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Newspaper nullification April 29, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, writing.
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Back in the dark ages, i.e., my first year of college, I was elected with four other people to be an editor of the school paper.  It was an interesting experience and solidified my interest in writing.  (I even spent some time as a journalism major!)

At the end of the year, I was responsible for putting together a flyer to send out to the incoming freshman.  It was supposed to let them know about the newspaper and inform them how to become involved, if they were interested.  I put together a traditional letter, very similar to the packet of letters that I received before arriving at the school.  However, I decided that was sufficiently boring, so I also put together a collage, pasting various clippings, pictures and other things that had actually been printed in the paper during the previous school year.  I photocopied it onto the back of the letter and was set to go.

Admittedly, I was a freshman in college and didn’t have the best taste.  Also, we had no journalistic standards.  Regardless, my choices were apparently not appreciated and the collage was pulled.  There were comments about scaring the parents of potential incoming students.  It made no sense to me as these were things we’d actually published at one point or another.  If they were freaked out by the stuff in the paper, then obviously they hadn’t been at pre-frosh weekend.

So much for journalistic freedom of speech.  (I know…apples and oranges.)

That happened almost exactly 20 years ago.  Thanks to the internet, I can put this out in public so all those poor freshman from the class of ’98 can see what they were missing out on.


Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

So why do I bring it up now?  Because I found it the other day and took a good hard look at it.  Aside from it being a fairly interesting trip down memory lane (and a bit of a time capsule to boot), I pondered what I would do if my son, who will be entering college next fall, received something like this.

I have to admit that I’m baffled.  It was certainly goofy, but I still don’t understand what the big deal was.  And if my son received something like this, I might actually be a little amused.  I still think it’s more interesting that that stupid, boring letter.

Or maybe I’m just a warped parent.

(ETA: I suppose there is one circumstance where I might be concerned.  If my son were going to be a journalism major, I’d probably be recommending other schools.)

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.

Grammar gripes April 11, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in older son, writing.
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I really try not to hound people for their grammar or spelling.  It’s obvious, if you’ve spent any time reading this blog, that I’m prone to making errors, even when I do proofread an entry before posting.  Commas will show up for no good reason, I’ll swap your and you’re, and sometimes words will just plain go missing.  (Number of errors and misspellings is usually proportional to sleep deprivation.)

Every once in a while, however, one little thing will get under my skin.  This happened recently when I was talking with my kids and asked, “Does either of you need to get some food?”  The older boy responded not by answering the question but by correcting my grammar.

“Do either of you, you mean.”

“Nope.  Does.  Either is the subject, not you.  You is describing either as it’s in a prepositional phrase.  Therefore the verb needs to agree with either, which is third person, singular.”

He still didn’t agree, so we took the argument to google…where I found a page saying that either phrasing was correct.  Grammatically, it said that the proper form is “does either,” but common usage allows for both forms of do.

I realize that language is an evolving thing, but I think it’s one thing to say that something is correct versus socially acceptable.  It is socially acceptable to say, “Do either of you need something?” even if it is like nails on a chalkboard to some of us.  However, it is not grammatically correct.

Either way, I’m left feeling like I’m shaking a cane at my kids, yelling at them to get off my sentence diagrams.

Writing about writing February 16, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, research, writing.
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I won’t apologize for not updating regularly.  I will, however, say I miss it.

I’ve been doing a lot of writing again, and I’m finding that it leaves me with very little to say.  I can’t really write about what I’m writing about in any sort of entertaining fashion.  Well, I suppose I could complain, but who wants to read that?

In the past month, I’ve had to write a short proposal and put together a presentation, significantly edit a previously written long proposal to submit someplace else, and then write a conference paper.  I’m hoping I get at least one of these so I can tell you about it, but for now, I’m still waiting.  Heck, I’m still waiting on the proposals I wrote last October.

I suppose I could write about how much I hate waiting, but it would be a very short post.  Even shorter than this one.

I proposed November 4, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, writing.
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I’ve been a vegetable this weekend.  I had intended to fill out my ballot yesterday, but it had to wait until this morning.  I managed to get myself out the door for a 4 mi. run yesterday.  And then Mike and I went to dinner without kids.

But I have all this grading to catch up on, so it’s still going to be a long day.  (But did I mention that I voted?)

I’m a vegetable because I was involved in submitting a couple proposals last week, and I was seriously lacking sleep.  Apparently, I wasn’t the only one going through this as there was something on twitter about advice for those writing their first proposals.  (Anyone remember the hashtag?  There was lots of good info there.)

