Monday, 26 September 2011
This weekend I spent time with my parents in North Carolina. My family vacations on Bald Head Island and has for years. We usually walk on the beach, sit by the pool, cook, read books, go on "nature drives" in the golf cart and visit the unique shops near the Maritime Market. Something seemed to be missing this year.

Usually during the occasional conversation, I can vie for and win the spot of "Center of Attention." My experiences as a TV reporter are so bizarre that they make interesting and entertaining stories especially if embellished just a bit... This time, my parents must have been slightly disappointed in my lackluster conversation skills. I felt like I had nothing to talk about! No shootings, drug deals gone wrong, tense interviews with politicians, fights in the newsroom or mad, heroic dashes to make deadline in the field with a failing live truck. The best I could muster was a story about how the Central Limit Theorem allows researchers the chance to estimate an outcome for a sample of the entire population without having to draw dozens of different samples. Pretty cool, eh? Um, no, not to the general public.

I also got very lucky with the class that I teach. Students are on time and participate in the lab so there's not much to talk about there, either.

It wasn't just the conversation that was different on this mini-vacay. There was no reading for pleasure. I typically get through at least two books on vacation. This time, I read the first 12 chapters of Statistics for Dummies, dozens of pages of research for a project with Dr. Martinez and a few journal articles for Dr. Bates' class regarding Communication Theory. I also worked on my statistics class problem set and expanded on an abstract/lit review. The thing is - I finished everything I brought to work on but I should have spent more time catching up. I never seem to quite get ahead. And THAT seems to be my basis for all conversation now: the hollow, sinking feeling of an overwhelming information and work load. Forgive me for boring you too.

Seasons Change

Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Can you believe it is officially Autumn by the end of this week? While having a cuppa this morning, I looked out the window into my back yard and noticed a few stray leaves drifting down from the big oak. Oh... the dreaded leaves...

I don't mind fall. The cooler temperatures in the morning and evening are pleasant and the sun seems to stay in the sky longer in the afternoons although it drops quickly.

Last year, I built a few fires in the fire pit and I look forward to having friends over to chat in the glow of the flames as the stars come out. Perhaps even my new PhD cohorts? We could use a moment of contemplation and relaxation. The group seems to be gelling nicely and bonds are forming.

Fall break (two days off) is right around the corner and rather than planning an adventure, I hope to catch up on assignments, reading and research. I see now that breaks from teaching and attending class may just be built in so researchers and PhD students can get some work done without distractions.

The Impossible Is Possible

Thursday, 15 September 2011
Yesterday I had another day of utter despair regarding my candidacy. I was ready to give up. Nothing specific happened, I was just revising my abstract (summary proposal for a research project) when I began to realize there is so much I don't know about research or even how to approach or define research.

Advice:  If you think you want to earn your PhD and have not yet started a Master's program, attend a university with a heavy emphasis on research. I earned my Master's degree at the University of Westminster (London, UK) and we didn't write a thesis. Students produced final projects (10 minute television documentary) and a coinciding report.

My research background = utter failure as a PhD UT student. UT is a research-focused university.

So what to do about it? Yesterday I logged on to to see what's out there. I miss reporting because I was good at it. There's something very comforting about day-to-day success in the field. I even sat with a cohort outside and stared off into space for a few minutes (poor use of time, I know). She asked me what was wrong and we discussed the challenges ahead. I guess I feel like I'm on my knees at the base of Mount Everest, preparing to ascend without the proper gear or a Sherpa.

However, I'm learning that there will be highs and lows in my new venture. I went to my statistics class with Dr. Kotowski and it was highly interesting. I don't pretend to get everything we're discussing (Pearson's r, Point Biserial r, Rank Correlatin) but I'm not lost. The best part? Our first problem set was returned to us and I scored a 8.5 out of 10. That is a MIRACLE for someone like me who has never taken a statistics class in her life and is starting out in a 600 level course. My goal is a 9 on the next set but after seeing progress, I feel ready to stay in the game.

Thanks for reading. 

Creativity with the Cat

Tuesday, 13 September 2011
Since doing the whole PhD thing, my budget has shriveled up. How about becoming a cat trainer on the side for a little extra cash? Or perhaps take my show on the road with Lily and Violet as entertainers? We're working on it...

Good, Bad and Ugly

Friday, 9 September 2011
Let's start with Good, shall we? I absolutely ROCKED most of my second statistics assignment and I'm feeling like a genius (that will last until next class when we talk about regression). I worked so hard studying eight chapters of basic statistics and the work is paying off. I met with a tutor today for an hour and he explained why we have to find the critical region for a standard distribution and how to compute the standard error of the mean by using the unbiased stimate of variance. I later plugged my data into the formulas and the answers started making sense. Hooray! There is a glimmer of a glow of a ray of light at the end of the tunnel. Another Good aspect of week: I was elected by my peers as the PhD representative for the Communication and Information Science Graduate Committee. I'll tell you more about it as soon as I find out...

Now for the Bad: I wrecked my Jeep Grand Cherokee this week. I haven't been in an accident in 11 years and haven't recieved a traffic ticket since 2005. My lucky streak broke. Sad thing is - I'm a very slow, careful driver. Unfortunately over the last three weeks, my anxiety level over trying to make it as a PhD candidate has jumped and I always feel like I'm running behind. Gradually I sped up (literally) and paid the price. My ride somehow ran into the back of another car on Kingston Pike at an intersection where the other driver stopped suddenly (it had been raining as well). The police officer was kind enough to give me a ticket for following too close. The car will likely be totaled and I just don't have the time or patience to search for another one. I am fine, by the way. Just a bit stiff in the neck and back.

And the Ugly? I am a horrible cat mommy. My cats are home all day and part of the night alone. I seem to spend every waking second on campus or near campus. Poor little babies. They love going outside, though, and I let them out when I get a chance. Today, Lily ran after a squirrel and I swear the little thing could move! The other Ugly: I haven't been to piano lessons since early August. I feel like I don't have the time or the money to continue on with my dream. However, a friend was encouraging (sarcasm alert) and said it's just fine for me to be a failure at somethings... Just the motivation I need to get back on the ivories.

Have a great weekend and I might as well say it since I'm now a student... Go Vols!

No Time

Wednesday, 7 September 2011
A conversation between a first year Phd candidate and a second year Phd candidate. Walking to class... (E is an international student and has become a wonderful friend.)

Denae: I don't even have time to drive to West Town Mall and buy my MAC foundation. I don't use anything else but picked up L'Oreal at Walgreens on campus to get by.

E: How can you even afford MAC makeup now?

Denae: Oh, yeah. Good point. There's that.

Denae: It's not just the makeup. I haven't straight-ironed my hair in weeks. It's all hot rollers and that's IF I'm lucky to have the time to fix my hair at all. I look craptastic.

E: Now you know why doctoral students look the way they do. If you want to bathe, you almost have to take a bath instead of shower so you can hold your book and read with one hand while you shave your legs with the other hand. And that's if you actually still care about shaving your legs.

Denae: (nodding)

E: I'd also recommend going darker with your hair because how are you going to have time to get your head colored every five weeks?

Denae: I guess I could do my readings while I'm processing.

E: Well there's the no money thing again...

Denae: Going back to school was a great decision.

E: I was thinking the same thing.