Saturday, December 08, 2012

the fall, in subheadings

It's been a while I guess. Honestly, I haven't had that much to say. While I enjoy reading blogs, I am drifting away from the actual writing of my own. It's also very freeing to do something, go somewhere, make something, cook something...without thinking 'I need to take pics for my blog' or whatever. Plus, since the last time I've written, it's been pretty quiet around here. So, here's the fall in subheadings.

Montreal
I gave a full paper at a conference there in October. It was a great experience, good conference, neat city. I also got to see my parents, since they do not live too far from there. Husband did not join me on that trip.

Washington
We went to Washington to spend Thanksgiving with my extended family. It was a particularly interesting trip as my cousin brought her boyfriend and his family as well. Lots of people in a rental house, and a lot of rain too. The rain didn't deter the teenagers from being active outdoors though, of course. And I did a lot of shopping for little things around the island where we stayed. My funnest purchase was a cast iron owl, found in an antique store. It's apparently an incense burner.

The Holidays
With Christmas approaching, I'm finding myself a little behind on gifts but not too badly. We got the outside lights up and the tree too, and the stockings are up on the mantle. Got our first Christmas card from someone today too. I'm a little bummed that I won't be able to take much vacation time this year. I've got a half day off Christmas even and that's it. Even though New Years Eve is on a Monday, I can't take that off because we have an important work project that's being rolled out over that weekend, and we're needed to work (on the weekend and the Monday). I do get the actual New Year's Day off though.

Husband
This is husband's last semester of a full course load, which is great! He will have one class in the spring, and from then and onward it's dissertation research! He also has an exciting opportunity on the horizon; hopefully I'll have some news on that soon too.

A Chapter?
For a few weeks, it was looking like I was going to be writing a book chapter related to my dissertation research. It ended up falling through due to various circumstances and/or misunderstandings, and honestly, I'm feeling a bit relieved. Had it worked out as I'd wanted, it would have looked great on my CV. But it wasn't working out, and now I don't have to compress ~100 pages of lit review in to ~25 for a book, so I am not disappointed. I do need to do *something* academic though. I've been slacking, conference aside.

That's all I've got for now. How is everyone doing... if anyone is still out there following me?

Friday, October 05, 2012

first snow of the year

We went to bed Wednesday night with a winter storm warning in effect and the expectation of 6-10 inches (or maybe even over a foot of snow).

Visions of snow days danced in my head (but it really would take a foot or more of snow to close my workplace).

We woke up Thursday morning to a lot of wind and about 2-3 inches of wet, heavy snow on the ground, with more falling. Perhaps another inch fell during the day, and that was it for our first "winter storm." Wop wopppp. (Off to work we went.)

Other areas got a lot more--I heard that Roseau, which is in northwest Minnesota, got over a foot. My in-laws live between here and there, and they lost electricity and still don't have it back.

So, our first snow of winter is on the books It's mostly melted already, though it is lightly snowing as I write this.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Canada for fun, then again for profession

It's been a while since I popped in here. Actually, that's because I thought I already *had*! Oops. Anyway, the big news right now is that wrote and submitted a paper to an international conference, and it got accepted. (It's not a terribly exotic "international" location though: Canada--but that makes it affordable for me to go so, I can't complain.)

So in a little over a week I'll be off to Canada to give a full paper about the expectations of my field (versus what people in my field are taught in grad school). This is not related to my dissertation at all, and that's fine. Writing the paper gave me a sense of accomplishment after failing to write any papers related to my dissertation all summer long. I really tried to, but man, the motivation was not there. Once I switched gears--picking from a list of suggested topics from a conference flyer, rather than forcing myself to write from my dissertation--I was able to bang out this other paper in just a few days' time.

I've presented at conferences before: a full session related to my Master's thesis in 2007; a round table related to my field in 2010... and maybe one more, so this isn't a brand new experience. But it will be a great experience just the same.

Fun fact: I wrote this as a 'brief paper' - under 6 pages, and a 15 minute presenttation. But it got too long so it was accepted as a full paper with a full half hour of presentation time. I'm long-winded, what can I say? (See: my 300+ page dissertation...)

What else is up with me? Well, I maybe have already mentioned that we got new shingles on our house in late August. They look really nice and hopefully will last a long time. At the same time, we had the house insulated, going from R-value of 7, to about R-60. Should keep us cozier this winter!! (Recommendation for this region, I believe, is an R-value of around 50, so we did not have enough before.)

Also, last weekend I took my bug to Winnipeg for a VW show. I drove up with another VW--a 1964 VW bus. It was a fun and adventurous trip. Cold too: I don't have the heat hooked up in my bug. Driving to the hotel after midnight, it was in the mid-twenties; driving home the next night around 11:30, it was in the mid-thirties. (So, it was about that cold in the car, too.)

Here's a picture from the trip: you can see the other VW in front of me.

 
I took that picture with my new iPhone 5, by the way. I'm very impressed with it so far. (It's my first iPhone, previously having a Motorola Droid X, and before that a Motorola Q.)

Sunday, September 09, 2012

3

Our third anniversary today. Since last year, we've...
  • ...said goodbye to a family member (my grandma) and held tighter to others (his parents & brother, after their car accident in November)
  • ...made significant investments in our home (shingles, insulation)
  • ...taken road trips through Minnesota/Wisconsin/Michigan/Ontario and  Montana/Wyoming/Idaho
  • ...lost some weight (again) and gained it back (again)
  • ...put another degree on the wall (mine)
  • ...added another car to the garage (my bug)
  • ...enjoyed a visit from my out-of-state family (does not happen often!)
What's missing from this list is the day-to-day. This past year was an extremely dificult one for me, especially in the fall. At the risk of being dramatic, there were days (weeks!) when I felt hopeless, as though the forces of the world were conspiring against me. But to paraphrase the song: I had 99 problems but our marriage ain't one. It was a great gift, to have a husband who believed in me (and pushed me!) even when I stopped believing in myself. I hope I can return the favor, but I hope even more that his Ph.D. unfolds more...shall we say... smoothly than mine did.

Wonder what's in store for our 4th year!

Monday, September 03, 2012

conference tweets and security on the 'net

Many conferences now encourage attendees to tweet during the conference, generally with a related hashtag to keep things straight. I think it's a great idea, in theory. I like to follow the hashtags for conferences I would have liked to attend and see some of the highlights. When I'm at a conference, I still follow the associated stream when I can, just to see how others are interpreting things or what's happening at sessions I'm unable to attend. Plus, there is an opportunity for networking with other conference attendees through Twitter--perhaps some new followers or followees to enrich my stream with their 140-character thoughts.

I have never participated in tweeting from a conference though, and here's why. I think it's safe to say that most people have some kind of online presence these days, be it through Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, a personal blog, or something else. Occasionally you hear of someone being robbed (or worse), and it comes out that the assailant was able to locate them (or their unoccupied home) due to their use of geotagging photos, or because they had posted addresses on Facebook or publicly (such as taking a photo of a wedding invitation with address not blurred, or a photo of the front of the house in which street and house number are visible).

So then the news bulletins come out - the safety warnings and such - reminding people not to use location settings for photos taken at home. Or not to post photos of their expensive belongings in their home. And relatedly: not to announce when they are out of town!

Thing is, this goes directly against what we the Tweeters, the Instagrammers, the Facebookers, the FourSquarers, the Bloggers instinctively do. I see cool stuff, I want to post a picture of it. I experience trouble at the airport, I want to complain about it on Twitter. I go on a road trip, I want to geotag photos of my progress. This kind of life-fodder is much more interesting than the normal every day "Well, heading off to work!" type of material one usually has for one's online profile(s).

Still, I've been quite conscious of what I say about my location, specifically when I travel. If I mention a trip, I never mention dates. Then I don't announce I'm leaving, and I don't publicly post anything related to the travel until I have returned home.

And we're back to conference tweeting.

If you start tweeting live from a conference out of town, well, obviously you're out of town. Assumptions can be made about how long you're going to be gone, too, simply by checking the conference website. Conference tweeting is thus a method of announcing that you're out of town.

A couple of reality checks are in order:
  1. With the number of people on social media sites, what are the odds that a criminal or weirdo is tracking ME? The idea that someone would bother probably makes me narcissistic. (But so does blogging, so, go figure.)
  2. Conference tweets are generally very dry and only interesting to others at the conference or those who are involved in the field. Do I really think some criminal is out there combing through conference tweets and figuring out which houses can hence be robbed? I would think there are enough other, more direct methods of potential-break-in-targeting.
I am considering all of this because I am attending a conference later this fall. Maybe I'll get involved in the tweeting this time. I haven't decided. What's your take, readers?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

first day of school (but not for me)

The husband has 2 classes today. I have zero classes today.
The husband has 1 class tomorrow. I have zero classes tomorrow.
I could go on, but you get the point. No classes!

I am finalizing a paper I've been writing. It's due Monday for review, I hope to present it at a conference. I'm doing this paper because I want to (in an i-don't-want-to sort of way). So while that feels a lot like "schoolwork," it's far cry really. I'm digging it. More on the paper, the job hunt, and this thing they call a "CV" sometime soon. For now I'm pretty happy when my status as Not A Student this fall!

