Archive for the ‘grad school’ Category

Good things

February 8, 2011

Trying to focus on the positive; I’m writing this list before I start studying for the evening to remind me of all the good things going on right now:

  • Today was the first real sunny day we’ve had in a long time.  Even though the high temperature today was only 18 degrees, the cold is more tolerable when the sun is shining.
  • I saw the sunrise on my way to class this morning for the first time.  Last month it was dark when I woke up and when I left my house.  Not anymore.  Every day the sun rises earlier and earlier, which means that winter is slowly but surely giving way to spring.
  • Despite the amount of work I have, I always give myself Sunday mornings to do whatever I want.  This typically involves having a leisurely cup of coffee and a pastry at a cafe, then going for a walk in the park.  This Sunday I walked through Argo Dam park right after a fresh snowfall, and it was awesome.
  • Comet Coffee is right across the street from the computer lab where I study, allowing for easy access to delicious beverages during study breaks.
  • I got an A on my first chemistry exam.  Sure its in the introductory chapter/the easy stuff, but still an accomplishment and a much needed confidence booster.  My next exam is in 2 days.
  • Good times with good people are in store for me this weekend.  I just have to rock this chemistry exam, finish a homework assignment, and catch up on a week’s worth of reading that I’ve neglected, and I’ll be able to enjoy the weekend.

Spring Break?

February 27, 2010

My spring break starts as soon I click “submit” on my biostats midterm on the course website; which should be in about a half hour.  So ends one of the busiest, most stress-filled weeks I’ve ever had.  One lab report, two presentations, three midterms, and five homework assignments all in this one week.  Taking 9 classes in one semester = not recommended.  I feel like my grades are not that great this semester.  I’m taking so many classes that its hard for me to find the time to really learn all the material.  I feel like I’m doing to the bare minimum amount of work, just enough to get by, because that’s all I have time to do.

Over my spring break, I have 3 interviews for summer internships, one of the requirements of my program.  One is in Pittsburgh for a big bad environmental consulting firm and the other two are back in the city.  Monday I’m driving from Michigan to Pittsburgh, do the the interview, then drive from Pittsburgh to New York.  I can do it, right?  I have no GPS because I don’t trust them, but I do have a lot maps.

It’s been snowing for 5 days straight here.  There’s a big snowstorm hitting New York right now and it is all over our local news.  But snow for 5 days in a row?  No big deal, it is not even a news story, just part of the forecast like normal.

Tomorrow I have to dig my little car out of two feet of snow to go shopping for something to wear for my interviews.  I haven’t had a real job interview in like, 5 years.  Do people still wear suits to these things?  I don’t even know.

I think I’m going to look over my biostats midterm one more time, click submit, and then I might just go to bed and catch up on all the sleep I missed this week.  Spring Break ’10! Bring it on.

2am meditations over dying embers

January 18, 2010

Today I hosted my first party.  I invited a few friends over for a s’more making party, because there’s an awesome working (!) fireplace in our house.  I made marshmallows, and my roommates made graham crackers.  We had cozy drinks, sat around the fire and played games.  I was a little nervous about hosting a party, but it actually turned out fine.

Everyone left late, around 1:30 in the morning.  Then I realized I had the whole downstairs of the house to myself; my roommates having gone to bed earlier.  It was nice to move around the house alone, cleaning up the kitchen, living room and dining room.  I used to live alone before I moved into this house with 4 other people.  I had forgotten how luxurious it is to be alone in your home.  There were still embers glowing the fireplace.  I was tired but didn’t want to go to sleep.  I was not ready to leave the fire.  I turned out all the lights and sat in the dark staring into the embers.

I took in the smell of smoke. Scent is the strongest sense tied to memory. My dad was a firefighter and always came home from work smelling like smoke.   I would run to give him a hug when he got home, and smell the smoke in his hair and on his clothes.  Smoke meant my dad was home.  A little over 10 years ago, my dad was elected union rep for the firefighter’s union.  He no longer worked in the fire house.  He worked in a office, wore a suit and tie, and worked regular 9 to 5 hours.  He has not come home smelling like smoke for years.  And now when I smell it, it reminds me of being a little kid, feeling excited that my dad was home, and giving him a hug.

I took in my place right now; in grad school, in Michigan, away from friends and family.  I took in the fact that I was doing OK here for myself.  I had just a houseful of people, who came over because I invited them and because they were my friends.  I admitted to myself that despite this, I still have problems making friends.  Stupid things get me down.  For example, if I see on my news feed on Facebook that a few of my friends from school became friends with someone else from school who I don’t know.  I think, how come they all know this person and are friends with them, but I’m not?  Did they have some party that I wasn’t invited to?  What other fun and cool stuff will they do without me?  All of these stupid paranoia thoughts go through my head.  And that has got to stop.  All it does it make me feel bad about myself and make me doubt myself.

