27 and a PhD

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Monthly Archives: January 2010

The thesis defense – after all this I’ll be a PhD

As promised before, I’m going to conclude the series on what to expect when you’re applying for grad school, once you get in and how things look toward the end by posting this entry. It’s about how my thesis defense *day* went, starting the tale from a day or two before. I’ll conclude with thoughts and a little on what transpired after, though I mentioned some of it before.

***Disclaimer: I won’t reveal too many intimate details, as I prefer my identity to remain hidden.

On we go:

I don’t remember if I’ve said this before, but attempting to schedule my defense was c-r-a-z-y …. some of my committee members were out of town, some were too busy to even bother to schedule. I had to put my foot down, write an email without my boss’s “permission” telling them I was more than ready to defend, and it was now or never. I also mentioned that I had to extend my job offer and keep being paid by my boss’s grant if they wanted to prolong the agony. It worked, and less than 48 hrs after sending that email (or ultimatum) I had 2 possible defense dates.  But this didn’t mean that life was fine and dandy … having a defense date made the whole process real … it was happening sooner rather than later and I was a nervous wreck in the works … I had to practice the lecture, pack all my things, and staying  on top of things almost proved too much to handle (I also had to pick up family at the airport, make sure they were all comfortable, even if all I wanted to do was cry). My only glimmer of hope was that after all this ordeal I’d be a PhD.

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More things to expect while in grad school (post first year)

Hooray … it looks like my PC is working again (though slowly) … and I can finally write the ending posts of the series on grad school. I plan have an entry grouping all (or linking all) the entries once I’ve finished the series. I think that besides this entry on how some of the next years might look like, I’ll add a little bit on how my defense went and what I did once I had completed my lecture and defended the thesis.

On to the goodies, what to expect after your first year of grad school:

  1. Once you’ve passed your classes, you will more than likely take courses for part (or all) of the second year. At this time you might be preparing for the qualifying exam. It will be a lot of hard work because by now you’ve completed rotations and are ready to immerse your mind, body, soul and life into the thesis project. It’s hard to strike a balance, and sometimes it will feel like you can’t do all three (and balance it all with a little bit of life outside of the lab). It’s Ok to neglect a bit lab work .. but please don’t take this as a license to automatically leave all the work. You’ll more than likely will deal with tons of reading, learning new techniques or perfecting the ones you know. I think that some schools have a policy of allowing students to take some time off the lab to work on the qual. I think this is totally fair and necessary … especially if your quals are a little like mine. Your boss might object, but if there’s a policy in place to protect you, make good (and fair) use of it.
  2. Once quals and classes are out of the way, you can rest assured a bit that you’ll be in full thesis mode. Take as much advantage of your first years after completing the qual to put in as many hours and effort as you can … why you might ask … well, because this is just the beginning and you will get tired of it, especially towards your 4th or 5th year, when you start getting the itch to leave.
  3. Go to seminars and present your results, however humble you think your research is. You’d be surprised to see how many people find your area of research interesting and want to lend a hand, start a collaboration, or maybe recruit you as a postdoc later on.
  4. Network …. ’nuff said.
  5. Check out what resources your school has available for you (both for funding and your post-academic path) so you can start planning for what’s to come once you’re out.
  6. Update your CV as much as possible, so when the time comes to apply for a job, fellowship, or just network it will be in need of just a few touches. I’d add, carry it with you at all times, because like I mentioned in #3, you never know who’s recruiting and who’s impressed by your work.
  7. You’ll meet with your committee anywhere from every 3 to every 12 months, so be ready weeks in advance to move your schedule so you can adapt to theirs …. because as we all know PI’s are always super busy, revising this, critiquing that.
  8. Participate in as many seminars as possible, especially if you’re shy. This will give you the chance to get acquainted with presenting your work, polishing your speaking abilities … and network.
  9. Expect to be tired …. it’s one of the”perks” of grad school.
  10. Have regular meetings with your boss … to keep him/her updated about your projects, instrumentation, worries, conferences … in one word, everything. Keep him/her in the loop. I think that because my PI and I developed a close relationship, it was especially helpful for when I was getting tired of grad school and needed to get out, or for “trivial” things like vacay time.
  11. Expect to give and/or receive mentoring from/for colleagues, as well as any newcomers.
  12. Save money, not only for vacay but for when it’s time to get out. I’d say, have a few hundred bucks safely stored in case a family member becomes ill, your mode of transportation needs repairs (or there’s a transit strike), or if you need a weekend off to recharge your batteries. Also, that extra money will come in handy when you approach the end of your grad school run and you need to look for a job, cover a move or live off of something while looking for a job.
  13. You’ll gain and you’ll lose friends. It happens. It sucks, but it’s also a relief especially if you have sucky “friends” or frien-enemies.
  14. Expect tons of competition, and many deadlines to beat so you get your paper published first, your abstract accepted at that ultra-sleek conference, or while satisfying the demands of your department and/or grad school.
  15. Grey hairs … ’nuff said.
  16. Heartbreak … whether it’s due to a nasty break up or a divorce, or your sometimes boyfriend/girlfriend leaving school, it may happen …. and you will get over it … grad school will give you the strength to survive pretty much everything.
  17. Your year(s) after the qual. will be the ones where pretty much all the data acquisition, analysis and publication goes on. Some labs have “policies” on when students will get their work published. Previous students in my lab had their work published after they defended (basically their committees were happy to sign off if the paper was on its way to the editor). When it was my turn, I had to have a first author paper published. So check with your lab and department (and maybe even the grad school).
  18. As soon as you get permission to write ( or even way before, it’s usually a few months prior to your thesis defense) gather as much of your materials and methods and start putting those together. The materials and methods chapter (if required as a separate entity from the publication(s) chapter(s)) is probably one of the first ones to get done, the sooner it’s done, the sooner you’ll get to start working with the other, more “meaty” chapters.

