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Archive for October, 2009

Advisorial Infidelity

I keep having dreams about a professor I didn’t choose to be my advisor, but that I strongly considered asking.   He is my favorite teacher by a fairly wide margin, and I find him personally amusing and good to work with.  On the other hand, he’s not really in my field, and expressly stated that he does not want to get sucked into work in neuroscience.  For those reasons, I think I made the right choice.

This hasn’t stopped me from a most amusing set of dreams about him all week.  Usually he’s being chummy with me, and making me feel like I’m good at stuff, and my work is worthwhile.  Last night I even dreamed that he was texting me at a party explaining how no one else in the class he’s teaching is paying attention and that I’m an excellent student doing excellent work.  It’s so ego-masturbatory, but it’s also an oasis of confidence in my otherwise Eeyore-prone life.  There’s something wonderful about waking up after having dreamed about being respected and admired by people  you respect and admire.

Then again, I also woke up convinced it was Saturday.  A sad reality to realize that it’s Thursday, and I have go to teach.  Not that section is that bad.  It’s just no Saturday.   Onward and upward.

I was having a charlie brown k…

I was having a charlie brown kind of day, but managed to be uber productive anyway.

After an excellent workshop, f…

After an excellent workshop, feeling very “big picture” tonight.

Feeling very much ready to end…

Feeling very much ready to end this tumultuous day.


Another day, another party, another failed attempt at fitting in to my lab.  It’s enough to make a girl wonder if she hasn’t overstepped her place.  And if she’s cut out for this career at all.  FML.


Just got back from a really great workshop our department hosted.  Or rather, the first half; the second half is tomorrow morning.  It’s a nice format, placing small blocks of speakers on one topic next to blocks of speakers from a very different topic, and then opening the floor for panel discussions in between.  The discussions have been really informative and through-provoking, and it’s great to see people interacting outside of their subfields and asking great big-picture questions.  The theme of the whole workshop is something like, “new methods of data analysis in applied linguistics” or some such, which is really just a way of saying “talks on quantitative stuff from a bunch of underrepresented subfields”.

Today we saw panels on cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging, and then one on translation, interpretation and second language corpora.  I wasn’t expecting to get much out of the latter, but it turned out to be surprisingly eye-opening, which I suppose is what the department was hoping us graduate students would get out of it.  They actually scheduled their speakers with us in mind (which I think is a really nice gesture), so almost everyone in our department is really excited about at least one talk.

The neuroscience panel certainly didn’t disappoint.  We saw a talk on eye-tracking and body movement, one on ERPs, and one on phoneme repair and fMRI.  The best part of these, for my future anyway, was hearing the regular “theoretical” professors talk at the cognitive guys and ask the kinds of questions I’m trying to ask and answer too:  what place does linguistic theory have in neuroscience?  Will neuroscience eventually replace linguistic theory as our models of brain and cognition grow more sophisticated?  What can we generalize from these blobs on the brain, anyway, and why should linguists care?  Why do these studies if they don’t increase our knowledge of linguistic structure, or give us a better processing model?  Lest it sound like I have no faith in my chosen future, I should point out the answer to these questions isn’t entirely damning.  There’s certainly a shake-up in the future of linguistics, and cognitive neuroscience seems to be the battlefield for this.   The panelists agreed that the future of this research is going to be graduate students who have both linguistics and neuroscience training, which is what I’m trying to do.  We need researchers who are conversant in both domains.    And I personally believe that fMRI and ERP have a lot they can tell us about processing models and linguistic storage and representation.  Besides,  it’s very good to know the kinds of questions the more philosophic and theoretically concerned members of our field have.

Having said that, it’s time to head over to the after-party, which is already in progress!


I’m sitting here at the lab, waiting for the very last step in my data processing to finish.  I started with raw text files that the fMRI scanner outputs while you’re doing your business, and when this model finishes estimating, I’ll have a whole set of pictures of someone’s brain.  This is awesome.  It is also extremely time-consuming.  I’ve been working on it for the last four hours, and this is only one subject’s worth of data, for one portion of the study.  Oy.  This is why we’re trying to get this batch scripted.