Thursday, August 09, 2012

summer stuff

It's been a while since I posted anything, so I thought I would check in. My summer has been surprisingly busy. Also, a bit stressful, trying to force myself to publish a few topics from my dissertation.

I'm currently writing a shorter unrelated paper to submit to a conference coming up this fall, and hoping that'll get the research-and-writing juices flowing again. (Unlikely--I'll probably just pat myself on the back for doing something, and then continue to procrastinate the dissertation work.)

Some of the other stuff I've been up to... We took a roadtrip to Yellowstone, Beartooth Highway and all that beautiful country back in late June/early July. It was a great time. We saw all the Yellowstone things (including Old Faithful, with every single other person in the park, I swear). On the way home we also saw the smoke from the Tetons fires and others, which was sad to see.

You know that gorgeous photo you always see of Yellowstone, taken from the sky, with the big crater and all the rainbow colors in it? This is that crater, from the ground/boardwalk.

 
If you don't follow me on twitter you may not have seen my haircut, which I mentioned last month and I still love, so I'll throw in this self portrait taken at about 10,000 feet on the Beartooth highway, I believe in Wyoming (or Montana, it crosses back and forth).



I have also been tinkering with Darrel (my bug) a lot and even brought him to a car show in late July. It was in Fargo, which is the farthest I've driven this car (160 miles round trip).

 
Can you see him in the pic below? (Hint, over by the blue tent/awning toward the right.)



I have been a lot more active on twitter and instagram (username: nodakademic) than I have been here, and I think that's how it's going to stay. Blogging served as a great distraction, outlet, and note-space during my degree program but now that I'm done, I just find myself engaged in other things (away from the computer! -crazy).

School starts in 2 weeks. I think that's when the "I'm really done" feeling may hit me--when the husband goes "back to school." I resisted my urge to take a class this fall. (What? Old habits die hard.)

Monday, July 23, 2012

want to see some thick books?

Here they are. They were completed last Thursday. Cleo was included for scale (and because a picture of books is more interesting with a cat in it).

 
5 copies are for department and committee, 2 are for me to keep, and 3 additional ones are for family. Feels great to see this in book form. So official!

Sunday, July 08, 2012

still hasn't sunk in

I guess it's hard to shake off 11 years of post-secondary education and just move on.

Case in point, I keep catching myself thinking about fall. As in, "Still have to do ______ before fall." Summers have, for years now, been full of pressure and stress in their own right because even though I tended to take credits during summer session, summers have also been the time to accomplish all of the things I didn't have time for during spring or fall semesters (because the weekends were always consumed by school stuff). Each May, I have made a to-do list of house, yard, and personal projects and rationed them out over the weeks of summer, taking things like class/research work, weather, and family vacations into consideration.

This past May, without even thinking about it I numbered my calendar/to do list with the weeks of summer in descending order, as I have always done. Week zero is the week that school starts. This is week 6. Today I found myself sitting and thinking about how many summer to-do items I had left, and how little time before week zero. Then I realized, there IS no week zero for me. All I have to worry about is when winter will show up (in regard to outdoor projects). Awesome.

I don't HAVE to think in semesters anymore! Still, I wonder if I always will. (Probably, if I manage to successfully get a professorship someday.)

Other stuff:
-I'm recently back from a 10 day road trip and vacation. Maybe I'll post a pic or two soon.
-I got a pixie haircut a few weeks ago and unlike last time (in 2008-I really looked like a boy), I love this one.
-The dissertations should be back from the binding company in a week or so.
-As of July 5, I'm back on the research horse (freshly-minted PHD seeks publication in hopes to avoid going stagnant).

Sunday, June 10, 2012

was it worth it?

On Friday I had the opportunity to speak on a panel. That sounds Very Official but really, it was casual and fun. It was me and two other recent Ph.D. graduates. They are from the same department as me, but each of us had a different emphasis (different classes, different area of research, different committees). The audience was a group of first-year doctoral students, and we were there to simply talk about our experiences. They asked us questions like "what was your proposal process like" and wanted us to describe our research, and our committee experiences, that sort of thing. Readers of this blog know that the last 6 or 7 months of my degree program was--to put it lightly--hell. If you don't know what I'm talking about, revisit my November/December archives. As with most blogs, there is of course a LOT that I didn't write, but that I definitely felt and experienced.

It isn't my intention to write a lengthy nostalgic post today, so I'll try to keep this brief. (Edited to add: I failed. Oh well.)

At the panel, as each of us answered the questions we were asked, and shared our dissertation stories, and occasionally the organizers would chime in telling the audience what the protocols are. Over and over, my two panel companions would basically agree that yes, it was like that for them. And then I would try to find a way to explain that it really wasn't like that for me at all, without sounding like a total downer or a drama queen.

Without any specific examples: there were a lot of differences with the way their committees communicated, what was expected of them at different stages, and that sort of thing. Their dissertations were each less than half as long as mine, and they had considerably fewer participants in their research (when it was insinuated to me a few times that I needed more, or I had possibly too few). I had a couple of feelings about that and one was jealousy, for sure. But another was a sort of martyr-like pride, I guess.

Of course, I tried to stay on topic and refrained from launching in to a lengthy, rambling, gloom-and-doom tirade about my dissertation saga with four part harmony and feeling. But after processing my thoughts about the experience, here's what I think.

I believe that all three of us produced PhD-quality dissertations. We all did everything that was required of us from our committees, and that is the goal. The end product is that we are all experts in our areas, and we're all "Docs." However: I experienced the degree in a slightly different way, I think.

I personally do not believe an advanced degree should be an emotionally-exhausting feat that threatens to break even the most disciplined person. It should be a mental workout and a major commitment, and for all of us, it was. It is NOT easy, at all. But partially because of how I approached it and partially because of various circumstances that fell into place, mine nearly wrecked me. I powered through it when anyone would have understood if I gave up, and for that I am a stronger person. I'm also a changed person. I can't describe it much more than that, but from this time last year, to now, I am very different. I think differently, I communicate differently, and I operate differently, I have different values. I attribute a lot of that change to having the figurative wind knocked out of me multiple times. To operating on such a high stress, high intensity level for so many weeks that I forgot how to unclench my jaw. And to rise above all of that anger and bitterness I felt--even though I still very much felt it for much of the spring--to hammer out a crazily long, unbelievably detailed piece of academic writing of which I am now very proud.

I was ABD (all but dissertation) for 16 months prior to graduation. I learned exponentially more in the last 6 of those months (the months I like to think of as my "darkest hour," when I'm feeling dramatic) than I did in the first 10.

So yes, this is my way of saying that all of that struggling (and sometimes, suffering) I did, which I would never wish on anyone, was worth it.

All of it.
I came, I saw, I persevered, I cried, I persevered some more, I conquered, and now I stand a little taller (yet feel a little more humble), and I have a pretty impressive story to tell.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

outsourcing, cheaper

I'm pleasantly surprised at how easy printing and binding my dissertation copies will be! And inexpensive (relatively), too.

What follows is probably one of the longer posts anyone has ever written about photocopies. Settle in.

Our university has an online submission form for theses and dissertations. During this process, the vendor they use--UMI/Proquest--will bind one copy and send it to the university library collection. This is $43, and the student (me) pays for it. I went through this process back in April, right after my defense. But, I may never see that $43 copy unless I go to the library desk and ask to see it. There was an option at that time to order personal copies, but they were $45 each and I knew there were better options locally. (I knew that if I ordered through our campus library, I could choose the color of the binding, for example!)

The issue with having the dissertation bound by the library (well, by a vendor they work with), is that I have to provide the printed copies to them. This becomes a huge pain when your dissertation is 1 BILLION PAGES LONG (or, it seems like it is!) and you need several copies.

Several weeks ago, a staff member told me to call the campus' duplication department. She said they print inexpensively and include the 25% cotton paper on which dissertations and theses are supposed to be printed. I tucked that tidbit away in the back of my mind because I was NOT looking forward to printing out 10 copies of my 315 page document, after hours, on my workplace copy machine. This process would involve:

---Buying the paper. I would need 6 boxes of 500 pages at $18.50 a box, $111 total (lowest price I could find, on Amazon with free shipping).
---Staying after work or going in on a weekend to use the copy machine so as not to hinder anyone else's use of it or interfere with my normal work stuff.
---Paying .03 cents a page ($85.05 total) for using the work photocopier (even though it's my own paper, it's their ink and a maintenance on their machine)
---Running up and down stairs and hallways to check on my progress (since my office computer isn't anywhere near the work printer)
---Possibly disturbing others whose desks/offices ARE near the printer (my workplace has swing/different shifts, so people may be working in the evening or weekend)
---Getting boxes or some kind of bags to put the copies in so as not to get them wrinkled/crunched or have them blown away as I drag them over to the library to have them bound for $11 each.

You can see why I didn't jump in to doing this immediately. Ugh.

So, following the tip I had received, I called the duplication department and I can't even believe what a great tip that was! The price was 4 cents a page, period. That included the nice paper AND allowed me to avoid doing all of the things I listed above. All I needed to do is pick them up and take them over to the library. I called today (Wednesday) at about 10 AM. I apologetically asked if they could be done by Friday because that is the due date for the library's June binding order. She told me if I sent the file now, I could probably pick them up by 1:30 or 2 (TODAY). Whoa!

