Yesterday it occurred to me that I’ve been in school pretty much non-stop since September of 1985, and that I will be done in just a little over 2 weeks from now. I’m beginning to wonder how I’m going to adjust to this dramatic shift in my condition and (given that I have yet to secure a real job) how this will affect how I identify myself.
As much as people joke about the perils of being a grad student, it honestly hasn’t been too bad. A few individuals excepted, most people around me have been amazing, supportive, and friendly. I suppose that makes the exceptions even more stark, but those people don’t deserve any more of my time, consideration, or words.
So, back to the good. I’ve had a multitude of experiences that have taught me so much about academic life, research, and working with others. I’ve made friends in a way I wasn’t ready for in high school or college. In all of our dork talk and commiseration, we’ve formed bonds that will develop into lifelong friendships and collaborations. At conferences, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting people from all over the world who open my eyes to new possibilities. I’ve met people who have been in the field longer than I’ve been alive and still have that spark. Granted, I’m not all that old, but it’s amazing to think that one can stay excited and alive for decades like that in the face of obstacles and frustrations.
It can only get better from here. I have no idea what’s in store for me, but I know that I have a great foundation to build upon and that I can be ready for almost anything. This wouldn’t have been possible without so many people along the way who were amazing friends and colleagues, and I’ll carry that with me to wherever I end up next.
Still no word. As the hours ticked away on Friday, my hopes steadily declined. My advisor thinks that it’s not necessarily a bad sign, and that the delay could be due to a number of other factors that do not involve rejection. I hope he’s right. The spouse has been a champ at making me (the eternal pessimist) think positively. Whatever the outcome, I know that I did the best I could, and that there will probably be other opportunities out there.
Meanwhile, I’m plugging away at a number of projects, such as the final formatting of my dissertation, starting on conference papers, submitting conference proposals, and other miscellaneous tasks. Here’s a hint for all you dissertation writers out there: Pace yourself on getting your edits done, because you WILL be sick of the damn thing by the time it’s over. I’m currently struggling with getting all the required sections completed (table of contents, acknowledgments, abstract, etc.) and I’m so ready to be done. The abstract shouldn’t be too bad, but the acknowledgments are stressing me out. It seems like such a minor thing, but this is my one chance to properly thank the many people who contributed to the process. I want to make sure that 1) I don’t leave anybody out and 2) I write it well. I have so many people to whom I am deeply grateful, and I want to do them justice. I hope to have everything done by the end of the month so that I can submit it to the graduate school with plenty of time left in case there are any problems. Which leads me to another topic…
Editors. Almost everybody I know who has written a dissertation hired an editor, whether it was to take care of all the nitpicky formatting or to do more substantial usage and style edits. I have elected to go rogue and do everything on my own. The upside is that I feel like the work is all truly mine and I will save hundreds of dollars. The downside is that I have to be particularly vigilant because the graduate school will likely go through my manuscript with a fine tooth comb in the absence of a letter from an approved editor saying that all requirements have been met. I may come to regret this decision, but I really don’t see why I am not capable of editing my own work. I’ll certainly enlist the help of the spouse and perhaps a well-meaning friend or two for the purposes of quality control, but I can pay them in cookies and my undying affections.
Also, I’m thinking of making a few changes to this blog, namely:
- Creating a few posts that give specific advice for different steps of the dissertation process and other aspects of early academic life.
- Changing the appearance of the blog itself (suggestions welcome).
- Posting more regularly, and perhaps being a little more open about things.
- Boosting my readership by actually telling more of my friends about the blog. When I mention to my IRL friends that I do actually have a blog, most of them look quite surprised. It’s not like I have anything to hide, I just don’t know if many of them would find it interesting. However, in talking to some of my fellow students, it seems like a lot of them could use some guidance or stories about what it’s like to go through the dissertation process. I know I certainly could have.
I probably won’t do too much any time soon, given the amount of stuff I need to accomplish over the next month or so. However, I’ll gradually change things as I have the time and motivation to do them. It will be a nice marker of my transition from graduate student to (God, I hope) tenure-track academic.
A little bird told me that my last post seemed like one big pity party. I apologize. I’ve been pretty down about things in general right now, and it’s hard to summon my usual ebuillence. After a long conversation with the spouse and another one with my advisor, I feel cautiously optimistic. It’s actually a really exciting stage of my life, and I should be enjoying it far more than I have.
