Monday, December 13, 2010

my comps experience (the sequel)

Remember how I wrote that long post about how hard--but satisfying and educating--the comprehensive exam process was? Ended it on a 'I'm glad that is over' type of note, and all that jazz?

And then a few weeks later when I found out I failed one of the three.

And that really killed me. Because it hadn't seriously occurred to me that I wouldn't pass. I'm a good student. I always pass. And there was a grading rubric that led me to believe as long as you wrote coherent sentences and did a decent amount of research, you'd be OK.

So when I got the email entitled "Deficiency of Comprehensive Exam" I was completely shocked at how I handled it. I am not the emotional type, but I felt numb. Big drippy tears all over my desk at work. Then I tried to suck it up, but I finally composed an email to my coworkers stating that I wasn't feeling well and needed to take the rest of the day off. (I filled my boss in on the reason later.) I piled into my car and drove home -- barely functioning -- and then laid on the floor in front of the fireplace with a bottle of that Long Island Iced Tea mix (you know, the cheap one in the plastic jug?) and a lot of Halloween candy. I spent my afternoon that way, just disbelieving. Sulking. Being miserable and angry. All that work. ALL THAT WORK. Some of what I thought was my BEST WORK. Let's just FLUSH IT DOWN THE TOILET OKAY?

The pessimist in me says "this is what happens when you let yourself think the best outcome will befall you." It was back to glass-is-half-empty living for me. Which is good because a few days later, I found out I didn't pass the other two either. But I'll get to that in a minute.

The next day I was able to compose myself enough to go to work. I also called someone in the department and received advice on how to rewrite it. I didn't necessarily agree with his advice at the time, but I took copious notes and was happy he was willing to share so much help.

But it still sucked. I still had to do it over. So much work. But at least it was just one of them right? Yeah, like I said, I soon found that the other readers decided I needed to do some revising too. One of the questions needed only minor edits, while the other had some pretty major revisionary work requested.

Thankfully, by then I had some perspective. Others--academic folks I respect at work, friends and family who've been there--came out of the woodwork to tell me they hadn't passed theirs in the first shot either. My advisor provided a wealth of uplifting and helpful advice. One piece that stuck with me throughout the re-write process:
"At this level of learning, hard work does not always guarantee mastery; it is just a prerequisite."

And at least they were letting me edit/revise/rewrite. Some programs and some types of comps do not offer this luxury. You don't pass, you have to wait. Sometimes it's a month, sometimes it's a term, and I've even heard of having to wait a whole year before being allowed to re-test. So I'm fortunate there. Failure of this test thankfully did not push back my progress any more than whatever amount of time it took me to pass it.

However: wouldn't be granted approval to start my dissertation until I received a full passing report on it. So it was in my interest to get it passed. Oh and... they give you three weeks from the date of the deficiency report to turn in the revised one. So I had to get it done. And I found out right before leaving for that conference in California for a week. Awesome.

So that was a wasted week. (Not wasted, because it was a great conference. But wasted in terms of time-that-should-be-used-to-finish-comp-revisions.) Also, don't forget that I still have my job, and I still had my classes and the work associated with them, plus the make-up assignments for having been gone for the conference.

So. With no shortage of high-priority demands, a mile-long to-do list and not a shred of free time in sight, I checked out 15 or so more library books. I was getting nervous at this point that the librarian would tell me I had reached the limit of books you're allowed to have checked out at a time (I still had a pile of them at home). Turns out, I wasn't even close. It's 200. I feel for the poor soul for whom they had to define a limit like that.

Anyway, back at home, chained to my desk, with butt and legs falling asleep from sitting on my lumpy old $50 office chair. Shoulders tensed into a semi-permanent hunch. I cut my long, perfectly-edited, beautifully-written failure of a paper down to 2 choppy pages, filled with outlining notes.

I started to understand what they didn't like. I sulked some more. I looked at it. I printed it out and looked at it some more. Wrote a sentence here or there, but was largely unproductive for long spans of time.

At some point--dangerously close to when they were going to be due--I realized that I was paralyzed by the fear that I might not pass them, again. And then what? Another three weeks wasted? Would I be allowed to keep revising? Did I have time for that? (The answer to "Do I have time for _____" is almost ALWAYS "No," by the way.) Sometimes though, you just have to do your best (and if they don't like your best, you have to do better). I finally wrote.

I wrote and wrote and wrote. At exactly the three week due date, I turned in 90 pages of rewritten, revised, or otherwise reworked academic gibberish. My confidence was gone and I was feeling completely sullen about the whole thing. When I turned it in this time, I didn't feel free or lighthearted, nor was there any spring in my step as I left the administration office. I pretty much just drove over to Target and bought us some toilet paper and coffee filters and broccoli and whatever else, and went back to work. Life goes on, and sometimes you're living it with the knowledge that you just spent basically half a semester doing and redoing something you can't publish, turn in for credit, or otherwise use except for this solitary purpose. And you're pretty sure it's still not even good enough for said solitary purpose.

So you can imagine my relief on Friday when I found out I passed them all this time. Suddenly those hours (days, weeks, months) spent researching, writing, worrying, obsessing and sulking don't seem quite so worthless.

Now it's time to dissertate.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

so this is (not) wonderful

I actually like driving in the winter time. The slick roads make it a challenge, you can be safe and enjoy driving if you're reasonable about your speed and actions. Some people--like a guy that decided to make an unprotected left just a few feet in front of us as we were traveling through the intersection in the 'straight only' lane--just never got the memo. These people need to get off the road, at least until they learn to check their dumb summer driving habits at the door.

Even better: the guy drove off without stopping to exchange information. Merry Christmas. (We were on our way to get our tree.)

Friday, November 05, 2010

I needed some 'happy'

And I got it, twofold!

Today's big news is so surprising and welcome.

A few weeks ago, I ran into a professor in my department and mentioned to him that I need to take an intro class from him in the spring. He was all "But you're about to finish, why this, now?" Well, since I got my Masters from the same institution, I already have taken almost every class in the department. And the Ph.D. requires half the credits be taken from the department. I had taken everything else except for this one class (including research and readings credits, which you're allowed to take twice and I *did*), so I needed its credits. The professor told me to look in to that further because he thought it was a silly rule. He said he'd gladly sign a waiver if I found a way out of it.