I was so impressed that I sent over my husband's thesis too. He hadn't had it printed and bound yet (from last summer) because although it's decently shorter than my dissertation, neither of us has wanted to mess with making all those copies. But when I told him about this service, he sent me a PDF and I added it to my work order. I requested normal (grey-scale) printing, but they noticed that he had some color charts and someone called to ask me whether I'd like those charts printed in color (15 cents a page for those). She didn't even ask me which pages. (I wonder if they have software that notices that.) Cool! And all of this was STILL ready by the end of today.

I picked them up after work. Here they are in the car. Guess which box has my copies in it, versus the box of Mr. N's? Haha.

 
So the binding. Our campus library does it for $11 a copy (doesn't matter how long it is). They send them out once a month or so, and it takes about a month. I will bring those boxes to turn in for binding tomorrow at lunch, and we will receive them back in July sometime. We also get to choose the color of the canvas/fabric bound cover from about 15 choices. (I think that's cool. But I'm not daring enough to get a pink or neon orange one.)

Overall, here are the costs of my three options to print 9 copies of my 315-page dissertation and 9 copies of husband's 72-page thesis:
---Had we both ordered through UMI/Proquest, it would have been 18 copies at $45 a pop = $810
---Had I done it myself (buy paper, pay to print them, sort them myself, bring to library, and so on), it would have been $130 in paper (to print over 3400 pages), $105 in copier costs, $200 in binding costs = $435 and probably 3-4 hours of my time.
---Through the route I went, it cost $155 for the printing (paper included), $200 for binding = $355 and about 10 minutes of my time.

To break it down: For one copy of my dissertation, it cost $12.60 to have the duplicating department print it. Then to bind it will cost $11. (And I pick the color, the style of writing on the cover, etc.) So my dissertations, printed and complete, will cost $23.60 each (plus any applicable tax). Husband's thesis was considerably less per copy to print (about four bucks each, since it's a lot shorter!), so they'll be less than $15 each total when all is said and done. I'd say the amount we're saving is worth it, considering that all I have to do is drive them less than a mile from point A to point B.

Reviewing these prices, I found it especially interesting that on the submission/order page for the UMI/Proquest binding (the $45 option), it says "Producing copies of your dissertation/thesis is least expensive at the time of publication." Then it goes on to tell you how you're taking advantage of a great discount deal. Now, I may only have a Ph.D. (and it's certainly not in math), but I'm pretty sure that $23.60 is LESS than $45. Guess what: the same is true of $14 versus $45! Least expensive eh? I don't think so. (And from the picture, it looks like the same quality/type of binding.)

By the way, if you're wondering why we got so many copies: we got a few of each to keep, plus one for each committee member (this is etiquette), plus one for our department, plus one for a few family members (parents, grandparents).

While I realize that this post may not contain specific advice useful to those of you finishing up dissertations, it does come with a moral: explore your options! Call local printing services and see what is available. The cheapest or best option is not always the do-it-yourself route, or even the recommended/big box route!

I'll post a pic when they come back from the binding process! I'm excited to see the dissertation in its true and final form. I believe this will 'seal the deal' for me, mentally, in some way. For the last several weeks, I keep thinking "oh, I need to get that bound..." and now, I am in the process.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

the terminal bug

A little deviation from grad school and cats for today. (What does a grad school blogger write about when grad school is finished? Hmmm.)

Do you see what's in my garage? Hiding in the corner?

 


The title is a bit of a pun of a few levels.

Terminal = PhD (your terminal degree), and its also used to refer to incurable/for life medical issues.
Bug = sickness. It also is the common name for the car I was given for graduation.

The thing about bugs is, if you catch the 'sickness'... or the 'addiction' to them... you can't ever shake it. I owned a '73 VW bug from 1998 - 2005.


(Me, age 15. About to contract the sickness.)

I sold it for practical reasons (moved to ND for grad school, didn't have money or time, needed reliable vehicle capable of towing, etc). I went in to 'remission' for my 'bug addiction' but never got rid of my VW stuff (books, toys, pictures, etc).

Rewind to the week before my defense. I kinda wanted a new car for graduation; husband kept saying he'd like to get me one. Love my Civic, but it's so.... boring... and I like cars too much to drive a boring one. But I really didn't need a new car, and once I figured out that I was trying to fill a VW-shaped hole in my life with a new BMW or Acura, the choice was easy. I knew exactly what I wanted for graduation! Off to the classifieds I went. Not the newspaper or AutoTrader though: the special classifieds, the ones where people who know, go, when they want to buy or sell these vehicles.

I found a couple of them I liked, but almost overlooked this one because it looked a little rough. Once I learned more about it though, I knew it was THE car for me. I'm the kind of person who likes to know a car's entire history: where it's been, who owned it, its life story, basically. I want to know it was taken care of. And having been in this realm before, I knew what kinds of wear and tear were OK, and what would raise a red flag. And I'd rather have an original car that needs work, than one someone else (or several someones) have worked on and done who-knows-what to them.

I won't bore you with too many technical details, but here's what I ended up with.


(Here I am picking it up. I got it the week before graduation.)

A 1963 VW Beetle with 47,000 original miles. Been in storage in Minnesota for about 34 years; was driven in California before that. The second owner bought it to restore himself but didn't get around to it. I am the third owner. I got a ton of cool papers with it, some of them in German because that's where it was bought and driven for its first few months (the original owner was in the military). It is rust free in all of the places that matter. The paint is rough in places, but mostly original. The interior too. I had a lot of work done on it right off the bat to get it road ready. (Sitting so long, basically any rubber or plastic tube or seal was dried out or rotted.) I'll work on the "cosmetics" over time.

Still, it shined up pretty nicely with some soap, wax, polish, and elbow-grease.



The inside, too, is now much more comfortable, with a good scrubbing and a couple of "band-aids" in the form of t-shirts, Ikea seat cushions, and gorilla tape...

Before:



After:



So in addition to the "how's it feel" question, the second most common question I get now that I'm done with my degree is "what will you do with all your free time?" Well, there's my answer.

The bug's name is Darrel.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

me, ph.d.

Well folks, I am officially a Doctor, and the question I keep getting is:

"How does it feel?"

The answer is that so far, I don't feel any different. I even feel pretty embarrassed when people refer to me that way. "Who me? Nawwww."

Graduation was last weekend - the day before Mother's Day. (If you follow me on Twitter, you'd have seen at least one picture of me in my graduation garb.) My parents and grandparents came to town for a few days from out of state, which was nice.

So first of all: the graduation. It was very very long. As in, I was in line a bit after noon. We were marched in and seated at 1:30. We were finally marched out at about 4:20. Told you: long. And there was no break, so it's a good thing I didn't have to go to the bathroom... too badly. One thing that helped pass the time and make a nearly intolerable situation slightly less intolerable, was that my advisor and I got to sit together. (So I did not have to sit alphabetically with other grad students I didn't know.)


My husband took that picture above from very, very far away. Like 200+ yards, I think. I'm impressed.

I barely remember the actual hooding. I just kept telling myself not to trip and fall or do anything stupid. They told us not to hug our advisors (takes too long), but I did it anyway. (What were they going to do, tell me to quit it?!) I also received my actual degree on the stage, not a stand-in dummy degree like you get for a master's or a bachelor's degree.


After graduation, we had a BBQ at our house and a lot of family and friends came--a really lovely evening. The weather was perfect. Plus, I got to show off my graduation gift from husband (and me) to me! You perhaps saw glimpses of it if you're a Twitter/Instagram follower (seriously, all the day-to-day stuff is on Twitter!). I'll put up another post specifically about it soon.

You possibly noticed also, I got a haircut a few weeks ago. I don't normally get major haircuts for big events, but this one was special because I had been growing out my hair since I started my PhD. Now, it looks more like it looked around the time of my wedding. I plan to go a bit shorter, but didn't want to risk looking like a boy in my tam at graduation, so I will make another hair appointment soon.

That's all for now. Starting to enjoy summer, and starting to realize that my dissertation is actually done, for real.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

go go go

This past week has been a continuing process of filling out forms, turning in forms, filling out surveys, and so on. Finally on Friday, I turned in my actual dissertation to the college. It is really really done now, out of my hands, case closed. So that has to make a gal feel good.

Unfortunately I had a bit of disappointment yesterday too: I am getting this great graduation gift and I thought it would be delivered tomorrow, but there has been a hold up. Now I'm trying to rearrange my schedule and figure out a different time to take delivery. (The next few weeks are packed with relatives visiting, graduation events, etc.) Oh well, a minor blip. But still sad. Meanwhile, I have a HUGE to-do list of things that need to get done before company arrives next week.

Happy times though, really. Happy times!

Monday, April 30, 2012

I defended

I passed my defense at a little after 11:30 AM on Friday, April 27 (it began at 9). Here's the story.

