Saturday, March 14, 2009

Life outside of grad school

I sometimes forget what it is like to be around people who are not in grad school. I'm so used to being around people who understand everything that the two words "grad school" entails that when I am in a situation with people who have "real jobs," I am forced to quickly remember the fact that there is more to life than school. Conversations start with where you're from and what you do, but then they move on to where you currently live, what you like to do, what you like about the City, current events, etc. etc. Conversation doesn't get stuck at 'what you do' and go off on a tangent related to classes, research, homework, etc. People have hobbies and interests and that is what gets talked about. When you're in grad school, hobbies and interests are largely around research and school work. But that would put you in the minority in most cases.

Of course, you're still interesting to those who don't hear about grad school and/or psychology ALL THE TIME, so they ask questions and chat you up about your field, applications of psychology, etc. So it rarely comes across as "I have nothing interesting to talk about besides school" (even if that's how I feel sometimes). Instead you talk about things that you and all your friends have become bored with hearing about, but are new to this particular audience. And often, they have their own ideas to contribute. See, that's the great thing about psychology -- especially child psychology. Everyone knows a child and has been a child. Sometimes it's annoying for psychologists who know the research to hear the 'layperson's' opinion based solely on anecdotal evidence, but I find it fascinating to see what people "on the ground" have to say about all this stuff we discuss from an academic perspective. (I also find it challenging at times not to seem like a know-it-all by providing an answer to every thought that the person presents!)

The former realization provides me with both positive and negative reactions.

1) We are, in fact, just as wrapped up in academia and our tall ivory towers as we think we are. Talking to people in the real world almost always reminds me of this. From terms we use to discuss topics to the beliefs we hold about said topics, it often becomes clear that this is based mostly on The Data and to a much lesser degree on Actual Children.

2) We are much more knowledgeable than we give ourselves credit for. Being surrounded by 40+ other people who are on the same path to a PhD in child psychology often makes us lose sight of our own abilities and incredible knowledge. But the fact is, in the general population -- what it is, something like 1% of people -- have a PhD. By virtue of being on our way to this higher degree, we are also experts of sorts. Whether we think so or not, that is how a lot of people will view us when they hear we are getting a PhD in psychology.

So, nutshell: It's grounding, in a lot of ways, to step outside of the World of Academia... even for a couple of hours. Yes, there IS more to life than school. But we are also learning a hell of a lot more than the average person knows about the subject that we are pouring hours, days, and years into. And that counts for something. Even if we find it hard to recognize and remember that sometimes!

A Mismash of Thoughts

1. I rarely post on here anymore. It's sad because there are so many thoughts that run through my head on a daily basis that I intend to post about, but by the time I manage to get to my computer and/or the end of my day, I have either forgotten or have no time/energy to actually put my thoughts on the page. I'm going to work on it though.

2. I am officially Minnesotan. I have gotten in the habit of wearing a fleece when it's 30. It's in the 40s today and it feels like summer. No joke. This morning, I went outside, and I swear I felt a warm breeze. It's kind of nice on days like today, but given that it was -2 the other day (in the middle of March!!!), I'm not really envisioning Minnesota as a place I could end up. It's just too damn cold. Sorry, MN friends.

3. Speaking of friends... I miss my friends. There are so many people in my life that I so rarely see or talk to anymore. It's as much (if not more) my own fault as anyone's... I've become terrible at keeping in touch. It's that old trap of "I need 3 hours to really catch up with so-and-so... I'll just wait until I have enough time." Well, it turns out that 3-hour blocks of free time just don't happen very often. So, consequently, I put off phone calls until a time that never seems to come. I feel like I've lost touch with many friends who are in the Twin Cities area too, though. This semester has been so busy and there just aren't enough hours in the day. Hopefully the summer will be a little better (at least I won't be teaching), but I kind of doubt it. It won't be any less busy, it will just be busy in different ways... c'est la vie (of a grad student) I suppose.

3a. Related to the above (and below) thoughts... I think at times, I like having a life far too much to be in academia. I like having time to see my friends and go out to dinner and explore the city. I like being able to run errands on the weekends, and have options of what to do with my time, rather than having my time decided for me by the work that needs to get done. I am interested in my research (generally speaking) and like what I'm doing in grad school, overall. But I'm not sure that I love it enough to LIVE it. I don't ever want it to be a regular occurence for me to be in my office and/or having meetings on Sundays. It's a condundrum, because this is what I see from a lot of the 'successful' professors in my department and in the field. If that's what success means, I'm not sure that I really want to be all that successful. HOWEVER... (see #4).

4. I like when things fall into place. There are/were a lot of things up in the air about the way the summer and next year are going to work out. Practicum, research, plans for dissertation (yikes!), etc. etc. A lot of things with the latter are still up in the air (i.e. I need to make myself make some decisions!!!), but other things are beginning to fall into place. What can I say? I'm a planner, I like when things start to come together. It helps my sanity, and makes me feel better about life.

5. I am escaping to Florida next week. With some of my favorite girls from college. It hasn't really hit me yet -- there is too much to do before then. I've barely even planned beyond the absolute necessities. Forget about packing. But I'm excited... I'm excited to remember what 80 degrees feels like. I'm excited to put aside journal articles and statistical analyses and lectures for a few days in favor of beach time and maybe even reading for pleasure (gasp). I'm also, of course, excited to see my girls. I can't believe this came together as smoothly as it did! There were moments of doubts, but we're making it happen. I'm so proud of us :-).

6. Did I mention it is 50 and sunny outside? Life is good (and that's saying something since I'm actually sitting in a coffee shop 'working' as this 50 degrees and sunny-ness happens on the other side of the glass window from me).

