Friday, 6 November 2015

The PhD: A Marathon, not a sprint....well until the last month or so.

Only two months ago, three years to the day after I arrived in Manchester, I successfully defended my  PhD thesis. One month after that, I submitted my final thesis and was awarded that magical prefix, "Doctor."

I do have to say, getting a PhD was the most stressful time in my life, but it opened my life to so many opportunities. I met loads of new people, experienced a new culture, traveled to beautiful places, and drank a whole lot of beer along the way. But it was really tough in other ways: I moved even further from my friends and family (seriously, trying to find times to chat with a 5-8 hour time difference is tough!), sold my horse, watched from afar as a friend battled breast cancer, lost my grandma and both grandpas, and ended a four and a half year relationship.

But something magic happened in the final push toward submitting my thesis. They say you never lose friends, just find out who your true friends are, and my gosh I have some incredible friends. I had loads of places to stay, dinners made and delivered so I could continue working, and countless tea and biscuit deliveries. Every time I got frustrated, I'd have a phone call or text from someone down the road or around the world, just when I needed it most. This support gave me the energy to keep calm and carry on. At 2 am on 11 August 2015 ( 2 hours past my deadline), I submitted my thesis.

On 10 September 2015, the day I had been working towards and dreading finally was time to defend the thesis. It was surreal sitting in the room with my water bottle (in case I needed to think long and hard about a question and felt awkward sitting in silence), waiting for my examiners to arrive. I was convinced there was a glaring error in my thesis and that I would fail my viva. Then, more magic happened. The viva, which I assumed would leave me scrambling to the bathroom in tears within five minutes, was actually a fun and fruitful scientific discussion of my work. The examiners and I had good fun discussing my results and making connections to past and future work, just like you do over a beer at a conference. Before I knew it, two and a half hours had passed and I was asked to leave the room. A short while later, I was called back in and congratulated on passing my viva with minor revisions.

A month of adding sentences here, reworking a figure there, and I had resubmitted my thesis. I'm now Doctor Kelsey Mulder.

I wanted to share this little tale because I couldn't have done my PhD without you, my dear friends. The cups of tea, text messages, phone calls, pictures of your pets (or just loaning me your pets!), and cards meant so much to me throughout the last three years, and especially in the past few months. You picked me up and helped me find the energy to finish. Words are failing me, but all I can say is thank you for your love and support, I owe my PhD to you.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

The anatomy of an academic paper

By: Kelsey Mulder (Impressive Institution) and other people I know (Other Impressive Institutions)

What I study is extremely important. Everyone else who has attempted to study it so far has done so wrong (Enemy at Competing Institution, 2014) or has left out some pretty important stuff (Other People I Know and Like, 2014).

Data and Methods
I know a lot of acronyms. Like seriously. Count them all.

You probably won't understand a lot of what I go on about here, and it's likely that you'll skip this part and look at the pretty pictures. I designed it this way. Move along.

They sure look good and straightforward now, but you should have seen versions 1--27.

Musings and irresponsible speculations. This will be cited in introductions to come.

I threw my toaster across the room when I got my reviews back, but everybody else thanks their reviewers, so I probably should too.

I probably skimmed most of these.

I really wish real academic journal articles took me as little time to write as this blog post!

Friday, 19 September 2014

On work/life balance

Academia is one of those careers where your work is never done. There's always more to read, more to write, more figures to compile...the list goes on. On top of that, there seems to be this push for a 20-hour/7-day work schedule. At least that's been my experience. It's no surprise a lot of people in academia are talking about work-life balance.

Personally, I've struggled a lot with this balance over the past couple years. In fact, about a year ago after my first year viva, I promised to address this problem by working hard at work and playing hard at home. It's time I let you know how it's been going.

My first change was to adopt a 40-hour work week. Because I have a partner who does shift work and I have a flexible schedule, I've adopted his work week, which intermingles shifts from 7:30a--4:30p, 10:30a--6:30p, and 1:30p--10:30p. That way we see more of each other and we get talk about our days on our walks to and home from work.