So then last week, while at a conference in California, I mentioned it to my advisor (who was also at the conference). He didn't think I had it figured out properly--he thought I could probably take any semi-relevant graduate-level class and have it count. He said he'd sign off on that if I took a look at my paperwork and found his assumption to be correct.

Yesterday, I sat down and looked at my paperwork, hoping to find that I did not, in fact, have to take that intro class. It would have been an OK class and I do like the professor, but it isn't really my interest area so I was hoping to sub it for something else.

And I found an error in the math on my Program of Study. There was a discrepancy between it and my advising form.

I've found errors before (the things are CONFUSING, with the same course listed in multiple areas, random inconsistently-placed blanks and checkboxes, and wonky 'write-in' and 'you cannot count this course here, but you can on a different line' B.S. going's like doing your taxes). Except this time, it was an error in my favor.

When do you EVER make an error in YOUR favor?

The moral of this story is, that after I triple, quadruple-checked my math and requirements...
And after I excitedly explained my calculations to my advisor, imploring him to check it out even though his response was "I trust your math is more accurate than mine would be..."
And after I had my math-minded husband triple, quadruple-check it all again...

It seems that I neglected to properly add in the credits of a couple of prerequisite courses I took over 2 years ago. They don't count for their areas of emphasis, but they do count toward the total degree credits. And my advisor was right, I don't specifically need any more credits from our department, either.

So what does that mean?
I actually do not need to take any more classes. AT ALL. In December, I'm done. In fact, I don't even need one of the classes I'm currently enrolled in.

Nothing but dissertation remains. Oh and a few other pesky* things.

I really, really needed something positive to happen on the school front (*because as I cheerfully reported a few weeks ago, I did not pass my comps, but I'm revising, so it's not like a big fat F, and I will write about that process in a few weeks).

Never a dull moment around here.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

California conference

I presented at a conference in California a few days ago. Husband and I had it planned out so that I'd fly out on Tuesday, then he'd join me Wednesday night. This would give him time to attend my session and enjoy some of the conference with me, and it would give us some time to explore the area too.

If there's one thing I've learned about traveling between October and April in the Minnesota/North Dakota region, it's that the weather will mess with you. I've spent hours and nights in airports in between my college town and my parents' house on Holiday weekends. But this one might make my Top 5 Worst Flights Ever list.

My classmate and I were flying together on Tuesday, on the same flights. We got a ride to the Grand Forks airport and found it very crowded. High winds, winter storm, blizzard watch, etc. Grand Forks airport canceled all of its flights that day except for the first flight in the morning -- which our other colleagues were on -- and the 3:05 PM, which my classmate and I were on. "Lucky." The night only got worse and worse as it wore on and we were denied landing at two airports, landed at another where we weren't allowed to get off the plane, were unable to eat due to restaurant closures and no food on board, had very turbulent (baggage-tossing!) flights, and finally arrived at LAX when we were supposed to arrive at Orange County, at 2:30 AM (4:30 our time), where we were picked up by a SuperShuttle driver who price-gouged us (over twice what the website quoted) and whom I'm pretty sure was the Texas Chainsaw guy, if the Texas Chainsaw guy liked music by UB40. (I've rarely been so scared in a vehicle than I have been on this occasion. My classmate and I were unbelievably relieved when we arrived at our hotel decidedly un-raped.) When I asked our driver for a receipt for our per diem, he smiled and jotted an obscene invitation on it. That's nice.

I found my room, brushed my teeth, put my contacts in a water glass and hit the sack. A few hours later I was up at the conference. Then I had to go to the Orange County airport at noon the next day with my classmate to pick up our luggage. Mine was wet (weird?!) but otherwise unharmed.


My husband was supposed to join me that evening, but he didn't. He had so many flight troubles, he was 24 hours late (and 15 of those were spent in airports.) Thankfully, I reserved a prepaid ride to the hotel for him so no one tried to swindle or assault him when he arrived.

I picked up the rental car too--I wish I had booked it originally so my classmate and I would not have had the shuttle issues, but oh well. I wish the two of us could have spent more than 1 full day in California together (we flew back on Saturday morning after returning our rental car).




I learned a lot and had a great time at the conference too, but it was still a really stressful trip for both of us due to all of the travel and exhaustion! Plus that whole You Failed The Comps thing weighing on my mind (yet to be discussed here on The Blog)... and the classes I missed in order to go there... we cannot forget those.

Also, when we arrived home, storm winds had blown our fence over and in to the neighbor's yard. Super!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

deficiency (fail)

Have you ever had a friend receive a setback or some disappointing news, and you immediately try to cheer them up? You tell them: "It'll be fine, all you have to do is this and this, and you'll be right back on track! No reason to be sad!!" You're so helpful. I'm helpful like this all the time.

Then something crappy happens to you. And someone tells you pretty much that same "it's not so bad!" schpeel... and you want to punch that person in the face.

But it's true: it's not the end of the world and its hopefully just a little extra effort on my part.

I am just so disappointed. I got the news that I failed one of the comps. I left work early, drove home in tears (that's safe!) and laid on the floor in front of the fireplace for 3 hours eating peanut butter cups and wondering wtf.

Things will be OK.
Tonight I sulk.
Tonight I am exhausted and sad.
Tomorrow I have to put on my big girl pants and carry on.

I know this is vague, sorry. More soon.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

my comps experience

I finished the comps, having gotten them a few weeks ago if you recall. Now that I have time, I'll detail the process.

What is it?
The comprehensive exams are test(s) that people in many graduate degree programs have to take in order to advance toward their goal. Every program is different. I did not have to take them for my Master's degree, but husband does for his (which is in a different field). I did have to take them for my Ph.D., and that's what I just finished doing. Once I pass them, I'll be allowed to set up the proposal meeting(s) and start the approval/defense/writing & rewriting part of the dissertation. So it's kind of a big deal.

How does it work?
Like I said, every program is different. In my degree program--which is in a social science field--I had a choice between two options.
1) "Sit" for the exams: I would be allowed to bring a sheet of bibliography information into a room and spend 3 hours writing my best answer to each of three questions. The bibliography is for citing sources, but no notes on who said what are allowed--just the cite. (i.e. The book title, year, publisher, etc.)
2) Take the exams home: I would be given the questions and have three weeks to write and turn it in.

