Saturday, February 28, 2009

Academic Turn-Offs

Many times, when I'm asked what I want to do after I finish my PhD, I end up getting into a conversation about what turned me off academia. I usually use the "it's just not for me" response. However, a recent post over on Sciencewomen has made me think a little harder about what specifically has turned me away from a life in academia. Here is what I came up with:

1. Complete lack of mentoring. And I don't mean the science part, because that was rather good (thanks to my supervisor). Instead I mean things like seminars or workshops about writing papers, giving talks, career options, teaching styles, academic ethics/fraud, grant writing, telescope proposals, etc., etc., etc.. I really wish there was more guidance and professional development for graduate students.

2. Very little collegiality within the department. This relates to #1, but is more about the work environment. People just don't talk to each other much, let alone creating scientific collaborations. There are a number of department members I pass in the hallway that know who I am, but they refuse to even make eye contact. It's just not a very nice place to work.

3. Big heads at conferences. I specifically don't like people that think Astronomy is the end-all and be-all in life, and what they are doing is so incredibly important. Yes, your research is interesting, but don't act like you're God because you have some data of some random object that someone else doesn't. In the grand scheme of things, you're not that important, and neither is your work, so stop acting like an asshole and have respect for your fellow researchers.

4. The definition of "success". It bothers me that success means making your research your life, and anything you do outside of research is taking away from your career. I generally get the feeling that having a family is still looked down upon in this day and age - and taking maternity leave is basically the equivalent to career suicide.

5. Selling out. I don't understand the attitude that taking a job besides a purely academic one is considered selling out or failing. Why is working in industry selling out - because you make more money? Because you may not be able to direct your own research? Perhaps there are people out there that don't want to run their own research lab (the shock! the horror!). Or what about teaching? Is the old adage "if you can't do, teach" correct? I have to completely disagree with this - how can anyone think that teaching is not totally important to our society? What ever happened to choosing a career path based on what one enjoys, instead of having to fit into some mold of what is deemed successful?

As you can see, there are many things that absolutely turn me off from a life in academia. Something that I have recently realized is perhaps it has just been my PhD experience that has generated this attitude. Maybe things could be better for me elsewhere.

In my next post, I'll talk about what it will take for me to stay in academia.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Calming Down

So, I read that paper that I posted about yesterday - and it doesn't make my thesis look like total garbage. They didn't do a search for the object, so that means my mondo 11,000 object survey, where I derived upper limits, is still fine.

However, they did take spectroscopic observations of the comet and, even though it showed a distinct tail, they didn't see any emission lines. This is worrisome for my (already not great) 3rd project, since the whole basis of it was to try to find emission lines (i.e., if object with obvious cometary activity doesn't show emission lines, then objects that don't show any activity probably won't either). Oh well. I pretty much knew that project was a bust by this point anyway - but I still have to do the work and put it in my thesis.

As for paper #2, for those keeping track my goal was to have it submitted by March 1st. Since that's Sunday, and I just received comments back from my supervisor this week, that's not going to happen.

All is not lost, however - I've been working on my 3rd project and my thesis in the meantime. So, that will bring down the work load for later on. Plus, I scheduled 2 months for the reduction of the data from the 3rd project, and I doubt it will take even half of that time.

So, I hope to submit paper #2 by the end of March, pending any major changes. I'm right on track to hand in my thesis in July.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Remember how yesterday I was complaining that nothing interesting was going on? Well, this wasn't what I meant (*shaking fist to the sky*).

Some background: me and one other group in the USA (we'll call them Frickin'AmanzingCometFinders - FACF for short) are both looking for these very strange and rare comets.

When I started my PhD in 2005, there had only been two of these comets found, and not much had been done to study them. Other investigators had done extensive searches for other such objects, but nothing had turned up. So, I was pretty stoked when I started because there was a good chance I was going to find one, and even if I didn't I could put some sweet upper limits on the expected number (that's considered a good result in Astronomy).

Six months after I started, a paper came out of the FACF group: they not only studied the two known rare comets extensively, but found another one --- and published their results in Science.

Shit, right? I had an emergency meeting with my advisory committee to decide whether I should keep plugging along with this project or switch to something else. We decided, since my methods were different from theirs, that I should just keep going. And that I did.

I now have two different methods that I've used to search for these damn things. The first one I looked at 11,000 objects and found maybe, perhaps (but really unlikely) one more. BUT - the observations were done in 2007, so we couldn't recover the object. It is lost.

The other project is the dreaded project #3 that I've posted about before. You know, where the data totally sucks because I took it in my first year here and I had no idea what I was doing? Yeah.

