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.)

Friday, January 27, 2012

headaches and more revisions

I've had a headache since about Tuesday. I've been fighting it off with a combination of lots of water, lots of caffeine, and occasional Aleve. I've also been fighting the overwhelming desire to stay in bed each morning. It's the only time my head doesn't hurt. But knowing myself, I know this is a stress headache. Thus, staying in bed is not the answer. The stress would only build as the to-do list remained undone. The headache, then, would get worse. Today it's especially bad I think because we've received a few inches of snow. (It is soooo bright outside, from every angle.)

The same thing is happening to me now as in the fall. Time is passing, I am fretting. Except now instead of fretting with the fleeting hope that just maybe I can pull of a specific graduation date, my frets are more grounded. Quieter and less urgent, but more solidly rooted. Like a voice that whispers "You didn't make it in the fall. you won't make it this semester, either." (And if I'm feeling particularly urgent about it, "And the summer is nearly impossible. So you're really looking at next December.")

I'm also a tad bit worried about what I'm going to do when I reenter full-speed-ahead dissertation [re]writing mode, and still have my class to take care of. But I'll figure it out. I'm more worried about my sanity than my ability to actually get everything done. Those people are counting on me to facilitate their learning; they deserve a high priority in my life and they will get it. (It's just that, everything in my life seems to be high priority at the moment. The low priority things have dropped right off the map.)

I've been kicking this around in my mind for a while: my advisor is a lot like me (or I am a lot like him). I get the feeling that he takes on a bit too much and then tries to prioritize everything highly. It's so hard to sustain a life like that...but he does...and so do I. But a casualty of this lifestyle is that time just slips through my fingers. I feel like I blink and a month has gone by. Things slide down the list and it's not because I don't prioritize them. It's because everything on my list is high priority, and everything takes time. I sometimes need to look at a calendar and remind myself what's coming up, when, and how long I have until I really have to deal with it. Knowing that my advisor seems to be like me in this way, I develop additional anxiety when the ball (dissertation) is in his court for a long while. I know it's a priority to him but I also know he has about 20 high priority items and all of them are 'number 1' on his list. And I know (well I believe) the same thing happens to him with the calendar. It's been 3 weeks since I sent back my draft to him, for example.

Once he gets it back to ME, I need to tackle the bulk of the changes. Then it will need to be really read by him, and then more by me, then re-read by him again at least once more before it goes back to committee. Given that the new preliminary approval deadline is April 12 (and I don't want to push it like we did in the fall), the goal is to have that final draft in the committee's hands by beginning of March. It's going to be February next week...and the rewrite is still in the 'outline' stage. Wonder why I have a headache.

I used up all of my vacation time (literally every last hour of the year) working on my dissertation in the fall, so I'll have to complete this rewrite on evenings and weekends, along with my class work (I have to do all their readings, since I have not read them either, provide guidance and feedback, grade, and develop class activities for each week). This could easily be a great deal more difficult than things were in the fall. I'm also giving two talks about my dissertation research in the coming month....that's minor in comparison to everything else though.

I talked to my advisor on Wednesday. He said he will have it to me before this weekend. So I hope to receive it today. And that's where I'm at.

*Update* - I have the changes from him as of about noon today. Let the carpel tunnel resume after work!!

Saturday, January 07, 2012

this time, with feeling

I had a really nice meeting with my advisor on Friday. A positive one, at least! Not that we don't always have positive meetings, but this one did re-motivate me for spring. I had myself worked up in such a knot. Here are some factors that had me feeling that way.

  • The first week back at work after my week in the east was sooooooo busy.

  • The semester starts Monday and that is always a very busy couple of weeks for me, my advisor, and pretty much everyone else in any higher ed setting.

  • This semester is curiously short-looking, when I peep at the calendar. The number of weeks is the same (I counted, to make sure), but it seems like everything is happening sooner this term. Spring break seems like it's a week earlier, for example.

So all this stuff and more had me up all night worrying. My consensus to myself was "I'm not going to graduate in May. It's practically April 12 (the spring preliminary approval deadline) already!"

On Friday I had to meet with my advisor for an unrelated reason, and I decided to bring it up. I rattled up all the stuff I just listed to you guys (I tend to 'rattle off' a lot when I'm faced with him because I usually have a lot to say), and he ended my sentence with "And it'll be February before we know it."

YES. EXACTLY! And with me wanting to give my committee ample time to review my paper and suggest revisions if they see fit, I'd like to have it to them in early March if at all possible. So that'd be...a month (and a short one) to work on it? Plus, take in to account that--just like in the fall--it needs to be volleyed back and forth between me and my advisor, each of us taking several days to reread, revise, suggest, edit, etc. And we're giving it a nice hefty overhaul--it isn't as though this paper is almost done. I had also convinced myself that he was thinking we would 'take our time' this year (in other words, he didn't necessarily have a 'May' date in mind). (I had interpreted through several emails of his that we had a TON of work left to do and it was going to take us a long time to do it. I could not find a solid "May is a good goal," anywhere. In retrospect, it's probably because he didn't want me to go nuts like I did in the fall, trying to make the December dates!) With all this running through my head, my muscles were tight from head to toe and I wasn't sleeping a wink... And the semester hasn't even STARTED yet.

What a great begin to my "this will be a balanced, optimistic year," internal proclamations.

But we met and it was a good meeting. We talked through the process of the changes, what needs to be changed and how long each part will probably take. He made some estimates and I made some clarifications and he told me he did think we would be done in time for May deadlines--and without pushing the bleeding edge of the deadline like we were doing in the fall. I really, really needed to hear it. (I have absolutely no reason to believe he was leading me on by telling me this, but I just wanted to say: if he happens to stretching the truth of that, he's smart to do it because deadlines like that are the motivation I require stay in gear.)