I chose option 2. Honestly, that bibliography stuff scared me. I didn't think I could 'cram' enough to remember who said what in which article. With the take-home, I knew my answers would be scrutinized for perfection due to my having full access to resources with which to formulate my responses. But I felt safer with this choice. (And though I don't yet know if I passed, I still feel confident that I made the right choice.)

I had to file a paper with our graduate office stating my choice and the date my adviser and I agreed on for me to receive the questions. I've known this date for several weeks - September 17. This would give me until Friday, October 8 to complete and turn in the questions. What it really gave me was three weekends though: I work and go to night classes during the week, if you recall.

My program is such that I take classes in multiple departments in order to receive the degree. Therefore, I had to write the exams for two departments. I received both of the exams at once. There was a list of several questions for each test. For the department that is slightly relevant to my degree, I was instructed to choose one question from the list. For the primary department, I had to choose two.

I can't tell you what my questions were because I believe they're the same questions every grad student in my department receives. It would probably not be cool of me to publish them on the Internet. To give you an idea though: each question was the type of question you might be given as a semester-long research paper assignment on in a graduate course. In other words: they are a complex topics requiring much research and tons of detail to come to an acceptable answer. The answer I wrote for one of my questions is over 20 pages long.

My Experience

When I received the questions, I took a look through them and thought: "These aren't very hard at all!"

And they weren't, in theory. I could think of a plausible answer for each one. 'Hard' and 'time-consuming' are two different things though. And these were some time-consuming mothers. But since I am nothing if not myself, I did barely any work on them the first week I had them. Really. The first Saturday I had them found me entertaining house guests, then planting grass in the back yard on Sunday. I did pick the questions though. And later that first week (probably while I was in class), I formatted the Word docs and wrote very brief, skeletal outlines of what I should probably cover with my answer to each.

Then on the second weekend, it was time to get busy. My goal was to complete the first question on Saturday and then begin the second question. Then on Sunday, I'd wrap up #2 and do #3 as well.


Flash forward to Sunday night, where after probably 20 hours of work I was nursing a super, mega nauseating headache and just starting the second question. Shudder.

Monday had me barely able to walk into a lighted room. Migraine: my body's favorite way to respond to stress. By Tuesday though, I was feeling slightly better (aside from the still-present stiffness that had set into my shoulders and neck and a horrible hungover feeling I have yet to completely shake) and able to finish up the second question. It had also occurred to me by this point that it probably wasn't smart to put off question 3 until the last minute, so I started it right away. I worked on it whenever I had the chance -- be it after class, at night, or during my lunch hours at work.

I put the finishing touches on question 3 Friday during my lunch hour, leaving a full weekend for editing and formatting. Yay! (Technically, I had the whole weekend AND this week (they're due Friday), but I have other things going on and really needed to have it finished a bit early to save my sanity.) I turned them in Monday. Now let's hope I pass!

What I Learned
1. I feel like I re-learned everything I was taught over the past five years -- through my Master's program and this one -- in two weeks' time. If that's not a mindf*ck, I don't know what is. (No wonder I had a headache!) It was an extremely refreshing experience though: I'd forgotten a lot of that stuff!

2. The library is pretty cool! I've never been a big library person. I use a lot of journal articles in my research, and those can be located online in PDF format. I have probably been to the library under 20 times in my adult life. But in that 2 weekend period, I checked out more library books than I have in the rest of my college career combined. The crazy thing is that they aren't due until next May! (But I don't want to hog them. I just want to make sure there are not questions about my sources before I return them, and then I'll bring them back.) I really enjoyed my time in the library. I'd go down an aisle in search of one book, only to emerge with 5. It was cool and oh-so-useful. I found books in our library that were over 120 years old! And it was so quiet in there. No cell phones. No hustle and bustle. Lovely. I hope someday I can spend some time in the library looking up topics of interest, without so much time-pressure.


3. Whatever I didn't do 'now', would still be there later. Of course I already knew this. But I am accustomed to procrastinating to the point where I really have to ride the deadline to complete the work. It all works out fine too--at least the majority of the time. On a weekend especially, it's customary for me to tell myself "I want to finish this by noon," and then surf the web until 11:30 am and end up working on the assignment until 2. With this huge amount of work to do in such a short amount of time, I could not afford to be distracted. No Facebook. No Twitter. No RSS reader. No web browsing. No email-checking. I had to mentally slap my hands away from these things I just wanted to "check real quick." If it weren't for this extra bit of strictness on my part, I'd probably still be frantically working on those darn questions.

4. I'm almost done with this chapter of my life. Really. Obviously I still have that whole 'dissertation' and 'defense' process to deal with, and that's a biggie. But this was a biggie too. A major step. A milestone if you will. (Ok, now I'm just being melodramatic.) If I pass this--which, I really better pass, please please please please please--I can move forward with the dissertation.

So that was my experience with the comps. Painful, but not too scary (assuming I passed - I will find out within a month).

Monday, September 20, 2010


I could have chosen to quit my job and go back to school, living on assistantships and large loans. I could have chosen not to go to grad school. I could have chosen to stay in apartments (avoiding maintenance and home-improvement tasks). And along that same vein, every time I choose to start a home or crafty project, I could choose not to. (And sometimes I do--getting better at that.)

I was recently discussing my current goings-on with a local professional who was once in the same boat as me. Her description of my situation was so spot on.

She said:

You are so busy because the life you ordered has arrived.

Uh. Yes. Yes it has.

I decided to take a full load of classes, work on a research study and dissertation proposal, take my comps, and work full time, and plan to attend & present at a week-long conference, and go to a relative's out-of-state wedding, all during a time-span of a few months. I made those decisions. I 'bought' it all. Now it's time to pay.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Yesterday, I tweeted that it was nice to be stuck waiting at a railroad crossing, because it gave me a few minutes to relax and sit. Now that's some desperation right there. And I spent the time wishing I'd brought one of the articles with me that I'm supposed to read for my next class.

With two night-classes each week, that's 2 less weekday evenings to complete my assignments. (So, what do you think I spend my lunch-hours doing?)

I will receive my comprehensive exams (which are take-home) today. I have tried to prepare for this time-and-brain-frying experience by completing class assignments ahead of time (which means: more homework!).


