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Preview: FemaleCSGradStudent


Since 2005

Updated: 2016-12-04T06:14:32.836-08:00




To graduate from the University of GradShitTownVille, I had to fill out a "release form." I think the title of the form referred releasing equipment and keys back to the university. But I really think it referred to releasing me out of my pen.

But I knew that another release would happen. I would have to experience the emotional release that would come with leaving GradShitTownVille. I half-expected that I would cry across Nebraska like I did when I was driving east. But it didn't happen.

Instead, it happened in Powell's bookstore. In the children's section. I had been there just a few months before with my friend Moira and her little daughter. We were traveling together in Portland for a conference. Now I was in Powell's alone, far far away from my good friend and her little daughter. While GradShitTownVille had brought so much challenge into my life, it had also brought great friendships. And I cried looking over the Newbery award winners.

The tears mean that time of FemaleCSGradStudent is done. Thanks to everyone who helped me graduate successfully. Every post, e-mail, and comment propelled me forward.

I introduce you to my new blog

What really happened


Day 1: Defend. Unconditional pass.
Day 2: Pack belongings with help from two friends.
Day 3: Boyfriend and I shove belongings in an 8 x 6 x 5 container.
Day 4: Close on house. Make minor revisions to dissertation.
Day 5: Deposit.
Day 6: Leave. Drive.
Day 7: Drive.

Currently: Relaxing in a hotel room 1100 miles away from GradShitTownVille.

Admittedly, my previous insane schedule was replaced by an only slighly less insane schedule.

Now....clearly the name of this blog is all wrong.

All but the "d"


D is for defense. It went well.
D is for deposit. 1 more day in hell.

I'm Ready, Fashionably Speaking


Hair: ironed. I don't look like Dotty Dog today.

Good luck necklace from my dear friend Iu.

Cute, short sleeved top, white, from Banana Republic. A medium. With camisole. Mrs. Clock would approve.

Navy linen trousers.

Dansko wedges, in toast.

Rage: firey.

Two hours to go.



One of my greatest frustrations with research is the politically driven vocabulary. Often, mediocre researchers use their own made-up terms to describe simple concepts; they seem to do this to claim these concepts as their own invention.

Look over there, it's a brown horse!

No no no. What are you talking about? As I published in 2001, that over there is a four-leg sepia callubuster or FLSC. From now on, you really ought to refer to it that way.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote a really good piece on how to write with style. He advises to "keep it simple" and "sound like yourself." Moreover,

The writing style which is most natural for you is bound to echo the speech you heard when a child.

I think this is why my dissertation writing style offends academics. I grew up in blue collar. I use simple words and vulgar metaphors. I won't talk about FLSC's. I just talk about brown horses.

Dear Diary


Four days to go.

My body is a Six Flags Amusement Park. Roller coasters of emotion tear through my clenched guts: tears over missed friends, panic about signatures, anxiety over moving boxes, anger over lost years, terror of a new job, joy at being almost done.

My mind is a Pomeranian. Ditzy and fierce, latching on to trivial thoughts with the jaws of my neurons and grinding them down for hours until they are nothing. I thought I lost my sweater on the train on Saturday. I worried for two hours about how I would ever find another black sweater as cute as that one. Then I found it under my seat.

I have this tight schedule that many doubt I can complete:

Fri: Defend.
Sat/Sun: Pack.
Mon: Close on house. Deposit.
Tues: Leave town.
Sat: Arrive in Portland.

People ask, "What about revisions?"

Fortunately, I wrote my dissertation for me. It's written in an informal, conversational style, a collection of 13 essays about my research. It was fun to write. I make metaphors between my work and blackberry jelly. I compare my advisor to Oscar Madison.

I say "fortunately," because my dissertation is just a diary. A couple of committee members read a couple of chapters about two months ago, but since I gave them my full draft three weeks ago, I've not heard a single peep. Given the history of my group and the defenses that have come before mine, I don't expect revisions. My advisor cashes out of his students once they get a job. I have seen him six times in the last five months.

