Saturday, December 31, 2005

Looking back

  • Biggest failure of 2005: Excessive eating and lax exercising leading to weight gain.
  • Biggest non-event of 2005: Baby, what baby?
  • Biggest research acheivement of 2005: Submitting my first paper for publication.
  • Biggest professional acheivment of 2005: Gaining valuable teaching experience with first college course and teacher-development workshop.
  • Biggest marriage acheivement of 2005: Getting through the first 3 months of the year.
  • Biggest personal acheivement of 2005: Maintaining this blog for 8 months.
All in all, I'd give this year an 8 professionally and a 5 personally. It had a lot of triumphs professionally and a fair number of tribulations personally. Maybe too often I avoided problems at home by diving into work, or maybe the all-consuming nature of graduate school caused those problems to swell in the first place. But I will end the year on a good note: Husband has been offered a job.

Friday, December 30, 2005

“For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong.” - H.L. Mencken

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


The creek near my house on December 22. It's even higher right now.

Today we are having floods throughout my state. We're experiencing what is called a "pineapple express" where a warm, wet air mass moves up from the southwest and drenches us with rain. When a pineapple express hits on top of low-elevation snow, that's when we get the biggest floods. Right now actually the rivers are bit a lower than predicted, but plenty of them are over the banks and causing headaches for drivers and home-owners in low-lying areas. And forecasters are predicting two more rain events by the new year.

So what is a flood? For most people, a flood is when a river overtops its banks and threatens or damages homes, roads, and property. For scientists however, only the first part is necessary. A flood is any water level that overtops the banks of the stream or other water body and submerges normally dry ground.

How often do floods occur? Using the scientific definition, most natural streams spill out of their channels every 1-2 years. In urban areas where parking lots, rooftops, and storm sewers have increased impervious surface area, reduced the infiltration capacity of the soil, and routed water rapidly to the stream, floods often occur multiple times per year. Similarly, agricultural areas with extensive tile drainage systems may experience greater magnitude floods more frequently than under natural conditions.

What is meant by a 10-year flood? How about a 500-year flood? A 10 year flood has a discharge that has the probability of occuring once every 10 years. The same idea with a 500-year flood. So a 10 year flood has a 10% probability each year, while a 500 year flood has a 0.2% probability. Frequently, these numbers are misunderstood. There have been numerous instances of journalists, politicians, and the general public saying things like: "Last year we had a 500 year flood, so we won't have another one for a long time." That's wrong. If you had a 500 year flood last year, this year you have the same probability of having one (0.2%). Thus, you can have 10 year floods 4 years in a row, or 500 year floods twice in a decade. But on average, you will have 1 10-year flood in a 10-year period.

How are these probabilities calculated? The probability of a flood of a given magnitude is calculated by looking at the historical record of streamflow for a given site. The highest flows for each year are sorted, ranked, and divided by the number of years in the record plus 1. The magnitude of the flows and their exceedance probabilities are then to fit a curve, which can be interpolated or extrapolated to get probabilities not represented in the original data.

How accurate are the calculations? While these calculations tend to be fairly robust for high probability events, there are several problems with estimates of low probability event magnitudes. First off, the records at most gauging stations are no more than 40-70 years long, which means that magnitudes of 100-year and 500-year floods are almost always beyond the range of observed data. And slight variations in how the extrapolation is done can lead to very different estimates of the streamflow. Compounding these uncertainties, very few watersheds (particularly those of interest to the general public) have been free of land-use changes during the period of historical data. Any changes within the watershed (urbanization, road building, agricultural drainage, reservoirs) will change the way water is routed to the stream, and consequently, change the distribution of flood magnitudes. Finally, the United States Geological Survey has current gauging sites on ~7000 streams in the United States. That means that the flood frequency calculations for many sites are based on regionally-calibrated models, not from data on the stream itself.

Filling in the picture: Based on data from nearby USGS gages, my little stream is experiencing a 1-2 year flood right now. But as you can see, the channel isn't very natural (note the submerged saplings from a restoration project a year ago) and my stream gets extensive storm sewer runoff, some of which comes from outside its natural watershed. When you combine those factors, it could be that the stream and surrounding areas (as well as all the plants and critters) are now getting deluged on an annual basis with what might once have occurred (on average) once every 5-10 years.

For more information: USGS National Streamflow Information Program; Floods Q&A; Flood Frequency Analysis Tutorial (math-intensive)

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Waves of writing

Over at Living the Scientific Life, Hedwig has written an excellent piece summarizing the state our scientific knowledge about the 2004 Great Sumatra-Andaman earthquake and the resulting tsunami that left over 300,000 people dead. I added extensive comments, in lieu of a post here today. So go over and read her piece and then browse the rest of her fabulous site.

Monday, December 26, 2005

for love of books

Every year since before I can remember, I have gotten books for Christmas. And every year that I've given gifts, I've given someone a book. Christmas Day, as a kid, was a chance to lose myself into a new book. As an adult, my Christmas book was treasured on the plane flight returning from the Midwest to wherever I was living at the time. This year, since I didn't travel for the first time, I haven't had much of a chance to read my Christmas books (to left).

I wish I had more time to read for fun, but for the past few years, scientific literature has taken almost all of my reading bandwidth. I'm so bad that when I want a little light reading before bedtime, I'll open up my professional society's weekly newsletter. Partially this malaise is due to my reading style, which borders on obsessive.

Usually come vacation time, I'll devour a book or two to compensate from my normal paucity of literature. When I start reading fiction, I read for hours at a time. Often, I'll start reading a book at 8 pm, and I'll read until 1-2 am, waking at 8 am to finish reading by early afternoon. During that time I won't eat or shower or even talk to anyone. After the last page, I wander around in a daze for a while just trying to get closure on the book and prepare my mind for returning to the real world. The last book I had a chance to read a good book in that manner was Harry Potter 6. When I can't read fiction or literature all at once, I don't tend to be very good at reading it all. In the past year, I've given up on Sometimes a Great Notion and I'm currently stuck on Reading Lolita in Tehran. It's not that they are not great reads, I know they are, it's just that I haven't been able to give them the chunks of time that they deserve and that I need to surrender to the world in the book.

And that's the beauty of non-fiction. By it's very nature it's not as escapist as literature, and often times it doesn't need to be read linearly. I can open to a chapter or a page, read for a few minutes at breakfast or in the bathroom, learn something, and then proceed to mull it over during the course of my day. For example, last night I read a section in Boundaries of Her Body about the mixed bag of judicial rulings on whether a woman can refuse medical treatment that might save the life of her fetus. Sure, the discussion might make more sense if I had it in the context of the preceding 250 pages, but it was interesting and thought-provoking nevertheless.

I hope that someday I can once again devour a book a week, or a day, escaping into the words of great writers who weave their tales so beautifully. But until then, until I can give the wordsmiths justice, I'll take my non-fiction. Just the facts, ma'am.

P.S. I know that Reading Lolita is actually a memoir, but it reads like a novel, so I've intentionally miscategorized it above.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!

To all my friends near and far, in-person and virtual, I hope your day has been filled with joyful noise and peaceful quiet, solitude and companionship, and all that you hold dear.

Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year, and I've been trying to figure out why. I think it's the sense of anticipation in the lead-up to Christmas. The sense that something new and wonderful and exciting is going to happen. There will be presents to be unwrapped and carols to be sung and feasts to be eaten and church to attend... The actual Christmas Day doesn't have to be spectacular (as a kid, I just spent the day in my jammies devouring the books I'd been given), because that sense of anticipation is what delights me in Christmas.

My husband says that his favorite part of Christmas is buying presents for people. He says that it's not that he has creative ideas or anything, but that once he figures something out for his family and friends, he knows that it will make them happy. (And, husband, my boots are fabulous). My mom likes the carols and the return of the sun with the solstice, and the fact that its a break between semesters is pretty nice too. My cousin likes how Christmas time is the culmination of the year and a new beginning for the next year. My 7 month old niece couldn't tell me what she likes best, but she thought the sweet potatoes were pretty wonderful. And my dog likes having everyone home and our extra-long walks.

As you reflect on this Christmas and those in your past, what is your favorite part of Christmas?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

mom's here - mum's the word

I'm not keen about her finding out about my alter ego so I'll probably be a bit quieter than normal for the next week.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

polar bears and penguins

Dear Coca-Cola Company,

While I have been known to enjoy your products, and never those of your competitor, I am saddened by the misinformation you are spreading in your current advertising campaign. I am referring to the television spot in which you show a family of polar bears who espy a partying penguins and slide down the hill to join the merriment. It's a very cute advert, but is totally factually wrong. And it contributes to the misconceptions I see my students exhibit. For this reason, I am asking you to correct your advertisement and make amends by providing some educational material about polar bears.

