Category Archives: Back in Academia

Final Announcements

With that last post, I’m closing shop here on Ricochet Biscuit. And it has been a blast.

I’ve managed to go from completely lost food photographer pondering thesis #1 to completely lost grad student finishing thesis #2. I’ve traveled, eaten so many neat things, and talked about subjects silly to serious. All from my wanting to have a camera and geeking out over food.

This isn’t the end of my work in food, it’s that I’ve outgrown this space. As I write this, I’m in the process of shutting down my data collection phase, and will be hunkering down for writing the analysis. I can’t exactly avoid my thesis and graduation for much longer. (Well, I could, but that would mean either quitting school or going for a PhD. At this point I just want to be done, even if I know I’m going to pout for weeks over losing library privileges.) Also I want to change direction in my writing work, and the new plans won’t suit the Biscuit. Which is fine. I’m ending four years of a project, and it’s time for something different.

So yes, that’s it. Thank you. I’m so glad to have had this space, and my currently neglected twitter account, to meet so many of you wonderful people. It has been a joy to learn from everyone, even if my health doesn’t like to stick around. I’m getting better, and there are so many amazing things in store. It may be hokey to say that, but I don’t care. I can’t wait to get started.

In the wise words of Granny Weatherwax: I aten’t dead. For now, I’ve just returned to my thesis.

Back in Academia: The little things they don’t tell you

Eight in the morning courses can still happen at the 500 level, and they’re usually the ones with mandatory attendance.

Many classes require add codes, or just showing up on the first day of class.

There will be people, even at the grad school level, who aren’t interested in learning. That’s their decision, don’t let it affect yours.

Your biggest help is generally found with the students in your cohort or the year above.

There aren’t as many easy ways for grad students to get free food on campus, but there are still plenty if you look.

Networking is encouraged, but network in ways you’re comfortable with. Pushing yourself into groups who aren’t interested in you doesn’t help now or down the line.

You may only see the inside of your two buildings the whole time you’re in school unless you purposefully go exploring. Do it; your campus probably has hidden secrets.

Going out with your cohort is awesome, and the bigger departments host events. Join them.

Your major advisor shapes your grad school destiny, and in more ways than you’ll expect.

The shorter the paper, the more you’ll freak out over it. Two page, double spaced papers will make you cry.

One of the first skills you must learn is how to read journal articles quickly for relevant content, then be able to analyze them in the way your professor requires. The first year of grad school is essentially a marathon in reading.

Lit reviews are enlightening, frustrating, and tiring, all wrapped up in one.

You will probably not go in the direction you predicted unless you were assigned to a research project. It’s scary and more than a bit fun.

“It depends” is the answer to more than you think.

Scientists can have really, really awesome arguments, spanning journals and journal articles. Learn from them on how to be a good scholar and to do a great retort, and also what to never do. It’s probably not a wise idea to call one’s research colleague an armchair scientist in a letter to the editor, but it has been done.

Talk to the librarians. A lot. They rock, they’re often grad students in the Information School, and they are awesome at getting you squared away on that data hunt you’re about to start.

You will learn, but you won’t learn just from the sources you expected.

Back in Academia: Scheduling

In grad school, more so than college, you’re at the whims of the schedule.

Including my thesis, I only have 30 credits to go. In theory this should be easy to fill in three quarters or less; 10 credits a quarter is a full load, but not painfully so. (Seven credits is the minimum for full-time at my university.) And yes, I could take classes elsewhere in the university, but to graduate I need to take those credits from within my school. Part of the fine print.

This is of course where planning sheets, begging professors for status updates, and all but prayer get called in.

We just had registration. Like college, this is a multi-step process:

1. Classes posted. In general, this rarely goes well. This quarter, for example, there are only a few courses not involving law and economics. Am not in law or economics.

2. Schedule evaluation. Try to determine how much sanity/sleep you need versus how many courses you can shove in from the options available. Try to remember if your major advisor needs you available for a certain day that quarter, decide to fight that battle once they email you.

