Saturday, January 31, 2009

It's the Little Things

Yesterday I got my office in order, today I got my home in order. Unpacked, cleaned, got groceries, all that good stuff. I am generally not too stuck on any habits or routines, I'm quite flexible. But I did realize today that there are some little things I really did miss, and appreciate having back now:

My favorite Olay lotion for my face at night. Sadly, over 3 oz. sized jar.

Having a shower which is above my head, not requiring me to scrunch down to Asian-person size or cheap-hostel shower height.

My bedtime snack. And afternoon snack. And studying pick-me-up. Oh, come on, chocolate is Nature's cure-all.... :)

And in the spirit of the little things, when I took my shower today I did I very empowering thing. I tossed out my bottle of body wash. I was only 1/4 of the way through the bottle, but I hated the scent. I was only using that soap because I paid good money for it - all of $4, I think. But life is too short to be cringing when you reach for the soap...

Now I get to buy myself some much better-smelling body wash. I might spend all of $10 this time - look out!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Financial Boondoggle

I pride myself on taking after my accountant mother and keeping good track of my finances. I keep a record of all transactions, a budget, reconcile all my bank accounts and investments, and adore

Unfortunately that was before a trip to Alabama, trip to Singapore, and trip to London, for varying purposes of business, pleasure, and sponsored work, which were variously paid for on account, by my own credit card, and by my Purchasing credit card. In addition, I got a travel cash advance before I left, and I exchanged money between three currencies on my way.


And of course, the appropriate people and procedures for turning in receipts for reimbursement vary depending on the trip and the account to which I'm charging. So all of this morning was sorting through receipts and ticket stubs, highlighting credit card statements and organizing Excel spreadsheets. Multiple Excel sheets. You can never have too many Excel sheets. Some of the receipts I had to tape to 8.5x11 sheets of (hole-punched) paper, and I found out that whatever is in the Singapore taxi receipt paper has a bad reaction to packing tape, and the ink disappears. Disappears! Who'd have thought?!

But I think, now that I've got my neat printouts (with the official double line under the total, true accounting style), I am owed on the order of a couple thousand dollars. U.S. dollars, if you please. And also, don't anybody dare tell me I followed some incorrect procedure, because if I have to go through it all again the receipts may turn into pumpkins.

So I was very pleased with myself for getting myself straightened out, until I went to pay for lunch. I pulled out my wallet, and all of my cash is still in pounds.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

And What I Did There

Home again, home again, jiggety jig. Always good to be back in your own bed.

So what did I do in Singapore? Well, on the work side:

- Attended an Energy Symposium for half a day, learned about the current state of energy in the U.S. and Singapore. Heard from the founder of a battery company (A123 Systems) which most famously provides the Lithium-Ion batteries for the newest lines of power tools. Also heard from an expert in the solar power field, or photovoltaics as it is known in academia. General take away for PV: much very cool research being done into all key issues, but nobody has had the breakthrough or combination of breakthroughs to make solar quite feasible yet.

- Attended my own symposium and learned about the current state of research collaboration between Singapore and the States. Which is, I might say, impressive.

- Gave a paper on, essentially, my Master's thesis. Yay for good results!

- Got to visit a company which does nano-imprinting, which is related to my work. Although in the company's case they make hard drives while I make microfluidic devices, it was still very cool to see a demonstration and get to ask questions.

- Attended a very fancy dinner to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the States-Singapore collaboration, with the President of NUS, President of NTU, President of World's Best School, and the Singapore Prime Minister. Very heavy security was in effect because of the Prime Minister's presence (metal detectors, bag checks, pat-downs, ID checks). I had to leave the banquet once to use the restroom, and there were security guards who swept the bathroom before and after I used it. Gracious.

The dinner was eight courses long - they just kept bringing more food! I liked about four of the eight courses. Some things, like the whole baby octopus, I just wasn't sure how to tackle....

