Sunday, December 25, 2011

and then?

We enjoyed a nice Christmas with my in-laws, and are on our way to enjoy another with the other side of their family. We will leave directly from there for a 3 hour drive to our hotel, where we'll be flying out early tomorrow morning.

We're headed to my grandma's funeral, because she passed away on December 19th.

This has been quite a crummy fall. At least I get to see my parents this December, after all, even though not at graduation, eh?

I hope 2012 offers a fresh start. I will try to match it with a fresh perspective.

Friday, December 16, 2011

bear with me

I guess I'm not really over it. Not done dwelling.

I'm about to spew a lot of melodramatic thoughts that've been clouding up my head for a couple of weeks now.

I think I'm a little depressed. I don't like using that word, just so you know. I know there are people who are actually depressed. For whom it is a crippling, awful issue. So I'm probably not actually depressed and I don't want to make light of anyone who is.

But I am definitely 'off.' Or 'down,' with a bad case of 'the supposedtas.'

For one thing, all I want to do is sleep, but when I get in bed at night I can't. So that's nice.

For another thing, I have no motivation left. No drive. I'm just ANGRY every time I look at the revisions I need to do. They aren't even revisions, they're a complete overhaul. It makes me sick. It also makes me feel stupid. I think back to silly Optimistic Me of Two Months Ago, going around spouting drivel like "Oh, well if I don't graduate, I know I'll be close so at least I'll be done with the dissertation by the new year!"

Yeah no.

Just slap some sense into that girl. I'll be lucky if we're close to done with the revised OUTLINE of how the practically unrecognizable new paper will look. You know, the one we (I mean my advisor, who has the unfortunate job of dragging me by the hair and kicking me in the behind) are "revising" so heavily because we have so much time to do it now!

I don't even feel like I'll be happy when I finish. Relieved? Yes. Happy? I just don't know. I realize what a childish thing that is to say, but I'm not feeling it right now. Nothing makes me happy now, in fact. I can't even do anything else that I want to do (because I am riddled with the little head-voices telling me I need to work on my revisionary document). But when I open said document up, I basically just look at it for hours and hours, resentfully thinking about how I was supposed to be prepping for family visits and merrily floating about humming Christmas songs and sipping cider and getting ready to graduate.

I'm supposed to be having a relaxing Christmas.
I'm supposed to be cheerful and joyous and thankful and full of gleeful happiness.
I"m supposed to be adjusting to being called 'Dr.'
I'm supposed to be taking a celebratory nearly-two-weeks off from work to reward myself.
That two weeks was supposed to start two days ago. (I have it written brightly in marker on my calendar at work, so I get to look at it all month.)
I was supposed to walk the stage TODAY. Today at 10 am.

Instead I'm working through the holidays. And I'm not done with my degree. I'm not happy and I'm not relaxed and I'm just really resentful and angry. I also feel numb. Like I said, I don't enjoy doing anything. On the weekend--when I've made sure my only to-do-list item is my dissertation--I mostly just stare at my open Word Doc, and alternate that activity with milling around folding laundry and cleaning things that don't need to be cleaned.

I don't feel like having Christmas spirit. Good thing I put up our lights back in November...or we'd have none. I don't care about the big interior home improvement project I was so excited about a few months ago (a kitchen facelift). That project is about 15% done with no plans to move forward. Hope my Bookclub holiday party friends like the look of lots of unsanded spackle and painted-on swatches of paint colors. I will tell them it's all the rage on Pinterest.

Seriously though, for the first time I can remember, I will time to pass faster. I hate that I do this. I always swore I never would. (Life is short, and I am busy. I need MORE time, not less.) But from the moment I wake up and take inventory of my day (is it Friday? No? Arrgh. Thursday? Dammit. It's TUESDAY? Ooh MAN.), all I think about it how I can't wait to get home, put on sweatpants, stare at my Word document for a while, maybe have a nice strong drink, and go to bed. Where... I lie there awake. Yay.

The issue is that for one thing, I don't care right now. I know I'm supposed to care, but I don't. Like I said, I feel numb. I'm supposed to be DONE you guys. (But I'm not done. So I need to suck it up and start to care and GET DONE. I know this.) But in my head, I'm so done. I'm over it. Checked out. The only activities I actually enjoy are the ones I don't have to think about. Spending time with a friend, watching something on Netflix, reading an easy-to-read fiction book, that type of thing. But I don't even really enjoy those activities. I just don't feel as restless or angry when I'm doing them. I wouldn't call myself relaxed, that's for sure.

I can't even emotionally eat because my defense suit pants don't quite fit (after quite the...gluttonous month/semester/year), and I'm going to need them to because buying new pants is a nightmare for me. Happy holidays!

And I'm MAD that my paper seemed SO close to being out the door. And I received the changes from the committee and they weren't even bad. THEY WERENT EVEN BAD. But now I am going to redo a lot of it just because we have time to make it better? Ugh. Because 'if it was written this way in the first place, the committee would not have had those concerns?' Ugh ugh ugh. I know this is true. But sometimes you don't want to buy a new car, you just need a few new parts. I've been told 'it'll be a better paper when we're done with it.' Awesome. I mean really, that's good. Just tell me when it is good enough because I am sick of making it better. I told one of my committee members what I was up to and this person was pretty horrified at the amount of work I'm being asked to redo. Hmm. And no I haven't talked to my advisor about any of this. He'll tell me (again) it'll be a better paper when we're done. And I know that. But again. I don't care. I hope I don't ever have to read it again.

Mr. N thinks I should take time off from working on it until January 1, but I think that'll only stress me out worse and cause me to lose more momentum. So instead I'm stuck in this rut.

I used to think it was hilarious that professors I met couldn't tell me the titles of their dissertations. How could they forget something that was so important in their life? I think I now know why. They blocked it out of their memory. I don't blame them one bit.

Did I mention that I think I'm developing carpel tunnel in my dominant hand? Dr. Google diagnosed me, so take that with a grain of salt. But my wrist/lower arm/side of hand really hurts with shooting pains sometimes, and I find it hard to grip things. So that's some great timing, right there.

I spent the entire year focused on one goal, and only one goal: to finish my dissertation and graduate in August, and then, as consolation, December of 2011. And I didn't make that goal. There are a lot of people and circumstances I can blame, include me/my own actions or in-actions. I wrote about them on this blog. But I'm still going. Slowly, and as you just read, not happily. But I continue to go.

Also, I surprised even myself with my poise--at least publicly--in handling this crippling disappointment. During the days after I found out, I can't tell you how often I heard "well, you're handling it really well."

Well, what else is there to do, but handle it? Really. Insult people? Anger the very people I need to like me and my work? Stomp my feet and quit? Given that I found out on a Tuesday, I didn't even have time to 'mourn' it. I had to go to work the next day (since, you know, I used all my vacation time trying to finish my dissertation on time). I had to carry on because life keeps carrying on. And in the grand scheme of problems, I do know this really isn't even a blip (as was solidified a few days after this major disappointment, when my in-laws were in that car accident).

So I trudge onward. I'm not persevering quite yet...but I will.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

let's tear it up because we have the time

I met with my advisor last week and we created a pretty impressive crazy-looking chart on a whiteboard in a classroom. This chart essentially ripped apart my entire framework for my dissertation (chapter 1 and 2, basically) and attempted to put it back together. He also provided me with a paper copy of my chapters 1 and 2, all horribly marked up with bright red ink.

In the evening after the meeting (which lasted over 2 hours), I translated the whiteboard (which he and I both took a photo of with our phones) to an outline, integrated the changes he had written on the paper copy, and emailed the outline to him. He then looked at it and sent it back to me with suggestions, which I implemented along with some questions and suggestions of my own, and sent back to him again. That's where we're at right now.

But.... the changes the committee had were minor. Important, but still fairly minor. Would have taken me a few days working pretty hard--or a week working at a slower pace--to finish them. Yet instead, we are ripping the whole thing apart and re-doing it. Because it's FUN! Or something. My only sanity-saving notion is that I have absolute confidence that this rewrite of these chapters will really lead to a better paper. But I am also overwhelmed. I've worked on it SO MUCH and this isn't just a few more revisions.

The committee's revisions have been taken into account, but this is a rewrite. Of the whole thing. (Well, a lot of reorganization. But it is NOT minor.) So instead of my previous worst-case-scenario of "oh well, I didn't make my deadline, but at least I'm almost done.." I'm not almost done. Well, relatively I am. In the Grand Scheme.

But in the short-term, I won't be done with this by the end of 2011, and probably not even by the end of January. I thought the deficiency was rock bottom for me, for this process. Then the floor opened up and my worst-case-scenario of "oh well, revisions and done in December anyway!" became a nostalgic "oh I wish."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

figure out what's important

Thanksgiving tends to be a stressful time in our household, mainly due to school. (Final projects are often due the week after Thanksgiving, with big scary tests shortly there-after.) Those things are still true, but this year our perspective has changed a little. Previously, Thanksgiving was a big, delicious meal and a few hours spent with family before we left to go home and get back to our 'important' deadlines. This year, it is much more.

My husband's parents and youngest brother(he's in high school) were involved in a car accident just a few days before Thanksgiving. It was very very bad. Fatal for the other driver. They are recovering and will be alright, eventually. (Mother-in-law got the worst of it, with several broken ribs). But we are very lucky and thankful to have them. Thankful for the safety features of their vehicle, thankful for every circumstance that helped them to not be injured more severely.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Last night at about 5 o'clock I got a phone call. Normally I don't answer my phone in the evenings, but it was from my advisor and he's the ONLY person I have wanted to talk to lately. He promised me he'd tell me as soon as he knew the committee's feelings on whether I could graduate in December, and he wanted to keep that promise.

