Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Final PhD proposal

It is not news that the road to a PhD is long. As opposed to my experience in industry, where a crisis may come and go in a week (or a day), and progress is made between meetings every Friday, research occurs on a much longer timescale. It may take me a week to do an experiment, and I might have a major update to give my advisor once a month.

So it should come as no surprise that the process of even getting the PhD proposal officially turned in takes a while.

Back in January I decided what my topic would be. And at that point, I did a whole lot of literature searching and reading of papers. To keep my mind in order, each paper I read I would condense into a few sentences or paragaph, and add it to my PhD proposal.

I continued to think about the topic through the Spring semester, while I TA'd and took classes and continued work to extend my Master's thesis. By March, I completed a draft of the proposal.

Then after the semester ended, I took another look at the proposal. I realized that it was not really a focused document - it was really more of a literature review of all the papers I'd read. So I tried to refine it, given the advice from my advisor.

Then I started to think about who my committee should be. I have two professors who are on it right now, and I need a third, but I wasn't sure who would be most applicable because I didn't know what direction my research would take.

This fall I have been working more on my PhD ideas, doing some preliminary experiments, and have a better idea where I'm headed. So I know who I want to ask to be my third member. And, my advisor has given me the go-ahead to have my first committee meeting. So I need to ask that last professor, and get the ball rolling.

It is customary to send your PhD proposal to the professor you are asking to be on your committee, so they know what you are working on. So I went back and looked at my PhD proposal. I updated it with what I learned this semester, and then I gave it to my advisor so he could approve it before I approached the final committee member.

My advisor basically told me it was way too long. My original paper, back in Jan when I just summarazied all the papers, was about 40 pages. In March when I focused it down, it was about 20 pages long. But the official recommendation for length is 6 pages.

So I cut it down to 8 pages, plus references. I sent it off to my advisor, and let's hope this is the final PhD proposal.

Now, on to completing the committee and scheduling that first meeting...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Medical-Study Approved Breakfast Round #2

A while ago I wrote a post on a light, healthy breakfast that I might make on the weekends. To fit with the medical study I'm in, I shoot for less than 500 calories for breakfast. I thought I'd share other options for breakfast that I'm experimenting with. 

My normal is still a cup of yogurt mixed with a crunchy cereal, or fresh fruit.

Figure: Breakfast example - varies based on contents of my fridge and pantry on any given day.
Calories: yogurt (100 cal) + 1/2C. Fiber One cereal (60 cal) + 1/4C. raisins (130 cal) = 290 cal and 14g fiber.

But when I have time I like a change of pace, and I've found a nice portable option is muffins. (They also freeze well - hi Grandma!) Muffins can be tricky, because they CAN be just little cakes - pretending to be healthy, but full of sugar and fat.

However I noticed on the back of my crunchy cereal box, there was a recipe for fiber muffins. That can't be all bad, right?

Figure: Inspiration strikes!
This is a recipe for fruited bran muffins, with All-Bran cereal, banana, molasses, chopped apple, and blueberries. Yum!
Figure: A little smaller than my usual muffins. A good portion of the batter didn't make it into the cups...
Calories: two muffins = 320 calories and 10g fiber

Then I got really fancy, and decided to try orange fruit cups. This is a recipe from Cooking Light, from the subscription I get (hi Grandma again!).

Figure: Gourmet is what that is, I'm telling you.
Actually it's not so hard, you just chop up whatever fruit you have (must include oranges, though), pop it in the orange halves, dust with cinnamon sugar.

Calories: get this, it's only 80 calories per cup. Fruit! It's amazing!

And finally, here's what I made this Sunday - cinnamon-spiced bananas.

Figure: Add bananas, brown sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon to pot. Heat.
 The bananas simmer down into sweet gooey loveliness, a warm topping for whatever strikes your fancy.

Figure: Reduction de banana, you might say. 
Now you might suspect I put it on toast, or yogurt. Or perhaps I whipped out some organic fiber saltines, or, I don't know, slivers of toasted oat and flaxseed. (What would a sliver of flaxseed even look like?)

But come on, it was Sunday.

I had it over ice cream. For lunch. :)

But still! The calories: 1C. banana heaven + 1/2C. vanilla ice cream = 422 calories.

Ice cream as calorie-conscious brunch? It's a stretch I'm willing to make. :)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Weeding the Garden

I wanted to share with you pictures from earlier this summer, when I took a trip home to see my family. My parent's house has an extensive garden, which had gotten a little out of hand.

I decided to do a little weeding.

And of course, being an engineer, and the daughter of my father, I know that every project begins with the proper tools. (Life lesson courtesy of my dad, and it has served me well.)

So what do you do when the garden has random TREES growing in it that you don't want? Maple and oak trees have a pesky way of sprouting everywhere in forest-type areas...

Clearly in that case the correct tool is not a hoe or shovel, but a backhoe.

A backhoe, you say? Where would you find one of those?