The Prime Minister gave a speech as the keynote, which was all in political-ese except for a few interesting bits. In the middle he had a few lines about the research that had been completed under the partnership, and it was quite obvious that somebody just picked a few key buzzwords out of the annual report we write up. Whoever wrote the speech took one research area - happened to be "bulk metallic glass", which is a fancy new material - and somehow related it to fuel cells (which it has nothing to do with), said that it was invented during this collaboration (which it was not), and that it was worked on in Singapore (whereas we only use it on the States side). Politicians talking about science, it's just a bad combination. The one guy who works on bulk metallic glass got a lot of ribbing from the rest of us for the rest of the week, you know, "your work is the culmination of 10 years of collaboration!" or "so, how much did you have to bribe to get your research picked out of the 200 students over 10 years?". Fortunately this grad student is a good sport, and retorts that he is going to add an automatic footer to all of his PowerPoint presentations now, saying "Endorsed by the Prime Minister of Singapore." :)

And on the much more interesting side:

- Took a massive amount of taxi transportation, with an incredibly talkative bunch of cabbies.

- Learned a lot about Singaporian culture. In essence, nearly every aspect of life is government regulated, from housing and jobs to sex ("Romancing Singapore" is a government initiative prompted by a dip in birth rates). No gum spitting on the sidewalk is allowed, for example. Jaywalking is a $1000 Singaporian dollar ($750 USD) offense. Owning a gun is a hanging offense. Graffiti is punishable by caning. Protest of government officials is treated as lying and/or defamation, and punishable with $200,000 Singaporian dollars, which is about $130,000 USD. The government is technically a democracy, but the executive and judical branches all belong to the party in power, which actively discourage and bankrupt opposition. In fact, only one party has ever had power. All that is enough to discourage me from ever moving there, but as my colleague from India points out, even though you are not free you at least know you can walk home safely at 4am, and for some people that is the more important fact. And, Singapore has indeed done impressively well for itself in creating a modern nation in the fiftyish years it's been around.

- Ate excellent food. Had Korean Barbeque one night, with Korean friends who said it was quite authentic. Ate at the top of the Swiss Hotel on the 71st floor, with an incredible view. The elevator goes up so fast your ears pop, like in an airplane. Had lunch at an outdoor hawker market, with all the chaos and sights and sounds and questionable food quality that entails. My absolute favorite meal was soup dumplings. They have an assembly line where the cooks crank out these dough dumplings with various fillings, each steamed and served in wooden baskets on a linen. You eat them with ginger, vinegar, and soy sauce, and they are delicious. Each one has soup in the dumpling as well as the meat filling, although I have no idea how they get soup in there. Yum!

- Walked around Chinatown and little India. Because we had an Indian student with us, we were allowed inside a Hindu temple, where the different gods and sculptures were explained to us. Fascinating, and very smoky - people burn incense and offerings to the gods, which by the end of the day is enough to turn your eyes red.

- Went out to a club on ladies' night, so I got in free while all the boys had to pay (score!). Ladies also got free drinks, but I figured out the catch in the system. In order to get a drink, you have to go to one end of the bar with a huge mass of other girls pressing in. One lone bartender is helping all these people, and he moves v-e-r-y slowly. And, they fill up your glass to the brim with ice before they pour anything in. I only wanted one drink anyway, and after waiting fifteen minutes to get squished to the front of the pack and be served, I only got two swallows. Lame.

- Stayed up until five a.m., talking with a fantastic group of friends about education systems in India, Singapore, and various parts of the U.S., discussing the new President and other political figures, and waxing eloquent as only happens in the wee hours of the night. This is the stuff of which college is made, internet.

- Learned a new card game - which I have already forgotten the name of. Drat it all. It's a trump game, like hearts or spades, but it can be played by any number of people (not just four). But if it ever comes up again, dadgumit, I'm an expert. I also played a lot of spades and dusted off my rusty strategy skills.

I unfortunately did not get to go on the huge famous Ferris wheel they have, as it was undergoing maintenance. Next year! I also missed out on the bird park and night safari, so there are still adventures yet to come.

Which is as it should be.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Why Am I Here in Singapore

Quick answer, because my funding for building Very Cool Stuff comes from here. Turns out the government of Singapore is very interested in upping the quality of research at its universities. So, it wants to partner with World's Best School. The problem is that World's Best School has no interest in allying itself with inferior research. So, the gov't of Singapore finances the whole thing. Whala, the system is equal.

So there are five branches to the partnership, and I operate under the one dealing with Manufacturing Systems and Technology. All in all, there are about 70 professors from the States side in this overall program, and maybe a dozen of those are in my branch. There are perhaps 200 students in the program altogether.

