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I have just completed the first year of my doctoral program and I find myself asking: what have I learned?

Not sure….can tell you a lot about information management, computer supported cooperative work, social theories of technology, philosophies on science, usability engineering, and most importantly, please believe me when I say this: graduate level applied statistics is a mother-effin’ beyotch….

Other than that? Dunno. I am unsure how this all pulls together into what will ultimately culminate into a doctoral thesis. I cannot even fathom a thesis right now. Maybe it’s because my brain is fried. Maybe it’s because right now I am questioning whether all of this is a good idea. Maybe I just miss Sailor…a little too much. And maybe, just maybe,  a more normal type of existence seems in order, possibly even necessary.

This is so different from the fall, when I arrive here amped-up and ready to burn. Full of ideas. Full of vigor. Ready to absorb every ounce of information I could handle…

Instead, I’m chronically stressed, tired, and my skin is so dry from living in cold and dusty labs that I can barely absorb enough moisturizer…

I mentioned the possibility to Sailor of leaving after next year with a Masters and he wouldn’t hear of it. He thinks I’m too invested. I wonder if that is in fact the true account of things or whether it is everyone else who is too invested on my behalf?

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Visited the sister and her family in DC last week. Thought I could stick it out on campus and get ahead of the work load for once, but a few days in, I found myself seeking the last one-way rental car out town, braving the public bus to Bellefonte, and getting the hellllll out of here.

It’s strange that I can go to my sister’s and mindlessly play, watch Sponge Bob, and wrestle with the dog for hours on end, but am completely unable to do so in my own apartment. Most of the week was spent on Molly, or Hurricane Molly as we often call her, at six-years-old she is teaching herself to read and driving her mother crazy.

Of course that craziness was transferred to me before I could even get in a morning cup of coffee. Molly is there, in front of the coffee pot, demanding to show me the latest book she learned to navigate. The afternoon consisted of at least a half hour of Molly insisting on flipping through flash-cards and getting mad at me when she could not sound out certain words correctly. She yelled at me that I was “changing the rules” because she could not figure out when to use a hard or soft “th” sound. I realized for the first time how damn hard it must be for foreigners to learn English.

Every night with Molly was a negotiation of how many books I would read in accordance to how long I could get her to brush her teeth. I’m not her mother, I’m not opposed to bribes. We settled on a short book that she would read and two longer books that I would read. Normally Dr. Seuss, she thinks it’s hilarious the way I fly through the books (she doesn’t realize I have them mostly memorized).

We’re all pretty clueless where Molly has gotten this drive to read. She ferocious about it, really. She is quick to learn and beats herself up over her mistakes. This is odd for a kindergartener whose own class is just learning their ABCs.

My sister is trying to reel her in and I’m ambivalent about the process. We’re first generation Americans. Our grandfather lived during a time in Ireland when the idea of just a proper education, forget a higher one, was a pipe dream for many. My great-grandfather, after the laws changed allowed advanced degrees for the Irish, went on to write a mathematical textbook and a history of Ireland, his brother translated Alice in Wonderland into Gaelic and was published (previously against the law in the country), and my grandfather became an engineer. All spoke more than 9 languages between them.

Education was a treasure, an honor, a gift, and a duty if you had the least bit of access to it. I’m loathed to read school work over spring break, but my niece is determined to read anything she can get her hands on, including the National Geographic where she only picked out a few words. A hundred years ago, a flash in the pan of time really, was a whole other world for the Irish, one of neglect, denial, and state mandated ignorance. So I suppose if Molly wants to read the contents of the known universe, we should let her be, and be thankful for it. She certainly comes by it honestly.

My mother always said “You gotta get them on the rug before you can pull it out from under them”. And never have truer words been spoken. Until that is, you are the one on the rug and The Powers That Be decide said rug should operate like a roller-coaster.

The Powers That Be, forthwith to be referenced as “TPTB” are starting to piss me off.