First off, what's wrong? It's very simple really. Polar bears only live in the Arctic (the northern Hemisphere), while penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere, principally the Antarctic. Thus, the chances of a wild polar bear happening on a penguin are zero. Maybe you are saying that everyone already knows that, why does it matter if we take a little creative license with our art? Because, sadly, not everyone knows this. I had a student who suggested in a paper that the native peoples of Antarctica would do well to make clothing out of polar bear skins.

If you don't believe me, ask others. Here's a quote from Polar Bears International:
One final misconception is that polar bears live at both poles. The belief is common among school children, who grow up seeing illustrations of penguins and polar bears together. Polar bears, of course, live only in the circumpolar North. They never encounter penguins, which do not live in the same regions as polar bears.
Polar bears are a potentially endangered species, with an estimated population of 22,000 to 25,000 worldwide, about 60% of which live in Canada. Most sport hunting is now banned by international treaty, but polar bears face increasing threat from shrinking Arctic sea ice as a result of anthropogenic climate change. Polar bears also have high levels of PCBs and other pollutants in their bodies as a result of the distillation of atmospheric pollutants from all over the world. These pollutants may be the cause of higher juvenile mortality rates and suppressed immune system functions.

One of my earliest memories is of a trip to Churchill, Manitoba when I was four. We saw polar bears along the shore of Hudson Bay, and I slid down a slide shaped like a polar bear. I especially remember a post card of a polar bear looking in the window of our hotel. The next time I saw a polar bear in the wild was at age 23 from a plane window on the ice south of Ellesmere Island. These are memories I will always cherish. But most people will never see a polar bear in the wild, which is why they need the images that they see on TV to be truthful. And that's where Coca Cola Company has a responsibility to their customers.

By choosing to use the polar bear as your corporate mascot, you also chose to tie your company's fortunes to that species. Endangerment or extinction of your mascot would be bad PR. Instead, create some good public relations and media for your company. Start with the simple: Polar bears live at the North Pole, while penguins live in the south. Then tackle the more complex: Educate the public about the threats facing polar bears. Adjust your corporate operations (manufacturing, marketing, etc.) to reduce Coca Cola's impact on the Arctic and on polar bears. Lead by example, and future generations of children will know the magic of the bears.

Monday, December 19, 2005

wisdom of the tea

My tea bag tells me: "He who has begun has half done. Dare to be wise; begin!" (Horace)

Seems like an appropriate message to someone who has been procrastinating on reviewing a paper. I guess I'll get to work. Talk to you once it's done.

Friday, December 16, 2005

reindeer games

The complete selection of Christmas seen over at *statgirl*

You Are Donner

The most loveable and sweet reindeer, you're also a total dork!

Why You're Naughty: You keep (accidentally) tripping the other reindeer while flying.

Why You're Nice: You're always smiling, even if you've fallen flat on your horns.

I'd like to think I'm loveable, and I sure am a klutz.

You Are "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth"

Gee, if I could only
Have my two front teeth,
Then I could wish you
"Merry Christmas."

At Christmas, you are a happy soul who's easy to please.
You're biggest concern is making those around you smile.

Hmm...this one fails to capture the selfish side of me that comes out at Christmas, when I lust for new things and just want down time for myself...everyone else be damned. But then again, I do love Christmas carols and cookies.

You Are a Losing Lottery Ticket!

Full of hope and promise.
But in the end, a cheap letdown.

I actually got one of those from my in-laws a few years back. But the jackpot was >$100 million, so one uncle bought them for the whole family. It was kind of fun to think of the possibilities and kind of scary to think what a winning ticket might have done to the family. I'm glad no one won.

Your Christmas is Most Like: A Very Brady Christmas

For you, it's all about sharing times with family.
Even if you all get a bit cheesy at times.

I'd say that one's probably pretty accurate.

Merry Christmas!

a little light reading

Here I am, minding my own business, enjoying a day of clean up and job applications in celebration of yesterday's submission, and my advisor walks in. Now, normally this is a very good thing. But today, I got two Christmas presents in the form of a 300-page consultant's report relevant to my field site and a paper to review by early next week. (My advisor has been promising to teach me to review papers for some time, so I'm not entirely surprised.) So I guess those things will be my weekend reading.

There are a fair number of other fun but quasi-work-related things I'd like to read this weekend:
And I know there's lots more. It's just that I've got a lot of reading (and some writing to do). Have a good weekend.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

submission never felt so good

My first-ever, first-author manuscript is now officially submitted. I'm a bundle of nervous energy. I'm going to the gym...a good way to burn off energy plus early penance for tonights cookie exchange.

formatting references sucks

Pardon my language, but I now know why some authors limit their citations to a small list of articles rather than doing an extensive lit. rev. This is basically the last thing I have to do before the submitting the paper, and it is way worse than I thought it was going to be.

The society to whom I'm submitting says that journal titles should be abbreviated according to the Chemical Abstracts Service Source Index. Which is fine, except that I can't get access to it via the web. So I am forced to paw through other papers published in my target journal and see if I can find the words abbreviated there. But that doesn't help with everything. For example, how would you abbreviate Letters? Lett.? How about analytical? or report?


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Advice to a young grad student

Some modest advice for graduate students just got passed around our department (by a professor no less). I think Stearns has done an admirable job in being truthful about the realities of graduate school in the sciences. Much of what he states I've had to learn from experience. But I'd like to add a few points:

Good science takes time.
Either spend 60+ hour weeks for a few years or 40 hour weeks for a lot of years (or unfortunately, 60+ hour weeks for a lot of years). Plan on experiments, field work, and writing to take much longer than you anticipated. Plan on pursuing a lot of dead ends before you make something work. I once read that you should budget one third of your time to planning a field campaign. For example, if you anticipate 2 months of field work, plan on a month getting equipment ready, devising sampling strategies, making travel arrangements, looking at maps.... Read relevant journal articles more than once - you will always miss something the first time. Go through multiple revisions with the other authors of a paper before submitting it. Expect that the time from writing first (nearly-complete) draft of your first paper to submitting your first paper to be several months longer than you anticipated.

Make friends of your fellow grad students.
Your fellow grad student friends are the only ones who will understand what you are going through. Faculty members have either forgotten or repainted their memories with rose-colored glasses. Family members will wonder why you are "still in school" and why you don't " just get a real job." Friends from high school and college will get good paying jobs, marry, and have babies while you are "still in school."

Your grad student colleagues will be there to share late night pizzas and mid-afternoon coffees. They will listen to you vent about committee deadlines, broken lab equipment, and stupid classes, as long as you take your turn listening. More importantly for your career, they are often willing to offer occasional field assistance, proofreadering, constructive criticism, and collaboration. Again, you must take your turn helping, but in the end a few hours spent prepping someone else's samples or ripping apart a paper may net you a life-long collaborator. And don't limit yourself to only those in your lab group, look for people in complementary fields. They'll bring a different set of expertise and perspective to your work.

Don't forget the big picture.
In the throes of thesis work, it is all too easy to get lost in the details of your specific experiment, theory, or field site. Force yourself to step back every once in a while and put your work in context. How does it advance our understanding of the way the world works? How does it solve a problem for society? How is it not limited to a specific, unique place or species? Try to write the introduction to a planned paper. If you are left feeling like it is only a minor contribution not deserving of your field's attention, then you've probably forgotten the big picture.

I'll add more as I get a chance. I'm going home to bake cookies and play with the dog.

the ultimate time waster

As seen at it's probably me and doubtless others before that.

10 Random things you might not know about me
  1. When I was a child, my favorite color was pink. Then I read Anne of Green Gables...
  2. I don't drink coffee
  3. I have a weakness for good ice cream
  4. When I read journal articles for the first time, I tend to skip the equations
  5. At one time, I intended to go to law school
  6. I used to be a vegetarian, but my husband likes meat and he likes to cook
  7. My grandfather built wooden saiboats and played the organ
  8. I have ancestors that lived in the 13 colonies
  9. I didn't start liking the outdoors until late in high school
  10. I listened to goth and industrial music in high school

9 Places I've Visited
  1. Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia - during a flood
  2. Ellesmere Island, Nunavat, Canada - north of the north magnetic pole
  3. Baraboo, Wisconsin - home of circus world
  4. the Tongariro Crossing near Taupo on the north island of New Zealand
  5. Uppsala, Sweden in December
  6. a small town on the prairie where you can see the August thunderstorms rolling in for 50 miles
  7. Pocahontas County, West Virginia - the most rural county in the state
  8. Akureyri, Iceland - the second largest city in the country, population 15,000
  9. Mt. Desert Island, Maine - where my commute was a 2 mile bike ride through National Park