More soon...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The lack of quality is astounding, really.

If I have to read one more paper where the student discusses findings from a study by quoting a paragraph from the original article, I might cry. TAing for a writing intensive course this semester is beginning to put me over the edge. Aside from the sheer workload of grading anywhere between 40 and 80 exams/assignments/papers (depending on how the other TA and I split the particular task), having to read some incredibly... lacking... papers is starting to get to me. I don't understand how students can graduate from high school without the ability to put a sentence together. What's more, I don't understand how they can be half-way through college and still not have learned adequate (let's not even hope for *good*!) writing skills.

In previous semesters, I have TAed for our department's capstone course that seniors have to take in order to graduate. You would think that by the time they get to their last semester in college, and are about to graduate with a psychology major, they would know *something* about how to write a literature review. Or a coherent sentence. The number of students who don't is absolutely shocking. So at that point we are faced with the dilemma of whether to give them As and Bs for D or F- quality writing because it's not fair to punish them when no one else taught them? Or do we start to fail them (as if we haven't been failing them all along...) for the first time in a class that will keep them from graduating with their major?

Really, the solution is a complete revamping of the educational system in our department But that also requires revamping the university's system, and the high school's system, and... it goes on and on. It's too depressing to even think that carefully about because suddenly the educational system in the country gets implicated too. Is this a bit of an over-dramatic statement/post? Probably. But you read some of the papers that I've been reading tonight and then we'll talk.

Bonus points if you manage to get through the paper with a sentence about "30 states that have of programs on X" that then goes on to list all 30 of those states. (Yes, someone really did that).

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Mind Your Busy-ness.

It's October. How did that happen? I mean really, I know time flies and that the beginning of the year is always crazy but I literally am beginning to feel like Rip Van Winkle here. This last month has been really busy. That's it. Just busy. Sure there have been fun parts here and there, but above and beyond anything else is the busy-ness.

I realized recently that 9/10 (or maybe 10/10) of the times I've been asked how my semester is going the answer starts with "busy." On a good day, I'll temper it with something to the effect of "but I like what I'm doing because____ ." On a bad day I'm "busy" and everything is a waste of my time.

I don't like it.

I had a conversation with my advisor a couple weeks ago about how busy all of the faculty are and how insane everyone's lives have become. She asked me if we, as students, notice this. The answer is yes, not only do we notice, but we talk about it. Mostly in the context of "I don't want that to be my life." But nevertheless, here it is, a few decades earlier and it IS my life.

I'm ready for the busy-ness to end. Being busy all the time and having so much going on really just has this way of making nothing I'm doing seem appealing/interesting/exciting anymore.

Sigh. On with the year. Yay grad school.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dysfunctional Eraser Syndrome.

At practicum, I do these assessments which often require us to give the child a pencil without an eraser. The instructions go something like "you'll be using a pencil without an eraser, so if you make a mistake, just cross it out and put the correction beside it." The idea is that we want to be able to see their thought process if they do end up changing their mind about an answer or step in a problem. It's fascinating to me, however, that the kids completely ignore that sentence in our instructions. No matter how worn down the eraser is (and trust me, they're nearly -- if not completely -- flat, because that's the point!), the child will try to erase anyway. Usually it's not very effective, but something about that ability to make even part of the incorrect answer go away is enticing to them.

This may be reaching a bit, but I started thinking about this and came up with the idea that it is sort of an allegory to our need to cover up our mistakes. People tend to be embarrassed by things they do wrong, and would much rather obliterate all evidence than have to face what they did each time (especially if they, in the end, were able to correct it!). When given a choice between crossing things out and erasing, most people choose erasing (admittedly, this is also because it looks neater). So, do kids pick this up from us early on? Is that was the erasing as much as humanly possible with these sad, meant-to-be eraser-less pencils is all about? Or is it just one of those childhood quirks that I find so great? Well, either way, it's entertaining...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Just Say No.

I have this problem with saying no to people, which I have always known, but lately, it's become more and more obvious to me (perhaps because it has also been more frequent??). In my head the words "no" form loud and clear, but some how the signal from my brain to my mouth gets confused and it comes out as "no problem" instead. This is specifically a problem with many of my friends, but the problem also extends to advisors and other people in authority positions (e.g. practicum supervisors). In most cases, it's not a big deal to help out or do whatever they've asked, but it's more of a principle thing. And training, if you will, for the bigger things, which I am still often unable to say no too. Enter my problem of getting myself over committed in projects and extracurricular activities.

So, I turn to my faithful readers to ask for suggestions... graceful (or even just effective) ways of saying NO! to people who ask for my time, energy, work, and anything else I don't really want to give.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Be Careful What You Hypothetically Decide...

A while ago, I had a conversation with a friend that was part of a series of those random hypothetical questions. "If you could only have one song for the rest of your life, what would it be?" Of course, this is a near impossible question to answer for anyone who has any remote interest in music. And for the two of us, who are both quite into lots of different types of music, it was definitely hard. We both like various songs/genres depending on our mood at the time! But you can't factor in moods in a question like that. So, I finally decided, if really pressed, I would have to choose "Collide" by Howie Day because I often listen to the song as I am going to bed because it helps me fall asleep.

Yesterday, I went out for a bike ride and discovered that my ipod mini was broken. It will turn on, but the 'menu' button won't work and since I had my ipod set on repeat, it is stuck on one song. The song? Collide. It struck me as funny that the song I identified as the one that I chose really is actually the only one I can listen to now! I was annoyed at first, but I decided if it was going to be stuck on one song, I guess it really is good that it was this one... at least I can sleep!