Monday, August 11, 2014

Why PhD students complain

So there was a lot of "Ooooohhhh," and "Really?!" when I told people I was going back to school for my doctorate.  One of my favorite undergrad professors described it as "Years of back-breaking work," and given the fact that he's a labor historian, I tend to take that seriously.  :)  But honestly, it is (so far) no harder than any busy full-time job.  I am certainly not as sleep-deprived as I was as a new teacher, and Spring was a particularly challenging semester.  However, I do understand why PhD students complain and why people who have gotten their degrees consider it to be difficult:
1.  Everything takes so frickin' long!
You can't just have a meeting, the meeting has to be 2 hours long.  Which is followed up by another meeting with a subset of those people or a larger group of people.  To have basically the same discussion.  Luckily, I'm not in many of those, and the ones that I am in are usually paid and part of my assistantship, so I don't feel like I'm totally wasting my time. 
2.  Read, read, and read some more.  And then read it all again.
In order to succeed at quals (qualifying exams - two take-home exams that are 7-10 days each), you need to have detailed notes on just about everything you've ever read, because (apparently) you'll want to have that ready when you start writing those exams.  No one wants to reread what they've already read to get an idea of who said what when you're trying to write a concise paper that three of your profs are going to read and grade.  As well, in order to prepare, I hear you need to read as much as possible (in addition to what you're already doing) about your topic, so you search every article for additional citations, and then read those, until you are basically coming back around to the same authors and articles you started with.  Sheesh.
3.  "Everyone is friendly, but you never make friends."
I've been sort of fortunate that I work in a TA office, because I do feel like I have some friends in the program!  We are all in different departments or concentrations, but there are enough overlaps that we can commiserate about our experiences!

With all of this said, I really do like what I'm doing now.  It's really self-indulgent to go back to school full time at my age, honestly.  But I'll just keep my fingers crossed that I find an awesome job soon after graduation that hopefully doesn't have me moving to the ends of the earth!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Winter Updates

So it's February.  Bitterly cold.  Lots of reading to do.  And I'm turning 42 next week.  What to do when the world is getting you down?  Apparently, return to blogging.  I had almost forgotten this URL it's been so long.

I've been reflecting (not just thinking, in the doctoral program we "reflect," "contemplate," or "question") on how my life has changed since the beginning of the PhD program last year around this time.  And I think the biggest difference is....the headphones.  I have headphones in my purse, my work bag, in the TA office, in my GA office, and by my bed.  Why?  Because whenever possible, you transcribe something!  Or you put them on to drown out whatever class is next door to the TA office.  Or you put them on to pretend like you're working when really you are watching funny Portlandia clips your coworker sent you.

I do love being a grad student.  To be completely honest, it's incredibly selfish.  When in a person's life do they ever have the chance to spend their time studying things that are really exciting to them?  Yeah, there's coursework you have to take, but you can almost always turn a term paper or project into a way to further your personal/professional agenda.  It's awesome.  I'm trying not to worry about the end of the experience, when I have to (gasp) find a job.  I recently planted the seed for Ethan that we might not always live in our house, because when Mommy is done with school, we might have to go somewhere else.  He was horrified until he thought about it for awhile, and then he decided, "If we ever go to another house, we have to bring my bedroom with us."  OK, honey.

Since I know that any readers of this blog are really interested in stories of Ethan, here are a few pictures and updates:
This was us at the airport restaurant on the way back from Santa Fe, NM, where we spent Christmas.  Anda's house was the perfect size for all of us, and Ethan even braved petting the nicer of Anda's two dogs!
Before the NM trip, like right before the NM trip, Ethan got full-fledged pneumonia.  He was truly sick for a day, and that was it.  Fever went down and he was jumping around with a racking cough.  I'm a much whinier sick person!
Ethan and two of his BFFs at the Great Pumpkin Patch in October, well before this horrid cold swept into the Midwest.  I'm sooooo looking forward to short sleeves again!  

