Some sciencey dissertation talk – I’m feeling good about this!

I had a nerve wracking, gut wrenching morning yesterday as I pored over dissertation data that was messed up – it just didn’t make sense. Some scales were beautifully normally distributed but completely unreliable, others were showing me a mirror image, backwards effect from what past literature told me to expect. Something was WRONG. I contacted the techy guy I have running my survey program for me in New York (I’m a Canadian collecting American data), and asked him to send me the absolute raw data – no fancy scripts used in the export file, not even changed from the raw labels (e.g., “strongly agree” before it gets changed to a computable value of “5”). He got me the file by 7pm, but I was putting Avery to bed and wasn’t out of her room until 9 (poor little bug has been taking a long time to fall asleep lately, writhing around itching her eczema flare up). I worked on that file until after midnight, and started up again as soon as I’d dropped Avery off at daycare this morning. By 10am, I had solved the mystery through careful detective work and meticulously doing by hand all coding and reverse scoring. The data was fine! The messed up appearance was caused by an error made by my techy survey software guy when he wrote script to code and reverse score before exporting to me.

That felt good.

What felt even better? The data was better than fine. It was AMAZING. I’m collecting my data in batches so I can ensure it’s all going to plan before spending ALL THE MONEY on the full sample; in the mere 79 person sample I have right now, I was actually getting significant effects on two of my hypotheses. For anyone who knows stats, you know how AWESOME this is. Not to mention the validation I feel in the face of two of my committee members who approved my proposal despite admitting their utter skepticism that I’d find any effects. So now I’m in full-steam-ahead recruiting mode for batch two, and if everything still looks good when I look at that, I’ll be able to finish data collection in 6 weeks. I mean, my original goal was to start collecting in September and get it all in 2 weeks, but we all hit bumps in the road when dissertating. It ALWAYS takes longer than we expect.

But I least my hypotheses are being supported. Go me!

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“Your startup disk is almost full”

I don’t really know computers that well. I rely on my computer for all of my PhD work, and it stresses me out that I don’t know how to keep my computer running well in times of need. For a long time now, my mac has been giving me a pop-up warning that says, “your startup disk is almost full.” Recently, it has been crashing. I’ve had to get in the habit of saving my large data files every couple of minutes because excel and SPSS (my stats software) are crashing. Microsoft word is crashing. This is terrifying for someone who’s life’s work is wrapped up in these three programs. I back-up to dropbox, but I’m still terrified.

And today I am so frustrated that I cried. I finally got round one of my dissertation data, and I need to clean it and analyze it before collecting the next round of data. My programs won’t stay open long enough to work on analysis. I googled how to clean my startup disk, and it seems that no matter what I delete, no space opens up. My storage is taken up by a category called, “other”. I have no idea what’s taking up my entire hard drive, and I don’t know how to get rid of it. I feel helpless. I am eating chocolate and pouting and hoping that it will miraculously cure itself.

Any help will be gladly accepted.

Canadian Thanksgiving and other random updates

I’m not exactly keeping up with the daily posts for #blogtober, so far… But it’s because we’ve been away for the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend and bouncing from one family gathering to the next. At my in-laws, Avery got to spend quality time with her two cousins. One is just 5 months older than her, and the other is 2 months old. She gives her baby cousin gentle kisses on the head, and she strokes her little arms and legs and touches her fingers and toes. She’ll just sit next to her and watch her with a look of wonder and tenderness in her eye. So that makes us definitely want to give her a sibling.

When we leave family get togethers, we almost always rant for half an hour in the car as we drive away, or one of us will be crying from something a family member said or did. Family. It’s complicated.

In other news, I’m anxiously awaiting my PhD data… Data I have collected so far has not looked as expected, which is not good. It’s taking longer than I expected to collect, too. Right now we’re (loosely) planning to have baby #2 after I’ve worked for the minimum of 600 hours required to collect employment insurance. To work, I need to first get a job. To get a job, I need to first defend my dissertation. To defend, I need to write it. To write it, I need data. Data that works out for my hypotheses. So there’s a lot of pressure on getting that data collected and getting it to work out for me.

And that’s pretty much all that life involves right now – family stuff and school pressure. Thankfully, we have an amazing kid to help us find joy in the everyday moments.

Duty Calls: Balancing work & family

We’ve been away every weekend this summer, we’ve been sick a lot making for a lot of missed daycare, and our daycare provider is on holidays this week. I haven’t been getting work done. Tonight, my wife is primary caregiver while I sit at a restaurant/lounge and do some work over a pint.

It feels different than it used to to sit at this place and work. When you’re a parent, part of your brain is always on your child(ren). I can’t get lost in my work like I used to. I know my wife will be totally fine with the full bedtime routine because she has been doing so well putting Avery to sleep since we weaned, but I feel shitty about the way I had to leave Avery tonight – I had to sneak out. I tried saying goodbye in a casual, non-chalant way – “see ya later, sweetie, I have to go do some work,” but she started screaming and clung to my legs begging to be picked up. So we got her distracted with some fun task and I snuck out.

She has been very sensitive about my absence lately. You can see her get nervous as bedtime approaches, not knowing if she’ll get me or her Mo. We have yet to settle into a new routine regarding which one of us puts her to bed. I’ve put her to sleep twice now, and it has gone fairly well both times. We’re going to settle into a two-nights-on two-nights-off schedule so that bath night (which happens every other night) isn’t always the same parent’s responsibility. The parent who gives her her bath and gets her ready for bed won’t be the same parent who reads her books in bed and lays with her till she falls asleep. She’ll get both of us every night. She just has to get used to the new normal.