One of the stipulations of the partnership is that professors from the States are required to visit Singapore for two weeks a year (always in January, I think because it's winter in the States and gorgeous over here). Students from the States side of the program are encouraged to visit Singapore during this same two weeks at least once during the course of their research.

My first year in my Master's degree, January came around when I had only completed one semester, so I didn't really know what I was doing yet. This year is my second year, so it was useful for me to come over here and talk with the Singapore students I am collaborating with. This year is also the 10th anniversary of the partnership, so it was a big deal and there were many festivities and bigwigs attending.

So I have had useful meetings and symposiums and I presented a paper at the official conference, but really this is vacation. Anytime I pack a bikini and a camera, it counts as vacation.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Vagaries of Travel

Singapore is amazing.

The trip here was not.

There was a blizzard in Boston the day I left, which required us to spend an extra hour and a half in the plane on the runway "de-icing." Then there were some problems with the computer system onboard, which required another hour of sitting. So I thought giving myself a four-hour layover in London was going to be enough, but apparently not. I missed my connection in London by 15 minutes or so.

So I betook myself immediately to the airline counter to rebook, and the lady attending said "Oh! You were on the Boston flight? I thought we already contacted all those people while they were enroute and rebooked them!" Well, um, no, you missed me. So they tried to rebook me on the next flight from London to Singapore, but it was already full of all those other people they had so helpfully rebooked. So I had to take a flight on a different airline carrier altogether, through Hong Kong to SIngapore.

Which would have been fine, except they didn't tell my luggage of my change of plans. So I got to Singapore on a different day then I intended, using a different route, with an extra stop, on a different airline. Without luggage. Ah, the vagaries of travel. I left my home on Sunday at 5:30 p.m., and I arrived at my destination on Tuesday at 6:10 p.m. My passport got tagged at each security check, and I have tags on my passport from three different days. Yikes! I had nothing but airline food all that time. The *third* time I saw the flight attendants bringing around dinner, I nearly cried I was so bedraggled and out of sorts and irritated.

I called later that night and filed a missing baggage claim, then checked on it for the next several days, because it took them a long time to trace it back through several airline carriers, intended destinations, actual destinations, and missed connections. I finally did get my baggage today, Thursday.

So, um, I've now arrived?

Will write more later about my activities here -

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Weather - Grrr

When I tried to get on a bus last December to go home for Christmas, it snowed and I had to wait until the next day.

When I tried to get on a plane to go to Alabama last Sunday, it snowed and I had to tromp through six inches of snow to the airport.

Today as I am trying to leave to go to Singapore, it is snowing again. And my flight has been delayed by an hour already, and it's still six hours until departure.

I just need to time my adventures better.

Or move to California.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Alabama Girls

I finished my week in Alabama, and here in a few days I'll post a wrap-up, hopefully with some pictures. I'm home tonight for a grand total of 24hrs, and I fly out to Singapore tomorrow.

My sleep schedule is so screwy now - last Sunday, I stayed up all night and left for the airport at 4:30 in the morning. During the week, my partner and I had to get up before 6 most mornings in order to get to the various schools 45min before first period. We finished up Friday by 1pm, and I was so tired I crashed on my hotel bed for a couple hours. Then I couldn't get to sleep that night, and we had to leave for the airport home by 3am, so I didn't sleep that night either. So I slept on the plane and all day today, and I'm bright-eyed now at 2:30 a.m. But hey, maybe I'm all set for Singapore time! I've managed to pre-jet lag myself!

But you know, what other time in life am I going to be able to set my own sleep schedule like this? I don't have anybody dependent on me, and as long as I get all my obligations done and am on time for all my responsibilities, I can just go to bed whenever I happen to be tired. How cool is that!

What I wanted to write on this evening is the girls we talked to this week. We talked to all the girls in grades 9-12 at eight different schools in our area of Alabama. Now, I was homeschooled, so my experience with public schools is pretty darn limited. The schools we went to varied quite a lot - we went to the biggest one in the county, a little bitty one with no white students, the one where the rich parents send their kids, and others all across the spectrum. We presented in libraries, auditoriums, band rooms, and one place on stage. The principals and teachers all seemed genuinely glad to see us, and always accommodated us with a projector and anything else we needed.

