Thursday, April 30, 2009

Timing Issues

Good God is thesis writing the most boring thing ever!! Today I was getting physically agitated from how tedious and boring it was. You know when you get that stressed/annoyed feeling in your head right between your eyes and your hands just feel numb? Yeah.

Unless something goes terribly wrong, there is absolutely no way it's going to take me three months to write the 4 remaining chapters. I've written my first draft of my last science chapter (project #3) in a week. And by a week I mean I started a week ago - but took the weekend, Monday and Tuesday off. So four days...of about 4-5 hours of actual work. And I've read it over once already and have made edits.

I figure it will take me about a week to write each of the intro chapters (one is a lit review, which I'm about half done already, and the second is an overview of the observational techniques used in the thesis). The conclusions/future work chapter will take perhaps a day. So, to be generous, that's one month to write it, which is the same amount of time it took me to write my masters thesis. So I guess that's pretty much on track when looking at my writing history.

Anyway, this poses a "problem" with timing (although I'm sure someone will say "that's a good problem to have", please don't!) - my initial plan was to finish by the end of July, go away for August, and then defend in September. But if I write, and only write, for 3 months I think I will go insane.

Now, I could finish my thesis early, but here's the problem: there has to be 6 weeks between when the thesis is handed in and the defense. Then, the corrections have to be submitted shortly after the defense. In order to defend and hand in a corrected thesis before we leave for South America, I'd have to hand in my thesis by the beginning of June. Considering that's a month from now (my projected time line to finish the first draft of everything) and that my supervisor will be away the last week of May, that's not going to happen. Plus, we're not going to move until the Fall. So I need to find something to do before then anyway.

So, basically I can either finish my thesis early and sit around...or I can just drag out the writing until July and hand it in then. Hmm...when/how/where to waste time? This might sound like a good thing, but that fact that I'm basically forced to stretch out this process is pissing me off. If you're a regular reader of the blog, you know how much I just want to be done this damn thing.

Another option, of course, is to find something else to do at work to break up the writing time. Perhaps I'll ask my supervisor if he needs any data processed, or lectures made up...or maybe I could take a class, go to the gym every day, knit, or just work four hours a day.

Any other suggestions for how to fill some extra time in the next three months?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bye Bye Flames

So, perhaps not surprisingly, given their track record over the last few seasons, the Flames are out of the playoffs in the first round. Although, they didn't fare too badly considering they barely showed up for the majority of the games!

No, this does not mean I start cheering for the Canucks - only if they reach the finals and they're not playing my beloved Penguins!

Bye bye Flames - at least you get a head start on the greens.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

DH is home...

...and he comes bearing gifts!

He first pulls out this beauty:

Fig. 1: Men and their coconuts, eh?

Yup, he's one with the good sense of humor!

Of course, that apparently was the funny gift, because he then pulled out a blue box - and I'm not talking about recycling (you girls know what I'm talkin' about):

Fig. 2: Ah, that sought-after little blue box.

Oh, he's a good one, isn't he? This is the second conference in two years that he's come back with jewelry. I told him he's setting a precedent and he better be prepared to keep it up ;)

It's nice having him home, even if I don't get the whole bed to myself.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Mothers in Science

Astronomum over at Astronomoms posted a great link to an online book called Mothers in Science: 64 Ways to Have it All. She notes that it's made up of one page career/family timelines and profiles of 64 different mothers in science.

I downloaded it today and intend to read it over the weekend. Go check it out!

Edited to add: please feel free to pass this on or to post this link on your blog! This is a great resource and should be shared with as many women as possible!