8 ways to win my heart
  1. Give me good chocolate
  2. Do something totally uncalled for that makes my life easier
  3. Go with me for a hike in the woods with my dog
  4. Give me a good night kiss and bring me a glass of water for my bedside table
  5. Make me laugh
  6. Give me a hug
  7. Be a good listener
  8. Be nice to me
7 things I want to do before I die
  1. raft the Grand Canyon
  2. finish my Ph.D.
  3. stop caring what other people think of me
  4. raise kids
  5. set some major physical activity goal for myself and succeed at it (climb a high peak, run a marathon, hike the appalachian trail)
  6. finish a Sunday New York Times Crossword Puzzle - with no cheating or help
  7. play in an orchestra again
6 things I'm afraid of:
  1. snakes
  2. crocodiles
  3. being so demanding that no one could live with me
  4. losing my mother or my brother
  5. losing my husband
  6. my dog getting run over
5 things I don't like
  1. false sincerity
  2. male chauvinism
  3. People who have unchangeable opinions but don't know the facts. And don't care.
  4. Students who are convinced that they are no good at math (or can't write) and are unwilling to give it a try.
  5. being short on sleep
4 ways to turn me off
  1. stay home on all day while I work but don't walk the dog or clean the house
  2. look down your nose at me
  3. lie to me
  4. disparage my views and interests
3 things I do every day
  1. cuddle with my dog and husband, or at least think cuddly thoughts
  2. take my temperature
  3. drink water
2 things that make me happy
  1. bright sunny winter days when I have time to get outside
  2. live performances of classical music
1 thing on my mind right now
  1. How to balance what is best for my career, with what is best for Husband and I as people, in face of uncertain options and conflicting time lines
Time to completion: 2.5 hours of intermittent work

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

home again, home again...

I'm back now in the PNW - home to a messy house, another air stagnation advisory, a pile of contacts to follow up on, but best of all an excitable furry dog and a loving husband. I'm taking today off because I haven't had a day to myself for over two weeks, and I could use the relaxation time. But mostly I need time to switch gears, readjust to home life, and try to start figuring out how to get my husband out of his funk. I think my near total absence for 2 weeks ago and then my absolute absence for 8 days has allowed him to slide into the abyss. He's still jobless, has gotten a few official rejections now, his grandfather is in the hospital in Midwest and hasn't got long to live, and my mom is coming to visit for Christmas. He says he hasn't been sleeping, he's been irritiable with the dog, and did I mention that the house is basically a disaster?

So last night he drove to the big city to pick me up at the airport and we talked seriously for a while on the car ride home. And I'm worried about him. I wonder whether he's slipping into depression. And yes, I know that if he is depressed, he'll need professional help. But for the moment, I think I will see if I can get him moving a bit. I know that I always feel better if I've got something to do. So I roused him at ten, we ate breakfast together and straightened the Christmas tree. Then I caught up on email and bills while he watched TV. Around lunch time, his mom called with an update on his grandpa, he started cooking a pot roast, and we just came back from a big shopping trip. Now, I've ordered him out to fill out an application for a temp agency (his choice, not mine, I'm just imposing follow through). When he gets home, we'll make Chex mix (a Christmas favorite of his), decorate the tree, and maybe rent a movie for the evening. He loves The Santa Clause.

On a happier note, I got asked for letters of reccommendation for UWIRWTW.

Friday, December 09, 2005

i do not heart blogger

I have been having awful problems with posting to blogger this week. Apparently I'm not the only one having problems. Just thought I'd offer a word of explanation for yesterday's terrible formatting.

more postcards

• in your research statement - be specific enough that the search committee
knows that you know what you are talking about but not so techincal that they
can't understand the jargon and may think that it is not a big idea. If you can
you could say "et al and et al have said this but my data make me think this..."
that will be persuasive that you have a good idea and know what you are talking
• if you get one job interested in you, you should be sure to let the places you
are interested in working know that you have a competing offer/expression of
interest. For some reason, that will increase everyone's desire to employ you.
Of course, the trick is getting that first fish on the hook. (pardon the
• a friend of mine has been able to nicely summarize one science thing that she
has learned each day of the conference...I've been trying to sit in talks and
figure out how to remember the 1 thing I've learned. I did well yesterday, but
today was a wash.
• I've been encouraged to apply for an Ivy League job by a faculty member in the
department. Not a post-doc mind you, but a TT job. And in that related
engineering field. It seems so ridiculous, but what the hell.
• I gave my talk today and I had a bad bad case of the nerves. In me these
nerves cause a tightness and tickle of the throat that leads to spasmodic
coughing. Not as bad as last time, but still rather embarrasing. I knew it was
going to happen and I still couldn't talk my brain/body out of it.
• But after the talk, while watching another nervous grad student present, I
compiled a list of the most common symptoms of stage fright:
o coughing (check!)
o talking very very quickly (I don't think I do?)
o wild laser pointer behavior (No!)
o apologizing when you mis-speak or pause (hopefully not too much)
o blushing (likely)
o profusely sweating (yes, unfortunately)
o umms and errs (no?)
o tongue clicks
• last night's conversation with potential prestigious post-doc advisor seemed
to go very well, although we didn't get to really concrete plans. And
unfortunately the next NSF proposal deadline in my field isn't for 6 months.
And the reprecussion of that is that I wouldn't know whether or not our
proposal got funded until around the time of my defense....which means that I
would either be facing the possibility of unemployment, or having to take a
second-choice post-doc. I suppose I might get an actual job, but that's feeling
very remote right now. I can totally empathize with Ms. PhD and her math/month
thinking right now.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

postcards from the edge (i mean, conference)

First and foremost, I want a hidden tape recorder or a mind that worked like one. There's so much being said so fast and sometimes I realize I miss things even as they're happening. Since one can't pause real conversations, it would be so helpful to be able to go back over them... pausing, rewinding, and fast-forwarding as necessary. Do you think I could get a mini-tape-recorder in place it in my bag? Would that be unethical or just absurd?

And then in no particular order:
  • best quote: Attributed to Jane Doe as a comment on a paper draft: "The work is in the past, the paper is in the present, and god knows what the future holds." (If you want to know who Jane Doe is, you'll have to email me (science dot woman at hotmail dot com) because it'll give away my -ology.
  • # of society award winners: 9, number of females: 2 (one of whom was my undergrad thesis advisor)
  • # of new society fellows: 43, number of females: 7 (plus/minus a few where I am too unfamiliar with the name to assign a gender)
  • most frequently heard job advice: get a post-doc, preferably someplace prestigious, and get a few publications out, then start hoping
  • but don't get too many pubs out because you'll need some of your Ph.D. or postdoc pubs to count towards your tenure quota.
  • in your cover letter, mention specific people with who you would envision collaborating
More later, I'm going for a beer...

big city, bright lights

Yesterday, I was enjoying some of the niceties of city life, good chocolate, good bookstores, good tea...but then last night I tossed and turned because everytime I would get to sleep a loud noise from the street below would reawaken me. So, for the moment at least, I'll take my culturally-deficient small town life - especially my very quiet deadend street, where I sleep all night with only Husband and dog to disturb me.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

5 grad students in a hotel room...

all with laptops with wireless. all browsing science websites. Can you say "nerds?" Gosh, I wish I could tell you what conversations we're having....

Sunday, December 04, 2005

just can't stay away

despite my best intentions to avoid the office today, I'm here now. Midwest U. wanted preprints/reprints and one of mine was only located on my external hard guessed it, at school.

I still need to write the cover letter, revise the research interests, finish printing. Oh and pack for the conference (turns out my toiletry bag was here too) and write those darn conclusions for my talk. I think I'll sleep on the plane tomorrow.

Speaking of - I am leaving early early tomorrow morning for 8 days for a conference/short course...I'll be bringing the laptop and the new wireless card but I may or may not post much.


I'm about to start working on another round of job applications, and it finally occurred to me that I should go back through all of my transcripts and list out the -ology courses I've taken and how willing I am to teach them. I came up with 12 courses that I would love to teach ranging from the intro class I taught this summer to graduate seminars that exist only in my dreams. Some of them are core courses in any undergraduate major and some are applied science-in-society classes. I can't imagine being asked to teach the whole gamut of them anywhere, because a small department wouldn't have the grad courses and a big one would be more specialized. But it is very reassuring to know that I'd feel relatively comfortable with anything on that list. So I guess I'd should actually get started on those applications then.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

frustration running high

So far today, I have spent 3 hours on the phone with my mother and the airlines going through several iterations of christmas ticket buying (yes, buying tickets several times and then canceling them). For those that know me (and my mom) that alone is enough to merit the post title. But I've also been a wee bit stressed out about the upcomign conference (in case you hadn't noticed), and I really needed the day to finish up the talk, gather my stuff together and get enough done that tomorrow all I have to do is pack. Instead:

8:30-11:30 - plane ticket buying
11:30-1:30 - recovering from above, eating lunch, doing laundry
1:30-2:00 - dealing with flaky roommates for conference (at this point I'd just like a room to myself, no matter the cost)
1:00-3:00 - at the library getting articles from "obscure journal on small particles" which of course is not available on-line. I never go the library, but naturally the one time I need to it is overrun by undergrads cramming for their finals. At least the parking meter was broken.

