Tuesday, September 19, 2006


My qualifying exam is getting very very close. I am beginning to panic slightly as there are still several things I'd like to review before then, as well as re-re-reviewing everything else. I feel good about my research proposal and topics tangential to that. The rest is making me nervous, despite having a practice exam last week that went decently. I have this feeling that I'm going to miss an important detail somewhere that will make or break the exam.

That and my head feels so full of stuff I'm not sure I can cram anything else in there! Repetition is going to be key here. Otherwise I have something down decently the day I review and then it falls right back out again. My brain is super-saturated with this stuff and I need to add another few cups of information to the solution. What does brain precipitate look like, anyway? Maybe that's what dreams are...

Also, very shortly after the exam is finished I have a wedding to attend. Not just any wedding, but my sister's wedding. I'm the MOH. My dress is not yet altered because the post office has my undergarments somewhere but are not delivering them. I do not have shoes because I can't find any I like. We don't have a wedding gift yet and the registry is pretty empty. I haven't planned the "bachelorette" party though that will probably be fairly easy to pull together once I'm back in Hometown.

Stressy stress stress. Once I'm in Hometown things will be better. I just have to get to that point, which means passing the damn exam and getting all this wedding stuff together. Simultaneously. I so need this vacation.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

in the club

I remember seeing a sign at Harvard, yes *that* Harvard, for a Procrastinator's Club. Actually, it was more of a support group, but it was quite amusing to see that such a thing existed and that the sign wasn't just a spin on the old joke: Procrastinator's Club-Meeting Time to be Decided Later.

Every time I find myself with a scary deadline approaching, I ask myself the same question: why do I procrastinate so much? If I just got things done early, everything would work out!

Tonight I figured out why I continue to put things off: I make it work. There are no negative consequences to my actions! Certainly the quality of these projects could (probably) be better, but what I manage to pull together is always quite fine. And I never actually miss a deadline, even if those last 12 hours are a superhuman effort.

What sparked this revelation? This nearly impossible feat: Getting three faculty members together with 24 hour's notice. You all know what faculty schedules are like! This is insane! What's the occasion? A practice qualifying exam. Blech. You can understand why I've been putting this one off, even though it has been poking my subconcious for weeks.

I guess I'll just have to adjust to being a procrastinator. Good thing the week before my exam is clear of interuptions!

Friday, September 01, 2006

proper care and feeding of graduate students

A few days ago ProfGrrrrl wrote a post with a title that matches mine in response to Psychgirl, who seems to be getting royally shafted.

At this stage in my grad student-dom I have been a full member of two labs and rotated through 3 others. I left my first lab due to a rather unhealthy working relationship with the PI. He was more about running a science "factory" than actually training up graduate students. I just did a quick lit search for that lab: the student who is in their sixth year has one first author paper and two others as second or third. The other student who is in their fifth year? None. Only one of them has ever been to a conference, and that was mainly because the PI didn't want to go themself. That PI was mercurial and demanding. You never knew if PI was going to promise you great things or come storming in wanting to know what was taking so long. PI only had meetings with people when things were going wrong. For holidays we had a party at PI's house with everyone invited. Occasionally the whole lab went out for lunch together.

There were no random gifts of food. No one-on-one lunches. Certainly no hunkering down after hours to work side-by-side. Heaven forbid you walk out the door before 7pm, even if you got there at 8am which was two hours earlier than everyone else.

My current lab is a much nicer environment. New PI is much more relaxed. He isn't a clock-watcher, but he isn't afraid to say "hey, you need to step up a bit more." We've had several parties at his house for holidays or goings-away of labmates. We always celebrate birthdays with a card and cake. We don't do one-on-one meals, but no one here really does with their students. I'm expecting that we'll be burning some midnight oil together when we resubmit the grant based on my projects, as well as when I'm writing my first paper. (This winter I hope). He meets with each one of us on a weekly basis. This makes it so much easier to track progress and catch problems before they become miasmas of crap.

I'm very happy in my current place. I don't have to TA every semester though, like Psychgirl. The one time that I did TA I fell behind in my lab work. I can't imagine doing it constantly. I really only have the one prof to answer to although I'll (hopefully) have a thesis committee soon. I definitely don't work 100 hours a week. 50ish maybe.