Another thing stressing on me is the fact that an institutional review board (IRB) approval I filed is taking forever. It's been nearly a month now, and it usually does not take that long. They just need to go over what I want to do and make sure it's sound and safe (for the participants). I really need this approval, ASAP. The fact that it's taking so long makes me worry that something is wrong with it. (All I want to do is hand out a very non-threatening survey. It shouldn't be a big deal.)

Also, some friends of the family are going to be traveling through our area and may be staying with us over this weekend. I found out about this last week. (Well, I knew there was a chance, but I didn't know any solid dates.) So I/we have a lot of cleaning, tidying, and prep to do, as we rarely have a guest -- let alone an overnight one. [Oh and hey, remember when I said I get my comps today? What a coincidence!]

Thursday, September 09, 2010


It's our anniversary!

The husband is sick with a bad head cold, I have class tonight after work, our gift(s) didn't arrive on time, and this weekend we're going to someone else's wedding.

Regardless of how we spend the day though... it's been a great year.

This year, we...
...completed a ton of home improvements
...adopted our cat, Rusty
...paid off one of our cars
...took three big trips: one with my family, one to a conference, and one to Jamaica (our belated honeymoon)
...put a degree on the wall and started another (him)

I'm looking forward to the year to come, and all the years after that too.

Monday, August 23, 2010

the last year

Today I start what I hope will be my last year of school (as a student, at least).

It's been a very, very long road and there is still a lot ahead of me. For example, maybe I should get my books out of the box that's been sitting ominously on our dining room table for 2 weeks or so.

Seriously though. What scares (and excites) me about this coming year is the amount of work that falls squarely on me. I am [somewhat] in control of whether I graduate next year. I say "somewhat" because there's a committee of very busy people who are going to be helping me out (and by helping, I mean criticizing my every move). But in reality, it is mostly ME leading the way. MY decisions about how to spend my time over the following several months are going to shape the way my year goes.

It's going to be a ride, that's for sure.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

5 years in north dakota

Five years ago today, I arrived in Grand Forks with an SUV-load of stuff and an 18-month plan:

Step 1: Get Master's degree
Step 2: Move back to the west coast.

I guess plans were made to be... modified.

I did get the Master's in 18 months.
But life happened.
I met my husband and he was in school.
So I started my next degree.
And then we bought a house.
And then we got married.
And then he finished one degree and started another.

And here we are.

Maybe for another year. Or another 3. Or who knows? Life's pretty good right now, so I won't complain. :-)

Thursday, August 05, 2010

all your weight, it falls on me

Through people I know, I have derived that a lot of people are in a situation where their spouse or significant other is in school. Either you've gone back to school, or your spouse has, or one of you has been living the 'student life' for the bulk of your relationship. On the other hand, it's somewhat less common for me to meet couples who are both in the active pursuit of academic degrees (or professional certifications). As you probably know, my husband and I are one of those couples.

When we met, I was finishing up a degree and husband was applying for his. Then for a few months of our friendship (and later, dating), I was not going to school, while he was. Then I got accepted to my Ph.D program. Things have picked up a lot since then.

Now we're both full-time grad students. But we don't live the 'grad student life', because we're also both gainfully employed. I hear a lot of people vent frustration about how their spouse quit a job to go back to school, and now there is a financial burden on their lifestyle. We did not want that. We figured: if we're going to essentially give up our twenties with our noses buried in books, we might as well have some financial security and savings when we come out of it all. Our decision to keep working equates to no change in financial lifestyle, but also means a lot of stress and very little free time.

So anyway, about that work. Each of us holds a full-time, professional position that is somewhat-related to our area of study. (But it's not like a 'research assistant' job or anything: it's an actual job in the industry, unrelated to the time we put in academically.) So at any given time (including summer), we're each working 40-hour weeks while also taking between 6 and 15 credits.

This can cause some issues with time management, specifically in terms of how "free time" (what's that?) should be spent.

In fact, here are some "cons" related to the dual-school-working-marrieds lifestyle:
  1. We're both too busy to 'pick up the slack'. With a single-back-to-schooler in the household, the non-schooling spouse is often expected to take on extra responsibilities like cleaning, cooking and errands-running. But for us, there is no 'non-schooling spouse'. Chores will sit undone, forms unfilled-out, laundry unwashed. We run our cars' gas down to fumes because neither of us wants to spare the 10 minutes to stop at the gas station.
  2. Our families and friends suffer. This ties in to "picking up the slack". One spouse can't be the "liaison" (a.k.a. ass-coverer) for the spouse that couldn't make it to cousin-so-and-so's birthday celebration due to some crazy-huge project. 
  3. School costs money. We could pay off either car with the amount of money we're going to spend on tuition and books for us both this fall alone.
  4. Courses are designed as if each one is the only thing going on in your life. Class meetings during work-time, hours-upon-hours of legwork required outside of class, collaboration required with people who work strange hours and thus can only meet on weekends or late at night... today's classrooms are not just reading, writing and examinations. There's groupwork. Interactive projects. And tons of time. They say that each credit hour you take requires 3 hours of outside-of-class time to study each week, minimum. So let's say you're crazy like hubs was last spring, and you take 15 credits. That's 45 hours you should spend on the homework. On top of working 40 hours a week. It's like having 2 full-time jobs.
  5. Where is the love? When you're stressed about work and you're stressed about school, and your evenings and weekends are taken over for the foreseeable future, how do you think that translates to your overall happiness, ability to relax, and desire to hang out with your spouse (or friends, for that matter)? When you do get free time, you're torn: you haven't spent an hour with your spouse in weeks, but you also have a list of "when I get time" tasks, needs and wants that have been gnawing at your brain. (For me, it's usually crafts, photo or home projects. For hubs, it's often reading or playing computer games.)
What it comes down to is personal sacrifices. We don't often get to our "free time" lists. And when we do, we have to choose whether we want to indulge our own desire, or spend the time with our spouse instead. Sometime we'll end up wasting a good chunk of the free time just trying to figure out what to do with it.