So now I am here at my office where it is blessedly quiet and I might actually be able to gather my thoughts and figure out what I need to do before I leave. So, to do:
  1. install wireless card and make sure it is working
  2. cancel extraneous hotel reservations and double check all flight times and requisite hotel reservations, incl. getting phone numbers and maps as necessary
  3. write conclusions slide for talk
  4. gather materials needed to apply to Midwest U.
  5. gather last paper drafts so I can make edits
  6. pack up all necessary electronics
  7. organize/hide piles of papers on my desk so I am not overwhelmed when I return
  8. get cash
  9. get gas for my car
  10. read jnl articles from library that may hold key to talk they don't
  11. gather other jnl articles/books so I can review background info before talk
  12. transfer my notes on who I am meeting where and cell phone numbers from random scraps of paper to one organized list
  13. plan schedule for 1st day of conference
  14. drink my chamomile tea
All right, seems like a do-able list for this afternoon...filled with lots of organizing so that I can get work done and very little work actually allotted to be done. Looks like the christmas shopping is going to have to wait until I get back, because tomorrow I need to:
  1. pack
  2. hem pants
  3. apply to Midwest U
  4. keep polishing talk
  5. practice talk?

Friday, December 02, 2005

No Christmas carols here

...despite having added 3 Christmas CD's to my iPod, they didn't make this week's random ten. But it was a pretty interesting mix anyway.
  1. Pancho and Lefty - Emmylou Harris
  2. Are you out there? - Dar Williams (classic teen angst)
  3. Luna - Smashing Pumpkins (I actually don't listen to them that much, they just keep popping up in the shuffle)
  4. Zombie - Cranberries
  5. Better Be Home Soon - Crowded House
  6. Road to Dead - Paula Cole
  7. Where you lead - Carole King
  8. Halcyon & On & On - Orbital
  9. Puff the Magic Dragon - Peter Paul and Mary
  10. This Train Revised - Indigo Girls
I really want to write a post on my childless, married perspective on the latest incarnation of is feminism dead?. BitchPh.D. had an essay that I largely agreed with upon initial reading. However, I have promised myself to improve my critical reading and thinking skills as they apply to things outside of science so I'd like to re-read those posts and some of the other noise on the issue. I wrote about this stuff a few months ago when the NY Times article came out, and I'd like to revisit some of those issues. Just give me a few days to process things, think critically, oh, and do some of that science that I need to do.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

deep breaths

After the beginning of the week being this huge push to get menial data analysis done, I am now at the stage where no more data will be generated, and I have to figure out how to turn a so-so set of results into a compelling story for my talk.

This is made more complicated by two main facts: (1) I am essentially new to the sub-sub-field and am not finding it easy to make the interpretations or even know what things need to be interpreted, (2) while I can present an observed set of phenomena, we really don't know the mechanisms that create the phenomena. So I'm left with "well, we see this, and then this happens, but we don't really know why, but it could be one (or more) of these 10 things..." Which is fine, but not good. And good would be a really nice impression to make. (sigh)

However, even if I were to get no sleep for the next week, and have a brain transplant, we will not know the mechanism any time soon. So that's just the way it's going to be.

Having re-formed the conclusion that the science is only so-so, the stress is gone. Instead it is replaced with a draining of my energy. Who cares about this talk? Not me. I'd rather go back to polishing my manuscript, writing job apps, sleeping...just about anything.

But giving up isn't an option, so I guess I'll go back to working on the powerpoint.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Couldn't have said it better myself

Bitch Ph.D. has an absolutely excellent "radical married feminist manifesto" Bitch Ph.D.. This is required reading. Yes, there will be a quiz.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

lists for me (updated, 12/1 4 pm)

To do this week (or else!)
  1. finish graphs
  2. meet with co-advisor to interpret graphs
  3. now that graphs have been less than exciting, figure out what the hell I am going to talk about
  4. put together powerpoint for conference using results of 1
  5. finalize hotel, travel arrangements for conference and short course (getting there)
  6. apply to Midwest U.
  7. email J,S,G - no lit review (are you kidding?)
  8. implement advisor's edits to manuscript (show why it matters) likely not going to happen until at least saturday
Things standing in my way
  1. sheer lack of hours in the day replaced by apathy, but I am sure that panic will re-enter the picture soon
  2. need to sleep (somewhat mitigated by tremendous amounts of caffeine and nerves)
  3. dentist appointment (11 am thursday)
  4. Dave's defense (must go, friend + relevant to upcoming part of research + leaving for NZ {him not me}) skipped this anyways
  5. volcanogirl's going away party. I wouldn't miss this for the world.
To do by early next week (yes, while I am at the conference)
  1. submit manuscript
  2. monthly goals and accomplishments
  3. send invoice to ed. district
  4. apply to New England, Rust Belt
To do in real imaginary life
  1. hem pants for conference
  2. do laundry again
  3. pack
  4. buy those boots
  5. start chirstmas cards
TBA (to blog about) at some point in the distant future
  1. coca cola bears
  2. mammoths
  3. my footprint
  4. real climate
  5. when did it start?

job search advice

As much as I desperately want to write for my blog, I need to keep working on these darn excel graphs. So instead I give you a sampling of recent thoughts and advice on the job search: After dispensing some job search advice, Mon proves its worth by announcing her hire. Congratulations, Mon. YoungFemaleScientist is musing on the roles of aggressiveness, patience and innovation play in determining your job outcome.  Out of the archives of Dr. Crazy, advice on how to make a search committee hate you. Dean Dad and commenters are discussing a hypothetical, "who would you hire?"

I've got a few more questions though:
I'm getting the feeling that if I don't get asked for letters of recc. within a few weeks of the search closing, that I didn't make the first cut. True?
Should I apply for a job that in a place and/or at a school that I can only see myself being happy at for a few years, not a lifetime?

Actually, I have a lot more questions, but my brain is frazzled right now.  Keep the good advice coming...

Monday, November 28, 2005

the most tedious of days

All I've done in the past 10 hours is work with Excel. And I haven't even finished another graph (although I'm getting closer). This is awful.

The conference is less than a week away, and I haven't even started working on my talk. Because I still don't have the data to put in it! How did I get in this situation?

Avoidance of reality catches up with you sometime I guess.

apparently, pink is not my color

Of course, I learned that from reading anne of green gables. Anyways, by way of Ms PhD:

Your Blog Should Be Green

Your blog is smart and thoughtful - not a lot of fluff.
You enjoy a good discussion, especially if it involves picking apart ideas.
However, you tend to get easily annoyed by any thoughtless comments in your blog.

Sometime when I get a chance (insert laughter), I'd like to move away from the generic blogger template, but I'm having difficulty making things look the way I want. I'm thinking about widening the blog column so my posts don't appear dauntingly long and/or adding a second sidebar for fun things like books and stats...Any suggestions? Should I go green? Should I figure out how to use haloscan? Suggestions that include how-tos for technical stuff would be particularly appreciated.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

message on my tea bag

To me the quotes on the tea bags are one more reason to love Good Earth tea. As I'm writing cover letters on job apps today, the message from my tea cup is:

"The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance." - Socrates

Did Socrates get it right?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

mission accomplished

After years of failure, I succeeded in buying nothing yesterday. And husband succeeded too. I'll admit that we did a little rearrangement of grocery shopping plans in order to succeed, but I know we'll be mall free all weekend.

Current mail madness tally: 2 catalogs stopped, 0 cards sent.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Music for Excel-ing

  1. It Ain't Me Babe - Bob Dylan
  2. Fare Thee Well - Indigo Girls
  3. Sympathy for the Devil - Rolling Stones
  4. 99 Red Balloons - Nena (wish I had the Deutsch version)
  5. Train Wreck - Sarah McLachlan
  6. One Love - Prodigy
  7. Me and a Gun - Tori Amos
  8. Hey Jude - The Beatles
  9. Girl from Mars - Ash
  10. Medellia of the Gray Skies - Smashing Pumpkins


(In the bustle of yesterday's cooking, cleaning, eating, and napping, I didn't get to the computer much. So in short order today, I promise to have three seasonally-appropriate posts. This is 3 of 3, see also the two previous posts).

The next month is the season of gluttony. We kicked it off with a bang yesterday, by collectively pigging out. Today, it kicks into good old American retail mode, with the super sales and shopping frenzy. Bootstrap analysis has been doing a good job of exposing some of the sad consequences of our consumer culture. I'm going to blatantly borrow a few ideas from her, just to give them more exposure.

First off, today is Buy Nothing Day. For 24 hours we are to forgo the sales and the shopping and the wanting and the getting and just be happy with what we have. I've tried this in the past, with limited the success. The closest I came was one year in college when I only bought a 1/2 gallon of milk. The worst was a year when I bought a car. Today, though, I think I am going to make it. I'm home now, and in an hour I'm heading over to S's house to hang out and eat leftovers. Then I'm going to school and then I'm coming home. We rented movies yesterday that should get us through the weekend, and I've been making fun of Husband every time he suggests shopping.

