wife who sends her husband and his friend to buy knickers for their daughter because she was busy making supper. In the end, the men return empty-handed because they cannot fathom how to complete such a simple task. Their conclusion is that "women can access parallel universes in order to find things."

First, let's neglect the quality of the piece and focus on what it says.

Why, again, is this offensive? What if the roles were reversed and the wife couldn't find the knickers? Would the blogosphere cry about the author portraying women as useless? Nowhere does it say she is a housewife. Cooking may simply be one of her household duties that they equitably split after they both get home from work. As far as shopping, I see it as women being better at multitasking, while men can only focus on the single goal at hand. Honestly, the men seem rather like troglodytes while the women operate in the modern world.

This article essentially pokes fun at men, positing that men are unable to complete a straightforward household task and then having them invent parallel planes as an excuse. Yeah, that's gotta be it. Because they can't just be incapable.

My recommendation: Try to find the humor and be more selective in what offends you. Like crying wolf, you will not be taken seriously if too many things get you up in arms.

Other blog posts on this:
Scientopia, who has her own list of related blog posts
Contemplative Mammoth
Doing Good Science at Scientific American, who makes a good point that sexist stereotypes hurt men, too, and male and female stereotypes are present in this story.
Science Sushi at Scientific American
JAYFK, though I don't think it is appropriate for futures or pasts. Perhaps satire.
Principia Discordia (forum, not blog)
On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess

Friday, November 18, 2011

Reducing obstacles: TG edition

Over at Making a Living Writing, Carol Tice posted on How to Eliminate All Your Freelance Writing Obstacles. She questions, does it seem overwhelming, too hard? These questions are not only for freelance writers. They are universal to challenging, valuable pursuits, and so is the prescription.

She opens with a Yiddish folktale, which is well worth a minute to read. Then her suggestion: change your attitude. To get perspective on the obstacles in your life, list what you have going for you. As the first commenter said, it's just in time for Thanksgiving.

I don't think it directly addresses the feeling that something is overwhelming, but it does make one feel better to take stock of good things. Feeling happier can make difficult things seem more approachable.

Here's my gratitude list:
  • Wonderful, supportive boyfriend who adores me
  • I'm in the best shape of my life
  • My mom may have health and potential financial issues, but she's still alive and in good mental health
  • I have a large, loving family
  • Even if it is occasionally stretched by unexpected expenses, my boyfriend and I both have secure income
  • I'm going to be an aunt for the first time in January, and two of my closest friends are having babies around the same time
  • Everyone believes I have a bright future and many of them gladly help me along the way
  • I have affordable basic healthcare

What's on your list?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I intended to knock off an essay for my journalism class today with plenty of time left to work on research. I ended up crafting a lengthy email on a personal matter and finishing my essay, but little else. I do not feel efficient or terribly productive.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Organizing past and future research

I'm having trouble splitting my attention between two projects, PhD research for AGU in December and the project with geology. I've always been good at organizing things, but it's more difficult when the goals are hazy and the scope seems overwhelming.

J-man likes to clean by a method he calls "convergent messes." He sorts things into piles based on where they go. First maybe it's by floor, then by room, then by place in the room. Eventually everything is put back where it goes. Planning my PhD should be similar. First I define specific, detailed research questions. Then I decide the experiments I'll use to answer them. Or do I choose data sources? When do I outline the papers I'd like to publish based on my work? I feel like I'm flailing after defining the questions, simultaneously trying to plan everything else without being sure exactly what I need to plan. It's the prelim again and again. So far my plan is to start with what I turned in for that and refine, even though revisions are not required since I passed. At least it provides a starting point.

On top of planning, I also need to record what I do as I do it so I don't get lost along the way and make writing my dissertation an epic nightmare. I've never been good at keeping records. I don't remember if I ever even balanced my checkbook (though I know how). I record the checks I write only because I don't have duplicate checks.

