I was nervous beforehand, even though I had gone through the talk a few times and felt I had pretty nice slides. I wasn't quite prepared for how many questions I got during the talk; my talk was probably 40 minutes on its own but ended up being an hour due to questions, mostly from committee members. I felt like I answered a lot of questions by starting out, "That's a good question, hmmm," and then saying something that kind of made sense. But a lot of people told me afterward that I came off as answering from a place of deep knowledge as an expert, which is the ideal. The committee also questioned me in private, which was intimidating as the audience was leaving the room, but then the private questioning was very genial and fun. I got asked about Antarctic ice, scintillators, and DARPA, all in the context of my work. And I never really felt nervous while answering questions, which was great.
The committee sent me into the hallway to confer privately, and when they came out and shook my hand to tell me I'd passed, and my assembled friends cheered, it was a pretty great moment. I went out to lunch with people afterward, and spent the rest of the afternoon filling out paperwork, recycling shoes, getting a haircut, and generally feeling awesome.
After my defense ended, I went back into my office to change into a special shirt I have. Some friends of my dad made it for him when he finished his defense, thirty plus years ago, and since we share the same last name and now, the same education level, I am finally able to wear it with pride.
I can't believe that I am really done with graduate school.
Note that the x-axis is a bit compressed, so it only runs from 10-80%, not from 0-100% as you might initially guess, and the middle of the chart is 45% rather than 50%. But even with that, it reflects a lot of cultural norms about what type of work certain people do. The overall trend is an inverse correlation of the economic rewards for being in a field with the percent of the field that's female, but then you see big outliers to that trend, like philosophy and to a lesser extent biology. But you also have to keep in mind that this is at the Ph.D. level, and further along in careers the divides are even worse... which is partly due to the effect of history and when older people started their jobs, but also partly due to the cumulative effects of narratives surrounding gender and work.
Also, take that, physics.
Ben's defense is also scheduled, for August 17. He'll have some time to spearhead our move before his job start, which is in theory at the beginning of September.
The time between now and my defense is subdivided by this NSF workshop in a somewhat stressful way. I have a week until I leave for the workshop (less, actually), then I'll be gone for ten days, then I have a work week of five days to finish the thesis. Then two weeks to write my talk. I am starting to think it will fly by.
A friend of mine asked today if I had anyone "to chair my party planning committee", and then told me if she were on the "party planning committee steering committee", she would pick someone organized with a lot of party planning experience (i.e., her). Now there's something to look forward to.
Scheduling the defense is a pain, though. On top of not necessarily having my oral exam committee back, which is frustrating, I've apparently picked the worst time of year to schedule a defense because so many professors take vacation in the late summer before the academic year starts. It's hard to get definitive answers from people about their availability, including my own advisor. Maybe I will just fill a room by random lottery with any professor I can find, or people who can forge a professor's signature.
I came across this great list of 101 Things Not To Do At Your Thesis Defense. It's very tempting. Some of my favorites:
*"Ladies and Gentlemen, as I dim the lights, please hold hands and concentrate so that we may channel the spirit of Lord Kelvin..."
*The Emperor's New Slides ("only fools can't see the writing...")
*Hang a pinata over the table and have a strolling mariachi band.
*Answer every question with a question.
And of course it turns out that I know all this guy's papers and have been rereading them (among others) in the last couple of weeks as I write the background science chapter of my thesis. I've cited him! He is a postdoc in a bio lab here, which I did not know, but it was so strange to randomly encounter someone whose work I know like that.
( Read more... )
I am staying with a guildie in Dallas for part of the time, someone I've met before who I'm excited about seeing again. And I'll be staying with someone really cool from Penn for part of the time, during the actual conference. I am doing everything on the cheap because I basically just have a small travel grant from APS to cover my expenses, and after airfare and conference registration there is not much money left to get me through the week. But it's enough, I think, since I am essentially couchsurfing this meeting.
In some ways what I really want is to get back to work and be able to just focus on research. I am close to something really cool and impatient to get further along. But in some ways I think it'll be nice to have a week where I am working, but away from the lab and from habits and ruts and drudgery.
It feels like my modus operandi recently consists of impatience and anger, which are counterproductive in almost every pursuit imaginable.
Yesterday, I made myself come to work to do one measurement that I had gotten ready for on Friday; the walk to work was fine once my legs warmed up. But then that measurement went really, really well, and I had a great meeting about the project that measurement was for, and you know... I am really excited about this project. My preliminary data is great, it has the potential to be very high impact, and the path forward is pretty clear. I haven't been this excited about my work in awhile, and it's a really good feeling. Contrast this to how I felt after the NCR Trail Marathon in November, when not only did I have a bad race but I realized afterward that anticipation for the race had been the only thing lifting my spirits because work was so crappy. This is much, much better.
