Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Welcome Winter Break

Ah, at last! My last (and only) final exam is done for the semester. All my papers are in. My proposal is written. And the Christmas shopping is complete. I think it's time to relax. And what, you may ask, does a PhD student do to relax? You may think that it involves catching up on reading those journals that have piled up over the past few months tagged with "interesting articles that I'll get to later." Or maybe it has something to do with reading that fascinating text on research methodology. Oh wait, I've got it! Nothing says relaxing like sifting through PubMed to update a literature review for your dissertation project.

My research assistant evaluates my proposed reading list.
No, no, no. Silly reader. I am actually going to be nestled somewhere in the (hopefully snowy) northeast, away from wi-fi connectivity (that means no online journal databases). The only articles I'll be reading are from US Weekly (yes, it's true...). And the only book-like materials that are making the trip with me are from NPR's list of top fiction books of the year (sorry Polit & Beck and Cooper, et al.). It will probably be strange to be disconnected from something I've been living and breathing for the last year and a half. But, all I have to do is remind myself that although for ten days I'll be without those school-y things that happily haunt me here at home, they'll be waiting for me when I get back...still in their dusty piles marked "things to do" and muttering so only I can hear: "Oh, how we've missed you...."

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Riding the Scholarly Pain Train

The semester is coming to a close. With only two weeks left before the end, I've found myself scrambling to get everything done and focusing on that distant light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, the light only signals the exit from one area of darkness. Sure there is a brief gasp of fresh air, sunlight, and the freedom to read best-selling fiction again. But another ominous tunnel looms before me: Spring semester. And who knows what horrors lie in those shadows.  

The good news: I will be done with a majority of my coursework by the end of that semester. Yay! Oh wait….that means I'll have to sit for my comps next. And then, I'll be working on my dissertation. And then, oh no, I'll have to defend after that. Then I have to get *gasp* a job? Or maybe hold off and find a post-doc? A scholar's work is never done. That is, if one considers oneself a scholar. And just when I've decided that, hey, this scholarly stuff isn't so bad as long as you break it down into baby steps, I realize that I'll be baby stepping it for a long time - from tunnel to tunnel through an introspective fog of confidence-crushing, doubt-inducing darkness each time. So probably it's best to just keep heading towards the light, no matter how fleeting those bright and shiny moments may be.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Conferences, Conferences

One of the hardest parts of being a distance student is a sense of disconnectedness from your peers and mentors. This disconnectedness can lead to a loss of momentum and motivation in the program. So what is a student to do?? This fall, I've been attending a few research conferences. The first was the Council for the Advancement of Nursing Science's Special Topics in DC. And now, I'm currently at the Gerontological Society of America Annual Scientific Meeting in Boston, MA. I actually submitted a late-breaker abstract this year, but it wasn't accepted. Alas. Regardless, I thought going to the conference would be a good idea anyways. And I was right!

Going to these research conferences is like a burst of inspiration and motivation. Seriously. Here I am rubbing elbows with some of the best researchers in my area of interest. I actually did a 4 mile run with one of them this morning!  We had a nice conversation about our research interests and what opportunities there may be for a PhD graduate a few years from now. Wow. Not only that, I get to talk to other PhD students in various stages of obtaining their degrees during the poster sessions, and network with universities that may be offering post-doc opportunities. I've found myself volunteering to participate in interest groups and task forces. Plus, walking through the poster sessions and listening to the symposia and paper sessions gets me thinking about different ways of studying my area of interest. Even better, I'm starting to see the benefits of that first year of course work! Even my statistics classes, if you can believe it.

I went to the same conferences last year and I can definitely tell a difference in my understanding of the research presentations this year. So all that hard work was productive after all….imagine that. I actually know what it means to "adjust for covariates" and to "use the Bonferroni correction." Not only that, I'm starting to critically appraise other researchers' methods. Not that I would openly question them at this point. I usually reserve that discussion for some of the familiar faculty who are also at the conference. That's another thing, I really get to interact with faculty from the university here. I am able to listen to their research presentations and see them in a different light other than solely an educator. I get to pick their brain about life after graduation, such as what to expect when thinking about/going up for tenure or what to look for in jobs afterwards.

