Category "PhD Process"
June 27, 2006
I posted an article back in April about consolidating your student loans to lock in the interest rate before it goes up on July 1. Haven't done it yet? Neither did I, until two minutes ago! Yes, I'm a horrible procrastinator, but thankfully the process was smooth and easy after I cleared up a problem with my PIN.
The whole consolidation thing had been looming over me for the past couple of weeks, but I kept putting it off. Yesterday, I decided it was finally time to get it done, since I only had until Friday to get it in under the deadline. I have some old loans through Sallie Mae, so I needed to go to the National Student Loan Data System web site to get the necessary information to plug into the consolidation form. To retrieve the information, they ask for your information and your PIN. But when I entered my PIN, I kept getting an error. I even went to the Federal Student Aid PIN site and requested a PIN look-up.
I got a little worried when they confirmed that the PIN I was using was the one they had on file. Why won't it work? Is the site broken or overloaded? What if I couldn't fix it before Friday? And then, of course, I couldn't help but feel immense guilt at not having done this months ago...
But then the extraordinary procrastinator's luck I've had most of my life kicked in. I called the student aid 800 number and got right through to someone after pressing "2" for PIN help. I explained my problem.
She asked "and you got the error message after putting in your 4 digit PIN?"
I replied, "No, I got the error message after I put in my 6 letter PIN."
Apparently, the PIN I'd been using for years -- the PIN I was issued by the FSA -- is no longer accepted on the NSLDS web site... they only accept PINs that have four numbers. Fortunately, that was easy enough to fix. You can change your PIN right on the web and can even set it to a number of your choosing. It was odd -- and frustrating -- that there wasn't a note about the incompatibility on the log-in page.
But now I'm all consolidated and happy and ready to procrastinate the next big thing...
March 14, 2006
Web Authoring 101: Check the view in IE!
Just posted the story about my short trip out East when I got an IM from Ben that said something along the lines of "Picture? What picture?"
Apparently, Internet Explorer didn't like some of my HTML code, so it had left out the picture from that post and the one before it.
I could curse IE until I'm blue in the face, but the truth is it's basic HTML 101 that you always check your code in the multiple browsers to make sure things look okay. And I've been lazy. And Firefox is so good to me that I've haven't bothered with IE. My fault; I'm sorry. I just hope that checking those two is enough. I know there are other browsers out there -- I hope things look okay from there, too.
Category "PhD Process"
June 13, 2005
Just no pleasing everybody
I competed for one of the University's Doctoral Dissertation Fellowships for next year. It's a really great funding opportunity for doctoral students to focus on completing their dissertation in their last year as a student.
I thought I'd be a bit of a long-shot and heard a few weeks ago that my proposal wasn't accepted. (You can flat out say it was "rejected" but in these times of good feelings towards all, the language has been altered ever-so-slightly. Kind of like how the Academy Awards are now announced, exchanging "And the winner is..." for "And the Oscar goes to...")
I'd just gotten around to reading the reviewer comments. I don't know why I get nervous about such things, maybe it's because I have a bit of trouble with criticism. Actually, it's not the criticism that's the problem, it's the anticipation of criticism. And as criticism goes, this wasn't so bad.
For example, all four reviewers thought that my writing was very good. (I am a good writer when I put my mind to it, and it's carried me through a lot of otherwise tough spots in my professional career.) My application was "well written" with a "strong personal statement"; best of all, it was "lucid."
Most of the criticism was regarding two acknowledged weak points: my lack of publications and the vagueness of my proposed methodology. As to the first, that's a common problem which I am trying to remedy. This reinforces my need to get some publications before I enter the job market, but overall it wasn't a shocker. As to the second weakness, that's kind of inherent in what I'm doing for my dissertation. I'm devising a model -- a method -- for linking human illnesses with pathogen rates on certain food and animal sources. I've never done anything like this before and there's no step-by-step formula. So, yeah, the methodology was a bit vague because that's the meat of my dissertation -- coming up with the method! I knew this was going to be a problem and didn't know how else to describe what I was doing, so this wasn't a big shocker, either.
While that was the heart of the criticism, there were some other little tidbits that seemed to reflect the idiosyncrasies of the individual reviewers. One that has caught in my craw a bit is the following:
"Weak undergrad GPA (3.16); never commented upon."
Well, thanks to the personal soap box that is my blog, allow me to comment on what Reviewer #4 considers to be a glaring omission. First of all, I was floored by the idea that anyone cared what I did in undergrad as long as I had graduated. I thought that my exceptional academics through my Masters and PhD careers might over-shadow my solid B average in undergraduate studies. But now that the subject has come up, let me tell you, dear Reviewer #4, why my GPA was probably so "weak":
• My microbiology major was very hard, requiring many high-level mathematics and chemistry classes in addition to the micro classes and labs,
• I wanted to challenge myself, so I took classes like Multivariate Calculus,
• I believed in a strong liberal arts education, so I took challenging non-science classes like History of 19th century China and Contemporary British Literature,
• I wanted to challenge myself physically, so I became a member of the Tae Kwon Do club and worked my way up to a green belt, something I never thought I'd do since was not an athletic kid,
• Grade inflation may be rampant now, but it wasn't in the sciences and mathematics departments at Iowa State University in the early 1990s,
• Many of these classes kicked my butt, but I got through them, earning my B or C and am proud of what I accomplished and that I never had to retake a class (except for Library, which is a hilarious tale in and of itself).
Jeez! It's this type of nit-picking mentality in academia that sours me on the whole profession. But despite my rant, it hasn't gotten me down. Criticism isn't so bad as long as you put it into perspective.
Category "Chicago Cubs"
April 25, 2005
Cubs Fun (or is it Cubs Lament?): Dusty Dice
Found this graphic from cubsfun blog by way of The Cub Reporter. For a nice example of Dusty Dice being employed, see the third bullet point in this Cub Town post. (I know, I know -- I'm reading way too many Cubs blogs...)
See more graphics at the Cubs Fun Gallery.
March 15, 2005
Wow, what an ordeal! I haven't been posting recently because I've been out of town, but within a day of coming home my computer started greeting me with horrible fatal exception blue error screens when I tried to launch my web browsers and e-mail programs.
This was the classic computer frustration -- it seemingly came out of nowhere. One day it was purring like a kitten, the next day it was hacking up hair balls! All's well now, thanks to spyware finders, system maintenance/optimizer software, and a USB flash drive.
For those who haven't done so, I would highly recommend downloading AdAware and Spybot -- two free spyware "search and destroy" programs. Using both of them together is ideal because one often finds spyware that the other misses. (It does seem a little dumb that anti-virus software does not find spyware, but there you have it.) It's amazing what your computer catches even when you try to be careful. I've been using these programs for a while now, but I always forget to update and run them regularly.
One thing I had never done at all before now was use a system maintenance or optimizing software program. These look for junk files, clean up registries, and help you manage start up programs to keep everything running smoothly and prevent crashes. My laptop is over 5 years old, so you can image what had piled up!
There are lots of options out there (try browsing tucows.com). The only drawback to these programs is many run the scan for free, but the fix will cost you the price of buying it (about $25-$30 for the full-fledged programs). I did happen upon one that has a free 30-day trial period, and it's loaded with lots of clean-up and efficiency options. It's called Ace Utilities - check it out, you've got nothing to lose! So after all of my desparate attempts, imagine my elation when, after a very long day of trying to trouble shoot, I hit the "Repair" button on my newly-purchased maintenance program and it worked! I had my old computer back!
It certainly could have been worse, but a full day of this was stress and frustration enough...