But it's the girls I am going to remember most, I think. Well, I can't possibly forget the sweet tea and BBQ, but hey:

- There was the one girl that started laughing at me when I said I liked Star Trek, giggling away in the back row. Hey now! Don't be dissin' the nerd's holy grail!

- The 10th grader who said that she wanted to grow up to cure cancer, then looked shyly away and told us nobody thinks she can do it. Oh, honey, work your behind off until you get it, and don't ever be afraid to aim high.

- We got a lot of girls asking us what ACT score or what GPA they need to be an engineer/get into college/get into World's Best School. I always answered this by saying colleges look at a lot of things besides GPA and ACT, and that it's good to be involved in other activities at well. One girl wouldn't let up until I named a score to get into World's Best School, so I picked the lowest one I thought had a shot: 26 on ACT. Now, in actuality, I think you need at minimum a 30, as well as a stellar resume from highschool. But the little girl's face just fell when she heard 26, and my heart just sank for her. I don't know if she'd already taken it and didn't get a 26, or whether that just seemed impossibly high. I tired to reassure her, but after that I never named a score again.

- In one class, there were two girls who came skipping in and sat right up in the front row. While we were waiting to start, one of the said to me - I'm so excited you are here! You are from the school I want to get into! We stayed late to talk to them afterwards, and who knows, maybe we'll see them someday! I left my email with those two, so if they ever come to visit I'm taking them around on a tour.

- That is, of course, in contrast to the places where the students had never heard of our school. Some teachers, even, didn't recognize the name. Kind of a deflation of the ego, that is. But I can't complain - when I ask international students where they went to undergradute, often they name a school elesewhere in the world I've never heard of, only to find later it's the best in their country.

- Several of the schools we went to were K-12, not just a high school. In one of these schools, I was coming back from the lunchroom when I ran across a little tiny girl wandering in the hallway. Big ol brown eyes, ponytail with bow on the top of her head. "Ma'am?" she said, "Do you know if my mommy is in the lunchroom?" She said this is the cutest southern drawl, and her little hands were just wringing in front of her. I, of course, have no idea who her mother might be, but one look at that little pink mouth and I would adopt her if she couldn't find her mother. She'd fit in my carry-on, I'm pretty sure.

- We did an activity during each presentation, where the girls build a tower that we test with weights. The testing part is always exciting, rooting for the little towers to hold up, stay!, stay!, aw, man, there it goes! One group at the school with mostly rich kids had a group of girls that didn't look happy about the activity. They were all wearing heavy makeup, dressed to the nines, all carrying little pink backpacks, and building a tower was like, so beneath them. But I swear, after a few minutes they really got into it. And when I came around with my weights, they were all squealing as I loaded up the tower, holding hands in excitement. One girl had to turn away, she squeezed her hands into fists and said "I've never been so nervous!" Made my heart proud to see them take ownership of their little project.

All in all, I hope we inspired at least a few girls. Some classes didn't ask us any questions, and some seemed interested. I am satisified with just the fact the girls now know what engineering is, which many of them did not. Most did not, even.

Who knows, one day maybe I'll see a girl walking around on campus who looks familiar. If I hear her say "ya'll," I'm walking over to say hello. :)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Because Why Not

Classes I want to take:

- Martial arts

- Ballroom dancing

- Painting

- Pilates

- Massage

- Pistol shooting

- Graphic arts

- Sailing

- Crew

- Archery

- Fencing

- Rock climbing

Things I want to do for six months each:

Maybe when I am done with my PhD, I can take a year or two off and work these jobs...

- Cross-country truck driver

- Short order cook

- Masseuse

- Bartender

- Landscaper

- Pastry chef

- Step aerobics class teacher

- Painter

and then when I'm done with all that

- Retail worker for an up-scale clothing store (I'm thinking Banana Republic - because that's about as upscale as this grad student gets...) so I can buy my work wardrobe for the real world

What would you do for six months, internet?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Snippets from Dixie, where the grocery store is the Piggly Wiggly

I have really loved being down here in Alabama. I am most certainly in the South, internet! How do I know? Oh, so many things I have missed.... The food is amazing. Went to a lunch buffet one day, and they had fried catfish and chicken livers and black-eyed peas and fried okra - yum! Then we went to a diner another night, and I had shepard's pie, and they brought it out with a side of a grilled cheese sandwich. Only in the south, my dears. And the sweet tea - oh, the sweet tea. They had it at the cafeteria for lunch at one of the schools, and I went back for so many refills that I nearly had to slosh my way back to the room for the afternoon's presentations. They don't make it correctly in the northeast, I am quite certain. I ordered it again with my pulled pork BBQ sandwich tonight, and I swear if I could smuggle that whole meal back through the airport I would seriously consider making room in some bodily cavity.

