Tuesday, January 30, 2007

What makes a good disseration advisor?

Profgrrrrl posted today with a dilemma about how to work with a slacking student. I tend to agree with her commenters that most of the responsibility for project management should belong to the student. I have been struggling with this lately because my thesis project is closely tied to my adviser's ongoing research. I asked to work on this project because I wanted to learn more about how to setup and run as social science research project. I didn't feel ready to tackle the big project I had in mind for my dissertation. Now I find that the project is so cooperative that I can't move ahead because I'm waiting for others to do their parts. Oh how I long for a project that really feels like my own.

I'm planning to change my focus somewhat for my dissertation (if I move ahead with it). Here are my ideas so far about what I need from my adviser.

I will handle most of the project management stuff, but I might need to ask some questions while setting all of this up.

My adviser will be willing to give me direction on project management when I ask for it.

My adviser will respond in a relatively timely fashion to my writings and contributes feedback and comments on substantive issues.


Are academic bloggers more cynical than other academics?

This morning one of my professors said "Watch out about listening to academic bloggers, they are probably people who have had negative experiences, so they might not be the best people to be getting advice from."

This came up because for whatever reason the six other people in my class can never get there on time and so I was making conversation with him. He mentioned that he was hosting a job candidate and that the candidates had to give two separate talks, one for the department (there were several possibilities) and one for the major. Joint appointments complicate job searches because you have to be approved by two (or more) different disciplines, and being interdisciplinary, I'm concerned about this process.

I mentioned something how I'm always trying to understand these processes in order to maximize my chances. Then I revealed that I read academic blogs and he responded that maybe bloggers weren't the best people to listen to.

Are bloggers more disgruntled than others? I'm probably the most disgruntled blogger that I know, but in general I haven't found people to be less successful or more dissatisfied than the people I know in RL.


Respect and Privilege

This weekend a male friend of mine commented about things he doesn't like about women. Now he was talking to three women who are is good friends, so I think he felt safe to express his feelings.

We were walking along a trail near his house and he commented that it really bothers him when women assume that a man alone might be a threat. He wants women to be OK with looking him in the eye and saying hello. I explained to him that women are conditioned to think of themselves as victims and to be mistrustful of strange men. It would be logical if women where a little more confident and men were a little more scared because men are frequently crime victims as well, but things get twisted around in the cultural washing machine.

Then he went on to his second theory, that the reason women don't get ahead more in business is that they don't look people in the eye and give them a confident handshake. The problem with this theory is that even when women do those things they aren't treated in the same way as men. Women who are confident and outspoken are labeled bitches. Where can we point the finger of blame? Can young female professors be blamed for acting uptight when they are constantly challenged and disrespected in ways that male faculty never are? Are women in business treated differently because they act differently or do they act differently because they are treated differently?

I love my friend, but can you say "white male privilege?"


Thursday, January 25, 2007

work, work, work

Nothing important to report, just being a good grad student, nose to the grind stone and all that. Putting your nose to the grind stone sounds like it should hurt. Right now I'm avoiding writing a wiki post for my class. I'm finding that the normal requirements of classes are irritating to me, even when it's a topic that is interesting to me. I tend to feel resentful when I have to read and write about stuff that relates more to the professor's own book/dissertation than my own. (Not very realistic, I know.) If the class focuses too much on the professor's own research I tend to feel like they are coasting on presentations that they have done a thousand times, rather than really putting an effort into thinking about what would help the students learn. I guess I have the doctor who isn't a good patient syndrome. (Ok, I'm not a doctor yet, but I do have a lot of teaching experience.) When my work schedule is so heavy anything that doesn't directly relate seems irrelevant. I know I have to get over this because I will probably miss out on some really important learning experiences if I get too closed minded.

I'm working on campus 30 hrs a week this quarter. Truthfully my jobs might not take up all that time every week, but some weeks they will. If I'm enrolled in 12 units of classes and research and those units are supposed to involve 2-3 hours of outside work for every "class" hour, that would add up to another 36-48 hours a week. Realistically most weeks I have to spend some time running errands and doing paperwork in order to get my degree. Could anyone really keep up with these calculated commitments? I usually "work" 12 hours a day on weekdays, trying to not work after 9PM or before 9AM, but as I said some of that time involves errands, travel, eating lunch while reading, etc. I probably don't do more than 5-10 hours of work each weekend. So by my calculations I'm officially supposed to be working 66-78 hrs each week and I'm really only working 55-60 hrs. No wonder I have impostor syndrome.