Ethan is an awesome, healthy, imaginative, happy boy.  Unfortunately, he will. Not. Sleep.  We go through phases of pretty bad nightmares, and then sickness, and then nightmares, and then him sleepwalking (only once that we know of!), and then him just climbing into bed with us because he's restless and wants company.  I guess every kid has something.  Some bite other kids, some just will NOT be potty trained, some won't eat...I guess I should be grateful (?) that he is just a poor sleeper.  Don't tell Brian (shhhhhh) but I don't really mind sharing the bed with him.  One of these days he'll grow up and want nothing to do with us, and I'll look back at these days, wishing he was still so cuddly.  

Hopefully I'll get back to the blog again sooner rather than later!  Stay warm, everyone!



Monday, August 5, 2013

Time Flies!

Yeah, yeah....MONTHS is longer than I've ever gone without blogging before, but does my first semester as a PhD student count as an excuse?  If not, oh, well....

I've been thinking a lot lately about how time flies, and this past semester is no exception.  Wow.  Can't believe it's August already, or that Brian and I have been married for 8 years, OR that Ethan is about to turn FIVE in a couple of months!  Sometimes we say that he's four going on eighty, but that's a posting for later.  Much to catch up on.

On a recent trip to the beach, I was noticing how different the "baby" is compared to other years we've gone.  Case in point:
Compared to:
Those photos were taken three years apart.  How is that possible?!  Or....
video
video
Also taken three years apart.  (Sigh.)  My little boy is growing up.

Speaking of, his fifth (!) birthday is at the end of October, and there is no discussing his party theme this year - he has been deeply into the superhero world for almost a year now.  His favorites change hourly, if not more often, and I am learning more about Marvel and DC Comics than I ever thought was possible!  I recently repainted the kiddo's room in blue and red (we had to negotiate him down from red, blue and yellow - ugh) and it looks pretty good!  I made some curtains with cheapo Batman fabric, and am hoping to do some closet door decorating as well as hooks on the wall for all of his many superhero costumes.  I'll post pics in another year when I get back to the blog again.  :)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Reflections on the PhD Beginnings

Two weeks in, and I haven't burst into tears yet.  :)  That's good, right?  And so far I'm keeping up with my work, which is also good.  Fingers crossed that I'll continue with all of that.  But PhD work is wayyyyy different than Master's work.  Whew!  "Read this book for next week."  Or, "Read half of this book and write a 4 page paper."  Or, "Read this chapter, read these articles, and start a blog."  Huh?!  It's all good stuff, and very interesting readings, but the sheer amount is amazing. 

With that said, I'm fitting it in so far, and am still able to spend time with my cute boys.   Ethan is still in Kung Fu class (though he is seriously the gentlest kicker and puncher alive - even when encouraged to hit hard) and I was able to take him to the Children's Museum in Bloomington on a school-free Monday this past week. 

Ethan's buddy Arlin is such a big painter, encouraged by his mom the artist, but Ethan really isn't into it so much.  This weekend we tried to draw and color, but Ethan was worried about getting things exactly right (sigh) so we decided to find someone else's drawings and have some crafty boy fun with those.
I feel like I'm enabling an addiction with this Star Wars stuff.  The kid hasn't seen the movie (way too young!) but he is already totally obsessed.  This is after Brian showed him a mask at Target, then we got him a Darth Vader costume for Christmas...and that costume is practically rags now, but he still wears it every day! 
 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Holiday Song

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a treadmill on sale from Sears!

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, two stomach flu’s, and a treadmill on sale from Sears.


On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, three hacking coughs, two stomach flu’s, and a treadmill on sale from Sears.


On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, four lovely dinner guests, three hacking coughs, two stomach flu’s, and a treadmill on sale from Sears.

 
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, five days of Zithromycin..... Four lovely dinner guests, three hacking coughs, two stomach flu’s, and a treadmill on sale from Sears.


On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, six quickly sewed ornaments, five days of Zithromycin..... Four lovely dinner guests, three hacking coughs, two stomach flu’s, and a treadmill on sale from Sears.


