Saturday, July 31, 2010

This Week, In No Particular Order, I ...

... officially moved from passive nausea to all-out bent-over-the-toilet morning sickness. Isn't this stuff supposed to go away in the second trimester?

... spent several of the last 24 hours before my defense helping AdvisorB with a talk that he's not giving until October. Every time I asked him if maybe we could talk about it after my defense, so that I could go back to my office to practice my own much-more-urgent talk, he told me to quit worrying.

... continued my battle against the summer cold that LL gave me the week before. So far, the cold is still winning. Being sick while pregnant really sucks, since there are no decent drugs that will take away the symptoms.

... felt The Frog kick for the first time. Yippee!

... told AdvisorB about my pregnancy. (Haven't gotten up the nerve to tell AdvisorA yet.)

... spiked my blood sugar for a day, all day, even though I was barely eating, based purely on stress. Then, since the stress wasn't going away for a few days and there was nothing I could do about it anyway, and seeing the actual numbers was just adding to my stress, I stopped testing for 24 hours.

... lost two pounds. Which brings my total pregnancy weight "gain" to negative three pounds.

... saw Inception. Excellent movie. Very trippy.

... successfully defended my PhD dissertation.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


I'm told that this is how most students spend the two weeks or so before their PhD dissertation defense: They have lots of long discussions with their advisor about what to present, and what to expect, and what they should do to prepare. They go through multiple versions of their slide presentation, in consultation with their advisor. They give a practice talk or two, then redo their slides again based on the feedback. They talk some more with their advisor. Then they lock themselves in their office and practice practice practice giving the talk, until they know it backwards and forwards. Then they talk to their advisor some more, and tweak their slides some more, and practice some more. Two weeks of total focus and preparation.

My dissertation defense is this week (!). Here is how I have spent the last two weeks or so:
I emailed an early version of my slides to AdvisorA for feedback, along with a long list of questions. AdvisorA has been completely out of touch with me since then, except for two short emails telling me that she hasn't had time to look at my slides. She did, however, inform me that she bought airline tickets to fly into town for my defense, but she bought refundable tickets, because she's still not sure if she's going to be able to make it. As of today, she is 90% or so sure that she will actually not be present in person.

At her request, since she knew that she probably would bail out, she insisted that I schedule my defense in a room equipped with video conferencing. I spent several days trying to find a room on my campus that can do video conferencing, since my department doesn't have one, and most of the departments that do have one won't let people from other departments use them. AdvisorA then told me that I also had to help find her a video conferencing room on her campus, since she didn't have time to schedule it herself. I spent another several days emailing people on that campus to try to book a room for AdvisorA, most of which wanted me to give them my credit card number (yes, my personal credit card number) so that they could charge me several hundred dollars in "use fees" since I'm not affiliated with the campus. My argument that this was for AdvisorA, who is a full professor at the campus, were ignored because I didn't have her department account information, and she never replied to my request for her to send it to me.

The day that all the scheduling finally got squared away, LL woke up in the middle of the night with a fever of 103. Other than the fever and a slight cough, LL was in excellent spirits and simply could not understand why I wouldn't let him go to Natasha's to play with his friends. Predictably, I got sick two days later. (The combination of sick toddler coughing in my face, lack of sleep from holding the sick toddler all night, stress over the defense, and lowered immunity because of the pregnancy, turned out to be waaaaay too many points against me in my hope of avoiding a cold just now.) I spent three days with my own 100 degree fever, completely unable to think straight. I did manage to do one practice talk just before succumbing entirely to the cold, and S took care of LL for much of the weekend so that I could finally get around to revising my slides a bit.

The way things stand right now, I have barely practiced at all, I have had zero feedback from my advisor, and I have an awful cough and sore throat that makes it difficult to get through a full reading of Good Night Moon, much less a three hour dissertation defense.

It's gonna be a fun week. See ya on the flip side.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Random Thoughts

What is the deal with little boys and trains? Is there seriously something inherent to little boy brains that makes them fascinated by trains? LL yells "Choo! Choo!" every time we go by train tracks, as if he's trying to summon the train. He lines up crackers on his tray and says "Choo! Choo!" as he pushes them along. He makes his own trains out of blocks. He's obsessed. (Also, he has made it very very easy to figure out what to buy him for his birthday.)

LL ate half a grilled cheese sandwich at a restaurant this weekend. He normally refuses to eat restaurant food (other than fruit), so this was a major accomplishment.

How is it that a little boy who hates tomatoes, hates tomato sauce, and generally refuses to eat anything red, lest it be related to tomatoes, has suddenly developed a love of V8? I'm torn between encouraging it (yay, a vegetable!) and discouraging it (ack, that's a lot of sodium!).

Did I mention that we finally took LL for his first haircut? His curls were getting way out of control, impossible to comb, and we could have put him in pigtails if we were so inclined. (It never looked long, because the curls were pretty tight, but when you stretched out the curls, you could see that it was actually quite long.) I'm too much of a chicken to cut it myself, so we took him to a kid's haircut place where he got to sit on a motorcycle and play while they cut his hair. They cut and cut and cut, and then I asked them to cut some more, and there was a huge pile of hair on the floor when they were done, and yet... he looks exactly the same. The curls are a little better defined, because they cut off much of the older baby frizz. And it's definitely easier to comb. But he still looks like a cocker spaniel from behind.