And I love the people here. My southern accent from college has been becoming stronger every day, and even the "ya'll" slipped in to something I said yesterday - yikes! Thought that one was gone for good... I have never met kinder people than in the south; it puts the fast-paced, in-your-face city culture to shame. Everyone is so appreciative, and goes out of their way to make myself and my partner comfortable. I am always addressed as "ma'am" by the students, and thanked on my way out for the day. I mentioned to my host that I was looking forward to a cherry limeade from Sonic here, and she immediately insisted we take a Sonic gift card she had.

This was good, because it allowed me to introduce my partner to the wonder that is Sonic. She didn't realize it was a drive-in. In fact, she had never been to a drive-in and had no idea how one worked. "So, they come out to your car? How do they know when you are ready to order?" Oh honey, let me educate you! She said as we were leaving, "Oh now the Sonic TV ads finally make sense! I never understood why those people were always in their car!"

And you know that CNN story about the pilot who sent his plane to crash in Florida while he bailed out in Alabama? That was right where we are. Our helpful host pointed out the Kangaroo gas station where he stopped, and the tiny little motel he stayed in. The motel, by the way, looked like a place where you might get shanked. You pay by the hour for your room, it said on the sign.

And the final touch on my reconnection with the south this trip? Driving by the proudly flying Confederate flag.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Speaking to the Girls

So I am here in Alabama with the Women's Initiative program this week, and I am having a great time. The people here warm my heart - the south has a special place there already, and the kindness and laid-back attitude of everyone here just cement it there. Although it's cold, dangit, no respite from the chilly NorthEast.

My partner and I give a presentations to eight schools in five days - we've been to four so far. We work in 50-minute intervals through the day, the standard school period. We start out by explaining what engineering is, and what the different kinds are. We show lots of pictures of our lives to try and dispel some myths - that only no girls are engineers, that everybody's a nerd, that you have to sit in front of a computer all day, or that it's lonely. We show some cool videos of things engineers do, and highlight a few women in engineering who have made significant achievements. Then, pretty much, they are tuning out.

So we do an activity - we pass out spaghetti and jumbo marshmallows, and hold a competition to see which team can build the tallest tower that holds the most weight. It seems silly, but the students love it. And it really does illustrate how engineers work - you have a problem statement, limited resources and time, a group to work with, you've got to make educated decisions, and there's a reckoning at the end. It's perfect! And a hoot to watch from my end.

So really there's only one thing that bothers me so far. I knew we'd be speaking to highschool students, and yes that's true. But it turns out I missed the simple fact we are speaking only to girls - females only. I guess I just assumed we'd be speaking to the whole class and emphasizing the female angle. But, nope.

At first I just thought, whoops, shouldn't have missed that obvious point. But now at a couple of schools, wires have gotten crossed and highschool guys end up being sent over to our presentation. It irritates me that we have to turn them away - I see no reason why they can't stay. In fact, I'm not sure why the program was set up this way. Of course it's good to talk to high school girls about engineering, that's why I volunteered. But I'm not sure we should be purposely excluding the boys - it's not like we are saying anything girl-classified, for crying out loud. 

And if it's a problem with supplies, I don't buy that. The expensive part is my partner and I - the plane tickets, rental car, hotel stay for a week. The spaghetti and marhsmallows do not the budget break, my friend.

So I'm thinking I will put in a suggestion to include all the kids in the class when we report back at debriefing at the end of this program.

What do you think - is it a good idea to present about engineering to girls exclusively? And, while I'm on it, what do you think is the most important thing for me to tell them in our presentation?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

4:30 a.m. does not come easy

So this week I am in Alabama with a program called Women's Initiative, which sends pairs of girls all over the U.S. to talk with highschool girls about engineering. I am excited about this opportunity, because I think it's important that girls at least know that engineering is an option.