I’ve been tracking my measurements over the course of the summer, and I’m happy…no, overjoyed to announce that I’ve lost a whole 2.5 inches off my waist and 1.25 inches from my hips. I haven’t weighed myself in a good while, but I can only assume that I’ve lost some weight. I may drop by the gym today to do some weight training and I’ll hop on the scale then. I try not to use weight as a barometer of my overall health or fitness progress, but in conjunction with other measures, it will tell me more about how well I’ve been doing to be healthy and slimmer. My energy levels have certainly increased, and I’ve found that my running pace has increased dramatically (from about an 11 min mile to about a 9 or 9.5 minute mile). Now that the summer is over, I’m going to start building mileage to my long runs, starting next weekend. By the end of next month, I’ll be up to around 10 miles per run. By Halloween, I’ll have 15, and by the end of the year, I’ll be up to 26 miles!
These next few weeks will be frantic, what with the beginning of the semester, the job search, and of course, the dissertation. My life is about to become one huge transition, but I welcome the challenge enthusiastically.
I find myself in somewhat of an academic rut. It’s nothing serious, but I once again have a load of work to plow through over the next few weeks and at times it feels like an insurmountable obstacle, to the point that I’ve spent more time worrying and procrastinating than I have actually working. I’ve been good about doing not doing this recently, and now is not the time for my old habits to resurface. After the hellish April I had coupled with my proposal defense and recovery from surgery, I feel like I haven’t taken a full breath in quite some time. I really won’t have a break until mid-late July, and even then, I’ll likely be busy packing. A busy life is better than the alternative, but when you’re in the thick of things, it sure doesn’t feel that way. By the end of next week, I need to pound out 3 conference proposals and finish up my analysis so I can get my presentation ready by the end of the following week. I’m really chomping at the bit now, but I’m feeling impossibly lazy and unmotivated at the present.
My reformation plan is going quite well. I’ve been running, going to the gym, and monitoring my eating habits a little more closely, and it’s paid off! I lost about 4 lbs over the past 2 weeks in part because I’m consuming less salt and way more water, and I’ve taken an inch off my waist, which is a welcome development. Tomorrow is my first long run (I’m training for a marathon and have one “long” run per week.) If all goes well, I’ll peel off 6 miles, but even 5 would be OK. I’ve never done more than 5 before in my life, so I’m curious to see whether I can even do it. Each week my long runs get successively longer until I’m able to do 26 in one try. I don’t see how I can’t substantially shape up when I’m running no less than 12 miles a week, and up to 32 miles in the later weeks.
The dresser is now residing in our guest room, thanks to the generosity of two friends who came over to help us get it out of the car. It was not easy. I’ve pretty much promised the spouse that I will no longer accept things from my mom that don’t fit into my purse. I understand why she always wants to send me home with things (to feel like she’s taking care of me), but given that we’re trying to reduce our possessions, it doesn’t really help.
This week has been kind of a bust, academically. I’ve been toying with my data a bit, but not in any substantial way. I found some interesting correlations, and in one case found absolutely no correlation when there should have been at least a weak but significant one. One thing that really pisses me off is that the reliability checks on one of my measures weeded out 24% of my sample. To put it in perspective, the usual elimination rate is about 11%. This signals that 24% of the people who took the survey were either 1) stupid 2) lazy or 3) both. It just makes me mad that people who were getting course credit for this couldn’t have bothered to actually follow directions and pay attention. I’m hoping that the remaining data is high quality, but I’m not holding my breath. One big relief is that one of the main hypotheses of my study seems to be holding up, but in unexpected ways. The next few weeks will be fun!
In other big news, we are in the process of selling our house. We have a signed purchase agreement, but nothing is certain until the appraisal and the inspection happen. If everything does work, then we will be out of here around the first week of August and we’ll rent a place here until we move off for good next May. It’s hard to leave this house, but if it means that we aren’t frantically trying to offload the house in the midst of packing, changing jobs, and moving to another state, then I’m OK with it.
+ I just found out that I won a $1000 grant to attend the conference this summer. If at least one of my other leads for funding pans out, I will have plenty of money for this trip. I’m breathing a HUGE sigh of relief at this news.
+ Awesome long holiday weekend in NOLA that involved amazing food, great live music, a friend’s wedding, and lots of hanging out. Living there would be so awesome, if both of us could find jobs. When we start our search this fall, I’ll definitely keep an eye on the academic market there.
+ My recovery is pretty much complete. Over the weekend I felt my pain levels decrease dramatically and I was actually able to move and walk around. My follow-up appointment this morning was positive and I’m finally cleared to do whatever the hell I want. I celebrated by taking a hot pomegranate bubble bath.
+ A preliminary look at my data today was promising. There are some interesting findings, some of them unexpected. I should have plenty to talk about at my conference in July, for conferences this academic year, and in my dissertation.
– One of my committee members lost my Ph.D. candidacy form. If he doesn’t find it, I’ll have to collect all the signatures all over again.
-Our toilet will not stop running, and it’s driving me batshit crazy. I’m usually able to fix it with a few small adjustments, but this time, no dice. Ugh.