I didn't sleep well for several nights, and woke up Friday at about 4. By 5 or 5:30 I was out of bed and feeling very anxious. Even though that other meeting, the preliminary one, is said to be the tougher one, I found that my chest was tight (actually, my whole body was tight) and my stomach was upside down. While I am required to drink coffee due to the sickening withdrawl I suffer if I don't, I certainly did not need it that morning. I was wired!!

Anyway, I exercised, showered, got ready, and was out the door around 8. Here's a picture my husband snapped of me on my way out.

 


After I left the house, I went to a bakery and picked up the 2 dozen pastries I'd ordered earlier that week. I had no idea how many people might attend, so I figured more was better. (7 people attended, including me. Husband brought most of the pastries back to his office after the defense.)

I arrived at the campus a little before 8:30. I snapped this picture for Instagram. The first step toward my defense from my car. Or, the last step of what have been many, many, many steps taken to get to this point. Either way, I loved my shoes.

 


My advisor was already there, so we got the electronics set up. A little back-story here: one of my committee members had a family emergency on Tuesday that caused them to have to be out of town during my defense. Thankfully, the university will let a committee member attend remotely if they have a good reason, and if the rest of the committee says it's OK. So we set up the web conferencing system and this person was able to log in and participate online. Whew. Finding all this out was very stressful for me earlier last week! Mainly because my advisor was out of the country all week, only arriving back very late Thursday night, and his signature was required to allow this remote attendance. All I can say is thank goodness for text messaging, email, and understanding office staff. We managed to get it approved using these three saving graces.

At about 9, we started. My advisor introduced me and I was given the floor. In attendance (in person) were my committee, my husband, our friend, and a doctoral student who was interested in seeing the process. In attendance (online) was my other committee member, plus a few special guests. Doing it online with a web conference meant that my parents and grandparents could also watch. How cool is that? They all got logged in and watched it, along with my aunt.

A big "blow" to me was that because of the screen sharing for the web conference, I could not see my powerpoint notes. I was going to have to do it off the top of my head, and I am NOT a person who reads off her slides, so I got pretty choked up at first, trying to remember what I was going to say on the first couple of slides. (One person later told me they thought I might throw up!!) But then I remembered what my husband, my dad, and many others have told me: "you know this stuff now. you don't need those notes." Once I stopped expending brain power trying to remember what my notes said, I was able to let the information just come out, and it got a lot easier. My presentation lasted about 40 minutes, after which there was some public questioning.

The public questioning is when the committee and anyone else can ask you questions about your research, and you answer ("defend"). The way I interpret it is that the committee uses this time to ask you 'easier' questions they know you can answer, and that allow you to elaborate on parts of your research for the purpose of the public attendees understanding more about it. I have little sense of how long this public questioning session lasted, but I'd guess about a half hour. It seemed like the entire experience lasted about 10 minutes, when it really was over 2.5 hours.

Then, everyone was asked to leave/log out except for my committee members. Husband and our friend waited in the hall for me. Again, it felt like a few minutes, but husband said I was in there with my committee for over 45 minutes, closing in on an hour. Here, they asked me the harder questions. They didn't grill me or make me recite anything, it wasn't like that. It was more that they were trying to engage me in a deep conversation about research--mine, and in general. They asked me about publishing, about implications of my work, and several other aspects of it. They also asked me about my experience in qualitative research. I was SO GLAD that it had occurred to me to review my methodology chapter prior to the defense--I had forgotten a lot of the qualitative terms and because of my review, I was able to remember exactly what I had done and why.

Eventually I was asked to leave the room, so I went out in the hallway and sat with my husband and friend. I think we sat there for about 10 minutes or so, before my advisor came out and asked me back in. I went back in, shut the door, sat down, and he told me they had decided to grant me my degree. "Congratulations, Dr. ___________".

Hah!!

My husband and friend came back in to the room then, they signed all the papers that needed signing, and that. Was. That. No revisions either. Just done.

I really thought I would cry at that moment, but I was actually too numb to feel much of everything. In fact, I went home afterward, changed out of my suit, and just kind of wandered around the house thinking "what should I do now?" I considered going back to work. I'd taken the whole day off figuring I would be too excited/distracted to work, but I couldn't think of anything to do! I also hadn't eaten anything that day, but couldn't think of anything I wanted to eat, either. Eventually I did errands. Grocery store, FedEx, DMV. I am a very exciting person.

My husband did leave work early though, and we had a late lunch of a dessert called a chocolate chimi. Basically a fried dough dessert stuffed with fudge and caramel and served with ice cream. Yum. Then later, we went out to dinner with our friend and after that, my advisor came over so we could all drink a toast. We ended the night with a movie at home, with our friend. Saturday, husband and I went out for lunch and totally pigged out. Then ice cream.

So I basically celebrated by eating... a LOT. Haha. I like food, what can I say?!

On sunday, I finished formatting my dissertation document within the standards required by our university. Then I turned it in (electronically).

And that truly is that.

Graduation is in 2 weeks.

I still don't feel how I thought I would feel. I think I'm too much of a realist, or you could say a pessimist. (A pessimistic realist?) I want the degree in my hand before I'll be allowed to feel truly happy. There are too many factors at play still (in my worst-case-scenario mind).

But really I think I truly can NOT believe it. 4 years that simultaneously felt like a decade and no time at all... and here I am.

In the next two weeks I have some big plans. They include a hair cut, a lot of prep for family visiting (my folks haven't seen our house in 2.5 years; other relatives have never seen it), and planning of a graduation reception. And, I'm looking forward to getting the graduation gift from my husband(I had to be involved, so I already know what it is)... which I will surely post about hereat least a little. Note that my plans do not include any more dissertation work because wow I'm done (This summer, I will deal with the printing, binding, and all that jazz.)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

getting real over here

Notable today is that 4 years ago on this very day, April 25, 2008, I received a letter of acceptance to this doctoral program. That's around the time I started this blog.

So it's fitting today, that I got this.

 


(Defense is coming right up! I'll update again on that soon. It's been a dramatic (isn't it always), but also very manageable and very final couple of weeks.)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

the approval details

As I announced last Tuesday, I received the preliminary approval. Here's how that went.

At the meeting, I was expected to prepare a 20 minute presentation of my dissertation. A summary of it, basically. I did this using powerpoint (and memorized what to say so I wouldn't have to read from the slides), and it turns out, this was largely unnecessary because I did not make it through the whole thing. The purpose of the presentation (at least in my case) was to jog the memories of the committee members. (So by the time I got to my third slide, they were ready to start asking me questions as something I said would trigger one of their comments.) My 20 minute presentation took 2 hours, and I only actually spoke about maybe a third of the slides. (We looked at some of the others as a group though.) It was pretty cool.

There were a lot of, I will say, minor issues. The types of things where more sources might be requested, or I had something worded in such a way that it didn't come across properly. These are/were mostly able to be addressed by changing a word, a sentence, or a paragraph. (Yay!) There was one more data analysis they wanted me to run to clarify something (it took a few hours). The one major issue two of them noticed was that I got a wee bit too creative toward the end. Especially in Chapter 5 (discussion), I got ahead of myself. I will try to explain:

My surveys measured really basic things, so chapter 5 should have discussed how these basic things could relate to the next (less basic) level. Instead, I took it all the way to the 'top' level. In other words, my survey measured the most basic things, and my discussion/conclusion was all about the most advanced things. Jumping to conclusions I could not draw from my own data, if you will. So the biggest revision is that I needed to change THAT, which amounted to some changes in the abstract, chapter 1 (intro), and chapter 4 (results), and a partial rewrite of chapter 5. That's due (printed) to the committee members by the 20th (which gives them a week to review it before my defense). Totally doable. Most of it is already done, at this point.

At the meeting, they signed the preliminary approval form. At the same time, I had printed the notice of defense form. My advisor signed that, then we tracked down the department chair (he was in his office, not exactly hard to track down) and he signed what he needed to sign. Then, my advisor and I walked over to the administration building, turned in the forms, and had lunch. Then I went back to work.

On Wednesday morning, the university officially announced my defense time and date. It was surreal to see. I've seen so many other announcements of these, but this one with my name in it was fabulous to see!

On Wednesday during my lunch hour, I printed a copy of the dissertation and brought it over to the administration building for a 'format check'. I also had to fill out two forms regarding this, and I had to complete an online survey and show proof I had done so (the Survey of Earned Doctorates--it's national). The formatting person will go through the dissertation and see if the format meets the university's standards. She will provide a checklist of things that must be fixed before they receive the final version (due by May 3). I'm not sure when I'll receive that checklist.

On Wednesday after work, I sat down with the meeting recording (what a great idea, my advisor had me bring a handheld recorder!), the notes my advisor took (again, great), and the copies I'd received from the committee members (with their notes/questions written throughout). I went through all of these things (as well as my own memory) and made a table of:
--the change
--who suggested it
--what/where it was addressed in the paper

My advisor suggested this. I filled/am filling out the last column as things get done, and I will provide the table to the committee along with their revised copy later this week. That will make it easy for them to find the changes without having to do a complete re-read.

