Tuesday, May 20, 2008

June-no eating out challenge

Inspired by the April Buy Nothing Challenge Amanda from A Lady Scientist and I have decided to declare June as our no eating out contest.

I noticed during April that I didn't really desire to purchase goods, except the birthday present for my sister. I did buy a whole lot of food! Part of eating out that month was that I traveled to home state and dissertation state. But I notice, as I track my monthly spending, that a large portion of my income goes to food, roughly 13-20% of our total monthly income. This includes grocery, alcohol and eating out. On average 8% is just from eating out.

The goals of this challenge is to spend less and to hopefully eat less calorie-rich foods. I often leave the house only to purchase a muffin, ice cream or chocolate and recently I've been craving cheese. I call these my Ph.D. foods.

All challenges must have rules and this is what Amanda and I decided (she'll comment if I get something wrong or leave something out)

1. We are allowed to eat out once a week as a social outing. This means that it has to include more than just yourself or yourself and your significant other. June begins on a Sunday so the week will be Sunday to Saturday. Eating out counts even if you don't have to pay for it.

Actually that's it. That is the main rule. I've added some personal rules for myself, see below, and I encourage you to do the same. Also, let me know if you plan on participating. I like that Crunchy Chicken did weekly confessions. I'll do those as well.

My Rules.
A. When I eat out I'm only allowed two drinks and NO dessert. However, I can sneak a bite of someone else's dessert.

B. When at the grocery store I'm only allowed to purchase fruits, vegetables, milk (soy/rice) and juice. The grocery store was my supplier of ice cream and chocolate. Also I'm moving in a month so I need to empty my cupboards of grains. Once the pasta is eaten I'll finally have to finish that box of quinoa.

June is a difficult month for me and Amanda. I'm traveling to dissertation state the last week in June. Amanda's Dr. Man is moving. However, we laugh in the face of the challenge and say bring it on difficult task.
(At least we say that now, wait for the confessions)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Significant Figures

I just tried on some of my summer capri pants and none of them fit over my butt, and if they did I'm certain they won't button. *Sigh* But those aren't the significant figures I wanted to discuss today.

I'm just going to do as my adviser suggest but I wanted to see what everyone's opinion was on significant figures.

I'm going to run through some thought experiments. Hope they make sense.

I measure a sample and get the value 10 with an error of 10%. This is 10 (+/-) 1. Significant figures all well and good. Then I measure another sample and get 5 with the same error. This is 5 +/- 0.5. But with sig figs it's 5.3 +/- 0.5. All good and agreeable.
Now say I want to put these two numbers in a table
10 +/- 1
5.3 +/- 0.5

I hate this. I want all my numbers to have the same amount of numbers after the decimal. Am I just being neurotic or does anyone else have this need for constancy?

Next, I analyze 25 samples and the average value is 10 but the standard deviation (or standard error) is 0.3 but the error of each analysis is 10%. I wouldn't want to round my standard deviation, so shouldn't my average value be allowed one more decimal place? My adviser says no but my organized self says YES I want all my numbers to have the same amount of decimal places.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Letter about a post-doc

I'm hoping for some advice here. I've read posts about improperly worded and/or misinformed e-mails from students wanting to do graduate work with Sciencewomen or Female Science Professor but I can't recall reading anything about a post doc inquiry.

There are a few professors in the area I'll be moving near that I'd like to work with, however what I do now and what I'd like to do with them is not completely related. Since I feel pressed for time I'm curious how much I should know about their subject material before I send an e-mail. What if I never hear back from them, what if they don't want a post-doc or what if they don't want me? Should I spend a week reading all their manuscripts before the e-mail just to be shot down? Or can I do some quick searches, read abstracts, and get a basic understanding in a day or two and then I can learn more if they are interested.

Should my e-mail be basic such as,

Dr. Last Name,

I am interesting in the research you perform doing X and would like to discuss any opportunity you may have for a post-doctoral position. I would also be willing to collaborate on a proposal for this project. (and maybe something about how I found their research, if applicable)

I'm studying contaminants of perfectionism in my thesis adviser at Dissertation University working with Dr. Old Slow, and will be completing my Ph.D. this August. These are my skills that I think would be useful to your research.

Thank you for your time,
hopeful student

do I need to be more specific about project X

There was a women I wanted to e-mail last week but then I noticed that her current grad student has more publications than me :(

I would rather not solicit like this but I'm in between a lot of the major fellowship opportunities right now. Although most of the ads I see that I'm interested in are not near where I'll be living.

I got an e-mail last week about a fellowship opportunity but the deadline is June 6th, the day I'd like to turn in my dissertation. I'm not sure that in three weeks I can find a sponsor and come up with a 12 page proposal.

So even though I'd like to get some e-mails out there I think my best best is to try to find a part-time teaching gig for the fall so that I can also spend time finishing my publications from my dissertation and writing fellowship proposals.

But this is today, maybe tomorrow I'll be interesting in a consulting position again.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Studying contaminants of perfectionism in my thesis adviser.

