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Cale Anger, 1985-2015 February 8, 2015

Posted by mareserinitatis in geology, grad school, research, science.
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A good friend passed away a week and a half ago, and while it seemed somewhat personal to blog about it, I want to tell a bit of his story and acknowledge the loss.

I met Cale during departmental orientation at University of Minnesota, where I’m working on my PhD and he got his first master’s degree.  Within fifteen minutes of our first one-on-one conversation, we were pretty much telling each other our life stories as we discovered very quickly we had a lot in common.  One thing we had in common is we both loved food and coffee, so we loved to go places together that involved eating. In fact, almost every memory I have of him involves food as we made virtually daily trips to Starbucks.  The rest of the memories involve walking someplace (sometimes to and from food), but often we walked other places as we both enjoyed hiking.  My first hiking trip to the north shore of Lake Superior was with him and another friend.  The picture above is from a trip I took with him and his wife.  He was just like family, and it helped having him there when my family was back in Fargo.

Cale was a very smart and driven person.  After he finished his MS in geology (his research earned him a Best Student Presentation Award at GSA), he went on to get another MS in civil engineering.  His work focused on finding dioxins derived from triclosan (the antibacterial component of many hand soaps) in lakes around Minnesota.  His thesis won the University of Minnesota Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award and the research resulted Minnesota banning the chemical beginning in 2017.

Cale was an amazing person as well as a bright and hard-working researcher.  It’s rare to find someone who has that combination of brilliance, empathy, humor, and humility…and he somehow managed it all.  He was a very good friend to me personally over the past few years, and he seemed to have this ability to become friends with everyone he met.  He genuinely was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.  Beyond that, he managed to make a positive impact on the world through his work.  The world seems a bit emptier without him, but letting others know about him and his contributions helps to fill that space.

Update: The Department of Civil Engineering and Geo-Engineering at the University of Minnesota has renamed their departmental thesis award after Cale.  They are attempting to create an endowment to fund a cash prize for the winners.  If you would care to donate, please go to http://give.umn.edu/giveto/caleanger .

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New Year’s Goals: The 2015 FCIWYPSC edition January 1, 2015

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, family, grad school, personal, religion, research, running, work, writing.
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I’m not doing resolutions and haven’t done them for a while.  Goals, however, are another story, particularly when they’re of the quantifiable type.  While some of these are large goals (like with running), I break them down to weekly and daily goals, as well.

Writing this out is helpful because not only does it provide me with some accountability, it helped me realize I was bogging myself down with too much.  I had to cut a few items.

These are the things I think I can manage with some consistency:

  • Career/Work: Publish at least one paper and attend at least one conference.
  • Career/Dissertation: Set a minimum amount of time to work on my thesis each week, though the weekly total will vary if there’s a holiday involved.  (I do some version of this, but I think I need to make my planning a bit more specific.) Also, attend one conference this year.
  • Family time: Family play day once per month.
  • Marriage: Keep up with the weekly date with the spousal unit.
  • Self-care/Religious: Center down (or if you prefer, meditate or pray) for at least ten minutes a day, not necessarily all at once.
  • Self-care/Sleep: Stick to a consistent (and early) bed-time at least 4 days per week.
  • Self-care/Physical activity: Run or walk 500 miles by the end of October.  I did about 200 outdoor miles this year but didn’t keep track of treadmill time at all, so I think this is doable, especially in light of my next goal.  I’ve also learned I like to ramp down the activity around the holidays (too much to do), so that amounts to about 11.5 miles per week.
  • Fun goal: Do half-marathons in two new states this year.  Two down, 48 to go. I’m hoping to cross Wisconsin and Michigan off the list this year.  (And I’ve already registered for one of them.)
  • Misc/Blog: Post on the blog at least twice per week.  (I do that on average, but sometimes there are long gaps in between.)
  • Misc/Email: I will keep my main mailbox below 3000 messages.  That may sound horrible, but this is 1/5 of what it was just last week.  I need to either delete those messages, read them, or unsubscribe from all the spam I’m getting…probably mostly the latter.  Lots of unread email makes me overwhelmed.

So do you have any goals for the year?

Science makes you a slob October 8, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in grad school, research.
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I’ve been trying to work through a problem, and it’s one of those things that’s taking up all my brain power.  Unfortunately, it’s turned me into a slob.

I woke up this morning and made myself breakfast and tea.  I went and got dressed.  Then I sat down and forgot pretty much everything.  (I remembered to eat, so there’s that.)  When my reminder went off that I needed to pick the younger son up from school, I realized that the table was full of mail and dishes, I was still wearing the sweatpants I’d thrown on in a hurry, I still was wearing my glasses, and my hair hadn’t been brushed.

