Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Elli unleashed

De-lurking from the blogosphere to try and get a non-studying-for-quals life back.

This topic actually comes at a very apropos time - I have my qualifying exam in just a couple of weeks (less, actually...oh god, aah aah aah), and as a result I have been spending most of my waking moments studying or trying to reboot my sanity before/after studying. The studying itself has actually been kind of pleasant - I have an inordinate number of Useless Science facts crammed into my head but it's nice to see things coming together into stories, histories, big pictures, etc. The sanity-restoration is also nice. Dr. Superwoman is fabulous - she's on my committee, and half of her studying advice was "Go running. Eat healthy every night. Do yoga and practice relaxation techniques" (she knows I have a tendency to flip out like mad before exams) So that's actually been very nice. I feel very focused, and life has been pared down to one simple goal: my qual.

However, right now everything I'm doing is funneled into one of the hoops I must jump through for grad school. The studying, the running, the whole grain dinners, the yoga, is all good and healthy and oh-virtuous-me, but it's all pointed towards "pass your qual".

So at the moment I would like to be unleashed from my grad school bindings. I would like to not have a qualifying exam that stands, solely and strongly, between me and my Ph.D. I would really rather not have to slog through my last few classes. I would really like to be unleashed as a Real Scientist. I have scientific ideas that I'm excited about and would like to pursue, and that have been put completely on hold as I study for a test. I have collaborations I'd like to pursue, data I'd like to get, etc. In many ways I'm just anxious to start my thesis, but ideally I'd do this without all of the paperwork and hemming and hawing, and just applying for some grants or funding like the Grown-Ups so I can get going already. (I know that this opens up the wide and wonderful world of funding rejections, but at least I'd have only myself to blame rather than letting everything hinge on advisers or departments that can't get their act together!)

I suppose I should have a little more fire or rage or vim 'n vigor in here: I should want to be unleashed to give that sexist professor a good verbal smackdown, or to dress how I like and talk how I like in an apartment full of guys (i.e., none of this "skirts are unprofessional" business), or talk about unleashed my personal life from my professional life. But I'm a grad student. I'm a grad student because I really really really want to do Useless Science. At the moment I still feel like my hands are a bit tied by all of the trimmings of pre-quals grad school, and that by spending my days studying and pining wistfully after the research I like so much, I am simply treading water. I can't wait to finally get some forward momentum again!

The upshot of this is that the frustration does eventually turn into motivation - let's get this qual studied for and passed so that I can finally get unleashed from the pre-Ph.D. trappings of grad school and start doing science already!!*

*re: "doing science" - I really want the "Stand Back - I'm Going to Try Science!" T-shirt here.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The ethics of witnessing a scoop?

This one is actually an ethical dilemma that's been bugging me.

One of the professors in our department, Dr. TallGuy, has been working with a summer student (REU-esque, though not an REU in this case) on a project that she presented this morning - in the interest of euphemisms, let's call it measuring how cold rivers are in different states. It's interesting, it's neat, I liked her presentation, she's done good work.

But. My adviser, Dr. Awesome, at a different department, is ALSO working with a summer student. And unless my memory deceives me, she is ALSO working on how cold rivers are in different states. She's checking out the silt content of the river, and our department's student is measuring the current of the river, but they're mainly both measuring temperature, which is what a lot of people who wants to go swimming in a river care about.

In short, I'm watching a scooping in action, and I don't know who's about to scoop who.

I want to write to Dr. Awesome and ask him a few scientifically curious questions about Dr. TallGuy's students work, since I'm kinda interested in this stuff and it's similar to work I do. But I have a feeling that by doing this I am basically saying "DR. TALLGUY IS ABOUT TO SCOOP YOU." This really isn't my intent - but at the same time, I feel like I should let him know. I don't have any similar sentiments towards Dr. TallGuy - I'm not going to go to him and say "Dr. Awesome at Other-Department is working with a student on this stuff too!" So I guess my loyalties lie with Dr. Awesome. What should I do? Could it possibly get out if I tip off Dr. Awesome and he winds up scooping Dr. TallGuy? Conversely, if Dr. TallGuy publishes first then Dr. Awesome could easily guess that I knew what he was doing and might wonder why I didn't warn him. Plus, there's two undergrads involved here - they both deserve some papers.

I think the way to go might be to stride ahead with the email to Dr. Awesome, asking the questions that I have and thus revealing what Dr. TallGuy is working on. He and Dr. TallGuy get along and could exchange emails on the topic. They could probably figure out a way for the research to not overlap too terribly. And hopefully Dr. Awesome will answer my questions and say something like "Hey, that's kinda like what me and my new student are doing, but not exactly. I'll refer her to Dr. TallGuy for some advising." One can hope.

Still - I feel like I'm sitting on some sensitive information here. Is there a good way to deal with a situation like this? It's times like these when I am made very aware of the fact that I'm a little kid that's just gotten into the big kid's game - eventually I'll be equipped for dilemmas like these, but for now I have a lot to learn.

I am locked out of my laptop.

I'm writing this from one of the generic desktops in my department. Why is that, you might ask?

Elli is locked out of her MacBook Pro.

MacBooks latch shut, and have this little depressy-button-thingy that releases the latch. Normally, a MacBook owner poked said button-thingy and the screen obediently springs open.

Not so for me. I hit up a coffeeshop this afternoon and took my MacBook out of its little cushioned case. Unfortunately, when I poked the button, nothing happened. I poked again - still nothing. I poked it with my mechanical pencil. No dice. For about ten minutes the rest of the coffeeshop got to watch as I fruitlessly took my pencil, pocketknife, earring back, and various (unused) utensils to this mysterious button while the rest of the laptop sat there like an obstinate turtle.

Back in my office, I upgraded to pens, an unfolded paperclip, various lab toys, and even a pair of tweezers.

I cannot for the life of my coax the damn thing to open. Has anyone ever run into a situation wherein their MacBook Pro suddenly decides to go into hiding? Is it shy? Did I catch it with some porn up on the screen? Is it protesting until I give it a better carry case? Is there a MacBook Pro union representative I should be talking to?

What really kills me (aside from the whole "all of my work is on there let me in you Apple-emblazoned little bastard" business) is that I was just singing the praises of Macs this morning - the little magnetized power plug, the hot corners, the camera in the screen. And now I've apparently been foiled by a little plastic widget-y thing that just won't unlock. I feel you watching me, Bill Gates.


UPDATE: I have indeed succeeded getting into the laptop, using what sounds like a similar approach to Jeff's suggestion - getting in and jimmying the little plastic tabs. I opened it, immediately sftp'd all of my important stuff over to my work desktop, then cautiously closed it again, but the problem seems to be gone now. Hooray!