My second change was to adopt a work-only-at-work policy and vow to never take work home with me.

My third change was to adopt the pomodoro for 25 minutes, break for 5 and so on.

Next came a big question...what do I do with my spare time?

Well, I decided along with this work change, I should adopt a lifestyle less of what I shouldn't, eat more of what I should, and start exercising regularly. Beside that, I decided to join the library and start reading what I want to read.

So how has it turned out?

Well at first, there was a bit of guilt about not working constantly, but I've found that now I work smarter. While at work, I get a lot more done. I am not fatigued by working 12 hour days, which means I can have 5 very productive work days in a row rather than having every other day be productive. On top of the work improvements, I've lost nearly 30 pounds, I'm happier, have more energy, get over sicknesses faster, and don't go to bed facing panic attacks.

So in short, I'm pleased with the changes I've made. No, I'm probably never going to be the best atmospheric scientist with the most publications and the most impressive resume, but as my mom the hospice chaplain kindly pointed out, there isn't a person yet who, on their deathbed, has commented that they wish they worked more in their life.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

You call that a conference?!?

Again I find myself reflecting on how stinking lucky I am.

Seriously, who gets to go to an exotic Greek Island for a conference?

A few weeks ago I flew off to Crete, Greece to go talk about tornadoes (and maybe relax a bit on the beach). I won't bore you with the tornado stuff, but instead focus on my true love: food and drink! (Sorry, Richard!)

First of all, the structure of all the dinners included many bottles of local Cretan red and white wine (which were all fantastic!) dotting the tables, which were seemingly bottomless. I swear, we must have each had a bottle or two of wine every night, but magically never got drunk.

Dish after dish after dish of almost tapas style delicacies were delivered to the table in a 2-3-hour long banquet. One constant was the local traditional "dakos" (confused in name only with tacos), which was basically bruchetta...a crispy bread topped with tomatoes, olive oil, and local soft cheese.

(Dakos are the top, center dish above)

The rest of the dishes heavily featured real Greek yogurt, stuffed grape leaves, cucumber, octopus (YUM!), eggplant, bacon, sautéed greens, and cheese. No complaints from me!

Then the main dish would come right around the time we were ready to burst. Almost always, it was roast lamb and potatoes. Dear Lord the meat melted off the bone and right into my stomach. Makes my mouth water again just thinking about it.

There was dessert every night with a side of fresh fruit, sometimes flaming fruit.

And what dessert would be complete without another alcoholic beverage? We got raki with every meal. It's similar to grappa, distilled from the remains of the grapes from the wine making process, and tastes similar to a plum gin. Absolutely delicious. Great use of spent grapes AND it apparently aids in digestion too. Bottoms up!

But I think the best part of the food and culture of Crete was seeing the food growing all around us. One night, we dined underneath lemon and orange trees. Another night, we sat on a balcony overlooking endless olive groves. Definitely a treat for this Colorado girl!

So would I go back? Most certainly! And even if all I ate were gyros, I'd be a very happy girl.

Oh yeah and the conference was good too.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Beer. Beautiful beer.

I can't stop thinking how lucky I am. I got the longest holiday season I've ever had. 

This year was the first year I spent Christmas away from the family and while it was hard to be away for the most special time of year, I got to spend it with the man candy for the first time in 3 years. Also, thanks to Skype, I got to be part of Christmas breakfast and Christmas lunch with my family. I also got to enjoy the beauty that is Boxing Day. Oh Boxing Day many bargains with less shoving and shootings than Black Friday. And then, when everyone was back to the grind, I got a second holiday season at home in Colorado with the family, snow and all. 

