Posted by: unlikelygrad | July 16, 2014

A tribute

People always tell me that they’re impressed by what I’m doing–going to grad school as a single mom with four kids.  I’m not saying that’s nothing–but it’s nothing compared to my best friend.

C was a single mom until a couple of months ago. She has four kids: two biological kids from her failed marriage (both adults as of last year) and two kids (her biological grandchildren–which is scary since she’s my age) adopted after her divorce.  Both of the younger ones have mental and physical health issues.

Despite this, she’s also a grad student (currently working on her M.S.N.,  going for her D.N. in the fall).  She was working as an E.R. nurse until a couple of years ago, when she was in a serious car crash that left her with brain and spinal injuries and severely restricted her ability to lift.  That ended her career as a duty nurse.  Last year they attempted to fix her cranial/spinal issues with a major surgery…in the middle of the school year.  She ended up getting a B in one of her classes instead of an A.

Last month, after a rather severe recurrence of symptoms, she was scheduled for another surgery.  They just finished that half an hour ago, after 10 hours in the OR.

C is one of my heroes.  She’s smart (despite memory impairments), sassy (but loving), nerdy (“Here, let me show you my MRIs and explain them to you!) and doesn’t know how to give up.  Having her in my life has been a blessing.

Posted by: unlikelygrad | July 15, 2014

4 1/2 girls in one room

A couple of days ago we had a meeting to discuss some final changes to an about-to-be-submitted paper.  This paper has four authors, and all four are female.  One (our collaborator from New England) couldn’t be there in person–she’s the half-person alluded to in the title.

The four whole girls in the room were me, Dr. Hand-Waver, MacGyverina, and Baby MacG.  MacGyverina, who’s working half-time right now, has arrangements for Baby MacG for the two days a week she’s in lab; the rest of the time she tries to work from home.  The meeting fell on one of her at-home days, so she just brought the baby with her.

Dr. HW was busy explaining one of the issues to us when she stopped, looked at the two other adults–who were playing peekaboo with the baby–and asked, in frustration, “Are you listening to me?”  We assured her that we were.   She had a dubious look on her face, but finished explaining the issue anyway.  Then she punted the discussion to me.

And then, not five minutes after she’d all but chewed us out, I caught her making goofy faces at the baby as I tried hashing out the issues I had with our discussion session.

Needless to say, it was a highly amusing (and very informal) meeting.

Posted by: unlikelygrad | July 2, 2014

dragggggging on

Dr. Hand-Waver found money to keep MacGyverina on through the summer–which is good, because we encountered a Crisis of Epic Proportions with our diatoms last spring and we didn’t get all the data we needed for our joint project.  MacG came back from maternity leave a few weeks ago and we are diving back in.

In the mean time I’ve also been working on my last project, which involves bacteria.  Bacteria stink and so do their assorted growth media.  I had to start out by making growth curves which, unfortunately, involved taking readings every 2-3 hours for ~40 hours.  This involved sleeping at school (in a sleeping bag on the floor of my office) for 2 consecutive nights.  (I had to time the growth curve so that it didn’t interfere with my parenting time.)

At this point the Pacific Paper is with our collaborator, waiting for her final input before submission; and the astrobio paper is hopefully in its final form and ready for submission (my parts are done for sure), though I think some of the other co-authors had a bit of feedback.  It seems like the more authors you have on a paper, the slower the revisions go.

At this point my goal is to defend my dissertation in December.  Hopefully my experiments will all go as planned from here on out…HA!

I’m getting pretty sick of grad school.  I am sick of being poor.  I have thoughts, from time to time, of leaving ABD since I now have enough skills to get a pretty good job.  Unfortunately, what I really want to do is teach at the college level…and I do need to finish my Ph.D. for that.

In the mean time, I frequently find myself watching this video:

Posted by: unlikelygrad | April 10, 2014


Today, right after lunch, I meet with my committee to talk about my thesis proposal.  Writing the beast has made me realize exactly how much I have accomplished, even though I still don’t have a first author paper.  (I’m working on it and I hope that that will change soon!)  I was very happy to hear that the “proposal defense” was not an adversarial process.


Yesterday I was in with Dr. Hand-Waver, going over my presentation for today, when the provost and the department head stopped by.  Evidently her promotion was authorized yesterday afternoon; she’s now a full professor. So congratulations, Dr. Hand-Waver!!

Posted by: unlikelygrad | March 31, 2014

Welcome little one!

MacGyverina had her baby girl  last weekend!  I went over to the hospital yesterday and held the Adorable One for half an hour.