On Thursday after work, I received a form in the mail from the university. I had to fill it out with information about commencement, and it told me where to go, what to wear, and how they deal with the whole "hooding" thing. (You buy your hood, but it's delivered to the office and they deal with it. I won't actually receive my hood until the graduation day, even though I ordered it with my gown and cap.) I filled out the form and stuck it in Friday's mail.

There are probably about 5 more forms I have to keep track of and turn in at the proper times before all of this is over. There will be fees to pay, also. Every day it's something new, and I can honestly say I'm kind of enjoying the paperwork at this point because instead of tangible evidence of things that are holding me back, these forms are shooting me forward. Justlikethat, I went from 'possible candidate' to "you're graduating." And all I have to do is:

--fill out a lot of forms
--complete these revisions (and any more that they might give me at the defense)
--make a defense presentation and give it

I also got accepted to a poster presentation research fair thing, and that's this Friday, so I have to make a poster that represents my 300-page monster of a study. One poster.

It's also my birthday today.

Friday, April 13, 2012

the committee hearby approves

I received a lot of changes. They all made sense and will be fine to accomplish in the time I've been allotted (April 21). The defense is scheduled a week after that.

The meeting took 2.5 hours, most of which was discussion. I had prepared a 20-30 minute presentation of my work, and I did give most of it, but pieces because each slide raised questions and points of discussion for the committee.

I'll write a little more in a few days, perhaps, about what happens now. I'm at work and normally would not blog from work, but needed to get this good news up on the blog!

Monday, April 09, 2012

here we go



Tomorrow is the preliminary approval hearing. Here is what I understand will happen:

The committee and I will meet. I will give a 20 minute overview of my dissertation, with powerpoint slides to push it along. Then, we will discuss it. They will tell me their concerns with it, and discuss them amongst each other too. They will decide on what changes are necessary to be made before the defense. They will then decide if I they trust I can make those changes in the 2.5 weeks I would have between now and then.

Of course, with the rate at which I have had to make a lot of very major changes to this dissertation, I feel like I could do practically anything in 2.5 weeks. But it's up to them whether they believe that, or not. If they believe that (in other words, if they have the "good faith" that was absent in November), they will sign a preliminary approval form. This form indicates to me and to the university that the committee will not ask for any more major changes to the dissertation, and that it is overall good enough. It also indicates that they have faith in my ability to make it exactly what they're looking for in the time allotted. (It is designed to protect me, so that I don't get to my defense and have someone say something like "actually, I don't like what you did at all. Please redo all of your analyses" or anything like that.) Anyway, what I'm trying to say here is that tomorrow, by midday, I will know (or be 99% sure*) that I am either graduating or not graduating.

I'm very nervous. Tomorrow could be a turning point of magnitude I have yet to experience during this degree, or it could be another crushing disappointment.

I'll let you know.

*In my program, it is highly unlikely that a person would fail at the final defense stage. The defense is seen more as a celebration/public exposition. This preliminary approval meeting is the 'bigger' one, in my understanding, wherein you either cut it or you bite it.

Friday, March 23, 2012

no news


Nothing big yet from the committee. I can't believe it's been 10 days since I turned it in. (I know, that isn't a lot of time, but in the course of our agreed-upon timeline, it's significant.) Our timeline--which they're aware of--stated that if they have changes they would like to see completed before any signatures are given, they should have those changes to me by March 30th. (Today.) It would give me a few days to make those changes and get the paper back to them for their review prior to the form-signing deadline of April 12 (my hearing is the 10th).

So this could be good news or bad news.

Good news, if they have looked through it and they don't see anything significant wrong with it. That'd be great. Bad news, if they have not looked through it yet, but when they do they MIGHT find significant things. (This is more likely the case. I know people are busy and it's a long paper. While the March 30 'deadline' was a courtesy/safeguard my advisor built in for me, it is not a real deadline and can certainly be ignored without any repercussion to the committee members.)

If they have not looked through it yet--but when they do they find issues--this is not automatically bad news for me. The university rules are that they can still sign the forms for approval on the good faith that I will implement their changes and/or address their concerns prior to the defense (which will potentially be at the end of the month). However, it is up to each member whether they want to extend that 'good faith.' You might recall that in the fall, they did not.

So it all comes down to "we'll see." Patience is what I have to have. And because I can't stand downtime, I applied to a research fair. If I get accepted, I'll be presenting my research in a poster session. (You make a poster of your findings, then stand in a room with a bunch of others who have done the same, and everyone walks around and looks at each other's.)

I also need to make a 20 minute powerpoint presentation & speech about my dissertation. I will give it at the preliminary approval hearing. That's a weekend project, I suppose.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

to the committee!

I feel like we're back in November. Let's do it again, shall we?

My advisor turned my overhauled and re-polished dissertation over to my committee today. (Now with more pages! Lucky them!) Two of them wanted to have a printed copy, so here I am on my way to drop them off, about an hour ago.

 


Lots of pages, right? I feel like the work I have done since November was much harder and much easier than it was in the fall.

Harder, because:
  • I had banked so much hope on being done a few months ago. How does one continue to persevere when their hope has been snatched up? I was supposed to be making a quilt or reading books or cooking meals or something this spring. Not hunching over MS Word with my behind asleep and my eyeballs burning, subsisting on Doritos and whiskey.
  • While I understood the reasons for the revisions and agree it made the paper better, I still poured so much energy in to making it great back in the fall. Tearing that work apart was tough.
Easier, because:
  • I already had probably 85% of the content written; this was about rearranging and clarifying.
  • I have read so unbelievably much about this topic, it's become quite a bit easier to locate and evaluate additional sources.
  • I made up my mind to have a better attitude about it.
That last one was absolutely key. Many of the things that have run through my mind haven't been the least bit useful or productive. My 'better attitude resolution' helped to shush that useless stuff. I tried harder to be a little less doom-filled.

Did I learn a lot more from the process of failure (not failure actually, just postponement)? I believe I did. Was it worth the extra toil to endure the shitty feeling of missing my goal? Bigger Person me--who always considers the long run--says it absolutely was. Of course, petty me is still whiny about having to delay graduation until May (or possibly August--we'll see what the committee thinks, won't we). But you can't live your life on couldas and shouldas, can you?

So, onward and upwards. Here are the dates if you're interested.

Committee needs to sign the approval form by April 12.
I need to defend by April 26 (But have an exception allowing me to do it on the 27th.)

Now, I hope that this time, the paper (and by extension, my research) are solid (and uh, maybe even a little impressive)

Monday, March 19, 2012

why this is so hard for me


It concerns me when the occasional grad student (or potential grad student) comments here and says that my journey through all this scares them, or they don't think they could handle grad school, or have the drive that's necessary (and they're equating this to the drive I have displayed). But here's how I think my experience differs from most graduate students' experiences.
  1. Neither my advisor nor I are really superb at managing time in the 'big picture,' or conceptualizing time as it relates to productivity and turn-around time.
  2. Husband and I are both working and both in school, each taking more than a full time class load.
  3. I'm first to reach this point, in a new program.
  4. I have this personality flaw wherein I become obsessed with anything I take on, and have to finish it. Now.
More detail.

In reference to (1), both my advisor and I are busy. Me with my job and life, him with his job and life. At different times throughout the year, we each tend to just....zone out...for a long period of time. Too long. Last year (summer especially) was bad that way. We don't realize how much time has passed, we forget that it's our turn to be doing something with the dissertation, etc. This happened in February: nearly 2 weeks went by and I hadn't heard from my advisor about the changes; turns out he didn't realize he had it in his inbox. That's a human thing to do.

For (2), all I can say is that it's motivation to get done. Two people in school costs money, time, and health. Money is obvious. Time because we don't get to spend any together and neither of us has any to spare for free time with friends, family, etc. Health because no one has time to cook, exercise, or otherwise be healthy (and mental health...heh...that's overrated, right?!!).

For (3), being first in this program means that no one has gone through a lot of the things I'm going through, yet. (And by no one, I mean no other student in my program, and I also mean my advisor and committee members. They've all advised/had PhD committees before, but not in this program.) No one (including me) wants to do something wrong. But mistakes have been made and intentions misunderstood, and the reality that anything I do sets the path for what other students do weighs heavily, both on me and on everyone else who has vested interest in the success of this program. I have to do all the right things and am supposed to do them perfectly, yet the process is still being developed (based on each step I take). It's hard to live up to. Sometimes it's crushing and other times it's invigorating. It's always humbling.

The last item on the list (4) can be filed under "sounds like a personal problem to me." I can't NOT finish something. This could be something like a little craft project, or something big (like a PhD). If I start something I have to finish it, and I do not drag my feet because my mental state is rocked by unfinished business. I have trouble functioning when there is a half-finished project on my plate. You won't find any unfinished scarves or partially painted furniture in my house. It's done or it hasn't been started. When I do a project, I throw myself all in and finish it. Even if I decide I don't like it half way though, I have to finish it. It's my nature. My mom will testify that I used to do my homework on Friday after school, so I wouldn't have it hanging over my head on the weekend. I'm still the same. My advisor knows this, and has told me I simply can't work that way on a dissertation--you can't write it all at once. This is true, but it's draining for me. This is the unfinished project that WON'T GET DONE. It follows me around and presses on my "get it done" nerve. It needs to get done.

