Friday, 10 December 2010

Qualifying Exam

I passed my qualifying exam!!!! I think it went really well (all things considered) and spent the first half of yesterday being inordinately pleased with myself. It has been weighing on my mind for almost a year now - it is a long process, with two written and one oral component (plus supposed to be two meetings, but I only got one). I finished the initial written bit by mid-summer, but they couldn't schedule the meeting until September. Spent this semester stressing about the long written bit but got through it with the help of our postdoc, Alex. Then finally yesterday they got around to doing the oral exam. My labmate got pages of feedback to her written component (11 pages!), which the oral exam was based on, so that was what I was expecting. What did I get? Two sentences of feedback. So I was quite worried because I therefore had no forewarning of what to expect from the final. (I complained about the lack of feedback to the Chair, but he slapped me down with, "I can't believe you're complaining about NOT ENOUGH negative feedback!" He may have a point).

I felt like the meeting went really well. I DO know my stuff (thank you very much), and although I've never been a grade-grubber, I really like research and am therefore reasonably good at it. And luckily, that's what this exam was designed to measure. I definitely got more feedback from the meeting, some of it quite positive. There was one horrible moment when my supervisor asked me a question I had no idea how to answer, and there was a.... long.... uncomfortable...... pause......... while everyone stared at me. But then I just told him I don't know, said there didn't seem to be much in the literature on that point, and everyone moved on. At any rate, they only deliberated for a few minutes about whether to pass me (they send you out of the room! uncomfortable) so I guess that's good.

I'm proud of myself for how I am handling the pressure at the moment, too. Because I didn't know how to prepare for this exam, I was pretty stressed about it, and it comes during a week where I have to finish up all my work projects, mark 200 papers, and pack up and put my entire life into storage. But I've been trying hard to use exercise to manage the stress, and yesterday when I was nervous about the meeting I used my yoga breathing - sounds corny but works great! So I was able to walk in there feeling confident and somewhat relaxed, and paradoxically I think that always makes people go easier on you since you already seem capable.

Unfortunately yesterday didn't end as well as it started. I have a ton of papers to mark, and they're due in Monday (eek!), but I would have like to go out quickly to celebrate. My housemate was going out and said he'd text me when he got there. Needless to say... not a word (although I did get an apology text this morning). Guelph is reminding me more and more of how I felt in London.... NOT, I should note, a good thing. It's weird how some places you live work out right away, and some are just never going to be happy places. Generally speaking it comes down to the people. Fingers crossed Yale will be a good one (at least I already have one friend there!) and I can wrap up Guelph quickly. Getting past this exam is a huge step in that direction, for sure.

So on to the marking, the experiment-making, the paper-writing (we hope to have one ready to submit before I go!), the fMRI analysis, the packing, the moving and the leaving do. This is all going to be totally worth it when I get to spend an entire month with all my favorite people! (So screw you, Guelph.)

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

29 and counting

Officially my last week of being 29, holy crap. I wanted to do something awesome for my birthday (like get out of Guelph, for example) but unfortunately there's no time and money must be saved for my practicum*. Reggie has been hinting that she has something planned, which is awesome because true to form I have not planned a thing. I really wish I could spend the day with people who actually care about me (of which there are exactly zero in Guelph - luckily I'm importing Reggie, who moved to TO) but hopefully I'll have fun anyway and at least will get to see a huge amount of awesome people over Christmas and New Years.

Darn, though... if there was ever an excuse for a massive party or some kind of epic roadtrip... I just wish the timing had worked out! November birthdays are not ideal.

*Doing a practicum at Yale Jan - June, which should be pretty awesome, if perhaps insanely difficult. But exciting! Need I also point out, it's not Guelph...

Monday, 8 November 2010


Handed in my qualifying exam! So relieved. Sadly, I still have to do the oral defense, but I am very happy to be rid of the thing for now. I will have to do the defense sometime before Dec 10, so fingers crossed it goes well...

(The written component was a 10-page, five-year NSERC grant application: five years worth of experiments that are in my field but far enough from both my research and my supervisor's to be considered a unique line of research).