I don't know what will happen this week.
But I hope to be home soon.

Letter from Dad


A letter from Dad came in the mail today:

I am so glad your prison sentence in the state of hell is finally going to be over. You have finally reached your goal you had set for yourself so many years ago. It will be well worth the effort and grief you had to go through. The grief part should never had to be a consideration if there weren't people in places of authority that make you wonder how they ever got there or why they are allowed to stay. I am very proud of all that you have accomplished in that hellhole on your own.

Nice. I'll admit, though, it wasn't always on my own. There was desperation and loneliness. There was destructive behavior. But I also had an army of people to help; it just wasn't always the people it perhaps should have been.

She winks at ironies


Cassandra Wilson interview in PASTE magazine this month. The interviewer asked her if she sees herself differently now than earlier in her career. She replies with,

I'm a lot more confident. More sure of what my work is as a musician. I have a clear idea of what I want to accomplish, even if it's still an impossible task. Because you never find what you're looking for. That's the thing. You always get close to it--but I feel more confident about getting closer to it now.

I was really lucky; I got to see her in concert in GradShitTownVille a few years ago.

Very American


I've decided to dedicate my dissertation to my dog. I write this as she snores loudly at the foot of my bed.

A Gem of a Short Story


From the book I'm reading, Varieties of Disturbance by Lydia Davies.


I don't know if I can remain friends with her. I've thought and thought about it -- she'll never know how much. I gave it one last try. I called her, after a year. But I didn't like the way the conversation went. The problem is that she is not very enlightened. Or, I should say, she is not enlightened enough for me. She is nearly 50 years old and no more enlightened, as far as I can see, than when I first knew her twenty years ago, when we mainly talked about men. I did not mind how unenlightened she was then, maybe because I was not so enlightened myself. I believe I am more enlightened now, and certainly more enlightened than she is, although I know it's not very enlightened to say that. But I want to say it, so I am willing to postpone being more enlightened myself so that I can still say a thing like that about a friend.

And the cover is brilliant. It looks faded, but with a perfect photograph of a fly; it is so perfect that the clerk at the library was startled, and tried to brush it off.

Today's Theme Song


Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, parts I and II

Those evil natured robots, they're programmed to destroy us. She's gotta be strong to fight them, so she's taking lots of vitamins. 'Cause she knows that it'd be tragic if those evil robots win. I know she can beat them.



Probably three years ago, maybe more. My dad is visiting for the summer. I'm telling him about some professor who hasn't been very nice to me. He says, quite seriously,

"You want me to go down there and beat the shit of him for you? And you know, if I beat the shit out of him, he ain't gonna walk for six months."

Happy Father's Day, a little bit late.

Go Ahead, Make My Day


My friend Moira is about a week away from her defense. She is very stressed, understandably. The defense is a huge deal; it is the end of a six year struggle against inner and outer demons. Freaking out is a natural response.

I am 38 days away from my defense. I sort of wish I were freaked out. Instead, I have this weird serenity; the same serenity that comes from hiking 20.5 miles around Waldo Lake. I'm exhausted, but looking back on a great achievement.

I feel a bit like Dirty Harry: Clint Eastwood's cop role. Dedicated moviegoers must remember the scene. Dirty Harry has been chasing this evil-doin' punk through streets and traffic and city rooftops. The punk is cornered. He's on the ground. Harry's got a .44 magnum in his face. Did Harry shoot 5 or 6 times? Is there a bullet left in the chamber? And Harry says,

But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?

Had lunch with a friend today. I was trying to explain that I really ought to be more freaked out than I am. I should be like Moira. I should be working 10 hours a day finishing up all these tidbits and loose ends. I should be trying to publish one more paper. I should...

But somewhere between the DickHeadAdvisor, the weekly acts of sexual discrimination, and living in a over-pollinated, narrow-minded hell on earth, I'm just too tired to care. And then I said, surprising even myself,

"They are just going to pass me. Of course they are. If they don't, they better know that someone's gonna get pushed down the stairs."