Let me clarify: TPTB are the are college elders who decide your provisional fate in the doctoral program. In the best case scenario, they guide, they advise, they extol academic wisdom and virtue; in the worst case scenario, and that’s exactly what I am talking about here, they fuck with your very existence.

In the last 4 months, the TPTB has decided:

  • That the “roadmap” or document stating “things you can expect from u while you are here” (a basic agreement issued to any student in higher education) is null and void
  • I now have an extra class to take
  • I also have an internal realignment where I will now take up to 4 methodology courses
  • Where in the past, if you fail candidacy, you can do a maters thesis and based on its success/failure, you can/cannot continue on to a doctorate, now, if you fail candidacy, you risk being tossed out wholesale
  • The document I signed that guaranteed 4 years of funding is null and void
  • That candidacy, which is supposed to occur in the fall, is now, after securing internships and other travel/moving arrangements, occurs in the summer

TPTB, in short, have decided to become a bunch of bastards. TPTB, additionally, have made it pretty clear that I cannot trust them in any way, shape, or form. Which sucks rocks when you’ve hitched your wagon to them for 4 years.

Not that all the changes are bad, these are tough times, I understand the funding crisis, and another class won’t kill… But when we signed, what essentially is binding agreement, and TPTB has reneged on half of it within a 4 month period, I have to wonder what the bloody hell I have gotten myself into.

Seriously, this is beyond the Pale.

1. If you’re open to the experience, your head will spin with ideas…a lot of ideas…really, too many ideas

2. Over stimulation resulting in mental shut-down makes doctoral students pretty similar to a highly functioning autistic.

3. A smart cocktail can make 300 pages of reading pretty darn interesting

4. Sometimes there’s just not enough booze to get you through 300 pages of academic journal writing

5. “A PhD is a marathon, not a sprint.”

5. Given #4 and my hatred of cardio, I really should have thought about that before doing this

6. Typical lesson plan: read 100 pages, have students write 500 words responding to 100 pages, present class material on 100 pages incorporating student response, then test students on reading, writing, and presentation…repeat.

7. After 8 months on campus, I still only know where to find my building, the gym, and the library, so don’t go asking me for directions.

8. Despite an advisor, graduate advisors, student representation committees, and your cohort, you are really and truly on your own.

9. “First year doctoral students can expect to feel overwhelmed and ill-prepared resulting in a frequent changing of research topics and feelings of inadequacies when compared to their peers.”

10. .If #9 is true, it’s nice to know I fall within the bell-curve…

I renamed the blog and I feel its quite appropriate given the how often I utter that phrase. Like when I am asked for directions, asked if I am related to someone local, hell, asked if I am a local, or mistaken for someone, somewhere, sometime, in the general vicinity.

I am new here to State College and my status has an expiration date. I hope it is May 2014. That’s when I would present my dissertation for defense. Whether this will happen, only time will tell. In crazy and weird little increments. As of now, I am a doctoral student. Hopeful by end of the next summer, I will be a doctoral candidate (and no, this is not up for general election). Following, I will propose my thesis, hopefully it will be accepted. All the while, I will have been taking classes. Two years worth. Once classes, candidacy, and proposal are finish, then come the comps! Following competency exams, one becomes an interesting acronym: ABD. All But Dissertation. If you get that done, then you present it for defense, gladiator style! Swords and battle axes for all! Not really, but rules change, one can dream…

So I am one day-ing it at a time.

I have a new living space. It’s like being in Maine with how I am able to walk everywhere, but not like Maine in that I’m in a valley and hundreds of miles from significant water. It’s like Northern Michigan, in that there is elevation, hills and nearby forests, but not, since there’s this massive university here. It’s a lot like Maryland with the asshat frat boys living the neighborhoods prohibiting any sort of restful sleep but not since the police actually show up and do something when you call. It’s little like Erie in that N. Atherton Street is a lot like Peach Street in all its obnoxious retail-awfulness and the wonderful historic homes, but not like Erie in that there is also a cultivated and bustling downtown.

