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.