Friday, April 24, 2009

An Earth Day Challenge

Alice and ScienceWoman over at Sciencewomen have a great post about Earth Day Resolutions, which was started over at Mike Dunford's blog: The Questionable Authority. He issues this challenge:
I'd like you to take a minute or two to come up with three things that you can do to be more environmentally friendly. The first should be something that's small, and easy to do. The second should be more ambitious - something you'll try to do, but might not manage to pull off. The third should be something you can do to improve something you're already doing.
I'll admit, I'm not the most environmental person on the planet - but, I have gotten much better in the last few years. For example, we recycle most of our paper, plastic, glass and aluminum. We also use air conditioning as little as possible, have replaced most of our lights with those ugly, twirly ones (but are better for the environment), make sure appliances we aren't using are unplugged...little things like that. So, here are my resolutions for this challenge:

1. Small - I'm going to stop shaving my legs in the shower. This adds 5-10 minutes to my shower time, and the water is running the whole time. Not good! So, I will either shave my legs in the tub without the water running or at the sink...or I might just start waxing (I'm going to try it this weekend to see how easy it is).

2. Bigger - I want to start riding my bike to work at least once per week. I usually drive by myself and, although it's only about 10 minutes by car, I still feel guilty about doing it every day.

3. Better - similar to ScienceWoman, I/we try to recycle but some things just end up in the garbage instead. So, both at home and at work, I will make sure to recycle everything that can be recycled. This will mean taking the extra effort rinsing out those gross aluminum cans of cat food and tomato paste, but it'll be worth it.

As a scientist, I cannot ignore the affects of our population on the environment. Even doing little things will help! So, I challenge you to come up with three resolutions for yourself!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Nothing to do...

...but write the thesis. I finished the analysis a couple of days ago. After what happened last week, I decided not to post about it until I was sure it was done correctly.

I spent yesterday looking at a different analysis technique. It was pretty straightforward, so I got that all done by about 1pm. After that, I was trying to figure out what else to do...and then it dawned on me: I've really got nothing to do but write the rest of my thesis. Gulp. It's kind of daunting, knowing that the only thing I really have to do now is write up.

I kind of don't believe it - I feel like I'm going to find out tomorrow or next week that something went wrong and I'll have to do it all over again. I also (kind of) wish that I still had other things to do! The closer I get to the defense, the more I freak out. I know the thesis itself will be fine, and I know I'll do well with the talk...but just thinking about the defense makes me want to puke.

Anyway, obviously I need to get over it. Today, I start writing.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

PhD Talks

Being the end of the semester, there are a lot of students defending. It is interesting to watch the public talks - there is such a wide range of ways to tackle this all-important presentation. There seem to be three major camps (of course, there are presentations that fall in between the categories):

1. Those that aim their talk at professionals in their field.
These talks, although seemingly impressive, are difficult to follow and/or get anything out of unless the audience is in the same field as the presenter. These talks generally have little introductory material, lots of equations, and no personal touches. I have actually seen a couple of these done well (or, I guess, what I could assume as being done well).

Benefits: it makes the presenter look incredibly smart; there are typically few questions; the examiners will appreciate the level; tons of data can be included.

Drawbacks: most of the audience will be lost; there might not be any questions (never good in a talk).

2. Those that try to aim their talk at the general public (or at least general science population).
These are my favorite, because the speaker is obviously enthusiastic enough to make sure that most of the audience will understand a good portion of the talk. They typically spend a good chunk of time giving background info and motivation for the project, and only focus on a few key results. The slides are well thought out with few equations and text, but many interesting and useful images (that aren't directly out of a paper).

Benefits: most people in the audience will come out with new knowledge; there will be lots of good questions at a more basic level (helps with confidence!); it's way more fun because personality can be put into it.

Drawbacks: there might be general questions that were not thought of beforehand; it takes a long time to perfect the slides because only select data/results are used.

3. Those that throw their talk together the night before.
We've all unfortunately been privy to these talks: there is no apparent transition between ideas, the slides are sloppy with a lot of text, and there is no overview of the research area or motivation for the project. Some people can pull this off...but not as many as those that actually try.

Benefits: um..not as much work?

Drawbacks: pretty much everything else.

For my public lecture, I'm sure you can figure out I will go with #2. I'm of the feeling that it's called a "public" lecture for a reason! I love having people understand what I'm talking about/doing. Plus, the part of my research that I really get a kick out of is the history and background, so I'll get to spend a decent amount of time on that part.