My gym situation is significantly better. I already have developed a status as the new resident freak show with my powerlifting-female-ness. However, I haven’t had harsh words for a single soul in months. If you’ve read this blog over the last few years, you know that I regularly go to war with meatheads. Just because it’s a gym does not grant cause for asshattery. My gym is peaceful and serene. After years of abuse, I am unused to this. I find myself constantly waiting for some proverbial show to drop. So it’s like the Glenwood YMCA with all its shiny new equipment and windows but not like the Glenwood YMCA in its absence of a-holes and an indifferent and untrained staff.

And I developing a new cadre of friends although in most cases, they feel like a reiteration of older, trusty and better versions. For instance, I have a new ALP – Androgynous Life Partner. My ALPs all have similar characteristics: love of bizarre cartoons, crazy pop culture, actual history, real politics, weird music, weirder books, WWII, gaming, and all things that go boom! My old ALP, Fox and Maus back in Maine, is version 1.0. Despite the distance between us, the crazy bonds us for all eternity. My current ALP is actually version 4.0. He’s an improvement over version 3.0. And truth be told, 3.0 is actually 3.5 (after he got a job, a girlfriend, started watching Dancing With the Stars, and became decidedly less interesting). But 3.5 is not as good as 2.0 (who kinda lacked a certain joi de vie) and no one was or nor ever can be as good as The Big 1.0. He remains the Gold Standard for all ALPs. Something in that hard, Maine water with the ridiculously high mineral content…I suspect I am being unfair to all the ALPs that follow, but thems the breaks kids.

Sailor Man is on a boat somewhere. That’s nothing new. I am hoping he has time off soon to come visit me and see where his stuff currently resides. We shall see.

And everyone here blogs! Not fun blogs mind you, but academic blogs. So the local blogging community is present but it’s not as diverse and as lifestyle oriented (or as coordinated) as the Erie blogging community.

I mentioned once while writing about Iceland how I noticed a personal tendency to view a country through the lens of the last country I visited. For example, I visited Ireland prior to Iceland to I tended to observe Iceland through my experiences on the Mother Ship. State College is largely like this for me. I find myself viewing it through the lens of Erie since I spent the last 4 years there.

So I’m here and I’m not. I’m in State College but I’m also in Erie…and Michigan, and Maine, and Maryland…I’m everywhere at once and no where in between….

This is too weird a way to live. I really need to get my State College house in order.

As I am not currently spending any quality time in Erie, PA anymore, I think it best to rename this blog.

I have yet to come up with anything good but the current list of “also-rans” center around central Pennsylvania and my PhD program.

I won’t promise that I will clean up my act. It is highly likely that I remain a spotty and uneven blogger writing about whatever the mice in my brain tell me to.

That being said, I am open to suggestions!

Freshly Skinned Bunnies! Good Eatins!

This was the sign I saw outside of Strattanville, PA as I drove to State College to settle myself in for school…and a new life…again. I took Hwy 322 out of Meadville and meandered my way down because I felt like taking a road less traveled, and damn, if that sign didn’t exemplify that sentiment.

I expect no small amount of weirdness out of central PA: the barn advertising tobacco chew; the beautiful, charming, historic town where I heard no less than 3 racial slurs while grabbing a cup of coffee; or the area just north of here called “Snowshoe” which is oddly enough the name of Samoyed dog my parents rescued when I was 10.

I take it all in. Slightly amused, a little annoyed, and completely mystified as to what I have gotten myself into. And by into, I mean the 600 sqft apartment I find all Sailor’s and my stuff crammed into. I haven’t lived in an apartment in 20 years. The neighbor above wears stilettos. The hallway is a weird amalgamation of smells from the cooking by the various ethnicities of its occupants.I have to swipe a card key to get into the building and use a real key on the apartment door. I haven’t lived with a locked door in the same amount of time since I last lived in an apartment.

