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).