I won't be graduating until May (at least).

He told me it was the committee's feeling that I need to spend more time than 2 weeks to 'digest' their changes and make them. Furthermore, they haven't had enough time to read through it. AND furthermore again, they don't think they'll have time to read it again before I would need to defend (December 1) even if I could get their changes done. (I could have. I could have had it back in their hands by this Monday. Oh well.)

So We could all be super pissed at my advisor and say that he:

  1. Did not assert the priority of this paper to the other committee member(s).

  2. Should not have led me on to believe this was possible, and/or should have asserted that I do more work, sooner.

Concerning #1, I have no idea what he did or did not say to everyone, but I am confident that he values both my work and my goals. The fact that he values my goals is apparent in #2--I do not believe he led me on at all. What he did was enable me to try to reach my goals, when almost any other committee chair would have just said "nope, it's not going to happen" and not even let me try. I appreciate that because there is no coulda/shoulda/woulda about this situation now. I gave it my best shot and it didn't happen. As far as doing more work sooner? Well, I'll get to that in a minute.

How about the committee members? Can we be mad at them? I guess so. Maybe for:

  1. Not organizing their schedules so they'd would have the adequate time to read my paper--they knew it was coming on a certain date.

  2. Not having the 'good faith' to sign the form, feeling confident I would appropriately make their changes.

And concerning #1, I am a little bit peeved. But as a human, I know what it is to have too much on your plate. I can't hold a grudge (for long) against someone because they are human. It's not like someone ruined my life and ate all my steak. This is a big disappointment but a minor glitch in the grand scheme. Concerning #2--that is the committee's right. Some committee members do not know me as well as some of the other committee members, so why should they think I would be able to make quality changes in a much shorter time period than most students can manage? It's their right to ask to see the work again before being confident in signing the form. Really, it's their job to make sure the paper is of highest quality before it is approved. Each committee member is an individual, and each individual has their own set of expectations, standards and concerns. They are just doing their job as committee members (keeping the paper from being rushed through when it's not ready, in their opinion), so I can't exactly hate on someone for that.

Who can be blamed then? Well I could be mad at myself.

  1. I sat on this work all summer and barely did anything until August. Seriously.

  2. Yeah, #1 is pretty much it.

I had all sorts of excuses--preparing for trips, Mr. N's graduation, our nice weather allowing me to complete outdoor projects. But really, I was apprehensive about the statistics. I let that fear--coupled with a false sense of a lot of time remaining--cripple me. I really did not start to work on it earnestly until after I looked at the deadline and realized there were not a whole lot of days left. Like it or not, it was me who put myself in this tight deadline situation. Granted, I have the excuse that it is hard to get help/guidance from an advisor in the summer. They are not on contract (so they aren't paid), so any help you get is out of the goodness of their heart. Mine is a good advisor and he did work with me throughout the summer, but I couldn't expect him to work with me with the fervor in which we worked this fall. Still, I could have worked harder, sooner and I know he would have helped.

Am I going to dwell on this? No (well, probably). But what good can that do? There's no place for blame here. The stars did not align for me. The timeline was really really tight, and I knew going in to this that it was going to be a high-stress situation with a strong possibility of a negative outcome. (Like I said earlier, most advisors would not even have entertained the idea that I could graduate in the timeframe I had; I know some of my Ph.D.-student readers were pretty skeptical about it...I was too, but I had to try!) I could place some blame and be whiny to people, but again, what good would that do? I still have to work with these people toward my degree, and my attitude would simply reek of immaturity. Plus, I told them all along I agreed that the paper needed to be good. The committee--thinks it needs work. I shall do said work.

I think I'm done crying about it. I cried a little bit last night, ate some junk food, drank too much (what else is new). But today, it is time to move on. And because I was given the opportunity to try to finish on this timeline, I am much, MUCH farther ahead in my work than I'd otherwise be. I'd probably still be tip-toeing around my statistics. Instead I have a nearly-final draft that I hope to finalize before the end of the year. That's a large body of work.

I'm sad and disappointed. I'll get past it. Something about whining and complaining that I have to wait 6 more months to get my PhD feels a little too spoiled to me. Not exactly the worst problem a person might have. I am bitter about having to graduate in the ugly convention center in May, but again...we don't need to call the Pope about it or anything. I'll survive. My husband already found a 300mm f2.8 prime lens to rent for the occasion. Even from a seat several hundred yards from the stage, he is determined to take a picture up my nostrils. (Hey! Next year's Christmas card is in the bag!)

So now, I'm waiting a little. I fully intend to keep on going and get it done as quickly as possible, but I need to wait for one of the committee members to finish reading it and provide me with the suggested revisions. Then I will take everyone's revisions and make some kind of outline of them, condensing what each person wanted in each chapter or section. Then, my advisor and I will go over it and figure out which changes need to be made (as some committee members may suggest changes that contradict). I'll make the changes, my advisor will read it again, I'll send it back to the committee, they'll (hopefully) sign off on it, I'll defend, and I'll graduate in the muddy spring instead of the snowy winter. I'll be 29 instead of 28. It'll be 2012 instead of 2011. It'll be closer to 4 years and farther from 3 spent in this degree program. It'll be another semester of graduate credits to keep me enrolled. I may walk the stage with other people from my program, instead of being the first graduate. But I'll graduate.

I also need to design a new Christmas card, since the one I have waiting to be printed has a spot for my picture and a blurb about me graduating. Whoops.

Friday, November 04, 2011

another 'what a week' week

I turned in the 'final draft' for preliminary approval to my committee yesterday.

But first, I had to get through the wait for my changes. Waiting is hard for me. (Is it easy for anyone?) I kept busy on the weekend, doing chores around the house, carving our pumpkin, exercising, and cooking meals. I took Monday off for a short trip to see family, and returned home the mid-afternoon. At about 3:30 PM, I was pleased to find that my advisor had sent me the rest of my changes (he had told me he planned to finish his reading by Monday night). Unfortunately, I couldn't work on these changes because of Halloween--had to hand out candy. About 150 trick-or-treaters showed up this year, and I'm confident that number would have been closer to 200-250 if we had bought more bags of candy...but I had so much candy already! My favorite kid-costume, by the way, was a boy who was dressed up as a whoopie cushion. I would look great as a whoopie cushion, I think.

So anyway, my changes!

There were a lot (there usually are). My advisor may be busy, but when he takes the time to read my drafts, he Takes The Time. There are always a TON of comments--it is clear that he really cares. (This 'really caring' might not bode well for me finishing 'on time'--since some advisors just sort of skim it at this point and say 'good enough'--but at least the paper will be really good.) I took two more vacation days from work--Tuesday and Wednesday--and I attacked those changes like they were made of chocolate (I loooove chocolate).

I ate, drank, and breathed changes. Type type type, that's all I did all day Tuesday and Wednesday. I started really, really early and I worked really, really late. I barely even ate--thank god for husbands who bring home takeout!

Thank god for my husband in particular. He set aside his own school work and responsibilities and read the whole paper, start to finish, 253 pages, on Wednesday night. I guess I should include Thursday morning, since neither he nor I went to bed until about 4:20 AM. Instead, we both drank Dr. Pepper and worked on the paper. He started at the beginning while I was still making revisions to the end. Then when I finished revising I started at the beginning again, following his comments and making changes he suggested. He has had copy-editing training, so that was very beneficial. He was also looking for holes in the logic of the paper, or problems with the flow. He found a lot of minor issues--again, very very helpful. I know I wouldn't have noticed a lot of those issues, and I am embarrassed to think I might have handed in my paper without correcting them.

After around 3 hours of glorious sleep, we got up and went to work, and I emailed my completed paper to the committee. (I would have gladly printed it for them, but they all requested digital copies so YAY!)

I thought I would be relieved...but I wasn't.

I was overwhelmed first with concern about their perceptions--what if they won't read it because they are too busy? What if they say "no, it isn't enough time"? What if they don't believe I have time to make the revisions? (Aside from my advisor, most people are not aware of how quickly I can turn things around when properly motivated!!)

Then I was worried about the content of the paper--still am. I keep thinking there are all sorts of problems with it. I'm sure they're going to read it and say "what is this, some kind of joke?" or "there is no logical sense to your argument." I hope these fears are unfounded, but I still have them.

I talked to each committee member yesterday, and I am glad I did, because they all had different ideas of why they had been sent the paper and how the process would work from here. I realize now--after making several phone calls--that I made some procedural errors in handing in the paper. Another problem with being the first student in a new program. Sigh.

Turns out, my advisor was supposed to give it to them with his 'blessing' so to speak. Instead, I emailed it to them and a few of them weren't really sure why they were receiving it. After learning this, I was really glad I had talked to them!! I clarified that it IS ready for preliminary approval--we just didn't know my advisor was supposed to deliver it.


  • one committee member thought their changes needed to be sent to the advisor, who would interpret everyone's changes and then deliver my revision 'assignment' to me.

  • one committee member was fine with sending me the changes and signing the form, but told me the advisor is supposed to sign the form first.

  • one committee member expected me to make all of the revisions they might have so they can look over my changes BEFORE signing the form.