A cozy little downtown with nearly everything one needs is within comfortable walking distance. The football stadium, thankfully, is on the exact opposite side of campus. Apparently beer pong begins on the front porches promptly at 5pm. College kids shuffle along in their chewed up flip-flops which they manage to walk on despite half the foot not even remotely touching the foam bed. And everywhere here: rabbits, squirrels, and rabid ducks! There’s no lakes, no ponds, no river that I have seen, so where the hell do these vicious little water fowl come from?

I’m keeping to myself here. I have a bike and walking trail just outside my door. Within 50 yards I can be outside of campus proper and spend an hour or two bouncing around like I am in a pinball machine which my current view of living on the valley. Too much outside of town is farmland where people, quite literally, are only functionally literate and those freshly skinned bunnies are being served for supper.

Sailor is in Chicago this weekend. He wants me to escape and come visit. As much as I would love to, I have meetings with my advisor, another meeting with a professor whose research I am interested in, and no less than 400 pages of journal articles to read before classes next week. In the valley I shall stay.

Stranger in a strange land. Visitor from another planet. As I type this, I’m looking out my window and on the lawn is a full upright rabbit staring me down.

Buh-bye, Erie! Hello State College!

So, uh, I moved a while back. June 1st as a matter of fact. I moved across state to start a PhD program so my proverbial skirts have been hiked up and I skeedaddled.

I lived in Erie for 4 years – the longest I have lived anywhere in nearly two decades. I’m not going to lie, it was rather easy to leave. Despite the presence of Sailor’s family and a few friends, I developed no deep connection to the place. Which is odd. Sailor and I have been fairly deliberate about where we live and every town holds some place in my heart. I don’t know if Erie has moved into the co-op there just yet, only time will tell.

So I’m here in State College. Surrounded by mountains. It’s freaking me out. I have always lived on the water, horizon in the distance, and here I am in the Happy Valley. Land-locked. My horizon very clearly blocked on all sides by hills and mountains. If geography is determinative, I wonder what this is going to say about my life in the 4 years I am supposed to be here.

Erie is easily reduced to my mistake-by-the-lake. We really never should have left Maine. I can admit that now. Erie is a lonely place. You may not realize that if you are native to the town, but it’s a tough social scene to break into as a 30-something couple. The natives are not very welcoming.

Argue with me if you feel you must, but I have garnered this opinion from numerous persons in the same boat and the general consensus amongst the non-natives I spoken to seems to be this: if you weren’t born in Erie forget about developing social relationships; Erie-ites establish their friendships in grade school and do precious little to widen that circle once they are adults.

Oh, I’m not complaining. It’s just the way Erie is and besides, what did I really have in common with women my own age who have been married well over a decade by that point and have teenaged children? Not much.

I was at the doctor’s office a few months ago getting the required immunizations for this place and when the Nurse Practitioner discovered my age, marital status and lack of children, she very sincerely congratulated me: Excellent. That’s excellent. Good for you. Get that education. Do it for yourself – you won’t regret it.

Here in State College, I am actually surrounded by my peers. Many 30 something women, single, married, divorced, no children and we’re all ridiculously busy. Friendships are instant, easy, and progress at a leisurely pace.

So I’m getting to know the valley. I walk everywhere. Walk. Everywhere. Not something I could ever do in Erie, PA. And bike riding? Fuggetaboudit. Bike lanes abound! Here’s the thing you Erieites: riding a bike is not a crime and does not warrant hostile actions on behalf of drivers.

But it’s not all breaking bread and wine, for here, you see, I have serious problem: The NPR station here sucks. Anyone who knows me can appreciate the gravity of that statement. It seriously pains me how bad the NPR is here. So Erie had that going for it: awesome NPR. The weekends in Erie were as life should be: all talk, all day. None of this 4 hour interruption for damn hippy-folk music that makes my ears bleed.

I’m debating currently keeping this blog. I’ve been such a bad blogger this year I wonder if anyone is still around to even read this. Of course the name will have to change. Of course I won’t have Erie to comment upon. Of course I’ll be wading through this PhD puzzle. We’ll see…

I keep hearing the saying that PhD’s are a marathon not a sprint. Well, we’ll see if I can jog for 4 years.