Ask me again when I've got 10 days to go.

Being Bad At Arithmetic Has Heart Healthy Advantages


My first year of graduate school was the year I got a cellular phone. It was also the year I met my friend Iu. She's from Eastern Europe, and is fantastic at doing arithmetic figures in her head. She told me, "We were too poor for calculators, like Americans have."

That first semester, she and I met weekly to do our computer architecture homework together; she teased me about my inability to divide in my head. I tried to get better at it. The day she brought marshmallow cookies to share was the same day I got her phone number from her. So, in my phone, her name is "Marshmallow."

I really hated the interface for my clunky old phone. It didn't have a good way of getting to a certain name; it just listed stuff alphabetically. As I listed new contacts in my phone, I assigned their name according to how often I called them. Three phones later, I still do this. People I call a bunch are A-B-C/W-X-Y-Z. People I don't call much are in the L's and the M's. My mother is "Labor Pains" because it took her 14 hours to give birth to me. We don't talk much on the phone. Marshmallow and I tend to keep in touch over e-mail. My boyfriend is "B Guy" or Buddy Guy, one of the Blues kings. My friend Amy, with whom I arrange a bike trip every weekend, is wAmy because the A's and B's got full.

Last weekend, during our bike trip, wAmy told me about this book she's reading, "You: Getting Younger" by those two smug sons-of-bitches doctors who are on Oprah once a month. She knows I don't care for them too much, but she likes to give me health snippets from the book. Wearing sunglasses. Omega-3s. Heart health.

She told me that one can easily measure cardio health:

1. Calculate your maximum target heart rate, or MTHR. It's 220 - Age.
2. Work out at 80% your MTHR.
3. Time how long it takes to go down 66 bpm. If it's less than two minutes, that's great news.

So for my experiment: I work out at 152 and time how long it takes to get to 86 bpm.

I tried it. I can drop 66 bpm in less than one minute. Eh? What? That means, according to wAmy's book, that I'm in "primo cardio health."

I surprised myself. I wondered how I did it.

Bad arithmetic.

Last year, I bought a heart rate monitor to help with my weight loss. I was going to the gym, but I wasn't working out effectively. Now I try to work out in "the zone" for at least thirty minutes. It's interesting data and it's motivating.

But when I entered my "target range" in my monitor, I did the calculation in my head. And I calculated wrong. So, whenever I'm at the gym, I'm working out at about 90%.

Broadening and Narrowing My Fashion Horizons


I met my friend Sk. about 4 months before I moved to GradShitTownVille. We met at the shoe store where she works. I'm not Imelda Marcos, but I do have a healthy collection of shoes. Six years later, Sk. and I are still close despite the miles in between; when I'm in Portland, we still hang out at the shoe store where we met.

I am about 40 pounds lighter than I was three years ago; it hasn't sunk in. I think I have an reasonable self image. Over 50% of the time, I seem to like what I see in the mirror. But all the other days, I feel squishy, ugly, and whiney. The boyfriend gives me his frownie face on these days.

I visited Sk. in Portland last week, between attending a faculty meeting (!) and surprising my mom for mother's day. We went shopping.

Scene 1. At her shoe store.

Sk. "Try on these wedges."

I give my skeptical face.

Sk. "Just try 'em."

I've never liked wedges really, but I'm happy to try on shoes. Sk. brought me my regular size 39. They were huge, but super super cute!

Me. "I like wedges?"
Sk. "Your feet got smaller?"

I bought these in the 38:


Scene 2. At Ann Taylor, shopping for "non-dowdy professor" clothes.

Sk. "I don't think you are the size you think you are. Try this dress on. Don't look at the tag, just try it on."

Me. "But it's a 10. I wear a 14."

In my defense, I was at least no longer wearing my size 16 jeans.

Sk. "Just try it!"

Yeah. It fit. It's probably a fluke. Or I'm deluded. Either way, I'm really looking forward to seeing Sk. more often again.