  • two of them thought we were supposed to have a meeting prior to signing the form, while two did not.

So... yeah.

Last night I went through the handbooks, guides, and forms again (there are several, gotta love university red tape) and I also called a few professors who I know have been committee chairs before. My goal was to clarify the process.

I found out that it is up to the advisor what happens with the committee's changes--whether he wants to see the committee suggestions before I do, whether there should be a meeting at this stage, and so on. I doubt my advisor wants to weed through and interpret everyone's changes, so that leaves us two other options: meet about it and discuss together with everyone (form would hopefully be signed at the end of this meeting--it would be much like my proposal meeting), or everyone sends their changes to me separately and I bring them the form to sign at their convenience.

I also found out that my department says the form can be signed prior to my making the changes, but other departments have other policies. The committee member who wanted me to make the changes before the form was signed was correct--for some departments--but it is not necessary in ours (unless this member personally is just not comfortable with signing it 'till I make them). Our department is more lenient in that they are supposed to sign the form if they feel they will be comfortable with the finality of the paper once you make your revisions. The requirement is that I make the changes prior to my defense--they sign the form in 'good faith' that I will do it. (Well, not entirely good faith, since if I didn't make their changes, they simply wouldn't pass me at my defense.)

Here is the explanation:
"The committee offers suggestions for revisions of a mechanical nature (e.g., spelling, wording, referencing, organizing) and of a substantive nature (e.g., literature omissions, incorrect or inadequate interpretations, inappropriate procedures). The committee decides whether the dissertation is sufficiently well done to give you permission to process the dissertation in its final form-- including the suggested revisions… After agreements have been made about changes that are expected, the "Preliminary Approval of Dissertation" form is signed by the committee to assure you that no major changes will be required in the final draft of the dissertation... When permission to prepare the final draft is granted, a date is set for the Final Examination [Defense] meeting."

So that is that. This morning, I emailed my committee members to provide these clarifications and to ask if they thought we should meet. I also apologized for improperly delivering the dissertation (since I did it, when my advisor was 'supposed to').

Now I'm just going to go back to freaking out. Thankfully, I trust that my advisor would have told me it sucked if he thought it did.

Friday, October 28, 2011

not cut and dry

I have dissertation news (or non-news). Let me preface this by saying that I really need to learn to stop stating cut-and-dry deadlines. If you would have asked me earlier this week (even yesterday morning), I would have told you that I'd know by Monday whether or not I was graduating in December. Not true anymore. Things are never that easy with me.

My situation reminds me of a scene from Futurama, when Fry says something like "Can't they just hurry up and destroy humanity already? It's the waiting I can't stand!" Not very logical. (Why would I want to know sooner, if the news is bad?)

Two paragraphs later... the actual news. Recall that I turned in my draft last Thursday,and my advisor had not been super positive about whether he'd get to it quickly. Well, by Wednesday afternoon (two days ago), after I had checked my email an estimated 10,000 times, I finally received something from my advisor. I was SO HAPPY because seriously, my goal date to turn the thing in to the committee was TODAY and I thus far had received nothing.

But, oh snap. It was not a full draft with revisions. Just revisions for the abstract and the first chapter. Which are great, but they're only about 10% of the whole paper. He explained that he's been busy and did not know when he'd get to the rest.

At this point, I was so hyped up! FULL of adrenaline, caffeine, and anxiety. I was very much on edge and having trouble keeping calm. Even so, I went home early from work, took a hot shower to calm down, and worked on the changes he had sent. I had them done by Thursday morning (yesterday), at which time I called him to ask if he wanted these changes returned to him now. He did not answer.

I was a bit disappointed too ("a bit" might be an understatement). I had thought/hoped for sure that by the time I finished these changes, he'd have sent me the rest. That's why I bothered to leave work early on Wednesday--to get a jumpstart. Instead, here I was at 10:30 AM on a Thursday, un-showered and wearing my sweats, done with my changes and with no more to do. So I washed my face, put on some fresh deodorant, got dressed and went to work. No sense in wasting the vacation time.

I really felt like that was it. If I didn't get those suggested changes from him back on Thursday (yesterday), I was done. Out of the game. (For this semester.) Sad to just sit and watch it slip away.

He called me back in the mid-afternoon though. He said he did not want the changes yet--not until the rest of the draft was changed. "So," I inquired... "I will be getting that back from you...soon?" Nope. Not until Monday. He simply hasn't had time with everything that's been going on lately, including the latest: his home internet access was not working. He would also be out of town for the weekend, so unable to work on it then either. But he said he WILL work on it Monday. Not 'might' and not 'try to get to it,' but WILL.

Still though. Crushed. Goodbye, dreams of of an intimate December ceremony in the college auditorium, like the one in August that Mr. N had (and I had as well, for my Master's a few years ago. Sigh.

Still on the phone, my advisor was promising that he had blocked off the editing time for Monday. I sucked it up and asked "Do I have a chance at December anymore?" He said he didn't know.

We discussed the Preliminary Approval process--that's the form the committee has to sign by the 17th--and he said that if the committee didn't have to find time to meet to discuss it (i.e. they will individually make changes, not have to get together about it at this time), it was probably still do-able. Instead of getting the paper to the committee today, or by Monday, he thought I should aim for Wednesday or Thursday. This would still give them about 2 weeks to read it, a timeframe they had all suggested was do-able before.

This means that if he gets the changes to me Monday night--and he said he would--I will have about 1.5-2 days to turn it around and get it back to the committee. I can do it, though it will be tight. (Pressure does crazy things to me, but one of the positive ones is my ability to churn out quality work pretty quickly. I have never been so glad to have that skill!) Originally, he wanted to read it again after I made the revisions, before I turned it over to the committee, but he will no longer be doing this. He will trust my changes. This also means my husband and I will have to put an extra-great effort in to reading the revised paper and making sure it is sound. We can do that!

Provided that the committee thinks receiving it Wednesday or Thursday is OK, we might still be in business!

Here are the next steps, then:
If they like the work and sign the form by the 17th, I will need to schedule a defense date at the very end of November. The deadlines are very tight: I am required to allow 2 full weeks between Preliminary Approval and Defense, and I also must defend by December 1. Given that the Approval is due Nov. 17, that gives me about 2 possible days to defend! Between them signing the Preliminary Approval form, and the defense date, I would need to make any changes they request and provide them with a true final copy to read as well. So it's going to be a busy month for me.

When my advisor and I ended our phone call, I had renewed (though still subdued) confidence. My immediate next step is to just ask the committee if they're OK with the slightly-later-than-expected delivery of the document.

If my committee is cool with receiving the document Thursday (I will strive for Wednesday, depending on the depth of my advisor's changes), and they like it, and they sign the form, and they can attend a defense at the end of November, I might actually meet my goal.

It has been quite the week.

Friday, October 21, 2011

that time when i lost it in my advisor's office

So today, I turned in my final draft to my advisor.

'Final' just means it's complete, as I see it. It's all there, from the title page to the references and appendices, and I couldn't think of anything else to put in it. 'Draft' means exactly that. It's a draft. It isn't really done. Really, "final draft" is an oxymoron, but I couldn't think of anything else to call it. "Full draft," perhaps?

Here's how I got to where I am today. Last Monday or Tuesday, I bumped in to my advisor. That was the first time we discussed that he needs to see the whole thing before the committee does. It makes sense. It just did not occur to me. So instead of just forging my way toward my "turn in to committee" deadline of the 28th, I now had a new deadline, the 21st. (Oh, and I was out of town last weekend for a wedding...)

Bear in mind that this is the 7th draft that he's seen. So it's not like he has no idea what's in it. But it's nerve-wracking because there are only 7 days between the 21st and the 28th. He told me today that 'final drafts' like mine may require multiple back-and-forths between the student and the advisor, before the advisor thinks it's ready for the committee. Why didn't this occur to me? (Then again, we have been working on it together throughout the late summer and fall, so it isn't as though he's never seen any of it or offered any input. We have already started this process, I think.) In my mind, him looking at the final draft was more of a formality. Like "Oh ok, yeah, makes sense, I see this change was made, format looks good, etc." Not like he could really tear it apart, or that we'd volley it back and forth. Hm.

Some of you other Ph.D. students are probably laughing at me right now... but I really didn't know. This is a new program and I'm my advisor's first student to get to this point (at this university). No one told me all the steps... I just keep on going, doing what I'm told trying to figure out the process as I go. I really thought once I turned it in to him, he'd just read it and say "yep" or maybe "clarify this and that, and you're good to go!" Yeah that is NOT how it works.

So like I said, 7 days. I think if I really need them, I can push it to 9 days. I have to give it to committee before the end of October, and well, the 31st is technically the end of October! I was trying to be polite by giving them an extra weekend instead of using it myself to work on the paper.

Now, the problem arises with my advisor too: he has other students, his classes, his own research, personal obligations, etc. So while I'm standing there in his office trying to convey my seriousness and work ethic, he's trying to tell me he's not just worried about my timeline, he's worried about his own. Makes sense. Each revision, he has to read and think about and respond to. I get that (and then the selfish part of me wants to plead "I don't sleep, why should you!"). But seriously. He spends way more of his time on my stuff lately than he probably wants to, likely sacrificing other things to do it...I appreciate it a great deal.

By the way, it's hard to convey one's seriousness and work ethic when is sobbing all over one's advisor's desk. More on that in a sec.

