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!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Weirdness scale

I'm polling you guys on this one. How weird is it, on a scale of 1 to 10, if one of your officemates:

1. completely totally ignores the standard "don't talk to me" signs such as wearing headphones, typing away at lightspeed, staring intently at your computer, and/or resolutely ignoring her as she chirps your name, until ignoring becomes impossible and you are forced to answer a burning question like "What's the web address for Google maps?" (Elli's head: "try Google")

2. drops everything to intently monitor every conversation you have. A friend comes into your office and you talk about, say, moving, or losing your keys, or a conference they went to or whatever. Your officemate drops everything she's doing, takes off her earphones, swivels partly around in her chair, and stared unabashedly at you both while you talk. Once your friend LEAVES and you are finally getting back to work, she says "What was all that?" and hashes the nothing-to-do-with-her conversation back out for way too long to be normal. (odder: you're making a quick cell phone call and the moment your voice starts up she turns around and stares at you, steadily and unblinkingly, while you talk.) (Elli's head: "don't even pretend the noise is bothering you. You're wearing ATC-esque noise-muffling headphones and you've been reading Ph.D. comics for two hours. By the way, I'm propping my feet up on my desk to block your face because it is REALLY distracting to have you stare at me while I talk.")

3. similarly monitors anything else you're up to. You buy Skittles and open the bag. Ooh, tearing noise! She turns around and stares at you for way longer that it takes to process the fact that yes, you are eating a bag of Skittles (Elli's head: "My God! A bag of Skittles has appeared in my hand! You may be wondering how this happened. But have your own bag of M&Ms right there. You bought them from the vending machine downstairs. This mystery, it is solvable. And how the HELL do you hear this stuff through your super-sexy bigger-than-your-head noise-blocking headphones, anyway?")

4. thinks that it is a really good idea to cut into a conversation you are having with your adviser (about a deadline you are scrambling to meet) to tell you that man, she just is kinda bored and really has time to kill and there was this guy on the bus this morning and do you know if craigslist might have any small tables on it that she could look for? (Elli's head: "can you not use Google*? Are your conversation monitoring skills suddenly broken? Can you not tell I'm really busy? Can you just...oh my god go away")

I know she could just be shy, or searching for acceptance, but it's...just...weird. I'd really rather not be stared at on and off all day (and no, she doesn't have a crush on me - I don't get the "I like you" vibe OR the gaydar vibe). Am I being unreasonable? Does this get better? Or is it legitimately kinda weird?

*my most I'm-a-bitch pet peeve is definitely being asked stuff like "Do you know if the course schedules are online?" or "Do you know the email address of the assistant deputy computer guy's secretary's babysitter?", especially from someone with one hand on a computer mouse. My way of answering them would be to perform a five-second Google search - which begs the question of why THEY'RE not doing it instead of bothering me. How have they gotten to a Ph.D. program without this skill? If I'm not too busy I sometimes actually bother with the search and answer them. Keeps them thinking that I'm a mad computer ninja, when really I've typed "course schedules" into the department website's search box.

okay, I lied: RBoE

I said I'd start writing more regularly, and then all hell broke loose. I really have no reason to suspect that said hell will quit breaking loose, but at least it's all getting to be the GOOD kind of crazy. So I leave you with Random Bullets of Excuses:

