A brief look back on thesis writing

Aug 21 2013 Published by under Late-stage PhD student

Last week, I handed my thesis in to my readers. So before I get back to my snake training, I thought I'd share a few observations on the whole process that may be helpful for those of you about to embark on this journey.

1. Check your university's thesis format. They get picky about page numbering and font sizes and where figures/tables/illustrations can go. There's also the adjusted 1.5" left margin to account for the gutter area (oopsy poopsy). Have all these set beforehand, especially if you plan on embedding figures and tables in the text. Adjusting the format after the fact will invariably bump your figures and tables and texts all over the place.

2. Of all the things I thought would hurt from sitting all day everyday, hips never occurred to me. I imagine this is what having creaky, old door hinges for joints would feel like. I knew I should have kept up with my yoga.

3. If you plan on using Word to write your thesis: bookmarks are your friends. I used them to jump back and forth between sections of my thesis when the length got too unwieldy for simple scrolling up and down. (Still dreaming of a word processor that let's you scroll through a document horizontally rather than vertically.)

Also, you know all those periods in the table of contents? If you're about to manually type all of those, let me stop you right there. Use tabs with leaders and the decimal alignment if you want it all aligned to the right side of your page. Or you can have Word automatically generate one...if you have that much faith in Word.

4. If you live near your parents, milk that. I was able to convince them to bring me home-cooked meals. I'm kidding, I didn't ask. They offered, and it was awesome of them.

5. Half of my committee wanted my thesis as a pdf, and the other half wanted a hard copy. I had the hard copies spiral-bound at FedEx/Kinko's (or whatever they're called these days) where apparently, there's a limit to the size of a document they can have bound. They told me they would try to bind my thesis anyway. If you do this, insist that they call you if they encounter any problems. The person handling my order messed up the hole-punching on ~20 pages and ended up using photocopied replacements. If they had called to inform me of this goof up, I would have gladly reprinted those pages.

6. I didn't touch my computer or thesis for 48 hours after turning it over to my committee. I won't lie, there was quite a bit of separation anxiety.

Alright, bring on the serpent!

2 responses so far

Any advice for a Ph.D. student contemplating a leave of absence?

May 31 2013 Published by under Late-stage PhD student

Folks, I have a friend who just finished her first year of grad school and is wondering whether she rushed into this whole Ph.D. business (sound familiar?). Now she wants to take a leave of absence to get some "real world experience" before committing the next 5-6 years to finishing her Ph.D. I counseled her as best I could and told her to consider several things: 1) her department's policy wrt to taking a leave of absence, 2) how long of a leave did she want to take and whether "real world experience" jobs would hire her for that length of time, and 3) whether to do it before or after finishing her qualifying exam.

Thoughts?

31 responses so far

Racial disparities in accruing debt during graduate school

May 09 2013 Published by under Issues in Science

According to a new report from the American Institutes for Research, black and Hispanic STEM PhD students are more likely to accrue larger amounts of debt during grad school than their non-underrepresented minority (URM) peers (read: white, Asian, & biracial). The Chronicle of Higher Education article is a little clunky in trying to summarize a report that compares debt incurred by graduate students in STEM programs versus those in social, behavioral, and economic (SBE) programs. I suggest reading the actual report itself.

Figure 5. Graduate Student Debt for STEM Phd Recipients by Race-Ethnicity and Gender- 2010

The report also found that these disparities existed regardless of the source of funding (institutional vs external) or the time it took students to complete their PhD studies.

Other factors that may be worth exploring include the distance that students travel to attend graduate school, spending patterns during graduate school, the family commitments of PhD students during graduate school (e.g., marital status and number of dependents), and salary expectations after leaving graduate school. If graduate students’ spending patterns during graduate school are related to the expected financial pay-off of their PhDs, then differences in graduate student debt may be related to differences in students’ inflated estimates of their future salaries.

I'd add socioeconomic and debt status upon entering grad school to that list. Identifying which factors contribute to debt could help us better position students to shoulder less of it.

As graduate programs make more of an effort to recruit underrep'ed minorities, however, I wonder whether these disparities will become greater or smaller...

6 responses so far

Vetting My Outsider Reader Candidates

Feb 22 2013 Published by under Late-stage PhD student

I recently went through the process of choosing an outside reader for my PhD thesis. An outside reader is generally faculty from another institution (or sometimes another department) that is brought in “to keep the "inside" people honest, and make sure wacky things aren't going on.” Keep the funny business to a minimum.

Anyway, this was something I took fairly seriously. Influenced, perhaps, by my recent obsession with The West Wing, I came up with a shortlist of candidates and put them through vetting that would make the selection process of some vice presidential nominees look like child’s play (looking at you, McCain ‘08).
I applied multiple litmus tests to the candidates, such as how hir area of expertise would complement the expertise already present on my thesis advisory committee, hir working relationship with my PI, hir proximity to my institution, and of course, hir h-index (kidding). The process, in fact, wasn’t so dissimilar to picking faculty for my thesis advisory committee.

If you went through this as well, I’d like to hear how you chose your outside reader? What were some of your considerations? Or was it just another box to check off?

8 responses so far

Landscape-to-portrait switcheroo

Feb 07 2013 Published by under Late-stage PhD student

If you're like me then you probably prefer reading papers in, well...paper form. Even though I fancy myself a pro-digital kind of guy, I don't really enjoy reading pdf's on a monitor. Not being able to see the whole page of a paper onscreen just kills me. Yes, I know I can zoom out, but then the font's all extra tiny and shiz. Also, scrolling up and down is a pain in the ass.

Then, I noticed what a fellow grad student in the lab did, which I hadn't thought of before. He took his monitor and pulled the ol' landscape-to-portrait switcheroo. Boom, problem solved.

Portrait Monitor

Just turn the monitor dawg

*** UPDATE ***

The same graduate student just reminded me that PubReader offers an enjoyable web-based reading experience for papers archived with PMC--independent of monitor orientation.

5 responses so far