Saturday, June 30, 2007

My body won't pay off my credit cards

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Mingle2

Hardin's "Junkyard" Cave

Last night I went caving and actually did in-cave vertical work for the first time in a while. Hardin's Cave is just outside of Nashville and considered an easy beginner cave, but there are a couple of levels that can only be reached by climbing a rope. The folks I went with had explored part of these levels last time and wanted to see the rest. Because the main level is the first level, however, rigging is a challenge - someone has to free climb up to get the rope up there. We took a look at one spot that none of us were willing to risk free climbing. But another place has been permanently rigged, so we went up there. There was actually nothing too exciting up there.

For me the most exciting part was rappelling down. Most of the cavers around here use racks; I use a Petzl Stop, which a lot of people in the Northwest (not to mention all of Europe) use. All of Europe can't be wrong. However, Americans use a slightly thicker rope than Europeans. So when a rope hangs permanently in a cave and swells with water and some dirt, it can be too thick to slide freely through the bobbin. The design of the rack, however, can accommodate several sizes of rope easily. So, basically, my Stop lived too much up to its name in this case - I could barely move on rope. On the bright side, there was no chance of plummeting to my death.

By the time we got out it was 12:30, so I was tired, not just from caving but also because it was 12:30. I had intended to go for a hike today, but I'm still processing my coffee at this point, so I'm going to scale back and do something smaller than I was thinking of.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Three approaches to graduation

Among the last few cohorts of students in my program there seem to be three approaches to graduation. I separate these recent cohorts from earlier ones because earlier classes were not guaranteed funding, and it was possible to study part-time. This produced different results for purely short-term financial reasons. But in the last few cohorts, while many students would undoubtedly prefer more money, none have to worry about making tuition. Their plans for graduation are driven by more personal factors. While we all are precious and unique snowflakes, you can ignore that to group our plans into three categories.
  1. Is there a fast-forward button on this ride? Look, I can earn a lot more when I graduate, easily twice as much, and maybe I can work only 40 hours a week, and I want to move back to City X. I got all the transfer credit I could. Now, I'll take the fastest chunk my advisor's work I can to get this dessertation done.
  2. Outer Translovakia awaits. When I graduate, my student visa will expire, and then the terms of my funding will require me to go home again for two years. I rather like it over here in the U.S. and am not keen on returning to Outer Translovakia. I doubt my significant other would do well there either. So I'll just enjoy this sojourn as long as I can.
  3. I'm playing the academic game to WIN, baby! My goal is an academic post, so I'm playing the game and making all the right moves to get one. My advisor needs a student? I'm going to make sure he turns to me. Do I hate this class? It's funny, my work always turns out awesome even when I'm talking about slacking. My dissertation is going to be original, groundbreaking, touching, funny, and better than Cats. So it'll take me a little longer than those speedsters, but when I'm done, I won't just be Dr., I'll be Professor.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Lull between Institutes

I am still recovering from two straight Institutes and a somewhat busy weekend. I feel close to exhausted, even with a lot of sleep last night. It didn't help that I had a headache most of the day today.

I finally got some of my own work done today, however. It's been hard to work on Project Trial Balloon and study for comps during the institutes, and the work days are too long to get anything done before or after. Now my time is not exactly my own again, but my time management is.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Canoeing the Buffalo

Yesterday we went canoeing on the Buffalo River. My parents have inflatable kayaks and rafts that we float on the Rogue, but my canoeing experience had been strictly limited to lakes. I figured the experience would be sort of like the Rogue, except a little calmer.

We rented our canoes from a local outfitter. I was surprised to see quite as many people at the shop as we did, but I quickly learned this was a very popular section of the river. Rafting is social, but this was more like one giant floating party. This was the first difference from kayaking back home, where there is some congeniality but not nearly at this level.

The water was low, which is not a surprise since we are 10 inches behind on rain, and the canoes ran aground or scraped rocks frequently. That's the other big difference from my kayaking experience - a metal canoe can take abuse that inflated plastic can't. Taking an inflatable kayak on this stretch of the river would have meant a very short trip. I don't know what the river is like when the water is up, but this was definitely class I stuff, no rapids at all.