Bootstrap analysis also alerts us to the fact that our holiday card giving traditions are a massive use of paper and even extra gasoline to get them from Here to There. She advocates not sending cards. But my envelopes are already addressed and I like writing and sending real, snail-mail letters at least once of year. So here's my proposal: For every holiday card I send, I will remove myself from at least one junk-mail list. Fortunately, Bootstrap analysis has done the hard work for me, and provided contact info for common mass mailers. So far my total: 0 cards sent, 1 catalog unsubscribed, and I added my name to the DMA mail preference service.

I'll keep you posted on my not-buying and unsubscribing activities. I challenge you to keep up with me.


(In the bustle of yesterday's cooking, cleaning, eating, and napping, I didn't get to the computer much. So in short order today, I promise to have three seasonally-appropriate posts. This is 2 of 3, see also the previous post)

I arrived in the kitchen yesterday morning at 8 am. Dinner was at 6:30 pm. In the intervening 10.5 hours I was never far from the kitchen, and I loved it. Here's what we made and ate and ate

Husband: turkey with stuffing, more stuffing, mashed potatos, crescent rolls
Me: pumpkin pie, squash, wild rice, green salad, fruit salad
Cousins: pecan pie (they have a 5 month old, so they're excused)
The liquor store: pinot gris and port

So we had 4 for dinner and food for 12. Just the way it should be. And afterward, we sat in the living room, drank port, and told stories. And then we each ate 2 slices of pie with ice cream and whipped cream. And then we went to bed. I will confess, that I didn't sleep particularly well. I had a stomach ache, but I think that was in large part due to all the port.

But the best part of the dinner, was the abundance of local and/or organic food. It made the feasting less guilty feeling. We had a natural, free-range turkey from a local farmer. The squash, potatoes, onions, green onions, carrots, and apples were all from a local organic farm. The pumpkin was grown in a backyard down the street. Some of the tomatoes were from our garden. The wild rice was organic. Sure, the crescent rolls were straight from the pillsbury laboratory and the pie crust, well, that was too. But we did better than we ever have before. And the food tasted even better for it.

I hope your meals were just as tasy.


(In the bustle of yesterday's cooking, cleaning, eating, and napping, I didn't get to the computer much. So in short order today, I promise to have three seasonally-appropriate posts.)

I am thankful for:
  • my husband. He's my best friend and my lover, the one who puts up with my dizzying workload and mood swings, tucks me into bed at night, and cooks me breakfast on Sunday mornings. I can't imagine my life without him.
  • my family. They make me who I am. My mom, my brother, and I are closer than most families, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I am forging an adult relationship with my father, and I can now say that I wouldn't want life without him in it. And my extended family, crazy as they are,knows the same stories, has the same quirks, and laughs at the same jokes.
  • my education. I have learned so much in school. Not just about my -ology, but about history, politics, music,writing, literature, economics... My pre-college education gave me the fire to learn more and go to a place that would challenge me. My undergraduate years sure challenged me, but they also made me a person that can understand the stories behind the news, they exposed me to new cultures, and they introduced me to wonderful new people. My master's degree forced me to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up and gave me the real-world experience that my undergrad ivy-clad halls shielded me from. And my Ph.D. years, well they've been the best in my life, personally and professionally.
  • my dog. Unconditional love, someone who's ecstatic to see me every day, a reason to get up in the morning, a space heater for a cold bed, the force that makes me get outside and get moving...
  • my mom. I know I already listed my family, but my mom deserves special mention for being a role model of a strong woman and a strong scientist. I think because I grew up with her example, my way has been much easier than it would have otherwise been.
  • my friends. Here and far, in-person or virtual. Thanks for your support and encouragement, your funny and sad stories and for letting me have a glimpse into your lives.
  • the opportunities I've had because I was born in the affluent, modern world. Imagine life if you were born in Ethiopia, Bangladesh, or Iran. Or the United States in 1800. I am thankful for living in age and a society where I have almost unlimited opportunities. Sure, the way may still present some obstacles, but they are nothing compared to what might have been.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

good news for me too

Job search update:
  1. I've been thinking about applying to a job in an engineering department at an R1 school. The way they wrote their ad, it seemed like they were open to applicants from a non-engineering background. But I decided to write one of the profs in the department (whom I've met) and get the scoop on whether my background would be appropriate. He wrote back within three hours and said, sure my background is fine, but he strongly suggested that I wouldn't be competitive without a post-doc first. I appreciate his honesty, and now I'm not sure whether to go ahead and send in the application or to save the committee some weed out work. What do you think?
  2. The search chair for another job to which I've been planning apply, just wrote one of my committee members asking her to recommend one of her students for the job. So it sounds like I'd be a good fit and that I might get a "inside" letter of recc. Can't hurt.
  3. Last and best:My recommenders got asked for letters of recommendation from another school. It's an R1 school, and the position has been open for more than a year. But they asked for letters within 2 weeks of me applying. They also mentioned that they were having their next committee meeting Jan 9th, which means I should find out whether or not I'll get an interview by mid to late January.
In other news:
  1. I stayed until 8 last night and was back in at 7:30 this morning (both highly unusual for me), making huge progress on my manuscript. At 11 am I handed off the last (!) draft to my advisor and a proofreader for a once over before submission. It's going to a top journal in my field and, in its current incarnation, concludes with a teaser for my next paper (the paradox explained). I'm hoping to submit it next week, I'll keep you posted.
  2. I have identified the period of 11:30 to 2:30 as my least productive work hours. (See we're right at the beginning of that now.) I do well in the morning and late afternoon/early evening but I just kill time at/after lunch. Now I just need to come up with a strategy for being more productive then, or maybe going to the gym, scheduling meetings, etc.
  3. I finally have an outline for my fast approaching conference talk. Still don't have all the data though, but at least know what data I need to get.
  4. Meeting with my undergrad in 1.5 hours. Haven't read the paper we were going to discuss. Don't plan to. Will work on #3 and waste time per #2 instead. Will then steer the meeting away from said paper and towards selection of parameters instead.
  5. All this progress is making me slightly hyper. Can you tell?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

new classics?

In the current issue of one of the journals in my field, two authors reviewed the most frequently cited articles. Of the top 10 books, the average publication date was 1978 and the youngest book was 1993. Of the top 10 articles (journals, prof. papers), the average publication date was 1967 and the most recent was 1992.

I sent out the article to members of my current and former research group, because last year we'd spent a quarter of our brownbag on classics of the -ology literature. Gainfully employed RaftWoman just wrote back:
"It makes you wonder why there hasn't been much in the way of 'classic'
papers published in the last 20 years. We all have our favorite papers,
& there's certainly been some very good & notable papers in recent
years, but are we getting too specialized for future classics to emerge?

I think you could extend this topic (albeit w/ some modifications) to
include politicians. Will we ever get really good leaders like Kennedy &
Martin Luther King?"
While RaftWoman's take on the subject is thought provoking, my take is a bit different. For one thing, a paper has to have a certain shelf life before it can accumulate the number of citations needed to break into the top ranked paper. For another, I would guess that many truly outstanding (dare I say revolutionary) papers are not immediatelyaccepted by the scientific community. Only when their conclusions are borne out in other studies do they gain the acceptance of "that's just the way the world works." At that point, I would guess that the number of citations starts to climb dramatically as a paper gets cited as introductory material to newer studies. But all of that takes time. My guess is at least 10 years.

yay to interviews

SingleGirl just called me, all excited, because today she's been offered two(!) interviews. Yay Yay Yay. There is life after grad school!

Monday, November 21, 2005

now I've just got to finish my thesis!

another sign that I've got my finger on the pulse of "what's hot" in my field: One of the people I'm thinking about working with for a post-doc is already involved in a project very similar to what I was going to propose we do. Although it makes me sound less original for proposing the topic to him, its possible that we can build on what's already been done and allow me to benefit from some already collected data. Maybe maximize the bang for my post-doc buck?

science fair season already?

Bootstrap Analysis has the single best description of a middle school science fair that I've ever read.  If you've never been to one, or even if you have, I urge you to read her post.  And after you've laughed, consider volunteering to judge your local/regional/state science fair.  Science fairs are the first (and often only) experience many kids have with "doing science" and, believe it or not, I've known several people who years later have cited their interactions with a judge as one of the reasons they stayed interested in science.

the anti-saturday

Sunday was a day of rest, sort of. Well, it was definitely a day of no work. I cleaned some, watched football while folding laundry, took the dog and the husband for a nice long walk, took a nap, and went to a concert. I did not crack open a single journal article or read a single email. And it was nice, once I realized that I really wasn't going to make it back into my office.

