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I would be remiss if I didn’t post soon again after that last dismal entry.

Things are looking up, or at least, aren’t looking as down as they were.   Data analysis is clipping along at the lab, and my advisor is excited about our project.  It’s been a while since we were working on my data and making any headway, so it was nice to reconvene and see our good work.  It always gets my advisor fired up, and that gets me encouraged.

I also had a semi-candid conversation with aforementioned advisor about how behind I was feeling on my work and how much there seems to be to do this upcoming year.  I’m certainly behind where I need to be, so I don’t think I’ll be quite on track, but it sounds like it’s not a disaster.  He is completely nonplussed and said that the metrics they’re giving us to follow were mostly to ‘weed out the chaff’.  So if I’m still excited about my work, and it’s going well, but late… well, I guess it’ll be okay.  The only really positive take-home message I got from the whole conversation was that my advisor made this little smirking face to himself while I was explaining why I thought I wasn’t doing a good job.  It was a face that said I’m a naive graduate student who is needlessly worried and doing a good job. Like he remembered being this pent up about deadlines and those days are far behind him (and lo, they are quite far behind him…) and some day I’ll learn that doing good work speaks for itself.  It’s not really enough to sustain me through dark days, but it’s better than nothing.  I can at least be confident that while on paper my deadlines look firm and the repercussions for dallying feel dire, my advisor could care less and thinks I’m on track.

In related good news, the project really is going well.  I’ve hired Lewis to help me build a model for data analysis, and we’re getting help from a variety of fronts.  My advisor is an excellent networker, and he has been talking up my project to a rather famous psycholinguist who has been looking into similar questions with similar methods for analysis and has just published a paper much more like mine than any other I’ve seen so far.  He was kind enough to basically loan us the postdoc who built his model, and that postdoc is willing to either mod their model for us, or give us their model to mess with as we see fit.  It effectively adds an author to the paper I should be able to publish out of this, and it’s a massive help for our burgeoning pattern classification program too.  I’ve also gotten my hands on the book that fully describes the other stats model we’re using, which means I can finally try and understand the transforms we’re doing on our data to get the groupwise stats. Even better, those alternate groupwise stats are nearly done, and in doing so we may have finally figured out how to batch script the program I have to use, which means the next few rounds of manipulations should go much more quickly. So… things grind forward.  Slowly, but with distinct momentum.

All is not lost.

/ break

Today was the first day of Spring Quarter classes for me.  It went really well.  I’ve only got two classes this quarter, and they’re both things I’m sort of inherently interested in and professors I like.  Today was Historical Linguistics (i.e. language evolution) and it’s taught by a professor I’ve not had before, but who I rather enjoy.  I’ve been working with him a little on a creolization project, for which Lewis and I recorded stimuli a while back, and he’s someone I get along with very well.  He called me a ‘kindred spirit’ in class today, and we had some hearty conversation after class about some of the applications of theoretical phonology in the functionalist / non-formalist domains.  I really feel like he may be the last missing piece of the advisor Frankenstein I’ve been trying to build.  He’s not into neuroscience, but he’s very interested in the applications of cognitive science to phonology, as I am, and that puts him more squarely in my camp than most neuroscientists anyway.  His class is being run in a discussion-oriented manner, and I did a surprisingly large amount of talking today for a first class sort of day.  It’s nice to have a professor teach to you sometimes, which he tends to do since I’m really the only phonologist in the class, and I’m feeling quite up on the theory points we were debating today.  Anyway, it should be a good class and I think I may ask him to be on my committee before too long.

Other than that, I’m feeling generally really on top of things here.  I’m surprisingly confident about my project and my ability to do it and write a good paper from it.  I did my first fMRI scanner operating this past weekend and it’s certainly not hard.  After so much practice in the operator training, it doesn’t feel strange to stick people in the machine, and running the controls is quite straight-forward.  I thought it might be more scary than it really was, but it’s all so automated and the magnetic field is so basically harmless I don’t feel like I can do that much wrong.  I’ll be doing my next session this weekend, and I have the first date to try my own study booked already.  It’s coming up really soon, but I’m so excited to get it off the ground and get my first subjects in the scanner, I really can’t wait.  I keep telling myself that doing it at all is a laudable achievement in my own eyes – I’ve been wanting to do an fMRI study since I learned it was possible in my first lingusitics class.  I’m so excited that it’s finally going to happen, even if I don’t want to stick with cognitive neurolinguistics after this, I’ll be glad I had the chance to try it.