  • had what should have been a short travel trip to a small and enjoyable conference last week. got stranded by the travel situation from hell, spending the night in a godawful hotel on my own dime, and then living one of those Dateline specials where you sit in the plane on the runway for four hours with no air. I was debating forcing my way off the plane and just getting a rental car for the longest drive of my life, but it was utterly unaffordable.
  • reading Harry Potter, of course! That series...I'm not sure if I quite qualify as "obsessed" but I was totally in the (crazy-mobbed and NOT AIR CONDITIONED. GACK.) store at midnight, although I did not have a costume...
  • got some totally awesome results in one of my projects and am currently writing the fastest journal paper of my life with Dr. Superwoman. Which rocks (yay authorship!), but means I wake up at 5 in the morning going "oh god, I need to include figures with thicker lines. Where did I save the figures with thicker lines?" Sometimes I think it's good for TB that he doesn't live with me right now.
  • getting ready for an orgy of moving. To keep a very very long story short, a bunch of the grad students are moving again, and a lot of us are exchanging our places: Persons A1, A2, and A3 are all leaving Enormous House but their roommate, A4, is staying. Persons B1 and B2 and Elli want to move somewhere together, and get along well with A4. Persons C1 and D1, who both have one-bedrooms, are dating and moving in together. So, at least on paper this all works out really neatly. C1 and D1 can move into place B. A1 is moving into place C. A2 is moving into place D. A3 is moving into Elli's place. And B1, B2, and Elli can all move into Enormous House. But: everyone has different move-out times, C1 is a bit of a dick and holding up A1's move until late on moving day, which holds up the move of Elli and the B's. People have dropped balls on things like apartment cleaning and cable service and furniture acquisition. And for some reason I am the only person who thinks that eight anal grad students moving all over town on a tight and poorly-structured schedule probably shouldn't attempt to share ONE small UHaul. $30 for one day is not really something you need to split eight ways. Are you confused yet? Right. Wish me luck not killing anybody on the 31st/1st.
  • getting excited for TB's visit in a couple weeks.
  • getting stressed over classes starting again in like a month. What the hell was THAT? That was a summer???
  • desperately avoiding thinking about The Exam Which Shall Not Be Named. You know what I mean. Can someone please tell me a story where NOT studying for your quals/comps/prelims/whatever you call them is a really good and reasonable plan that ends with much passing and celebrating and a nice shiny Masters? Please? (lying is acceptable).
In the meantime, I'll try and get through these next few things and start posting more regularly. If nothing else, there should be a nice highlights reel from moving day. Thanks for your patience!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Aw, shucks!

I disappear and become a bad, bad infrequent blogger, and instead of all of you ditching me, the fabulous Addy N. has nominated me as a:

My first blog award! *small wriggle of excitement*

/begin{shameless self-promotion}
She says: I really enjoy reading Elli's blog about her experiences as a graduate student. I think she is much more together than I was when I was in grad school! I think blogging is a great outlet for all of us working our way through research and writing. Keep up the great work, Elli!
/end{shameless self-promotion}


I'll take this as a kick in the behind to start writing more regularly! (and, "together"? Clearly Addy N. hasn't seen me on my "where are my keys?!?/I'm locked out!!!/Call the building manager!!!/No, just break in!!!/, the keys are in my pants pocket" days :P) Office space issues have finally been worked out and my summer is kicking into high gear, so I'll have plenty of fodder for posts.

For now, I get to tag five people! Woohoo!* Some of the people aren't actually on my blogroll yet, but I'll be updating that soon. And I KNOW some of these are repeats, but I can't help it - their blogs are just too cool:

ScienceWoman: I know girls my age who read chick lit over and over because they dream of being fashionable professional shoppers in The Big Apple, just like the main character. ScienceWoman's blog is my chick lit - I read it over and over because that's what I want to be doing someday!!! (so if the large number of multiple hits from one person were freaking you out, never fear, it's just me geeking out in the archives :P) Even though it's not all fun and games, it's a great example that a woman in science can make life work, and work well!

Jenny F. Scientist
: it was reading her blog that gave me the idea to start my own. She writes extremely thoughtful and relevant posts, and I'm always happy to see a new post pop up over there.

Female Science Professor: again, a blog I see as a role model. And she has this creepy clairvoyance in constantly writing about issues that are on my mind at the moment. She has a lot of good things to say about being a scientist AND a female scientist at that, and I learn a lot by reading her blog.

: I like birds, I like to laugh, and I love how she writes. I'm an archive-crawler (this is an amazing way to procrastinate), and her archive is a blast to read. I think this about many bloggers, but with StyleyGeek it's the most prominent - if she ever wants to ditch this whole Ph.D. business she'd have a great career as a comic writer.

Geeka: I stumbled across this blog more recently, I think thanks to Scientiae, but it's really fun to read. She's also a great writer, and since I work in a very non-labby discipline, reading about biomedical stuff is both educational and fascinating!

Thanks to these and all of the other blogs I read. They're inspiring, reassuring, and sometimes downright hilarious, and it's been awesome to have a sort of therapy/support network spring up as a result of blogging, whether its via carnivals or comments or just poking around. It helps me keep going - I really think it makes me a better grad student to realize how many of us are out there and how many people have faces the same or worse problems as me and come out the other side doing great! So thanks for the awesome pink button, and please, everyone, keep writing!!!

*As a disclaimer, I'm new to all these new-fangled bloggy technologies, so I'm "tagging" by linking to people. I FOUND my tag during my regular reading of Addy N.'s blog. So apologies if I do this wrong.

