Posts from the ‘Thesis’ Category

Thesis submitted

Today, I officially submitted the final version of my thesis. All of this was done electronically, so I just uploaded my PDF, payed them a few bucks for a nice hard copy, and clicked “submit” and it was done. I had sent my previous version in for an initial check by the graduate school to make sure they were happy with the formatting, and it got the a-okay. You always hear horror stories about people whose margins were an eighth of an inch off and were denied submission of their thesis, but these days, with everything done electronically, I guess it’s not such a big deal. Plus, as I mentioned before, I did mine in LaTeX, and the formatting is pretty much automatic. At any rate, my hands are now washed of the document.

I also submitted my final piece of paperwork today (at least, to the best of my knowledge it’s the final piece). I hope it’s the last one; I’m tired of making the trip up to campus only to discover I need just one more signature and have to return again. I haven’t been on campus this much since I was taking classes; it’s just almost unacceptable.

Now that all that is over, I’m sort of in a lull, catching up on a few things and doing a bit of job searching and related issues. Next week I’ll talk with my boss about stuff I can do as I coast into my last days here. I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned it (surely I have), but my current appointment will last through the summer, so I have a few months to wrap things up if I so desire. I just know he’s going to suggest redoing the measurement from Hades to make some final and definitive measurements with it and possibly write up a paper on it, so I’ll have to really search deep within myself and find the strength to at least not run screaming from the building prematurely.

And then there will be commencement in three weeks. I think my parents are coming, so I will actually have to get up at the crack of dawn to fight horrible traffic for the ceremony. I guess that’s okay. The day before is the department ceremony, which I think will be a little more meaningful for everybody. Plus I get to wear a big robe and a hood and look like I’m from Hogwartz or something. And instead of a wand, I guess I get a laser pointer. Doctorus defendo!

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Lessons learned: eating an elephant

I called my sister to let her know the good news after I defended. She told me she was incredibly impressed by my accomplishment, and I said I was, too, because so many times it seemed like an utterly impossible and ridiculous task. I told her that it was like eating an elephant…you just have to take one bite at a time (and possibly invest in a very large deep freeze).

So one of the lessons I’ve learned here is that any seemingly insurmountable task can, indeed, be accomplished by breaking it up into many smaller, much more reasonable tasks. I’ll talk more about goal-setting specifically later, but just the idea of setting before yourself something feasible is very encouraging and will motivate you to tackle the following tasks as well.

I am an incredibly list-driven person, which is the epitome of breaking something up into bite-sized pieces. I love, love, love crossing something off of a list, so if I construct a good list (a good mix of easy to accomplish items with reasonably sized other tasks) the progress of the small things will motivate me to tackle the bigger ones. That also helps me keep track of which parts of the elephant I’ve eaten and what’s still left.

Another way in which deluding yourself into taking that first bite is useful is that even a minute level of momentum will carry you forward. Case in point: I am not very excited about house cleaning. I do get frequent bouts of motivation during which I normally tackle it; however, I am somewhat ashamed to admit that these bouts of motivation will occasionally be few and far between, and I let a few things go that I shouldn’t (at least I had a very reasonable excuse…until last week). I just can’t convince myself that I want to do it. However, I can eventually coerce or guilt myself into saying, “okay, I will at least unload the silverware out of the clean dishwasher, then I will go sit down on the couch and watch another episode of X-Files on Netflix with a reduced level of guilt.” However, I subconsciously know that if I start an unsavory project, even without the commitment to complete all of it, I will inevitably gain enough momentum that I just can’t bear the shame of stopping. Before you know it, the dishwasher is unloaded. And then I go watch X-Files with a clear conscious.

Maybe claiming that I “trick myself” is a little disingenuous, since I’ve figured out my little Jedi mind trick and know full well that I’m usually going to finish whatever I say that I’m going to just “start.” In that case, I think it’s good that I’ve learned this about myself and can use it to effect, and I can clearly see how one day my attitude will change to be “okay, let’s just do it.”

As I have alluded to a few paragraphs ago, this issue is closely related to that of goals and goal-setting, something I took for granted and even poo-pooed up until a few years ago. In another blog, I will explore this lesson I’ve learned and how it has really transformed my life, or at least the way I think about it.

Lessons learned: carry it to completion

It’s been about twenty-four hours since my defense, and I’ve finally had some time to rest and process through everything. I also took the day off today, which is an outstanding event, I must say. I’ve spent some time thinking about everything and reflecting on my time as a graduate student. I thought it would be nice to share some of the lessons learned during this time in my life.