We grilled out on a small island - a nice call that got some envious comments from other canoers. We also stopped occasionally just to swim around. There are some bluffs that braver souls jump from. At one spot, there are two rope swings. These weren't as high as the bluffs, so I wanted to try. Unfortunately I couldn't reach the higher rope (you had to reel it in with a stick, but my arms were too short with the stick available), so I settled for the lower one.

By the end of the day, we hadn't worked too hard, and I wasn't too sunburned, but we were all pretty tired. It was fun, although I think next time I'd try to find a less popular part of the river.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Scenes from a bachelorette party

You might be a doctoral student if:

"Hey, what are we wishing for with these magic wands?"

"Free drinks."

"Cute boys. Boyfriends for everyone!"

"Can I have a dissertation chair instead? Because boys are great and all, but I need a chair more."

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Long days

Yesterday was supposed to be the day we got off early - the participants are done at 5, and they have dinner on their own, so I anticipated being home by 6:30 at the latest. It was going to be great ... I was going to go to the gym and do other boring things all by myself. Then at 5:00 we started to install a piece of educational technology in one of the rooms, and we didn't leave until 10.

I'm tired. We get done Friday night, and it would be great just to relax for a day or two, but I have to keep going. Granted, it's social stuff, stuff I signed up to do, but the thought of having to go to anything looks exhausting from this end. There's a bachelorette party Friday night - which means staying up late - and then Saturday morning I have to get up early to go canoeing. If I fall asleep on the river, make sure I have sunscreen on and let me snooze.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The job market

So, I'm not on the job market yet. But it's been on my mind, and it works differently than most job markets, so I thought perhaps those of you outside of academia might be interested in learning a little bit about it. The reason it's been on my mind is because I've been worrying about finding a thesis advisor, and one's thesis advisor plays a large part in getting one done at the right time and in an appealing way. I have to think of my dissertation, and thus my chair, as a launching pad to a job.

There are several features that make academic hiring different from hiring, say, a data base administrator or an accountant.

The first is seasonality. With most jobs, Christmas is not a good time to look for work, but jobs are available all year long. For faculty jobs, most positions are posted in the fall. As a newbie on the market (as opposed to a seasoned faculty member who wishes to move to a new institution) you only have a chance if people reasonably expect that you will be able to defend before you start the next fall. In rare cases, the defense happens after you start, but this is usually viewed with alarm by the faculty who just hired you. This means that by December-ish, you need to have your data in hand and at least some vague, preliminary results. You can't wait until next month; you have to wait until next year. So not only do I have to plan well, I have to know that my chair is on board with my schedule.

The second is the unusual hiring process, but I'll save that for another time. It mostly is lengthy and exhausting, and it doesn't require contemplation on this end yet.

Additionally, hiring in the field of higher education is different than in other, larger fields such as English or sociology. This is primarily because it's a small world. There are a dozen or fewer institutions that are commonly held to have the top programs, and most of the faculty at these schools (and a good number of students) know each other at these. So imagine I was going on the job market next year (I'm not). I don't know anyone at Harvard or Stanford, for example, but I do know graduates of those programs. At Michigan, I know one faculty member reasonably well. At Penn State, by next year I'll know the dean, at least one faculty member, and several grad students. So if I'm on the market, and Vanderbilt faculty think I'm good, everyone will know that Turducken is on the market, and some of the people on the search committee are likely to have at least some impression of me already. Even search committees that don't know me are likely to know some of my faculty, and opinions tend to be exchanged between these people.

The flip side of the small world is few positions. In most of academia, the ratio of applicants to jobs is crazy high, but for the applicant it at least feels as if there is always a new opportunity popping up. By contrast, I was told that next year will be a good year to go on the market, because two of those top institutions will be conducting searches at the entry level! Now, of course, there are second- and third-tier programs as well, so if I'm lucky there will be half a dozen institutions with openings suitable for an assistant professor focused on org theory in higher education.

So what this all means for me now is that I need someone who not only is willing and able to let me do the sort of dissertation I have in mind, but someone who can get me done in a timely manner, and furthermore someone who when I'm finishing will be able to say, "Turducken is great! You should totally hire her!" (and be seen as a credible source of information).

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Food everywhere

One downside of the institutes is that all our food is provided. Now, that sounds like an upside, and like all grad students, I heart free food. But as a see-food person, surrounding by food that is high in calories, I find the practical result to be a personal disaster. I learned from last year, and have managed to restrict my snacking this time around. But even the meals are high calorie - I was discouraged to learn after the fact that yesterday's veggie sub on french bread was around 1000 calories. And, since I worked 14 1/2 hours yesterday, I didn't have time to exercise.

Today I'm attempting to get back on track so I don't balloon like my genes want to. I can't afford a whole new wardrobe!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Briefs

I haven't posted much lately, in large part because I am working very long hours. Most of my work wouldn't be interesting for you to read about, unless you're really into stapling or something. So here are a few shorts that don't really deserve their own entry.
  • A couple of folks around here have commented that the ticks are bad this year. (Mind you, the ticks themselves probably think things are great.) I have to agree. I never have tick problems, being one of those conservative fuddy-duddies that hikes in pants and wears lots of bug spray, but I've found a few on me this season - actually after each of the last three hikes I've done. Thankfully, they were still crawling around and not yet embedded in my flesh.
  • Here's an article on the ethics of ethical food.
  • My latest resolution is to eliminate (to the extent possible) my use of paper coffee cups, which aren't recyclable. Most of the time I'm not getting a fancy drink, so it can be poured into my own travel mug. I was thwarted this morning at church, where the after-service coffee is served in paper cups. My church is generally environmentally conscious, so I suppose it's a matter of too many congregants and, perhaps, not enough cupboard space. Apparently over 14 billion paper coffee cups are used and tossed each year. (This factoid can be found here, and while a biodegradable cup is a step in the right direction, not throwing something away is even better. And lots of things that are biodegradable don't, because they end up in the oxygen-starved environment of a landfill.)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

When carelessness attacks

I went on a hike today on the old Natchez Trace. I would write about the hike here and post photos, but I can't get to the photos, since I also managed to break my camera on the hike.

I keep my camera in this pocket on the side of my pants because it's handy. This hike crosses a stream - no bridge - and the description I had said "mid shin" high water. Apparently the author who wrote that was taller than me, although I should have thought to put my camera somewhere more secure anyway. It only got barely wet, though - not the battery end - and afterwards it was still working. Since my pocket was now wet, I stuck the camera in my backpack, apparently not securely, because it fell out. It fell only about a foot or two from the ground, and it did land on something soft. Then it stopped working. Thus I don't know whether the water or the fall caused it to break, but I'm leaning towards the latter. When I power it on, the lens tries to open up, which suggests it isn't shorted out.

But to be safe, it's airing out for a day or so. Then I'll take it to a camera repair place right here in the neighborhood to see if repairing it costs more than buying new.

Update: There must have been some water in it, because it now turns on without any difficulty. However, after powering it tells me "card cover open." I didn't have a memory card in there, and I didn't see anything to "open" other than the battery cover, which latches pretty solidly. Upon consultation with my sister, who has the same camera, we determined there is a tiny eeny-weenie plastic part that seems to not be there, which presumably is the latch. So I went back to some Amazon reviews I had seen earlier. Several users reported broken latches, the repair cost for which is almost the cost of a new camera. I guess it's still worth taking to the store - maybe they're willing to jerryrig something Olympus isn't, but I don't have high hopes.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Modest goals

I went to the gym tonight. Normally, that wouldn't be very interesting, but during the institutes we start early and leave late, so it can be hard to find time to work out. One of my coworkers is a morning person and is happy to work out at 5 am or other ungodly hours, but I can't do that. Unlike my dad, I do wake up fully human in the morning; unlike my mom, I'm not perky at that hour.

I was actually the only person at the gym when I got there, although another woman did come in while I was there. The owner said it was always that quiet in the evening. The gym is pretty new, and it must be a hard sort of business to start up. It's not like, say, a shoe or bagel or hat emporium, where anyone could stop in and buy a small amount of the goods. Even among the audience of people who 1) actually go to the gym 2) think your gym has enough amenities but isn't too expensive and 3) find your location to be convenient, a lot of those people will be in membership contracts elsewhere and unable to switch. I would think it would take a year or two for your potential clientele to even evaluate your product. And it's not like you can start business slowly; you can't start with one treadmill and build up. So, yeah, it's quiet there sometimes, although evenings right after work it's pretty busy.

The main point is, I did get my workout in, even if was a shorter one. This is a good thing with all the stress and food of the institutes. I don't suppose I'm keeping up with the group of my fellow students who is trying this 12-week-to-triathlete-status crazy workout program - but then, I don't really want to do a triathlon.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Volunteer Trail hike

I tried to go to yoga this morning at the gym, but the class had been permanently canceled. It's a shame because it was a good class, but attendance was poor - I know myself that a lot of Saturday mornings I have other things going on. So since I was wearing sandals instead of proper footwear, I went home and decided to go for a hike instead.

I wanted a long hike, not too far away, since it was already 9:30. I decided to hike the Volunteer Trail at Long Hunter State Park. This six-mile trail is supposed to be for backpacking, as it ends at a campsite. Actually, the length seems to be in dispute; the offical map calls it 5.5 in one place and 6 in another, but either way, it's still short enough to dayhike.

I had done the beginning of it before - almost exactly a year before, randomly - as part of a loop, but I remembered it as being more challenging than it was. The trail is almost entirely flat. Most of it follows Percy Priest Lake (impounded, of course). On the way out, I was pleasantly suprised by the trail. A lot of folks were out boating, and it was a nice change of pace to do a hike that didn't segregate hiking from other human activity. The views of the lake, not to mention the cedar glades, were attractive, even if not spectacular.

About a mile from the end of the trail, I was surprised to find a skull in the middle of the trail. I have no idea what sort of animal it is, other than a medium-sized mammal, which is awfully non-specific.

The trail ends with a whimper - you reach the campsites. Presumably the property line is nearby, because there is no natural sight that makes it a logical end point. No one was camping. On the way back, I noticed a lot more boaters had come out. At one inlet, there was an amazing number of boats having (apparently) a really raucous party. The noise carried for over a mile. That wasn't as cool.

As usual, of course, there are more pictures if you click on the photo. Most of them are of living things, not dead ones, I promise.

Pause

The weather has been brutal this week. It's in the high 80s, which is hot, but the humidity has been at least 80%, which is the brutal part. It's been especially bad for me because we've been doing a lot of shlepping at PPI.

Last night I got a break and went to go see Ocean's 13. It was pretty good. I don't know that if it was my favorite of the franchise. The first movie spent a lot of time plugging holes so their scheme seemed airtight. Now I'm no expert on casinos, although I'm sure that if in fact someone tried to pull off their deal, it would fail. But as the audience, I believed. With this one, our belief in the team's success was taken as a premise. It also felt like the cast was insanely large. I don't know if it was really larger than 12, but I found myself wondering, "OK, who was that guy again?" because it depended on us remembering the rival thief from 12, Linus' parents, etc. I also never doubted our heroes' ability to pull it off - back to our belief being a basic premise - unlike 12, which really did keep the suspense going up until the last moment. On the plus side, Matt Damon's nose was great.

Anyway, that was my big weekend excitement. The first institutes start tomorrow, so tomorrow through Thursday I'm pretty solidly busy - then we only have a week to prepare for the second round.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

PhD shorts

Here is a great post on becoming an academic.

The graduate student diaspora is in full swing; on Friday the students who sit upstairs in our building were told to move because construction in their area was to begin this week. While a few student spaces will remain up there, they will be reconfigured. Some students have been relocated to other spaces, others are working at home for various reasons (ie, Mr. Kindhearted and his wife have very, very young twins), and some are just hanging out in conference rooms. I'm pretty lucky to actually have an office space at this point, although it's not going to last. This space is reverting to something else fall semester, and both me and the Real Employees who sit here will have to move.

Monday, June 4, 2007

It's over!

Maymester officlally ended itself today as we turned our paper in. Hooray!