In one of my classes yesterday, the professor talked to us about picking a good dissertation topic, advisor, and just in general how to handle the dissertation process. In my education, I don’t think that I had ever had anyone sit down to discuss this with me. Some of the advice would’ve been helpful prior to my thesis issues. There are many good articles out there on picking your advisor and all, so rather than repeat those ideas, I’m going to contribute what I wish I would’ve known that I haven’t seen offered as much or at all. Most of these things are for the absolute worse case scenario; hopefully, your thesis or dissertation has smoother sailing.

  • Save every single email and piece of correction you receive. This just helps keep track of what you’ve done; hopefully, you find the corrections decrease with time. Also, if things become grave, you have proof of who said what. For organization’s sake, I keep a separate folder in my inbox and have a drawer of my filing cabinet dedicated to paper corrections.
  • Find a support person outside your advisor. Very late in the game, I began talking to other professors to seek advice and support. My thesis process was particularly difficult, even for a process that has its difficulties, and these outside folks helped me in so many ways. Even if they hadn’t directly helped me, they were supportive emotionally. Make sure the person understands the idea of confidential conversation, etc.
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up early if things are awry. If your advisor is delaying your finish, treating you poorly, or anything else you think is unacceptable, talk to someone in authority. If you cannot talk to that authoritative person or are still unsure what to do, use your support person to advise you how to go ahead. If the first person you speak to isn’t effective, keep trying.
  • Make sure that all expectations are clearly discussed early on. If your committee wants derivations fully worked out, references aplenty, make sure that’s well known before you hand in what you hope is your final draft. Going back and adding things is painful, particularly if you don’t save all those documents.

As of Thursday, I have begun what should be my final degree: my doctorate.

The last week has been a crazy rush of stuff. My thesis work from my masters was riddled with issues from the school and department, making my completion long and laborious beyond what it should have been. I honestly felt like it wasn’t going to be finished, which is why I haven’t been writing much about starting grad school again. This also put me behind with gathering school supplies, ordering books, etc. I’m still getting over that experience, and I’ll write more when I feel like I have a better grip of what happened and really made peace. The whole situation is a lot to digest in such a short period of time; I literally had my degree conferred on Thursday morning, which was right before I began class that evening.

Starting at my new school is different. Not only am I starting at an entirely new school, but also this is the first time in the last 10 years of my schooling (with some breaks) that I haven’t taken a physics class. Very strange feeling. My departure from physics feels sad and odd, but I hope that my arrival in education will outweigh the nostalgia factor. I also realized that I’m taking humanities classes for the first time since 2005; my senior year of college was filled with either theatre/dance classes or physics classes.

The change has me curious and a bit anxious about the workload. With physics, it was pretty bread and butter what would happen. Weekly problem sets, some exams, and a final. Occasionally, quizzes or project would be tossed in, but the material and amount of time needed to complete the work was easy to anticipate. With my classes- I’m not sure. I never found my humanities classes (sorry if this comes out as elitist) as strenuous as my physics classes and did well. However, I’m not sure how different the humanities are at the grad level. I’m not teaching this semester, so at least I’ll have time to devote to my schoolwork.

The break provided me with some much needed R&R. I was semi-productive (cleaned, worked on my thesis), but I mostly relaxed. With moving and working simultaneously, it was good for me to take a break. I have more energy now than I did before.

I can’t believe that the semester is over soon. Although there have definitely been moments or days where things couldn’t be done faster (dealing with plagiarism), the semester went by fast.

My advisor decided I needed to update a graph that I made used Matlab. A small theoretical curve graph, nothing fancy or labor intensive. I thought that it would take 5 minutes to make the small changes. I was wrong, it turned out. Matlab became screwy after I upgraded to Snow Leopard (the latest Mac OS). It won’t let me save graphs and displays my y-axis label oddly. I had one of those midnight moments where I didn’t think it was possible to change it. I considered editing the graphic under Photoshop, since the changes were really cosmetic (a frame, a thicker line) but couldn’t figure out how to make a credible thicker graphed line.

Then walking for my coffee, I realized that all I graphed was an equation and I could redo it in Mathematica (which still functions). Solution worked. However, I learned a very important lesson: don’t upgrade until everything is done.

I’m preparing my students for the next exam, which is fast approaching. I forgot how long the semester system can be; when I was doing my graduate degree, we were on quarter system. That means we would end right before Thanksgiving. I used to prefer the semester system, but now I’m not so sure. Perhaps it’s just what you’re used to at the end of the day.

Although I enjoy teaching, I could use the break myself. It’s just nice to relax, you know? Relaxing is relative, though. I finally received more edits in the mail for my thesis, so that’s how I intend on spending my time, hustling out those edits. It would be nice to have a real break, but at the same time, I’d rather be finished with my thesis than have a break break.

I’m starting to get settled more things. I think this weekend I may finally start doing yoga again. I’m starting to incorporate little dance practices for when I go back to dance class (I’m thinking next month, right before the New Year). I’m surprised that shimmy is still there and that I can still isolate muscles. I suppose muscle more really does exist.

My week has consisted of getting my students ready for their midterm. While my boss is fine with me delaying exams, I want to get them used to my exams as well as get them motivated to learn the material. I find it odd being on the other side of the table. Making problems up that are thoughtful, interesting, and not too difficult is a challenge. Writing my first equation sheet was a challenge as well. I have fairly good notes of my own that cover what we’ve done, but  I wanted to make something clear for the students. I don’t think they’re used to using an equation sheet, and it is a skill to learn prior to the exam, not at the exam.

Speaking of my students, they are slowly warming up to me and how our classes are. They were used to not having a system, so I think they appreciate that there is consistency, even if I’m still learning. What I like about my boss and everyone at the school is that they understand that I’m still learning. I know how to teach physics on some level, but I’ve never had to worry about assigning work, creating exams, etc. No one taught me how to do that, either. I’m somewhat of a perfectionist, but I’m trying not to be hard on myself. I feel like I am improving with each day.

The job has been quite a bit of work, which is to be expected. I’ve been fitting in my thesis editing (working on that after I finish writing here) and job searching. To clarify, my contract is only good for this semester. While I think I have a decent chance of getting more work, nothing is secure so I feel that it’s necessary to still search. I’m not sending out my CV as vigorously as before, but I have sent out a few applications. I would be more than happy to continue working at the school,  but since I’m not guaranteed work beyond this semester, I have to keep looking.

I’ve been debating about writing this in my blog, since I try to keep it light and alittle apersonal (perhaps, trying to keep it more professional). However, I am a person at the end of the day. My father died last week, which is why there have been no updates. I simply wasn’t in the mood to write or make progress on my life goals. My father and I didn’t have the best relationship, and the grieving process has been difficult in many respects, much different than when my mother died.

For obvious reasons, my father’s death put my life on hold for last week. This week, I finally contacted the temp agency I had used the last time I had lived in Boston. Although the contact I had originally used is no longer there, I have a very good record there. If you’ve never used a temp agency, the way the company and individual workers make money is if you make money. Evidently, some folks are unreliable and won’t show up to work or do their jobs, so having a good record is important. The temp agency is sending me on an interview tomorrow with a company I had originally worked at in 2006-2007, before grad school. Company B is thisclose to scheduling round II interview with me. There will most likely be a round III interview, if I do well with round II, but the HR person said that those interviews are usually scheduled within days of round II and decisions are made quickly.

With that, I’m in principle looking to move out of Providence soon, like Oct 1 soon. This weekend I’m heading to my hometown to see my brother and settle some matters, but I’m lucky enough to have a friend who’ll start the hunt for me.