I've skimmed several sites that tell researchers how to keep a useful notebook, but they don't seem to address some of my questions. What do I write about research as I do it when my work is mainly programming and computer modeling? Surely I don't need to document every step of debugging a program, but I'm sure I need to record when we make a major change, such as adding random noise to the initial conditions of a simulation, and why we change it. Should I keep a separate notebook for each project or one master notebook?

I asked my advisor about keeping records and he relies on comments in code and TimeMachine backups. He doesn't seem to keep general notes in one place. He also often seems disorganized. I suppose I'll take a hack at it and make up the rest as I go.

Yeah, that usually works out.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

NaBloPoMo & Students with bikes

I signed up for NaBloPoMo for the heck of it. That means you'll hear from me a lot more during November. Every day, in fact. (11/15/11: Nevermind. Not working.)
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Bikes are near and dear to many students as a form of transportation. They're cheap and quicker than walking. But have you seen the chaos that ensues? I've spotted people talking on cell phones, smoking, and riding with hands stuffed in pockets because the cyclists doesn't know how to dress himself properly for the weather. Don't get me started on bike lanes and sidewalk etiquette!

Oops, too late.

Yesterday's post on Road Rights showed a map of sidewalk laws in the U.S.:

I grew up in Wisconsin, so I'm biased against riding on the sidewalk unless one has a good reason. In Illinois, however, riding on the sidewalk is allowed and students take all the rights of that without the responsibilities. Cyclists are required to yield to pedestrians on sidewalks.

I by no means blame only cyclists for the problems between bikers and walkers. People walk on the bike paths all the time, sometimes making them inaccessible because they refuse to move. Have you ever noticed that people seem to think you can't hit them if they don't look at you? It works when they walk in front of your car, too.

The option I most use is riding on the road. I figure a car is not likely to expect someone moving 10-15 mph on the sidewalk and I'm safer on the road. A lot of cyclists join me on the road. But again many of them take the rights without the responsibilities, and they blow through stop signs and lights without so much as a glance at cross traffic. If they don't look, the car can't hit them. I sense a theme here.

The bottom line is that, whatever your local cycling laws say, act like a car on the road and a pedestrian on the sidewalk with the caveats that you are much smaller than a car and bigger than a pedestrian. Adjust your risk assessment accordingly and be respectful of others.
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Illinois Bicycle Rules of the Road

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Adding Journalism

My uni has five weeks of classes left this semester. Where did the time go? I would swear we were only five weeks into the 15-week semester. I don't know if I like that or not.

On one hand, I have a heap of research to complete in the next few weeks, both for AGU in December and for a collaborative project with a geology professor. I hope and pray and beg that I have enough time to do both and not let anything else slide (too badly). My Great Books of Journalism class takes a lot of time. Because I enjoy sitting around reading, I still have difficulty convincing myself it's okay even for a class. Strange...

On the other hand, I'm looking forward to winter break (though I could do without winter) and spring semester. I finally get to take the introductory reporting class for journalism majors. I have wanted to take that for six or seven years, but they're usually restricted to majors. I talked to the journalism department and the grad coordinator will give me permission to take whatever classes I want as long as I meet the prerequisites. Que bárbaro! She also left the option open that I can transfer those credits to a master's in journalism if I want to finish the entire degree. J-man says I just want to have more letters after my name than he has (with MS and PhD).

Speaking of J-man, we're approaching one year together in less than two weeks. Tempus fugit!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Prelim = Success!

I passed! It sounds like the written portion was closer than the oral portion, but as long as I pass, the number is only a matter of pride.

The main comments from the oral portion were that I needed better focus and to limit the scope of my project. Regarding the written proposal, my committee wanted more detail and focus. Apparently I succeeded on the details, but didn't get as far as they wanted on the focus. They also gave me ideas on how to proceed so my degree should be easier and timelier that it would otherwise have been. That is the purpose of a prelim and committee, right? My adviser told me the committee was impressed with my knowledge of the subject :). That's good.