For many, I think that "networking" is like flossing. It's good for you, but it's time-consuming and it makes your gums bleed. Unlike flossing, which is pretty easy, networking seems mysterious, magical.

I'm reading "The Girl's Guide to Kicking Your Career into Gear," and the authors make the following statement about how not to network:

Don't tell someone you're networking even if you are. Networking should be a somewhat organic exchange between two people who like each other or at least have a lot in common professionally. If you don't click personally, it just won't go anywhere. It's like dating--you know there's the possibility of sex, but you don't talk about it.

Don't start out asking someone what they do. That should never be the only thing that defines you, and if someone is focused only on your career, it leaves you feeling pretty cold.

Introduce yourself when you meet someone new, not five minutes into a conversation.

I think my buddy at W3C2 could benefit from the last one.

Temper, temper!


Walking down the street to the coffee shop, I was giggling out loud to myself. It was my evil giggle, the one that slips out when I'm thinking about my recent evil doings.

* * *

Today there was a meeting on my campus for the World Wide Women In Computing Conference. The W3C2 is a fake name, but the meeting was real. Since it's on my campus, I volunteered to help out: driving a shuttle bus, fielding questions about ATM locations, and taking meeting notes. I try to be a good hostess, which generally involves keeping my cynical mouth shut.

Fifteen minutes before today's meeting, I approached the W3C2 representative to let him know I would be taking notes.

I said, "I was sent down here to be your scribe."
He replied, "Oh great! I'll assume that you don't know what we're doing."
I said, "I'm a graduate student in computer science, I think I'll be okay."
He said, "Well, you may not know that W3C2 is ..."
I stopped him, firmly, "I'm very familiar with your institution."

And then he explained their topic of conversation, which is where I wished he had started. He never bothered to learn my name.

I was very mad. Shaking hands mad. Here is a representative for an institution trying to get more women in computing, and he did the very thing that makes me feel invalidated and invisible. He assumed I didn't know.

Of course, I took beautiful notes. I know the area of diversity in computing quite well, so it wasn't hard to keep up with the conversation. I've also seen many of the attendees at other conferences, so it wasn't hard to add names to the things that were said. But all the time I felt like I needed to swat this guy gently on the nose.

After the meeting he came up to me to arrange to have the notes sent to him. After I got his e-mail:

I said, "I hope you've learned your lesson."
He asked, "What's that?"
I said, "When a woman is standing in front of you, don't assume she's a secretary."
He stammered, "I didn't assume that...I...I just assumed that you didn't know what we were doing."
I said, "Given that you are in W3C2, it's very important for you not to make these kinds of assumptions."
He stammered, "Yes, I'm learning that
I said, smiling, "Have a safe trip home."

At least he faked being receptive to his lesson. Let's hope he learned.



In 10 minutes, I will definitely have to pee.

In 10 hours, I will finish painting my attic, part three of "get the house ready for sale right now!"

In 10 days, I will be on a secret mission (more to come).

In 10 weeks, I will be practicing my defense 8 days in advance.

In 10 months, I will be in full swing of Spring 2009, living in Portland, OR.

In 10 years, I will have hopefully decided between a life of "eccentric spinsterhood" or "eccentric motherhood."

