Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Time out of joint

There is supposed to be an order to the graduate student career. One comes in as a naive new student and spends the first semester feeling overwhelmed. A few semesters later, one gets used to being overwhelmed. After a year or two, one takes an exam or series of exams that allow one to progress. In some programs, one writes a masters thesis. One day, one finally finishes classes. Then one starts The Dissertation. This involves getting a committee, then writing a proposal, then getting the proposal passed. After some indeterminate amount of time, involving collecting data and writing things, one successfully defends the dissertation. The final step happens when one goes to graduation and realizes, "Damn! I should have gone somewhere where the regalia includes a sword!"

Somehow my chronology has become discombobulated. It's not really the delay in passing comps; I'm on schedule to defend a proposal when I had planned to. It's just that right now I'm working on all this stuff that feels like it ought to happen after the proposal. I'm applying for a grant (and I applied for another one last fall) for the dissertation. I'm filing an IRB form for my data collection.

And at this point, I don't have anything technically approved. Theoretically, my committee could say to me, "No, we don't like the direction you're going in. We'd like to see more of a focus on the role of the lemur in promoting intertextuality in antebellum Georgia." They won't, mind you: I've discussed the project with all of them and they're on board. That's a good thing, because I know precious little about lemurs.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Beaman Park hike

Beaman Park trailhead
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
This is one of the two trailheads at Beaman Park, northwest of town, in the late afternoon. The weather today was in the high 40s, after a week of 20s and 30s. It was perfect weather for a hike.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Boring side of research

Friday, per my advisor, is supposed to be "my writing" day, which apparently doesn't actually have to involve writing per se - simply devoting it to my research rather than class and whatnot. So I intended to spend a good chunk of the day working on this IRB application. IRB forms are a pain unless you have done a lot of them. They're hard to get into a state of flow with, too - just as you get into writing the 250-word abstract, it's over. Then you have to figure out what they mean by "performance sites."

I tried to work on it this morning but wasn't getting anywhere. I'd stop to check the internet, think maybe I should do homework instead, find I was missing the first page of an article, go back to the IRB, give up ... Finally I decided I needed to eliminate as many distractions as possible, so I took my laptop to the coffeeshop. I still had email access but couldn't get distracted by my readings or the realization that I need to clean the bathroom. I made progress. Eventually, though, I decided I could only do so much IRB-ing in one day.

A little bit a day and I can get it done.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


I am disappointed with this bag of candy hearts. It must be old or something, because it doesn't have any of the new hearts in it. (And yet I keep eating, as if the next one will surprise me.)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Research goes on

The dissertation had been pushed to the back burner for a while, but today it came to life again as I looked at a funding application I had planned to submit. It's due in a week and a half. And I need to have an IRB application in before I submit it.

Guess who is going to be working on an IRB application for the next week ...

Sunday, January 20, 2008


I'm supposed to be working on a three-five page theme for class that's due at noon tomorrow. I finished the book days ago and know what I want to say, but I'm just not in the mood to write. That's not unusual for the evening, but I couldn't get motivated this morning, either, and that's usually my best time for writing.

I have some projects and reading I wouldn't mind working on, but due dates first, right?

Update: It turns out that all the problem required was the judicious application of the right background music. If only all problems were so simple!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Exam anxiety

Taking comps is traumatic, so you're only going to get one post on the topic, or you'll feel as queasy as I do.

The way the econ comp works is that a week before the exam you are given a specific article on the economics of education. At that point, the goal is to study it in great depth. You look for everything you don't understand and figure it out, look for holes that could change their findings, and try to guess what questions will be asked.

The exam itself was 7 questions, three of which were multi-part. We had an hour. This makes sense, in a way, because in the first exam, we had three hours to cover three subjects, although I allocated a more than proportional time to econ that time around. We actually ended up with about 10 extra minutes this time.

The first four questions I felt pretty solid on, but I've learned that I am less able to trust my perceptions when it comes to econ than to other topics. Back at IUPUI, I was sure I had flunked our first test in the microeconomics class. I was certain! And then I got it back, and I don't remember the exact grade, but it was at least a B, so nowhere near flunking. And after the comps first time around, I wasn't confident about my econ performance, but this time my uneasiness was right.

I skipped to question 7, then. Six and 7 were "what-if" scenarios. I think if there was an area our studying was weak on, this was it. We were so focused on understanding every footnote and every table that we didn't think, "OK, what scenarios could make their findings invalid?" And we've been through Dr. Ballou's stuff before, so we should have anticipated it. Then again, the possibilities for that sort of thing are infinite, right?

Then I went back to question 5, and just as I was working into it, we were told we had 10 minutes left. I ended up spending three minutes on the last question, and I can tell you that was a flub - I only had time for gut reactions with no explanations. I never run out of time on tests, even when I do badly, but all three of us worked up to the last second. One would expect, of course, that those of us who are poorer at the subject would take longer, but I'm not entirely sure it was just us versus the length of the test. (As there was no control group of highly economically competent grad students, this is just conjecture.)