-My mother sent me home with a nice wicker chest of drawers. I helped her load it into the car, but now we can’t get it out of the car. I am PISSED. We’ve given up for today, but if we can’t get it out, I don’t know what in the hell I’m going to do.
I’ve started cleaning up my data so that I can get to the analysis right away after I recover from surgery. Yep, I finally got scheduled for Tuesday the 12th at 10:30. Thoughts, prayers, and/or good vibes would be appreciated then and in the days afterward. I have no idea how things will go, and all I remember from last time is waking up, getting home, throwing up for days, and being in a good bit of pain. Hopefully this time around will be a little kinder. Either way, I’ll be happy to not be in constant pain and to not have to take any of those crazy-ass shots anymore.
But back to the data. My own data was pretty good, but some of my data came from other people’s research (just one particular scale) because I didn’t want any kind of practice effects if people took the scale again in my study. However, when I went to download their data, it was all kinds of weird. One person’s would only download in .csv format, and I had no clue how to make it into an .xls file to import into SPSS. The other person’s came out looking weird. As it turns out, only the first person’s was actually messed up, and the weirdness from the other person’s data was my fault (I downloaded the wrong style of data…ooops). I feel kind of bad telling my advisor that both sets of data were effed up when it was really only one person’s, and I particularly feel bad because the wrongly accused is actually a friend of mine. But no worries…he kindly helped me get everything straightened out, and I worked all day Thursday and Friday on getting things organized, imported into SPSS, and compute scale scores for all but one of my measures. If I could everything but the one measure done before I leave, I can hand it over to my advisor to score the last measure (it’s a proprietary scale, but he is authorized to score it). Then, when I get back the following week I can really dig down and get all my analysis done by the end of May. Until then, I’ll be praying for good data.
All in all, the research and thesis conference presentation went well. On Friday I told my advisor that I was glad he told me to do it, and I meant it then, but I really believed it after I finished my presentation. The good: People asked really good questions, the faculty respondents said that I obviously was very knowledgable in my field, and I got a lot of compliments on my body language and eye contact. The bad: I went about 30 seconds over the allotted time, which meant I had a few points deducted from my evaluation. The ugly: I need to stop talking like I’m 20 years old. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous during my presentation, and I unknowingly slipped into a few vocal tics (“you know”), which made me sound young in a bad way. I’m now working very hard to eliminate those sorts of things from my speech so that I won’t slip into those habits during a moment of nervousness (as in a job talk). I couldn’t help but be nervous, since I was presenting in front of not only my advisor, but also the spouse, who was kind enough to come watch me instead of staying home to watch a basketball game on TV. Despite everything, I’m proud of myself.
However, I’m really struggling with this whole idea of appearance. I look very, very young for my age, and I’m already intending to enter the academic job market a good 3-5 years earlier than most people do. While we’d all like to think that job candidates are judged only on their scholarship and individual merits, it’s no secret that academics are just as shallow as anyone else in making personnel decisions. Attractive people get jobs more often than plain-looking people. Both older and younger candidates are judged as “too stodgy” or “too flaky” (respectively), which means basically anyone younger than 30 or older than 50 is kind of screwed. Even if I waltz in to a job talk with a kick-ass resume and a god-like job talk, more than a few people will likely question my abilities simply because I’m barely 5’2″ and baby-faced. Recently, we had a candidate come in for an interview who is exactly my age. Her talk was great, and she seemed to be a good fit for the department. But then I heard some faculty members say, “Oh, she makes me feel old.” Ultimately, she did not get the job, and we hired a slightly older (but equally qualified) candidate. Things like this worry me, but I really have no idea how to get around this. I can’t change who I am or make up for the fact that I’m a relatively inexperienced person, but I don’t think that it makes me any less qualified or able. I have to console myself with the thought that a department that would dismiss me based on appearances is not a place I want to work, but in this economy, it makes me nervous.
In order to start things off on a positive note, I will admit to having finished my Netherlands conference proposal today. I sent it off to my advisor, and he’ll probably suggest some edits next week when we meet, but the worst is behind me. Nothing like dropping a few hundred bucks on a flight to motivate you to get something done!
Now, I will gripe.
1. It’s really cold here. I wouldn’t mind having a streak of cold weather if it didn’t mean that in 5 months I’d be enduring weeks of 90+ temperatures with a generous helping of hair-curling humidity.
2. My boss is really getting on my nerves. I’m tired of not being trusted. I’m tired of picking up the pieces after someone else drops the ball. I’m really fucking tired of attending 2 hour meetings that should really only last about 20 minutes. I despise inefficiency, and I don’t appreciate having my time wasted. I console myself with the thought that I will no longer be putting up with this shit in a few months. Otherwise I would have to kill somebody.
3. My face is breaking out again, and it appears that my hair is falling out. Hawt.