Tuesday, September 27, 2011

helpers

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

2

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.