There are also sacrifices we share.
  • We do not have cable TV or any reception for network programs. Husband did manage to get the Olympics broadcast to come in, and we made an effort to watch a few of those events. I honestly think the Olympics is the last time we watched a TV program. (We know almost nothing of pop-culture, in case you haven't noticed.)
  • We rarely see a movie in the theater, and almost as rarely watch one at home (our Netflix discs regularly collect a little dust before we either get to them, or mail them back, unwatched, in a fit of guilt).
  • We eat out too much. But not for entertainment, for convenience when we're too tired to cook (or when no one has had time to go to the store).
  • There is no 'weekend downtime'. We work and have class all week, come home and do school work, then the weekend hits and we spend it doing schoolwork (and the chores required to keep our house from getting gross). Then we're back at work and school on Monday. (And if we travel during the semester - for work or personal purposes - we have to bring school work with us.)
  • We have to be very very patient. If one of us needs something done that only the other can provide, we have to wait a long time and/or expect less from each other, understanding that the other person has just as much homework, or more).
  • We can't shouldn't have kids. We are frequently asked when we're going to have children. Hahahahahaha. I know people who have kids, and who are in school. But their spouse isn't. I am pretty sure that "but" is the key. Meanwhile, my clock is ticking and the amount of birthday candles we each need are nearing the point where they could be confused with a bonfire.
Now with that out of the way, some "pros" of our situation.
  1. We know what each other is going through. Even though we have different programs with different requirements and expectations, we're able to sympathize. Neither of us has the right to get upset with the other when things get particularly heavy, because we've been there too. Or we're going to be there next week. Or we're currently in that situation and we not only understand, but are very busy dealing with it. Either way, we're both well aware of the strain full-time work+school can put on a person, because we're both living it. We don't have to try to empathize: We get it.
  2. We're both getting it done, ASAP. Even though we know other couples who have done this, we cannot stomach the idea of leap-frogging off each-other (one getting a degree and then working while the other goes back to school, and vice-versa) until we're 40 and one of us is still in school. We want it done now so we can move on to new things.
Yeah, there aren't a lot of pros. But they're big pros that far outweigh the triviality of the cons. Another note as far as the cons and sacrifices: we're used to this. Our whole relationship has been this way. It was not a recent change for us. This makes many of those negative things a lot less noticeable.

I suppose I ought to leave you with a few tips. If you or your spouse is in school, or if you're nuts like us and you're both in school, you're going to need to practice a few key attitude attributes to make it through while still on speaking terms. They are:
  • Patience. Patience. Patience. Seriously.
  • Compromise. (And agree on what it means to each of you to do so.)
  • Sympathy (or empathy, depending on your sitch).
  • Generosity (with your time, your skills, and your overall attitude).
  • Calmness. (Don't blow up. keep your temper.)
  • Ability to schedule anything. (You'll find yourself penciling in time for things you never thought you'd have to schedule.)
  • A shoulder to cry on. (School may not seem like a dramatic type of thing, but sometimes the stress can overwhelm.)
  • An eye on the prize. (Why are you doing this? Have a goal. A pretty picture in your head. An ideal future situation that justifies all this.)
Most of the time, we practice all of those tips and more. Some of the time, they all go to hell and we get crabby (me, mostly). But seriously: in a matter of a few years, we'll be greeted by two Ph.D.s hanging on our office wall. We'll have good, flexible jobs (with good salaries), recognition in our fields, and will be well on our way toward providing a nice, comfy life for us and our future children.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Every time I write something on my schedule, have a discussion, or participate any type of written or verbal exchange including the words "my dissertation," my brain screams: "imposter!"

And I have to stop and think. Really? Is this me? Am I really, for real, at this point in my studies? Other doc students I know throw around words like "dissertation" as part of their daily vocabulary. And they sound so... grown up, or something. Ready for that stage. All scholarly and researchy and just... DISSERTATIONLY. They are at That Stage.

It's hard to accept that yes, really. I am now One Of Those People. I am at That Stage too. I've been at this for over 2 years now. Next year at this time, I may be preparing to graduate.

It's weird. (And awesome.)

Sunday, July 11, 2010


We returned from our 10 day honeymoon to Jamaica very early this morning. We had a wonderful time!


Back to reality now.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

the non-weekend

Ok folks. Let's talk about socializing.

Social events zap any free time that I might have possibly had. See, here's what a day in my life looks like.

  • 5:40-7:00 AM: Work out.

  • 8:00-5:00 PM: Work. (I don't usually go to lunch, instead staying in to work on homework or catch up on blogs or *gasp* keep working. If I do 'go to lunch' it usually equates to rushing to the grocery store, rushing home to put the food away, and chugging a SlimFast en route back to work.)

  • 5:00-10:30 PM (or later): Homework (if I don't have a class that evening, and classes can go as late as 10 PM).

Note: SOMETIMES we might sneak in an episode of The Simpsons. (We have the first 12 seasons on DVD.)

  • 10:30 - Bed.

I won't even go in to husband's schedule. It makes mine look like a walk in the park. Sometimes we can go a whole week without speaking more than a few sentences a day -- just because we're both so busy. It makes us sad sometimes too, because we can see our 20's fading away into a blur of deadlines and outlines and drafts. But it's our life. I'll detail what it's really like to be a couple of full-time-employed, full-time graduate students in another post. THIS post is about socializing.

Namely, the kind of socializing people tend to do on weekends. Bachelor parties. Bonfires. Suppers. Weddings. Barbecues. Birthday parties. Baby showers.

Listen. After five 18-hour go-go-go days, there are three things I want to do with my weekend:

  • Catch up on homework. (Because, really? Did you think working on this stuff on weeknights was enough? Hah!)

  • Work on the house. (This includes 'mandatory' stuff like lawn-mowing and 'for fun' stuff like painting a room.)

  • Nothing. (Well, nothing that requires I that put on underwear. Stuff like watching movies. Playing games. Surfing the web. Blogging.)

And on a perfect weekend, I'd surround these activities with going to bed early and sleeping in*. Wow. Party animal, right?!

I look at my schedule and I think: "where is the relaxation?". Because my calendar shows an event or gathering happening every single weekend (either Saturday or Sunday) until we go to Jamaica. There are some things when we get back, too.

Some summer vacation. (But, hello, Jamaica!)