I have a partner who is a sophomore in Mechanical Engineering, and we get along splendidly. Except that she booked our flight for 6am this morning. Yikers. I usually don't go to bed until 2 a.m. on the weekends anyway, and in order to get to the airport I was going to need to leave at 4:30am. 

So I just didn't go to bed.

At three I realized I should probably not leave my dirty dishes in the sink, so I washed all my cups and plates and clattered around for a while. I'm not sure, my roommate may have preferred I leave the dishes.... At four I finished packing and peeked out my window, only to find that there was about five inches of snow on the ground, more falling, and a lovely wind whipping it all to top it off.

So I grumbled to myself, of all the days, now I have to take snowboots, I should be in bed... I decided I didn't want to wear snowboots and lug them all around Alabama, when all I needed was to walk two blocks to the cab stand. So I tromped outside in my regular shoes, and of course four steps into the snow I could feel my socks filling with water. Blast it all. And I couldn't roll my little suitcase in six inches of snow, so I had to carry it to the cab stand.

And as I peered into the snow-laden wind, lugging my suitcase with my squishy shoes, I noticed a figure in front of me. Who in the....? At 4:30 in the morning, some guy in a hoodie with a backpack was walking fifty feet in front of me. As we got closer to the cab stand, I could see there was only one lone taxi waiting. All of a sudden I had the thought - he wants that cab.

So I tried to speed up, but it's slippery in regular shoes, and so I ended up sort of shuffling along the sidewalk, holding my earmufflers with one hand and suitcase in the other. As hoodie guy got closer to the lone cab, I thought I saw him start to turn towards.... but no, it was just the wind pushing him over. He kept on, and I got the cab.

Which is good, I thought, as I reflected in the cab with the snow melting down the front of my shirt. Because I might have decked him with my suitcase.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Gotta Love Friday Afternoons

A quick hello here to readers from Candid Engineer - welcome! It is quite the ego boost for this first-time blogger to get a few comments arriving from the ether of the Internet.

Classes have not yet started, so the atmosphere around campus is quite different. Some grad students do as we are supposed to - down, overachievers, down! - and use this time to make some serious headway on research. Others use it as a decompression time, which I fully support. I support most anything which decreases the number of grad students using Mental Health Services.

So in the spirit of decompression, of my labmates sent an e-mail around to our office's grad student mailing list. I work in a small lab headed by my advisor, but my immediate lab is part of a consortium of labs working on manufacturing-related topics. The powers-that-be decided to put all the grad students in the manufacturing consortium in one large office space. So, we have a really nice setup with about 30ish grad students in one big area, with cubicles and a kitchen, and a lounge area, and a conference table with projector and white board. After seeing some of the tiny rooms other grad students get as offices, I feel mightily blessed.

The email suggested a lab outing this Friday. Lab events are nothing new - I am fortunate to work with people who are, for the most part, social and friendly with one another. But this particular event is one I think all labs should adopt: attending a beer tasting at a local craft brewery, the Harpoon. How cool is that!

Some people are still on break, of course, and some people had legitimate work to do, so five of us ended up going. It was glorious. Two p.m. on Friday afternoon rolled around, and we meandered on our way. Now, I didn't even know that breweries do tastings. But yes, yes, they do indeed - and it's free! First the bartender gives you a history of the brewery (of course, that's why I went - good information, dontcha know...) and then they pass out little 2-oz taster glasses. They let you try a few things of your choice on tap, then they break and explain all the different types and what it is you are supposed to be tasting.

Then everybody goes, well crimeny, that's what I was supposed to be looking for? And they have another round or three so you can try and catch the "hint of wood smoke" or "the citrus base in the hops" or "elegant tones of the malt."

Whatever. One of each, bartender.

So I've never had beer explained to me before, and I didn't appreciate the range of flavors there are. It turns out that my favorites were the cider and the raspberry U.F.O - unfiltered original. I hated the I.P.A. (India Pale Ale - look at me go with the acronyms!) and the Porter. So I've got sweet girly tastes, so shoot me - I'm allowed, I am a girl!

All in all, I think this should be an annual (dare we say semi-annual? they have seasonal beers, you know..) event. I might even have to send the email next time.

Cheers for nonproductive Friday afternoons!