Today, I get my daily message from the NASA ADS system listing new papers that I might be interested in. What do I see? Yeah, that's right, another paper from the FACF group --- they found another one. Shit.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


There is seriously nothing going on right now. I've thought about what I could post about, but every time I think of something I come up with 10 reasons not too.

Something interesting needs to happen...

In the meantime, I'm looking at rings to buy. I love rings - seriously. Some like purses, others like shoes...rings are my thing. Here's one that I've been eying for a couple of years now:

Monday, February 23, 2009

BBC Book Meme

As seen at Sciencewomen and Life as I know it...

BBC Book List

Apparently the BBC reckons most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here.

1) Look at the list and put an 'x' after those you have read. (I'll bold those I've read and italicize those of which I only read part.)
2) Add a '+' to the ones you LOVE.
3) Star (*) those you plan on reading.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller +
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger (my favorite book of all time)
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis (isn't that part of #33?)
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Berniere
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell*
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez*
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood (I'm reading this right now)
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel+
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley+
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon*
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez*
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck*
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold*
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

26 - man, for the amount I read I didn't do too well! Granted, I usually read newer books - I have a hard time getting through the "classics". I'm surprised at some of the books included on here (Da Vinci Code, Bridget Jones' Diary) and some that weren't included (Frankenstein, anything by Carl Sagan, The Glass Castle, Water for Elephants).

I have a stack of books at home that I'd like to get through in the next few months. Right now I'm reading The Handmaid's Tale, which is really interesting. I also have a couple by Jodi Picoult (okay, maybe not classics, but she's an excellent writer), The Book of Negros, and The World Without Us.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

It's On!

Instead of my weekly Puppy Dogs and Roses Post, I'm going to brag about this instead:

We booked our trip to South America!! Aside from the fact that we just dropped a ton of cash on flights, tours and a hotel, we're pretty excited! Here's the plan:

We fly from Canada to Brazil and stay in Rio for a week. I'll be attending the International Astronomy Union conference, while DH bums around. Of course, I'll have time before, after, and hopefully during the conference, to join him.

We then fly to Lima and go on a two week tour of Peru! We get to see the Amazon rainforest, do a 4-day hike of the Inca Trail, see Machu Picchu, tour Cuzco and Puno, and boat around Lake Titicaca!!

We decided to do a tour for a few reasons. The big one is, even though we've both traveled a fair bit, it's only been in North America and Europe. Neither of us have been anywhere that would be a huge culture shock or anything. So, it'll be nice to be with a group of like-minded (traveled) people.

The second one is we're both really big planners. So, it's nice that things are pretty much planned for us ahead a time, and we won't have to worry about having to find places to stay or figuring out what to do. We think it'll let us have a much better time, since we can focus more on the traveling and not so much on the logistics.

We have all the big stuff booked (flights, Peru tour, hotel in Rio), so now we can start focusing on the smaller stuff: vaccinations, travel visas, what we need to buy, getting into better shape, research on the culture/language, etc..

Plus, this gives me a firm (absolute latest) deadline of when I want to have my thesis submitted. So, it's a good way to celebrate finishing the writing, and will give me something to do while waiting around for the defense!

In other news, I took DH out for his birthday last night. We went to the restaurant where he proposed - we haven't been there since! It was awesome as always. I also bought him a racing game for the Wii (not Mario Kart though, we can't find it anywhere!) and two steering wheel controllers - he seems to enjoy it :)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Last Project

With project #1 complete, written up and accepted, and project #2 in its first draft, I am now onto the third and last project for my thesis. This is very exciting, since obviously the end is coming. I've even made a good dent in my thesis intro.

This project was the original one that my thesis topic was based on. It turns out, though, that the data I acquired isn't exactly spectacular. On Thursday and Friday I reduced the better set of data. Not too bad - a bit noisy, but the observing conditions weren't optimal. For this specific project though, it doesn't matter too much, since I'm only looking for evidence of emission lines. If they're not there, then the object is an asteroid. If they are there, then there is gas around it --> which means it has ices on it, and would therefore be classified as a comet.

Next week I plan on reducing the much bigger, but not so good, data set. Then, I have to decide what I'm going to do with all of this data. Chances are that I won't find any emission lines, but I need to find something to say about it or it just looks like it was a make-work project (which it sometimes felt like).

There are a few things I could have done, but I can't because I didn't take the right type of observations. This is the frustrating part, as I did this work early on in my PhD and therefore I knew absolutely nothing about what I should be doing. If I were to take these observations now, they would be much more complete.