This is normal of course. It's summer! Time to be outside! To 'relax' with friends and family. Time to get married, and time to celebrate summer holidays. I hold no ill-will toward the wonderful people who take initiative to plan and host these events. They're just trying to have a good time! And it's not like I think they should do these things on weekdays. Then, no one would come (myself included). And it goes without saying that if we could not attend these things, we would not. But the fact is: we can and do go because we don't have a good excuse. When you're the only one of your friends & family who's in school, the "I have homework" excuse gets really lame, really fast.

We don't want to lose our friends, and we don't want to offend our families. But in a time of our lives when we barely have the time or energy to spend quality time with each other, it is exhausting to not only make it to these events, but have a good time too. I can't really kick back and be myself unless I'm at home, without guests. Can you?

There is no real point to this post, except to simply bitch about how busy we are, and how NICE it would be to have a weekend without obligations. Jamaica is looming closer and closer, thank God. It's no weekend at home, but I sure as hell can't complain!!

Are you busy? Are you tired? Are you a social butterfly? (If you're all-of-the-above: HOW DO YOU DO THAT?)

(Hint: If you know who won American Idol last season (or the one before that, or the one before that), or if you know what ANTM or SYTYCD or SATC stands for without Googling it**, You're not that busy.)

*Sleeping in means anything after 7 AM.
**Yes, that's how I learned what all of the above acronyms stand for.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

taking a break

So the semester is actually honest-to-god over now, at least for me. Until Monday. (Because that's how our sadistic school rolls).

I feel like I need to relax. The husband needs to relax too. We're so tired. So burned out.

But I also feel like we both need to catch up. So many things we've let slide over the course of the semester. And so many things I really want to finish before I get buried in the next one (which - again - starts in FIVE DAYS).

Take tonight, for example. Husband still has a final test to take this week, so he's gone, studying with some friends. When I found out that I would be solo for the evening, I started making a TO DO LIST. I listed all the things I thought I could accomplish while he was away. Probably a full day's worth of things, including tasks that would involve the sewing machine, harsh chemicals and even power tools. I have so many things I want to do, see. When I finally get a chance to do them, I try to do All Of Them. Right Now. Heh.

But I'm just so tired. Partially because it has been a full and exhausting semester, but also because my job always tends to get busy when I have breaks from school (and this week is no exception). In fact, it is crazy-busy at work right now.

So I compromised with myself. (In the back of my mind, the critical/overacheiving sector is whispering "You cheated! You copped out!") I ran a couple of errands, picked up my favorite ghetto-fabulous Wal-Mart crab cakes (Don't judge. I live in the upper midwest: not exactly a seafood paradise.), and did a couple of small household tasks during the 20 minutes it took to cook them in the oven. Then I parked my butt on the couch with my cakes, some very dark chocolate, and an excessively large glass of wine.

And here I sit, with no plans to move any time soon.

Unless I decide to take a hot shower. (A hot shower is my equivalent of a hot bath. I'm sure the tall girls out there understand.)

I still feel like there is a lot more that I should be doing. ("You're being LAZY!" shouts my subconscious!) This relaxing stuff is seriously hard.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

why am I doing this?

Yesterday I had to go to a local high school and talk to juniors and seniors about my job. Part of the presentation was telling them about your background. Your education, your interests - what made you tick when you were 17?

Seventeen. That was 10 years ago. Ugh. These students really looked like kids.

Anyway, I don't have the best story when it comes to how I ended up where I did. But it got me thinking about how far I've come.

I changed majors three times and eventually got a B.S. in a field I wasn't very interested in simply because I had enough credits to apply for the degree.

I thought I liked one major, I didn't. Tried another, failed again. Finally graduated with a degree I knew I couldn't actually use, simply to get DONE so that I could qualify to get a Master's.

I got a Master's because I knew my undergraduate degree was pretty useless, career-wise, and because my dad told me he thought I'd be good in this field.

That's where things started to turn around. I really enjoyed my Master's program. It was interesting. I understood. It was easy. The realization that it wasn't easy for others is how I started to understand that maybe I was actually just pretty good at it. Hard to swallow, for someone who always wants to be good, but never actually thinks they're good enough! My dad: he knows his stuff.

I defended my Master's thesis on a hot, sticky June day in an un-air-conditioned conference room. I passed without revisions. Best feeling ever. I was so done with school. Then I went to graduation in August and saw the doctoral graduates receiving their degrees from their advisers. All they did for us master's grads was call our names. The doctoral degree ceremony was so special, so personal. You know how a lot of people get teary-eyed at weddings? I got teary-eyed watching strangers have their fancy velvet hoods pinned on by their committee chairs. I guess it hit me where I live: in a masochistic part of my brain that cried "That could be you. That could be your silly-looking and impractical hood."

Aaaaand then I presented at a conference in October. People were obviously interested in my topic and knowledge, which surprised me. (Never feel like I'm good enough, remember?) People from my audience addressed me as 'Dr'. I had to correct them.

I applied for the Ph.D. program because I didn't want to have to correct people when they call me 'Dr.'

A talk with my adviser convinced me - he wanted me in his program. So less than a year after the "I'm DONE!" There I was, no longer done. That was 2 years ago.

Today, I filled out the application to take the comprehensive exams. These are exams you take after you've finished your coursework. You apply for them a semester in advance, so that means I'll take them in the fall. After I've passed them, I'll be allowed to officially work on my dissertation. This is a crazy big essay-format test, and I will be allowed to take it home. It's a really, really big deal (from what I hear). And the funny thing is? I'm not even nervous.

i've made it this far [13/365]

What I am is blown away. Ten years ago I was seventeen, trying to choose a college. Now: over 300 college credits and 80 classes under my belt. Two diplomas in my closet. Staring a huge test right in the face and saying "bring it."

Next year, I will walk across the stage and receive my diploma and hood from my adviser just as I had watched those other people do 4 years prior.

It will be special. It will be personal. It will be mine (oh yes, it will be mine, hah).

And I will be done.

I'll have been in school (with a one-semester break in the fall of 2007) for 24 years of my life -- 10 years of them post-high school. Ten years of school, after high school? Unimaginable at seventeen. But I'll have done it. I spend a lot of time bitching and moaning about how old I'm getting, not having accomplished as much in my life as I had wanted to by now. But the fact of the matter is: holy shit. How did I ever get this far? I may be living 20 miles from where I grew up, and I may not have any children yet, and I may have 'wasted' my twenties with my nose buried in books and my spare time nonexistent, but by the end of next year, I'll be a 28-year-old with a Ph.D.