This was quite the learning experience.  One of the proposals was for a very interdiscplinary project, and I learned one important thing: no one will get you their part of the proposal until the last minute.  I will say, however, that those I was working with did a great job on their parts…but it’s stressful and a lot of effort stitching things together at the last minute at 2 a.m.  I learned it’s also best if you can get a good head start writing stuff and letting people augment and/or correct their portions rather than just waiting for them to do it.  I will say that this is exceedingly difficult when you’re trying to write on an area of science or engineering that is completely outside of your realm.

The more important lesson was that I learned I enjoy writing proposals, despite all the stress.  It’s akin to blog writing:  “Hey, I have this great idea I want to tell you about.  If I do it well enough, you might even give me money.”  I suppose this is the same thing people think when they get into blogging: “If I become a famous blogger, I can retire off my advertisement revenues…”  Or something like that.

But seriously, I enjoyed sitting down and fleshing out the ideas, explaining how to best implement them.  I liked being able to convey why an idea is really cool.  And, well, I just really liked talking about my ideas.

Or maybe I just like the idea of a captive audience.  :-)

I also learned how useful it is to have multiple sets of eyes looking over your writing.  I do a good enough job of conveying meaning in my writing, but sometimes there’s a way to do it more convincingly and/or more elegantly.  I really liked some of the changes my co-authors made.  Sometimes they could do a much better job at capturing the essence of the message.

The best part of the whole experience, however, was that I was too busy to pay much heed to all the political ads that are now inundating me.  While I was really glad to have the proposals in and the deadline behind me, I’ll be even more glad when I can say the same about election day.

How blogging has helped me: writing July 31, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in meta, writing.
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Blogging has been beneficial to me in so many ways I can’t even begin to count.  At the very least, I have a place to complain about things to my heart’s content.  This has, in turn, prevented me from driving my husband nuts.  Therefore, we are still married.

Aside from that, there is the fact that I write a lot faster and more smoothly than I used to.  Sitting down to write just about anything was difficult in high school.  When in college, I spent a brief time as a journalism major, which got me used to writing.  However, sitting down and doing it was still a chore and my progress could be sporadic and sluggish.

Now, however, I do a lot of composing in my head and that makes it easier to get things down on paper…at least the electronic kind.  Admittedly, I have to go back and revise almost everything.  On the other hand, it comes out a lot better than it used to.  It also doesn’t seem like such a chore to edit.  I’m so used to deleting paragraphs of my own writing on the blog that it doesn’t phase me to do it in more professional compositions.

There are down sides to blog writing.  I have this tendency to uses ellipses unnecessarily, which I’m sure is a result of using them excessively on the blog.  I tend to write in a stream of consciousness voice…  I’m undoubtedly more conversational in some of my professional writing than necessary.  However, I think I can forgive myself since I can now at least get the words out for later editing.

What about you?  Have you found that blogging has made a big difference in your writing?

It’s amazing what I can get done when I’m not at work July 5, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in grad school, personal, research, writing, younger son.
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I never thought I’d be thankful for my child being sick.  I suppose I should as it means he’s acquiring another immunity.

I’m guessing the younger son had West Nile.  At least, the symptoms were consistent with West Nile, and it showed up a couple days after his daycare took the kids to a nearby state park to swim.  Swimming hole = mosquitoes = contagion.  The younger boy is usually pretty healthy, but it was obvious he was pretty sick this time.  He spent two days solid watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons, eating jello and yogurt, and sleeping.

I constantly had a thermometer in my hand.  The worst was reading temps of 103.5°F, because then I had to convince myself that it was really better not to give him Tylenol.  See, the kid wouldn’t sleep unless I let his fever run up, and I know from past experience that you’ve got to let them hit that spike or it just drags out for days.  It seemed to work because less than 24 hours after we initially discovered he was sick, his fever dropped down in to the below 101°F range.  Yesterday, which was 48 hours after we found out he was sick, he was going stir crazy and taking Mike and myself with him.

In the meantime, I was stuck at home, and it was the probably some of the best uninterrupted time I’ve had in months to work on my dissertation.  This resulted in a big jump forward, at least from my perspective.  In that time, I learned how to use the debugger and managed to fix a couple major issues with my code.  On top of that, I managed to finish a fictional novel I’ve been reading for the last six months.  (Yeah, I know…)  I even spent some time doing some fun writing of my own (though obviously not the blog).

I also was asked to take care of a rescue dog for a couple days.  He’s a very sweet boy, but he makes Gigadog look tiny.  (Maybe we should call him Teradog?)  I’ll probably be picking him up tomorrow, so I’ll try to get some pics up.  (Depends on how busy he keeps me.)  I think we’ve decided to call him Rainier, since he’s huge as a mountain.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he and Gigadog get along well.