These are just some of the experiences you might live to tell as you progress in your graduate career. If more come to mind, I’ll share, but basically it boils down to keeping your project alive and your boss and department happy. There might be some drama here and there, especially when scheduling meetings, or even your defense, but bear in mind that we all go through some sort of drama at some point in grad school. It’s ok, it will be ok, and sooner or later it will be over, and you might get a laugh or two.

Cheers, and good luck!

Saturday outing – a traveling couple

I joke sometimes with the BF that we are a traveling couple since our first date took place between NYC and Boston (we absolutely LOVE Bean town) and ever since then we’ve traveled to many, many places … particularly since the BF likes to go on little outings during the weekend.

I love to travel, I do, but in the cold weather it’s kinda hard, especially when I don’t know any super awesome tricks to de-fog the windows in the car.  So sometimes I’m a bit …. mmmm, anal about traveling, especially if driving is involved. I do the driving because a) it’s my car, b) I’m a control freak, and c) the BF is awesome with the GPS his parents got us for Xmas a few years back.

So today we went close to Lake Huron. During the summer we were in a lovely town, about 45 minutes from home, but there are a whole bunch of other little towns around the lakes. We’ve been to one of the cutest towns ever, one called Niagara-on-the-Lake which has a quaint Main St. filled with lovely little shops. Today’s town was no exception. Many little stores filled with glassy-artsy things, colourful clothes and a few with some very pricey tags. Nonetheless I managed to score a lovely and colourful mouse for the BF’s mom, a lovely owl dish (tiny, less than 5 in), and a kitty cat with a springy tail. I heart cats like you have no idea. Then we went to a jewelry/metal store where the had a BOGO sale, and I scored 2 lovely pairs to earrings, with squares and colourful bits.

We drove back to our place, stopped to get a cup of hot cocoa (with soy milk) and on I went to look at snow boots. Poor girl at the mall .. I feel for her. I went in to the store, tried about 3/4 pairs, left with none. Then, when we finally got home I scored a pair of snow shoes from Landsend for 35$, shipping included.

Overall it was a lovely day. I’m super happy with the findings, and most of all, the BF is happy because we didn’t spend the day bored at home, instead we visited Lake Huron, all frozen (or at least as far as we could tell), all lovely. Now I have to start collecting and storing all the ornaments and candles, and such.

How was your weekend?

Returning to “normal”

So …. the BF and I will start our trip back to our canadian abode in a few hours. We will say our goodbyes and see you laters. It’s been a good and not so good vacay. Two major things have happened in the last few days. A family member died on my side, and the BF is having to deal with a difficult professor. I can’t give too many details, but these last few days have been hectic. I only had 1 meal today since I was at the funeral home and then burial for most of the day, and I spent a few hours with the BF before our return “home.”

I have to say that though I’m excited for the new year, the last few days have drained my energies and  I don’t have the slightest desire to start working. I’m comfy at home, with my parents, my family, my surroundings. It hasn’t been cold at home, so I can walk around with a lot less layers and such. But I feel like it’s too soon to go back, like my time at home just went whoosh, and disappeared. I have yet to say hello to 2 good friends from school, and I’m owing a 3rd one some dinner, but again, time has been all whacked out lately.

I think that I’m resenting some things from the lab, like all the people and having to go out of my comfort zone to accommodate my experiments. On the good side, I don’t have a thesis to finish, on the bad side, I don’t see a clear delineation of my project and I know I need to take the lead, I just don’t know how … and that irritates me. Also, the BF’s situation has me wanting to slap a certain faculty member of his, luckily he’s got some friends that know some ins and out on policies which hopefully will be enough ammo to shut the hell up with that certain ass-wipe prof.