WriterChica asked for a review of the new Harry Potter. The movie was a disappointment compared to the book. Granted the book was extraordinarily long, and the movie was only 2.5 hours (including previews), but more than any other HP adaptation this one really felt like lots was left out. No veela or leprechauns, no Percy or Ludo Bagman, and no fog or spiders in the maze. And yet, the director felt it was a good idea to add a totally invented, protracted dragon flying scene. There were more obvious breaks in the action for a humourous episodes. Of course, the whole Yule Ball saga is pretty funny, and does merit a fair amount of attention in the book. But I'd say that the best part of the movie was the glacial landscape around Hogwarts and the ever evolving architecture of the school. At this point the school is very definitely in Scotland, and the director added some nice rocky crags, U shaped profiles, and rocky crags. And Gryffindower was a wonder of architectural improbability. I'll be interested to know what Hedwig thought of the movie, I know she was off to count the birds. How about the rest of you?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Saturday afternoon at the office

I feel incredibly productive right now. I've retooled a figure, rewritten its caption, and rearranged a section of my discussion in response to people's comments. I've also written a paragraph. Don't laugh: at this stage of the paper, I've picked all the low hanging fruit, and this one needed to be written, but just where and how was a vexing question that I've finally solved (I hope). I've also added 7 CDs to my ipod, eaten a nice organic lunch courtesy of the co-op's deli, and drunk ~32 oz of tea. Next up: writing another paragraph. It seems I'd forgotten to discuss Figure 7 in the text. How did so many people (and me so many times) fail to notice this before now. In an hour, I get to go watch Harry Potter. A very satisfying Saturday so far.

saturday morning in the office

I'm here and I'm working. I can think of a million other things I could be doing on a Saturday morning, but in the end, nothing will be more satisfying than coming back on Monday morning with something extra accomplished.

Friday, November 18, 2005

friday's random ten

having joined the ipod crowd a month or so ago and having finally listened to 10 songs on a friday (I took the bus because of the air quality conditions), I can finally post a post sure not to offend anyone. Unless its by my own limited taste in music.

  1. tell her what she wants to know - sam phillips (gilmore girls soundtrack)
  2. 59th street bridge song (feelin' groovy) - simon and garfunkel
  3. hummer - smashing pumpkins
  4. anywhere but here - kd lang
  5. with god on our side - bob dylan
  6. stupid girl - garbage
  7. never is a promise - fiona apple
  8. in the quiet morning - joan baez
  9. absolutely everybody - vanessa amorosi
  10. perfect girl - sarah mclachlan
Back to brain numbing data processing.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Thursday random blog

  1. Today has been much more productive than yesterday. I got my file sizes to be smaller (only 854 columns!), and I learned how to use Macros in Excel. Unfortunately, there's still a tremendous amount of tedium involved. I'm about 1/4 of the way through making my first graph.
  2. One of my favorite parts of the last 2 years of grad school has been my weekly coffee/vent sessions with one of my friends. He's in the same degree program, but a widely different field. He's a bit closer to finishing than I am, but we're both in the job hunting, paper writing, frustrating data analysis mode. We get together at a coffee shop, talk some science, talk some family stuff, but mostly just stream-of-consciousness talk about all of the stuff we are working on and being frustrated by. And, though these sessions can be somewhat stressful (who wants to be reminded of all of the stuff on their plate), they are also so helpful and stress-relieving. Mostly because its a reminder that another person is in the same boat I'm in.
  3. I'm off soon to S's house for "craft night." I'm not sure really why I am going, except that the last few nights have been spent in front of a T.V. and I need a break from that. Last week, I learned to hem my pants, and I have another pair to tackle, but I want to do that in the isolation of my own home, where other people can't see how many mistakes I make. I have to work on a baby blanket for WriterChica, but I want something I can do independent of S's help. So I decided to bring my christmas cards. I'll address the envelopes. Even if I don't get the cards sent this year, I doubt any of my relatives will be moving in the next 5 years. I'm sure I'll get one round of cards sent by then.
  4. Having spent a lot of time soul-searching these past few months, in hopes of writing a compelling and truthful research interests statement, I was really excited to see that this week's issue of a MAJOR science journal includes a series of articles on my chosen area of proposed research. Sure, it means there's already a body of knowledge out there, but it also means that I've been able to accurately diagnose where a "hot" area in the field is. And it's something that I really want to do. Yay, me!
  5. Terry Gross is interviewing Doogie Howser on Fresh Air right now. I had a high school friend who was his doppelganger. Speaking of doppelgangers, at the conference a few weeks ago, I saw someone who looked Exactly like my dad. Even scarier, he shared the same (uncommon) first name.
  6. And that's random enough for now. See ya tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

hardly working

This morning I was all fired up to finally get in a full day's work after being sick. But events (and my own intrinsic laziness) have conspired against me. It's now 3:30 pm and here's what I've accomplished today:
  • walked the dog (husband too sick to face the cold air) on a beautiful fall morning
  • paid for health insurance
  • bought plane tix to next month's conference extravaganza
  • answered some (but never all) emails
  • tinkered with complicated program trying to reduce output file size to a manageable number of columns. Succeeded in multiplying file size (and processing time) by 10.
  • Decorated my office wall with old calendar pictures while waiting for computer to work.
  • Startled at my computer warning me that it was out of hard-drive space (possibly due to humongous files I am creating), I attempted to find files that I could put on CD.
  • Got frustrated because I really have trimmed most of the excess fat from hard drive, so I decided to buy an external hard drive. There goes my laptop portability!
  • Got a flu shot.
  • Bought 160 GB external hard drive, fire wire adapter, wireless internet adapter, and envelopes at campus bookstore and charged to fellowship.
  • Installed hard drive and began moving files.
  • Posted to blogger.
So as you can see, I have found plenty of ways to keep myself busy today. Sadly, none of them contributed to finishing ye olde Ph.D..

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The epidemiology of colds

Feeling good, back at work, getting lots of sleep, moving slowly, and coughing a nice deep chesty cough. That's me. But my subject today is the geography of the onset of the cold season. When I went into Rite-Aid the other day, there was a crowd in the cough and cold aisle, with literally a dozen sick-looking people pondering the dozens of choices for soothing their symptons. Should they take Sudafed PE Nasal Congestion, Sudafed PE Sinus Headache, Robitussin, Dayquil, Nyquil....(my picks so far) And in my office building, I periodically hear the echoing ring of coughs in the hallway.

But I have also noticed that my blogroll has a stuffy nose, sinus headache, and a cough. A partial list of sufferers includes abd me and Astroprof. Some of you may blame the academic season, but how do you explain those of us who are not actively teaching or in classes and actually interact with a very few people on a day to day basis. Even more perplexing, how do you explain friends like Writer Chica and Annie, both of whom are stay-at-home moms. My theory: colds are spreading through the internet. They're viruses!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Rules for being sick together

  1. On the night after the frozen pizza runs out, order excessive amounts of Chinese food to get you through the worst of it.
  2. The sickest person should get some level of TLC from the less sick person. Soon it will be their turn.
  3. The less sick person walks the dog at least once a day. The dog does not understand why she is not getting walked, but she is happy to curl up on the bed with you for 15 hours at a time
  4. Ignore dishes and laundry unless its a crisis.
  5. There is a reason we have cable TV and a DVD collection. Use it.
  6. As you start to feel better, increase your activity level slowly. You want to avoid a relapse.

Relapse is my husband's word of the day. Yesterday he was starting to feel better. He cooked a little, walked the dog, while I lay on the couch (or filled out job applications). Today he is v. sick - fever, awful cough...poor thing. At least it's just a cold, we still haven't turned in our interim emergency health insurance thingy.

imploring your collective wisdom

Oh ye internet geniuses please help me solve this riddle: If I have two ascii files each with 2340 columns and 3254 rows, where I need to multiply the elements and make a graph, how do I do this when Excel only lets me import 256 columns? (I know that a lot of those rows and columns have no data (for example columns: 1-276) but I have to skip them one at a time to open them in excel, and this is very very painful.)