Probably the most significant lesson I’ve learned (and still have much to learn about, too) is that if God calls us to do something, He will see us through to the end. I can’t tell you how many times I was discouraged, hated what I was doing, or wanted to quit. However, it seemed clear that God put me on this path, and His plan didn’t include giving up before I got to the end (much to my chagrin at those many times of discouragement). He also didn’t leave me here to languish all alone while I did it all myself. Sure, I had to put a lot of time and effort and mental and emotional fortitude into seeing this thing to the end, but I committed to doing my part in good faith, and God upheld His end of the deal.

He provided just what I needed at the right times. After a few years in my research tenure, it became clear that I would be hard pressed to derive a thesis-level project in my initial research position. At least two times I tried to “improve” my research situation on my own, seeking out other groups or projects to take me in. It seemed downright reasonable for me to move on to something else. However, those instances never worked out, because it wasn’t the plan. I finally surrendered and was patient, knowing that God would do whatever it was He planned whenever He had planned for it. Sure enough, three years ago I was able to take what I learned those years in my previous position and work on a joint project in another group that yielded a high-level research project, for which I just earned my PhD. Yes, it ended up taking eight school years to complete, but who cares….because I did complete it. It’s not always easy or comfortable, nor does it always seem reasonable, but you won’t go wrong trusting the one who sees the big picture instead of relying on your own limited view.

He also provided a vast group of people bathing me in prayer and encouragement, especially in this last semester of straining for the finish line. I can’t tell you how many people were praying over me yesterday, because I am honestly not even sure. And while I am by no means an expert on prayer, it’s something I’ve really begun to mature in this semester, gaining some new perspectives and beginning to overcome some issues I’ve struggled with for a very long time (if God knows everything that’s going to happen, what’s the point in praying at all?, etc.). I’m still no expert, but it’s the beginning of a lifetime of new perspective on what it means to pray.

Finally, I now have to trust Him for the next steps, too. I’ve really only just come to appreciate that the rest of my life is really just beginning now. My sister has always hated the phrase “today is the first day of the rest of your life,” so I think about her when I say this. ūüėČ But getting a doctorate isn’t the end; it’s the beginning of something you do once you have it. I still don’t know what that is yet, and it probably won’t be just one thing for the rest of my life. Likely life will take us many places over the years, but I can trust that there’s a plan and a reason for the steps we’ll take.

I’ve learned many other things looking back on my time here, and hopefully I’ll get to share those with you. I feel like I’m now trained not just with knowledge or information in a particular subject of science, but with life skills that are now tools in my belt that will help me tackle the new challenges in life.

“…Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus,” Philippians 1:6

The light at the end of the fiber

When a short pulse of laser light goes into one end of a very long optical fiber, the pulse stretches out as it goes through the length of the fiber. It also might lose some energy along the way, so occasionally amplifiers are inserted every once in a while to give the signal a boost. So when the light reaches the other end of the fiber, it may have been jostled around a bit, stretched out, had some energy sucked out of it. However, it still reaches the in relatively intact, and with a lot of experience from along the way.

The light at the end of the fiber is, evidently, warm and diffuse, not sharp and overpowering like a coherent beam of photons with a small beam diameter. It’s comforting, providing relief and rest. I’ve now, finally, after almost eight years, seen the light at the end. I’m still processing this change, but, ladies and gentlemen, I am now officially a PhD.

Twenty-four hours

My defense begins twenty-four hours from now.

I had yet another practice talk in front of  a few colleagues this morning followed by the hardest questions they could think of asking. It went pretty well; all I need are a few more slide improvements, some smoothing out of my words, and exuding confidence no matter what question is asked of me during the defense. I am most fearful of being asked a question I should know, like calculate this off the top of your head, and totally melting down. However, I have an exit strategy in case I do almost implode, so in principle I can fend off even the worst case scenario.

Actually, my biggest fear is that one of my committee members won’t show up, but I’d say that those are circumstances out of my control. I’ve sent numerous emails to all of them to remind them, to send them my thesis, to tell the of the date and time. Of the five of them, I only ever heard back from one of them, and another is my advisor whom I see every day, so I know he’ll be there. That leaves three question marks. It’s certainly most likely that the will show up (they did agree to be on my committee in the first place), but it’s human to fret about the things out of our control. It certainly doesn’t serve any purpose, so I’ll just ignore that prospect, and on the very imperceptible possibility that it becomes an issue, I’ll deal with it then.

I have no idea how I am going to feel tomorrow. Am I going to sleep tonight? Will I be able to eat breakfast or lunch? I just can’t tell how it’s going to hit me until it happens. Sure, I’ll be nervous, but there’s no reason to carry around an unnecessary weight if I don’t have to.¬† Just think confident, be confident, and be proud of what I have accomplished. One way or another, it’ll be over in just over twenty-four hours.