That's why I'm "in such a hurry." (People keep asking.) Working on it bit by bit, for years, works for some people. No one would judge me for doing that, my husband has a couple of years left in his degree, and I have a job, so it isn't like I'm prolonging the slovenly life of a graduate student (the one where you sit around in coffee shops in the middle of weekdays, apparently, in your yoga pants, and eat bagels and drink tea and peruse literature). I don't have that life, and I haven't had it since the first semester of my master's degree program (I quickly got bored with it and got a job!). But I could take a few more semesters and do this slower because, why not? I have the time, while Mr. N is working on his. My answer is: because I don't want to. I know myself, and taking longer would NOT be better for my mental health.

When all of these things collide:

Half the time, I'm exhausted, strung out, highly caffeinated, hair on fire, feeling like I might just explode. Half the time, I'm idle and don't know what to do with my evenings and weekends, since my advisor or committee has the dissertation. (I usually mill around the house, cleaning ALL the things...) Sometimes I'm numb and I just don't care at all. Occasionally, I'm really angry. I'm confused much of the time, my confidence rises and falls with the day, and my unfinished degree follows me around like a black cloud, raining on my personality every time I try to relax or have fun.

So to rid myself of all of this, I make short term sacrifices that 'sane' humans probably would not choose to make. Like these stretches where I take a few very long days (nights? both? whatever) to make the amount of revisions or additions that most graduate students would take a few weeks to do. I can't allow myself to take those weeks because I can't let this degree continue to be unfinished. Plus, I usually rationalize it by telling myself I need to make up for time I or my advisor zoned our way through at an earlier date. ("Ok, you have to do 2 weeks worth of stuff in 2 days now, but remember that 2 weeks you spent last year doing absolutely nothing? This is the payback!")

I wrote over 40 pages of new material between Thursday night and Saturday afternoon. Is this typical or expected? No. But for me and my situation, it was necessary.

I guess I'm writing all of this because I want you to understand that my situation is the way it is because I made it that way. My circumstances contribute to it, and so does my personality. Nobody is forcing me to work 18 hour Saturdays and Sundays on this stuff. That's just my thing because I make myself do what I think is necessary. Your situation probably isn't/wouldn't be this way. Of course graduate school is stressful for everyone, but it affects everyone differently, and at different points in their program. I've made some nutty (or, if we're being polite, ambitious?) choices and set some lofty goals, but in this situation, that's how I function best. It just gets me into trouble every so often (and I write about that here).

Thanks for following my journey. Things are picking up, I think, and I'm feeling very excited, nervous, anticipatory, and oh so anxious. Mostly, everything feels really FINAL. I did not have that feeling in the fall, and I hope it isn't misplaced now. I hope I'll have more to report soon.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

301

5 minutes ago, I emailed my 301 page dissertation, "final copy," to my advisor.
(4 minutes ago, I texted him to tell him to check his email.)

Now he's going to review the changes I've made over the past week and (I hope) approve it to go to committee. He's promised me that he will do this by Monday, as Tuesday is the day we'd like it to go to the committee.

This last round of revisions was really rough, full of ups and downs.

The biggest of those "downs" occurred on Tuesday evening. I was at Hardees buying a Frisco burger (my diet's going well, glad you asked) and my advisor emailed me his requested changes for chapters 3 and 4. There were a lot. That's OK. What wasn't OK was one thing, in particular. I had made a really big error in my statistics, all starting with some improper data entry. I described what I had done in my methodology chapter, too.


I called him and said, "so, you mean, this is a limitation? Something I need to keep in mind so I don't make the same mistake in future research?" That isn't what he meant.

This couldn't be allowed to slide, and I was going to have to re-enter that data, re-run all of my analyses, redo all of my results. This means all of that statistics-ese, M = this, SD = that, f(something, something,) p = whatever, and so on. And my graphs, charts, figures. All were to be redone. Tedious. And then I'd get to see whether the new, corrected results would still be significant in the same places (and if they weren't, my conclusions and discussion (chapter 5) would be different).

I had until today to get this done, along with a ton of other revisions that were time consuming enough as it was. Plus, the data entry and stats analysis process had taken me weeks in the summer and I hadn't done anything in SPSS in nearly 6 months. But I put on my brave face and decided that it had to get done.

Still I was feeling seriously disillusioned, exhausted and lost in this work that I would never ever be able to finish in time even though I was working what felt like round-the-clock on it. After doing a bunch of the other revisions that were laid out in the document, I finally sat down to do this horrible bad no good deed on Thursday night, and this is where we go back "up."

When I sat down with my big binder full of surveys and started to correct the first one, I thought "that's weird, it's already correct." Then I checked another, and another. 20 spot-checks later, I realized that I had done the data entry (and hence, the analysis) correctly all along.

What had happened was this. I kept a research notebook throughout my dissertation research. In it, I wrote every decision I made so that I would later be able to write them in to my methodology section of my dissertation. I made a (poor) decision about the data entry somewhere along the way. Some time after that--but before I actually entered the data--I must have talked to my advisor and he set me straight. So the poor decision was never put in to action, and I entered the data correctly right off the bat... but I didn't change what I'd written in my notebook.

So when I feverishly copied all of that methodology stuff out of my notebook in the fall, I copied that poor decision--the one I never actually carried out--right into my dissertation chapter.

Moral of the story is that I had to change one sentence, not all my data analyses and a whole chapter of results and possibly discussion too. Sweet relief. I emailed my parents, I texted my advisor, and I had renewed motivation to just DO EVERYTHING and do it right.

So, I did. I seriously got 'in the zone' and the words just flowed, the ideas made sense, the revisions were easy an all was right with the world. So 5 minutes ago (well, more like 20 now), I made the last change, saved it, closed it up, and emailed it off.

I was about to step away from the computer, but I thought this was pretty blog-worthy. This isn't "certain victory," but it's a milestone indeed. I turned in my dissertation and it's almost, almost, almost done, I hope.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

the last push

(Is probably not the last push, but who's counting? Really, how many last pushes have there been? heh.)

Last Tuesday, I received the first half of my final "major" revision from my advisor. This was the step where he went through it with a fine tooth comb and caught everything from comma problems to improper use of words, to a few lingering logical confusions. He has continued to work on the second half it and I've been told I will have those by the end of the day today.

 


In the meantime, I've been doing all that final stuff, like alignment, proper headings, checking compliance with style guides, writing acknowledgements, and dedications, etc. When you can't write your acknowledgements page without bursting in to tears, you know it has to be close, right? A lot of people cared along the way.

Everything feels very... final... this time, even though it's going to be right down the wire, just like last time, and we know how last time turned out.

I also ordered my gown, tam, and hood, which I think is a very superstitiously inappropriate thing to do at this point, but they do have ordering deadlines so I had to do it. (If I don't make it, it's the same gear I'd wear in August, at least.)

I need to get those changes done by Friday, and I'm honestly a bit worried about the workload (but I know I can do it - who needs sleep? I've proven that I don't). Although it's spring break, I do have to work, so I predict some late nights ahead. But like I said, last push! By the weekend, I will have turned in a finished, polished, shiny dissertation to my advisor, and then... we wait.

Update:
Push indeed. Push me right over! I've received chapters 3 and 4 now (he's still working on 5, but I'll have that tomorrow). I knew there would be a lot of work because these chapters have received a lot less focus...until now. And I was right, it's a LOT of work. It's rewording and reorganization. It's more logic and more examples. It's more data and more specifics, more percentages, more charts. It's things I lazily omitted 10 months ago because I didn't know the answers, and hoped no one would notice/ask. He noticed, and he's asking. Crap! It's going back to my surveys and re-entering several bits of data because I naively entered them incorrectly in the summer... and then re-running all of my analysis because they're based on the wrongly-entered data. These are the kinds of changes that would be show-stoppers if I was anybody but me, and if my advisor was anybody but him. We're back to the point where I'm feeling like I'm on a kamikaze mission. This is where I prove that I can handle whatever's thrown at me, right?

Thursday, March 01, 2012

cliffhanger and leap day luck

So, here's that update I was promising.

The options weren't looking very good for me graduating in May, due to conflicting committee member schedules. The option I was favoring--doing the defense on the deadline date-- wouldn't work at all because of the flight schedule of one of the traveling committee members. (This person wouldn't be back until after hours that night; I had hoped they could hop off the plane and go directly to my defense.)

The other workable option was to defend by April 11--before the other committee member left--and get it over with. This would have been very difficult for me and my advisor though, since we'd need to get the paper to the committee RIGHT NOW and it isn't ready yet. That's the option I'd be after right now though, if not for a miracle of miracles... Leap-day luck, if you will.

I have to say, when I woke up on February 29th, I saw a lot of Facebook posts about Leap Day Luck. Feeling cynical, already, I commented a few times that Leap day is historically unlucky, as-a-matter-of-fact. Today was to be the day I'd find out I'm not graduating until August. Plus we were supposed to have a snow day, but we didn't even have any snow on the ground. And while I love teaching my class, I was in NO MOOD for it.

