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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.

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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.”

Welcome to 2014 January 12, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in family, older son, personal, younger son.
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Despite all of my good intentions, it’s taken a bit more to get back into my routine.  The youngster went back to school on Monday.  I was relieved not to be teaching this week (or this semester), but I had a paper deadline this week along with a lot of other anomalous stuff.

In particular, a friend of mine passed away at the beginning of the week.  It’s made this week seem a bit surreal.

That’s given me an opportunity to think about my priorities, which was something I had started reflecting on over the break.  I’m not one to make resolutions, but it’s good to reflect on goals.  And nothing will make you think about your goals more than realizing they can be cut short.

My thesis has been weighing heavily on my mind.  I definitely reaffirmed that I want to finish my PhD, but it’s been hard and frustrating this past year, particularly the past three to four months.  I really anticipated being farther because I didn’t anticipate how rough the fall semester would end up being.  So I’m working on getting my schedule set up to have more time to devote to that.

Realistically, that’s the one thing I’m really not happy about.  It’s a big thing, so it’s not something as simple as, “I can put in 15 minutes a day on it.”  But I’m making an effort to rearrange a few things, particularly with kid schedules, to facilitate getting more time on things.

I also want to be blogging regularly again.  The holidays and grading threw an awful crimp in that one.  One day isn’t a data point, but you need that data point to start a trend.

I’m happy to report that our housekeeping effort is going well.  That is, the kids are doing a great job.  I gave up on trying to have them get things done before the weekend.  We just schedule a time for them to work on it and, when we tell them it’s time to, they do.  (We’ve found that it seems like we can’t get to it every week, but we’re holding steady with every other week at least.)  We pay them according to which jobs they do, and we match everything they earn with a deposit into their savings account.  The house is staying cleaner than when we had a housekeeper, and I think we’re actually spending less.

This is actually much more about the kids than it is about the house, though.  I’m really happy that they are both at a point where they are taking responsibility for their chores.  I hate breathing down their neck about anything. I also really am happy about the fact that doing chores is one thing they do cooperatively.  They have a system worked out – older boy does the tall stuff, younger boy does the floor stuff that older boy hates, etc.  They worked it out themselves and, even better, they seem to have fun doing it.

At the same time, the older son is getting ready to go to college this fall.  I anticipate that there will be a lot of changes despite his plans to live at home.  I’m impressed that he’s trying to move forward cautiously and not bite off more than he can chew.  I also have no idea how the big changes over the next couple years will affect the younger son, who quite adores his older brother.

I anticipate there will be a lot of bumps in the road this year, but I’m hoping that it will be uphill from here.  I guess I’d rather start the year on a sad note so that I can look forward to how much better it will get.

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.

It’s working! Bwahahaha! July 18, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in computers, grad school, research.
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I really try not to let myself post too many blog posts when I’m overly tired.  Usually this results in a post that is only semi-coherent and riddled with grammatical and spelling errors.  (The other day on Facebook, I intended to write “more likely” but it came out “morely like”…which is a sure sign of sleep deprivation.)

However, I’m rather excited that after months of trying to deal with my bad programming, the compiler not being overly friendly with my code, and some sort of conspiracy between my compiler and the communications protocol on one of the computer clusters, I am running some code for real now.  (Not just in debug mode!)

To celebrate, I am going to sleep as soon as I’m done with this post.  I sure now how to live it up, don’t I?

(Official notice: spelling and grammatical errors have not been approved by this poster but will likely show up anyway.  Especially wierd ones.)

Grad student advice: Picking a topic April 17, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, grad school, physics, research.
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It happened again yesterday: one of the email updates I received had a post from someone asking someone to give him a good topic for a dissertation.

It’s not an absurd question: some of us don’t have much if any guidance from advisors, though I get worried that this is indicative of a problematic advising relationship.  I’m also not saying an advisor should give a student a topic (at least not for a PhD), but they apparently aren’t even addressing the topic with the student.  However, I figured it’s a question worth addressing on the blog.  If nothing else, I can post a link whenever I see the question pop up, which it seems to do with regularity.

The real simple answer, in my experience, is to start reading.  Read journals in your field.  Look at what interests you.  Try to think of gaps or problems that aren’t addressed in the research you’re reading.  And don’t forget to go back and read the references for the most interesting articles.  Other ideas are to get involved in projects or try to choose something from a class project (I discuss this here).  Generally, you’re going to be spending several years on something, so let your curiosity guide you.  If it’s not interesting now, it certainly won’t be in four years.  (In fact, even if it is interesting now, you might be sick of it in four years, but it’s best to make that four years as tolerable as physically possible.)

The question in my mind is whether you should talk to your advisor before or after you start doing this.  Some advisors do give their students projects, but my experience in physics and electrical engineering is that most don’t.  (My friends in the biological sciences, particularly medicine, have indicated that, in their fields, getting a topic handed to you is the norm.)  However, even if your advisor doesn’t give you a project, s/he is likely to have an area of interest where they’d prefer you work.  My MS advisor was very much the exception in that he expected his students to pick topics outside of his primary research area as a way for him to learn more about other areas.  I think his rule of thumb was that it had to require electromagnetics…beyond that, you were pretty much on your own.  On the other hand, if you had no particular interest, he did have suggestions, so he didn’t leave you hanging, either.