Anyway, there's nothing I can do about it now. I'm just going to have to come up with a couple ways to analyze and discuss this data set. In the end, I might have to suck it up and realize it's not publishable, but at least I can put it into my thesis so other students can learn from my mistakes.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Some Great Links

Instead of blessing you with another amazing blog entry, I'd like to point you toward a few wonderful posts that have been written in the last few days around the blogosphere.

From time to time I rant about what I loathe about academia - but I've never written it all down in one place.

Ambivalent Academic recently posted an absolutely spot-on summary of what is wrong with academia today. So, grab a cup of coffee and take a few minutes to go into the head of what most grad students are thinking.

An excellent post, which demonstrates one of the topics that AA discusses, was written by Jenn, PhD over at Life as I know it..., where she describes a situation with her PI.

For a more positive spin on academia, see AA's "Part 1" of the saga.

I recently blogged about the downward spiral of undergraduate student attitude when it comes to academia. FSP wrote another great post about entitlement.

Finally, for a little laugh (if you're a geek like me), check out P'Dizzle's latest post.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Weekly PDRP

It's time for some ubber-positiveness!!!

1. I finished the first draft of my second paper and gave it to my supervisor on Friday!!

2. I started working on my thesis intro and got the historical overview chunk done!!

3. We just had a long weekend (hence why this post is later than usual)!!!!

4. DH got word from his boss that he can take time off in August to go to South America!!! We are going to narrow down our choices this week and book soon!!

5. It's reading week ---- no undergrads!!!!!!!!!! WOOOHHOOOO!!!!!

6. I finally started standing up for myself, and did a couple things this week that I normally wouldn't do - and mostly without guilt! (okay, still need to work on that)

7. I won a competition in my spinning class on Saturday (who could ride the longest while increasing the bike's tension every 30 seconds)!!!

8. I got my hair cut and re-colored --- feels soooo much better!!

50th Post

I have decided to get another tattoo. I've been wanting one for a year or so now (I have three already), but I wasn't sure what I wanted.

Then, as I was reading Comet by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan (to help with my thesis introduction) I saw it:

An Aztec depiction of a bright comet seen by Montezuma II in the 1500's (from Historia do las Indias de Nueva Espana by Diego Duran).

A variation of that comet is going to be wrapping around my inner ankle bone by the Fall.

Monday, February 16, 2009

March Scientiae: Role Models

The March Scientiae is hosted by Liberal Arts Lady. This month, we of the blogosphere are asked:
Who are your role models? Who first got you interested in your field, or opened new doors for you? Who inspires you on a daily basis and makes you believe in the future of science, technology, or the world?
Excellent questions, and ones that I find difficult to answer because, at least in my field, there aren't many women who live the life that I see for myself.

Who are your role models?

I put any women in science that can have a meaningful family and social life on a pedal stool. Sadly, this doesn't include many of the real-life women I know that have children and are in my research area. To me, this just shows how incredibly difficult work-life balance is.

One of my best friends, who I've known since we were 13, is an amazing Mom and has a career in engineering. She managed to find a job share at a new company after she was finished maternity leave. Not only do I love her for her ability to have work-life balance, but she's also very real about her life and doesn't glorify it for others.

Another friend that comes to mind has just gone back to work after being away from it for a few years to be at home with her two children. The courage it took for her to go back to school to get the education for the job she has always wanted (and now has) absolutely amazes me!

Finally, I would like to give a shout out to Academomia - to me, at least in the way she portrays her life on her blog, it seems like she's handling the colliding worlds of academia and family in the best way that one can. She admits when things aren't going so well, but she's real about it. So, kudos to you, Academomia!!

Who first got you interested in your field, or opened new doors for you?

It wasn't until grade 12 that I really became interested in Astronomy - and it was because of my physics teacher. He made physics interesting by using examples in Astronomy to explain concepts instead of the typical, boring ways. It really opened my mind to the possibility of pursuing it as a career, and I have (after I found out I wasn't accepted into the music program ;)). In fact, all three of my high school physics teachers (all men) were amazing and inspiring.

Also, my masters supervisor opened the big door of graduate school without even meeting me. My grades in undergrad were not stellar (to say the least) but she took a chance on me - and I think it paid off! Without her, I wouldn't be where I am today.

Who inspires you on a daily basis and makes you believe in the future of science, technology, or the world?

This is going to sound hokey, but my DH inspires me daily with his enthusiasm and love of his work. It scares me to think about a lot of students taking over the reigns, but I know he will be so successful at anything he chooses to do.

I am also in constant awe of my friends that are also in graduate school, or who now have moved on to post-doc or other positions. It has been inspiring to see them grow as scientists, and as people in general.