Saturday, January 20, 2007


As I mentioned earlier, I need to decide whether I want to pursue a PhD or get out while the getting is good. At the moment I'm kind of obsessed, so what do I do? Research!

Flavia's post discussing her transition into a tenure track position led me to a google search on "grad school infantilization," which led to some very interesting resources for grad students in search of advice.

Jonathan Sterne's site has a whole series of articles related to navigating graduate school and an academic job search.

"Over The Hoops And Through The Hurdles" by Pamela Oliver, of U. of Wisconsin, is subtitled "Surviving the Graduate Program in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin," but contains many excellent tips for grad students in other programs.

" I believe the reason graduate school is fundamentally unpleasant is that it entails inherently self-contradictory demands. Structurally, it is school, it is infantilizing. You are structurally a child, and adult teachers are ordering you around. I went straight through school, and when I hit graduate school at age 21, I was already too old to appreciate being treated like a child (Many of the people who work for a while before coming back to school find the infantilization even more intolerable, although others find that work experiences make them more motivated and tolerant of the structure of grad school. It probably depends on how bad your job was.)"

My job before returning to grad school involved little pay or respect, but a significant amount of responsibility and independence. I returned to graduate school because I wanted to be respected for my knowledge and experience. (I know, what was I thinking?) I also spent 8+ years struggling to learn how to teach well and so was not impressed with many faculty members lack of pedagogical knowledge.

To the rescue comes Dr. Virago with "To professionalize or not to professionalize." What's funny is that I didn't even know that "professionalization" was what I wanted. At least there are some other people out there that think it's not crazy to want to plan ahead if I'm going to invest numerous years in an academic career. It seems that professionalization isn't on the radar of most faculty member here at Big Ag U. I have been taking classes, writing papers, and getting A's, but I still have no clue what my professors think of my writing and ideas. If they gave me some real criticism, I would at least know that they were taking me seriously. I understand that grad students are supposed to be self directed, but the occasional discussion of how to get through the process wouldn't take that much time and would be amazingly helpful. Maybe that is part of the "game" here at Big Ag U., you have to figure out how to get through the process even though no one will give you a straight answer about how. It also worries me how few grad students from our program are presenting at the upcoming national conference, which is taking place within driving distance of the U. this year.

All this reading has inspired me to get moving on my grad student networking plan. Here are the things I need to discuss with other grad students: identifying helpful/relevant committee members, writing, getting funding, publishing, presenting at conferences, and on and on. Now I just have to lure some supportive/friendly/available students in with refreshments and/or entertainment.


Migraines and Depression

Recently I came across this report of a new study which links chronic migraines and depression. I have read a number of news reports suggesting that there is a genetic or brain chemistry link between the two maladies. Since I suffer from both, this interests me greatly. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, the link is very tenuous. In this particular study they compare the rates of depression in women who got 15+ migraines a month to women who get less than 15 migraines a month. Were they really surprised that women who got more than 15 migraines a month were more depressed??? Considering that migraines can last up to 72 hours? At most I get around 4 migraines a month and I feel like it has a major impact on my quality of life. My favorite part is this quote, "This relation between migraine and major depression suggests a common neurobiology." Wouldn't a simpler explanation be that being in severe pain on a regular basis might contribute to major depression? Seriously, 15 migraines a month, who wouldn't be depressed?


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Bad computer, bad!

My computer is on the fritz. Beorn is going to charge me a new one.

My one actual class involves social scientists studying other scientists. I really like to prof. He's pretty new and so a lot of the discussion and reading are from his book. Sometimes it's a bit much, but he's pretty willing to adapt and let us take the discussion where we want. For some reason the idea that disciplines involve a set of rules, like a game, came up today. The whole, "it's a game" argument irritates me. That's fine if you happen to know it's a game and you understand what the rules are. But most students, including many grad students don't know the rule of the game, and faculty are unlikely to be explicit in informing us. Maybe that's part of the game, you have to be able to "read" the unspoken rules, but that means that students of different cultural backgrounds/genders/etc will most likely be disadvantaged.