When I got back to Manchester and everything settled down, Richard and I focused on perhaps the most important part of our lives: beer. Being the devoted girlfriend I am, I surprised Richard with a Valentine's gift that would benefit the both of us for years to come. That's right, Richard got a brewing kit. So with the first useful bit of science I've ever done, we got to work brewing some beer. I loved watching the massive tub of brown water evolve over the coming days to a bubbly, foamy mess. But while our special brewers yeast was doing its thing, we decided to extend our beer research to Bruges, Belgium to see how the experts do beer.

Our goal of the trip was simple...we were to drink as much good craft beer we could get our hands on. And I'd say mission accomplished! We found the oldest pub in Bruges (which dates back to 1515), visited another pub boasting over 400 different types of beer, only ate foods with beer in the recipe, and visited the local brewery, De Halve Maan (Half Moon). 

I'd like to take the time to say that Richard and I have both visited countless brewery tours in Colorado, but visiting a brewery that's over 100 years old is quite a different experience. We were told that Bruges had 128 breweries within city limits before WWI. Because copper was required during wartime, all the breweries had to give up their brewing equipment to make ammunition. During the war, Bruges was occupied, but the fields where they grew the barley and hops were not. With military checkpoints everywhere, an underground system had to be created to get the precious brewing ingredients into Bruges so brewing could continue. After the war, only one brewery remained: De Halve Maan. None of the other breweries could afford buying all new equipment to start over again. 

Another fun fact? Beer deliveries by dogs. The brewery was the only place in town with a refrigerated room. The barrels of beer would be delivered to bars in the early morning with an ice block to keep the beer cold through the day. Early morning deliveries would be done by horse-drawn carriages (convenient, because if the delivery men wanted to have a drink or 7 along their route, the horse would know the way back to the brewery and the drunk delivery man could pass out and wake up back at work). But in the heat of the day, when bars had run out of beer and demanded more, it was too hot for the horses to go back out. The solution? They built carriages that ran along the railway lines pulled by German Shepherds. Something tells me dog delivered beer tastes better, but this hypothesis is yet to be tested. 

Coming back from our beer excursion was unhappy to say the least, but luckily we had another beer excursion to look forward to. Richard and I ventured to Ramsbottom, a town outside Manchester, to visit pubs and breweries with our friends Jonny and Schadia. We tried as many beers as possible, again, and stayed in one brewery for a good 7 hours. I'd say it's been a pretty good trip and our research has turned up the best result yet: All beer is delicious and we must continue traveling and tasting. 

As our beer sits in the closet bottle conditioning, I can't wait to start experimenting with our own ingredients and seeing what we get. In the meantime, in Richard's words, we'll keep traveling for food and booze. Because what other reason is there to travel?

Sunday, 20 October 2013

100 words minimum on what I did last summer

What. A. Whirlwind.

And I'm not talking about tornadoes for once.

After the meltdown I call my Viva, I think I earned a few months of something completely different. I am fortunate enough to have an advisor who doesn't mind me taking all my vacation, conference, and summer school time away at off I went to channel my inner jet setter.

First stop: Bristol. I've mentioned the Bristol summer school on my blog already, but my first trip away for the summer included plenty of time walking around, watching some wildlife, looking at beautiful scenery, and seeing Gromit (from Wallace and Gromit) dressed up all around town.

Second stop: Manchester Airport to pick up Mom and Dad! People ask me all the time what it's like to live so far away from friends and family. In a word, it's awful. The beauty is that my parents now have the perfect excuse to holiday in Europe! We had ourselves a blast roaming around Manchester, Liverpool, Chester, North Wales, and Stratford-Upon-Avon...which brings us to....

Third stop: Amsterdam. My sweet parents dictated that, although I'm legally an adult, I was not allowed to visit Amsterdam without them. Good thing they got their cute behinds over here quickly...I wasn't going to wait forever! We got to tour the canals, see Ann Frank's house, eat pannenkoeken, see the red-light district, and witness the outdoor urinals. Most of all, we got some quality time with my amazing parents. That, my friends, is priceless!