I did try my best to clarify my motivations. Yes, my December graduation deadline is an arbitrary goal. I have my reasons, and they are valid, but still, no great harm will come to me if I do not graduate in December. I just really, really want to. But part of that achievement is doing solid, respectable work. I wanted to make sure he knew that I am REALLY taking this seriously. I don't want to graduate if I'm not ready. But I want to do everything in my power to make myself ready, while still respecting my goal. Achievement of my goal does not equate to me bullying or manipulating him or my committee in to accepting subpar work. It means I did a great job and I did it in time allotted. I'm willing to work really hard for that. I asked him to give me a chance; I hope he does.

But the way it stands, I turned in that draft today. He may not have a chance to read and critique it until Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday of next week. 7 days will quickly become 2 or 3 days. So that gives me...oh... just a couple of days before my committee-deadline to make his revisions and send it back to him for a reread. THEN, he has to read it again and might have more changes. The cycle continues... and all of that has to happen within 7 days (9 at the most) in order for me to make my timeline.

It is going to be CLOSE. I'm anxious as hell.

Now back to that crying thing. I think I hit my breaking point without realizing it. See, I cry randomly now, almost every day. I don't even wear mascara most days, for this reason. I don't feel particularly sad or depressed or anything. Just very tired, and strung out perhaps. I wasn't really exaggarating about my bad diet and sleep schedule: I'm not really sleeping or eating like I should.

The tears mostly come when I think about finishing my degree. It's emotional. But today the terrible no good thing happened: I burst out crying in my advisor's office. Do you know that feeling? When you're crying and you don't want to, and you don't even necessarily feel like you probably look on the outside? I'm sure I looked hopeless, pitiful, whiny, and possibly a little crazy. On the inside, I felt totally sane and normal. I was there to just tell him what I did, and to discuss thetimeline issues a little bit. I really felt fine! Yet--practically as soon as I opened my mouth--my face started leaking. Oh, the betrayal. Maybe it worked in my favor a bit--perhaps it helped to show him that I do care. I really, REALLY want this, and I care about the outcome. My dissertation moves me to tears, you guys. (Hah!) But I felt so embarrassed. I AM NOT A PERSON WHO BURSTS IN TO TEARS. He had to comfort me and such. I am such a girl.

This weekend, I'll be doing some yard work and otherwise trying to keep myself busy. It has gotten cold (20s at night), so there is raking and other winter prep to be done.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

the last month

This month will make it or break it. Before Halloween, I think I'll know which it is.

So instead of doing what my body tells me to do--curling up under a cozy blanket by the fireplace with a good book and some hot coffee--I sit at my computer ready to keep on trucking. My draft was returned to me with changes on Wednesday, and I told my advisor I'd do them by Monday. (It's probably realistically 2 weeks' worth of normal-pace work...heh...but I don't have that time to spare.) I took Friday off as a vacation day--the first time I have ever taken a vacation day to work on school stuff. Sure, I've been sick at home and found myself pounding away at something academic--might as well--but this vacation day was a first. I got my entire to do list for yesterday done as well as one of today's items--go me! Now I just need to keep that momentum going over the weekend and I'll be in good shape for a meeting with my advisor about the next phase.

The next phase makes me pretty anxious because I feel it's outside of my expertise (getting my statistics looked at--and getting advice from a statistician). I'm afraid this person will see big problems with my work and the setback will be impossible to repair in the time I have. All I can do is charge forward though, and hope.

A few things are keeping me going right now. One of them is a quote I found on Pinterest.

She believed she could, so she did.
That's pretty true of me... when I want something, I try to get it. I want this.

The other thing is something my advisor told me. He said that I was one of the first graduates of the master's degree program under his direction (I didn't know that), and he was proud of the work I'd done on my thesis for it. I was also the first in to the new-in-2008 doctoral program and will be the first out, so essentially he has to make sure my work is very very good. Indisputably excellent. Being first means that my dissertation will be more than a culmination of what I can do; it'll be the first tangible evidence of how good this program is. Makes sense when you think about it. So because I'm a pretty hard worker, my advisor essentially told me he's working me to the bone on purpose. He knows I can take it, so he's dishing it out. Um, ok...awesome?

I could whine about how it isn't fair: I've seen several other dissertations (from other universities) in my topic area and none of them were as long and detailed and deep as mine (and I'll be adding another 30-40 pages of literature review to mine today and tomorrow too!). I should receive equal treatment, right? I've done enough. Let me reach my goal. There are other PhDs out there who have done way less than me. (Somebody call the whaaambulance.)

But, I'm instead flattered and rejuvenated. I now understand why I'm being worked so hard, and I'm feeling a little overwhelmed that my work is going to be held up to the department as proof that this program is a strong one. I don't know why my apparent status as an academic martyr didn't occur to me sooner. It makes sense that everybody would want to see what the first grad put out. Especially if the first grad walked the stage 3.5 years after admission. (Not a long time for a doctorate.) I just never thought of it that way before.

And with that, I'm back to work.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Papers, check. Printer, check. Stapler, check. Sleeping cat, check.

I bought this bed on clearance for Cleo when she was a smaller kitten. I don't know if she has ever sat in it; I stuck it in this window when she was confined to the office, but she preferred to sleep on the bathroom rug instead. So, who wants to tell Rusty this is a bed for a cat half his size?

Meanwhile, in this corner...

Friday, September 23, 2011

me and december

I actually wrote some of this as a note on Facebook, and decided to post it here as well (with some extra-longwindedness, since this is my blog). A common misconception about a master's degree or Ph.D. is that getting it is similar to doing a bachelor's, but with a paper written at the end. This is quite untrue in many cases, mine included. The biggest difference is that you don't have a definite graduation date. You may have a goal, but you'll probably blow by it. I know I did (August). This December thing is consolation, and it's especially hard for me to digest I might not make that either.

Mainly, I want people to understand that if I don't make it, it isn't because I failed something, did poorly on a test, or need to retake. It's because the dissertation is an ton of work and it's up to four people whether the work I've done was the right work, and enough work. They basically decide whether you're an expert yet. If you're not, you have to keep working, and doing your best work isn't enough. I passed the point of "my best work" several dozen pages ago. At times, it feels like the standard is impossibly high. I've been doing so. much. work.

I do not know if I am graduating in December. At this point: I need to get the paper to a certain point where my advisor approves it. Then, that 4-person committee of mine. My advisor has seen 3 drafts at this point and currently has draft #4 in his hands. He will not let me pass it to committee until he believes it is good enough himself--and this is a great thing. He has put in a lot of time with me and my work. But this delivery of my work to the committee must happen before the end of October. All committee approval must be done by Nov. 17 (that's in 55 days if you wanted to know) and defense by Dec. 1 (68 days). I will know before Nov. 17 whether this will all go down, or whether I'll be cranking away on it through the Christmas break and in to the spring. (I can't even wrap my head around it.)

Until then, I am stuck in a perpetual and frustrating state of "last minute" in which I spend nearly all of my non-work time trying to make this research good enough. I'm barely sleeping anymore, and I live on a cycle of coffee, fast food, hard liquor, and candy (rinse and repeat). The paper is currently 140 pages long and I've put hundreds of hours in to it and the surrounding research. Probably will put dozens--if not over a hundred--more before it's ready. Since my career owns me for 40+ hours a week, the time comes out of my evenings, nights and weekends. I'm tired, frustrated, anxious, and having a stressful time of it at the moment, but I can almost see the light at the end...and anything worth having is worth working for. Working on this degree has pushed me beyond my previous abilities (and what I thought were my boundaries) in ways my Bachelor's and Master's degrees had not, so for that I am better already.

It is taking my advisor a while with this 4th draft, mainly because his life is busy also and he can't spend every moment on my stuff. When he gets it back to me though, it is clear that he has always spent a ton of time working on his feedback for it (yay!). Last weekend was a welcome break, as I had handed it in to him for review prior to Friday. This weekend--if I don't get it back today--is going to be a frustrating time for me, twiddling my thumbs and wasting away another weekend I probably really needed to work.

So that's where I'm at right now.

Friday, September 09, 2011


This past year especially, I feel like our relationship has had to be stronger than ever. It's a funny dynamic really.

I was speaking to a professor the other day, and he told me he and his wife went to grad school together. He felt that was the only way a couple could stay sane and connected during this endeavor: to plunge in to the insanity as a pair. I don't necessarily believe it's the only way, but it certainly helps to have been in someone's shoes.

This past year of marriage, we've...:
  • ...paid off our second car, and started saving more.
  • ...decided whether or not to sell our house and move to a different state (Nope)
  • ...decided whether or not to consider starting a family (Nope)
  • ...slogged our way through two sets of comprehensive exams (me: fall, him: spring)
  • ...put another degree on the wall and decided to go back for more (Him)
  • ...lost some weight, and gained it back (both of us)
  • ...taken two big vacations (with family) and two little ones (just us)
  • ...brought another pet in to our home (Cleo)
And so much more. Onward. I can't wait to see what year #3 has in store. I hope it has a Phd in store. Like, soon. ;)

Thursday, September 01, 2011

why december?

I was asked recently: "Why do you have to graduate in December?"

That's a really good question.

Short Answer:
Because I didn't graduate in August!

Longer Answer:
There are a variety of reasons. I don't have to, first of all. No one is saying I have to. I could actually go a whole additional year without having to file any "I really am working on it, I promise" paperwork. But I have my reasons for doing it quickly, and here they are.