From my experiences in the labs here and from reading blog experiences of other students and of the profs themselves I think I'm getting a pretty good idea of what to do and not do with any future students I may have.

Friday, August 18, 2006

teaching evals

I finally went to get my full set of teaching evals from Intro Bio Lab. A few weeks ago I received an email with my averages out of the 5 point scale, and they were quite good. Being a brand new TA though, I was a little afraid at what might be listed under "things to improve."

They were really great evals. I'm going to miss the teaching, but not the giant time suck that it was.

Under things to Improve:
-Organization: Fair assessment. Some labs I had to run around and look up answers or find equipment. Strangely, other people listed organization as a strength.
-Use of Time: This one I'm not sure how much I could have changed. Some students are much much faster than others. Not fair to rush the rest, I think. Also, one wanted the review at the beginning of the class?? How is it a "review" if you haven't seen the material yet?
-Emphasis on Material: One comment hit home because I'm sure it was true. It was along the lines of "makes certain topics seem like they aren't worth knowing." Ooops. There are certain subtopics of this class that are really boring and/or pointless to me. That does not mean I should give my students that impression.

Things done well:
-Explanation of Material: Apparently I'm good at answering questions in a way my students can easily understand.
-Reviews/Review Materials: I gave out a review page at the end of almost every lab. They LOVED me for this. I once went two weeks without one due to lack of time, and the following week one student said, "Yes! I love these!"
-Enthusiasm: I got this one a LOT. I really do love my field. I think I was purposely trying to show my true enthusiasm because many students come into this course thinking it is going to be deathly boring. I wanted to avoid that mindset from the beginning.

My favorite comments:
"Honeybee is awesome!" (smiley face)
"Honeybee was a really great TA." (and other slight variations"

and the winner...
"Honeybee rules the biology world!"

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


The first ever Carnival of GRADual Progress is up at StyleyGeek's place! I am a doofus and forgot to submit anything, but there is a TON of great stuff to read anyway! There are several grad student bloggers there that are new to me, so I highly encourage you to head on over and check it out.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

writer's block, study block

I've been having trouble coming up with ideas for posts lately. Apparently I'm having writer's block in addition to study block.

Study block is the phenomenon whereby you know you have a very important exam in the near future but cannot seem to find time, effort, energy or motivation to actually study for it.

I've always been averse to studying. I blame high school for being so easy that "studying" consisted of my good friends hanging out and eating snacks and leafing through our notes for an hour the day before an exam. Whatever the reason, getting myself to study is about as hard as getting me to pull my own teeth.

At this point I have less than two months until my qualifying exam and I've managed to slog through two chapters of basic review material. I have a ton of subjects to review. Teaching in the spring refreshed a good chunk of the basics, but there are some key areas I'm very fuzzy in these days.

My fabulous therapist suggested I'm "blocked" because I'm afraid. I hadn't thought of that before. I AM afraid. There is a part of me that seems to be whispering that if I don't study and then I fail, it won't be a big deal. But if I study study study and fail then I am surely a big idiot who doesn't belong here. If that isn't a recipe for diaster I don't know what is. She also planted a seed of an idea for how to study: make lesson plans on the material. If I can teach it then I know it well enough for the exam. Plus it's much more fun to study that way.

My goal for this week is to study for two hours a day, even if I break it into smaller chunks. I will do this studying somewhere other than the lab where there are no distractions. Thankfully one of my projects is in a slower phase right now, so I should have plenty of time to get away from the lab without feeling too guilty.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

new ventures in the blogosphere

I'm very excited about some new things starting up in my little bloggy circle.

There is a brand new collaborative blog on the block, The Active Academic, and I'm thrilled to be a contributor along with other people I've really come to admire. It is a place for us to motivate each other, post recipe suggestions, have some friendly accountability while we try to change our bodies for the better. Face it, academia is a sedentary pursuit. We currently have 17(!) professors, ABDs, and grad students talking about their goals and challenges. We're putting a tag system in place so you can find relevant posts faster, because we have a LOT of content in a short amount of time.

Then, StyleyGeek came up with a great idea for a Carnival for Grad Students and it looks like my title suggestion is winning the name vote. The idea is to have a place to collect writings about grad student life, experiences, etc from different points of view. I'll let you know when the first one appears!