So all in all, it's been a great few days here in Boston. And I'm going to be leaving here feeling all jazzed up about research and nursing and whatnot. Plus, the wheels are already turning as I ponder what other conferences I can get to so I can keep the motivation train going…

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Show Me the Money!

Round two of writing grants begins! Well, actually, it's not really a "round" two, but more like "attempt" two. This year I'm again trying for the Hartford/BAGNC scholarship, for which I was rejected last year. Rejected. That seems like such a harsh word. Maybe there's a better word: deferred, respectfully declined for funding…What I really mean is that maybe I have been given the opportunity to build upon the my application of last year, right? (a la silver lining, bright side, etc.,)I'm one year wiser, so that should make for an even better application….unless they reject this one two. And then, maybe I'm not so wise…

How many different ways can someone say: "Please give me money??" It's not really the asking part that's hard. It's the justification. Consider the following:
-"I'm smart and I've got a lot of really, really good ideas…Really."
-"Ummm, I'm getting kind of hungry, now."
-"Please, my existence just needs some sort of external justification."
-"My advisor/school/parents/other authority figure told me I need this."
-"I thought this time through school, someone was supposed to pay me to do this….Otherwise I definitely wouldn't have considered a potential 6 more years."
-"The economy made me do it."

Surely, you'd give a bunch of money to anyone using these reasons, right?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ringing in the New Semester

Ah, the start of a new semester. Oh, wait, what is that feeling? Excitement? Dread? Hopeful anticipation? Nausea? Maybe all of the above. The first year, we were blank slates. We didn’t know what to expect. We faced our potential challenges with the bright, moist eyes of newbies, optimists, and instruments of change! Now after enduring a year of proposal writing, grant submission, nursing theory, and…*gulp*.… statistics, we approach the new year with hesitation, doubt, maybe fear, and, at least in my case, indigestion. One must ask oneself: Why am I causing myself so much discomfort??

Well, it’s not all that bad, really. There are the moments of peace and happiness. The joy of an accepted manuscript submission, the excitement of successfully presenting a poster, the relief of not passing out in front of an audience of faculty members during a presentation. Yes, small successes can sometimes wipe away that unpleasant sensation of knowing that, despite all of the challenges you’ve surmounted, there are more that await. I’m crossing my fingers that the scales tip more towards achievements rather than obstacles this year.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

I am soooo great....No, really, I am....Really...Please believe me!

Have you written drafts for letters of recommendations for the people from whom that you are asking them? I've done a few, and I have to say, they are far more difficult to write than an actual proposal. How many different ways can I expound on the few basic accomplishments that I've achieved so far? Or perhaps in writing the draft, I've just realized that I'm just not as special as I thought I was (unfortunately, a three sentence paragraph is not enough to let reviewers know how spectacular you are....).

The thesaurus is my friend. My very, very good friend. See, usually you will need more than one letter of reference or letter of recommendation, and some of those who have agreed to write them will likely need a draft of your amazing character and ability. The thing is, these letters (usually 3) will be read by all the reviewers. So if you have the same letter from all your references, they will get a little suspicious even though drafting parts of these letters may be common practice. Alas, you must learn to paint yourself in a glowing light many times over. So, the first one I write really is not that bad. I can make myself sound pretty good. The second one is okay. But the third, or whatever final number remains?? Yikes.

Here's and example:
1) "The applicant has demonstrated exceptional research focus and academic excellence during her brief time at the university. In her first year as a doctoral student, she has published two papers and presented at both local and national research conferences in her brief time at the university."
2) The applicant is dedicated to scholarly achievement as evidenced by her commitment to the dissemination of research knowledge and her academic performance.
3) The applicant is passionate about research and has essentially surrounded herself with all things scholarly and research-oriented. This level of obsessive isolationism demonstrates her profound dedication to a life of science and solitude.
4) The applicant is really smart. And she can write things and sometimes people listen to her when she talks about this stuff.
5) Please choose her. Otherwise she will continue to ask me for letters of reference.

A suggestion: keep copies of all of your fantastical permutations. You may need to submit another proposal for another grant that won't be read by the same reviewers....

Thursday, June 30, 2011


Let's start with this post with a famous quote from the extraordinarily wise and handsome Man-In-Black (a.k.a. Westley): "Get used to disappointment."
The Dread Pirate Roberts, telling it like it is.