So it’s going to be a good quarter.  I’m being paid to do my own research this quarter in stead of TAing, and I’m taking a few units with my advisor for that same purpose.  I can’t help but finish getting my data together this quarter.  If only the analysis goes smoothly, I may well have this QP out on time!

Uncorrected Proof

Epic meeting with my advisor today.  He set up a regular weekly meeting with all his grad students, and I’m the lucky kid with the first meeting slot.  I thought this might make him less strung out than getting him later in line, but no.  As I should have expected, he had already bumped the meeting after me, and I was bookended by non-regular meetings which appeared to be a bit intense.  I do feel bad for the guy, but I guess when you’re hard to get a hold of, or are prone to forgetting required things, angry meetings do tend to crop up when you can be found.

Anyway, I did get my full hour meeting, and we talked over my research proposal.  Last night I dreamed that he was really disappointed with it and found it unprofessional and not the quality of work one would expect from a graduate student.  Today didn’t go as poorly as all that, though he wasn’t real excited about it either.  I think that’s his professional face, and I took it pretty well.  He made some changes to it that I am thankful for, like shortening the overall length and breadth of the experiment, and we hacked off even a good portion of the critical stuff.  So it will be a small, pilot-y type study, but it will give me the opportunity to do something quickly, without staking too much of my life on it.  And in the end, he thinks that we’ll still get a paper out of it, so what more could I want?  I get my free fMRI experience, and hopefully a publication.

The more interesting part of our meeting was the non-QP stuff.  Turns out all the leading questions he was asking me about the decisions I made in my proposal was so he could feel me out for a different plan.  He’s cooking up some sort of holy trinity of researchers and wants me to be the dedicated monkey/grad student for the project.  It’s entirely nebulous as of yet, but it involves liasioning with all three of the language researchers at the CMB and doing something that combines my strengths – sublexical phonology – with theirs (sign, music, fMRI).  It’s a huge undertaking, a thesis-level project for sure, and definitely more like the primordial soup which precedes creation than a tangible and easily managed plan. On the other hand, what better beginnings are there for ones PhD topic than your advisor waxing poetic about the clouds you could reach for and asking you if you would be the monkey/Moses to make something out of it.

To pat my own back here, I feel I must mention that he described me as someone comfortable working in a broad network of seemingly unrelated things and that I was able to think creatively and outside-the-box about things, and this is why he thought I would be the person to lead this effort.  It’s not at the zenith of complements, but coming from my awkward advisor, it was really nice to hear he thought well of me and had been thinking about my future.  Next up is a meeting with these three brains, and it’s going to be quite a trick to keep myself grounded in the fact that I know some things these researchers don’t, and have (am) the manpower they need, without feeling like I’m an inferior member of the group because they’re all brilliant tenured lab managers, and I’m just a dopey grad student unfamiliar with their work.

All-in-all, a very successful but grounded day for me.  And productive to boot!


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.


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!

A good word: cytoarchitectonics

Super productive day, but I don’t feel much like being expository tonight.  Mostly because I’m pooped!  List form it is:

  • Cogneuro class this morning – learned about EEGs.  Very neat!
  • Met with lab professor to set up research plan for this quarter.  Starting a Monday reading group (to count as my “directed reading”) and a Wednesday hands-on training deal.  Professor wants me to be trained to analyze the raw fMRI data he has collectd but not processed yet.  Also intend on starting a new study (to be partially directed by my interests?) and gathering pilot data already this quarter!
  • Spent a while at the gym doing generic cardio stuff (stairs, mostly) cause I think it helps destress me a bit.  Also tried an actual weight lifting device, and now my arms are sore in the strangest places!
  • Made oatmeal cookies with orange-essenced cranberries and white chocolate chips.  They turned out pretty good, for a recipe I hadn’t tried before.  Should bake them a little less next time.
  • Did a bunch of paper trolling (as in, reference chasing and google scholar browsing) for papers to start our reading group off with.  Too many choices already, but I found some really good background papers for myself at least.
  • Traced the pattern for Lewis’ PJs onto sturdier tracing fabric, and cut out all the pieces.  It’s starting to look like I’m doing something with this!