Fourth stop: Scotland. When my parents left town again, I had exactly 36 hours to sob like a child before heading up north to the Isle of Arran for an atmospheric measurements summer school. The views were astounding. The wildlife was beautiful...we saw sea otters, seals, golden eagles, jellyfish, red squirrels, red deer, and the elusive haggis. I did learn a lot too: sleep deprivation causes some serious cases of the giggles, all food can be yellow if you cook it just right, whisky (Scotch) is absolutely delicious, and it's dangerously hard to distinguish seals from rocks sometimes (or all the time for some of us...). Upon returning, I'm very glad I went, but I don't need another 2 weeks without sleep, ever. I guess I should never have kids right??

Fifth stop: After a quick week home, Richard and I celebrated the year we both turn 25 by going to Tuscany. If you've seen any of the pictures I posted on Facebook, you know the theme of our week-long trip was eating. Oh Italian food...I will never look at you the same way again. So divine...and magically I lost one and a half pounds on the trip. How is that possible?? A full week's relaxation and enjoyment was the perfect close to the summer and start of the autumn.

In my short interludes in Manchester, I enjoyed spending a full hour a week on horseback, improving my seat and jumping higher than ever (90 cm, which translates to 3 feet. There WERE expletives yelled, but I survived to jump another fence) with the most fabulous riding instructor. Seriously, Hayley, getting me from scared of jumping to 90cm fences in a few're a miracle worker!

So what's on tap for the new term? Well I suppose I should do some research, perhaps some TAing, definitely more horse riding, and of course the hilarity that comes from an American living in England.

Watch this space...

Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Lost Student

I love lists.

I love making lists. I love ticking things off my lists. I love putting small things ("Check Bank Balance") as well as big things ("Write Paper") on my list. I love putting things on lists that I've already done just so I can tick them off. You get the picture.

Recently, I had two big tasks nagging me on my To Do list: First Year Report and First Year Viva.

In essence, every year of the English PhD culminates in an approximately 75-100 page report and a defense of that report...including the usual ragging you get from your professors at a thesis defense. As Richard can attest to, I spent 4 cranky, stress-filled weeks straight with no weekends preparing both the report and the viva. How did they end up?

Both. Were. Horrible. We'll cut to the chase...I don't know what I should know at this point, my advisors made that point painfully clear and continued on to bash the two papers I'm working towards publishing, and I ended up sobbing in the bathroom.

This was one of the only times ticking tasks off my To Do list was unfulfilling.

Now I realize that life in the PhD world is not rainbows and ponies (okay...maybe there are ponies in my fairy tale) and that your advisors are put into your life for the cold, harsh reality that is the scientific world, but man this experience broke my confidence. I reacted so strongly (either to my horrible writing or the criticism, or both) that I woke up with the stomach flu the day after my viva. The day after that, I was sent off to summer school in Bristol for a week.

I am not going to lie. My mind was elsewhere in an anxious, self-doubting place. I was seriously questioning my ability to complete a PhD. After our lectures were done each day, I wandered through Bath and Bristol wondering if I could just see the beautiful sights without having to endure the agony of academia. I felt completely lost.

In fact, I'm still not completely sure I'm capable of completing this PhD. I do know a few things about myself though.

  1. I work my hardest and do my best when people don't think I can succeed. Seriously. If you ever want me to do something, just say, "Hey Kelsey, I bet you can't......"
  2. Very few women graduate with PhDs, especially in the sciences. I accept that challenge.
  3. As much as I moan and groan about how tedious and annoying science is, I get immense joy having conversations comparing American, British, and Spanish severe weather...and that passion is what got me here in the first place. So I guess I can't hate the weather that much can I?

So what's the verdict? Well I've already made my next list...
  • Read. Get up to date on the knowledge and blow my advisors out of the water.
  • Work more effectively, play more effectively. That will make me better prepared to work every day and better prepared for my papers, reports, and vivas. And it will make me less cranky when I'm with my friends, family, and boyfriend.
  • Take criticism to mind, not to heart. Note what needs to change and move on.
  • Write a blog post about what I've learned from my viva.