If my graduate school experience was a game, I think it would be tetris. Every quarter involves a different, yet similar, challenge in which the pieces are always moving faster and faster. Eventually the round ends and I get a score, I never lose, but I also never win.

The other reason I don't like the idea the disciplines are games is that I'm very interdisciplinary. What game am I playing here? Can I win when I'm trying to play multiple games at once?


Monday, January 15, 2007

Yes, I'm a Jungian

You scored as C.G. Jung. You are more of a spiritualist than would be immediately apparent. Some of your notions are questioned by the cynical, but deep down you know the human consciousness is more than the flesh and tissue can account for. You tend to take a scientific observationist look on matters the average person wouldn't even begin to analyze. You personally are responsible for most of the ideas that are floating around in modern psychologist's/psychic's paltry little skulls. On the down side, you tend to be associated with that asshole Freud.

What Pseudo Historical Figure Best Suits You?
created with QuizFarm.com


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Too much work

Well this morning has been better than yesterday. I got an email from an office on campus offering me a RA position for this quarter. Too bad I'm already working 75% time at two other jobs. The problem is that I would really enjoy this job and there is a possibility that it could turn into an ongoing position. It would be very nice not to have to run around looking for positions each quarter. Unfortunately the quarter has already started, so I don't think I can quit my TA position now. My other RA position is with my advisor and mostly involves data analysis for my thesis/her on-going research, so there isn't much point in quitting, since I'll have to do that work either way. Arg!

My post last night had to do with a situation in which someone I'm working for and a co-worker didn't think to include me in their plans and discussions. It was most likely just an oversight; they just happened to be together and things were discussed and decisions made. I have been trying to schedule a meeting with both of them to organize this project all week and having trouble. It feels very frustrating because I feel like I'm the low ranking person in this situation but I'm having to take on a leadership role because neither of them are doing it. I guess I could view it as an opportunity, but it feels like a burden.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bad day

I'm doing fine, really. Just one of those days were it feels like I'm being left out of conservations on purpose. Ever had a day that reminded you of being picked last for dodge ball? I know it's just in my head but I can't help but feel offended.



I have been thinking about blogging under a pseudonym. It's very useful when one wants to complain about annoying academics or discuss openly feelings of anxiety. Unfortunately it complicates my desire to write about my research interests. I have thought of starting a new blog under my own name so that I could write about my research and try to look smart, but I barely keep up with posting on this one. I don't think anything particularly bad would happen if someone figured out who I am, but don't want my sometimes peevishness to offend, so let me know if I step over the line when talking about someone else.

Here are some things that really get my mind working...

Our Ailing Communities: Public-health advocate Richard Jackson argues that the way we build cities and neighborhoods is the source of many chronic diseases.



Tuesday, January 09, 2007

First section meetings

I'm in TA heaven. The prof leading this class is articulate and fun. His introductory lectures have been outlined the themes that will (hopefully) run throughout the course content. All this is not surprising, considering he is the department chair and has won awards for outstanding teaching, it is a big relief to me.

Also, even though the reader was only available to them this morning, most of the students in my sections actually read it, or at least part of it. They seemed relatively interested and volunteered comments without much prodding. Wow!

I'm in an interdisciplinary program, so all the other courses I have TAed have been in another department. Maybe students where more comfortable because this field has a stronger, more familiar, theoretical base? Or maybe the professor just picked out an interesting, discuss-able reading? Or did I just luck out and get a lot of enthusiastic students?

Last week I discovered the poetry of Tom Wayman. If you have ever taught a college class you'll appreciate Did I Miss Anything and The Detroit State Poems: Marking.


Sci-Fi/Fantasy Fun

Ragnell's comment reminded me that I have been meaning to post something about the science fiction I have been reading and watching lately. I really enjoy thinking and writing about the themes in sci-fi/fantasy, but I'm kind of a workaholic, so sometimes I forget to think about anything beyond my graduate school work/issues.