I like to finish what I started, now. I don't do anything part time. No part time school, no part time jobs. If I'm in, I'm all in. This is no different. No one would blame me for taking it a little easier. After all, I have a job, right? A lot of grad students don't have a job--at least not a full time one--and they still take longer than I have to finish. There's no shame in slowing down. Except my own inner drive. I just want to get it done, and I'm willing to work very hard to make that happen. (I'd rather do that, than hang out in this "I'm not done, but almost" purgatory for another several months.)

I've told everyone I know I'm graduating in December. That's pride, plain and simple. Back in March, December was so far away, there was no question I'd make it. Now it's creeping closer and closer, becoming more questionable. But I don't want to have to admit I couldn't do it. I just don't. Most people don't understand how grad school works. I know I didn't until I was in it. Not graduating "on time" means you failed, right? I don't want people to think I failed. Even though extending my date does not actually mean that I've failed, I'd still feel a lot like a failure. (Sounds like a personal problem eh?)

I'll be the first. This is my number one, big deal reason. Myself and one other student were the first people accepted to this PhD program, which was brand new in 2008. The other student decided to switch programs to study something else, so now it's just me. If I hold to my dates, I will be the first person at this university to graduate with a degree from this program. I think that is very cool. Additionally adding to the cool-factor, mine will be the first doctorate that my advisor--who I really do love--will have granted anyone from this institution. If I graduate in December. There are two wonderful ladies hot on my heels, you see: they were admitted the semester after I was. They are lovely ladies, but I want to graduate first.

May graduation sucks. August and December commencement ceremonies are very small, short and sweet (as short and sweet as a long, drawn out pomp-and-circumstance ceremony can be). They're held in a quaint auditorium on campus, parking isn't too bad, and there are very few undergraduates too (because most of them graduate in May). May graduation is held in the city's events center out by the interstate. We're talking shuttle buses, hard plastic folding stadium seating, traffic jams, and hours upon hours of sitting around in a giant, damp dome that is also used for college football, trade shows, and as a concert venue. Forget getting any clear pictures too: the seating locations are horrendous.

In my dreams, I would have graduated in August of THIS year. That was my original plan. It was a perfect plan too. Mr. N and I graduating together. A big party. All the family coming together to celebrate both of our degrees. The adorable photos of us in our gowns together. How cute! Well, that didn't work and December's my consolation. I don't think I've ever worked so hard for a consolation in my life.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

lit review days

Today and tomorrow are lit review days. It's amazing how far I've come in that regard. A few years ago, I'd moan and groan over a paper with a 20-source requirement, then struggle to find 21 sources to write about (gotta go the extra mile, you know, haha). One thing I've heard a lot from friends and others is "I don't think I could ever write more than 10 pages about anything." I was in that camp myself. Paper's now about 85 pages long and I can probably double that before it's due. And there is no page requirement, or source requirement. If I could say all that I needed to say (to make it legit) in 5 pages, they'd pass it. John Nash (the scientist who inspired the movie A Beautiful Mind) wrote a doctoral thesis of less than 30 pages in length.

The point is that whatever you're doing, you're doing it thoroughly. When you cross that threshold between 'what's required' and 'what's enough,' it's hard to decide when it's enough. But generally I find that if I have to ask myself "is that enough?", it won't be.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

reality-check, feedback style

I've done a lot of work on this dissertation. In recent weeks, I've become more confident with stats and I put a considerable amount of time in to the results section. Then I emailed the draft to my advisor with a quick request: "Can you skim the results to see if I'm reporting them properly?"

What I received back was a fully read, fully digested document. He had made comments on everything. Change this, change that. Move this. Talk about this. Don't talk about that. I didn't ask for this depth of commenting (or any review of the rest of my paper at this point), but I really appreciate it. It saves me a ton of work in trying to figure out which things need refining. Much of it, I had planned to refine anyway (like I said, I only asked him to look at the results; I hadn't really worked on the rest much in several months!). But some of it I would not have caught. So that's great.

Some of the comments were really big though. Things indicating that I may need to re-run my stats, consult with an expert on these matters, etc. My sample sizes don't match. (An example of this would be if you did a survey and got responses from 2 women and 20 men.) This means the stats might not be reliable. My results are like this on a lot of different facets. (So as an example: I would have 2 women and 20 men. And among them, 5 have brown eyes but 17 have blue. And 1 is black but 21 are white.) Basically, I cannot (reliably) say that my stats necessarily say anything accurate about how these groups of people differ. (Actually, I don't know what I can and can't reliably say--that's why I need to talk to an expert.) This is one example of the 'Big Scary Comment.' There were several Big Scary Comments in this thing. Several. Time-consuming, re-do all-my-hard-work comments. And, to sound like a broken record: time is something I don't have a ton of. If I want to feasably graduate in december, I need this whole paper out the door in less than 2 months.

This means many things, but one thing it means is that all of the hours and hours and hours of work I put in to doing the stats, organizing them, combing through them for significant results, and writing up those results may have been a waste. My advisor wasn't harsh or anything; I know he's right. My doing this stuff now will save me from being eaten alive by the committee later.

After I read his comments, I was ready to chuck the computer right out the window. I had tears in my eyes, thinking of the wasted time. The effort. What I thought was a good job I was doing. What I thought I understood, but actually don't understand very well.

It's a massive blow to the ego. Like when I failed my comps last fall. It makes me feel lost.

If there's one thing I can say for my Ph.D.-related activities, they are challenging. Not a lot truly challenges me. But this does, and I'm not used to it. I've been spoiled by the ability to usually rise to the occasion easily. My master's wasn't too challenging for me; I passed with no revisions and very little issue at all. This... this is challenging. I have to try and fail. I have to do it again.

I am starting to realize that there is nothing to do except take it in stride and make the changes happen. Maybe walk away for a little bit and do something to make myself feel better. (Chocolate, anyone?) But then I have to do it, even if I don't want to, and even if I don't know what steps to take first. Last I checked, dreading something did not cause it to magically get accomplished while I'm sleeping. I have to 'get back on the horse.' I can't afford to spend days or weeks brooding over it, pouting about how "It was really good already. I should NOT have to change it." Regardless of the 'shoulds': I have to do the task at hand or I'm not going to graduate.

If I ignore it and sulk, it'll still be there and I will have less time to fix it. So suck it up, buttercup. Delete, and redo it, this time, with feeling.

Friday, August 05, 2011

graduation day!

Today is my husband's graduation day.

Today was supposed to be my graduation day, too. For the past 3.5 years, I had my sights set on August 2011. Back in April though, I accepted that today would not be my graduation day. I reset my sights on December, reworked my plan, and got over the fact that I will not be graduating in the same ceremony as my husband.

If you're keeping track, husband was admitted to his Master's program last year at this time. It took him less than 12 months to complete a Master's degree--from a respectable, accredited institution--in a very technical and complicated field. Not only is he extremely smart, but he is fiercely determined. He's stubborn, driven, and he knows what he wants. I think I work hard, but husband works harder. He took all of his required classes, did his research, wrote and defended his thesis (with no revisions!), studied-for and passed his comprehensive exams (and was one of the only ones who did pass), waded through the paperwork and trivial bureaucracy that is graduate school, and continued to be successful at his full time job (which is much more demanding than my own job). All of that in a year, and with excellent grades too. Everybody told him he couldn't do it. I didn't even think he could do it--mainly because I didn't think the timelines set in place on campus would allow it (class offerings, forms, deadlines, etc). But he did it anyway. (Like I said, stubborn!)

This is a man who--when I met him--was not exactly the epitome of study skills and academic drive. I'd like to take credit for molding him in to the School Accomplishing Robot SuperHero he is today, but I can't. All I can say is that I have tried to be supportive. Because I do support his goals and I am so, so proud of him for accomplishing this one so swiftly. Keeping his goal in mind, I know he had many sleepless nights spent worrying, trying to work out the details. Stressed about his ability to complete the work, but moreso about being able to persuade administrators, his committee, and departmental types to believe in his motivation and allow him to work at this pace. There were days he got up before 6 to get a jump on his massive to-do list. There were days he didn't go to bed until well after midnight. There were days (weeks? months?) he missed family events, turned down invitations of friends, and refrained from doing anything unless it was related to this goal.

He is a very humble person. He'll read this post and shake his head repeatedly because he doesn't think he's smart, accomplished or anything special. But it'll be harder for him to argue against my position now that he'll have a Master's degree on the wall! (And in a few weeks, he'll begin his Ph.D. program...never a dull moment for us!)

So off I go to iron his robe and velvet hood. We're having a little backyard BBQ for a few family members and friends who will be at the ceremony. I have a pile of food chilling in my fridge, calling to me from my counter tops, and generally tempting me to just munch a little one will even know, right? I took today off to prep for all of this, and to enjoy celebrating this milestone with my husband and our friends and family.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

when countdowns are a bad idea

Recently I was reading a blog and came across a neat online counter widget. It lets you count down the days--right down to the minute--until your important event. "Oooh," I thought! "I can count down the days until my Ph.D. graduation!" So I entered in my date and even the time of the ceremony. It said 140 days. Hmm. That didn't really seem like a lot. I changed the date then, entering in the date the dissertation needs to be done and filed with the department in order to allow me to graduate. 115. Oh my.