Unfortunately, I also still hadn’t solved my problem.  That bothered me far more than the other stuff, but not by much.

Oh, that’s right! I have a blog! August 29, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in family, grad school, older son, personal, work, younger son.
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Summer, at least the social construct of summer, officially comes to a close this weekend for most people.  The younger son has been in school for a week, and I’m scratching my head, wondering where the time went.  It was the summer of “the best laid plans of mice and men,” if you get my drift.  

I did accomplish a lot at work.  However, shifting deadlines there required I push off other stuff.  In response to that, I decided to take some time off and get caught up on some of those other things, which will be easier now that the younger offspring is busy plodding through the halls of a reputable educational institution rather than ones created in Minecraft.  I have a couple weeks of crunching numbers at home before going back to work to do it.

The other thing that will help is that the older offspring has decided that his odd work schedule really isn’t doable, despite a serious effort on his part.  I am relieved because I seem to be getting more sleep again, which has made me a saner, kinder, and more productive human being.  Also, I appreciate being able to form a coherent sentence…

I hate to say it, but I’m glad school has started again.  I usually love summer, but I’m very glad to have a routine and time to work on my own stuff back.

How was your summer?

“I’m busy” is a euphemism July 22, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, family, grad school, personal, work.
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I’ve read a couple articles about how we all get caught up in being so busy.  A lot of them talk about how we need to escape the busyness spiral.  Xykademiqz expressed frustration with people who are always busy.

I guess I’m coming at it from a different angle.

I’ve come to realize that the phrase “I’m busy” is just a polite way of saying, “My priorities are different from yours.”  That is, the requested action is more important to the person asking than the person who is supposed to perform the action.  Particularly relevant to my personal situation, it’s also a way to avoid saying, “I need time to work on my thesis.”

Because I’m starting to find that pretty much nobody cares if you need time to work on that.

“Aren’t you done with that yet?”

“You sure have a lot of time off.”

“I’m sure you can do that some other time.”

“Can’t you put it off for just one day?”

Except I’ve been asked to put it off more days than I even have available to push it off from.  As much as I hate telling people I’m busy, I hate even more that people won’t respect my schedule.  Part of the issue is that I am technically only part time at my job.  If you’ve ever had to work part time at a job without a very explicit schedule, you can forget that.  People want things done on their schedule, and when you’re gone you’re taking “time off.”  Apparently raising two kids and a PhD is “time off.”  I’m jealous of those people who actually get to take vacations on their time off.

A lot of times the outright rejection of working on a dissertation isn’t verbalized.  Kids, in particular, really don’t get that you have other things to do besides take care of their needs night and day.  Not that I can blame them as I sure wouldn’t mind if my mom showed up to clean my house once in a while.  (I know, Mom…you’re busy, too.)

Admittedly, doing all of this is a choice.  It’s just unfortunate that a lot of people don’t respect that choice.  It’s particularly frustrating when people want you to do things that they’re capable of doing but are “too busy” to do themselves.  It seems that rather than get into a verbal sparring match with them about how they disagree with my priorities, it’s just easier to say, “I’m busy.”

Cynicism and the academic market March 25, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, grad school, research, work.
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I recently had someone ask what I was planning to do after I graduated.  I’ve had this question asked of me before.  When I responded, “I’m interested in a tenure track position,” I have, more often than not gotten the “Yeah right.  Let me know how that works out for you” response.  Not in so many words, of course.

This time, however, I responded that I was interested in a TT position, and added that I knew it was highly unlikely.  The reaction to that was, “Not necessarily.”

I was appreciative of the comment because I think, without reading too much into it, it was meant to be encouraging.  However, I still have to stick by my stance that it’s pretty unlikely, mostly because I think it’s not best to be wed to the idea.

The data seems to back me up on this one.  There was a study done on those who make it into TT positions in political science, and the conclusion is that there are very select schools from which everyone is trying to hire.  I don’t have any direct info for my field, but this seems like a reasonable proxy.  The conclusion is that 20% of TT hires come out of a half dozen elite colleges.  And as your school goes down in ranking from there, so do your chances of getting hired.  I’ve also seen numbers, at least for physics, that only 1 in 10 grads finds a TT spot.

Just looking at these numbers makes me think that I would be rather stupid to count on getting a TT spot.  So as much as people may want to be encouraging (and I do appreciate it), it seems like I should try to stay pragmatic and keep in mind that there is life after academia.

Because you’re worth it December 16, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, grad school, research, writing.
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I’ve gotten behind on blog reading, but I found a post by FSP from a couple weeks ago asking if grad students know what they’re worth.