Over winter break Beorn and I watched the new BBC version of Terry Pratchet's The Hogfather. I had never read the book, although I have read some other things by Pratchet. Ian Richardson is perfect as the voice of death. I think this may be a new Christmas classic for our little family. It was funny, had a strong female hero, and a message about the true meaning of Christmas.

We also watched the new Doctor Who Christmas special, "The Runaway Bride." Generally I have enjoyed the new Doctor Who episodes, despite their not being very feminist friendly, but I was disappointed with this episode. The plot was too implausible, even for a Doctor Who, and the "runaway bride" was annoying as hell. Unlike the Doctor's regular companions, who love being dragged all over the universe never knowing where or when they will end up, or who will be trying to kill them, she wasn't happy at all. She basically whined and complained through the whole episode, which ruined the fun for me.

I love the BBC though. Sometimes I think I should move to Britain just so that I could watch British TV. Did you know that the new Battlestar Galactica was jointly produced by the BBC and the Sci-Fi Channel? (I was wondering how they could afford such high production values.)


Monday, January 08, 2007

Government Job Applications

Ever applied for a government job? Couldn't they just look at my resume first? Seriously, why do they need to know where I went to high school? And why make a web form that involves me filling out numerous separate fields for each job I have ever had? That would be fine if I only had to do it once, but it looks like I will have to do it over and over for each job I want to apply for. It means an hour+ for each job.


Personality Test

I think this is what I always get. It says I could be a writer, but I feel like I'm constantly struggling with my feelings of inadequacy when it comes to writing. I generally don't have impostor syndrome, I think of myself as fairly intelligent, even in comparison to others in grad school, but when I comes to writing I feel like I don't know what I'm doing.

You Are An INFP

The Idealist

You are creative with a great imagination, living in your own inner world.
Open minded and accepting, you strive for harmony in your important relationships.
It takes a long time for people to get to know you. You are hesitant to let people get close.
But once you care for someone, you do everything you can to help them grow and develop.

You would make an excellent writer, psychologist, or artist.

Last seen at Anastasia's


Saturday, January 06, 2007

Abstract accepted

Um, I just got an email that my abstract has been accepted and I'll be presenting at my first conference this spring. Now I'm not sure whether to be happy or freaked out.


Academic Crossroads

I'm getting close to being done with my M.A. degree and so I need to decide whether to continue on in the PhD program. I very conflicted about this. It's difficult to get any honest advice from faculty. I shouldn't really say that they lack honesty, it's just that they are trying to be nice and not get too involved in my decision. I can understand. So far I have talked with three different professors but I don't feel any closer to a decision.

My adviser was the most honest I think. In our field there are lots of jobs at the moment, so she encouraged me to take a break and work in an office for a while to see if I like it. She thinks I can always come back for the PhD. Unfortunately, I got some less than perfect advice when I started grad school and so despite having a graduate degree in my field, I don't have a "professional" degree and as a result my ability to get a job in an office and eventually get a professional certification is in doubt. Basically, despite having taken the classes and gained the skills, the university won't give me the piece of paper. Theoretically I could reapply to the university as an undergrad and spend a year and $20,000 to get the correct piece of paper, but I don't have $20,000 and I'm not at all sure that I could get financial aid for a second bachelor's degree. Right now, since Beorn is an undergrad, our main source of income is my salary from research assistant/teaching assistant positions.

On the other hand, the graduate degree adviser told me that I should be able to finish my PhD in two more years, since I'm taking three years to finish my MA. In his opinion that schedule would put me "back on track," academically. Sounds great, except would I be able to find a job? At that point Beorn would be starting grad school and I would be starting an academic job search. How realistic would that be? Although I have been able to constantly find RA/TA work, I don't have any funding for my research and it seems doubtful that I'll get much help getting funding, so how much time am I going to have in the next few years to concentrate on getting published?

Professor #3, who gave me the bad advice at the beginning of my grad program, seemed convinced that I should pursue a PhD, but was totally clueless about the financial difficulties/sacrifices that this might entail. He said things like, "you do a PhD because you have a burning desire to find out something about the world." Great, I know that I have lots of intellectual curiosity and that I can work hard, but I also want things like kids and a house and a decent standard of living. He also seemed to think that I should go elsewhere for my PhD because I have already gotten the benefit of the experience/knowledge of the professors at this U. and so I could go to another U. and learn more from other profs. If I had unlimited time and money I could spend the rest of my life in school, bowing at the feet of these intellectual giants. When I pointed out the difficulty of a household with dual academic careers he said, "what's the problem, I know lots of people that have done that." So because you know some people who have done it, it must be no problem? What about all the people that struggle and have trouble?