I have a memory from kindergarten that I always think of whenever I doubt myself.  We are learning about numbers.  My teacher asks the class to name a number that starts with the letter “z”.  No one can answer the question.  I think really hard about a number beginning with “z”.  Then suddenly, I have answer.  I raise my hand but the teacher doesn’t call on me.  I wiggle and squirm around in my seat; I am so excited that I have this answer and no one else in the class does!  I notice the girl next to me calmly raises her hand.  Finally I can’t keep it in anymore and I yell out my answer: “a zillion!”  I am so pleased with myself.  Without missing a beat, the girl next to me (after being called on by the teacher of course) calmly answers “it’s zero.”  She’s right.  I feel my face turn red.  I’m embarrassed and shamed.  I was so sure I had the right answer, I yelled out of turn, I was wrong, I made a complete fool of myself, and now everyone things I’m stupid.

I always think about why, after all these years, I still remember that incident and think back on it a lot.  I guess it was the first time I ever felt embarrassed and bad about myself, or realized that other people might think badly of me.  And it really made an impact on me.  Even now, 20 years later, I’m still afraid of calling out the wrong answer.  I’m still afraid of looking bad in front of others.  I like to think that I’m strong and independent and don’t care what others think of me.  But now I do, especially now when I’m trying to make new friends and I’m in a new place.

All of these thoughts came to me as I sat in the dark alone, staring into the embers; smelling smoke and feeling like a kid again.  I took in the fact that I have to let those feelings go.  I am not a kid anymore and I don’t want to be  afraid.  I have to let all the stupid Facebook-induced paranoid feelings about not being accepted just wash over me.  Just release it and let go.  It is not important.  I don’t want to spend all my time stressing about making friends instead of actually hanging out with people  and making friends.  What’s important is the time I spend with people, and not the time I spend thinking about it.

And with that in mind I came upstairs to put everything into words.  And now I’m ready for bed.

Just a thought

December 15, 2009

I am right in the middle of end-of-semester craziness.  For the past five days or so I have spent 10 to 11 hours a day studying for finals and working on various take-home final exams.  Most nights I am holed up in the medical school library (I’ve discovered that this library is the quietest library on campus) until midnight trying to finish all my work.  And I just wanted to state that I love being in school.  Despite the enormous workload I have, or maybe because of it, I feel so lucky and happy to be here.  I am happy I no longer work at my former place of employment.  No matter how much schoolwork I have and no matter how much I may complain about it, being a student here is better than working 8 hours a day at a job that I hated.  It has been a tough semester, my grades will probably be no better than C’s or B’s; but who cares, it is only my first semester and I will probably do better next semester.   Because with everyday that passes, I become more accustomed to being a student again and I become more confident about the quality of my work and my ability to succeed at this school.  I am happy I made the decision to come here and I am very lucky to be here.  I have been telling this to myself over and over, and as a result I’ve remained (relatively) calm and positive throughout this stressful finals week.

Today, I hand in one take home final (editing now), two final problem sets (finished).  Tomorrow I hand in another take final (finished but needs editing) and take one final.  Another final on Thursday, and another on Monday, and then I hop on a plane Monday night and go home.  And then it is Christmas!  Time is flying.

Too Busy To Read . . .

October 11, 2009

. . . but I’ve checked out some books from the library anyway.  The University of Michigan has the best. library. ever.

I have work-study job at the bird library in the university’s Museum of Natural History, where I can geek out and read all the bird books I want, or look at stuffed dead birds from around the world, or look through the telescope that points to the top of the bell tower where a pair of peregrine falcons often hang out.  Sometimes I have to do work, for example go through boxes of books donated to the bird library from bird scientists from around the world to see if the library already owns them.  And I realized, we have everything.  A Field Guide to Birds of Manitoba published in 1903?  We have that.  The Incubation Period of the American Coot published 1891?  We have that too.  People, if you need any bird-related book or journal article from any year from any country, I can totally hook you up.