On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, seven stay-home days with Ethan,
six quickly sewed ornaments, five days of Zithromycin..... Four lovely dinner guests, three hacking coughs, two stomach flu’s, and a treadmill on sale from Sears.
 
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eight new big toys for Ethan,
seven stay-home days with Ethan, six quickly sewed ornaments, five days of Zithromycin..... Four lovely dinner guests, three hacking coughs, two stomach flu’s, and a treadmill on sale from Sears.
 
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, nine desserts consumed,
eight new big toys for Ethan, seven stay-home days with Ethan, six quickly sewed ornaments, five days of Zithromycin..... Four lovely dinner guests, three hacking coughs, two stomach flu’s, and a treadmill on sale from Sears.
 
On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, ten days of Doxycycline,
nine desserts consumed, eight new big toys for Ethan, seven stay-home days with Ethan, six quickly sewed ornaments, five days of Zithromycin..... Four lovely dinner guests, three hacking coughs, two stomach flu’s, and a treadmill on sale from Sears.
 
On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eleven Playmobile pieces,
ten days of Doxycycline, nine desserts consumed, eight new big toys for Ethan, seven stay-home days with Ethan, six quickly sewed ornaments, five days of Zithromycin..... Four lovely dinner guests, three hacking coughs, two stomach flu’s, and a treadmill on sale from Sears.
 
On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, twelve+ steroid treatments,
eleven Playmobile pieces, ten days of Doxycycline, nine desserts consumed, eight new big toys for Ethan, seven stay-home days with Ethan, six quickly sewed ornaments, five days of Zithromycin..... Four lovely dinner guests, three hacking coughs, two stomach flu’s, and a treadmill on sale from Sears.

Footnotes:
1.  Going to order it tomorrow and take advantage of the sales designed for people starting some ridiculous "New Year New You" crap.  It's ok as long as I get a cheaper treadmill.
2.  Friday, December 14 - Ethan throws up shortly (like 3 minutes) after leaving the stage of his Christmas sing-a-long.  I get it 24 hours later.  Oh, joy.
3.  Three hacking coughs = Ethan, my mother-in-law, and me.  At the time of this posting we all sound pretty bad!  My MIL has it the worst, though. 
4.  Four guests are my mother and sister-in-law from Cinci, and my folks!  Christmas dinner at my house was kind of awesome.  Ethan was wayyyy excited!
5.  This round of antibiotics was for Ethan - his pediatrician gave it to him along with the 12+ days of inhaled steroids for lots of coughing, wheezing, and crackling.  We have been watching MUCH tv in order to get through the face-masking twice daily.
6.  I finally finished the advent calendar!  My crowning achievement was a Grinch ornament that I will post a picture of as soon as I get my lazy butt out of bed.
7.  Yay for stay home days!  I just wish we were all healthier.
8.  Seriously - most of them are big!  Big pirate ship, big car ramp, big expando-ball thingy....play food to go with his big kitchen...thank goodness we have lots of room in our house!
9.  I'm estimating nine here, but it may be a low estimate - cookies + pie + ice cream + candy canes + brownies...sheesh.
10.  That round of antibiotics is for me - apparently my cough is some kind of mild/atypical/walking pneumonia.  
11.  There are way more than 11, but the 11 are the ones I have no *&%$ing idea what to do with.  They don't go to anything on this stupid pirate ship!
12.  See #5.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sir!

Ethan has been taking Kung Fu classes for the last month or two.  Whenever I tell someone about it, they ask something like, "So how did you get into that?" which I assume is a really polite way of saying, "Um, WHY?"  Understandable.  :)  First of all, there was a contest on one of my favorite local websites, http://www.chambanamoms.com.  Comment on one of their posts, and you are entered into a drawing for a free month of Kung Fu classes.  Why the heck not?  Ethan's a physical kid who doesn't quite know how to move that overly tall bod he's got...it certainly can't do any harm. 