We told Natasha today that LL is going to be a big brother, and her immediate reaction was, "Of course, I've known that you were pregnant since that day a few months ago when you looked different." (Yeah, I was only 4 weeks pregnant then.) Then she told me that she had a dream last week that I was having a girl. I've decided not to doubt her.

LL has a girlfriend, a little girl at daycare named Eve. They are one month apart in age, and they do everything together. Natasha claims that they even poop at the same time each day. They will only nap if they are in cribs next to each other, and they feed each other food at snack time. Eve has the exact same curly hair as LL, in a slightly lighter brown, and they hold hands and run around together. It is beyond cute.

There is a third kid at the daycare who is around the same age as LL and Eve. Her name is Sophie. On the days when LL isn't in daycare, Eve and Sophie play together. But if LL is there, Eve only wants to play with LL. When Sophie tries to join them, Eve pushes her away so that she can have LL all to herself. (LL apparently doesn't even acknowledge that Sophie is ever around.) Natasha says that Sophie doesn't like LL, presumably because she thinks that LL is "stealing" Eve from her, but all attempts to get the three of them to all play together have failed, with Eve glaring at Sophie, Sophie glaring at LL, and LL playing quietly while remaining completely oblivious to the drama around him. It is bizarre to me that my little boy is apparently part of the popular clique at daycare.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Twelve Hours

I interrupt my incessant whining about the car accident and insurance and lawyers and gestational diabetes for an important announcement:

I hate graduate school.

Most people seem to have a love-hate relationship with graduate school. It is a long, exhausting process with many many ups and downs. Other than a few specific low points, I never minded graduate school all that much. I had lots of intellectual freedom; I had flexibility with how I used my time; I enjoyed bouncing ideas around with smart people; I found a great mentor in AdvisorB who appreciated my approach to science and who actually seeks out my opinion on research topics, even ones that are far outside my own dissertation area. Yes, working for below minimum wage for six years kind of sucks, but I kept my eye on the prize and never doubted that I would be able to graduate one day. There were definitely some aspects of graduate school (yes, I'm looking at you, ridiculous soul-sucking qualification exam!) that appeared to be more hazing ritual than actual educational necessity, but for the most part, I could see the value in most of what I was expected to do. And I believed that if I kept doing well at the things that mattered (research, papers, service to my lab, networking) everything would end up okay.

Then, almost exactly one year ago, I got to experience one of the truly ugly sides of academia. (Story starts here, and continues here.) Short version: AdvisorA cut off my funding when I returned from maternity leave because she didn't agree with my choice to have a child. My department helped me to find alternative funding (it helps that the department chair and financial manager are both working moms who were fairly outraged at AdvisorA's behavior) and life went on. Freed of her financial obligations to me, AdvisorA turned to passive benign neglect, not standing actively in my way but not responding to emails or questions, and making herself generally unavailable to me. That went on until a little over a month ago, when I pointed out to her that helping me to graduate would also get me permanently out of her hair. She was suddenly super supportive and helpful. Which kind of makes me hate her even more, but it does get me closer to graduating.

So, it's time to put together my dissertation defense committee, and pick a date for the actual defense. AdvisorB made it abundantly clear that he thinks it is absolutely vital that AdvisorA participate in person, which means finding a time when she can fly out here for a day. I gave her a three month window and asked her for dates when she could be here. She helpfully supplied me with one week. That's it. Five days when she's willing to be here, and no other times all summer. Armed with that single week, I went in search of two final orals committee members who were interested in my dissertation topic and available during that week. And it turns out that week sucks for most people. I had brainstormed lots of committee member options with AdvisorB, but I didn't find anyone who was available during that week until I got down to my sixth and seventh choices. But hey, they're warm bodies, we expect them to be supportive, so let's just go with it and schedule the defense! Between those two guys and the existing members of my reading committee, there was exactly one day when they're all free.

So, I innocently sent out an email to everyone saying, Here's the day! Do you guys want morning or afternoon? And everyone wanted the afternoon. Some of them had hard constraints limiting them to the afternoon. And that's when AdvisorA decided to join the conversation and insist on it happening in the morning. Why? Because if the defense is in the morning, she can fly back home that afternoon. But if the defense is in the afternoon, she'll have to spend the night and fly home in the morning. And she doesn't want to wait those extra twelve hours to get home.

In the last 24 hours, my committee members have exchanged nearly three dozen email messages trying to negotiate a time for my defense. (I'm staying out of it, because it does me absolutely no good at all to pick sides on this.) AdvisorB even found a flight that AdvisorA could take that evening so that she *would* be able to get home that night, but she's just ignoring his suggestion. It's ridiculous.

AdvisorB has been a professor for well over 30 years, and he says that he has never had this much trouble scheduling a defense, or seen an advisor being this much of a roadblock. He's planning informal meetings with each of my other committee members to bring them up to speed on the situation with AdvisorA, just in case she becomes a problem during the defense itself. But honestly, the entire committee has been witness to the email exchanges of the last 24 hours, so it should be fairly obvious to all of them that AdvisorA is a pain in the ass.

In the mean time, if they can't agree on a time, my defense will need to be pushed into the fall, which means staying in grad school for another semester. Which sucks. Not just because I have to be here for even longer, but also because it erases any hope of starting a job before my upcoming maternity leave. All because AdvisorA doesn't want to take a later flight.

I hate graduate school.