I took out some books related to my program, even though I won’t have to time read them.  I just like having them around.  I leave them in the dining room and when I have spare moment during breakfast or dinner I like to randomly open up to a page and read for a little.  It’s odd but I really miss taking public transportation. Walking and driving everywhere feels so isolating.  Plus I have no more designated reading time.  Anyway, here are the books I checked out and hopefully will one day read:

Hazardous Waste Sites: The Credibility Gap by Michael Greenburg

Dangerous Premises: An Insider’s View of OSHA Enforcement by Don J. Lofgren

Health and Work Productivity: Making the Business Case for Quality Health edited by Ronald Kessier and Paul E. Stang

Blue-Green Coalitions: Fighting for Safe Workplaces and Healthy Communities by Brian Mayer (I’m really excited about this one)

In other news, my midterms are coming up.  Please pray for me.


September 1, 2009

Greetings from the midwest!  Our drive from NYC was lovely.  I had never been west of Philadelphia so I was really looking forward to the drive.  My mom and I drove my car and my dad manned the minivan, which was packed up to the brim.  We drove through the Appalachian Mountains in Pennsylvania, then through the biggest cornfields I’ve never seen in Ohio.  We paid cash to a real person in a toll both at the end of the Ohio Turnpike, something we have not done in about 10 years since EZ Pass was introduced in NY.  In Toledo we turned north towards Michigan.  It took us 11 hours, with 3 stops along the way.  It was my first real road trip and I loved it.  

Ann Arbor, Michigan really is not what I pictured the midwest to be like.  It is almost identical to the town where I went to college as an undergrad in Northamptom, Massachusetts, except everyone in this town is really obsessed with college football.  Ann Arbor is a really lovely town, it has a beautiful downtown area with old, pre-war store fronts, wide leafy quads through the U of M campus, and my neighborhood is made up of century-old houses with big front porches and tree lined streets.  I can walk to some really beautiful parks, the Border to Border Trail along the Huron River and the U of M Nichols Arboretum.   I don’t know what the weather is like here normally but this week has felt like October; it has only been in the low 70’s during the day, and down to the 40’s at night.  But the sun is bright and the clouds are few and after digging out my sweatshirts, I am out most of the day exploring the town.  I’m so grateful that the weather has held up, because if it was raining I would be sitting in my room alone watching videos on Hulu and feeling sad.  But its hard to be sad when I’m walking outside in the sunshine along the river. 

Let’s talk about food for a moment.  There are some great restaurants here, really good Indian and Middle Eastern food.  There’s a food co-op near me that has fresh and tasty grab and go sandwiches.  But I really miss three things from NY: bagels, breads, and pizza.  So, one of the first places I went to was Zingerman’s, the popular “New York style” deli here in Ann Arbor to scope out the bread and bagel situation.  The place is a little too gimmicky for my tastes, the line often stretches out the door and around the corner.  The food is good, the bread is excellent, but it is way overpriced, it is ridiculous.  I understand that things can be overpriced, but this is not midtown, this is Michigan.  Their sandwiches range from $10-$14, their coffee beans are $18-25 a pound.  I went there for lunch with my parents and 3 sandwiches, 3 drinks and one brownie costs us 50 bucks. 

I’m realizing that finding a good slice of pizza is tricky in the midwest.  Many places don’t sell pizza by the slice, which is unfathomable to me.  Most places serve up Chicago-style deep dish pizza,  and I am not a fan of this kind of pizza. Yesterday I was walking around town and saw a red store awning called “NYPD” which made me stop in my tracks.  Turns out this stands for “New York Pizza Depot” which serves up thin crust (“NY Style!”) pizza by the slice.  I went in and had a slice.  The crust was good, had a nice crunch and was not soggy on the bottom, but the sauce was bland and I had to compensate with a lot of oregano and crushed red pepper.  But I have a feeling that this is best pizza place in this town. 

The thing about a college town is that it feels like a bubble.  Every business and every service is catered towards students and professors, which leaves me wondering where the normal people and families live.  Its like living in the middle of Park Slope where everything is catered towards wealthy young professionals their families and you’re like, “this is nice, but where does everyone else live?”  I’ve been here for 3 days and already I feel like this college-town scene is getting old.  I wish I could walk down 86th St in Bay Ridge and get a slice at Pizza Wagon right now.  I would take my car out and explore the surrounding areas, but there’s a crew here painting the house this week and their trucks block my car in the driveway from 8am to 4pm and I’m too shy to ask them to move.  Plus all the streets in my neighborhood are one-way, a fact that Google Maps doesn’t seem to understand, so I am immediately lost as soon as I pull out of my driveway.