When I got to work I decided to take some advice from my husband I had brushed off the previous evening though. He had found a vague statement on our PhD student checklist, saying defenses must take place by 2 weeks prior to graduation day. This conflicts with their published defense deadline. If you want to get technical (and believe me, I do), the published deadline is actually 16 days before graduation. So a defense taking place the day after the published deadline is still a valid defense date if going by the info published in the checklist. 15 days is more than 2 weeks from graduation.

So I called the person in the graduate department that deals with this stuff, and explained my situation.

I told her--before I even started to explain--that I realized this was probably a shot in the dark. Along with every other grad student, I know that this department simply does NOT budge on deadlines. Not at all. And I told her I respected their need to be stringent, but asked her to please hear me out. Then I told her my story. I tried to stick to the facts, but explained the problems in the fall, the problems scheduling in the spring, the people going out of town or out of the country, how I was trying to be proactive in scheduling early, but it just won't work out for them during those dates, and finally ended with the 'two weeks' statement my husband found in the checklist.

And... she said my request was acceptable! And that she would make a note in my file of this exception!

I couldn't even believe it. This just doesn't happen. I've heard of people being denied graduation for being only minutes late turning in various things. I've since asked her for a written/formal proof of the exception, just to cover me as I move forward. She said she would email it. She emailed it. I still can't believe it.

So then I sent an email out with the new defense date. Then I realized that the day we had wanted to do the preliminary approval hearing is actually Good Friday, a campus holiday. So we have to move that. I sent another email. I hate sending so many emails to my committee. I'm sure it's bothersome and probably not professional either, or following protocol. Too many emails means you should just ignore them and not read them, right?

Then I got a call from my advisor, wondering what was the deal with the freaked out text message I sent him the night before. (I believe the actual text said, "I'm freakin out. Chex your email")

Turns out, he had seen none of the emails -- not the ones from committee members with conflicts, and not the ones I sent in the morning. He was having trouble with his email program. Once he got that fixed, he received all of the emails at once. He politely suggested I simmer down on my email frequency. Haha. At least most if them were only addressed to him.

I explained to him all that had happened. He took control and sent another email requesting the committee pick a good date for preliminary approval ASAP, and asserting that we MUST do the defense on the new date I secured. He requested that the committee members confirm today. At 3:48 pm, after a very long day of limbo, the email came in.

Solid dates, solid times. For both meetings.

In another surprising emotional display, I sat at my desk and sobbed. I sent my advisor back an email and here is what it said, and I quote: "!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

But life goes on and I had to teach my class at 4, so I had to get it together.

That was my leap day. Made my own luck, yes I did. Now let's hope it sticks. Nobody told me that so much drama would be involved, but I guess that's expected when emotions cone in to play. Tonight though, I am thrilled.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

want the good news first?

Yesterday until about 6:00 pm was a really good day. Various good things happened, culminating when my advisor and I hashed out the timeline and we made a plan for my approval and defense dates. He sent the dates to the committee.

I was elated! Best day in a long time.

Then a committee member wrote back saying they would be out of town April 12 through 21. Another will be gone the 20th-26. Defense deadline is the 26th (forms need to be turned in by 4:30 that day).

It was the expletive heard around the world.

If I want to graduate in May, I will now need to defend by April 11th, and be approved to do so at a minimum of 2 weeks prior to that date. Which means my committee really needs my paper now...

But my advisor was thinking one more round of revisions before I send to the committee, and he still has it from February 13. (So, I would need to receive it back from him, make the changes, send it back to him, and have him suggest more changes, then make those before sending back to him and committee.)

So I cried, got angry, and hoped for the predicted "biggest storm of the year" to dump the 8"-10" of blowing snow that was predicted (come on, snow day!) so that I could stay home in bed the next day.

Well apparently they were a little overzealous with that blizzard warning. "Snowfall amounts less than previously expected..." Yeah...there is no snow out there this morning. It's just another cold, windy day. So I have to get up, go to work, and then teach my class after work. And deal with this problem that I kind of doubt has any solution except one that starts with A- and ends with -ugust. But first I wrote this using my phone (sorry, typo police!).

I was unable to get ahold of my advisor last night. After I talk to him, I will write more.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

deja vu (counting down again)

My advisor has had my dissertation since since Feb. 13th or so. This is the part where he reads through all the changes I've made to the entire thing and offers suggestions. Then (I think):

He sends it back to me and I employ his suggestions, then I edit it very thoroughly until I think it's perfect. And he reads it one more time (I think, again), gives it his approval (I hope) and it goes back to the committee.

I had wanted to get it to the committee -- at the latest, the first week of March. Which is this week. (Or next, if you want to say "first full week.") I checked in with my advisor last week, and it turns out he's just been too busy to get around to reading it. I get that. I've been really, really busy too and he has a lot more going on than I do. It's just frustrating because we're on a path to get right back to where I was at in the fall: too close to the deadline, without enough time for the committee to feel like they could fulfill their responsibilities in a thorough way.

The deadline in April 12. (I think I've said that already. I probably say it multople times a day.) If you're keeping track (I know you aren't, but I am), it's 43 days from today -- about 6 weeks (and one of them is 'spring break'. I know I've written before about how it's a really bad idea to wait until close to the deadline: even if they were to sign it on the deadline day, there are other deadlines that are very tightly related to it, and could make scheduling the defense difficult or impossible.

I've had a couple of my committee members tell me they were expecting the paper sooner, and ask me "where is it?" And reminding me that they are starting to receive the papers of others whose committees they are on, and those may have to take precedence over mine, which is mysteriously absent. Well, I have said, my advisor has it, he is working his magic with it. He told me it could be two more weeks (this was last week, mind) before I get it back. It will probably take me another week (or close to it) to polish it. I will motor through it as fast as I can (I always do, because it always seems to come down to that!), but it does take time. Then more time for him to look at it again. Which probably puts us at the end of March. I hope not.

The way it's starting to shape up--pessimistically, but also, realistically--I'm possibly looking at an August graduation.

...That'd be OK. I'll be upset, but I wouldn't be as devastated as I was in the fall. (You know how it is when you've already been disappointed by something: you tend to become complacent toward future disappointments--at least, I do.) Pessimists are less-easily disappointed, right? The August graduations are smaller, more personal, and in the auditorium I prefer (rather than the football/concert/convention arena where the May one is). But I would still rather be DONE. I'd rather not have to make those phone calls and send those emails letting my relatives know to cancel their hotel reservations (again) and postpone their trips (again).

All this to say that this semester is certainly not turning out like I had hoped. My advisor kept assuring me we would not be pushing it close to the deadline this time, and I needed to relax a little bit. Yet here we are, 43 days from the preliminary approval deadline and 67 days from the defense deadline/final paper due to grad school deadline, 74 days from final report on candidate, and 84 days from commencement day...and I don't know if I'm going, pass, defend, or graduate.

Overplanner Me Does Not Like.

But, I'm trying to maintain my positive (or at least, sane) attitude, mostly fueled by the knowledge that worrying about something out of my control won't help me out in any way.

Still though, I worry.

Monday, February 27, 2012

grad school inspiration board

Some people know I have a Pinterest account. What you might not know is that I have an inspiration board on Pinterest that is dedicated to words and images that have somehow helped me in relation to my grad school journey.

I invite you to check out my Grad School Inspirations board on Pinterest.

See if any of these help you out with whatever your current struggle and goals may be.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

short month is hitting me hard

So much going on, and so little time. Sorry about that. I have a ton of stuff to talk about, but no time to actually write it down. Stuff like...

  • A couple of speaking engagements (both dissertation-related: one more stuffy, one more student-oriented)

  • Dissertation, always: currently, advisor is checking on the changes I made to the rest of the chapters...)

  • The class I'm teaching, always

  • Shoveling, because it's winter in North Dakota and some snow finally decided to fall, only 3-4 months late. Not that I love snow, but it's so weird for it to be so warm and wet in February here.



Regarding the dissertation deadline, I feel cautious and moderately concerned. With about 7 weeks until the approval deadline and another full revision needed by me (and another very very detailed reading by my advisor), plus committee reading schedules, revision requirements, etc... that 7 weeks will be gone in no time. We shall see.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

dissertation summary

Today I have decided to pick apart the chapters of a dissertation (at least, mine) so you readers can get a view of how it all comes together. I hope it's helpful!

First I do have an update. When we left off, I was starting to crush myself under the stress of looming deadlines, as is my style. Healthy right? And then I received the changes to the particularly painful lit review chapter. After putting on the finishing touches and reading the chapter through to catch any weirdness that tends to occur when you chop up 85 pages of writing and re-order it, I sent the chapter to my advisor on Monday morning.

Yay!

So here is what happens now, as I understand it.

  1. He will read the chapter and probably catch a few things I didn't catch, or make some suggestions based on the comments I wrote for him.

  2. I will make those changes/take those suggestions in to consideration.

  3. I will receive (hopefully) the OK from him to rework the other chapters so they incorporate suggestions the committee offered, and also flow nicely with the 'new' chapter.

  4. He will check over my changes to those chapters, probably offering suggestions and catching things I didn't catch, again.