So I have several options at this point:
(a) go about it my painfully tedious way that will take me at least the rest of the afternoon (for this one graph, maybe the first of many)
(b) learn another program that will let me have more than 256 columns at once (but which program?)
(c) query the blog-reading masses, give into the giant coughing fit I just had, and call it a (sick) day

I think I'll go for option (c). So please please provide me with some help.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

vital stats

# of years in college and graduate school: 9
# of degrees: 2 so far
# of different fields: 2
# of years in "real world": 1.5 if you count working ~30 hours per week during my M.S. program

# of faculty job applications submitted: 4 5 ( updated)
# of faculty job applications still to be submitted: ~8
# of post-docs discussed: 2
# of post-docs to be discussed: ~4
# of references asked for: 1 requested + 1 asked for up front
# of interviews: none yet, but it's way early

# of papers in press: 1
# of papers in journal review: 1
# of papers in final throes before submission: 1
# of papers still to be written before degree can be awarded: 2
# of those that still need serious data collection and analysis: 2
# of days before next conference talk: 25

# of cold medicines tried in past week: 4
# of movies and football games watched while laid up this weekend: 4 and counting

All this is to say: I'm still sick but I just submitted the application to UWIRWTW. Just hope there aren't too many cold-induced errors or lapses in judgement.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

rainy Saturday afternoon

Thus far today, my accomplishments consist of:

  • talking to my mom while walking the dog
  • going back to bed and sleeping 'til noon (the cold is a nice excuse)
  • chicken noodle soup straight from the can
  • 2 loads of laundry
  • shopping online for the boots that I am drooling over
  • reading movie reviews and trying to decide whether to go to a matinee
  • being a nerd and IDing the subject of the mystery photo for a contest in a magazine
  • studiously avoiding working on my job applications
  • listening to Praire Home Companion (despite the general sentiments over at BitchPh.D., I really like the show (reminds me of home) but not Garrison's singing)
I think rainy Saturday afternoons are not made for real work. Hope yours are equally enjoyable.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Congratulations, Volcanogirl!

Today volcanogirl rocked her defense. Tonight we party. In January she starts a post-doc at a super-prestigious institution working on an out-of-this-world project. I'm so happy for her.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Thursday's random post

First of all, thanks for all your positive support the past few days...weeks...months. It is so nice to be "surrounded" by empathetic, sympathetic people who really know what I am going through. I do want to emphasize though, as tough as these last few weeks have been, I am so happy with my life right now. My advisor and I were chatting the other day and I told him that the past few years have been the best of my life. I said that without really thinking it through first, but in reflection its really true. Sure, high school had its moments, but once again my mom was right, grad school is the most fun.

And now for, stream of consciousness blogging: I've got a head cold today, no surprise with all of the stress in my life lately. I have lots of ideas for posts but I am trying to hold them in my head and mete them out as I have time to do them well. I'm going to a craft night tonight at S's, but I have no crafts to do. Do job apps count? I just got off the phone with a prof at "University where I really want to work" (UWIRWTW) and it was encouraging, now all I can do is submit the application. It looks like we can buy into the University health plan in January, and they will cover me even if I am already pregnant. Of course, husband slept in the guest room last night so he wouldn't get sick. Tomorrow, volcanogirl defends. Yay, volcanogirl!

To gen(i)e: Sorry I haven't responded to your emails. They warm my heart and when I can write a decent response back I will.

To SingleGirl: When would be a good time to call you this weekend?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

rational baby lust?

Anonymous's comment on my herd of elephants post got me on the defensive but it also made me realize that my wanting a baby may not make sense to an outside observer. So here's my rationale:
  1. I have a fellowship for the 11 months that pays more than double what the average grad student around here makes (one reason you won't hear me complaining about money).
  2. once my husband's unemployment runs out he will settle for anything (Kmart!) that will keep him busy. In the meantime, I'm happy that he can take the time to be a bit more selective. He's only been unemployed 3 weeks. Unfortunately, even if he does land a job soon most of the companies he is interviewing with don't offer health insurance for the first 3 months. So what we really need is coverage to fill in the gap between now and January or so.
  3. I am fairly confident that I will land a post doc or faculty position for next year. And even if I don't land one, my advisor desperately wants to keep me on and has guarenteed money for a post-doc here for me.
  4. The original plan was not to simultaneously have a baby and defend my thesis. Originally, I was going to have a baby with six-nine months to go before my fellowship ran out and I defended. Of course, we started trying over a year ago...
  5. At least for me, given that we've been trying for a year and have a medically confirmed reason that it might take us a long time to get pregnant, having to forgo trying for 4 cycles is incredibly unfortunate.
I respect the comments of Anonymous and others who feel like her. I think if the average grad student came up to me and said "I'm uninsured, with an unemployed husband, and I'm trying to get pregnant," my first reaction would be to think "Are you nuts?"

Science "Nutcase" Woman

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

a herd of elephants

She Falters to Rise warned us that she was going to have an elephant sized day Tuesday, and it turns out that there were enough elephants to go around. I gave a well-received talk today to the federal agency where I might want to work/post-doc, and was treated to a very nice and friendly lunch by people from all 3 of my boundary-spanning fields. Wonderfu,l funny, and kind men who when told that I might go shopping during the remainder of my afternoon in the big city, gave me directions to multiple REI stores. I didn't have the heart (or nerve) to tell them that it was lingerie I was after.

After the seminar and lunch, I met briefly with a potential post-doc mentor. It sounds like he has a project right up my alley ( + "low hanging fruit"), the right time frame, and he'd be happy to work with me. There are only two catches:(1) husband doesn't want to stay in the PNW and (2) the agency is totally strapped for money and federal employees can't apply for NSF type grants (no "double dipping"). So it's questionable whether he'd have the money to fund me. But it was in any case an encouraging conversation, and the first of series of "informational interviews" that I hope to have with possible mentors.

But as I got in the car to leave the big city, I called husband to check in and he gave me some bad news. We are currently uninsured, we can't buy into a student health plan until Jan., and his job search is not going particularly well. So we are looking into private insurances. Anyways, it turns out that as a rule, private insurance will not cover any pregnancy or delivery costs if the baby is born within the first 12 months of the policy. Apparently, it would be termed a pre-existing condition (even with continuous insurance). What crap! I don't know any human gestational period that lasts 12 months. Maybe BitchPhD has something to say on this subject. So tonight we will be having protected sex and for the first time in many months I find myself hoping that I am not pregnant this month. I hate being put in situations like this. ARGGGGHHHH!!!!!

But overall it was a pretty good day. Mastodon sized.

i voted. did you?

Well my "mail-in" ballot is turned in. There were only 2 local issues on the ballot, but somehow I always feel like I need to make the effort to learn a bit about them and then make a decision. Part of being a responsible adult I guess. I wonder how many of our country's flag waving patriots will be voting in tomorrow's elections. Is it good or bad if they don't?

Monday, November 07, 2005

do your reading

In lieu of real content today, I'd like to direct your attention to a spate of recent writings on thought-provoking topics:

Today profgrrrl has been debating the merits of school hopping (i.e. taking a better/different job when it comes along even though one already has a tenure-track job elsewhere).

Dr. Crazy is currently working on a series of posts dealing with teaching strategies at "non-elite" institutions versus those that she philosophically things are ideal and those that she applied as a grad student teaching motivated students.

Dean Dad responded to Dr. Crazy's initial post with some more insights on teaching in context.

YoungFemaleScientist could use your support as she copes with job search stress (don't I know!), uncertain experimental success, and piggish men.

Bootstrap Analysis is reflecting on the exploits of Lewis and Clark and what a remarkable transformation has occurred in the western US since they first saw the mouth of the Columbia River 200 years ago today.

Jo(e) is struggling with shopping and funny smells, and she faces the same awkward pants either too short or too long dilemma that I face.

And, ending on a very light hearted note, science writer and super-mom Writer Chica is laughing her way through her day.

Adventures in Shopping (and other ways to kill a day)

My dad and his wife descended upon our house today for their semi(bi?)-annual afternoon visit. This time it was decided in advance (by them) that husband and dad would work on home improvement and dad's wife would take me shopping. Of course, I had no warning of this until after they had taken us out for a massive brunch. So I was dragged off to the mall for "professional clothes." Apparently it had also already been decided that I must need professional clothes, despite the fact that I have been conscientiously upgrading my wardrobe with just such pieces for the past 6 months and really I could use a pair of jeans and or khakis since I lost (read: split) 2 pairs of these in the past 3 weeks.

Now I'm one of those people who doesn't really enjoying shopping in the best of situations, and our area doesn't have a lot of selection for women's clothing. If you go an hour away, you can do okay, but around here the women professors shop at the outdoor gear store for clothing (I'm not making this up!). Plus, I'm currently having weight issues, and am now wearing S's hand-me-downs from when she was pregnant! No, I'm not pregnant, just eating too much. But I am consciously trying to reduce my impulse and desert eating. I've been avoiding halloween candy and only having one desert per week. So going shopping for "bigger" clothes is in some way admitting defeat, saying that I really will be this side for long enough to need a decent wardrobe.

But I put on my game face and off we went. And we found a few things that will work. Fortunately, dad's wife and I have some similarities in taste in clothing. You wouldn't know it by looking at us, but at least we're of the same opinion about some of the horrible things on the rack at Ross's. The highlights of the trip are a grey cashmere cardigan (my first cashmere!) and an impractical sleeveless top from ross's ($6!).