I am fine with these comments. Most scientists seem to have problems with focus and scope. Have you experienced this?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

July 28 (I know that's not today's date)

I finally got four scientist to agree on a two-hour meeting for my prelim defense. It's scheduled for July 28. According to department guidelines I need to send them the written proposal by July 14. Which is effectively July 12 since I'm driving to Colorado with J-man and his kids July 13-14.

I have just under a month and a half to write the long-overdue research proposal for my PhD (I was supposed to do it last year, but my dad's illness came first). It seems like a long time and too soon all at once. I'm supposed to use an atmospheric model that I still don't have running reliably. Before I send my proposal to the committee I need to do some test runs to gauge how much computer time I'll need, which may in part determine which experiments I conduct. Can't if the model's not running right.

Regardless, I am excited to get this out of the way. It's the second big hurdle towards a PhD (first was the qualifying exam). Once I pass the prelim, all I have left is research and final defense. I don't even have to take any more classes (though I probably will because I'm me and there are lots of interesting classes at colleges).

What are the rites of passage on the way to a PhD in your department?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Flying, fitness, and food

Not-work has been excellent the last few months, especially regarding exercise. Except biking. I've slacked in biking. Gotta fix that.

But I have a good reason that I haven't biked as much. Several, in fact.

I've attended every possible jujitsu practice save one when I was sick in early February. I spent most of the semester teaching lower belts the basics. As the end of the semester approached, I asked J-man (aka sensei) if I should test for green tip or green belt. He confidently said green belt. Green is the last step below brown and the first color that the home dojo recognizes. I wasn't sure I was prepared for that since I'd missed so many new techniques while teaching newbs, but I trusted his judgement.

My fellow (former) blue belts and I practiced a bunch to prepare for the belt test. Green is a rough test. Suffice it to say that I had a lot of weight driving me into the ground and flew through the air somewhere between waist and chest level. All that practice ended in a sprained ankle right before the test. I hopped up on only my left foot after my first few landings. Sensei asked if I was okay and I said, "I'll be fine." No way am I giving up on the test for a sore ankle!

After a few more landings he stopped me from receiving throws and only had me demonstrate that I could execute the techniques. Our work and perseverance paid off and we all passed. Unfortunately I have to cut out parts of my training for a month or so until the ankle fully heals. Rest assured, I have plenty to work on that don't stress my ankle.

I've also started a new exercise routine outside jujitsu. J-man introduced me to an excellent sports trainer in a city a couple of hours away. Every four to six weeks the trainer gives me a new workout routine geared specifically toward my physical imbalances and goals. For example, my lower back and shoulders are exceptionally flexible. While that is not a bad thing in itself, it leaves me more vulnerable to instability in those areas. The trainer gives me exercises to correct for that. The workouts are challenging and very doable. I can feel and see the results, which is satisfying and a nice change from the murky path of research. I never thought I'd like working out at a gym.

Among other things I never expected is J-man, of course. We've been dating for about six and a half months and it has been so good for me. Not only has he supported me through professional and personal struggles and gotten me to work out regularly, but he can cook! And I mean well. Pasta primavera, pad Thai, pork loin--all of it has been tasty. He roasts coffee, grinds flour, makes yogurt, and bakes fresh bread. The only thing he doesn't do is rhubarb, but I'm working on that ;). He recently admitted that rhubarb crisp is tasty.

In light of that delicious thought, I'm off to the gym. Food tastes so much better when I'm ravenous after a good workout. That wouldn't skew my opinion of J-man's cooking prowess, would it?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

FCIWYPSC: The happiest grad students

I'd like to call attention to a great post by Cherish over at Faraday's Cage: The happiest grad students.

It's an interesting idea that the happiest grad students are employees elsewhere. Most grad students I know are the traditional sort for whom being a grad student is school and job. Most of them are jaded after a few years. In my office I'm surrounded by disparaging comments about classes, research, and academia in general. Most of us seem to look not to our jobs for satisfaction, but to everything else in our lives. While that is not necessarily a bad thing, our job as students seems more like a trial than professional fulfillment. If we can withstand several years, our vocational horizons broaden and we never have to go back.