This should be a mantra for any grad student seeking some kind of manuscript publication, funding, or general cheer in their journey through grad school. Okay, well, maybe I exaggerate and am now falling into the category of drama queen. But I am writing this fresh after a rejection of a recent manuscript....I should say that it took almost 5 months to receive said rejection. I think maybe it would have been better to just send me something almost immediately after submission...perhaps an instantly generated email that kicked back and said: "Well, thank you for your submission, but naaaah, we don't think so...." Instead I waited with bated breath! Oh, alright, I didn't really (the drama queen rears her ugly head again). Actually, I kind of forgot about the manuscript once I hit the submit button.

Which brings us to another topic about manuscripts, and I think proposals for funding as well. Revisions! Had I received a recommendation to revise the manuscript, I would probably be grumbling as well. This is because of the last sentence of the last paragraph. Anyone have any suggestions on keeping those durn manuscripts fresh in your mind after you've completely forgotten about them?? I suppose this is a bad thing to admit, forgetting about a manuscript...especially after you have spent so much time and effort in writing, revising, and preparing it for submission. Perhaps I will gain better memory skills as I progress?

So, another reason for writing this post is due to my imminent dread as I prepare to submit a NRSA proposal. My last proposal for funding (not a NRSA pre-doc) was rejected earlier this year. Thus as I meticulously assign 26 letters to various permutations to create reasonably intelligible communication pleading for my potential and worth as a researcher, I simultaneously gird my loins in preparation for rejection and the battle with my self-esteem! I now understand when my advisor suggests that I celebrate all accomplishments, even the smaller ones. Victory may be few and far between in the years ahead.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Pen

No, not that sort of pen. This past weekend I decided to take a day trip to Jefferson City to check out the Missouri State Penitentiary. They were having a 175th Anniversary celebration.

It closed in 2004 and has been open to the public for tours of its decaying skeleton. It used to house some of the biggest names during the Prohibition era, like "Pretty Boy" Floyd. It also was home to James Earl Ray, who managed to escape prior to events that led to his infamy. Anyways, it was kind of an eerie tour. The guide, who used to work there, took us to the cell block that was once reserved for Black prisoners prior to integration of the institution. We also meandered through Death Row, visited "the Dungeon," where prisoners were kept in complete darkness underground for weeks at a time, and finished the tour off with taking a gander at the gas chamber. It was actually created out of parts of a submarine to ensure that it was indeed airtight. You and a friend could sit in the stuffy, small space. There are seats for two. As a matter of fact, in the only execution of a female prisoner, the woman, Bonnie Brown Heady was seated right next to her partner in crime, Carl Austin Hall for the big event.

The Missouri State Penitentiary, once the largest prisoner institution west of the Mississippi, still seems to carry the ghosts of its past breathing from its dilapidated, paint-peeled walls. And for the price of $12, you too can take a 2 hour tour to listen to their stories and imagine for yourself what life was like in the Pen.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Study Hall

Fill 'er up at Lakota Coffee Co.'s Gas Pumps
Finding a comfortable place to study that provides the perfect amount of white noise, coupled with an studious ambiance and a continuous flow of consciousness-altering, mind-focusing caffeine is essential when you are reading about qualitative research designs or coding intervention studies. So far, I have visited two locations in the area and here are their pros and cons.

1) Lakota Coffee
-Fun Baristas
The view from my seat
-DELICIOUS, though ADDICTIVE coffee that will make you feel like you've run a mile at top speed
-Yummy chocolate chip cookies
-Tasty selection of sandwiches and other pastries and treats
-Sell their own coffee so you can achieve tachycardia at home
-Great ambiance and fun decor
-Convenient hours to fit the early bird (me) or the night owl (not me)6AM-12AM Mon-Sat and 6:30AM-12:00AM on Sun.
-Free wifi

Those tables are rough on
the knees...

-It does smell like a coffee roasting place, so if you don't want that smell all over you when you leave, beware.
-Seats are way comfy, but table as a bit awkward. They have places to rest your feet, but at least for me, my knees kept knocking the upper portion of the design under the table.