This thing has been a cloud following me from place to place--raining on my every parade--for months now. But never has it felt so heavy and burdensome as it did when I saw that number. (The numbers are less than that now, by the way...) In those days remaining, I have to finish my analysis. I have to write it up. I have to do more data collection and analysis, and write that up. I have to finish chapter 2 (lit review), update chapter 3 (methodology), and write chapter 5 (discussion). Chapter 4 (results) has a really long way to go too. I also have to have these things all read and reviewed by my committee, and I expect they'll have many suggestions for changes and additional things they'll want me to cover. There's also the defense, but I'm good on my feet and I am not terribly concerned about that provided that the paper is solid. Obviously it's a huge deal and I'll be nervous, but when I get to that point I'll have a lot more done than I do now.

A timer, at this point, is not a countdown to relief. It's a threat. I needed to know, but I didn't want to know.

Last weekend I finally shelved my pride and asked my husband for help. He sat with me all day on Saturday and we worked on the stats. He helped me learn to read the output, and helped me interpret it too. He also got 'into' my project, getting excited about significant results and what they might mean. His contributions to this are so valuable. Without him, I'd still be nervously thinking "Oh man, I need to figure this out." (I'm still thinking that, but not with as much terror at least.) Instead, I feel more invested in the project, and a little less inept. Because of Mr. N, I understand stuff like upper and lower bounds, estimated marginal means, and post hoc tests. (Like I said before, I've taken several stats classes, but somehow this stuff never stuck.)

So that's where I'm at. With 105 days before the dissertation needs to be approved for defense, I'm nowhere near close. But I met with my advisor today and he's still pretty confident that I can make it happen. The issue is time. I only have my nights and weekends, and what do people do on nights and weekends in the summer? Have parties! I have a high school reunion, a housewarming, a baby shower, a wedding, and several other weekend and weeknight events. House projects are mostly on hold, but some outdoor things must be done before winter. I don't have any vacation time from work I can take on this (I've used it all until I earn some more.) This kind of research/schoolwork really goes smoothest if I have several hours of uninterrupted work time, yet instead I'm doing this in terrible, barely-productive spurts. In between loads of laundry, trying to keep some semblance of a tidy home, going to work, and trying to be supportive of my friends' and families' milestones as they celebrate them (on my precious night and weekend days...).

I know a lot of my writing is about me being stressed or not having enough time. Sorry. I know I chose to get a degree and I know I chose to do it without quitting my job. Therefore, I chose to be this busy/conflicted/stress-loaded. This is what it's like for me, right now. Enjoy.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

cat pictures (after a month together)

The two pictures below are from the first day we let her roam the house all day long. Rusty didn't exactly like that she was in his window...

So I opened a second window.

Below is favorite picture yet (I'm sad that I was only able to get it with my cell phone before Rusty sensed a camera and went elsewhere...):

Cleo and Rusty are doing really well together now. We were worried about Rusty (he was always growling and hissing at her at first), but he seems to be pretty much back to his old self. They play together and occasionally even sit together, though usually they are a few feet apart.

Monday, July 11, 2011

moan, statistics

I am awful at statistics. Specifically, statistics using a program called SPSS.

When I try to do them, I feel like I'm hitting a brick wall, over and over again. It frustrates me, sometimes to tears. I feel like I've accomplished nothing. I feel like whatever analyses I DO complete, I will simply have to redo because I surely did not do it right. (So, why do it at all?) I poke repeatedly through my stats books and SPSS guides, which somehow offer me nothing but more confusion. (I have taken 5 stats classes, guys. FIVE. Three of which focused on stats using SPSS. I got A's in all of them. And in my undergrad I was only 4 credits short of a math minor: it's not the numbers that scare me. So why can't I do this?!)

I get excited when I actually enter all the parameters correctly, but then I receive a chart I cannot ever seem to decipher. I remember learning p-values and chi-squares and confidence intervals but I have no idea how to place them meaningfully into a research paper. My silly over-thinking brain can weave a web in which any independent variable maybe possibly probably *could* be a dependent one. A factor? Well that could be a group if one thought about it *this* way. And how continuous *is* that continuous variable, REALLY?

I know how to ask a research question, but I cannot seem to translate that question into an answer I can find through data analysis. (I can't look at my question and say "oh, to find that, I need to run X, Y, and Z analysis, while checking for this and that type of correlation." I just have no clue.)

Then I bombard my advisor (who is great at stats and SPSS) with a pile of questions and he patiently (for probably the hundredth time) gives me answers and advice. I feverishly take notes, confidently leave the meeting, and the cycle starts over again. I can't understand my notes. I ram my head into the wall. Some result or error message or window is produced that he did not mention to me when we spoke. Or I don't know what to do next. I am again, frustrated to tears, and the only usable results I have are whatever ones he produced while giving me examples of how it works, during the meeting. And then I need another meeting, which makes me feel like a complete ass because I worry he'll think he wasted his time trying to teach me the first time. I'm like the Amazing Girl Who Cannot Learn (stats in SPSS, that is). But I'm not a bad listener. I so badly want to learn. I just can't get it to *click.*

Of course I am fully aware that most of my problem is likely intrinsic. That means it's an internal barrier--something I have no confidence in, and thus am probably setting myself up to fail. But oh, how I try to power through it.

There are--and have historically been--very very few situations in my life where a homework assignment could bring me to tears. Independent research involving SPSS and statistics can.

I'm worried that this will doom me to being the kind of researcher who only does 'soft' publication. Lit reviews, rehashing the work of others, lighthearted little articles for academically-oriented magazines. I feel like I'll never be able to do it without my advisor's constant [figurative of course] hand-holding, because I just don't understand.

The only thing saving me from believing that stuff in the last paragraph? Well, two things. One is my husband, who I know can do it (he just doesn't use SPSS, which I have to use for my dissertation). He can't help me with my dissertation stuff though. Well, he probably CAN (in fact, I'm sure he can), but I'm so frustrated already, I can't give him a break. I pretty much just bark at him every time he tries. He asks me some simple SPSS-related question, I can't answer it, and I'm so embarrassed at my silly stupidity towards it that I don't even want help. Homework help shouldn't make me irrationally yell at my spouse, so I would rather just leave him out of it! But in the future maybe he can run my stats for me. I think I'll just give him that job. He won't mind, right? ;-)

The other saving grace is that you can pay statisticians to run your numbers for you. It might be a cop-out, but it's something. Again though, not for my dissertation.

And I would really rather just get over this and learn how to confidently do it myself. (You can't prepare yourself to answer the questions others may have if you don't do your own work, after all.)

The number one reason I am so frustrated? It's ME that is holding me up. If I understood statistics--and if I could wrap my head around the SPSS stuff--I could have the analysis done. Just a few days. Or one long one. A few hours a day for a few weeks. Whatever. I could set my schedule, run some analysis, look at the results, use them to run more analysis, draw conclusions, and write it up. I hate being the one holding myself back. It sucks, majorly.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

a slow summer (schoolwise)

Dissertation update time, and it's a little embarassing. When I last wrote about this in mid-May, I had finished my quantitative (numbers, surveys) data collection. I still had to do the data entry, analysis, and discussion. I also have a great deal more lit review work to do, and some quantitative (talking to people) data to collect.

I have nothing new to report. See, I gave myself the rest of May off. I worked really hard during March, April, and early May, and I had a lot of stuff going on in late May. Then we got Cleo the cat. And I decided to redo our patio (we did not have one before. So technically I "did" the patio--I did some digging and leveling, and put paver stones down). And we went to a wedding. I can come up with some kind of excuse for every moment I've spent doing something other than working on my dissertation...but the fact remains: it's now officially the "late June" portion of my "taking the rest of May off." Whoops!

Anyway, it's time to buckle down. I hate to admit it, but summer is almost over. Well, not really. Hmm, sort of. Fall semester starts in mid-August. And we'll be gone for some time in there too on a vacation to Maine. Time to get cracking. The tedious part is the data entry, and I'm going to have to just sit down and do that. I prepared the SPSS spreadsheet and sent it to my advisor for review because I didn't feel excited about entering all my 300+ double-sided survey data and then having him tell me I forgot some dumb thing here or there. That'd suck. Lucky for me, Cleo is really super helpful.

Once I get the data entered, I need to analyze, look for patterns, and write. So that's my progress (or lack of). My advisor--by the way--tells me that "cat ate my dissertation" will not fly as an excuse.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

introducing cleo

We got another cat.

Rusty is used to being by himself; a new friend will take some getting used to. We have them separated for now. He has made progress though! From near-constant hissing to playful banter in just one weekend.

And look at her: she's so pretty. It's a big reason neither of us could resist her. Normally one of us talks the other out of these types of things. This time though, I guess she was meant to be here.

Almost immediately after getting her home--especially upon experiencing Rusty's angry reaction--we felt regret over impulsively adopting her. Yes, we like her very much and she needs a home. Did she need to be in OUR home? She completely upset our two-people-one-cat balance. 30 minutes and $55 forever changed our home dynamic, shooting us back to new-pet vet appointments, spaying, discipline, and general kittenhood. And, we worried that it might have ruined the personality of our laid back and trusting Rusty.

The silly things you do when you're in a funk. Once we both admitted we had a lapse of judgement, it was easier to accept our new arrangement. We didn't return her. (That feels so awful to me. I don't think I could return a shelter pet for any but the most dire of reasons.) We named her instead. Cleo, for her dark-rimmed Cleopatra eyes. We were tempted to name her Capri, for her adoption was a capricious choice.

