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.