Posted by barb on May 31, 2008 in Pictures, Random Thoughts, Thesis/Grad Life

A week ago yesterday I graduated! It was a moment I think many of us thought might never come, especially during the past 6 months, but I’m happy to say I did it.

I decided to go through ceremonies for several reasons — the first was that I promised my dad that I would. When I quit grad school in 2001 with “just” my master’s degree, I decided not to go through ceremonies, and my dad was fairly disappointed. I didn’t want to celebrate my master’s, though, because I felt like it was a defeat, rather than a triumph. I was quitting short of my goal.

More importantly, though, I feel like I needed the ceremony as a kind of closure. The defense was a bit of a let-down because I didn’t have the sense of accomplishment when I finished. The graduation ceremony gave me at least some of the sense of closure, the sense of accomplishment. I even walked away with a real diploma!

Here are a couple of pictures of my hooding ceremony, from Peter Teuben, a member of the astronomy department
Kim hooding me

Felicia graduated, too, and here she is in her regalia (I still need to make her hood, though):
Felicia in her grad regalia

I’ll post a report from the grad party that followed last Saturday later; hopefully tomorrow.

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Thoughts on finishing my thesis and PhD

Posted by barb on Apr 23, 2008 in Random Thoughts, Thesis/Grad Life

I suppose I haven’t blogged this here yet (though it did make it onto Galaxy Girl), but I successfully defended my PhD on April 11. Since then I’ve been working on revisions, but they need to be turned in by Friday, so will be completely done in just a couple of days.

Just after I turned in my thesis three and a half weeks ago, I started hearing things like, “You must be so happy to be done with your thesis,” or “You must be relieved to have that done,” or “You must feel a real sense of accomplishment.” The truth of the matter is that I didn’t feel happy or relieved. I chalked that up to the fact that I still had my defense to worry about.

For the two weeks that followed, I put together my dissertation talk. In some ways, it sounds like an easy thing – after all, it was only to be 20-25 minutes. However, being asked to turn 5 years of work into a 20 minute talk is a real chore. I debated taking auctioneer lessons to learn to talk faster, but settled on giving the digest version of much of the work, and hitting on the important and interesting results. I also studied the concepts in my thesis, so that I would be ready to field any of the weird questions my committee might come up with. All the while, I knew that I would finally feel a sense of accomplishment once the defense was over.

I won’t mince words. I was very nervous the day of my defense. I won’t go into details, but I have to say that as it was becoming obvious that the private questioning by the committee was drawing to a close, I was surprised. I had thought it would be more of an ordeal. Maybe it was because I tried to keep the mood light in the room, at one time even calling one of the committee members a “crazy man” (in jest, of course). But, after it was over, I still didn’t feel my sense of accomplishment. Don’t get me wrong, I was relieved that it was over, but I didn’t feel like I’d done anything great.

Since then I’ve been working on revisions to my thesis, and taking some much needed R&R as I can. Will I feel the sense of accomplishment that I keep hoping for when I submit the final thesis to the University on Friday? I have a bad feeling that the answer is no.

Any regular readers know that I have struggled with my thesis and my role as a grad student ever since I returned to finish my PhD in late 2002. I’ve debated quitting since about a year after I returned. I discovered that I don’t really like doing research, at least under the constraints that my thesis imposed (i.e. meetings only once a month at most, and very little interaction or discussion on my thesis science). I’ve kept going, it feels, only because I’m the kind of person who finishes what they start, rather than finishing to satisfy my need to follow my data and analysis to a logical conclusion. In some way I felt trapped, miserable in what I was doing, but unable to stop because I don’t like to be a quitter.

It seems that my thesis has become more an object of distain, hurt and frustration, so it’s hard to view it as a grand accomplishment. It feels more like I’ve decided to stop hitting myself in the head with a 2-by-4 after years of thinking it was the right thing for me to be doing. There’s not much sense of accomplishment in finally ceasing something that has caused so much pain and frustration. Maybe in a year or two I’ll feel like I’ve accomplished something. For now, I want to throw my thesis across the room every time I look at it.



Up late…

Posted by barb on Mar 27, 2008 in Random Thoughts

It’s amazing how much late-night (or really early-morning) advertisements on TV resemble my spam e-mail folder. I’ve already seen two commercials to enhance “that certain part of the male anatomy”, a couple for the “girls gone wild” videos, and another promising large-breasted women.



In which I feel self pity

Posted by barb on Feb 28, 2008 in Random Thoughts

Feeling awful all the time takes a toll after a while. I know that should be obvious, but I rarely stop to think about it. For me, headaches are the norm in my life, and I generally can’t afford to let it get in my way. Some days, though, I just don’t know if I can deal with it.

Take today, for example. My headache isn’t particularly bad today, perhaps worse than an average day, but a far cry from a typical “bad day”. Oddly enough, my headache seems to be migrating today. For a while this morning it had settled into my forehead, which was accompanied by a little bit of dizziness. Now it’s wandered to the back of my head, making my neck ache. I really just want to crawl back into bed in hopes of my headache lessening, but I feel like if I give in today, then I’ll start to give in every day.

Instead, I’m trying to work on my thesis, but I’m not being overly successful. I’ve managed to work a little on my research, but only the simplest thing I can do. Complex physics is just too much to take on right now. But I really need to get at some of that complex physics so that I can write a good introduction for my thesis. If I feel like this tomorrow, I’m going to have to just power through it and work those brain cells.

It’s frustrating because I never feel well. My head always hurts. I can’t let it stop me from day-to-day life, and right now my day-to-day life includes writing my PhD thesis. Today I’m giving in a little to feeling badly, but at a cost of having to push myself tomorrow, not matter how I feel tomorrow.

Sidenote: The headache has now migrated to the top of my head. This is really odd. It seems to be making a path for maximum discomfort – I’m still feeling the dizziness occasionally from the forehead-phase of the headache and my neck is still achy from the back-of-the-head-phase of the headache. Just when I thought it couldn’t get more annoying than just having headache everyday.



< Big sigh of relief >

Posted by barb on Feb 5, 2008 in Random Thoughts

Jury duty has been deferred until summer. Yay!



Overloaded with work? Check! Summoned for Jury Duty? Check!

Posted by barb on Jan 17, 2008 in Random Thoughts, Thesis/Grad Life

Sometime in November I got the notice that I’d be added to the general pool and that would last from Jan ’08 to Dec ’09 – nearly 2 years. Of course, being a student was not on the the list of excuses for getting out, so I sent in my information and giggled to Andrew that it would be just my luck to be summoned in early ’08.


I totally wish I was kidding.

Of course, I’m going to try sending a letter explaining my current situation and hopefully the fact that I will be about 5 weeks from defending my PhD will be enough of an excuse to postpone my service.

But still, I really didn’t need one more thing added to my to-do list. I’m using most of my writing energy up just getting this thesis churned out, and now you want me to come up with a professional yet impassioned letter?



How’s that thesis going?

Posted by barb on Jan 13, 2008 in Random Thoughts, Thesis/Grad Life

Most people know that I’m writing my PhD thesis now, so I frequently get asked how it’s going. I always have to gauge how to answer that question.

The truth? “It’s going very badly, I have unhelpful and unresponsive advisors, I’m behind on the one deadline they finally gave me, and I have no idea what I’m actually going to do with the piles of data that I have. Thanks for asking.” Most people don’t want to know the truth.

A lie? “It’s going great. I have two chapters in really good shape and a third one on it’s way.” Okay, other than the “great” part, that’s not really a lie. Honestly, I think this is the answer I give most people who don’t know me very well. I have a bad feeling that this is what my advisors thing.

Something in-between? “Well, I’ve been struggling here and there, and I’m working on it nearly every waking moment, but it seems to be coming along.” I suppose this one isn’t actually a lie either.

The problem is that when I’m asked this question, I really just want to break down crying. Even with an end in site (ostensibly 5 months, but I have a feeling that it’s going to slip to the summer), I just feel completely overwhelmed. I really am working nearly every waking moment on this thing, whether it’s active writing or compiling data for tables or putting together figures that I may or may not want to use.

I do have one chapter pretty much done (with one more round of comments from my advisors expected on Wednesday). I have the first draft of another chapter in my advisors’ hands right now, and another one is supposed to have been finished last week. That last one is based on a paper, so it shouldn’t be too hard to write, but I’ve been sick since Wednesday, and my head has not been up to any complex thinking, like trying to write.

The problem is that I have at least 3 more chapters to write – a couple on results, some kind of a conclusion and looking to the future, and the introduction. These are the hardest chapters, and I need to actually play more with my data before I know what I can even say in my results.

I seem to be on a 2-week cycle where I work really hard for 2 weeks, and then break down for a day. Fortunately, I have Andrew to see me through my breakdowns. He patiently lets me cry and scream and pout, and then makes me take a break from my thesis, either at the movies or playing “Lego Star Wars”.

I often wonder what my experience would have been like with advisors who actually wanted to chat with me about my research, and who would meet with me more than every 2-3 months. Would I feel less bitter about the process of science? Would I be excited to see what my data would tell us? Would I actually apply to a couple of post-doctoral research positions? Would this final writing push be just a little less stressful?

The truth is that this is the hand I was dealt. I decided to finish this thesis, so I need to just shut up and do it.

How’s the thesis going?

It’s coming along.

[cross-posted at Galaxy Girl]




Posted by barb on Jan 11, 2008 in Random Thoughts, Thesis/Grad Life

Does it go without saying that right now, when I’m already behind making my deadline for one of my thesis chapters, is not a good time to be sick? Again.




My very own astromech droid

Posted by barb on Dec 26, 2007 in Random Thoughts

I got this silly little droid for Christmas – just the tension relief a stressed-out, thesis-writing, crazy-woman needs right now.

What fun things did you get?

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Merry Christmas Everyone!

Posted by barb on Dec 24, 2007 in Pictures, Random Thoughts

Andrew and I went out to the National Christmas tree in front of the White House yesterday with Stef and Doug. (After seeing the magnificently funny “One Man Star Wars Trilogy” at the Wooly Mammoth Theatre (minus Andrew for that – he would not have appreciated it at all).)

While at the Christmas tree, I caught this picture of the Moon and Mars near the tree:
The tree with the Moon and Mars

Hope everyone has a safe and fun holiday – and may Santa bring everything you’re wishing for.


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