2) Panera Bread
-Really good food. And they have options so that the food is good for you (salads, fruits, and whatnot)
-On their website, you can see the nutrition information of their foods.
-Yummy chocolate chip cookies - it is recommended that you do NOT look at the nutritional information of this item. It will only depress you. Especially, after you've already eaten it, and then thought to look it up.
-Comfy booths
-Free wifi

-The place is kept at temperatures equivalent to an arctic chill. Seriously a deal breaker at times. If you do plan on going, bring your parka.
-Coffee is just okay. It does the trick at keeping you focused, but not the best tasting stuff.
-Yeah, they're pricey too...
-Can get fairly crowded and noisy at times.

For now, Lakota wins out for me...mostly because I just can't get over how good their coffee is. I will have to get a barrel of it when I leave. But wait, no need to haul it with me. They have a website! Oh, the wonders of the interwebs. If only I could order their entire shop to hang out in while I study.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Insects, Allergies, and Meta-analyses, Oh my!

This place has been invaded by cicadas. The little buggers are the air, in the trees, on the sidewalks, in my hair. Yes, in my hair. One fell on me as I was locking up my bike at school. The males are all singing that piercing cicada song, like they are shaking the maracas in the trees. The maracas of luuuuuv. Cicadas have an interesting life cycle. They come out of their little underground insect haven to molt and mate for a few days or so, and then they die. It doesn't take very long. Anyways, I was reminded of when I was a kid and wasn't so disgusted by them and picked them up and let them walk on my hand. As I remember, the are very clingy. This was also the season we kids discovered the high-powered water gun. Not a good thing for those pesky cicadas.

Another thing I've noticed here: I'm allergic to something! I had to take some allergy meds yesterday, which kept me up for the greater part of the night. But at least I wasn't suffering in a fog of congestion.  Luckily, I had the foresight to bring my Flonase....and today, I got some eye drops and loratadine. My bike ride home in the haze of allergens and cicada-song wasn't so bad after all.

Lastly, I have been immersed deep in the sea of meta-analyses. Not a bad thing. I'm learning some methods from the ground up, which will be helpful in the long run. It's good to be home though. I'm definitely beat. The B&B is like an oasis, really. It even comes with some resident kitties. This is one of them. I'll have to ask the owner his name again. But there's also a female. She runs off when I try to photograph her, though. Wily kitty.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Next Three Weeks

For most of the month of June, I'll be in-residence working on my research practicum. I just arrived today after driving two days (about 15 hours) to get here. The place I'm staying at is a great B&B called Taylor House Inn. The owners have been generous enough to let me hang out here for the three weeks, even letting me use their kitchen facilities and lock up my bike by the house! This is a photo of the front part of the house. 

Check out the photos of my room...

It's been awesome so far (although it's only been a few hours). I've gone grocery shopping and walked to dinner. Tomorrow, though, it's time to get to work!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Getting Published

They tell you in grad school that you've just got to get published. It's a good idea to also tell you how potentially painful that process may be, especially if you're first author. See, once you hit "submit" on that manuscript submission form, all thoughts about that paper disappear. You move on to the next thing. Suddenly, every step you took to complete the manuscript, all prior revisions before submission, and (in my case) the actual content in the manuscript just seem to evaporate. . .

This is a bad thing and I'll tell you why. Two to three months later, when you get a decision back advising "major revisions," you immediately wonder what manuscript they are talking about (uhhh, did I write that thing?). But you have to go back and make the revisions and comment on the reviewers suggestions and whatnot. So, it's almost like having to re-write the paper, except (thank god) you have an existing (although apparently unmemorable) template (your original manuscript, which has likely been torn apart by the reviewers). Then you set to work trying to remember what the heck you wrote about in the first place, so you can make some sort of cohesive statements about how you really know what you're talking about, or maybe how you don't really know what you're talking about after all ("the author is grateful for the reviewer's suggestion and feels that these comments would indeed strengthen the manuscript. Let me just go conduct a whole new literature review and re-write the darn thing..."). And then, when you resubmit, there's no guarantee that it will be accepted with the revisions.

But it's a necessary process. When I first submitted the manuscript, I thought it was pretty good. When I got it back with suggestions for major revisions, I thought it sucked. When I revised it and re-read it over and over again before resubmission, I thought it was better than before. When I got it back again for minor revisions, I thought I might just burn it. When I re-submitted it a third time, I held my breath (but not for too long because I would have passed out). When I found out it was accepted for publication, I breathed a sigh of relief. . . and then promptly went out for ice cream. See, necessary. If I hadn't gone through the whole thing, I wouldn't have had a reason to celebrate with ice cream.