Because of my outreach experience, I'm almost worried I'll pitch it at too low a level. Although, I think a talk can never be too simple - people like to be able to follow along, even if they already know the subject well. It makes them feel smart!

If you have done a PhD public lecture, what was your plan of attack? Who did you aim the talk too? Is there anything you would have done differently?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Spring 2009 Time Capsule

This month's Scientiae, which will be hosted at Endless Possibilities v2.0 over at the Nature Network, is all about the time capsule! Katherine writes:
I’ve always been intrigued by timecapsules. Those funny things that people bury under trees, in new buildings, in the ground, whenever something notable is happening. They contain photos, stuff that is soon to be an artifact, letters and other such timely reminders of the present day.

As I’m running a little short of time for a theme for the May Scientiae carnival, I’d like to propose “A Snapshot” as a theme. Create a blog time capsule for yourself that will say Spring 2009 when you look back on it in a couple of years.

You can interpret this in many ways. It could just be a series of pictures that describes your research or life this spring, or it could be an anecdote or moment that is memorable. It could be a snapshot of how your research is going, how your job search is progressing or just how your getting on.

I love doing these things - it takes me back to elementary school, where we would make one at the beginning of the year and then open it 10 months later. It was always fun to see how far we have come, or how different things ended up going.

I'm going to break mine down into a few different sections:

What I'm doing right now
- finishing up my analysis for project #3 so I can finally write my thesis
- heading into the last week of my astronomy outreach program
- looking to hire someone to take my place in my other outreach program
- preparing for our trip to South America

What will happen in the next 6 months
- finish my thesis, submit and defend - all by the end of September
- trip to South America in August
- get the ball rolling on moving (or possibly moving!)
- start looking at job possibilities once we know where we will move
- thinking seriously about starting a family

What I think life will be like in a year from now
- settled in our new city
- looking for/buying a house
- having a new job in science outreach and/or education
- being pregnant!!
- shopping for a new car

I guess we'll see how right I am! This is actually a very exciting time in our lives; there will be a lot of changes in the next few months: traveling, me defending and getting out of academia, DH finding a job and us moving, starting a family, buying a house, me finding a new career path....phew! It will be a whirlwind of change, but I am looking forward to all of it!

Monday, April 20, 2009

I have no core self

I had another session with my therapist today. She always asks me how I'm feeling right at first, but instead of saying "I'm good" or whatever, I get to tell her how I'm actually feeling. This is a nice change, but it always leads to me breaking down into tears.

I started telling her how I usually feel good about life until one small thing makes me second guess myself. For example, I'm excited about going into teaching, but if someone tells me that I said something that went over the head of their kid, I start thinking I shouldn't go into education. Or, if I don't get a travel grant, or my paper still doesn't have a reviewer assigned (after two weeks!), I feel like I suck ass at research.

Basically, my confidence in my abilities - or my core self - is very fragile. I do okay until I get a tiny bit of criticism - or even a lack of positive feedback - and then I crumble.

As therapists do, she asked me to think back to my childhood and figure out what might have started this pattern. I thought about it for a while, and then told her that I was never really criticized as a kid, but things weren't really celebrated either. Getting a good grade, getting into university or graduating wasn't made to be a big deal - it was just a normal thing that most of my friends were doing. There wasn't even much fuss made when I got my masters, when I got into a PhD program, or when I totally kicked butt on the comprehensive exam.

So, although I haven't been getting negative feedback, I never really got any positive feedback either. I never had the opportunity to build up my confidence because nothing really seemed that important, extraordinary, or worth celebrating. This is one of the reasons why I need to hear that I'm doing well from other people - otherwise I have no idea. I have no ability to judge my own levels of success.

She asked me what percentage of people get their PhDs - it's about 1% in North America. If you count the whole world, it's probably 1/1000 or 1/10,000. The average IQ of PhDs is 135. PhDs are special people. I still don't think of myself that way, but I think I should start trying.

I see a lot of other PhDs that feel the same way (both in the blog world and offline) - that we're regular people who just lucked out, or are fooling everyone. We tend to look down on ourselves because we compare ourselves to incredibly sucessful/smart PIs/post-docs/other grad students. What we don't realize is, even if we are the "middle of the road" in academia, it still makes us pretty special. It's time we actually admit to the world that maybe we do have some sort of talent and intelligence.