With a name though, she's one of us. No longer an outsider, no longer a random cat in our house. I ordered her tag on Sunday morning. (Pet owners, have you seen these? Best tags ever, hands down.) I bought her a collar with pink skulls and crossbones on it.


Welcome to the family, Cleo. Even Rusty--who is hesitant to give up his 'only cat' status--will adapt. We've been giving both cats plenty of attention, and Rusty--even though he's apprehensive of this new being in the house--seems to otherwise still be himself.

Cleo's adoption papers say she is 6 months old, but they also list her birthday as 10/1/10. We'll see what the vet thinks. I came across her--by the way--in one of those animal shelter cages by the checkout at Petco. Those work, I am telling you! They pray on the sensibilities of mushy-hearted pet owners who wind up thinking "what's wrong with having one more?" It especially helps if the cat is particularly doe-eyed and innocent, like our Cleo.

Oh and one more thing: please know that while our feelings surrounding Cleo's impulsive adoption are true (due to us being in a funk and essentially 'off our game'), we like Cleo a lot and will be an excellent family for her. I am sure that she will bring all of us joy.

Monday, May 23, 2011

husband is a master

On Wednesday, May 18, my husband had his master's defense. I attended and got the privilege of watching him present his process and findings to a room full of his peers, including his committee and chair. Afterward, the committee must have been impressed because they only made him wait nervously outside for about 10 minutes while they deliberated. He passed! No revisions necessary.

Since a spring graduation would have required that he complete all of these steps by early April, he will actually graduate in August. However, he is 'free' for the summer now, aside from a few loose ends to tie up. Husband completed his master's degree in 10 months, while also holding down his job (with increased responsibilities over the past year). Here I thought my 18-month master's was pretty brisk. He set a goal and stuck to it, even though it meant taking several classes, and his grueling comps, and writing/revising his thesis all at the same time.

To celebrate his successful defense, we took a fabulous little road trip Thursday-Sunday, to the Black Hills of South Dakota. It was a really fun trip.

Monday, May 09, 2011

busy this month

May's turning out to be quite the month for us. This week is finals week. That doesn't really mean much for me, but my husband does have one final (on Friday of course...they're really dragging out his last semester of his Master's program, aren't they?). Next week is his defense. I wish he would have written a blog about his experiences in his Master's program, but I guess he didn't have time because he was too busy finishing a Master's degree in a very technical field in under 1 year. He's amazing that way. This semester alone, he took a bunch of classes, wrote and revised his thesis, took his comps, and will defend his thesis. With the defense done (and any changes they may suggest), he will be unofficially done with his Master's (though his degree will be dated August).

I finished my quantitative data collection (numbers, statistics) for my dissertation last week. Now to begin the tedious process of entering all the data in to SPSS, then analyzing it and writing up the results. Fun times, y'all. I have a bit of qualitative data (talking, people's opinions, interviews) to still collect, analyze and integrate before I can call my dissertation data collection complete. With that and all the writing I intend to do over the summer, I'm aiming for an early- to mid- October defense.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

the guinea pig

I'm not sure if I mentioned this before, but I believe I have. I'm the first person to go through this particular Ph.D. program. There are other people in the program now too, but I was one of two people to be admitted to its first cohort. (The other person ended up switching to a different program but will graduate at the same time as me in another program, I believe). A cohort, by the way, signifies a group of students who come in to the program together, take a lot of the same classes, and experience a lot of the same processes at the same times. "Cohort of 1" would be an apt name for me these days!

So like I said, since the other person changed to a different track, it's just me at this stage in my program. And since it is a new program, I've been the first person to take the comps in it, the first to select a committee, the first to do a topic proposal, the first to fill out each form. Even though my advisor has worked with PhD students at other institutions, I'm his first at this school, and the policies here are different than they were where he has worked before. Basically that means he and I are figuring it out together. (I wrote about how we both misunderstood the topic proposal process...Whoops.) It was really inevitable that something would slip through the cracks, and on my birthday (thanks) I received the following letter in the mail.


It seems I could not be advanced to candidacy. The grad school department had not been notified of whether I passed the comps. Last they heard, I'd applied to take them (way back in June of last year). So as far as they knew, I hadn't passed them yet...and thus could not advance.

I knew I'd passed, and figured it was some sort of form I or my advisor had forgotten/not known to fill out. So I called the graduate department on Monday and asked them what needed to be done to correct it. The person on the phone gave me a bit of 'tude and told me if I had questions about my comps I'd need to ask my advisor. But my overly sweet and inquisitive attitude won her over and she soon explained to me that there was indeed a form they were missing. ("But really, your advisor knows this. You should be talking to HIM.") My advisor and I had a chuckle at this when I recounted my phone call to him later.

My advisor quickly found the form in his office, filled out and signed the appropriate places, and gave it to me. I collected the additional signatures I needed and turned it in during my lunch hour from work yesterday. Just one thing worries me a little: the form said it must be received by the department within 25 days of passing or failing the comprehensive exams. That would have been before Christmas. Whoops. What can I say? We didn't know. Since my post-it note strategy worked so well with the IRB, I stuck a Post-It Note Of Genuine Apology For Ignorance on this form. Now I'm hoping for the best!

I really don't mind being the first person to go through the program. It makes my life a little more difficult, but also probably grants me some lenience in the form of people just not knowing what is going on. It also helps that my advisor is easy going and doesn't pretend to know everything, either. He and I are definitely in this together, trying to figure out how to get from point A (acceptance into the program) to point G (graduation!).

Friday, April 15, 2011

he passed!

hurray for my sweetheart!

My husband passed his comps! Woohoo! This is such a load off our minds (especially his!). He was extremely anxious about it, even though he did do a great deal of studying. Taking these exams in his program is very different from my written, three-week time frame exams. For him and his classmates, it's like taking four final exams for courses you took years ago. You take them all in the same, stressful, long day. There is a high percentage of failure (~50% of students fail). If you fail, you don't get to retake it until the following semester. (They don't do them in the summer either, so the next exam date would have been in October.) For someone like my husband, who has his thesis done and plans to graduate this summer, that would be very bad!! Aside from delaying his graduation, there would have been a lot of issues with scheduling and coursework that thankfully, he now shouldn't need to worry about!

Now all that's left is his defense next month. Oh, and he has to finish his spring classes of course!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

on topic approvals and lightning fast IRBs

Wow, I have much to share and I haven't had a chance to share it. (I've been actually forcing myself away from blogging because it is not as important as dissertating.) But today I really want to share the progress I've made on my dissertation in the past two weeks. Whew. So here's the cliff-notes.
  • Remember, I had a really big paper to write. Since then,
  • I finished it and turned it in to my committee.
  • They read it and I organized a meeting.
  • We had the infamous Topic Proposal Approval Meeting (the 'defense' my advisor mentioned) and they all signed the form (woop!)
  • I made the changes they suggested (contingent on their signing the form, they trusted I'd make these changes).
  • I had two IRB protocol changes accepted.
  • I contacted my sample and started scheduling data collection times.
Now I'll explain how all of this has gone down.

I really busted my butt to get my paper done in the lofty 2 day time-frame I had assured my advisor was completely doable for me. It was doable but I definitely did not have a lot of break time (I did not have a weekend to work on I had to fit it in around my work schedule). We had decided I'd hand it in on Friday, so on Friday morning I emailed that 35 page document to all of them. At this point, I was happy with my work but I was worried that they wouldn't have time to read it. Generally you give your committee a month or so. This was a measly one week (including a weekend) and I was asking 4 professors to pick a mutual time to meet on a Friday. This is a very hard request to fulfill and I was very anxious about the possibility that it would not happen. (Normally it wouldn't be a huge deal, but 3 of the 4 were leaving for a big conference the following week. And as that time ticked by, my small data collection period would wane and I would end up in a situation where I couldn't collect data until next spring. (As I explained a while back, it's a tricky situation.) Still though, I was asking a lot for these people to make time for me, when I had given them barely any notice of any of this. My advisor and I had only just made the connection involving the tricky situation very recently, otherwise I would have been prepared sooner.

Amazingly, they were able to pick a time in which they were all available the following Friday afternoon: April Fools Day. Somehow, that felt like meeting on Friday the 13th or Halloween or something. Strange. Now the funny thing is, I totally did not think this meeting was a big deal. Just another meeting, right? I meet with my advisor all the time. This was just a meeting with him and a few others. And then people started asking me if I was nervous. (Um, no?) And if I was preparing. (Wasn't that paper I wrote preparation enough?) People kept assuring me it'd be OK, no matter what happened. (What?) It was after a bit of this odd attention that I realized that this is supposed to be a big deal.

I had a professor at the beginning of my program who was kind enough to walk our class through the steps one takes to get through their doctoral program. One of the steps was a full committee meeting in which students may have their work trampled by their committee. They may have their topic denied or changed to an unrecognizable state resulting in months of extra work. It's not totally uncommon for a student to cry during this meeting. Turns out, this was THAT meeting. And here I was sending out emails like 'hey doods wanna meet??' On one hand, I psyched myself up too much after I drew the connection. I wish I hadn't realized this was such a big deal. On the other hand, I'm glad I knew so that I showed up looking nice instead of in a ratty t-shirt or something.