So this semester has been insane. Super intense. I've barely been keeping it together - I agreed to do an extra half-TA to try and save up some money for my practicum, but it's a lot of extra work (it's a stats lab, so lots of prep time and marking, plus the kids are constantly freaking out about something and emailing me). I've also been trying to get the qualifying exam done, of course, and have been auditing a Multiple Regression stats course as well. It's a subject I probably ought to know more about, but I don't need the credit so auditing seemed like a good idea... Also I'm supposed to be learning fMRI analysis, which has been stressful beyond words, and of course collect my data and do some writing to try and get some publications in. It's all important but I'm starting to flag a little.

But anyway, got a birthday next week (not that I've had time to think about it) and it's only five more weeks till I escape for Christmas, so I will just have to step it up and try to get everything done by then.

But! The written exam is handed in, so hooray!

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

City that never sleeps

The semester is over! Goodbye, semester, and good riddance.

It was another busy one - busy TAship, intense class with lots of reading and writing, thesis proposal, and so on.

But! Let us leave such depressing thoughts, because I just returned from N.Y.C.!

The trip was originally "planned" (and I use that word very loosely) as a spur-of-the-moment Saturday-through-Monday road trip before Reggie left town. However, by 2pm on Saturday someone thought to check the drive time, and the idea was abandoned when we realized that we would be driving about 24 hours in return for 48 hours total in New York City.

So, we postponed it till this weekend instead. As promised it was about 12 hours to get down there (although that included duty-free, stops, and two detours somewhere in upstate New York through various little two-bit towns) (where for some reason almost every house seemed to have a single metal star fixed to the wall somewhere...) but we arrived in Brooklyn by about 8pm. Had an excellent hostel party with two Kiwis, an Aspergers-style American and an Irish guy who had just finished cycling around the world when he got stuck in NY due to ashfall. Oh, and a bottle of tequila thanks to the duty-free. The Irishman was impressed by our stamina and the rate at which the bottle disappeared.

Saturday we were up with the lark and very excited to get into town. The subway was close by and easy enough to manage, so on the advice of the hostel desk-person we went to Union Square and made our way up 5th Ave all the way to Central Park. It was bizarre. In my head, New York was fictional. You constantly hear about all these places, but much like Narnia I suppose I never really expected them to actually exist. However, every block it seemed there was another oddly familiar landmark. Saw Broadway and thought of Hildegarde Dolson hanging out her window by her heels to see the lights; saw Times Square and thought of the cricket; saw Mott street and thought of "sweet pushcarts gently gli-ding by." We went to the Empire State Building but didn't want to cough up the $30 to go up it. We bought cheesy souvenirs and ate pizza cones and got bustled around in Times Square and spent most of the afternoon in Central Park. It was a glorious sunny day.

I was pretty exhausted after that but got dragged out anyway that night, to what turned out to be an awesome little dive bar. Got home late again and didn't get up so early the next morning, which was sad as it was my turn to choose an activity and I picked the Metropolitan Museum. We walked along Park Avenue to get there (no princesses in view, though) and got in for very cheap, due to a combination of a free ticket donated by a random Albertan guy in the hostel (who had been to Rocky and knew Shawna Ritchie; small world!) and student discounts.

It was amazing, of course. I loved every minute. I took a "highlights" tour to get an idea of the layout, and then just wandered around staring at everything for a few hours. The best part wasn't discovered until the very end, when my companions were champing at the bit to leave: a whole exhibit on illuminated manuscripts! There were the usual Bibles and books of hours, but the best part was a whole book about the life of St. Jerome, beautifully illustrated with minute, impeccable drawings. They were gorgeous - and totally hilarious. According to the illustrations, St. Jerome was a monk who took a thorn out of a lion's paw, and from then on the lion hung out with him at the monastery. Then one day the lion was in a field with the monastery donkey, and someone came along and stole the donkey. The monks blamed the lion and made him take over the donkey's old job, leading to an awesome picture of a lion carrying around bundles of sticks, complete with flourishes of gold leaf everywhere. But luckily the lion saw the donkey and rescued it, and from then on never had to carry sticks again. Or something.