Friday, May 20, 2011

On Your Feet

What do grad students wear on their feet? I've seen sneakers, flip flops, flats, bike shoes for those clippy pedal things....

fig. 1
What should we be wearing? Well, it's summer time. And while most of the world is getting ready to hang out at a beach or toodle around with their BFFs around town, we are probably slogging away somewhere (e.g., creepy lab; dank basement; the pits of despair...) working on all sorts of "fun" projects. So, in place of actually being out there having fun, we can be reminded of it. What's the best way to do this: why, wear summery shoes! (fig. 1)

fig. 2
"Make it so."

These are the pros: 1) they go with pretty much any thing (even a lab coat), 2) when you look down (which is fairly often as your grant writing beats you down) you'll see a vision of sunshine and hope, 3) they are relatively affordable, and (the best part) 4) all the cool kids are doing it. So you can tell everyone that despite the fact that you are holed up in whatever personal box of graduate student misery, you are at least up with the latest fashion. So there, get some Soludos. Go and at least let your feet have some summer fun. This post is endorsed by my research assistant. (fig. 2)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Disheveled and Disarray

Spending lots of time in a dark environment staring at a computer or at your canine research assistant does things to you. Living in the virtual classroom, where you can't really see anyone from the neck down affects you. Conducting meetings with important individuals that will help decide the course of your life for the next few years while wearing your PJs changes you. You start to wonder whether or not people will notice if you've taken a shower via webcam. You wonder if the person on the other end of the phone line can tell you are horizontal on the living room couch while discussing fundamental next steps to your research program. You figure no one will notice you haven't changed your clothes all day while revising two manuscripts, writing your grant, and finishing your statistics final.

My usual working attire
Yes, this is what working on a graduate degree full time through a distance-based program may do to you. Gone are the days of picking out a spring dress as your prance off to work. Gone are the days of deciding whether or not you will wear your hair up or down. Gone are the days of looking your best as you talk to the higher-ups. Gone are the rituals of beauty and (dare I say) glamour. *sigh* As I'm writing this now, I am still wearing the sleeping shorts that I wore to bed last night. I did manage to change my t-shirt, though. And I have ventured outside to get the mail and take my research assistant for a little jaunt.

But, it doesn't have to be so! For the next few postings or so, I am going to try and reverse the isolation-induced-beauty-and-hygiene-killer known as grad school! A few tools of the trade, special products, and clothiers will help me along the way....Flip flops, bobby pins, and ratty PJs beware!

CDC's Take on Zombie Invasions....or any other (un)natural disaster...

If you're ready for a zombie apocalypse, then you're ready for any emergency.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tips to Being a Well-Rounded Grad Student

So year one of grad school has come and gone. While patiently waiting for my course work grades to come, I've been contemplating how to make my second year a bit more exciting and enjoyable (aside from winning the lottery, and the NIH, Hartford/BAGNC showering me with funding). And this is what I've come up with: hobbies. Maintain or develop new activities, un-school-related, to be a well-rounded grad student.

In the spirit of maintaining activities, I've signed up for the Army Ten Miler in DC for October. I'll be there anyways for a CANS offering, so why not get in a little exercise? Plus, I hope to do a half marathon at the end of the year. Now I just have find motivation to train through the long, hot summer of Texas which started about a month and a half ago....

As for developing new activities, I guess I could use a suggestion or two. Any thoughts? My research assistant thinks that I should develop new ways to entertain him during the week. He thought that was what my research was all about anyways. Hmmm.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Two and a Half Weeks

That's the amount of time I have before I go back to the University to work on a research practicum. In that amount of time, I will revise a manuscript, re-read a book on meta-analysis methodology, revise a grant proposal to comply with (yet another) change in NIH formatting, and get my six month dental cleaning. Honestly, I'd rather get the dental cleaning instead of revising the manuscript.

I think my research assistant would rather sleep away the rest of the two and 1/2 weeks...

Or maybe he would rather eat a box of cheez-its.

He's such a smart little assistant.
Either idea sounds really good right now.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mini Success!