In the end, I find it unsettling that I have a hard time finding female role models. There should be more women in the sciences that can lead the life they want and not feel they have to sacrifice their other roles as wife (or fiance or girlfriend), mother, daughter, sister, or friend. I believe there should also be more discussion of how we, as young scientists, can begin to change this pattern. Not only that, as I think discussions have been ongoing for years, but it's time to take action. In order to do so, we need the support of our male colleagues, so we can create that change as a whole.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


There is a fantastic post over at Women in Astronomy about how the current economic turmoil is affecting scientists - graduate student and post-doc positions in particular. Check it out.

They also give a link to this article about saying 'no' in the workplace - very powerful and well worth the read.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

DH and I don't really celebrate VDay - we did go out for dinner last night though, and completely gorged ourselves. Since we're not doing anything special, and since yesterday was our 5 month (!!! Haha!) wedding anniversary, I wanted to tell the blogosphere why I love DH so much.

1. He's the nicest, sweetest, most understanding man I've ever met. Seriously - he puts up with a lot of my BS.

2. He takes things in stride much better than I do. Take the time where our flights were canceled at Christmas when we were supposed to go from his hometown to mine: I seriously would have just curled up in a corner and cried, but he took care of everything and got us to my hometown by the next morning. All the while he kept saying "Don't worry hun, I'll get us there."

3. He's so super smart and I totally respect what he does. It blows my mind the things he works on - and it's even more sexy that he's not a blow hard about it. I'm so proud of him on a daily basis.

4. I love, love, LOVE watching him play soccer. This was one of the reasons why I initially had a crush on him.

5. We share the same views on pretty much everything. We even hate the same types of people! Haha!

6. He stayed here after he finished his PhD to wait for me (when he told me that, I knew that moment that I wanted to marry him).

7. He has the most delectable butt I have ever seen.

8. He just plain makes my life better - he's my best friend.

9. He's always there to help with my problems - and sometimes will even just listen to me blubber on because I just need to vent.

10. I can absolutely, 100% be myself around him --- and he still loves me.

So, to my DH: you are my Valentine, and will be for the rest of our lives. Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Getting Out of Hand

This morning one of my labmates showed me two assignments that were a little strange. The students were told to put a cover page (for FOIP purposes I assume). These two students, however, decided to take it one step further and add a photo and quote. Cute idea, sure, until you read what they wrote.

One wrote "100 A++ or else..."

The other included a photo of a dog, and then wrote something along the lines of "This dog hunts graduate students who don't give perfect marks."

Since when did it become acceptable to threaten TAs? Undergraduate students are getting completely out of hand with what they can get away with. They feel so entitled to a good grade (and to everything else) that they resort to making threats!!??

I've found, since being at this university, that the quality and level of education has decreased dramatically, Take these cases in point:

1. When I TA'd the first year physics labs, the students were guaranteed a 70% if they handed in their report (which was fill in the blank for the most part). They received marks for putting their name and student ID correctly on the report and for tidiness. The TAs were told to make sure that the average was at least 80% --- 80%!!!

2. The second year physics courses no longer include any calculus. Seriously!! Physics is pretty much based on calculus - how can they be taking second year physics courses with out it???

3. In the high school system here, teachers are not allowed to set deadlines for assignments. This, of course, leads to students being unable to complete their university work on time, causing many extensions - even into the next semester.

This situation with the students threatening the TAs brings me to another thought: our society as a whole has gotten to the point where rudeness, ignorance, entitlement and general asshole-ness rules. Why? Because no one wants to confront anyone who behaves poorly! We all just "let it go" or assume "someone else will deal with it" because we don't want to "get in the middle of it" or "it's not our place"- this is bullshit! It's time we all start taking a stand against this crap!!

Yesterday we had our weekly soccer game, and the ref was a complete tool. He kept making calls in the other team's favor and decided as the game went on what rules to follow. One of the most annoying points was when our team scored a goal right off the center kick (which is directly in the FIFA rules) - the ref did not allow it. We then showed him a copy of the rules and his response was "I don't care, take it up with [sports coordinator]." He could not even admit that he was wrong when confronted with the correct information!!

Instead of just "taking it" or "letting it go", I decided to write an email to the sports coordinator. I discussed the issue of the goal and how the other team broke many of the outlined rules that would have actually made them forfeit the game. I'm so glad I did because here was the response:

Hi Mrs. CH,

Thank you for sharing your concerns. I have forwarded this message on to the referee-in-chief and she will be following up with her referees to clarify these rules and ensure that they are all on the same page. We will also be following up with official in question regarding his behaviour in this instance.