I cannot speak to being a grad student while employed elsewhere because I have seen very few examples of that. Those I have seen have been at a distance. The students are rarely seen around the department. It seems nice, but I've never been sure if it is a grass-is-greener case. At least I'd have better pay and insurance (probably).

Do you agree with Cherish's assessment? Why?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Strides in research

Research is moving. In December of last year (a whopping five months ago!) my adviser and I planned to submit a paper. Well, we just submitted it last Monday. Finally. After working on the darn thing for a year and a half! Now it's out of my life for at least a couple of months. Good riddance.

On a related note, I recently received a request to review a manuscript for the journal to which I submitted my paper. I didn't realize that they would ask a grad student to review a paper before she even has a publication through the peer-review process. This will be new. Luckily I have an adviser to shadow me so I do it right.

I gave my first conference talk in January. I uploaded it two hours before my presentation time and didn't practice at all. Though my talk was the last one of the session, I entered the room at the beginning of the session. I watched as the seats slowly filled and people gathered along the walls throughout the session. The talk before mine must be really interesting!

As the applause faded and I heard my name spoken into the microphone, few people left. They came for my talk? I hoped for a clear mind and calm nerves. My talk came out reasonably cogent and perfect length. My adviser was relieved, as was I. No one asked a question, though the person running the session tracked me down later and said he enjoyed my talk and that I was doing important work. Neat! I survived my first conference talk, and perhaps made waves in the process.

I hope to continue that smidgen of momentum. My PhD research direction changed a bit, much to my satisfaction. I'll still work with the WRF model, but the standard version instead of a special climate version. It is much easier to get my hands on and has better support. The results should be relevant to many mountainous areas around the tropics, which makes me feel like the research is more worth doing.

That's not all, folks. I'm trying to schedule my prelim (again) while I try to help a visiting undergrad (I'm learning alongside him), work with a geology student on a side project, and now review a paper. Do you know how difficult it is to get four scientists to agree on a two-hour block of time to meet? If one's not in DC, another is in Fiji. Or maybe India.

My adviser wants me to finish by December 2012. I have a start on some of the background work, but I'm still having trouble running the model. I haven't decided yet if that's a delusion. How long should the research and writing portion of a PhD take? Eh, I'll give it a shot anyhow. I certainly don't want to be the perpetual grad student.

Which brings me to my future after grad school. I have not yet decide how or when to integrate communication and education into my degree, though I it is important that I get that experience before I graduate. I don't know what kind of position I'll look for. Scientist, programmer, communications... who knows. If J-man and I stay together in Grad School Town, it depends on what's available in the area. Post all that under future work.

Next time: personal progress, and there is plenty to be had ;)

Busy, busy!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The semester I almost didn't have

My last final exam was last Friday. I dropped Spanish, and German and hydrology were uninspiring. I made it to the end of my "at least one more semester" semester. I'm hanging in here. It's a job, it pays, and I'll get a fancy piece of paper at the end.

I've also found a reason to stay in Grad School Town. Yes, it's a man. A sweet, sensual, stable man. He's the saving grace of this town right now, and a major reason I'm still in school. He also runs my jujitsu dojo. (If we do leave, the head of the dojo comes with me and I effectively don't have to leave the dojo--bonus!)

If J-man wasn't here, I'd probably keep looking for jobs around DC. I still think about DC often. I'd love to live in that area, but instant gratification in where I live is not worth giving up what I have here. I can make do in this little town for a while longer and see what the future brings.

Since I seem to be staying, my adviser wants me to finish by the end of 2012. That leaves me two summers and three semesters, the same amount of time I have left on my fellowship. He wants me to defend my prelim in late June or early July. Sure, why not? I've pulled off crazier things. My approach to school and my degree has changed enough that I think I can do it. My frame of mind regarding school gets a little shaky here and there, but J-man helps me stay on track.

Okay, back to work. My prelim is nearly upon me and J-man's and my schedule keep us running, engaged in the world, and happy. I'll tell y'all more details from this past semester sometime in the next week.