I just found out I received my first grant!! YAY!!! It's a small grant through the University, but still, I had to write a proposal, which had to be reviewed and accepted. So it's a victory.

Actually, I have to really credit one of my classes from Spring Semester. It was a grant writing class and it really forced me to figure out what I want to research and how I want to do it. The purpose of the class was to prepare a NRSA pre-doc proposal for submission in the fall. It wasn't a pleasant experience, but it certainly solidified a lot of my formerly nebulous thought processes.

So what next? Actually, I'm not sure. I suppose I'll have to figure out how to access the money I've been granted. Go grant-writing!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Two Semesters Down....

Oh, so happy to have this semester over!! That's not to say I didn't learn a lot of new and exciting things, but what a busy semester this was. We had to write a draft NRSA pre-doc application, along with completing our other courses.

This is what that experience taught me:

  • Researchers must constantly explain the importance of their existence and their work (*sigh*)
  • Not everyone will agree that your work is worth funding
  • Writing a grant application is a horrendously long process
  • When you have completed the draft of your application, you do feel a sense of relief
  • When you have completed the draft of your application, you do feel a sense of dread for the upcoming revisions
  • Writing a grant application is time consuming and requires a significant amount of multi-tasking to carry on the rest of your life simultaneously
  • Your advisor is like your BFF during this process
  • Having prior examples are profoundly helpful
Now, this is my second grant application. The first was rejected (sad face). One more very important aspect of being/becoming a researcher: Don't give up on the first try.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Funding, Part 2

They don't tell you that, in your doctoral program, not only are you learning to be a researcher, educator, leader-type, but also a salesman of self. You must learn to present yourself and your ideas in a way that people will want to give you money -- so you can do your research, so you can share your ideas, so you can keep your job. I find it a bit difficult because I'm not used to presenting myself in that way. Writing a convincing CV is one thing, but writing a however-page-long-grant expounding on the worthiness of your work and your ideas is quite another. Especially if you're not 100% convinced it is a good idea. Let me rephrase that: My idea is a good one, but it just might not be a good idea for everyone. Knowing that, I've now got to make sure that I can make a legitimate argument that it is, indeed, the idea of all ideas, profound, knowledge-producing, earth-shattering, game-changing, and just plain awesome. Whew, that's a tall order....especially for a second semester graduate student.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Funding: Part 1

Last week, I got some interesting news. Apparently Asians are not an underrepresented minority at my university. Hmmm. Also, we outnumber other minority populations such as Blacks/African-Americans and Hispanics/Latinos at the university because they are considered underrepresented. This brings into the question of what actually qualifies as an Asian that is underrepresented versus an Asian that is not underrepresented. As a Filipina, I was sure that I would be somewhat in the minority in research. But maybe that is based on more observation that statistics.

Now, what if someone that is Nepalese, Tibetan, Cambodian, or Burmese tries to apply for funding under a Diversity category. Certainly the categorization of "Asian" would still exclude them if the same representation statistics were applied. But, just how many of each of these ethnicities are actually represented among the U.S. university population. I would think that the number of other Asian populations, such as those from India, Japan, South Korea, and China (those countries that are likely greater represented), would probably skew the actual amount of ethnically diverse Asians that are in universities. So what about the rest of the minority within the minority? Should there be a breakdown of ethnic populations to ensure better representation and better chances at opportunities for diversity funding? Or would this just be another complicated addition as a result of political correctness? Does it really matter? Could one make a case for just how underrepresented their particular ethnicity is within the university? Should one?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Virtual Classroom

An amazing thing happened today. Despite a crippling snowstorm that shut down the university, students were able to participate in classes from home with their instructors, who were also snowed in and homebound. Back in the day, this would have been impossible. Students would be cheering and running around in the snow drifts, sledding, making snowmen and snow angels. Professors would be wondering how to make up the class days. But thanks to modern technology, the learning environment has extended beyond the traditional classroom.

I was in class today with someone in Kentucky, a few people in Missouri, and I was in Texas. Imagine the possibilities of having class with people all over the world. I'm sure people have imagined this. There are virtual classrooms that connect learners locally, nationally, and globally. I wonder what that will do to the actual institution of a university. Sure, researchers will still need to have labs and equipment. But will the students still need to file into that immense classroom and listen to their lectures at specified times? Will students need a physical library to sift through information, papers, and reference materials? I am able to access my university's library from my computer. While it isn't always the perfect solution (I still have to pay to have older, non-digital papers scanned and emailed to me), it literally puts thousands of journals at my fingertips.