And the meeting? It went fine. In all my worry and nervousness, I forgot two things. The first is that my advisor is 'with' me. That's his role as the committee chair. He's been working closely with me throughout the entire process, so he's as familiar with it as I am. So it's not like I'm standing there with 4 people across the table from me scowling about my idiocy. It's only 3 people! (Hah.) The other thing I forgot is that I am comfortable with my committee members. I've known all of them for years, and they're all extremely intelligent, but also friendly. So it's not like I'm dealing with strangers. Two of them were on my master's committee. Honestly the meeting was kind of FUN. I'd do it again. It'd be fun to do it over margaritas and nachos also. Topic Proposal Approval meetings need more adult beverages, I think. But I digress.

By saying my meeting went fine, I don't want to misguide you into thinking I didn't have to make any changes. I did have a lot of changes to make. I'm not insulted by change. These people know how to do research, and they know how to solidify a shaky study. We changed everything from the title to the methodology to the sample of people who would be surveyed. After the meeting I had to add a lot, but I also had to delete a lot (entire pages and sections) of the work I'd done a few days ago. Apparently that kind of thing really upsets some people. Not me, I understand that's how it works. (And I didn't really delete that stuff. I just saved it in a different document. I figure it may be useful to me in writing some future paper.)

The best thing about this meeting was to sit there and watch the committee members debate back and forth about MY research. I felt like I was watching from a dream. What makes my silly little school project so important that four Ph.D.s--three of whom head up various campus departments and a fourth who is an impressive researcher with a long CV*--are willing to spend hours of their Friday afternoon arguing about its finer points? Moments like that--moments I recall later as being very special--sneak up on me. It was neat to be in a room with such a wealth of knowledge and experience, and watch (and interact) as that expertise was applied to my work. eally cool.

*CV stands for Curriculum Vita -- It's an academic person or scientist's research resume. Lists your publications, articles, conference presentations, etc.

All that to say I "passed" it. They all signed the Topic Proposal Approval form and I turned it in on Tuesday. The next step is for the graduate school department to approve it. They're kind of the overseerers of all the graduate programs at our university. They have to check you out every step of the way to make sure you really should be at the point you've reached. If they approve it (and I have no reason to believe they wouldn't--the committee signed it and it's all legit), I will be able to "advance to candidacy." This means I'll be able to tell people "I'm a doctoral candidate" instead of "I'm a doctoral student." Otherwise it really makes no difference. Kind of random, but it's neat.

The only problem with the suggestions my committee made (and I agreed with) is that I needed to change my IRB (Institutional Review Board) forms to match what they wanted me to do. I wrote a little about the IRB process a month or two ago. To be brief, the IRB is a board of people who review the research that goes on on our campus. Most (if not all) institutions who do research have one...their job is to make sure you're not doing something stupid like abusing or tricking people during your study. My benign kind of research is pretty easy to approve.

Anyway, the silly thing about IRB and the topic proposal--and I'm sure I've written this in another post already--is that you have to have your research methods approved by the IRB before you can seek topic proposal approval. But your methods may change a lot due to committee member suggestions during the approval meeting (mine did). So then you have to do a "protocol change," which is an addendum to your previously approved IRB. In my case, I had done one protocol change already (approved March 23) and I had to turn in another one earlier this week due to committee suggestions.

I felt apprehensive about this for two reasons. One, it's a real person looking over these. I felt embarrassed turning in two so close together. (Makes it looks like I haven't thought my project through, and I hate to waste people's time.) Two, it takes a long time to get approval! As I mentioned earlier, I really need to collect my data in the next few weeks (and definitely finish collecting before the second week of May). My last protocol change form took about 3 weeks to get approval... and I can't collect data till it's approved. Yeah. Cutting it close. When approved, they send an official letter, but they also put a fancy stamp on all your materials. Any materials you use (i.e. my survey instrument) have to have their stamp on it.

So I finished writing the thing, went through and made notes (highlighting changes), and decided to walk it over to the IRB office in person. I attached a post-it note and wrote something like "Hi, I apologize for two protocol changes so close together; the changes highlighted herein were suggested by my committee and contingent on my topic's approval. My time line for data collection is very tight due to unforeseen circumstances... I would be extremely grateful if you could look this over at your earliest convenience. Thank you SO MUCH in advance!"

I didn't think much about it after that, hoping to hear back in 2 weeks instead of 3. That was Wednesday (the 6th) at noon. On Thursday morning (the 7th), at about 9 AM, I received an email from an IRB staffperson. I figured I'd forgotten something and she needed me to provide more info. Nope. The email said my protocol change was approved. Less than 24 hours. WOW. And. AND! If that quick turnaround wasn't enough, she scanned in and attached PDFs of the materials I needed. She said she'd mailed me the originals, but wanted to make sure I could start collecting ASAP since she knew I was in a crunch. I was floored. I wanted to jog across campus and give her a big hug.

So anyway, I can collect data now. WOO! I've already had a few people respond to help me. I'll describe the process more thoroughly in another post; this one is long enough. But I need to collect data from a group of about 450 students and 50 or so faculty members... in person.. so it is going to be one crazy couple of weeks, especially for this introvert! And balancing this with my job... I could definitely not do this without having a job so close to the data collection site. I'd be traveling constantly.

Monday, April 11, 2011

four more years! (or maybe less)

So like I was saying a few days ago, husband is nearing the end of his Master's program. We needed to figure our what's next. We've been weighing a lot of options, and have finally decided (after months of waffling) that we're staying in North Dakota for his PhD.

What it comes down to is, we have a good thing going here. Good jobs (that partially pay for school, too), a nice home, paid off assets, family near by. My family isn't nearby, and I dearly miss them, but it's unlikely that we would have been able to be a lot closer to them by moving for this degree.

I have to admit, I was definitely pulling for the option of staying put. I still had a twinkle of adventurous hope in the back of my mind though: one of the schools we considered was Dalhousie in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I'm Canadian-born myself, the prospect of moving to Canada (maybe for good, if things worked out) seemed attractive. Expensive though. That was the most expensive school he looked at and the highest cost of living.It would have been an extremely different life for us. (I went there with my folks on vacation when I was 14; it was beautiful.) To move there would have shut us down financially, set us back a decade or more. We'd have gone from an 1800 sq. foot house with a 2 car garage, to a 400 sq. foot apartment that costs the same for month and no off-street parking, laundry, yard or view. (With this option and one of his other options, selling at least one of our cars was part of the plan.) We'd have gone from an established, comfortable life to the bare-bones student scrapings we've managed to avoid thus far. But I have to admit: it would have been fun!

Staying here is just more responsible, as exciting as moving would be. I am sure we'll move in the future, anyway, and we'll be in better financial shape to do so I think. A move this year would have...

  • Put us both out of jobs in an economy where jobs are hard to get in most places of the country (aside from here).

  • Caused me to have to commute here to tie up my PhD.

  • Increased our student loan debt rather than allowing us to keep working to decrease it.

  • Gone against the terms of our first time homebuyer credit.

  • Likely put us in a situation with no family close by--at least several hours of travel away. If Nova Scotia, it'd have involved a longish ferry and customs too!

So here we are, North Dakotans for at least another few years.

Friday, April 01, 2011

a big week in thesis land

When you have both members of your household in school at the same time, it's a real life of academe. If one of you has downtime, some of it is ultimately spent acting as copy editor for the other person's Big Important Paper. Your restaurant conversations sound something like this...

Husband: I have to turn in Form A tomorrow.
Wife: Oh, so I take it you have already completed Form B and the XYZ Meeting?
Husband: Form B? Where did you find Form B?
Wife: It's in Handbook 4. [Paraphrasing] "Candidate must file a notarized Form B at least 30 days prior to submission of Form A and within 10 days of an appropriate outcome of an XYZ Meeting."
Husband: Oh, my department doesn't use Handbook 4. We use Handbook 2, version 7, in conjunction with a program-specific addendum.
Wife: I'm pretty sure The Central Department Head still wants a Form B filed...

We are romantic, interesting people. But what I'm saying here is that we pretty much eat/sleep/breathe coursework, tests, papers and milestones. The flip side of this is that accomplishments don't always get the celebration that they deserve.

Last week, I had to get a pile of work done in a hurry for my topic proposal meeting. I started out this week very stressed about my Topic Proposal Approval Meeting--the first time I've ever sat in a room with my entire committee. I wasn't stressed about the meeting (though I've heard that these can be brutal); I was worried that they wouldn't be able to agree on a good time/date for the meeting. And I really really needed to meet this week.

Meanwhile, my husband was in the culmination of basically the biggest week in his academic life so far. On Sunday, he turned in his Master's Thesis: 5 chapters of work, something he's been working on nearly non-stop for the past several weeks (in addition to his other classes and responsibilities). This is a huge deal, turning in your thesis. The next big step in Master's degree land is the defense. And (aside from any more revisions he might need to make thereafter), that's it.

Except for one other part--his comprehensive exams. I wrote about my comps last September (and October, and November). husband's are very different. He has to take four tests on one day. He only knows very broadly what they'll be about, so he has to study a lot and hope he will pass. He will basically be at the college from the time he wakes up until late afternoon this Saturday, taking these tests.

On top of that, he's also been sick. A bad cold basically, but it kept him out of work a lot last week, and he was miserable. It is really awful to have to concentrate on school work when you're sick. It's happened to me before, and my productivity basically comes to a standstill. So for him to finish his thesis and study for these tests and complete all of his other homework while feeling awful...that's some serious drive.

So in a span of 7 days, husband will have completed two really huge milestones of his Master's career. Turning in his thesis (last Sunday) and writing his comps (tomorrow). I am so proud of all he has accomplished.