That’s all from me tonight.  This week is going crazy slow!

Structuralist / Anastructuralist

What a ridiculously successful day.  I don’t even really know where to start.  I’m really tired, I should have gone to bed hours ago when I got tired, but I’ve been on such a roll, and there’s so much little stuff I could be getting done.  Lately it’s been seeming like I don’t need as much sleep as I need to get stuff done.  In other words, I’m getting physically exhausted before I get mentally worn out, which is a rarity.  I think this is probably good.

So there’s not actually that much to report from the day.  Feeling of success is mostly stemming from the meeting with my research advisor this afternoon.  Before that I just had Quechua, and it went pretty well, though was sadly full of frustratingly unexplained new and strange grammatical junk.  I guess that’s always what I get in Quechua.  Anyway, after that I met up with my research advisor and sort of brain dumped everything I’d been working on, and through a series of things I don’t really want to rehash it seems that I’ve gotten him really excited about the direction of my project, and I’ve uncovered the threads from which I might unravel some of my fundamental misunderstandings of Optimality Theory.  I really can’t go over how much this excites me.  It’s like a choose your own adventure version of my mental life.  I do a lot of work, I turn a lot of pages, and with every page I turn, another little hint is dropped… thus a whole mental universe contained in pages connected to pages connected to pages.  My own mental labrinth.

I’ve gone astray.  Met later in the afternoon (after a trip with Lewis to Sams… mmm) with my TA professor for a tiny meeting on this week’s homework grading.  Another thing I can’t say enough of:  how nice this professor is to work with.  So far, at least, he’s been really considerate, pleasant, and amiable.  He also ascented to look over anything I need while I’m working on this phonology paper (as he is, in fact, a phonologist).  This is great.  I’m TAing for his Optimality Theory class, so it’s the perfect stage for us to get our brains together on the Optimality Theory portion of the paper I’m working on. As an added bonus, my graduate program advisor had just recommeded him to me as a likely candidate to be on my PhD committee if I am in fact going to go forward with a phonology thesis.  I can’t imagine doing otherwise, so good to get the relevant folks on my side earlier than later!

Saw a colloquium from John Ohala this evening, which was slightly less eventful than I might have hoped.  At first, his presentation seemed to be speaking directly to the conversation I had been having with my research advisor, but then it veered off in a different direction and left me wanting.  It was nice to see everyone I know all in one room at once though, since pretty much the entire lingusitics program – professors and graduate students alike – was in attendance.  It’s always good to see famousy linguists talk though, if for no other reason than it’s healthy to separate the reputation from the man and to see how peers interact in these environments.  I’d like to think I wouldn’t been so star struck as to avoid the risk of making a fool of myself in front of someone big-named  in favor of being meek.  It’s funny how much of my graduate school education lately seems to be learning to operate as an equal and valid individual in such a small field.

Tomorrow… doctors appointment, and only one class!  Also, perhaps, picking out new frames for my glasses!  Could be good times.

Green Thumbing It

Alien pod part, missing plant greenery

Alien pod part, missing plant greenery

It’s been really amazing having so much free time, and having gorgeous weather at the same time!  Today Lewis and I managed to move the mystery plants out of our soon-to-be-herb garden and into a shady spot below the tree in the corner.  It turns out our little plants (I do wish I had a name, or anything even google-able) have little root bulbs, like multi-rooted beets.  I was really surprised after I dug the first one up!   They definitely look like little alien creatures.  I hope they’ll do okay in their new location… they do look pretty hearty.