That's pretty tight.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

this is what the dissertation looks like today

1: I think it needs to gain some clarity before I defend.

2: There better not be any points given for neat handwriting.

3: You would think that being able to spell "knowledge" correctly would be a prerequisite to being awarded a doctorate in an educational field. Sigh. That's what spell-check has done to me.

Saturday, April 03, 2010


At this point in the semester (the 11th week), I am working on 4 separate and very large projects for my various classes.

This would only be a minor big deal if I hadn't gone out of town for spring break (and did no homework whatsoever during that time). And I *also* went out of town last week, Monday thru Friday - got home after 2 this morning. I was at a conference for work, which was great, except that when I booked it I didn't realize that I'd be at it during what would have been a holiday from work [Good Friday]. So I had to work on a holiday and I don't get to make it up with a day off later because that's not how Human Resources works here. Woohoo. And I was up super late last night due to the flight, so any intelligent thought processes that occur today will be pretty much coincidental. And tomorrow is Easter, so several hours of it is going to be spent with family. We were supposed to host Easter at our house, but I pretty much had to say I couldn't do it. I just couldn't lose the WHOLE Sunday.

Monday means back to work, and Tuesday is when the due-dates start rolling in. Woohoo.

I am also in the middle of having [what was] an ill-fitting bridesmaid dress altered to a more acceptable fit. The wedding is in May, and so is the bachelorette party (which I am planning).

Our school's summer semester starts two days after spring finals ends? No break from school for us until July (but oh, what a break it will be: a honeymoon in Jamaica!).

Good news is, I'm losing weight (from stress and forgetting to eat, I assume). So I'll be bikini-ready (and bridesmaid dress-ready)!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

questions and answers

People have asked me some questions. I have decided to answer them.

1. Are you glad you're getting your advanced degree?

Yeah. For sure. I mean, on a day-to-day basis, when I'm bogged down with school work and the house is a mess and my weekends are shot and my friends haven't seen/heard from me in months and I realize that I've used up my twenties with my nose in a book? Then I kind of get bitter about it. But in the Grand Scheme Of Things, it's a good thing. I'm in this degree program by chance. (Did I mention it's a brand new program? I don't know if I have mentioned that. But it is, and I am one of two who got in. And the other one changed programs, so now it's just me.) I wasn't sure if I wanted to do it, but I knew that I'd kick myself for it later in life (when I had kids and was all out-of-practice, schoolwise) if I realized that I wanted the degree. Also, I really love my adviser: he is an excellent mentor and a great example of what I'd like to be in the future. Just being in the same room with him makes a person feel more excited about the topics. He's that passionate, that knowledgeable. That was a big factor in my choice to apply. I figured that if I was going to get the degree, there's no one else I'd rather get it from. When I walk up on the stage and he puts the funky hood on me I'll probably melt into a hot mess of sobs.

So yeah, like I said: I wasn't 100% sure I wanted to do this. And I don't really have an "itch" or "yearning" to do dry academic research. The literature says that people with attitudes like mine often fail at their degrees. What the research doesn't know is that I have a pretty good track record for not failing at things. I also don't like to drag things out or put things on pause, and I'm not a quitter. My current plan of action includes taking my comprehensive exams in the fall and plunging into full-time dissertation-writing by this time next year.

I should also note that I haven't had to give up much (aside from money, brain-power, free time and sanity) for this degree. I still work full-time, 8-5, on a normal schedule. If I did have to give up my job for this degree, I don't know if I'd be doing it.

Anyway: I'm excited for when Mr. N and I will be "Dr. & Dr"!! (Did you know that the formal way to address a couple with those titles is "The Doctors LastName"? Hah! I totally want a return address stamp that says that.)

2. Why do you want to want to be a University professor? What are other careers you've either had, or thought you'd have?

Well, I'm pretty good at teaching people stuff. But the people have to be somewhat mature otherwise I might cuss at them. So, I figure that teaching graduate school might be a good choice.

But seriously: I think it'd be a good fit for me for several reasons. One is that I just like the academic environment. I've had a myriad of jobs on three different college campuses. I'm comfortable on campus. I am still learning to enjoy research, but I can feel a spark of something there. Like I might actually be starting to 'get' why people do it, and develop a research niche of my own. I hope I do. I know I am at least not feeling as ambiguous toward it as I was just a few months ago.

I am also drawn to the idea of a flexible schedule. Aside from class times, departmental meetings and office hours, most instructors (at least in my field/campus) can set some of their own hours. I'm pretty versed in the ins-and-outs of online and hybrid instruction as well, so that could also afford me some flexibility. Flexibility's really important to me because I do think we'll have kids in the future. While I've resigned myself to the fact that I'll be a 'working mom,' I hope my advanced degree and academic career path will afford me more freedom to be with my family.

Now... what other careers have I had? Well I'm 26. So not many. But let's talk jobs. Since I was 15: I've worked in website design, technical support (hardware and software), digital photography and classroom assistance (for technology use). I've also been a TA, a GRA, a modern-day "office grunt" (cut and paste HTML codes, etc...), and the online editor/webmaster of a daily newspaper. Oh, and I also sold computers, iPods, routers, software and other electronics at a reseller for a few years. During that time I was an "Apple Product Professional."). But that stuff was all before 2007. (Wow, I had a lot of jobs! But I at any given time I had between 2 and 3 of them.)

2007 is really when my "career" started. Without disclosing too much, I've been in a "supporting" staff role in a large organization since early 2007. (I finished my M.S. in 8/2007.) What I do isn't tech support - there are others who specialize in that. It's more of a guidance. Think about it this way: the organization has all these technologies its employees can work with. My coworkers and I inform and educate them on the technologies and their proper uses, and help them figure out if and how they need to use any of 'em. Then if the user (or we!) have trouble with anything, our tech support gurus can swoop in and save the day. I also make cool video tutorials, write what we call "job aids" (instruction sheets, basically) and stuff like that.

So that's been my career. I've moved around in the company, but I've pretty much been doing the same types of things these last three years. When I finish my doctorate, I'll eventually be looking to transition into teaching others how to do what I do now.

Monday, February 08, 2010

victimized by homework?