In our backyard, of course! My mother insists that it be parked BEHIND the house, so as not to scare the neighbors any more than they already are.

For those of you not, ahem, too familiar with running construction equipment - to operate the rear scoop, you turn around backwards (thus facing the scoop), and the controls are located there. See the above picture.

In the above picture, I am also moving the rear scoop. It's advanced (or lazy...) technique - I haven't turned the seat around.

The steering and driving works as you would expect, with the driver facing forward in the cab. But our backhoe actually has a bit of a bug in the system - the brakes don't work. The clutch does, so if you are on level ground you just take it out of gear.

If you are on a slope and want to stop - well, you have a couple options. The simplest is to just put down the scoop to anchor yourself to the ground.

The above picture is also advanced technique - the other way to stop is to carefully drive forward until you get where you want, then when you start to slide forward, throw it in reverse. Or, you can just make sure you don't ever have to stop. :)

My dad also realizes that having "the right tools" includes clothing - so for physical work, he breaks out the overalls. The overalls are from my Grandpa, who actually is a farmer. He makes sure all of his kids and grandkids are properly outfitted whenever we go visit the farm.

This, in my book, is a picture of a day well spent. The garden was (mostly) weeded, I was dirty, my mother got to take pictures, and all involved parties walked away happy.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Southern University Recruiting Trip

A few weeks ago, I got a note from the awesome graduate administrator here at World's Best School. The MechE department here is trying a new program, where they want to reach out to excellent undergraduate MechE universities and encourage the students there to go to grad school. Specifically, the women and underrepresented minority students. And of course, specifically to go to World's Best School.

So basically, the higher-ups want to start doing trips to recruit women and minorities to come here for grad school.

They wanted a grad student to go along, so the admin recommended they take me. The other two people going on the trip were the head of the MechE department (a woman - and by the way, how awesome is that?), and a junior faculty (a minority).

I suspect I was chosen because a) the admin likes me, and b) I did the trip to Alabama to talk to highschool girls about engineering, and c) I'm a woman. And perhaps because d) for an engineer, I'm pretty well-spoken, friendly, and charming. Right? Right. :)

I figured it couldn't hurt to go - could be fun, interesting, and I would get to spend some time with the head of the MechE department, which is never a bad career move. Also it's a good cause - always productive to encourage students of all backgrounds to look into grad school. And finally, free trip! So really, why not?

The trip was last week, and the school the three of us went to was a huge southern university in the top 5 for MechE undergrad programs. It was only for a day, so not a huge time commitment. Since it's the first trip like this, it was sort of a pilot program.

The worst part of the whole thing? The flight time.

Six AM.

My cab picked me up from my dorm at 4:30am, and since I didn't do dishes or pack the night before (ack!), I got up at 3:30. The funny part was when I stumbled into the bathroom to take a shower, my undergrad girls were still up and gossiping away.... :) Ah, college life.

The day consisted of a bunch of activities. We sponsored an American Society of Mechanical Engineering (ASME) student chapter meeting in the morning - apparently if you pay for pizza and drinks, you have a rapt audience for an hour. It fondly reminded me of ASME meetings at my own undergrad school. (I met a lot of incredible people through ASME, and it has always surprised me that ASME does not have a strong presence at World's Best School.) We were supposed to give a talk with slides during the ASME meeting, but the projectors weren't working. So the two professors talked off-the-cuff. Turns out the head of MechE is a bit long winded...

Anyway, then we had a lunch with students who wanted to talk with us. I hadn't been aware that only women were invited, so I was so surprised when all 8 of the students at the table were girls. "Wow," I thought, "well that's a coincidence..." Silly me. :) But they asked lots of good questions, and since I ran Orientation for MechE grad students at World's Best School in Sept. this year I was well-prepared to answer all sorts of first-year questions.

Then one of the professors gave a seminar, and then we had dinner with minority students, and then the 3:30am caught up with me and I crashed into bed.

Next morning I flew home, and on life rolls. All in all it was a good trip. For myself, I was able to chat with the head of MechE, and ask her some questions about the challenges of the job, what the job entails, and her opinion on how MechE across the nation is doing. She told me about the hiring process and how she was selected for the job, her philosophy on running a department, and about how much travel she does, and what day-to-day life is like. I promise I didn't ask incessant questions, I think she was just happy to chat! She also had just gotten back from a national meeting of MechE department heads, and apparently all across the US enrollment in MechE is up. Generally, at the expense of Electrical Engineering - which I would not have expected.

I also hope I was able to be helpful in answering questions the undergrads had on grad school. I forget what that's like - not being aware of how different life is in grad school. For instance, some of the students didn't know that grad school is free for students. Unless you are doing an MBA, you get funding to pay for school - either by doing research, or being a TA, or an outside fellowship. That's a pretty key piece of information if you are deciding what to do with your life.

And another piece of key information? Grad school rocks. :)

Maybe someday I'll see some of those students wandering the halls here. You never know.