So now the tests have to be scored. A 1 is a flunk, and 2-4 pass. It's entirely likely that Dr. Ballou has already marked them, but he has blind copies, so he wouldn't be able to tell us how we did. (Unless we all passed, right? So that means we probably didn't.) If a test gets a 1, it goes to a second reader. Judging from last time around, the second reader is unlikely to give it a different score. My two fellow test-takers also had to retake the methods exam, and it's possible they won't tell any of us anything officially until all results are in.

And now, we wait.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Big day

Tomorrow at 1 p.m. I retake my econ comprehensive exam. I don't know how long it'll be before we get our results - the grading professor is pretty on the ball, and he only has three tests to grade. (Then again, it could always have to go to a second reader. That would mean the first prof didn't pass it, though, and the second isn't likely to either.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Random thoughts about this semester

  1. In this, my sixth semester, I have my third and fourth classes taught by female professors.
  2. I am taking a class on access to higher ed and another on stratification. Of course, they are delimited differently, but there is a great deal of overlap. Still, the approaches of the two courses are entirely different - the first has a policy orientation, the second a conceptual orientation. What is taken for granted varies wildly.
  3. My classes are requiring a lot of small writing assignments this semester.
  4. Best part: Three papers, but no exams.
  5. I had to buy 15 books.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Yesterday while driving home I saw an opossum two blocks from my house. (Wish I'd had my camera!) The odd part was that it was only 4:30 and still light, and I'm pretty sure opossums are nocturnal.

Instead of opossum photos, I can only offer links:

Abusing Amazon product review to make a new artform.

Old Bell phone sounds.

The city (scroll down to RPM-1200). (Via boing-boing).

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Making improvements

I've been doing some photo/blog maintenance - not much you would notice except that I've updated my hiking page to include links to photos of the hikes, when available. Part of this involved posting a couple of old pictures on Flickr that I already had in digital form. I tried hard to make sure they were photos I took - or photos taken with my camera. (I'm not an expert on copyright, but I figure if I hand you my camera and you take a photo of me per my request, it's mine to use.) If you know that one of the pictures posted is someone else's property, please let me know and I will be glad to take it down. Some photos, of course, are obviously not mine and I'm not pretending they are - you'll know that because the link is to someone else's Flickr album.

In other words, I've been procrastinating.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Buy "Racial Formation in the U.S." and get T-Rex FREE!

One of my class books arrived yesterday with a "freebie fun pack" the store apparently sends with all orders. I now posses an "E-man" comic from 1984 and two trading cards. I don't know what sort of collectible the latter are, except that they feature a dinichthys and some scavengers (which appear to be pteradactyls). Gosh, I'm having more fun already. Bring on the dinosaurs!

This semester seems to be off to an odd start. As I told my officemate the other day, "I know I have stuff I should be doing, but I can't figure out what." That was only half a joke; I'm having a hard time settling in to the the new semester.

Maybe it's because instead of being end-loaded, this semester starts with a bang - next Friday I retake the economics comprehensive exam. Maybe it's because this is my last semester of classes, and I feel as if I'm supposed to be focusing less on coursework and more on research and the dissertation - and yet I have classes I'm really interested in this semester. Maybe I just goofed off too much on break.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Late-breaking news

Update: I now have pre-class reading for all three of my classes. Now I just have to wait for the books to arrive for the last class so I can do said reading.

Monday, January 7, 2008

She's baaaack

I'm back in Nashville and doing super-exciting things. Yesterday I rearranged my bookshelf, hoping to defy the laws of physics and find sufficient room for my school books. Today I sorted the backlog of mail. I've also been reading. Remember back in the day, when you showed up for class on the first day and got the syllabus, and if you were lucky you got to leave early? Even though everyone used email when I was in college (in the pre-Blackboard era), profs didn't expect work pre-class. Now, the semester is really longer by one class period than in the good old days, since a lot of professors assign readings to be done by the first day, and sometimes even written work.

Friday, January 4, 2008


Winter in the UP
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
I spent part of the break going through old family photo albums and scanning in pictures. Most are from my lifetime, but there are quite a few of my parents before we came along, as well as some older family photos. This here is a very young me, probably kindergarten.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Happy 2008

So much for a big transition to the new year. The family was supposed to go to a party, but I ended up with a massive headache. They went, while I stayed home with the dogs, who were spooked by the fireworks. The next day I went to a ashtanga class in Ashland, so at least the new year started off healthy.

It appears to be de rigeur to do some sort of new year post - best of, worst of, new resolutions. I don't do resolutions, so instead here is 2007 in photos.

Since I apparently didn't take any pictures in January, instead I'll use a photo that really represents the entire year:
And what did you do today
View from the Top
Mysterious ball
View from the overlook
Percy Priest Lake
Blue Hole Falls
North face of Mt St Helens
Nice day for a walk
Trees turning