Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Love and Romance of LTL

Very recently, I've seen an intense integration of my work life and my personal life. My boyfriend, who is another graduate student in my department, is presenting at meetings in my research group. The purpose of these presentations is to educate my group's professors and graduate students on the main ideas of another research area of Computer Science.

This week, his presentation was rather reminiscent of how we met. We met during the qualification exam. We had been assigned the same paper to present to our respective committees; 61 pages of satanic verses on the topic of the synthesis of fault-tolerant concurrent programs. Recently, I heard the original copy of the paper was actually printed on human skin.

If you know me personally, you'll know that my research area has very little to do directly with Kripke structures, AND/OR graphs, CTL, or soundness and completeness. One could argue that any field of Computer Science is related to these fundamental methods of formalization, but such an argument annoys me. Instead, put yourself in the shoes of a second-year CS grad with a background in Electrical Engineering. It took me a couple of days to realize that the "U" in that paper was "Until" and not "Union." It was dire. It was not good. I was going to fail.

And so, that first time we met, he stood at a whiteboard and described the main points of Linear Temporal Logic. He spoke deliberately and quietly, with a slight Southern accent. I was in love, but it took me two more years to tell him so. Weeks later, I was presenting the paper like a pro, thanks in part to that lovely man.

It is very likely that no other person in this week's research meeting found my boyfriend's presentation romantic, but it really was.


In recent comments, folks visiting this blog have talked about that feeling of being in a "larvae stage" in graduate school. If I understand the commenters correctly, the larvae stage of one's life can be associated with frequently saying to oneself, "When I grow up, I will..." When I was in undergraduate school, I suffered from this larvae stage rather significantly, for I mistook life changes that proceeded the larvae stage with the simple obligations one has for living one's life.

This mistake manifested itself most in my health. In undergrad, I was always putting health-related duties off until graduation. "I'll lose all this weight when I have time, after I graduate." "I'll join a gym and exercise 4 times a week, after I graduate." "I'll go to the dentist when I have a real job and real benefits, after I graduate." As you might imagine, one year after I graduated, I weighed over 200 pounds and I had cavities.

Throughout my years of working as an engineer, and my initial years of graduate school, I still had lapses where I mistook life changes with living life. My second year of graduate school was an exercise in self-torture, allowing everything but my research to go to absolute hell. By third year, I was back to weighing over 200 pounds and I was crying every day. Fast-forward to this year. I swim three times a week, I bike when it's warm, and now that winter is almost here, I'm taking a weekly yoga class. I recently finished a 10 month stint in therapy in which I re-located my spine, and thus my ability to stand up to asshole professors. I'm published in my thesis topic. My romantic relationship is healthy. I still haven't gone to the dentist, but I realize--thanks in part to the commenters--that I've shed the little cocoon I used to live in.

I am larvae no more.

Rather, I am an adult who must balance her adult responsibilities to be a healthy, happy, and productive human being. I still have those days when I go home crying, but I make choices that can quickly bring me back to center, rather than wallow in self-pity. As for the big life changes, they are still on the horizon, but I cannot mistake those transitions for day-to-day living.

Now, if I could just get a decent paycheck.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

How to get a piece of me.

Two e-mails recently in which I've been requested to give my time to someone.


I am Student V, a graduate student advised by Professor K. I am about to take the qualification exam. Your advisor is on my qualification exam. and I would like 15 minutes of your time to discuss your advisor's research.

Let's dissect this e-mail. First, he notes that he is advised by Professor K, who has helped me immensely in the past. I figure that this Professor advised Student V to contact me. I feel like I owe Professor K, so this increases the chances that I will make time for Student V. Next, Student V notes a very specific issue to discuss, mainly my advisor as an audience member in a qualification exam. Finally, the amount of time being requested is very reasonable. This Student V and I will be meeting this week.

Next e-mail:


My name is Worker A and I m working for Motorola as Software Engg. I was browsing through the GradShitTownVille University research page and found you.

I m interested in operating systems and computer organization areas. But still not sure which one I should pursue. I might want to go for a MS /PhD. I need some information regarding the same. Do you think you can spare some time ?

Let's dissect this e-mail. First, it's very apparent that the author was just "browsing" since he asks no question in particular about me or my research area. He is interested in two different areas, not particularly related to me, and wants general information about graduate school. He obviously failed to note the "Graduate Student Resources" link on my personal website, or he would have found the list of links answering this question. Finally, he is asking me to spare "some" time, but to discuss what? I am not a professional guidance counselor. I replied to him with a list of links, but I did not agree to meet with him.

Friday, September 01, 2006

A Bad Good Day

This morning I woke up "knowing" that I would receive a paper rejection today. All day long, a stone sat heavy in my belly, made up of equal parts of 1) hopelessness, 2) weak hope, and 3) dread. Typically, my paper rejections involve a couple of days of crying, tearing hair from my head, and threatening to quit the PhD. To compound the emotional difficulty of rejections, my advisor has told me I cannot do my prelim until I have more publications, so another rejection would only prolong my time-to-degree.

All day long, little good things kept happening. The long-awaited book I requested from the library arrived. I didn't screw up too badly in Japanese class. I didn't crash my bike into a stupid undergrad. I ran into a friend that decided to stick with the PhD just a little longer. I had a quick coffee break with a friend. I watched a well-organized practice defense. And during all these good little things, the stone remained in my belly. I figured such good things were just a portent for the bad thing to come.

I waited at school this evening for the bad news I expected via e-mail. I didn't feel like putting both my boyfriend and my father (who is visiting for two months) through the torrent of tears that would come. I could rely on Friday night's empty building to give me the opportunity to cry privately in a bathroom stall.

Carrying that stone all day long in my belly, only to find out 10 minutes ago that the paper was accepted.