Monday, July 9, 2007

a fantastic no-work-allowed day

I had originally planned to take a day off about a week and a half ago, but have been straight-out busy instead. The Office Space Follies had devolved into utter madness. I've been advising my summer student counterparts like mad. Finally, I was scrambling to get a journal paper submitted on which I was first author - super-exciting, but as it's my first first-author paper with Dr. Superwoman, I've been very very anxious to do a top-notch job. But on Friday the office-space situation finally got sorted out and the more demanding summer student, Chill, finally hit her stride and bopped of to do a bunch of work on her own. And yesterday I clicked "Submit" on my paper! WHEW! On top of that there have been lots of minor tiffs and snafus with research, my office, TB, and my upcoming move, and I've been working away on my latest presentation which is coming up in a week and a half.

So today was no-work day - the first REAL one I've had in what felt like years. (no work-related emails, no presentations or papers written, and I even stayed away from looking at new journal articles)

I woke up and actually managed to get myself out for a long run (4 miles - for me that's long!) I got myself my favorite granola bar flavor and yogurt for breakfast (everyone go get a Dulce de Leche Luna bar - makes for a healthy part of breakfast and it tastes better than most candy bars). I put on my Anne of Avonlea DVD and worked on my latest crafty project - I'm not a big craft person, but I'm pretty decent at hemp jewelry, and I've had an awesome bead sitting in a drawer for months that I've wanted to make into a necklace.

The major highlight of the day for me was getting a massage. I've had exactly two massages before this one in my entire life, and they were student massages from a health center near my undergrad campus. But I LOVE them, and I swore I'd get myself one once I had my summer pay and some free time (I know that TB will be pleased that I've started outsourcing the whole backrub deal - I harass him for them endlessly whenever he's around). After two straight hours of office hell finally got resolved on Friday, I finally just picked up the phone and called the awesome-hippie spa my adviser had told me about for an appointment.

I was totally amazed. I got a robe and shoes and the best tea I've EVER tasted (licorice root and mint - SO GOOD. Go get some!), a foot bath-and-massage, and an AMAZING full-body massage. They even give you a little aromatherapy thing in the massage room, along with the sort of meditation music that I love to listen to, no matter how much people make fun of me. And a swanky shower afterward with all of their fancy (way-too-expensive-to-actually-buy) products available. And the whole thing came to less than $100 - or would have if I hadn't bought a big jar of their tea. Worth it.

It took me a little while to get over feeling slightly guilty about the whole experience - there was this woman about my age rubbing my feet and holding up little aroma bottles for me to sample, and it just felt ridiculous at first - I kept trying to remind myself that I've had the month from hell and paying for a pleasant experience once in a while doesn't make me a pampered spoiled horrible person. Nobody I knew growing up ever went to a spa - they were ridiculous places for detoxing celebrities or stuck-up women whose kids were being raised by nannies. So I felt weird going to one - I got along just fine without a fancy spa visit for 23 years, so there was no getting off on "I NEEDED this". I wound up asking my masseuse how she had gotten into this field and why she did it, and it was very cool to hear her answer - her biggest bonus was how portable her job was, and she was telling me about being able to find work in places like France and England and Alaska (random!) because, as she puts it, "my hands go wherever I go!" Eventually I started feeling like a client instead of an entitled snob, and was able to really REALLY enjoy the experience.

I left with my entire neck and back feeling like butter and my feet feeling amazing. I went to my favorite coffeeshop and got my usual sandwich and read, then came home, messed around with my hemp twine projects some more, and re-read part of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (I've got big plans for a complete reread of all six books by July 21st - less than two weeks away!!!) I had some ridiculously-good tomato-basil quinoa that I had never made before for dinner and finished my book. Which brings me to now - I made myself a mug of that tea, and I was happy to come across one of my favorite, if slightly silly, programs on Animal Planet - it's the one where the Australian guy is basically be Steve Irwin transported into pre-historic times. I know it's a slightly strange program, and not entirely great from a conservationist point of view (at one point he tries to feed a Miocene-era herbivore a 21st-century apple, that sort of thing), but I love it - yay wacky prehistoric animals!!!!!!

Tomorrow it's time to get back to advising, presentation-writing, studying, and the whole rest of the mess, but I earnestly do feel like taking a day to actually take care of myself is going to make me a better student, in addition to a happier person. Living by myself has the simultaneous benefit and downside that, when I go home after a day of work, there's nothing much to do except more work - come home, eat dinner, and sit back down in front of the computer. I get a lot more done, but I start to feel extremely unbalanced, doing nothing but thinking and sleeping and thinking some more. So today I finally took a chance to take a break from the academic end of things and take care of the rest of my life a bit.