My problem with getting advice from these people is that they all have cushy jobs at a R1 university. They are the lucky ones. In fact, until recently professors in my field didn't get PhDs, so two of these people don't have PhDs. The other one has a PhD in a vaguely related field and had a professorship at Big Ag U. in that field. He decided that he liked this field better and managed to get his professorship transfered into this department. So he actually has a lot less practical/professional experience in this field than I do (he's very well respected and productive on the theoretical side though.) Also, these professors come from privileged backgrounds, so I think they have little idea about struggling financially, or balancing work for money with school and family life.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Fun photos

I feel a little guilty about that last post, so to counteract the long, boring post all about me and my illnesses I thought I would post a couple of funny photos.

Earlier I posted picture of the Princess relaxing in the printer, but now BOK has decided the printer is his new favorite place to lounge.

Beorn and I also had some fun over the break making gingerbread cookies. It all started out innocently enough with gingerbread men and Christmas trees, but quickly turned creative. Beorn decided the star cookies needed a hammer and sickle. I don't know how he made to pac-man cookies since we don't have pac-man cookie cutters.

I also had a lot of fun during my vacation reading food-porn blogs. I wish I could take photos like Lex Culinaria or Nicky of delicious: days. After reading this collection of posts on making chocolate truffles I decided to pick the strangest ones and try making them. The mexican chocolate truffles with actual cayenne and cinnamon turned out a touch too spice for my taste. The wasabi-ginger truffles weren't as bad as they sound, but ginger truffles without wasabi would be better. Most surprisingly, the earl grey tea truffles were delicious! Yum.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Happy New Year!

My 2007 isn't starting promisingly. I caught a cold a few days before new years and then it developed into laryngitis. Today was my first migraine of the year and the quarter hasn't even started.

When I worked at the science center I developed laryngitis almost any time I got a cold. On a physical level this was probably from stressing my voice by talking all day, but on an emotional/psychic level I think my body developed this as a defense mechanism. Despite officially having sick days I was frequently guilt tripped by my boss into working while sick. Since my job involved a lot of talking if I lost my voice I couldn't work. This theory doesn't explain my current case since I haven't been working or talking all that much.

The migraines seem to be triggered by stress/anxiety. Yesterday I spent way too much time thinking about my job prospects and degree plans. Beorn is currently an undergrad but wants to go to grad school ASAP. If he applies next fall we might be moving to another part of the country during the summer of 2008. It seems unlikely that I would be finished with my PhD at that point. Even if I was, I would want to be looking for academic jobs, not following him to grad school. So my thought recently has been to finish my masters degree and spend some time working. This frightens me because I don't want to get stuck in the wrong job. So I start thinking that I need to take more classes and collect more job skills. Really my problem is focus, if I could just decide what type of job I really want, I might be more able to get the skills I need to get that job. Unfortunately, I'm always conflicted between going for my ideal job and going for the safe job. This is how my anxiety works, it gets me going around in circles, until I give myself a migraine.

So I spent the day taking doses of Imitrex. Imitrex works sometimes, but I usually feel worse for about an hour before it gets better. Then if the first dose doesn't work, after two hours, you can take a second dose. After the second dose took effect I felt exhausted and laid down for a nap. Lucky for me I didn't have anything important to do today. It got me thinking though, there really isn't an effective medication for preventing migraines and while the Imitrex cuts the migraine short (otherwise they frequently last 24-48 hours) it still takes a big chuck out of my day. There really isn't an effective prevention medication. The only realistic solution? Exercise.

So that's my new year's resolution, to exercise regularly. A number of studies have shown regular exercise to reduce migraine frequency by around 50%. It's also shown to significantly reduce anxiety and depression symptoms. Exercise for mental health and pain reduction! Part of me still hopes to lose a bunch of weight, but I'm trying to put that out of my mind.