I have a reasonably good idea of how much I cost as a grad student.  I knew, at a minimum, I could throw my paycheck and tuition together.  Also, after writing several proposals of my own, this has come to my attention once or twice.  On one of my most recent proposals, I had a collaborator from a completely different field, and he needed a grad student to complete his research.  I was rather stunned that this non-STEM grad student would make nearly half what a grad student in my field (well, either of them) typically makes.  I’m glad I didn’t go into that particular field.

I am also aware that most STEM grad students are also cheap if you look at how much they could make going into industry rather than grad school.  Let’s face it: tuition and a paycheck typically still doesn’t add up to a full-time paycheck + benefits + taxes…at least in one of my fields.  (I’ll add that I’m not counting expenses for equipment use because, unless the student wrote the grant and is running the project, that’s the cost of running a project and not with having a student.  The PI would still have that expense if s/he were performing the research him- or herself.)  If money is the only thing you’re concerned about, how much you cost in grad school can be a bit disheartening when compared to your worth.  On the other hand, knowing how much a PI typically gets for grants, the student is likely one of the more expensive items on the budget.

It surprises me, however, that this isn’t something most PIs discuss up front with their grad students.  I understand that most people don’t get the opportunity to put together a proposal in grad school.  It took me a while to get that because my husband, upon getting approval for his PhD project from his grad committee, sat down with his advisor and wrote it up for NSF.  That was something he did even before he got deeply into his research.  I had the erroneous impression that this was something pretty much everyone did on their way to getting a PhD.  I have found out since then that this scenario may have been a somewhat unique case.

In reading the blogosphere over the past few years, I have frequently seen comments by professors about their students not understanding how expensive they are.  It makes me wonder if some of that irritation is due to a lack of communication and would be alleviated by sitting down with the student and walking them through the process of writing a proposal and budget.  Perhaps it’s naive, but I’m inclined to think it would help the student better understand the constraints, particularly financial, that their advisor may have.

I hate computers December 9, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in computers, grad school.
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pulling-hair-out

I hate it when things don’t work the way they should….like when your software license that’s supposed to last for one year suddenly stops working after 8 months.

Sadly, that was pretty much the highlight of the day.

Does this make me multilingual? July 16, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in computers, electromagnetics, engineering, grad school, math, physics, research.
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I began my programming education quite young and have maintained my skills over the years.  I have recently been thinking of documenting some of the various languages and software programs I’ve learned to use, so here is as good a place as any.

  • 4th grade – TI Basic
  • 8th grade – Logo
  • 10th grade – BasicA and Apple Basic (pretty close to the same thing)
  • 12th grade – Fortran and QBasic (these were at the college)

In college:

  • took a class on C and had to learn unix, too
  • learned Maple in a calc course
  • learned matlab for a research project and used it extensively in a numerical analysis course
  • learned mathcad for a physics lab course
  • learned mathematica for intro to differential equations and used that for many other classes

During my MS, I was exposed to half a dozen software packages for computational electromagnetics modeling (half of which are trademarked, so I’m not going to bother listing them).

In the past couple years at work, I’ve gotten pretty handy with Scilab.

After all of this, you would think that I have a pretty complete toolkit.  I should be able to do pretty much whatever I need with what I’ve already learned.  I find it ironic, therefore, that I am back to using Fortran (one of the first things I learned).  I also have been spending the past month trying to learn IDL (which, if you don’t mind me saying, seems like a less friendly version of matlab), so there is something new, again.  Also, I have people pestering me to learn python.

Looking at this list, I’m starting to think I’m learning things so that I can simply forget them again later.  I’m pretty sure I’ve forgotten more than I remember.

Fields of irony July 1, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, geology, geophysics, grad school, research, work.
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When I started thinking about what I wanted to do for grad school, I thought geophysics was a good option because I enjoy getting outside.  I figured that if I were doing something related to geology, that opportunity would present itself much more often than in electrical engineering.  I suppose this idea came because I was used to spending most of my time in a 10’x20′ windowless room…or a much bigger windowless lab.  Either way, cabin fever sets in quickly when one is deprived of fresh air and sunshine most of the day.

Unfortunately, I discovered I wasn’t as crazy about ‘outdoor’ geology but fell in love with computationally intensive topics.  I love getting outside and collecting rocks, but I view it more now as a hobby than as a career path.

Recently, however, I’ve been working with some people in another department on a project.  This new project will probably require me to spend some time outside doing field work.  It’s rather ironic that I may end up getting my outside time because of a project I’m doing in electrical engineering.

I guess it all works out in the end.  Now if I could find a way to teach programming outdoors…

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