When I finally get organized… March 5, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, research, writing.
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I spent the day at the conference with a nasty headache.  I couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel so that I could take some (OTC) drugs, get a hot shower, and pass out.

Unfortunately, it was not meant to be.

I got back to find out that the toilet, which I had told them about this morning before I left, was still inoperable.  Also, the dishwasher apparently had a leak.  Their maintenance people were gone for the day, however, so my only choice was to move rooms.

Efficiency always bites me in the butt.  The one time I actually decided to unpack all my clothes and belongings in the drawers and closet, I end up having to pack everything up and haul it into another room.  Also, I have a kitchenette so I can do my own cooking, and this meant I also had to haul a couple bags of groceries and a couple bowls of refrigerated food up and down the hallway.  So that sucked up another hour of my already short evening.

The conference itself was very enjoyable.  I’ve been to conferences where people jump on you for the slightest error.  I was very impressed at how positive the dialogue was.  I also like the fact that it’s a smaller group of people.  There were about 100 people or so, and about six women.  I was thinking that was pretty awful until I remembered my signals class – 3 women out of 60, so I guess it’s about on par or even better than some of my engineering classes.

The down side is that everyone assumed that I was a grad student.  And no, I wasn’t dressed like a typical grad student.  When I corrected them and said I am a research engineer, half of them said I looked young enough to be a grad student and the other half wanted to know what a research engineer is.  (Best answer I could come up with is that it’s like a post-doc…but with a choice between benefits or flexibility.  I chose flexibility – working half-time so that I can work on a dissertation and haul my kids around after school is a pretty sweet deal in my book.)

I also had a lot of people, particularly industry folks, come and talk to me about my poster.  However, I was chagrined to discover that I put a lot more text on my poster than pretty much everyone else.  Most of the posters had a paragraph or two and were otherwise covered in pictures, plots, and equations.  I was surprised at this because my experience at other conferences is that mine was on par or even low on text.  Mike said that it was less wordy than a lot of them he’s seen.  I can’t figure if this is a shift that’s happened since I last went to a conference (it’s been about 4 years) or if it’s unique to this conference.  Admittedly, most other conferences only require you to spend a half hour or so at your poster, so they are unattended most of the time and that extra explanation is helpful.  This poster session was about 2 1/2 hours long and it was strongly recommended to be there the entire time as there are no talks going on during that time.  Anyone have any thoughts on this one?

He’s not carrying me November 20, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, family, papers, research, writing.
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(Image courtesy of the Wife Carrying World Championships.)

Way back in the dark ages (i.e. this summer before school started), GEARS and I were chatting (because he actually had time to breathe then).  The topic of me working with my husband came up, and he made a comment saying I should be careful not to publish too many papers with my husband because people will assume that he’s carrying me.  I said that was true, but the people who make that assumption are also likely to be the ones who assume I’m an idiot by virtue of my sex.  He conceded that was likely true, and then the conversation moved on to other things.

However, GEARS really does have a point.  This is particularly frustrating because of situations like the following:

About the same time that GEARS and I had this conversation, my husband asked me for help on a paper.  The paper was one written by The Minion and which Mike was a coauthor.  (I, however, am not.)  It had been submitted twice to a pretty good journal in engineering, and rejected both times.  He asked me to take a look at it.

After reading the paper and the reviewer comments, I suggested some major changes.  The problem was that the reviewer kept asking for comparison of The Minion’s widget to some other widgets, as well as a few other things that didn’t seem relevant to what they were doing.  I told them that while the paper was supposed to be about this new process The Minion used to improve and old widget to make a new one, the paper was written as though it was showing off a new widget.  If they could change things so that the paper was more about the process than the widget, than comparison to the other widgets would seem irrelevant as you already have comparisons between the old widget and the other widgets.  They really wanted to compare the old widget to the new widget to show that the process worked.

My husband rewrote the paper in line with my suggestions, checked with The Minion, and resubmitted.   I’d like to say the paper got accepted, but it didn’t.  On the other hand, the nature of the comments changed from assertions that the paper was useless to specific comments to improve the paper, all of which were easily addressed.  Once those changes were made, the paper was resubmitted and accepted.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the kind of thing that other people see.  People seem to think that when you’re not married to someone you collaborate as equals, but when you are, someone is pulling more of the weight.  I imagine that’s true in some cases, but certainly not all.  And in our situation, my husband gets as much help from me as I from him.

If he really wanted to carry me, we could always look at participating in the actual sport of wife carrying.  Apparently we’d only have to go to Wisconsin to compete.

Of course, I’m personally more interested in the husband carrying competition:

Old-fashioned tech November 12, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in writing.
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Inspired by Massimo who was inspired by Cath.


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