I need to start celebrating the sucesses in my life instead of passing them off as "normal" or things "everyone else" does...even if it's normal in the academic world, it's extraordinary when you look at the big picture.

I suck so bad...

...that I didn't even get a travel grant to the upcoming conference in South America. They give those damn things out like candy. Yup. I'm just that shitty.

I wonder if my abstracts will even be accepted? That would royally suck.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

My Second Haul

I went shopping again today - this time to Old Navy. I was pleasantly surprised by their stock! Usually I'll go there, try on a couple things and leave disappointed. Not today though! I'm sure I could have bought a lot more than I did!

So, again, I spent another $220 and this is what I got:

Fig.1: The haul for today - note Isaac on the left side, just
waiting to get his fur all over my new clothes!

Can you tell I'm trying to add color to my wardrobe? That's one long black cotton dress, two skirts (one red, one blue - and yes, they're exactly the same style!), a purple linen top, two scarves (one purple, one orange with embroidered flowers), a pink halter swimsuit (I didn't even know they carried them, but they actually have a really great selection), and a pair of blue ballet flats!

The only thing that I still need to buy is a hat. I think I'll wait until later in the summer when the big floppy sun hats come out.

Okay, I promise this will be the last clothes post for a while :) Even though I miss DH, I've had a great weekend thanks to shopping, taking up the whole bed, hanging out with friends last night, and eating lots of yummy treats!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

My Haul

For the last 2-3 summers I have taken a completely different take on shopping for clothes: instead of buying a few great, but expensive, pieces (as I do in the winter), I go to my local Superstore and buy a ton of clothes from Joe Fresh.

One big reason why I do this is because summer clothes don't seem to stand up to wear and tear. So, by the end of the season I practically have to throw them out. Plus, it basically allows me buy a whole new wardrobe every year - and that's just tons of fun.

So, I went to Joe today and spent $220. This is my haul (sorry for the crappy picture quality. DH took my camera with him this week.):

Fig. 1: Summer clothes for 2009.

That's four dressier tops, three T-shirts, a pair of jeans, a pair of shorts, two pairs of shoes, three frilly pairs of undies and two night gowns to wear around the house. Where I usually shop for winter clothes, I would have bought two pairs of pants for that much.

I still want to get a skirt or two, a nice sun hat, and a couple of light scarves, but I'm basically done.

I love Joe!!

Friday, April 17, 2009

DH goes to Hawaii

DH left early this morning (so early, I told him to take a cab!) to go to Hawaii for a conference. Is it sad that I miss him already?

We've been looking at this conference as sort of the beginning-of-the-end of our time here. He will try to make some industry contacts while there, and will start looking for jobs once he returns.

So, with him gone I have the place to myself for over a week. What to do? I will definitely go clothes/shoe shopping, because it's much easier without DH in tow! I desperately need new sandals and some summer pants/tops, especially now that it's finally getting warm!

I also plan to get a lot of reading done and catch up on girlie movies - any suggestions?

Sadly, I will also be working a lot because I want to redo this analysis as quickly as I can. I'm about 40% done, so I hope I can finish up early next week. Then I can try another analysis technique and start doing some serious thesis writing. I also need to create a presentation for my astronomy outreach program (next week is the last week for the semester...and forever for me!).

For those of you with a live-in SO/kids/etc. what do you do when you suddenly have the place to yourself?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Scratch That

Shit - I figured out this afternoon that something went wrong with the analysis. So, now I have to do it all over again from a certain point. Crap! I knew I spoke/bragged too soon!

It won't take long, and I'll still be done the analysis early - assuming this is the last thing that goes wrong, that is.

Doin' the Happy Dance!

As of about 20 minutes ago, I have finished the analysis for project #3 --- which means all of my analysis for my thesis is done! I am so happy! I never thought I would reach this point!

The best part is, if you're keeping track of my thesis schedule over in the sidebar --> I'm finished 15 days earlier than scheduled!

So, since I have some time, I'm going to try another analysis technique just for shits and giggles. If it works, I don't even have to do it on all the data - just a couple test objects - to discuss it in my thesis.

I'm also going to start writing the remaining chapters of my thesis. I've decided to split my introduction into two chapters: historical/background stuff and observation/analysis techniques. The first of those is almost all written. So, I have the techniques chapter, the chapter on project #3, and of course the conclusions/future work chapter to write.

I have given myself until July 31st to submit, but I'm hoping I can finish early! Woohoo!!!

Monday, April 13, 2009


I don't know if I was motivated by the downer I talked to yesterday or what, but I seriously kicked my data's butt today.

First - I figured out the discrepancy between my manual calculation and the program I was using! It was actually kind of a silly thing, but for some reason it didn't occur to me. That makes me feel more confident in the analysis procedure.

Second - I'm 2/3's done my last analysis step! That's right...in one day I went through 66.66666666% of it. I will hopefully be able to finish up the last 1/3 tomorrow (in between meetings and such). That still gives me 2.5 weeks to play around with other analysis techniques if I so choose (but will talk about this with my supervisor tomorrow).

The best part is the results I'm getting aren't nearly as bad as I thought they were going to be! They're not stellar, but they're better than some from a previous, similar, study --- always good.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Reading this book brought back some great memories from my childhood! I didn't remember much of the storyline, but I remembered all the characters. I never realized how much religion was in this book, and am surprised that it was taught at a public school - times have changed since then I suppose!

As for the book - it's definitely meant for kids. There isn't much character development and the plot is very halting and has many holes. The whole thing was wrapped up on the last page, almost as an after thought.

There were some parts that I found hard to follow (not because of the concepts or plot, but because of the writing). The author uses many old-fashioned words/sayings and almost a backwards way of writing that make it tough to read (i.e. "who could bear being left out of happiness not one second longer" instead of "who could not bear being left out..."). I found myself having to re-read sentences many times. Because of this, I think reading this book to a child would work much better than having them read it alone.

A fun read - but definitely more for the kids, or if you read this book as a child yourself. I have bought the whole series, but am not sure if I will read the others (perhaps when I can read them to our kids). 3 out of 5 stars.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney

This book had been recommended by a few people, and I found it very informative and useful. As I was reading, I thought often to myself "this is me!" - it made me understand my actions/feelings more (and those of others as well).

Not only does it discuss the positives and negatives of being an introvert, but also does the same for extroverts (i.e., being an extrovert isn't all it's cracked up to be!). It gives some good advice on how to deal with certain situations, although sometimes assumes that the reader is an extreme introvert (where most people are somewhere in between). Using relevant examples from some clients was especially helpful.

The best part was learning to love my introvert qualities and not to be embarrassed or feel guilty for them. I'd recommend this book to anyone - introverts and extroverts alike! 4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Okay, I know it seemed yesterday that project #3 was pretty much under control - and I felt that it was - but that's not the case anymore! This project is going to kill me, I swear.

There is one more thing I need to do before I can get the numbers out of the data that I want. ONE. And you can bet your ass that it's not working - even though I've done the exact same thing with other data and it worked perfectly fine.

What's even more annoying is if I do the calculation manually myself, it works, but the automated software - that makes everything so easy and straightforward - doesn't. I've spent the last two days trying to figure it out to no avail. Screw it. I'm doing the calculation myself.

Then, I get an email from my supervisor at the end of the day today suggesting an additional method of analysis. Um, what?? He wants me to do more analysis on data that we're not going to get anything out of??

I have a feeling this is going to be one of those things where I'm just going to have to say "this is where I draw the line for this project. I will. not. do. anything. more." - or else it's going to turn into a never ending PhD project.

Dear God - I just want this damn thesis to be done and over with so I can be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen cooking my man dinner!!!!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Paper #2 and Project #3

Paper #2 got submitted today! Let's hope that the reviewer (yes, singular for this journal) doesn't have too many issues with it and it gets accepted easily.