Perhaps the future of learning is in the virtual classroom. There will be no more hallowed halls. No more lecterns. No more boundaries. No more limitations on who can listen, who can speak, and who can learn.

Organization.... key. Unfortunately, I think that my mind is trying to move a mile a minute these days. I settle on one concept or thought, and then another creeps in to take its place and wipe any prior ideas out of my mind. Now, that isn't fair. On the upside, I've come up with some good ideas this way, as long as I have the time to write it down before it gets replaced by another thing. Sometimes, multi-tasking is a godsend. Other times, it's a nightmare.

So back to this organization thing. I've gotten this program called Evernote. It's actually been great for taking notes during my distance classes. Also, if I'm in the middle of nowhere, I can still access the program and jot down some ideas and thoughts using the mobile app version. I can take pictures, do voice recordings, screen capture. It's pretty nifty. And I can tag notes so that, for example, I can look up notes based on my classes, or dissertation ideas, or conversations with my advisor. It's free for a limited amount of data. But I figure, I haven't used up my quota in the past couple of weeks of intensive note taking, so I probably won't need to expand.

On the non-school related side, I've used it for other memorable items, like wines I like or recipes. So all in all, a worthy investment for the student. And I really didn't have to invest much at all in it. Just a bit of time to download.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ramping Up

What is different about this semester from last semester? I'm in a synchronous class that actually allows me to see my fellow mates. I'm trying to sign up for 12 credits as opposed to 9. I'm not stay at home, working on school stuff every day of the week. Yes and no. These are all right. But something else feels different. I can't put my finger on it.

I guess, I'm thinking to myself that I've made it through the first semester. I've done it! Yay. But wait, there's more? What do you mean I've got something like six-plus more semesters. I have to put forth this self-directed effort for the next how many years? Wait. Really?

So the first few months, I was settling into my routine. My routine's changed a bit and I am still trying to get a hang of it. But there is so much to do. Other than keep up in my classes, I've got this research practicum to work on, which requires me to travel about 30-40 a day to the local University and do work over there. And I've got to do some field work in an environment involving older adults. And I've got to continue to look up papers related to my research interest. *sigh* But you could say that I'm doing this to myself, and you would be absolutely right. And then, you could ask why? 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Head Start

I'm trying to get a jump on things early. But, I can't decide what to start on first: stats, grant writing.... The problem with working ahead is that you risk not getting important information from future classes that may be useful to your work. But then, you get the work done early so you can focus on more time-consuming and taxing future classes. Is the work 100% quality then? Perhaps at the time you initially worked on it, without the knowledge or perceptions that you would have developed in the later classes and discussions. I think I'll wait. Besides, I'm not really that motivated right now anyways.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Learning from Far, Far Away

So, we had our first "class" yesterday. I put it in quotations because it's sort of a virtual class room. You can see your instructors and maybe any students that are actually living in the area and attending in person. But you can't see any of the other non-locals. Well...unless they press the talk button to chat. Anyways, much to my relief, it all went quite well. There are only about 4 of us in the course. So maybe we have to push that talk button more often than not.

Distance learning is a challenge. It's not for the faint of heart, or the weak of self-motivation. You have got to set your time aside and stick to your schedule. It's so easy to say to yourself, "nah, I'm going to watch that NCIS marathon, and get to the stats homework later." Later could then turn into tomorrow, and then the weekend, and next thing you know, you're scrambling to get the work in before that midnight deadline. Not that I do that, mind you. No, never. Actually, I like to try to get as much done earlier in the semester as possible. One could say that is because traditionally, semesters get much progressively busier. But the truth is that I get progressively lazier as through the semester. The laziness and inertia slowly creep in after week number 5 or 6....insidiously infecting my grey matter, making me think that whatever marathon may be happening on the USA channel is far more important than finishing that grant proposal.