Orientation starts tomorrow, and classes start next week.  I’m so excited for my classes, they are going to challenging but I’m totally up for it.   I have feeling that my social life is not really going to be taking up a lot of my time, so I’m ready to throw myself into my school work.  Check out some of classes I’m taking this semester: Principles of Toxicology, Evaluation of Chemical Hazards, Principles of Exposure Assessment, and Control of Airborne Contaminants, plus a few others.  I’m officially psyched.  

My other housemates move in this week and I’m crossing my fingers that they are nice people.  One of my housemates is a former co-worker of mine, we worked together about 2 years ago in the city.  The other housemates are friends of hers, or friends of friends, so I’m hoping they are all decent people.  I really miss my people back in NY, obviously.  I miss seeing friendly, familiar faces around me.  I miss being with people who already know me and what I’m about.  But I’m trying to keep myself busy by fixing up my room and going for walks. 

I’m not sure how much reading I’m going to be able to do now that I’m back at school.  Sashana bought be this book as a going away present called Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex (and how Complex Things Can Be Made Simple) but so far I’ve only read the introduction.  So I don’t think this blog will be so much about books anymore.  I could write about what I read for grad school… we’ll see what happens!

The Animal Dialogues

June 2, 2009


Craig Childs seems to be some kind of crazy mountain man who goes hiking alone through deserts and mountains for no apparent reason, lives in a tepee in Colorado, and writes essays about the animals he encounters.  It makes for a really interesting read if you’re into that sort of thing.  If you’re not, it will get boring real fast.  I really loved this book, I was able to loose myself in Child’s writing.  He really makes you feel like you’re traveling alongside him through his hikes.  While walking through the lower Rocky Mountains, Childs gets stalked by a mountain lion.  The lion has him cornered against a lake and Childs is trying to play mind games with the big cat to keep it from attacking him.  I’m reading this on subway, and all of a suddenly the train stops short with a loud screech that scared me so badly I nearly fell out of my seat.    

Childs has a lot of respect and reverence for wild places and wildlife.  He seems to detest cities.  My only criticism if this book, the one thing that bugged me, is that he never writes about the wildlife in cities.  He writes essays about coyotes, mice, raccoons, peregrine falcons and hawks, all which live and thrive in cities around the country.  Just because cities are not wild places doesn’t mean they can’t support forms of wildlife.  I would love if Childs came to New York to write about our wildlife.  Our rats, roaches, mice, red tailed hawks, owls, chipmunks, peregrine falcons, horseshoe crabs, raccoons, pigeons, snakes, and the hundreds of bird species that use our parks as their migratory pit stops.  New York is a really wild place, in terms of both wildlife and people. 

I got a bookstore gift card for my birthday last week and treated myself to a hardcover copy of Urrea’s new novel, Into the Beautiful North.  Buying hardcovers is such a splurge, it feels so luxurious to carry one around instead of a library book or paperback.  The sad news is I started my summer school classes yesterday and for the next 5 weeks I won’t be able to do much of anything besides eat, sleep (if I’m lucky) and homework.  I might have to give up my subway reading time for physics or chemistry reading instead, which makes me really sad.  We’ll see how it goes.

Another Roadside Attraction

May 15, 2009


I needed a distraction and that’s what the book was for me.  It took me almost an entire month to read this book, way too long for me.  It was my first book by Tom Robbins and it probably won’t be my last.  If you’ve never read any Tom Robbins, start with this one, it is his first novel and you won’t be disappointed.  It is beautiful and insightful, hilarious and creative.  In short, it’s about two hippies who open up a roadside zoo and hot dog stand during the 1960’s.  Also featured are a disillusioned scientist from Johns Hopkins, a pet baboon, and a former college football star who accidentally becomes a bad ass ninja monk.

I am still coming to terms with my decision to leave New York and go to Michigan for school.  It feels so reckless, leaving a well paying job, a rent controlled apartment, and all of my family.  The hardest part, obviously, is leaving Manny behind.  That is going to suck, big time.  I am afraid he feels like I’m abandoning him, that I’m choosing my career over him, that my education is more important that our relationship.  But actually he has been not like that at all, he’s been totally supportive and encouraging and understanding.  He wants the best for me.  But we are really sad and I start tearing up every time I think about it.   I am afraid of being in a new place without him.  Stuff is just so much easier to deal with when he’s around.  It’s going to be really hard.   I keep thinking, what if I get swine flu while I’m in Michigan, who will take care of me?   All I know is I’m definitely getting the flu vaccine next year.

Every decision that I make, I make it with him in mind.  I hope that going away to a more prestigious school will increase my chances of getting an awesome job that I love here in the city.   I would be happy with my career, which would make me a more pleasant person to be around than I am now.  I would make more money, which will help us get a nice place together.  But I just want to do this first, I want to take this chance and go to school,  for myself and for us.