How I Got A Job


I said it before. The best advice I ever got in graduate school was from Dr. Shellie who advised, "The best way to graduate is to get a job." I did just that; on July 18th I will defend my dissertation. In late August, I will teach my first class as an Assistant Professor.People have asked me, "How?" I'll try to recreate the steps and the rough time line.Step 1: Get a mentor.September 2006Some graduate students are lucky: their advisor is a great mentor for the job search. For me, this is not the case. I have spent my graduate career forming an army of mentors who can advise me on topics ranging from family-work balance to handling misogyny. Resources have been incredibly varied: old co-workers, assistant deans, professors in other departments.But for initiating the job search, one stands out. On MentorNet, I found myself a mentor who had similar interests in balancing research and teaching. She listened to my existential crisis about "having a life" vs. "being the golden researcher." Above all, she was fantastic at kicking my butt. As I fretted over whether to graduate this year or next, she wrote,DON'T LINGER. You will realize as soon as you are out of there how little this last year really meant to you.Step 2: Go on tour.July 2007With my butt properly kicked, I scheduled summer visits with four professors at three different universities to discover the kind of institution that fit with my own philosophies of education, research, and community. I called it my “Summer 2007 Tour.” I needed to answer some questions. Would I be happy at a small university where I got my bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering? Or would I prefer a large state institution like my current one? Something else entirely? After six years of misery and cage fighting, it was my top priority that I find a place where I could be happy.So I browsed the web, found some people at various universities in the Pacific Northwest, my target geographical location. I sent out e-mail to folks my mentor suggested. I sent out some e-mail to people I had never met before. For example,Dear Professor,I plan to be in the Seattle area this July. Given that our research interests in reliability are closely related, I would like to meet with you to have a friendly chat about our current work, about your experiences at Seattle U., and hear your advice about the academic job search. A note to those of you afraid to network: All of them replied.My first meeting was with a woman who had been an instructor at a large state school, and now works at Pacific Lutheran University. She said that what she liked best at PLU was that she was no longer the best teacher in her department. She enjoyed being surrounded by a community of educators who put their students first, and who challenged her and guided her to become a better educator.At the smaller institutions I visited, I was impressed by the real sense of community felt by students and faculty. Faculty talked about how they enjoyed working with their colleagues, how they enjoyed multiple opportunities to teach small cohorts of students. During a campus tour I attended at Seattle University, there was a sincere pride expressed by the student tour guides who talked about their math lab, writing center, and personal attention from their professors.My summer tour showed me that I would contribute most successfully and happily to an institution that values teaching excellence, emphasizes a sense of community, and seeks to educate the whole person.But my summer tour also presented a huge stroke of luck. I met with a woman wh[...]



Played a lot of Sarah White on the radio show today. She won 2007 ‘Best Song’ for the Mountain Stage New Song Contest for her latest EP's title song, "Sweetheart"

Sweetheart, if you knew the pace at which you fall from grace you'd slow down.
Sweetheart, if you knew the pace at which you fall from grace you'd come down.

Sweetheart, what you need to know it's me that will keep us apart.
Cause my heart doesn't really want to know all that pain you hold in your heart.

So leave, take what you need, go with good speed, the traffic is light.
So go, take what you feel, you need to be real, I'll make it just right.

Sweetheart you think I'm giving up. You think I 'm waking up right on time.
If my heart to you was worth a dime you'd roll me every time.

I'm not 100% sure on the lyrics, but the song is really pretty.

Phase 1 Complete


I have purged all clothing and linens that have not been used in the last sixth months. Moving onto phase 2: furniture.

Let's do the time warp again!


I've been working on reducing. When I moved east, I moved all my belongings. It was a headache. Now I'm about to move west, and I plan to move very little. I am tempted to just burn my house down as I back out of the driveway, headed for 80-W.

She won't. Arson is illegal and she should want to make some money on her investment.

Every couple of weeks, I donate another pickup load to the Habitat for Humanity. I take another box to the library. The last trip I took a file cabinet, a kitchen island, two outdoor chairs, and a box of glassware.

The file cabinet was a Saturday project by itself, because I had to empty it. Its contents were a freakish and undesired time warp of the last 12 years of my life. Things that are now shredded and in the recycling bin include:

1993: 6 love letters from high school boyfriend; I did not reread them.

1993: Parts of a high school journal that depict loving tales of the high school boyfriend, who--in the end--left me for a much thinner girl named Rebecca.

1994: Speech from high school graduation. So. Sappy.

1995: Tax return. How did I live on $7564.00?

1996: Job offer letter from my first engineering internship. I was paid a huge $11 an hour, which allowed me to buy food every day.

1994-1998: Perkins loan promissary notes with a wide variety of addresses depicting how much I moved as an undergrad, always trying to find a cheaper place to live. These also included repeated threats from the government about what might happen if I didn't repay my loan.

