Category "PhD Process"
May 30, 2006
My Livestrong just died...
My HP Livestrong notebook computer just died. I was waking it up from hibernation last night and suddenly everything went dark, even the power/charging light, and it failed to reboot. It did indeed live strong, but it died quickly, quietly, and without warning. And so young! Not even a year old!
I just took it in for resuscitation. If it needs to go to HP for special surgery, that could take from one to three weeks. Fortunately, I have a mirror backup of the hard drive that I made on Thursday, so only Friday's work is lost. I hope my Livestrong didn't decide to take its own life like the heroic laptop I read about in the Onion recently.
Regardless, I won't let this little set-back slow me down. I certainly have access to several computers, at home and on campus. I probably won't be typing away in the coffee house any time soon, but I'll make do. I'll keep you posted.
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.