As I left, I reminded him that he has the revisions in "his" court (he has had it since before Christmas; we both took a bit of a break but I didn't want that thing hanging over MY head!) and it would be super extra great if he'd take a look at it at his earliest convenience. I figured I'd be very lucky to have it by the end of this coming week, since it's the first week of classes and all. "Besides," I joked. "I'm too busy prepping for my class. If you send it to me tomorrow, I'll smack my forehead and cuss." It wasn't 3 hours later that he sent the thing to me, with subject "Tag, you're it," and a comment like "You didn't want it tomorrow, so I sent it today!"

My move.

And did you catch that? I'm teaching a class. See, in the fall, I felt awfully under-booked, with just working my job all day and working on my dissertation all night and all through the weekends. I needed something to DO, ya know? Heh. So I'm teaching a class. Which is pretty much like taking a class, except it's exponentially more work (since you have to pay attention to each student's progress and evaluate their assignments).

In all seriousness, this is going to be a whole new level of time management for me. (Now with more caffeine and even less sleep!) You guys remember October, right? This spring will be like that, plus teaching a class! Wooooooo.

I really really wanted the opportunity to teach though. Since I'm not a GRA/GTA due to my other employment, I have rarely had an opportunity to teach. When this one arose, I wanted it. Had I graduated in December, I'd be teaching it alone. When I didn't graduate, I said I still wanted to teach it. I still can, except that I teach it under supervision of my advisor. (Teaching the class free and clear would require a doctorate.) I do get a lot of freedom to make the class my own though. I'm excited!

It's going to be a really fun, interesting, and (again) very draining semester. I'm going to need 'balance' and 'optimism' to pull me through. I'm still worked up in a knot, but at least it's a "I have a lot to accomplish!" knot, as opposed to a "the world is closing in on me and I'll never ever finish!" knot. Right?!

Now I'd better get back to my revisions. I spent the entire day working on class prep, but since my advisor gave me the opportunity, I want to turn those revisions around this weekend too. No rest for the wicked.

Monday, January 02, 2012

portraying importance

Hi, happy new year.

Do you ever feel one way, but act another? For me, in this instance, I am referring to my doctoral work. It's no secret that I wanted to graduate in December...I told everybody. I ended the year by writing a really raw post that I almost deleted later (but left up because I figure maybe it will help someone else. though I did have to edit it just a bit).

Clearly, it was really important to me to get it done. Just get it done. Unfortunately, this and other similar sentiments of mine may lead others to believe that finishing it is all I care about.

I care much more. (Even when proclaiming "I don't CARE" over and over.) I care about the knowledge, experience, and expertise I have gained (and will continue to gain). I also care about the opportunity to work closely with--and have my work judged by--men and women who are experts in their fields. It's pretty humbling and a great experience. That's what is really important. Getting done is important because it's obviously a goal and I want to achieve it. Plus, in case you haven't noticed, achieving this goal eats up an unbelievable amount of my time and causes me much stress. Who wouldn't want to move such an activity from their "in progress" column over to "completed?"

Still, this degree and associated work is much more than an annoyance and time-sink.

And I know it never really ends. After I graduate, there will be papers to write and more research to do. But it is a milestone and I want to get to reach it. Simply conveying my desire to reach this milestone--does that make the work that goes in to achieving the milestone seem less important? I believe the work is very important. But I don't skip around humming about how great it is to spend my weekends and evenings researching and typing, because it flat out sucks a lot of the time. I'm learning and changing and evolving and gaining expertise and that is wonderful, but it also really sucks. Yet if I tell people it sucks and I just want to be done, suddenly this can be construed to mean I find no value in what I'm doing. Nothing could be further from the truth. (If I found no value, I would quit. Do you see me quitting? Nope.)

My final thought on this matter is that there are layers. My inner motivations and deep thinking are generally kept to myself. This is where I mull over the weight of my thoughts and actions, consider what I've learned and how I've changed, and really internalize the importance of what I am doing. This part of myself is probably the healthiest, best-balanced part. My outer expression (what I have started thinking of as my 'shallow' layer) is more often displayed to others. This is the impatient, stressed out, frustrated, cynical me who frequently mouths off about how tired she is, how dejected, how stressed, how put-upon.

Tell me though, how does one display their more balanced, but less easily-articulated self to others? I've seen a few twitter and facebook discussions lamenting friends who post too much negative, trivial stuff on their statuses. ("Starbucks out of Skim Milk! FML!") I've seen more of the same relating to people who post overwhelmingly positive stuff. ("My brand new laptop! Yay!" then the next day "My brand new car! Yay!" then the next day "I got a huge raise at work! Yay!") Not that this is about social media, it's not. But sometimes life is good, sometimes it's bad, and when telling people about it (online or face-to-face) we may not often enough consider how our news and attitude affects them or what kind of picture it paints of us. I fear I've been painting a picture of a person who is shallow, petty, and a bit ungrateful...I'll work on it. But I still want to remain true to myself regarding sharing how I actually feel--not the "Big Picture, How I Should Feel And Will Reflect On Fondly In Future Years". If you're always sharing only the deep and philosophical parts of yourself, you come off as a hippy-dippy out-of-touch loon and nobody cares what you have to say, anyway (least of all, you).

I just wanted to get that off my mind while I was thinking about it. I'm off work today for the observed new year, but tomorrow I'll be back at it. We were out of town last week for my grandmother's funeral and to visit my family, as I think I mentioned.