Life, other than the data-processing portions, is going very well.  I acted quickly on this advisor thing and submitted to him an admission of my pipe dream project.  Turns out, he also thinks it’s cool and not impossible, and would be “happy to support this effort”.   In that he’s already given me a carte blanche for designing and running an fMRI study, and that I’m right in line to start something for my second QP… I’ve basically hit the jackpot.  It’s not going to make him any easier to work with, but it certainly makes me feel secure in my choice.  It’s nice to be listened to!

I had a really awesome section this morning, which was also a nice surprise, given how poorly this material went over in the previous sections earlier this week.  I changed it up quite a bit – had them work in small groups instead of all trying to solve the problem with me on the board.  Also we listened to The Beatles while we worked, and I thought that did a nice job of waking them up and getting them moving this morning.  9 am can be a little bit early for any kind of critical reasoning skills to be awake, so any little bit helps.  I’m definitely going to retry this music + phonology problems idea next week.

I was offered another research opportunity today which I wisely declined.  With this fMRI thing ready to plow ahead full steam (and full steam it should be, given how long this stuff takes), I just don’t really have time to dabble in other projects.  I did agree to record stimuli for this neat language contact experiment our resident creoleist is undertaking, but he understood that I was too busy to attach myself any more than that.  I did have a good idea of who else in our department would be good at this stuff, so hopefully my name dropping gets me some good karma points.

Geesh, it’s almost 5 already.  I keep thinking this thing is on it’s final rendering step… and then it’s not.  Time to go home and leave it to run?  Guess I won’t make it to my pretty brain pictures after all.

Oh snap! I have an advisor.. …

Oh snap! I have an advisor.. *and* a project? Whoohoo!


O, blog.  Without you where would I dump by brain overflow?  I mean, besides onto Lewis.

Much excitement in the first few weeks of school.  Notably, today I picked an advisor!  It’s the same person I’d had in mind for the last few quarters, but I finally just took the plunge.  It makes sense in certain ways, and it somewhat of a poor fit in others.  I’m trying really hard not to pigeonhole myself though, and take it for what it offers – opportunity, money,  resources, plans, goals… – and not worry too much about the ways in which I don’t fit the paradigm.  The truth of the matter is, I’m not a single-domain sort of person, and any advisor I pick is going to have a focus that’s not wholly my own.  So I’ve settled on a useful one, and now I need to make the best of it.

Being comfortable in your own skin is a very difficult thing to consistently be.  I’m feeling three times as comfortable being me this year than this time last year. TAing is going well; it’s not as terrifying as it could be, and my relationship to my students is only one facet of the nature of my studenthood.  My classes are going well, but again they only make up another small portion of my life, which is tempered by reality.  I have no idea what papers I’m going to write for either class, but as for now it’s not causing me any stress.  My advisor is teaching one, and said that a research proposal could be submitted in place of a paper.  Given that we’re working on developing a research proposal anyway, this could be a rather advantageous overlap.  My favorite professor is teaching the other one, and the subject is something I really do not excel in, but I’m feeling confident I can bend the matter into something useful for myself.

The strangest thing about being a second year is the odd semblance of a plan forming in the horizon.  It’s at times completely terrifying, and at others rather soothing.  Today, I feel soothed.  From this vista, I can see the four things that must happen between where I’m standing now, and my doctorate.  There’s a paper I must finish this year.  I’m not sure what that’s going to be on yet, but I have two nascent but promising ideas.   One easier than the other, the other more useful than the first.  One of them will get done.  And when it’s done, I’ll have a masters.  I have a second paper to do, the one which I intend to be this research project with said advisor.  It should be the pilot for the research that will be my dissertation.  When it’s done, and I’ve taken my oral exam, I advance to candidacy.  From there to the PhD is a blur of having no classes, and doing a lot of self-guided research.  This is where the architecture of the lab comes in particularly handy – some structure in an otherwise structureless life.  The only thing keeping life moving steadily forward – classes – are coming to a close.  After this year, we needn’t take classes full time, or at all.  Provided that I’ve finished the set amount before I write that second paper, my time is my own.  The idea of finally running out of classes to take seems impossible, but it’s true.  At some point, it’s research, not ritual.

On that note, I have some work for classes to undertake.  I should enjoy it while I can!

I’ve picked an advisor! I fee…

I’ve picked an advisor! I feel like such turncoat…