Therefore, as you’re looking at topics, be sure to check in with your advisor on a fairly regular basis to make sure that you’re not going too far astray (been there, done that) as well as making sure they still ‘buy in’ to your project (done that, and it’s not fun when they aren’t terribly interested).  You also need to take into consideration whether or not you have the facilities and equipment and, probably, funding for your project.  If you want to go into a certain area and need funding, you’ll likely need help from your advisor.  It’s also a good idea to do this early because it gives you an idea of how invested your advisor is in your project and how well you communicate.  Figure it out early before you get four years into a thesis project only to have your advisor tell you you’re an idiot and won’t be graduating.  (Yes, it does happen.)

The take away message should be that you should try to use your curiosity and creativity to find a project, and that you need to make sure your advisor buys into it.  Don’t ask total strangers as they’re so far removed from the situation, you’ll never get anything useful.

Some of my readers are wise in the way of advising, so I’m curious what they have to add.

Let me drop everything and work on YOUR problem March 23, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, family, grad school, work.
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I appreciate the fact that I have very respectful and polite colleagues.  I particularly appreciate it when it comes to my schedule.  I only work half-time, and most of them have been very good about making sure to schedule things for when I am there.  On those occasions where things had to be scheduled when I was supposed to be gone, my supervisor has usually asked me first to make sure there’s no conflict.  My hours are pretty flexible, as well, so if I have to stay late one day, I can take time off the following day or something similar.

Still, I hate having things change around too much.  Changes in schedule seriously seem to affect my concentration, and changes in routine just don’t sit well with me.  I can certainly deal, but it always seems to throw me off.

In the past month and a half, things have gotten much worse, schedule-wise.  I’ve had to do a lot of changing schedules because of some PR that the university has been doing both on my research at work as well as my dissertation project.  I have gotten to the point that I now am dressing up half the time when I go to work because, more than once, I’ve gotten a call in the morning that they’d like me to talk to a reporter or in the afternoon.  Half the time, I wasn’t even dressed like a nerdy engineer – t-shirt and jeans was it.  It’s a good thing I live close to campus because I’ve had to make emergency wardrobe trips.  However, despite all of the rearrangements, if I’ve said I had a conflict, no one has ever asked me to change anything.  People have been willing to work around my schedule, which has been awesome.

The only real problem I hit is when deadlines show up.  If the deadline is looming but not close enough that I can adjust a schedule for the week, that sometimes sucks time out of dissertation work (although I am getting more and more protective of that as time goes on, simply because it’s so easy to let it slide).  What’s worse is when there are deadlines at work and the kids suddenly have a million and one extra activities as well.  And I really hate it when someone gives me ‘vague’ deadlines, like “as soon as humanly possible”.  I usually tell them what is humanly possible for me, but I suspect that on a couple of occasions, they felt as though they could do the same thing faster.  It’s possible they could…but it’s also possible that, if they had the same schedule constraints I do, they might not.  As cliche as it is, I go back to Stephen Covey’s 7 habits book.  In it, he says he schedules everything out, and if someone drops something in your lap, you ask them what other thing you should get rid of to fit in this deadline.  (Maybe it’s surprising, but my supervisor is very open to shifting priorities when it’s necessary.  Other people…not so much.)

How do you deal with shifts in schedule and sudden deadlines?

Mother duckling March 9, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in older son, work.
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I have this problem where I don’t work well at home.  Somehow the housework internet all the other things that need to be done (or not) just seem to suck me in and away from things like dissertations.

My solution, obviously, is to leave the house when I need to get work done.  On the weekends, that usually means going up to my office.  Sometimes I can do that during the week, although I also have to find a conference room or someplace to work lest someone finds me and starts talking about work when I want to be dissertating.  (Yes, it’s a verb.)

Interestingly enough, I’m not the only one with this issue.  My husband had the same problem, so when he was finishing his dissertation, he would go up to the office on evenings and weekends to work.

It seems that my older son also has the same problem.  I did once bring him to work with me on a weekend so that he could get caught up on homework.  However, I’m guessing that wouldn’t go over so well during the week, so we usually head out in the afternoons and hit Starbucks, where they will let us work for a couple hours while we suck down our chai frappuccinos™.  If that seems too far away, we’ll go sit at the student union at the university, which has amazingly comfortable couches.  Apparently, I’m not the only one with this idea because it seems like every other person in there is sitting there with a laptop of some sort.  I guess there’s no free place to study: in one place, I have to pay for food, in the other, I have to pay for parking.

Going out is nice for both of us because then I know he won’t get distracted, and I’m available if he gets stuck on his math.  But when we go out to study, I feel somewhat like a mother duckling, her (in this case, not so) little ones trailing along.

So what about you?  What’s your favorite work space?  Have you managed to keep a home office (if you need one) and stay productive?

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