It was my 25th birthday yesterday, on the 14th.  Last week I found my old diary that I kept from around 5th through 9th grades.  What a strange period of my life that was.   I realized I wasn’t a kid anymore and I was just beginning to know myself as an independent person, as an adult.  And it was painfully obvious that I did not fit in, not at school and not at home.  I wanted acceptance from my peers so badly but I also did want to hide or change or who I was.  When I graduated from high school I went away to this crazy cool hippie college in western Massachusetts.  My family teased me endlessly.  They said I was going to major in ultimate frisbee and live in clothing optional dorms.  They said I would never find a real job and that when I graduated I would end up working in a Starbucks.  How wrong they were and I love that they are all eating their words now.  But the best part of going to that crazy hippie college was not the satisfaction of proving everyone wrong.  The best part of going to that college was finding Manny, who was just as much of a misfit as I was.  And in him I found the acceptance I was looking for, but also learned to love and accept myself; with all my flaws, weirdness, and dorky-ness included.  Happy 25th Birthday to me!


April 29, 2009

I mentioned I had carpenter ants in my bathroom in a previous post.  Well, as the weeks passed I saw fewer and fewer of them.  Then on Sunday, the temperature went up to 90 degrees.  That morning, my parents came over to help me put up my Ikea blinds that I had bought 5 months ago.  Then I went to brunch with some friends from Hampshire, then I wandered through Prospect Park with Manny and our friend Sam for the rest of the day enjoying the weather.  A red tailed hawk flew right over our heads and we saw a black and white warbler.  Then I got home that evening, I opened my bathroom door and saw dead ants everywhere. On the floor, tub, floating in the toilet, in the sink, windowsill.  They were everywhere.  And they all had wings, which I thought was weird.  So I consulted Google, which told me that many people confuse winged carpenter ants with winged termites.  Google told me that winged termites swarm during the first warm days of spring.  Google told me that if I had winged termites in my house, then I have a problem.  

So, I freaked out.  The next day I called my building management company, declared that I had swarming termites in my bathroom and demanded they send over an exterminator.  And the lady on the phone was all like, yeah ok you really don’t have termites and you need to calm down.  But she obliged and called the exterminator.  So the exterminator came, took one look at a dead insect on my bathroom floor and informed me they were just carpenter ants.  He squirted some peanut butter smelling ant bait in little cracks and crevices and behind my shower head, declared the situation under control, and left.  Three days of stress and fear of swarming insects resolved in less that 15 minutes.  

Why can’t all the issues in my life be resolved so quickly and easily? 

I was accepted into both U of Michigan and Hunter College here in the city.  Michigan has offered me almost a full scholarship.  But just this week they told me I have to take 4 prerequisite classes in order to go there – chemistry, organic chemistry, physics and calculus.  It is even possible to take all these classes in one summer?  Plus, most of deadlines for summer semester at the community colleges in the city have passed.  Plus, some of these prerequisites courses also have prerequisites – for example in order to take calculus I need one year of college math.  In order to waiver this college math requirement, I have to take a test, which I will surely fail because I’m a terrible test taker and particularly suck at math.  So… what do I do? 

I don’t need any prerequisite classes for Hunter, as far as I know.  Going to Hunter is clearly the easiest choice.  I get to stay in the city and not go through the stress and heartache of up-rooting my entire life and being separated from my significant other for months at a time.  While Hunter may not be as prestigious as Michigan, it is still a well respected institution.  And I do really want to go there.  Hunter has been my first choice of school, that is until I was accepted into Michigan.  Is a masters degree worth all of this?  Isn’t what I do with my degree more important than where I get my degree?  But,  I should not just settle on a school just because its the safe and easy choice.  I should go the school of dreams, right?  Up until 2 weeks ago I thought that was Hunter.  Now I’m not so sure.  I want someone to just tell me what to do and how to do it.  

By the way, everything has to be decided by May 5th.  In case you didn’t realize, that’s in 6 days. 

I started reading The Great Bridge last week, a book about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, but it was not entertaining enough to distract me from my school dilemma. So I quit reading it.  I’m sure its a good story and one that I would like to hear, just maybe I’d rather watch a History Channel documentary about it instead of a read a 600 page book about it.  So I started reading Another Roadside Attraction which has been sufficiently entertaining and distracting so far.  I’ve heard a lot of good stuff about Tom Robbins but never read anything of his, so I wanted to fix that.