That’s all the venting for now. Hopefully soon I’ll be blogging from my own PC. I hope to purchase or craigslist a new monitor for my home computer.

Happy 2010. Best wishes 🙂

End of the year MeMe

I love doing memes …. just because I enjoy reading them years later to see how things were in the previous years, and what and how things have changed since. Without further delay, here’s my 2009 meme:

An end of the year analysis… in meme form.

1. What did you do in 2009 that you’d never done before?

Moved out of my “home” away from home for 6 years and into a different country and culture.

2. Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I’m not a huge Resolution person. But I did moved out of the States, into Canada and finished my degree. I also got to learn new methods for doing research (new to me anyways) and moved in with the boyfriend for the second time in my life (well, previously he was the one to move in with me).

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Mmmmm, not that I remember now. My sis did get preggo.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Mmmmm, not so sure, I don’t think so.

5. What countries did you visit?
Canada.

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?
Mmmm, less debt, less weight and more peace family-wise. A better understanding of my research project and expectations from the boss and a happier attitude towards life.

7. What date from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory?
July X, 2009 …. the day I finished my PhD.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Finishing the PhD.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Not paying off my debt sooner and not meeting as much with the new boss as I should have.  Oh, and not taking the phone to place a call to a certain postdoc from hell who behaved like an idiot and a selfish bastard with the last paper stemming from my thesis.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
A stupid flu that I thought was the H1N1.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Mmmmm, health insurance in Canada …. and my yellow purse?

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
My mom and my BF’s prior to my defense …. too much undeserved patience. Oh and my upstairs neighbour from the States who bought like 130$ in furniture.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
Stupid postdoc from hell.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Moving …. and moving related expenses, and starting up in Canada.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
New job, moving and my Xmas gifts. Oh and my new shows and my 89$ Parka from Joe …. Joe I love YOU!

16. What song/album will always remind you of 2009?
A few oldies. I cut cable off at the beginning of the year to save some $ for the move and tuned off VH1 and MTV. I occasionally liked a song or two from watching The Hills.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
1. Happier or sadder? Happier since I don’t have a thesis to worry about.
2. Thinner or fatter? A few people at home have said that I look thinner than last year. I do not believe them, but maybe I am.
3. Richer or poorer? Debt-wise about the same, but my car is paid off and I’m not getting slammed with thousands of $ “health insurance” and “activity and recreation fees” from school … really, do grad students have to pay for a gym while they don’t have the time or energy to lift a finger?

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Traveling and photography.  Oh, and sleeping.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Complaining and not sleeping.

20. How will you be spending/did you spend Christmas?
At home with my family, juggling between attending church with my mom, helping my sis move out of my parent’s house, and spending a few short hours with the BF.

21. Who did you spend the most time on the phone with?
The BF texting, an my mom on Skype.

22. Did you fall in love in 2009?
More and more with the same adorable guy.

23. How many one night stands in this last year?
None; though it would have been interesting to have one or two with the BF, hehe.

24. What was your favourite TV programme?
OMG, Little Mosque on the Prairie and The City.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
I dislike a lot of people, but hate is kinda strong.

26. What was the best book(s) you read?
Baking Cakes in Kigali

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Vedera .. from The Hills

28. What did you want and get?
A completed thesis and defense, a first author paper, a successful move and more vacay time.

29. What did you want and not get?
Even more money, tons of undies, more cool music and better spending habits.

30. What were your favourite films of this year?
Mmmm, a few, mostly indie ones. I can’t remember all their names.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 25 + 3, I think I spent it alone since the BF and my mum were traveling to see me a few days later.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Finishing earlier and getting that darn postdoctoral fellowship, also getting the first author place on MY second thesis aim paper.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?
Sadly none. There are styles I like but probably can’t pull off and I’m afraid of being too out of the box, so I stay with jeans, snickers and a basic tee.
34. What kept you sane?
The BF and my mum.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Mmmm, trying to think … Penelope Cruz … probably.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
Healthcare bill in the US and same-sex marriage, both of which should pass because the government shouldn’t intrude in people’s bedrooms and conservatives should shut up, and a supposedly “big” country should have a universal, affordable way of caring for their sick.

37. Who did you miss?
A few southern eateries and the family.

38. Who was the best new person you met?
Lab tech, insanely knowledgeable and talented … and patient.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009.
It’s OK to think outside of the box, and to talk things over before making a huge fuss about a misunderstanding.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year?

Not a clue. I’m too tired to remember.