The best St. Jerome story, though, involved the saint being woken by the bells after a heavy night's sleep. One of his colleagues (so said the explanation below) had nicked his usual monk's robe and replaced it with a blue woman's dress. Jerome, being half asleep, grabbed what he thought was his robe and donned it before hurrying to mass. Cue the illustration of the saint, running into mass, complete with halo and lovely blue dress. The look on the other monks' faces was priceless.

Anyway, sadly I didn't get to see the whole exhibit, and I think it was a temporary one. Boo - I don't suppose I'll be back before it finishes.

I was totally drained after the museum, meaning that when the neighbour suddenly decided to run for the subway as the doors were closing, I didn't quite make it aboard. All I knew was that they were planning to go to Soho to find dinner. However, I did have a map and after the shock of abandonment had subsided, went to Soho myself and found myself outside a gorgeous stationery shop called Kate's Paperie. Heaven! I was perfectly content there until the others turned up (I made them come to me for abandoning me in the big city!)

We had a lovely dinner at a wee place with a live band, where conveniently for me (if not for Andrea) the waitress totally forgot about one of the entrees. Cue free drinks for the whole table. The food was delicious, the service couldn't be friendlier, and that one guy in the band was totally getting into shouting the song lyrics in Italian.

After that the evening went downhill, as we went to look at a building site (formerly the World Trade Centre) in the pouring rain, and then to another dive bar where they managed to scrounge me a tea from somewhere (but served it in a tall glass such that it was impossible to drink without burning oneself before it got cold). I gave up early, being all old and whatnot, and went back to the hostel to chill while the others partied it up.

Monday was our last day. Sadly it was marred by a parking ticket (we were promised free parking outside the hostel, darn it!) and even more rain. However, on the way out of town we made one more stop, at the Staten Island ferry terminal. We went across to Staten Island, saw that Statue everyone keeps talking about, and then turned around and went back the other way. Got out of town by about 1pm, drove another 12 hours... and, back in sucky old Guelph. However, it did mean that for the first time all weekend I got a decent cup of tea...

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Sandy Balls

Bwah-ha-ha, these guys were our competitors when I worked at Forest Holidays in Edinburgh. Never failed to make me giggle.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Soap again

Wow, it's been a year since I moved to Guelph. Crazy. (also means I should be 1/3 of the way through my PhD, but let us not think about that). Which also means it's been about a year since I first tried making laundry detergent! I am still going strong with it. I have lost track of batches, but I think this must be about my fourth - so that is pretty good going for a whole year's worth of laundry. It cost me about $5 for the Borax, about $5 for the washing soda, and less than a dollar per bar of soap that goes into the detergent. Even if you get the cheapo store-bought detergent, that's significant savings (I still have 3/4 of a box left of both Borax and washing soda). Money far better spent at the pub, if you ask me.

Anyway, I made another batch last night and just wanted to update to note that I may have solved the texture problem. It seems that adding more washing soda makes the finished product more lumpy and gelly. This is fine to a point, but sometimes it doesn't dissolve properly in the washer and leaves soap spots on my clothes. This time, I made the soap and stirred everytime I went by while it cooled. Then, a few hours later when it was set, I poured in some boiling water (about a cup, maybe?) and stirred that all up like crazy. This dissolved all the lumps and now, the next morning, the whole thing has not reset into lumps but remains a nice, even, liquidy texture. I think I will add this to the standard process.

My recipe at this point is:

Dissolve one bar grated Ivory soap in 6 cups boiling water. Stir till dissolved.

Add 1/2 cup Borax and one cup washing soda. Stir till dissolved.

Pour into giant bucket and add 6.25L (25 cups) HOT water. Stir.

Let cool, stirring as often as possible.

When cool, add 1 cup (ish) boiling water. Stir vigorously to break up any lumps.

Use 1/2 cup to one cup (I use one due to Guelph's horribly hard water) as liquid laundry detergent.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


I am feeling very lucky right now. I am hesitant to admit it in case it bring on some kind of voodoo-like surge of bad luck. However, I had an amazing Christmas in Alberta and got to spend some time with some of my favorite people, and now I have a quilt project to work on and the lab to myself quite a lot, and a Del visit and trip to Alberta to look forward to in February. I am going to enjoy this while it lasts.