If you wish to officially protest the game, you may write a letter of protest, identifying that there was a misinterpretation of the rules and outlining which rules those were.

Sports Coordinator

How awesome is that?? Of course, I didn't want to formally protest the game, and no-one on my team did, we just wanted to bring the issues to their attention so the refs could be more consistent (and maybe less rude??).

I seriously believe we, as a society, need to start standing up to the BS that people bring into our lives. I'm sick of the rude and entitled attitude that is becoming common place. Join hands with me and let's get back to a society we all want to live in!

Who's with me!???

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Is it ever possible to have two good work days in a row?

I don't think I'm going to make my March 1st deadline to submit this paper...crap.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Holy Crap...

...I had an amazing day at work today! In fact, yesterday was awesome too. I even caught myself thinking "I love doing this!" today! Holy man! Why the big change of opinion, you might ask? It's all because I started to read papers. Yup, that's it!

Last Friday I was working on my second paper and kept getting stuck over and over again. I realized I didn't have a decent enough background to start writing yet (this project is different from the other two, which I've focused most of the last 3.5 years on). So, I looked at some of the more common references in the papers I already had and found four major papers that basically do what I'm doing with my data (although my project is much smaller). I read one on Friday, two over the weekend (unheard of for me!) and the last one yesterday.

I feel much more confident with what I'm doing now! In fact, I had a meeting with my supervisor today and I was telling him all my ideas for my data analysis and he seemed impressed! It was one of the first times where I felt we were having more of a conversation than him just telling me what to do.

Now I wish I had started reading papers earlier! I'm one of those people that don't really read anything until I have too (i.e., when studying for a course or writing a paper or a thesis). DH always was so good about reading papers, and I realize now how important it is. I've made so much progress on my paper in the last two days - it's incredible!

So, my goal now is to read one paper per day, in the evening when I'm at home (and would otherwise be watching the 30th re-run of Friends or The Simpson's). I figure if I do this for the next month or so I'll be caught up and ready to start writing my thesis intro!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Bursted Bubble

I had a session with my therapist today and we discussed my meltdown last week. I told her I felt like an idiot, that I don't feel confident with anything I do, that I don't feel like I should be in academia, that I hate what I do, etc. etc.

We went through an exercise where we wrote down the emotional thoughts (subjective - see above) associated with that day. Then, with great help from her, we wrote down what is actually happening (objective). This helped me realize that I'm actually doing quite well: I'm on track to finish my PhD on time, I have a paper published already and another on the way, I have a strong work ethic, and I write and present well.

There are two things that I learned about myself during this session:

1. I really cannot take a compliment; especially about my intelligence. She kept saying that I was smart, bright, etc., and I kept telling her why I'm not. What is wrong with me? Definitely something I need to work on.

2. My work environment has completely sucked all the love and joy I ever had for Astronomy research. I really loved it during my masters and all I wanted to do was become a professor. I felt that way in my first year of my PhD, but it's been downhill ever since.

I'm coming to the realization that this department has destroyed my opinion of academia (both the work and the people). I hear professors and grad students from other universities claim how great things are in their department and how much they love what they do and I think they're delusional - that they're just BSing me or they haven't been there long enough to understand what's going on.

Again, what is wrong with me? I loved it once - why don't I believe that other people might too? And where has my love gone? Is it still there, just hidden under all the bitterness I've acquired since I've been here, or has it truly disappeared? I know there is some love still there, bubbling under the surface, because it comes out when I do outreach. So, now I start to wonder that perhaps I should try to work in a different department after I am done so that I can test whether it really is my environment or if the love is really gone.

It's not just my love for astronomy that has waned since I've moved here - everything seems dreary and gray. Not that I was all puppy dogs and roses before, but I was a much happier person in general. I guess that's what happens when you're surrounded by negative-ninnies all the time: people who refuse to believe that I can finish my thesis on time because "no one else" has, or tell me that writing a paper or thesis sucks (I love writing - screw off!), or argue that their personal experiences are actually fact and everyone will go through the exact same thing (open your minds, you droids!).

I need to learn how to not let outside forces influence how I feel about my work and my life in general. I need to find a way to get that love and excitement back in my life before I shrivel up, or worse, become one of them.

Weekly PDRP

Let's start the week off on a positive note!

1. Even though I was on the verge of walking away from my PhD last Monday, I made some good progress with my research and am getting my motivation back. I even read two papers over the weekend!

2. I saw "He's Just Not That Into You" on Saturday night - not the best movie ever, but definitely entertaining!

3. I started knitting this weekend! I now know the knit and purl stitches!

4. The weather has been absolutely fabulous! It's been warmer and the sun has even come out! It's amazing what a little good weather does for the soul.

5. I had a massage on Saturday :)

6. I went to the gym twice this weekend!

7. DH and I had a good weekend together - one of those where you feel so much closer.

8. We hung our new painting, which is this one by Harrison Ellenshaw:

9. Coming up is a long weekend - then Reading Break! Yay for no undergrads!!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Departmental Review

I went to check my departmental mail today, and in it was a survey for graduate students about the department. Apparently they do this every time a new Chair is chosen. I assume that the staff and faculty are given similar surveys to fill out, albeit with different questions.

It's six pages long and has questions ranging from general things about your program, to questions about your supervisor, your research, the courses you took and the department in general. Here is a nice sample of them:

In general, how adequately did your undergraduate courses prepare you for the courses you have had to take in graduate school?

Do you find the research you have been working on for your thesis interesting and exciting?

Is this a pleasant department to be a part of? Why or why not?

and my personal favorite:

Would you recommend **University** as a place to study physics and/or astronomy at the graduate level?

Now, some of them ask for just a rating (poor to excellent) but some ask for expansions on the answer, or have no rating system at all.

As you may know, I'm not exactly happy about my current lot in life, and I'm not particularly fond of the department. I do want to let them know what they can improve on (like getting rid of Grumpy McGrumperson who never smiles and rarely even acknowledges the pressence of graduate students) but here's the problem: it will be so obvious whose survey is whose!

On the first page they ask what program you're in, where you did your bachelors and masters degrees and so on - it will be plain as day that this is my survey (considering I'm probably one of the only Astronomy PhD's who did their BSc and MSc at different universities).

DH says to just not answer particular questions - or to at least find out how they are going to distribute the data. My guess is that the secretary will put them all together and then distribute it in one document (i.e., she'll be the only one to see the individual surveys).

In any case, I'm not quite sure yet how I'm going to answer these questions: sugar coated or the harsh truth. Too bad I wasn't already done my degree...

Interview Meme

Another great meme from PDizzle - she gets to ask me 5 questions and I get to answer as intelligently (?) as I can.

Here are the rules:
1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me" AND leave your email address (or blog link) in the comment! I will interview the first three commenters to ask for it. I've got a thesis to write :P
2. I will respond by emailing you (or commenting on your blog with) five questions. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions. (If you don't have a blog, I can post your answers here).
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

PD: What is your favorite season of the year?

CH: Fall.

Oh, that's not enough? Okay - I like the Fall because summer is too hot and winter is too cold. This is known as the Goldilocks Effect - there actually is such a thing in Astronomy, which tells us where an Earth-like planet can form around a given star - but I digress. I love the crisp air in the morning and the smell of the falling leaves. I love the fact that it's cool enough to wear a sweater, but warm enough to not wear a jacket. Plus, it's the beginning of the school year, and that was always so exciting for me back in the day!

PD: Do you have a favorite astronomical body/entity?

CH: Yes! My favorite planet is Neptune - mostly because it's pretty:

and because it's thought to rain diamonds there. Yup, you heard me.

PD: How did you and Mr. Comet Hunter get together?

CH: First, just in case he reads this, he'd prefer Dr. Comet Hunter - or even better, Dr. MRI Guy. LOL!

As for the story: he was the captain of the department soccer team (no laughing!), and he needed women on the team so they could play in the coed league. He sent out an email and I replied saying I'd like to (he always said he knew I'd answer, but I think he's BSing me).

We started playing soccer 2 times a week and I had a mondo crush on him: he was smart, cute, and I just have a thing for guys who can play soccer well ;) Two months later a weekend Blue's festival was in town - and I dropped hints that I'd really like to go. He would say the same things but never asked me out! So, eventually I just asked him and we went (although, he'd tell you differently).

The first night was fun, but I was so confused! He kept talking like he wasn't interested in dating at all, and he didn't even kiss me at the end of the night. But, he did invite me over to dinner the next evening. I found out he's an amazing cook (yay!) and then we went back to the Blue's festival - where he finally started putting his arm around my waist and such. At the end of the night I still had to initiate the kiss ;)

PD: What do you think is the most pressing issue facing the world today?

CH: That's one wopper of a question. I'm going to stay away from the most obvious answers (i.e., world hunger, the economy, religious strife) because 1) everyone says them and2) I don't know much about them (*shame*)!

I think racism and sexism (or any bigotries) are still a huge problem, and it just doesn't seem to be getting better. I know we have come a long way since the 1950's (and before), but I feel like it's just come to a grinding halt; like we've come as far as the "majority" will let us.

Here are just a few examples that I cannot even believe are still happening **I know not all American's are like this! These are just my examples**:
- All I heard during the Presidential election was black versus white. Kudos to Obama for not playing the race card, but everyone else ignored what he wanted. I am in awe when I heard that people think he's "not black enough".
- California changing their minds again on gay marriage
- the whole Dr. Jill Biden thing

It's amazing to me that American's can claim they are so accepting and liberal while they're pulling that kind of crap all the time. "Land of the free" - as long as you do what the rest of us are doing :P

PD: What is your fantasy vacation like?

CH: I've got to say that I've always dreamt of doing an around-the-world tour. I'd love to see as much as the world as I can, and that is one of my life-long goals. We'd start off with doing a cross-Canada tour to the West coast. Then we'd fly over to Australia, then up to New Zealand and into Thailand/China/Japan. Then, it'd be on to Russia, then Europe - I'd like to do the train through that part because there is just SO much to see. Then we'd go down to Africa and do a safari :) Then, fly over to South America and work our way up through Central America and end with a cross-US tour. Phew!

That, however, would take at least a year. So, realistically I'm just super exciting to be going to South America in August ;)

Thanks for the questions, PD!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pretty Vegas

I was tagged by PhizzleDizzle (who I may start calling PDizzle, 'cause it sounds cool) to do this music-related meme:

a) Put your MP3 player, iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc. on shuffle
b) For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
d) Tag at least 5 people
e) Everyone tagged has to do the same thing (no they don't, actually)
f) Have Fun! (Step f is not required)

"Sweet Dreams (are Made of This)" by The Eurythmics -- hmm, not so much right now.

"Future Signs" by Swirl People -- fitting, since everything I think about is in the future!

"Julian (Kinky Roland's Art As Revenge Mix)" by Boy George -- ??

"Respect" by Aretha Franklin -- damn rights!

"Rise (Jam Version)" Kenny Carvajal -- above PhD hell? hehe!

"Boco De Bondoneon" by Latin Impressinos -- I don't even know what that means.

"SexyBack" by Justin Timberlake -- aw, yeah baby.

"Dr. Funk" by Carl Cox -- Dr. maybe, Funk? me thinks not.

"Acid Attack" by DJ Dan -- God I hope not!

10. WHAT IS 2 + 2?
"Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" by Cindy Lauper -- EEEEEE!!!!

"Nation" by Christian Smith -- That doesn't make any sense at all.

"With You" by Sirus -- with my lovely DH! Aw...

"The Planets, Op. 32: VI. Uranus, the Magician" by The London Symphony Orchestra (Holst) -- I'd love to be a planet...

"Hornpipe from Water Music" by Lumiere String Quartet -- don't get any ideas...

"Come away with me" by Nora Jones --- no word of a lie, that's the song that came up and that's the one we danced too! Haha!

"I've got the world on a sting" by Frank Sinatra -- I love that song :)

"Disco Highway" by DJ Dan -- dancing is related...

"American Woman" by Lenny Kravitz -- LOL

"Lady Marmalade" by All Saints -- hmmmm ;)

"Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" by Israel Kamakawiwo-ole -- I DO want a wonderful world!

"Don't Let Anyone" by Kicksquad -- ...get in our way?

"Pretty Vegas" by INXS

I'm tagging (that means you get to do it next):
1. Lunicrax
2. Academomia
3. Dr. Brazen Hussy
4. Acmegirl
5. Frozone

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Today Was Better

So, after my tantrum yesterday about how much I hate my life, I had a meeting with my supervisor this morning. I was so distraught that I asked if I could come see him earlier than our normal meeting time.

He knew right away that there was something wrong. So, instead of pretending, I told him that I had no idea how I'm going to get through the next few months and how I just want this whole damn thing to be done and over with.

He paused, looked up at the calendar and said "Hmm...six months before you want to defend? You're right on schedule." Then proceeded to tell me how much he hated his PhD in the last few months, and it's definitely a normal feeling.

We proceeded to talk about this calculation that I just have not been able to wrap my head around. It turned out I was just missing one minor step, and that I basically had the derivation down. At that point I told him that I just feel like I can't figure anything out anymore and I don't know if I'm going to know enough to pass my defense. He said he's not worried about it, so I shouldn't be either.

I then asked him if he thought any more about this conference in Brazil, and he said he thought it was a great idea. I told him my timeline: submit my thesis by July 1st (August 1st at the latest), go to the conference and take a couple extra weeks to travel with DH, then defend in mid-late September. I kind of cringed waiting for his response, but he is completely on board.

So, at least I have something to look forward to for August. I just have to get there...alive.

Even though it was a pretty short conversation, it really made me feel better. It's nice that he's so sure of my abilities that he's okay with me taking off for a few weeks before my defense. Plus, I'd just mope around here for that time, so I might as well do something interesting and enjoyable.

I just have to realize that the next six months are going to suck - I'm going to hate what I'm doing, I'm going to get frustrated with the writing and getting LaTeX to format the way I want it too, I'm going to want to kill my office mates - but, then it'll be over. Then, I can finally take some time to decide what's next.

So, after the meeting and registering for the conference, I went to check out a couple books on comets from the library, and I came home for nap. Too much emotional excitement makes me sleepy.

Tomorrow, I start to go hard-core on paper #2.

Blogroll Amnesty Day

Sciencewomen noted today (or was it yesterday?) is Blogroll Amnesty Day - a day for all of us out in the blogosphere to give a shout out to our favorite, but maybe lesser-known, blogs. They were kind enough to put this blog on their list (*blush*), so I thought I'd make my own.

Since I'm probably one of the least known blogs, all my shout outs will be to my favorites:

1. Academomia - a great blog about a mother of two trying to finish up her PhD (and is sooooo close!). Hilariousness generally ensues!

2. What the hell is wrong with you? - how can you lose with such a great title?

3. Professor in Training - great commentary on what it's like to be a non-tenured prof in TP land.

4. Dr. Jekyll & Mrs. Hyde - I see her as future me, so I can relate.

5. FemaleScienceProfessor - gives absolutely fantastic advice on how to survive academia, and generates really interesting conversations.

I love other blogs as well (see my blogroll to the right -->), but those might be more widely known and get enough credit already ;)

PS: Life in PhD land is still sucking, and I spent all of last night and this morning crying my eyes out and/or throwing hissy fits about how much I hate things right now. I have a meeting with my advisor in 1 hour and 40 minutes where I may or may not tell him I'm leaving. But I won't, because I'm a wuss and a sucker. Grr.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Let's Get Real

I seriously don't know how I'm going to get through the next few months. I'm so sick of not understanding anything that I do, but at the same time I just don't give a damn about it either. I've spent the last 12 years, since high school, struggling with my studies and generally feeling like an idiot.

I'm going to admit it - I don't have any special reason why I started studying Astronomy. I didn't have a telescope when I was 8, nor was I fascinated by NASA missions or anything. Honestly, the reason why I started was because I didn't get into the music program and thought Astrophysics sounded sufficiently impressive. There. I said it.

Not that I don't love Astronomy, because I do - but at a basic/public knowledge level, not at a graduate level. At this point, I'm studying some tiny aspect of some small sub-sub-field, and no one cares. It has no bearing on society at all, and it's of no help to anyone. It is completely unfulfilling.

I've thought about dropping out of my PhD time and time again. The first time I seriously contemplated it was October of 2007, and it's come up every couple of months since then. It's becoming increasingly common these days though. The one reason I have stayed is that I don't want to let other people down. I don't want my family, my husband, my supervisor, my friends, and especially not my colleagues to look down on me for not finishing.

Embarrassment is seriously the only thing that's kept me going. I realize that's not what I'm supposed to say - I'm supposed to love what I do, and be so happy that my life is dedicated to something to amazing. But, that's not the way I feel and I'm done with pretending.

After having another crying fit this afternoon, DH and I talked about it for the upteenth time. This time it was different though, because it was the first time he ever said that he would fully support me if I decided that I needed to drop out. It made me realize how bad it must be if he can see that maybe the positive of getting a piece of paper isn't worth the misery I've been going through.

I don't know what I'm going to do - at this point dropping out sounds like heaven, but at the same time there is that looming cloud of embarrassment and disappointment. I know that I should just finish - I just can't come up with any reason why.

Weekly PDRP

Last week was absolutely incredible!

1. At the conference I went to on the weekend I met a great lady - she has IBS, like me, and told me about this medication she was on for it and how it has changed her life. I went to the Dr. and he said I could definitely try it out (it's very mild) and I've been feeling better!

2. DH and I have been talking more and we will probably move earlier than expected - more like the Fall instead of next January/February.

3. This means "trying" earlier :D

4. I've been doing more research about a conference in Rio in August, and my supervisor is keen on me going. The plan is that DH will come with me and afterward we're going to do a two week tour in Peru!!

5. There was a freakin' amazing sale at a local optical store, and I ordered 2 new pairs of glasses. I'm so excited to get them :D

6. Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl! WOHOO!

7. I finished yet another book and am on to my 4th one of the year!!

Sunday, February 1, 2009