Recently I was talking to someone about work and different lab environments, and in response to something I said, the other person replied, "well, of course, because you are an extrovert." My initial thought was, have you met me?, but as I pondered it more I realized that I am probably a scientific extrovert. I really like collaborative environments, I like learning from other people and synthesizing their approaches into what seems best from my perspective, and I like brainstorming with colleagues about issues or new projects or science we don't get. I can do a lot on my own, but I feel that science gets stronger when you have multiple points of view considered. (Within logistical reason, I know that huge collaborations become very unwieldy places to get things done.) I had never thought of myself as a scientific extrovert (professional extrovert? hmmm) before but it fits.
This is my grad school life:
And this is what I wish my grad school life were like:
Q: Do I have to kill the snake?
A: University guidelines state that you have to "defeat" the snake. There are many ways to accomplish this. Lots of students choose to wrestle the snake. Some construct decoys and elaborate traps to confuse and then ensnare the snake. One student brought a flute and played a song to lull the snake to sleep. Then he threw the snake out a window.
Q: Does everyone fight the same snake?
A: No. You will fight one of the many snakes that are kept on campus by the facilities department.
Q: Are the snakes big?
A: We have lots of different snakes. The quality of your work determines which snake you will fight. The better your thesis is, the smaller the snake will be.
Q: Does my thesis adviser pick the snake?
A: No. Your adviser just tells the guy who picks the snakes how good your thesis was.
And a meme about music selection that I was tagged on facebook for, because I don't do so many memes on facebook but I find some of them interesting.
( the shuffled music meme )
I'm also leaving on Wednesday to go to Chicago for a nanocrystal science workshop. I'm presenting a poster, along with two other students from my lab, and our advisor is giving a talk. I think the conference should be very interesting, although again I would almost rather focus on research right now. I have a really cool project idea that I proposed to my advisor (who hasn't responded) and I want to get moving on it. Nevertheless, I think a lot of the talks should be interesting, and some big-shots will be there, so hopefully it will be professionally worthwhile. And, I haven't been to Chicago in more than ten years; I'm definitely going to try to squeeze in some sightseeing. The other students and I are staying in a hostel in Greektown (to keep expenses down), and that should be a lot of fun. I have a list of museums and sights to try to get to; I imagine this will be like Boston, where I did see a fair amount but not as much as I wanted because of the limited time and work demands.
Also, I really like that you can watch Berkeley Webcast Lectures from anywhere. I have been watching EE (electrical engineering) lectures recently, work-related, and they are so interesting! It's also a better option at this point than sitting in on the classes would be, because I can skip around to stuff I want and not have to wait 4 months for everything. It also makes me realize that I thought I knew what modern EE people do in their careers, but I had oversimplified a lot. What they really do is even more impressive.
I think EE is the field that's closest to mine that I really adore. Which is why I am dragging my physics research EE-ward.
Edited to add: MY PAPER GOT INTO APL! BOOYAH! :D
This summer was a bit rough, and I kept thinking of that lyric by the Shins from Young Pilgrims:
But I learned fast how to
Keep my head up 'cause I
Know there is this side of me that
Wants to grab the yoke from the pilot and just
Fly the whole mess into the sea
But then recently I heard this song for the first time and it seemed very apt for this summer.
Every day was the same: still praying for rain...
Near the end of the paper cycle I really didn't want to work on it any more, but I had to, and since I was doing it alone for the most part I had to try some strategies for retaining focus on something uninteresting. Playing slow Podrunner mixes was a help, because they don't have lyrics but they do have driving beats which makes you feel productive. I also got really sick of doing edits in my office, and I never wanted to work on editing at home, so I found that being outside in the shade with a cup of coffee was a nice way to edit. Especially when the edits were tricky, like "these two paragraphs are vaguely redundant and need to be combined to save space, but in a way that still reads smoothly and keeps all the pertinent information".
Yay, finished! Boo, waiting. Time to start something new!
While you were looking the other way
While you had your eyes closed
While you were licking your lips
'Cause I was miserable
While you were selling your soul
While you were tearing a hole in me
I was taking control
Incidentally, I think that this is a great description of graduate school, or possibly of experimental science in general:
Anyways, that is something that will hopefully improve over the next few weeks. Work is going ok now; my experiments haven't been working for a couple of weeks, which is annoying, but what I should really do is focus on making the poster for my conference and writing a draft of the paper I have been meaning to write for awhile, on the experiments I did in December and January.
The poster is mandatory and the paper is not, but the paper would really help me feel more like I am progressing towards graduation. Which honestly, is important to me. At this same point in my undergrad, I was 2 months from graduating, but here I have no idea when I'll finally finish. I would like to take 5 years total, but I don't know how reasonable that is (it depends on my results and papers, for sure). I should probably talk to my advisor about it and about my plans in general, but she is unavailable at the moment because she just gave birth to her second child over the weekend. It's inconvenient that she's been out of the building a lot, but honestly it's pretty encouraging to see someone doing the academia+children thing successfully, and my advisor worked constantly and was always available over email basically until she went into labor. I'm not sure if she will be taking any maternity leave (she isn't teaching this semester so it wouldn't be difficult to do), but she'll certainly continue to be super-involved in the research we all do because she enjoys it so much I doubt she could stay away. I can only hope that I end up with a job that I like so much and that gives me the time I need for family and other things.