I took a really long survey earlier about student health and wellness. They said my email address had been randomly drawn (and this was the 4th or 5th time they had emailed to remind me to take it). So I finally took it.

The questions were all like...

In the last 12 months have you...
[Y/N] experienced tons of crushing stress due to schoolwork
[Y/N] felt overwhelmed by how much you had to do
[Y/N] felt like you might die horribly under a pile of unfinished assignments

[I may have, uh, paraphrased the wording a little.]

If yes, how did you deal with this...
[Y/N] Sought counseling from campus resources.
[Y/N] Sought counseling from off-campus resources.
[Y/N] Took prescription drugs for anxiety/stress.
[Y/N] Took drugs not prescribed to you for anxiety/stress.
[Y/N] Drank alcohol/took recreational drugs.
[Y/N] Raped somebody/got yourself raped.
[Y/N] Tried to kill yourself.

Seriously, most of the questions were like this. I want to know: where is the checkbox for:

[Y/N] Sucked it up, quit being a baby and got the work done, which made me feel better.

Note: Obviously I realize that a lot of people have serious issues and need help for them. I hope they do have access to the help they need so that they do not hurt themselves or others. But this survey and other campus surveys like it seem to often assume that the majority of students are unable to take care of themselves. If I were to take the questions seriously, I could easily find ways to blame my own organizational skills issues on everyone but myself, absolving myself of all responsibility for my thoughts and actions. Personally, I believe the surveys are immorally skewed to point out flaws (which may or may not actually exist) in the campus community's efforts to distribute information about programs and resources for stuff like this.

Sunday, January 31, 2010


My dissertation research will be the result of mixed research methods: qualitative and quantitative. Quantitative research is what most people think of when they think of research. It's numbers, surveys, data and statistics. Qualitative research is based more in observing things, interviewing people, focus groups, and other interaction which is then summarized and examined by the researcher. I remember them like this:

Qualitative = quality time with people
Quantitative = quantity (numbers)

Even though I do have somewhat of a math background, I think my research will lean a lot more toward the qualitative methods. It's just that kind of topic. But I still seem to rely on quantifiable structure in life. I like dates, times, schedules and calendars.

So this doctoral program has really thrown me for a loop. It's only this semester that I'm really coming to terms with the idea that I don't actually know when I'll graduate. All other schooling has been timed. You get a course schedule, you take the courses, you complete any internships or final projects required, and you're done on schedule. Not this one. There is no 'graduation date' blank on the Program of Study. Of course I have a goal. But it isn't certain. How long will the research and writing take? What changes will the committee insist upon? Will I pass my comps? Lots of things are up in the air. A lot of people take years just to do the dissertation. I'm juuuust starting the proposal and lit review now, but have a goal to be done with this degree by 8/2011. Some say that's quite the lofty goal. Others say they wrote their dissertation in a month's time (research time aside). It really drives me nuts that I don't know when I'll be done. But as I get closer and closer to that "done with coursework, just writing dissertation" stage, I feel more at ease with it.

So where am I in the process? I have five courses left to take. The school's schedule works such that it'll be two this summer, two in the fall, and one in the spring. (I'm taking three right now.) I have a goal of finishing my dissertation proposal by May, and then working on the study (mainly lit review) over the summer, fall, and spring, with a defense in the Summer of 2011. Again... we'll see. It could be December '11. Or Spring '12. (I hope it isn't Spring '12.)

On a similar note (as I collect articles and book chapters for my literature review), how many sources do I need for dissertation? Every other paper I've written -- including my Master's degree study -- has included some kind of guideline for references. Twenty sources required, or five, or whatever. Not this. For a dissertation, you need as many sources as it takes to explain and triangulate everything you need to explain. How much do I need to explain? I won't know that until I get in to it. And then I'll probably have to rewrite and re-evaluate a lot of it. How many drafts? As many as it takes to reach an agreement between myself, my advisor and committee. Oh boy. That isn't very quantifiable at all.

Learning to live day to day without a definite long term timeline is really hard for me, because I thrive on date-based goals. But sometimes (like now) it's the quality that matters. And with the rewards so great (Dr. Me? What?), I think it's a lesson I can learn to appreciate (and maybe I'll even grow a bit because of it).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

time to get serious, like i said i would

Last night I had class: my first one of the term. I had another tonight, and will have a third tomorrow night. Woop.

But anyway. I generally alternate between two and three classes a term. I do this because after a term with three classes, I am dead, stressed, strung out, malnourished and disoriented. (Three classes wouldn't be so bad, but I work too so, yeah.) But anyway. Then I take two classes the following term, and think 'gee, this isn't so bad, I can handle three!'. Vicious cycle.

My class Tuesday evenings is in advanced research methods. I have heard from others that it is a very intense class, and I don't think they were joking. And looking at the syllabus: holy shit. This is a lot of work for one class. Valuable yes. But a lot of freaking work. The professor even told us to "prepare ourselves for a crush of hard work." I don't think it was a scare tactic, either. So, noted.

I briefly considered dropping one of my three classes. But one, I can't. And the other... I don't want to. I don't have that many courses left in my program (after that, it's all research and writing). I really don't want to drag this out longer than I have to. I am ready to be gradumacated, know what I mean?

So I decided that I really need to get my priorities straight. School needs to be one, and I need to quit procrastinating all of my work until the weekend as I am known to do. (Give me a break. I'm tired when I get home. And I have class three nights a week too. Ugh. I deserve a break! --- No, I don't. That's my old mindset. The new one needs to be less forgiving.)

So when I arrived home from my first class last night, I did something I don't think I've ever done before: I did the reading assignment for it. Yes, I did homework on the first day of school. I picked up the book, sat down, and read the assigned chapters. I paid close attention too, didn't just skim for important points (as I am known to do when reading school stuff). It feels really good to have the week's reading assignment done a full 6 days ahead of schedule.

Can I keep it up? I really don't know. Probably not. But way back when I first applied to this program (almost 2 years ago, wow), I said if I got in I was going to do this and do it well. So I suppose I should.

I'm sure things will get much more hectic as the term goes on. But I am really going to try to do all I can to make it a successful term, as taxing as I know it will be. I suppose getting a Ph.D. isn't supposed to be like a walk in the park.

Happy new year, by the way.