But this semester ends with a bang. We have to give a presentation on our research topic to the faculty and however many students that decide to show up. I'm already experiencing tachycardia. More on this later.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Week One, Day One

So, as anticlimactic as it may seem, today is the start of the new semester. Let me explain. It's anticlimactic because nothing is really happening today. See, I'm in this distance program, and I don't really have "in-class" time, so everything's really self-directed and self-motivate (uh-oh). Last semester, I didn't have any regular meet-with-your-peers time, so my mates and I basically chatted over the phone periodically and caught up, or whined, or groaned, or wallowed in a pit of self-pity and loathing over how silly we were to sign up for this whole graduate school thing again.

This semester, we have a regular, weekly virtual classroom day. It will be interesting because 1) I wonder how my internet connection will hold up to 3-6 hours of constant "on-ness," 2) I wonder if I have to wear anything nice below the waist, since most people won't be seeing that (i.e., can I wear my jammies and a nice shirt?? what is the etiquette here?), and 3) well, it will just be darn interesting to actually see and converse with my peers, even if it's through the ether.

Another fun fact about this semester: we have an in-residence week. Well, it's more like 3-4 days. But during that time, I have to *shudder* give an oral presentation. Okay, so to most people that doesn't seem to bad. But I haven't told you about my dislike, nay, aversion, to standing up in front of people. It wasn't always like this. But that story is for another time. Let's just say, I have a physical and psychological response akin to excessive, debilitating distress! So, while others are trying to get on top of this semester and plan ahead, I am sadly counting down the days and hours until my trial. Literally.

One would ask, why would you chose to pursue a degree where the final product is a rather large and drawn out oral presentation, and which entails a career of public speaking? Good question. But don't judge. Maybe I can explain in a later post. For now, I have to lie down and take some deep, calming breaths.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Decisions, decisions

It seems like time is really moving quite fast. My advisor pointed out to me the other day that I will be practically half way through with my course work at the end of this semester. My first semester was only a few months ago! So, with this in mind, I am trying to decide on my dissertation topic and format. Well, I actually know the topic/focus of research that I would like to study. I think it's really the design that I am struggling to decide upon.

I am asking myself: how can I possibly know 100% what I want to do for my dissertation? I've only been in for one full semester! I suppose, though, it does help that I had an idea of what I would like to research prior to applying to the program. Note to other future doctoral students: know what you want to study before you apply. This will make your life as a doctoral student a little less stressful and may even cut time spent in your program. 

So, the question is: primary research or a meta-analysis? The head scratching begins.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


One by one, instructors are starting to post syllabi, coursework, schedules, and assignments on Blackboard. I admit, it's somewhat exciting. I'm sitting here planning out the semester to see where I'll be swamped by readings and assignments, and where I will be able to take a breather.

I also admit, that I am moderately excited to take the statistics course. While I may regret that statement in a few more weeks, right now I feel pretty good about stats. Last semester's stats class was okay...even though it felt almost like a self-taught course. And maybe because of the fact I was able to complete the course with my sanity intact, despite hours of frustration, expletives, and elevated blood pressure, I am hopeful for the next level. Also, the stats book looks pretty exciting. Yes, I did say the word stats and exciting in one sentence. Don't believe me? Click on one of my links on the right there...the one on the author of the stats book. At least he has a healthy sense of humor.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Second Semester

Spring semester is almost upon us. One more week to go. And in believing that there will be more time for personal writing this semester, I thought I'd start up this blog. So, to catch myself and others up to speed, I will summarize Fall semester. Took courses on research ethics, theory in nursing research, basic graduate level statistics, and an independent study. I got to present a poster and publish a paper in the process (well, it's in press actually), and I'm learning a lot about the research world and the doctoral student world. All in all, a good semester.

What does Spring 2011 hold? More statistics (actually, the textbook looks quite interesting!), a grant writing course, and a gerontology focused course. I'm going to try to present that same poster at a conference in San Antonio, TX. And I have my fingers crossed that I get the Hartford pre-doc scholarship. Also scheduled for the next few months: a half-marathon, a trip to CO during spring break to visit a good friend from my last round of grad school, a trip to AK, and one to MN to celebrate a wedding. Action-packed indeed. Amidst all of that, I also should decide on my dissertation topic and format, select a program committee, update my Graduate Student Progress Report, fill out the necessary forms for the Graduate School, keeps my eyes posted for any research experiences I could apply for locally, and plan for the Summer.

So maybe, I won't have as much free time as I thought.