 

Two days

It’s Tuesday, two days until my defense.

I had a very nice Easter weekend, even though I did spend Sunday afternoon and evening working on my presentation. My sacrifice paid off, however. I had another practice talk on Monday, and that went oh so much better than my previous one. I even nailed it in under 45 minutes, which is my goal. A little more refining over the next two days, and I should be able to do it under 45 and not talking 90 mph like an auctioneer. :p

At this point, my greatest concern¬† will be making sure I am fluent in all aspects of my work, being able to confidently field questions from the committee. I don’t necessarily have to know all the answers, but I need to think well on my feet and be able to speak to at least some aspect of a question. This is the most terrifying part of this entire thesis process; some questions can come way out of left field and you have no way to prepare for it. However, if I sell myself and my work solidly in my presentation and answer most other questions intelligently, then hopefully they have no reason to say that I am not qualified to be deemed a PhD. I just have to be confident, feel confident, and believe that I’m confident.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I intended to apply for a job. I managed to get my application and paperwork to them last week, though they are still missing one reference letter; I’m working on that today. Without going into too much detail, I will say that I am getting a favorable impression from them. It’s certainly not done and we’re still in the initial stages, but we’ll just have to see how serious it gets. I still have one specific job I want to apply for as soon as I get time to work on my paperwork for it, and then I haven’t even really begun to look in earnest either; I only intended to begin that after I defended. So there are still lots of options and nothing narrowed down yet. I have to admit I can let myself be almost as nervous about the next step as I am about my defense, but that’s just silly. Something will work out in the right time, and there’s no reason to be fearful about stepping out in faith into the real, professional world. Change may be uncomfortable, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about life, it’s that it isn’t at all about comfort.

One week

The defense is one week from today.

This has been a surprisingly hectic week, as evidenced by the fact that I didn’t get posts out Monday or Wednesday. I had a practice talk yesterday, which was a hot mess, but I got a lot of feedback for how to hone my truckloads of information into a concise yet precise 45-minute affair. I’ll continue to spruce it up and have yet another practice talk early next week.

I have a friend in town this week for work, and DH and I went down to Denver to have dinner with him. That was a lot of fun, though dinner dates just aren’t long enough to catch up. Going down into Denver on a weeknight is also unusual, and it cut slightly into my prep time for my practice talk.

I’ve been running around getting things together for my one job application, and yesterday I finally found a third reference to provide a letter of recommendation. That was a big relief. I have no idea how this job application will go, but at least it’s something to have one out there. There’s another one I really want to apply for, and I feel that getting it in sooner than later would be best. I just need to squeeze in a few minutes to update my application materials from the previous job to make it relevant to this one.

Today is DH’s birthday, too. I love birthdays, and I love to make a big deal out of them. Unfortunately, I’ve been so preoccupied this year that I did quite get to put as much forethought into it as I wanted to. However, he’s a very understanding man, and we agree that we’ll get to celebrate a lot more next week. I did manage to wrap some gifts and whip up a birthday cake for today, though, which I consider minimum requirements for an excellent birthday.

On top of it all, we finally got a spring cold snap. March is typically the snowiest month here, and we got nary a drop of precipitation the whole time. It seems like our whole winter got shifted forward this year, starting a month early in October and ending a month early in February. And while it’s been 60s and 70s and beautiful here for weeks, I knew we’d still get a little more snow eventually. Fortunately it didn’t stick much and barely got below freezing, but I was definitely sad to feel cold again.

In other news, I have, for some strange reason, evidently agreed to run a 5k on Memorial Day. Oh Lord, what was I thinking? I am not a runner; however, you might recall that starting up running again was something I had on my list of things to do after I am done. It turns out that my good friend is challenging herself to start running, too, and she was going to aim to start now and train for the 5k coming up in just about eight weeks (that’s typically a good amount of time to train for that length of race, even if you’re starting from zero). Like a fool, I publicly agreed to join her while commenting on her blog. Well, maybe I’m not a fool; it’s generally considered wise to commit to do things with a partner who will keep you accountable. Well, she’ll have to take me to task since I haven’t done anything since last Saturday (I told you, it’s been a busy week!). But I’m hoping I can squeeze in a couple of miles today now that the weather is looking up and my practice talk is over.

So that’s where we stand with one week to go. I’m still not all that anxious, though I was going into the practice talk. I’d rather get all my nerves out now and be assured that my talk is stellar and that I am completely prepared before even walking in the door next Thursday.