1997: The first letter I ever wrote to two boyfriends ago.

1998: Sallie Mae coupons from my student loans that, 10 years later, are still unpaid and living in magic deferral land.

1998: Photograph from two boyfriends ago.

1999: First mortgage, including all the payment coupons.

1999: Sticker from the 1999 Jetta: my first and last new car.

2000: Receipt and limited warranty for my Natuzzi leather couch.

My 2-drawer vertical file cabinet has been reduced to a small Rubbermaid office solution. There's a lot more to reduce before I head west, but I'm happily making dents every week.

We can be heroes, just for one day.


I'm having nightmares. Their theme is that I have to be somewhere far away, but I am running late. It began six months ago. In the dream, I'm on a Tri-Met bus, trying to get to PDX for a 9 pm flight to Spain. In the next dream, I get smarter, and ask my brother to drive me. But again, we are running late, he's driving 90 mph around a curve, and the car rolls three times. Tonight, it was even more violent. I murdered someone to get to where I was going.

The nightmares are a transparent outlet for my daytime anxiety.

Good news first!

I got a job. A very smart scientist gave me this advice: the best way to graduate is to look for a job. So I looked. And I got one. In fact, I got my dream job at a small liberal arts school on the West Coast; it has an engineering-based computer science department with a gender-balanced faculty. This was the school I wanted to be at for a decade of dreaming about becoming a professor. This school was the reason why I chased a Ph.D.

I started my job search last summer when I went on a little tour of liberal arts schools on the west coast. I had to know one thing: Had I romanticized the "teaching university" after my sentence at GradShitTownVille? I talked with professors at three different schools. Some took me to coffee. Some to lunch. They talked about their favorite parts of their job. The warned me of their biggest challenges.

The result: I knew, despite the cons, that I still wanted the teaching university. I had some great new friends. I had some news of upcoming job openings. And the dream school was one of them.

Fast forward to now.

The nightmares are a transparent outlet for my daytime anxiety. I have roughly four months before I should head west to start my new job. I have lots to do. I have no interest in doing it. I procrastinate by remodeling the bathroom.

Admittedly, the bathroom needed remodeling to increase the sale value of the house. Yet, that's how I procrastinate. It's why my house is so clean.

The stress of doing very little has lead to three illnesses this month. Certainly, the nightmares will stop once I leave GradShitTownVille. The fever and throwing up will stop once I begin working diligently again.

That starts tonight, bitch.

Getting things done.


1. Figure out a more productive daily schedule.
2. Avoid situations where I have to endure the phrase "top 10."
3. Skip group meetings more often.
4. Be more enthusiastic over the phone.
5. Go to the post office.
6. Stop being sad.
7. Find a place where I can be myself without being punished.
8. Write an Eclipse plug-in.
9. Think of two more things.

9a. Refurbish the bathroom to improve the sale of the house.
9b. Schedule the defense.

Everything's gonna be alright


Strange. Past two months, I've almost been enjoying school. I have no paper deadlines; I don't have to make a mountain out of my teeny result-molehill. I see my advisor only once a week; his crazy-talk bounces off my brain like cartoon bullets. I'm diligently working on my two projects, making progress on implementation and measuring results.

I saw a female faculty in the hallway the other day. Last time I spoke with her, I was in poor shape (you, dear reader, might remember). She'd given me some advice on the preliminary exam, finishing the degree, and getting a job. She asked, "How is the prelim going?" I said, "All done." She said, "Wow! Do you plan on graduating this summer?" I said, "I've got some job offers already."

This is how I thought graduate school was supposed to be. I'm working independently on stuff I enjoy. I'm learning new things. I see a clear end. I know what I need to do to get out.

Instead, the first 11 semesters were torture; I got through them with rage, depression, therapy, and tenacity. The last 2 look like they'll be decent.

I've quoted her before, but she's worth repeating. From Annie Proulx's "The Bunchgrass Edge of the World,"

The main thing in life was staying power. That was it: stand around long enough, you'd get to sit down.

One question: What do I call this blog once I graduate?