I love Janus Professor's idea for my dissertation title. I wanted to share it with everyone, i.e. the title of this post. I laughed out loud.

I also wanted to thank everyone who commented on my last two posts. It helps to have a support system out there on the internets'.

Also, re: JP's comment. My adviser does care a lot about my research. At times when I get depressed I think, well, at least one more person cares about this data, a lot!

My adviser has been very supportive this past week. Sunday night we e-mailed back and forth. To summarize, I told him more of my despair and that I was wondering how much of all this was worth it.
He said that working away from the department must be more difficult that we initially suspected.
No, I said, it's the lack of knowing where the end is that's depressing.

After threatening (in so many words) to quit I get two manuscript back this week!! Yeah!
We just finished our weekly meeting, via Skype, and only had time to talk about one of the manuscripts until he had to go to another meeting. I wanted to discuss more about our e-mails and talk about meeting my deadline again but we didn't get to that. I may call him later this week.

The first thing I said in our meeting was, "wow you have been busy. Thank you for reading so much."
At the end of the meeting I asked what he was going to read next. He is afraid to go back to the manuscript that I freaked out about (that set off the sunday e-mails), so he's reading another chapter that he hasn't read yet. Once he's read this he will actually have read all my chapters. This is great.
I'm feeling more confident about meeting my June 6th deadline of submitting to my committee. I think my adviser might not be satisfied with all my chapters by then but seeing that he can give me more comments after the defense I'll feel confident putting something together for the committee.

I also feel like I have a good list of things to do now. Previously I would have one or two things and mostly be waiting for comments from him.

Today is a good day.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Dissertation links, ect.

I found this cool dissertation calculator. It's too late for me to use it as it maps out a schedule from start to finish but someone else may find it useful. Each step also has helpful advice and links for further information. I wish I had one four years ago.

I read this page and it was uplifting and motivating. Some of highlights:

I love how it suggests reading your advisers dissertation so you can see how much it sucks (paraphrase).

This paragraph was liberating
"Many, many people lead happy, fulfilling lives, build lucrative and rewarding careers, make important contributions to knowledge, share interesting ideas with others, and generally get along just fine without three letters after their names. Deciding not to continue with a Ph.D. does not mean that you have "quit" or that others who remain in the program are smarter, more driven, or more virtuous than you are. It also does not mean that you have wasted the time and money that you invested in the degree up to the ABD (all but dissertation) stage. It may simply mean that after considering your own personal motivations and goals, you decided this career choice wasn't for you—and that you plan to use the skills you honed as a graduate student in other ways that are more suited to you."

This paragraph makes me feel less guilty about taking a day trip tomorrow and makes me want to work out more.
"Be reasonable. A lot of people beat themselves up with expectations to work 10 or 12 hours a day—many people recommend a max. of 4 or 5 hours. You simply can't write productively all day long and trying will just burn you out. Schedule in breaks and time for procrastination. Your brain needs a rest every now and then—better to schedule one than to have your brain mutiny on you and take one anyway."
Technically my dissertation is written. I have six chapters plus an Introduction and Conclusion chapter plus an Appendix that list all my data for anyone interested in looking at it in a different way later. All of these sections now have a completed draft. Each of these chapters has been read by someone else. So, my dissertation is more than just at draft phase . . . . I’m pretty happy with all my chapters. However, my adviser has only read two of these chapters. One of them we have submitted and the other one he made revisions and suggestions, which I took two days to fix and send back . . . with no further reading on his part. He is currently working on a third chapter and, via e-mail has told me that it has a lot that needs to be fixed, even though this same chapter came back from the co-author with minimal revisions. The co-author, by the way, has published and co-authors dozens of manuscripts on this particular contaminant.

The months of revisions I feel that is ahead of me makes me depressed and not excited that all chapters have been written. I went through 12 iterations of my master’s thesis with this adviser, and as previously mentioned we have been working on one manuscript for four years. By the way he’s requested I do more lab analysis for that never ending manuscript. The reviewers didn’t suggest more lab work. *Sigh*

-------Although I contemplate quitting because getting a Ph.D. may just not be in my life plan I have come up with what I think is a better solution . . . cutting out chapters of my Ph.D.

The title of my dissertation is, in essence, "Studying contaminants X and Y in an important environment in a specific study area." I worked on X for my master's thesis and have continued as part of my dissertation but focused mostly on Y for my dissertation. If I cut X out of the title then I can cut out two chapters of my dissertation. Granted these chapters have already been written but not including them in my dissertation means that my adviser won't have to read them before I defend.

One of the “cut” chapters will be best as a report to our funding agency. The other chapter was a bonus use of my data that was never part of my initial plan but seemed like a cool thing to do as I read through the literature. It would be the first analysis of this type of data for my study area. Possibly publishable but it’s also possible that I could care less.

To summarize I want my life back. I feel like I’m under some evil spell of my adviser. I also wonder why he hasn’t published on this type of information with his previous students. I use to think it was because they were master’s students but now I just think he is unreasonable. But maybe it’s me, maybe I’m lazy and not the type of person who can publish.