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Last month I was nominated for a fellowship - which is an exciting thing, as it means I get money with very few strings attached. The ones you have to be nominated for are often better than the open-to-the-public ones, so I was psyched. I was of course notified that I was nominated in plenty of time - as in, I had a full 24 hrs. How helpful. Because yes, I keep essays and a CV just waiting my desk.

I guess I should have had an updated CV - that's one of those things the career service people hyperventilate over trying to get you to do.

I did manage to get a convincing application in by the deadline (half hour early, even, score!). Today I got an e-mail regarding the fellowship, which said:

"The Dean for Graduate Education has notified me that you were selected to receive the DZL Fellowship.  They were very impressed by your application and nomination; however, I guess they receive many nominations and it was quite difficult to make the choice.

Thank you for your patience."

Wait, now, hold on - however? What's up with however? And no congratulations?

I sent an e-mail back to confirm, and it turns out they missed an all-important "not" in the original e-mail - the fellowship went to someone else. Gees, people, and here I was planning the celebratory glass of red wine I was going to have at home.

On second thought, I might have to revise that plan to include two glasses now. I mean, I was planning to have just one. Not!

Professor Dr. Mr. Advisor, Sir

I put up the draft of my thesis on the flat screen at my lab meeting this week, even though I am not nearly ready to hand it over yet. I just wanted to show yes, your youngest grad student has been working, and yes, I do have the number of pages I say I do. Plus I enjoy seeing the title page - just seems so official and important.

However the other students immediately pointed to the line my advisor has to sign - where I put my advisor's name underneath. 

Dr. Advisor, what's wrong with that?

Apparently, it's rude to say "Dr." when referring to your PI or teacher. The appropriate designation is Professor, always. In undergrad, all my teachers were "Dr. Rocket Power" or "Dr. Senior Capstone." Not so at World's Best School.

Well, goodness - and here I always use Dr. when I speak to Professors.

My advisor explained that he always gets that from students who went to school west of the Mississippi, which I did. I'm not sure why that might be - perhaps it's a slight against MidWest schools, that they like to emphasize who has a PhD? And everyone on the coasts already has a PhD, of course, so the higher designation is Professor?

How do you address your teachers?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Today was my weekly lab meeting, where my advisor meets with all of his students to discuss ongoing research. My advisor only has three grad students currently - myself, and two doctoral students who are both graduating this year (although there are four or five other people associated with our lab - research scientists, undergraduate research assistants, collaborators, etc.).

I tend to feel perpetually behind the curve at these meetings, worrying I don't get as much done week to week as I should. I would swear my week's worth of work in my lab notebook shrinks as it lays in my lap... Part of this is because I take classes, whereas the doctoral students are done with such things. Part is because I'm doing Master's level work, which is different than PhD level work.

And part is because everybody at World's Best School thinks they are not doing enough. :)

But today - today! - was an excellent meeting. I was quite productive over break - I wrote 49 pages of thesis, and I took an excellent set of data. I put my slides on the flat screen, and for once the other students and the professor were leaning forward in interest. How cool! In fact, there was so much discussion we started to run a bit long. So my advisor checks the time, and says to me - this is good stuff, but we need to get to the punchline.

And, my dears, this week I had one. I pulled up the last slide of the presentation, which displays a gorgeous graph with clear colors, large labels, and carefully formatted data. See, I explain, I have done a careful analysis of the results from my data collection, and this all means A Good Thing. And bam!, they got it and understood right away. And that felt absolutely wonderful. 

A punchgraph, if you will. Every PowerPoint should have one.


I have been inspired by the new year to begin a blog. I find myself in a very exciting time in my life, and I want to collect my memories to enjoy. I also find communication and writing skills to be much more important than I expected in graduate school. In that spirit, I hope to use a blog to practice gathering my thoughts and presenting them clearly.

So Internet, Miss Outlier - Miss Outlier, Internet.

"Three sigma" is a manufacturing concept used to control processes, a concept that I am intimately familiar with. If any data point lies farther than three standard deviations from the mean, it is considered an outlier and problematic. This is perfect - I am problematic. 

I am currently writing up my Master's thesis in Mechanical Engineering at World's Best School, after which I will be a PhD candidate. Right now I am still quite green, in fact so young I often forget when I see flashing lights that yes, I am legal now. But I plan to make the most of my years as a graduate student, because I am quite convinced that I will be old when I am done, and I refuse to be older without being wiser.