So that was the afternoon.  This morning we rolled out of bed fashionably late and got to our last welcome week seminar right on time.  It was an info session on using the UC library system, especially for the social science and humanities.  It was actually surprisingly informative.  It seems like the average incoming graduate student would know how to use a library, but either I’m rusty, or I never realized the extent of my privlages as an undergrad.  But there was also lots of good grad-specific stuff too, like how you can use the library for the classes you TA for, and what privliages a graduate student researcher gets (like getting a library proxy card for the professor you work for so you can check stuff out for them in absentia).  Another really sweet thing is that the way UCD runs things each subject gets assigned one of their librarians who is responsible for knowing generally their way around the resources of your field, so there’s actually a linguistics-ally inclined librarian just waiting to photocopy journals for me.  Yay!  The best part of the whole thing was perhaps that the librarians giving the presentation were really hilarious and entertaining people, and it made me really excited to start doing my own research.

Went straight from the library seminar to try out the ol’ UCD wifi network on my beloved lappy.  No glitches to speak of!  Got signed in, got on the network, and was off and running.  This makes my “things that I might not know how to make work on my linux lappy” list satisfyingly short.  I know networks can be a real beast, but I’ve had nothing but luck on my machine, and it’s been a total trooper since I got it.  Even managed to get streaming audio up and running last night, though I’m still stuck at getting flash in Opera (my own fault for using not-Firefox but I’m completely addicted).  All I’m saying is, as soon as we get Colbert Report videos working on this thing (actually they don’t work in Firefox for me either) I think I’ve got no “major” hitches left.  And that’s a pretty damn low-level major hitch.

The plant parts - I remembered!

The plant parts - I remembered!

A short run to the Co-op later, and we were home eating brie and apple sandwiches and contemplating our gardening triumph du jour.  I should remember to take a picture of those silly plants for the blog tomorrow, though they won’t be nearly as amusing now that they’re planted and you can’t see their little tuber-sacks.  Gardening pretty much sucked the life out of me this afternoon, so I read for a while on the lawn.  I’m really getting into my Flaubert, though it took me a while to warm up to it.  Cutest moment of the day happened about then, too.  We’ve been letting the Boo out in the afternoons to get his fill of fresh air and outdoorsiness, but he was distinctly less curious than he has been for the last few days.  I think at heart he’s an indoor cat that craves people more than he craves adventure.  Anyway, he had mostly been sniffing around for a few hours and seemed to have gotten pretty bored, but as soon as I sat down in the lawn he trotted right over to me making those little Boo blurts he does.  He sat down on my blanket, curled up against my leg, and was asleep mere moments later.  It’s as if he were waiting all day for someone to be doing nothing outside so that he could do what he wanted most – nothing.  With someone watching over him so he didn’t have to be nervous.

Which reminds me of the sort of sad event of the day, even if it’s only sad in a doting-parent sort of way.  Lewis was watering the newly relocated foliage, which is about as far from the hose spiggot as possible.  So the hose lives in this roll-up-house device for storage, that requires a lot of pulling to unravel.  The little plastic house isn’t secured to anything, so you end up pulling it across the yard a bit while you’re trying to get yourself more hose.  Anyway, the Boo was sitting nearby the hose house when Lewis pulled on it and it made a scary cement scraping noise and moved at him.  Our kitty panicked, like he always does, and tried to run inside.  Sadly, he was too scared to be paying enough attention to the door and ran right into the closed portion of the screen!  Nearly did it a second time, and then finally found the open part we had left for him for just this sort of emergency.  He was so mortified he didn’t go back outside all day.  Poor embarrassed and scared kitty!

Tomorrow should be great.  The only welcome week thing left is a coffee and bagels social, which sounds pretty tasty, and has flexible attendance hours.  After that, it’s major garden tackling time – I think we’re going to prep the rest of the beds in the back yard for planting, and if I’m still feeling frisky after that, maybe even move some of the herbs into their plot!  And with any luck, the Boo won’t be terrifying himself into any more silly predicaments.  All I could do was watch and go, “Aww.. oh no!”