  5. I will fix those.

  6. He will read the entire thing front to back, possibly making more suggestions, which I will consider/repair/work in.

  7. To the committee it goes! (Again, heh.)


I think I've just described the rest of February. Ideally, this will be back to the committee the first week of March. Let's hope! (That'd be about 6 weeks prior to the preliminary approval deadline). A decent (but still not super) cushion, much more palatable than the 12 days they were given in the fall.

Now... to describe where I'm at, progress-wise. I wonder if reading the list above, people might think: "So you finished working on one chapter. There's... 4 more to go?! And one chapter took a week plus two weekends, plus months of re-organizational work with the advisor? GOOD LUCK with that deadline."

Thankfully that isn't the case. The chapter in question is Chapter 2: Literature Review. My fellow grad students may understand what that means, but for those who don't, here is a brief summary. The literature review is a very detailed tour of the research and knowledge about the topic area. It must be well-researched, and provide detailed background information, historical stuff, right up to the present/modern interpretation (if that's your study/program's angle). It must also tell somewhat of a story that leads the reader in to your logical reasons for doing your study, and it must show that there is a gap in the current research on the topic (this is a gap you intend to fill with your study). The length and detail varies depending on the program (and even the advisor I bet), but in my program this is a very detailed, in depth chapter that must start with information and finish with justification, with a logical flow of how you got from A to B. Does that make sense? Here is a real-life example from my own work.

My study is about the technology beliefs and fluencies of college students who are studying to become teachers. So chapter 2 needs to explain to the committee (and whomever else reads it) why this is an important study. So my chapter starts by describing the history of technology in the united states, moving in to how it is used today in business and personal lives, and also how technology used to be, is now, and should be used in schools. It moves in to the research that has already been done on these topics. It discusses those for a while, through the use of examples (we call these "empirical studies": it's research where someone actually studied and reported something--didn't just tell us about it) and sourcing experts' published articles and books on the subjects. New terms are introduced, and then used throughout (they are not used prior to their introduction and discussion of what they are and why they matter). Eventually, the chapter rolls in to a summary type of thing, several pages long, where the aforementioned terms, studies, topics and concerns are synthesized in to a reason why my study is important, and finally, what my study is.

That's chapter 2. Mine is (I just checked) 89 pages long right now, and that's with no figures or pictures. There are a lot of headings and subheadings (4 levels deep). They take up 6 pages of the table of contents for the dissertation! The references/bibliography section (which is probably 95% made up of sources used in this chapter) is 26 pages long, with an average of two lines being taken up for each source. The 6 pages and the 26 pages are not part of the 89 pages. If chapter two were to stand on its own, with its references, it would thusly be 115 actual pages long. 121, if you included a table of contents!

Now imagine if you will, you have written a paper like this through the course of many sleepless nights and hermit-like weekends...and you are asked to revise and re-organize it so it will flow differently. (The goal being: you are changing your logical reasons for doing the study; the preceding info must reflect that.) You need to do a lot of outlining, cutting, pasting, and re-writing. The re-writing comes in to play not only for the transitioning from section to section (since section A did not previously belong above section B, so they are disconnected!), but also for the emphasis. Some things you want to emphasize, aren't emphasized enough, so you have to rework and supplement your other sections to emphasize the right things. The goal is that the reader will read it and think "oh, this is an important issue, and these other issues support that idea." And additionally, remember how I mentioned that you have to define and build on your terminology throughout the paper--not using terms until you have introduced and familiarized the reader with them? Think about doing that, with 90 pages, and the having to essentially 'turn the paper upside down.' Suddenly none of the terms you used in a section that used to be at the end, can be used since you've moved that section to the beginning. FUN FOR YOU!

That is what I've been doing over the last week-plus-two-weekends.

I have a total of 5 chapters, but chapter 2 drives all of the others as so.
  • Chapter 1 is the introduction. A summary of the rest of the chapters, introducing the problem and foreshadowing what is to come in Ch. 2 and beyond. Mine is currently 8 pages long, and will probably remain close to that length when I rewrite it.

  • Chapter 2, we just talked about. 89 pages, give or take a few by the time it's final. The end of chapter 2 also has the research questions -- these are questions I decided were important to explore, after doing all that research for the chapter.

  • Chapter 3 is methodology, so it talks in great detail about how the study will be done (quantitatively--with stats) or qualitatively (with interviews/people's thoughts). Mine does both. It also justifies "why" you're doing the study using the methods you chose--how do these methods answer those research questions? Mine is 16 pages. It will grow a bit.

  • At this point I just want to note that in many PhD programs, the above three chapters must be complete before the dissertation proposal is even accepted by your committee. I only needed summaries of mine; my proposal was about 40 pages long total, I believe. I later used it as a starting point to build my dissertation.

  • Chapter 4 is the results. It is not what I think of the results, it's the results, and an objective indication of how this result answers the research question. (Did I reject the null hypothesis based on this finding?) Lots of charts in this chapter makes it longish, page-wise. Mine is 40 pages right now.

  • Chapter 5 is discussion. THIS is what I think of the results (in my "educated" opinion). I tie the results back what was researched in Chapter 2 and my research questions. Did this study help find anything new in terms of the research? What are the implications? I also talk about stuff like limitations in my study and what others could do in the future to improve this research. Mine is 42 pages. The END.

  • Well, not really the end. There are still appendices and references, those take up 50 more pages after the end of the last chapter. There are also about 25 pages before the first chapter starts, by the way. These include table of contents, the abstract, the signature pages, dedications, and all that biz.


Stack it all together and it's... 270 pages...so far. (Remember last year, when I was so sure I was almost done? ("It's already almost 90 pages!" hah!)

Hopefully with that list, you can see why Ch 2 takes so long. It's over twice as long as the next longest chapter! And it's very research intensive. The rest should be easy and breezy (in relation to chapter 2). I'll be chipping away at that very soon!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

6-ish months with cleo

She's doing well. Really helpful too.

 



I can't leave Rusty out, as he has also been enjoying my long hours in front of the computer.


(Perhaps he's doubling as an editor these days, too.)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

a day with me and the dissertation

On a weekend when I have the dissertation...

I tend to wake up early (there is so much to do!). This morning (Saturday) I woke up at 1 am (having gone to bed around 10:15). I didn't get out of bed, but I didn't go back to sleep either. My husband woke up shortly before 6 and we were retreating to our separate offices before 7, clad in sweatpants and with our caffeine sources in hand.

I putz around on the internet for a bit because there is no sense trying to do anything before I get my first cup of coffee in me.

Then, I open up all the documents I need and go, go, go.

The documents are:

  • My Google Doc "to do list," on which I have a list of all of the dissertation changes I need to make (more on that in a bit).

  • The dissertation.

  • An outline of the revised dissertation, which is what my advisor and I have been working on for several weeks.

  • Email from my advisor, which has additional comments/advice/direction.


I usually sit and look at them for a few minutes.

I try to do at least one thing, if not several, from my Google doc prior to lunch. Today, I managed two of the four things on my list for today.

Around 11 or 11:30 AM, I get up and look for a snack. Sometimes I'll make husband a hot dog or something. Sometimes we both live on handfuls of candy and chips. Today, as the temperature was fairly decent (20s), we ventured out to Hardees, where we drove through. Curly fries offer the best kind of fuel.

Food gone, husband back in the basement and me in my office, away I go, again.

Change this, comment on this for later reference, edit that, delete this (but paste it in to a new document just in case I didn't need to delete it).

Sometimes in the mid afternoon I decide I need to exercise. Today I rode my stationary bike for about a half hour while reading a couple of articles I had found earlier. My Eee Transformer tablet, which husband got me as an early Christmas present a few months ago, is great for that.

A quick shower, and a glance at the to-do list. By now it's 5:00 and I decide I'm sorta hungry. Today, I used my panini maker (a.k.a. Best Gift Ever) to make us some ham and swiss sandwiches. While the sandwiches were cooking I sat on the counter and sipped tequila (what? I like it) and ate some extra swiss slices that I "accidentally" cut from the block. I delivered one sandwich to my husband downstairs, then brought mine back to my own desk and forged on.

On a night like tonight, I won't work late. This is because even though I have a lot of changes to make as quickly as possible, I have no immediate deadline. Instead of forcing myself in to multiple all-nighters (see for reference: last fall), I have used my aforementioned Google Doc to make a list of each change, broken down in a manageable way. It's a long list, but it's much more productive/useful than if I simply had one bullet point that said "work on dissertation." It's also psychological: it feels good to cross stuff off the list!! I generally make this type of list by reading through each of my advisor's feedback comments and my own notes, and then turning that in to a list of accomplish-able tasks. Then, I distribute it in to what I think are do-able workloads for each day to come. A lot for today, a lot for tomorrow, and as much as I think I can fit in to each of the evenings next week, with a goal of returning the changed draft to my advisor before to next weekend.

I finished my list for today and one of tomorrow's things (it's good to be conservative with one's list, as one never knows exactly how long each item will take!), so here I am, writing this post. When I finish it, I'll probably do something else from Sunday's list.

On a dissertation weekend, I tend not to do much else. Laundry, maybe. Exercise, sometimes. But the dissertation takes precedence over everything...I figure I can do the laundry when I'm a PhD. (Or next weekend, when my advisor has the document back in his court.)