I had my advisory committee meeting today and it went fairly well. They seemed pleased that two of my projects are complete, written up and submitted. We then had a long conversation about the dreaded project #3 - the one with the craptacular data.

After some back-and-forth about 1) whether or not it should even be in the thesis (yes, it should) and 2) if there is anything else we can do with the data (nope), we came to a nice solution: I'm going to use it as a feasibility study - to test whether we could observe certain objects with the new instrument we bought and with the local telescope. I can use the data from the other telescope to compare results.

The plan is to use this as my first chapter after all the introduction stuff in my thesis, conclude that the project was not feasible, and then explain that's why the other two projects were done.

Of course, this is all assuming that the results I get out of the analysis aren't great. If they are okay, then I'll just write it up like the other two projects.

I like this plan because it means even if the results aren't great from project #3, I can still put it in my thesis and feel confident defending it.

Monday, April 6, 2009


My motivation to work on project #3 has ground to a complete halt. I did really well last week, but perhaps I burnt myself out or something. I've been looking at my data today for a minute or two before checking my email, eating lunch, or reading blogs.

I think the problem is that the data sucks. I know the results aren't going to be great, so it pains me to spend so much time working on it. Alas, it has to be done though, and I just need to force myself to get it done.

In other news, I'm heading into my third week of the exercise study. It's been good to be exercising regularly again, although it's been tough sometimes to get to the gym. I'm motivated by the fact that a PhD student is relying on me for data, but little else right now.

The first session of each week I have to listen to a 5-minute recording. The first week they talked about the general health benefits, whereas last week they focused solely on how exercise reduces stress. It will be interesting to see what the other subjects will be over the next six weeks.

The first two weeks I had to exercise a minimum of 30 minutes with my heart rate above 133 bpm. This week and next, that gets bumped up to 139 bpm, and will be 150 bpm for the remainder of the study. It's tough to initially get my heart rate up to 133, but once I'm there I can maintain it fairly easily, and usually workout in the 140-150 bpm range. However, I'm worried about the last four weeks of the study - how am I going to maintain a heartrate of >150 bpm? I'm going to have to sprint the whole time or something!

Anyway, it's been interesting to be a part of the study. I feel better physically, which is always a nice bonus. I look forward to seeing the results (both mine and of the study)!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

Some of you asked for me to write about the books I read. So, I will just post my reviews that I put on Facebook.

[Change of Heart] is the fifth Picoult book I have read, and I really enjoyed it! It wasn't full of plot twists and turns as her other books, but I liked that in this case. I liked how the story was told from different character's points of view - it was a nice way to tie-in how, even though the characters seemed so different, they also had a lot in common. However, because of this, none of the characters were ever really deeply developed.

The only other thing that bothered me was that some of it read like a Jennifer Weiner book - the plus sized girl not liking herself, but has a career she loves, and ends up with the hot doctor. Cute, but didn't really fit with the rest of the story line.

Good overall - better than Vanishing Acts, but not as good as My Sister's Keeper or The Pact. 4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Expensive Pussies!!

Okay - get your mind out of the gutter.

We love our cats - they are like children to us. I actually use them as a child-substitute for when I get really bad baby-fever attacks. And what's not to love really? I mean, they're cute as hell, funny to watch, and know to cuddle you when you're sad.

Fig. 1 Isaac & Izzie in the bookcase.

Sure, they do stupid things like unrolling the whole roll of toilet paper, climb the curtains, or puke every two days, but who doesn't?

Fig. 2 Izzie with a whole TP roll.

We love our cats so much that we'll be taking them with us wherever we move (I can't believe some people just leave their pets when they move! Gah!). So, I called the vet to inquire what the deal was if we happen to move to England (one of our potential options).

She told me about the tests that they would have to run, 6 months before we move, and would cost a minimum of $240 for each cat!! To get their blood tested!! That's even worse than the $450 to get one of Isaac's teeth pulled...which we haven't done yet (hey, if he's not complaining, why bother, right? Am I going to be a bad mommy?).

Damn...it's a good thing they're cute (see Fig. 1).