Now in response to jo(e): At my current weight I feel formless, unfit and borderline unhealthy. The fact that I am at the upper end of the size range of the brands I like doesn't help matters, but it's not the driver of thing 3. I just felt a lot better 20 lbs ago. And you know when you really need to diet when you announce you are dieting and no one (no one!) says: "Oh, but you look so good/skinny/healthy just the way you are." So if you see me, please don't tempt me with chocolate or candy, I have very little willpower when it comes to those things, and I'd really like my new clothes to fit in a year. (or, better, be too big!)

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Ten Things

One of the essayists in Real Simple this month (yuppie me, I know) wrote, in part, about her life list of 100 things to do. It got me thinking this morning in the shower, and I came up with 10. Some are deeply meaningful and others are more frivolous, but they are the first things I came up with, so there must be some method to my madness. I can't remember what order they popped into my head at first, so in no particular order, here are my 10 things:
  1. complete my Ph.D.
  2. have kids
  3. maintain or lower my present weight (excluding while pregnant/postpartum)
  4. learn to roll a whitewater kayak or take up sea kayaking as geographically appropriate
  5. visit all 7 continents (4 to go)
  6. travel to Russia (bonus for seeing Lake Baikal and Kamchatka)
  7. climb a high peak (>10,000 ft?)
  8. keep my environmental ideals in mind as I go about my daily life and act accordingly as reasonable
  9. see an erupting volcano (MSH steam clouds from an airplane don't count)
  10. take concrete steps toward raising awareness of and lessing the occurrence of domestic violence

Friday, November 04, 2005

2 down 1 to go

Just gave a talk to one of the research groups I am affiliated with...really a trial run for
tuesday's big agency talk. But I'm feeling pretty good it about. I've gotten lots of positive feedback and have generated interesting questions from my audience members (all of which I've been able to field pretty well). Wednesday's talk at the conference was apparently a smashing sucess, despite the inauspicious start where I tripped over my backpack and nearly fell off the stage.

Anyways, I'm taking this afternoon mostly off to get a pedicure, haircut and fabric for the next round of bebe blankies. Then tomorrow's a field trip I'm helping lead (hoping for unexpectedly good weather and road conditions), Sunday brings a visit from my dad and his wife, Monday I get to actually get some work done, and Tuesday's the big talk.

I've got to get a bit of work done while I'm on the school network, so better get started, my pedi's in 45 minutes.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


is the name of one my past field sites and also the unifying theme of today's post.

My word of the day is "ensconced": Having spent last night comfortably ensconced in the comfortable and picturesque conference hotel, the graduate student prepared herself for a long evening ensconced in her home office, sitting on a folding chair at a once discarded desk, frantically analyzing data and making pretty powerpoint slides for tomorrow's talk.

My normal laptop is back under my fingers after 33 days since those fateful raindrops hit its keyboard. Consider the lesson very well learned.

The single most useful and (unfortunately) most remarkable part of the conference: The 5 hours of 1 on 1 time spent with my advisor in the car on the way to and fro. We talked postdocs and job apps, research and politics, what it means to be educated and the philosophy of beauty. Thank you, advisor, for a supremely useful and enjoyable car ride. Thank you, powers that be, for arranging it such that we were both on the same schedule for once.

Worst jobs in science

Volcanogirl sent Popular Science's Worst Jobs in Science to me and noted that the #6 worst job in science is volcanologist, presumably because of its high death rate. As a consolation, at least I can say that she's not a #3 (kansas school teacher).

On a related note, S just pointed me to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

I should also note that my profession does not appear on the worst jobs in science list. At the moment I am ensconced at one of the West's grand lodges overlooking a spectacular view and eating (once again) too well and too much. All for a $60 registration and $80 hotel room. One of the major perks of being a student is cheap conference registrations.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

November's goals

Continuing the posting frenzy today: At the change of each month, I write a list of all the things on my plate. (here's last month's list). I'll spare you the details of what I got done this month (because if you've been following the blog you already know) and summarize with: #1, 2 are partially done, #3 was a no show, and #4-9 are done.

For november, I have far fewer things on my list but they are mostly larger tasks.

  1. revise and submit paper (completing October's #1)
  2. apply for another round of jobs (the ones I really want)
  3. get data for talk on 12/8 (working on October's #2)
  4. pull my weight on CL grant (#3 last month)
  5. get my undergrad moving on his thesis

okay back to work

See crap! for the background

I defaulted to reserving a hotel room for the whole week. Don't have much I want to hear the first two days but maybe just maybe one of the places I'm applying for jobs will want to meet with me.

In a moment of additional insanity, I just registered for a short course for the two days following the conference.

Total days: 8


Just got a reminder that conference registration and housing reservations are due on Thursday, but since I will be out of town tomorrow and thursday, that means I have to have them done today. Sounds like no big deal, but it means that I need to peruse the program pretty carefully to figure out which parts of the 6 day extravanganza I want to attend. As I've learned in past years, trying to go for the whole conference is a sure-fire way to end up brain dead before you get to the really interesting talks (including your own).

good news!!!

Of the two schools I've applied to so far, one just emailed me and asked me for letters of recommendation! That means I've made the first cut. I'm ecstatic!

Monday, October 31, 2005

October's horoscope and this week's forecast

According to United Airlines, my October should have looked like this:

"If you're coveting sleep time, it's not just that you need physical rest; your subconcious also needs those Z's. Don't be shy. The sky is the limit these days, so expect nothing less. By month's end, your geographical scope will broaden."

I'd say they pretty much nailed that one. I need time off work to recuperate from my time off work, and I've been to the east, midwest, and west in October. May November be less eventful.

On my plate this week: visiting colleagues today and tomorrow, giving out halloween candy (so I don't eat it), giving a talk at a 2-day conference, and working through the comments i just got back from third author. Oh, and applying for 3 jobs.

Tomorrow is the 1-year anniversary of my oral prelims. And still the defense seems so far away.

Sunday, October 30, 2005


The hits just keep on coming....on our way to the airport, while waiting at a stoplight, our rental car was rear-ended. Everything is relativelyOK, and we made our flight, but this state is a no fault state, meaning that our car insurance will go up again!

Saturday, October 29, 2005


Why am I such a lump? If I start to think of all the stuff I need to get done this week, this fall, this year...I get almost panicked. But 99% of the time I feel like a useless energy-less lump. Today I picked a fight with Husband for no reason at all, and I am feeling very resentful toward my stay-at-home mother-in-law, who apparently is "overwhelmingly busy" with her myriad of redecorating projects. Maybe if I could actually get a routine, spending a week or more "in the office" and at home in my own bed, I'd feel better, but for the foreseeable future I'll be spending far more time away from home than at it. And those job app deadlines keep getting closer.

Sorry, I'll have a better post on Monday.

Friday, October 28, 2005

family matters

I've been in the Midwest all week - dealing with the whole gamut of emotions from the whole crazy collection of family members. You'd think that death would be sort of a final thing and that things would be sort of 1-D: you grieve, you move on. But it turns out that today felt like I was chasing a constantly moving target while the ground underneath my feet felt like quicksand. My family has elevated bickering over the antiques to the level of grand opera. While sparing you all the horrific details, my mom and her siblings have decided to honor my grandmother's death with a drag-down knock-out legal and emotional fight over her inheritance. My mom and her sister, in particular, have always had a dysfunctional relationship...but this is particularly painful to behold (and be dragged into). Because of my family history, I am completely conflict averse, to the point of paralysis. By late this afternoon, I had horrible abdominable pains that were entirely psychological in origin, because when I curled up in a ball and hid in the rental car, they eased up. After returning to reality they came back. Finally I couldn't take it any longer and my wonderful wonderful husband helped me escape the city. I feel awful though leaving my brother "holding the bag"--having to take care of my mom for the next few days, when he has even more pressures in his life than I do right now.

It was hard going to Gram's house and realizing that I no longer had any reason to go through that neighborhood, one that I have known my entire life. And when I first arrived at Gram's house, it was "the way it should be" - the way it is in innumerable memories of my childhood. But by the time I escaped this afternoon, the pillaging had already begun and I felt like Gram's dignity was being desecrated by the desperate materialism (albeit emotionally-driven materialism) of the generation above me. I don't ever want to be in that house again. I want to leave my memories of Gram's house untarnished.

So I escaped to my in-laws. As we drove out into the prairie, with the familiar cornfields and dotted with lakes, I felt the tension starting to rise from me. And this evening, at my in-laws, I even managed to get in a few good comebacks. It's nice to be here with this nuclear family who are rejoicing at having their eldest son home again, if only for a few days. I know they have their own problems, but they are not currently in crisis, and for me that's comfort enough for now.

As I made the decision to escape to my husband's family rather than to keep bearing the cross of my family's dramas, I felt like I was taking another step in securing/bonding my husband and I together as the most important family unit. Not that I no longer have need of my mom and brother, but that I have another, separate but equal family now with Husband.

One last parting thought, from the blue collar sage at Gram's funeral: "Be kind. Every person is fighting their own battle."

I need to remember that.