(It doesn't hurt that Ethan has been plagued by a bully at preschool, too.  Both Brian and I shared a guilty, evil laugh at the idea of Ethan sticking up for himself with some of his new skills.  Really, no.... We don't want him to hit or kick or anything.  But he could use a little assertiveness training, and I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't thinking of that at the time!)

I have looked forward to Tuesday nights now ever since we started!  Awesome.  The movies on my iPhone aren't really close up, but they are so, so cute.  There are times that he giggles his way through a new move because the instructor, Aaron Chen, is so hilarious and great with kids.  I'm also seeing some of the skills that Ethan doesn't have at this stage of life, and Kung Fu is doing such a great and fun job of teaching him these!  Left vs. right was the first challenge, listening to multiple directions at the same time (especially bowing in - clap, say "Sir!", bow in a certain way...it took him a month to get that down), balancing, etc.  Love it!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My Mid-life Crisis

Was talking with a colleague the other day about all of the changes going on in my life, and she said, "Is this your mid-life crisis?"  And I thought it just might be. You be the judge!

First of all, I've quit my job.  Well, sort of.  Teaching in Urbana is awesome in that you can take a year of leave, and then if you or your family decides that you were nutso to quit, you can come back to teaching - they would just stick me somewhere I was qualified to teach.  So I've done that, with the intention to (gulp) go back to school for my PhD.  My sweet, super-supportive husband is on board, but when I told him I was considering this, I think he asked me if I was sure about 99 times.  Having gotten his own degree, I think he was worried that I would either lose my mind or cause him to lose his before I had that Dr. before my name.  Fingers crossed that we're still married in five years!

Why in the world would I do this, when I have a job with awesome people, a good salary, plenty of tenure, and a pretty flexible schedule where I can run off when Ethan gets a fever?  My 40 year old mid-life crisis might point the way to the answer.  But it's also possible that I'm frustrated by the little I know about certain topics in education, and I really love teaching, and I think I could learn enough to someday maybe possibly teach teachers the results of my awe-inspiring, life-changing research.

By the way, another sign of a mid-life crisis is the overuse of hyphens.

So off I go into the world of the Ivory Tower.  Following are some of my favorite comments by some of my favorite people, upon their learning of my decision:

1.  I think getting a PhD is like the fourth circle of Hell.
2.  Four to five years, or more, of back-breaking work.  No problem.
3.  Girl, you cray cray.
(I can't even pull off #3 in writing, can I?)

And then the ultimate question.  "So what do you want to do with your degree?"  Oh, yeah, getting a job!  Seriously, I did think of this before chucking my really awesome job, and the answer is, "Higher education - maybe?"  Knowing full well that I really don't know at all what my life or my family's lives will be like in five years, I'm keeping options open.

Secondly, I've become a health coach.  What?!  Yes, a health coach.  I have a website and everything, but it's not ready so I'm not sharing it quite yet.  :)  (Not sharing your website with people = Excellent business skills.)  I registered with a really fantastic online school last year and I have learned soooooo much!  Health coaching isn't designed to replace the nutritionist or dietician, but to provide support for people who want to live a little bit better.  There are insurance companies that hire coaches, actually, since doctors can't provide the consistency of support that a weekly or twice-monthly coach can.  The downside of the program is that it's taking all of the fun out of some of my favorite foods, but my main objective in doing this is to learn more (and hopefully help others learn more) about how to enjoy food in a healthy and balanced way.  No eating anything that isn't delicious!  And no fads allowed.  It's been kind of fun to think I knew a lot about food and wellness and then to realize how much I really didn't know....wow. 

So, Alexis, how in the world will you get a PhD and conduct a health coaching business?  The answer is, I probably won't do both equally well.  It'd be really nice to supplement my truly meager assistantship with some health coaching clients my first year or two, when I'm doing more coursework than research, but we'll see. 

So that should explain a little about why I haven't been blogging since JUNE.  Been a little...preoccupied, I should say.  But I will do my absolute best to keep the blog updated more regularly so you can all shake your head and wonder about my sanity.  Thanks for reading.  :)