3. Preparation. After picking what classes might work, set five alarms for around 6 am, actually manage to wake up on time, copy and paste course numbers into registration, and then cross fingers that the system will work instead of crashing.

4. Anticipation. That thirty second interval where your courses work, or you’ve fixed all the errors/add code problems you can. Joy.

5. Denial. The next moment, or when you look over your visual or exam schedule and realize what you’ve done to your future sanity.

6. Acceptance. Start planning your study groups.

I’m currently registered for nine credits; I’ll add my thesis credits later once I set my research hours. I’ll take 13-15 total if there’s room in this one class, but I can’t register until the first session of that course as I’m not in a particular certificate program. Two credits are in skills workshops and are night classes – one goes until 9 pm.

The thing is, that’s just how it is. Ideally I’d end classes by 5, as I tend to crash early once it’s dark, unlike the MS students in the computer science department.

And, as usual, I’m lucky. With my boss multiple time zones away and coordinating with lots of PR folk who keep crazy hours, I’m not beholden to a traditional 9-5. (I know I work more than a 9-5 when I’m on the job, but that’s separate.) If I need to study until 9 pm one night, I’m not doomed, but it is frustrating.

This is not the norm. I have a classmate who brings his infant daughter to class one day a week because that’s the only option he has. (Thankfully, she sleeps through everything.) Others work two part-time jobs to have the flexibility to pay their bills and go to school.

I admit, I’m not sure what an immediate solution is. Some students need night classes, some don’t. I would love to see more professors record their lectures with video, but many rooms lack the technology to do so. I also wish we could get the departments to check with students to see what hours are even physically possible.

For now, I’m going back to sleep.

Back in Academia: Why grad school?

Since this is my personal blog, I wanted to include at least one day a week to something I can’t escape – grad school.

One of the most common questions I get is if that person should go to grad school. I also usually get the related question of “why are you in grad school in forestry and public affairs when all you talk about online is food?”

Growing up, I always assumed I would get a PhD. I was the first of my cousins to want to go to grad school, and I had the “first daughter syndrome” of wanting to please my parents, both of whom went to grad school and didn’t receive doctorates. (Also, before I had a clue what I was digging myself into, it sounded good.) Since I loved Americorps, I thought I would continue in forestry, but then I found out about the Masters in Public Administration, and that also seemed pretty awesome. And then I found out I could do them both, together, at the University of Washington.

Before I applied, I spent a lot of time looking over the curriculum offerings, course schedules, and professors. I considered going to UC Berkeley, which has a sweet behavioral ecology lab, but they didn’t offer a MPA concurrent with biology, and I prefer Seattle’s local ecosystems anyway. So, I applied, and got in.

The thing is this: grad school, like just about everything worth doing, is fueled by your passion. And that passion will be tested, especially in the professional programs.

To be blunt, they’re grinding through your cohort. You have a set order of classes, and woe to whoever is out of schedule. You don’t like economics, statistics, and finance? Tough; this isn’t the program for you. This may seem obvious, but it really hits home somewhere in quarter three when you’ve been reading on leadership and quasiexperimental analysis for two hours and it’s not clicking and all you want to do is cry about market failure and ethical constraints.

And then you realize your significant other is trying to figure out what parts of the sentence you just said even fit together when you go whine to them about it.

That doesn’t mean I think I made a bad decision in my program. I’m now connected to an amazing group of people, both in my cohorts and my professors. And the schools I’m in have their own power that I will be part of for the rest of my life. I speak a new language, and I can see it changing how I plan and act. That’s pretty cool.

Also, in full honesty, I didn’t expect go into food media; it still amazes me what I do on a regular basis. I love food – you should see my recipe hoard – and our relationship with food. But I assumed I would stay researching animals in some way and working in the ecology sector. The fact that I basically fell into food photography changed a lot of things, but I still love my research.

In all, I’ve learned a lot about myself, more about being a manager, and even more about what I want out of this world. Just know that grad school is not the easiest, or the most fun, decision you’ll ever make.