I always forget how small they are when they come out.  When I picked her up, I asked MacG if she were smaller than usual.  No–she was over 7 pounds.  That’s not small for a newborn, but it is small for a human being in general.

We haven’t submitted our paper yet (still waiting for Dr. HW’s final approval–she’s been swamped and is going out of town this week) but it’s mostly put together.  We’ve even started filling out the submission form.

In the mean time, I’m writing like mad.

Posted by: unlikelygrad | March 21, 2014

The changing face of the Hand-Waver lab

For a long time, the Hand-Waver lab consisted of me and DannyBoy. We then got a postdoc, MacGyverina, and a couple of undergrads, Jim-bob and Earnestine.

I don’t think I’ve updated the lab roster since then, though there have been a lot of changes. We also had a third undergrad, Diana, during roughly the same time period. Both Jim-bob and Earnestine have graduated; Diana, who completed her required year of research, is still around but doesn’t bother coming around any more. We now have undergrad #4, whom I’ll call Midnight. I don’t interact with him much, for reasons I’ll explain shortly.

About six months after MacGyverina showed up, we acquired a second post-doc, hereby known as PatchyGenius. He was hired to do work in a field that’s only somewhat related to what MacG, DannyBoy, and I do; he got Midnight as his assistant. Thus, the lab is now split into two factions. Our latest acquisition, a master’s student I’ll call Barty, is also squarely in Faction #2.

I just got word yesterday that we will be getting a new Ph.D. student in the fall. (I think she seems like an ‘Alice’.) Hallelujah! She will be picking up where I leave off and I may get the privilege of mentoring her this summer. I met her at prospective grad weekend and she seems smart and curious.

The lab is still only at 6 people (MacG will be leaving before Alice arrives) which is quite a manageable size. I’m glad that Dr. Hand-Waver is finally getting, and maintaining, a good-sized group.

Posted by: unlikelygrad | February 24, 2014

pub list

Dr. Hand-Waver and I have sort of been at loose ends about what to do with my field data.  In all cases I was in areas where the stuff I was measuring existed right at (or just below) the limit of detection for my methodology, so my numbers are flaky at best.  As of late last week we finally sorted that mess out.

Here’s the list of pubs I’m likely to have when I defend my dissertation:


  • Diatom survey paper (as written as we can get it, until we get the last few dribs and drabs of data…hope to submit by April though)
  • Bacteria paper (not really started–luckily there’s almost no previous pubs on this work, so I don’t have to do too much in the way of lit review for the paper)


  • MacGyverina’s Pacific paper (mostly written, except for the parts I’m sending over today; will be submitted by mid-March)
  • MacG’s Scripps/methodology paper (not written, though my parts are mostly written up.  MacG writes fast though.)
  • DannyBoy’s freshwater survey paper (needs one more round of edits before it gets submitted, hopefully by March or April)

One of many authors (fourth or fifth)

  • MarsGirl’s astrobiology paper (on last round of edits before submission)


* * *

MyU has a publication requirement for graduation.  Three first-author pubs, of which two must actually be published (not just submitted) by defense date.  Exceptions can be made, and have been made, for people who have engaged in lots of team projects and therefore have a number of second-author pubs.

Obviously, I have to go the latter route.  Dr. HW is pretty confident that three second-author papers will be good enough, in the department’s eyes, to sub for a first-author paper.




Posted by: unlikelygrad | January 22, 2014

things that drive me nuts

People who generate lots of dirty glassware and leave it next to the acid bath hoping I will clean it.

Cole Parmer changing the order number on stuff I’ve been ordering for years.

People who think there is only one right way to do things in lab (e.g.: keep a notebook, etc.) who tell you off for not doing things their way.

My chocolate allergy.  And people who really ought to know by now that I have a chocolate allergy, who give me chocolate as presents.

Slow wi-fi in my office caused by 300 undergrads using their smartphones etc. during lecture (I’m very near the big lecture hall).


That’s enough ranting for today.  We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.

Posted by: unlikelygrad | December 27, 2013

recipe for disaster

For some reason, when I do a lot of writing, my body craves sweets like you wouldn’t believe.

I am doing a lot of writing right now, and the house is full of Christmas cookies, Christmas candy, etc.

Needless to say, I do not want to step on the scale.

Posted by: unlikelygrad | December 21, 2013

any environmental chemistry undergrads out there?

Dr. Hand-Waver would like to take on at least one new grad student next year.  So if you have any interest in doing environmental aquatic (mostly redox) chemistry, let me know and I will get you connected!  I can promise that there will be field work involved.


Older Posts »



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 37 other followers

%d bloggers like this: