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.



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.




Airport blogging

Posted by barb on Oct 26, 2007 in Pictures, Random Thoughts, Thesis/Grad Life

Greetings from the Huntsville airport, here in sunny Alabama.

I thought I’d blog earlier this week, with being at a conference and bored in the evenings, and all, but obviously it didn’t happen.

I’ve been at the Eight Years of Science with Chandra meeting this week. I travelled with the Constellation-X booth, but I also had a poster at the meeting. Attendance at this meeting was actually fairly low, but surprisingly, it was the first time I’ve had any interest in my poster from researchers doing work in my field. Yup, I’ve brought posters to 3 or 4 AAS meetings and the last Chandra meeting – all relating to my thesis work, but this is the first time I’ve had a discussion with anyone *in my field*. And they seemed interested in it! I have to say that it’s nice to finally have some outside validation of my work.

Con-X booth Felicia at the Chandra meeting

Other than that, it was a typical conference. A few interesting talks, a few boring talks, and several talks that I just didn’t understand (either due to language/microphone difficulties and/or due to material).

Felicia and me at the Space and Rocket Center

Yesterday (my birthday…hurmph) the conference ended at noon, so I packed up the booth, and then Felicia and I went over to the US Space & Rocket Center, which was right next door to the hotel. I actually had gone many years ago, when I was in junior high or high school (can’t remember exactly when), with my aunt, uncle and grandma. Sadly, I was a little disappointed this time around. One of the coolest things to see was the Saturn V rocket last time. Now the Saturn V is getting a new home, in an under-construction building next to the main building. Translation: I didn’t get to see it. They also have a mock-up of the Saturn V standing in the “rocket park”, but the area was also under construction, so I couldn’t get up close to it.

Oh well. I did get to see the other rockets, and took some pictures with Felicia (more posted to Flickr later). Plus I got some astronaut ice cream – since I couldn’t have cake on my birthday, at least I got some ice cream.

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< Doing Happy Astrophysicist Dance >

Posted by barb on Apr 13, 2007 in Random Thoughts, Thesis/Grad Life

Why am I doing the happy astrophysicist dance? Because my paper was accepted to The Astrophysical Journal this week! The paper is now listed in the Future Articles section of the ApJ website, but you need a subscription to see the preprint.

I’ve also posted it to astro-ph, so you can check it out if you want: Possible X-ray diagnostic for jet/disk dominance in Type 1 AGN, by Mattson, Weaver, and Reynolds.

[Cross-posted at Galaxy Girl]



Outfit chosen…

Posted by barb on Sep 11, 2006 in Random Thoughts, Thesis/Grad Life

…and ironed and ready to go.

Thanks to everyone who voiced an opinion on my outfit for the orientation and reception tomorrow evening. I’ve closed comments on the previous post and tallied the votes. There were 3 votes for Option #1, 8 votes for Option #2, and none for Option #3.

While I actually prefer skirts to slacks, and I like Suzanne’s observation that the monochromatic scheme under the jacket of #1 would make me look taller, I’m going to go with the majority. I worried that Option #1 would be a bit too bright, and the darker colors of Option #2 will look nicer and more professional.

Thanks again. I’ll be sure to post a follow-up Thursday or Friday to let y’all know how the lobbying went.


Help! quick!

Posted by barb on Sep 10, 2006 in Pictures, Random Thoughts, Thesis/Grad Life

Did I mention Congress?

I’m going to Congress on Wednesday this week as part of an army of scientists being brought in to lobby on behalf of science funding. I’ve already figured out what I’m wearing to Congress on Wednesday (I bought a new outfit &#150 see it here).

However, there is an orientation and reception Tuesday night for the members of the lobbying team. Presumably, I could dress for this as though I were coming straight from work, but the problem is that I wear shorts or jeans to work. So, I need your opinion on what to wear. Here are three options from my wardrobe (click on the images for a full-sized view and keep in mind that the outfit may not be completely ironed and I’m not wearing the body-constricting undergarments that I’ll be wearing Tuesday).

Let me know in the comments ASAP which outfit you think I should wear.

Option 1 Option 2 Option3
Option 1: Salmon skirt, top and brown jacket Option 2: Brown pants and jacket with lace top Option 3: Demin skirt with striped top


My very own PhD fairy!

Posted by barb on Jul 27, 2006 in Random Thoughts, Thesis/Grad Life

My PhD fairy!

My crazy aunt, Maggie, just knew that I’ve been having trouble motivating myself on my thesis lately. Her solution? A PhD fairy! How awesome is that?

The card she sent says:

This is your own personal PhD fairy.
She loves to do RESEARCH!
Put her on your computer and watch the numbers start to CRUNCH!
She also gives OOMPH when you’ve had enough.

Now I have to finish. Yay!

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