I’m still in a “I miss breastfeeding” phase.I feel like I’ve lost a superpower. But I know it’s not a real regret, just nostalgia. And Avery only asks for milk once every other day or so now, and doesn’t get upset when I remind her that it’s all gone. She has been such a strong little person.

Glimpses of a passion for more than motherhood

When I became a mother – literally, the second my daughter was born and placed on my chest – I lost all interest and passion for anything else in my life. My evaporated passion for research, psychology, and career was worrisome for my wife and others in my life because they feared I’d never return to school to finish my doctorate. My wife, particularly, had lost a part of me that she’d always found attractive – one of the things that drew her to me as a partner was my passion and drive toward my dream career.

In the time since I became a mother I’ve found the patience and determination within me to continue working on my doctorate, but the passion hadn’t returned. Very recently, however, I met with someone I used to volunteer with and we got talking about teaching, teaching theory, and adult learning. That was always one of my passions and a part of the dream career I used to envision for myself, but it, too, had fizzled out. But as we talked, I felt a tiny spark ignite in my brain (or in my soul, maybe), and I started to feel passion for teaching again. I started to feel excited to get back in the classroom. I started to yammer on and on about adult learning theory. When the conversation ended, my excitement diminished again over the course of the day. But it’s almost as if a pilot light had been re-lit. Now it takes less to trigger me into excitement over the research and theory I used to be passionate about.

Today I was randomly wondering why women are expected to make so much noise during sex, and men aren’t. I Google Scholar’ed it and started reading feminist research on sexuality and I felt hungry for it, like I couldn’t ingest enough of it. I started to crave a good conversation on the topic and wanted to call up a peer who specializes in this area and go for a coffee.

This kind of passion for knowledge, for reading academic articles, for critiquing theory and methods, had been gone for so long. But I’m catching more and more glimpses of that old side of me. I’m hopeful now that I might actually return to wanting something more for myself than motherhood alone. I’m hopeful for this because I don’t want to deny myself of the career I’d always dreamed of because of the way I feel about motherhood RIGHT NOW. I don’t want to wake up one day feeling less completely consumed by motherhood and realize that I’m discouragingly far away from that dream career that I had been so close to before motherhood.

How I’m surviving grad school as a parent: admitting my privilege

There may be readers here who are student-parents, or who are thinking of going back to school after having a kid. I want to be transparent with my experience, and how it has been so doable for me. There are actually a few ways that my privilege is helping me succeed in a usually adverse, immensely challenging combination of jobs, including having a steadily employed spouse who pays a lot of our expenses, affordable rent in a nice house thanks to my mother, extremely affordable part time daycare, and more. Here I’m going to focus on the story of my PhD advisor, and how having support for your family priorities from the person who decides if you graduate or not can make or break you as a student.

My PhD advisor is the bomb diggity. He says that because he was never a parent, he takes out his “mothering instinct” (as he calls it) on his grad students. He treats his students with compassion, patience, encouragement, genuine belief in us, and he throws research money at us to make our work as efficient and impactful as possible. And right now he is on the cusp of retirement and only has two grad students – me and one of my best friends. His partner is an amazing, kind, supportive, and intelligent woman who also happens to be on my advisory committee. My school-world is as perfect as it possibly could be.

I’ve been working with my PhD advisor for 7 years. He was my undergraduate thesis advisor and my Master’s advisor. He wasn’t taking on new students anymore when he first started working with me – he had transitioned from a faculty position to become Vice President of Academics at the university, and didn’t have time to advise students. But as a 3rd year undergraduate planning my 4th year research project, I marched into his executive office with confidence and all the charm I could muster, and convinced him to take me on as a supervisee. He saw something in me – he says now he knew we would work seemlessly together and that I would be low maintenance, and he made a personal committment to see me through to the end of my studies, no matter how long that might take (he probably never imagined it would be 7 years and counting!).

He is the reason I was accepted into grad school. Admittance to the program required a 90 GPA. I had an 80 GPA. But the most important factor to admittance was having an advisor lined up and willing to pay at least some of your stipend. He backed me up and I was admitted to a program I still feel I wasn’t good enough for.

My advisor and his partner attended my wedding. He visited my home after my daughter was born and gifted her an adorable boutique outfit (and me a fancy bottle of wine). He frequently held advisory meetings over lunch at a restaurant so he could treat his students to a meal (and a drink, if they wanted). When I defended my Master’s thesis, he took me and all of my support people who attended out for a beer.

When my peers have complained about having to pay their research participants compensation out of their own pockets, I know I am privileged to have an advisor who pays all of my research expenses, including my tuition for the past couple of years. When my peers complain about having to pay their own way to conferences, I feel guilty that my advisor begs to send me someplace luxurious like Paris or Lisben for conferences (if only I liked to travel).

I really don’t know how I would have survived grad school without him as my advisor. I probably wouldn’t have completed it.

That’s not to say that you can’t do parenting and studenting successfully at the same time, but it may not be as easy as I make it look as I blog about spending time with my toddler, gardening, and generally not stressing about school.

30 Days of Blogging, Day 15

I’m sitting at a coffee shop drinking a double shot mocha and I’m about to read a book. It’s my first self care act in months and months and months. I also just came from getting my legs waxed. I may be alone on this, but the feeling of having individual unwanted hairs ripped from their roots is really freeing and satisfying, and it gives me a bit of an adrenalin boost to boot. 

The reason I can do this today is that I submitted my final proposal draft to my advisor at 10pm last night and now it’s on its way to my committee – the committee of “deciders” who will fingers crossed approve my proposal so I can start this bloody experiment already and finish my PhD one day. 

In case anyone’s wondering, the book I’m now settling into is The Soul of Discipline, by Kim John Payne. He also wrote Simplicity Parenting, which I reviewed in a post a while back. I’ll let you know how this one turns out.