Archive for May, 2012

27th May
2012
written by Steph
I want to write a nice long post about how on Friday, I defended my dissertation, first by giving a talk, then by answering questions posed to me by my committee. But really, what I want most of all, is just to enjoy doing absolutely nothing for a little while, as well as starting to reclaim those things that make my life so wonderful, but which I've had to put on the backburners lately as I focused in on getting through this last graduate school hurdle. The good news, is that it was all worth it, because I PASSED! I know, many of you will say you didn't doubt it for a moment, and truth be told, when the day came, I felt really calm and prepared. In many ways it was a very surreal day, because seven years is a very long time, and there were definitely some significant potholes along the way. I have seen defense day (or D-Day, as it is referred to around these parts) come and go for a lot of friends at this point, but part of me just stopped expecting that it would also happen for me. I either thought I would somehow be a graduate student forever, or I would leave without my doctorate (believe me, this came very close to happening several times). There are still times where I can't believe that I managed to write an ENTIRE dissertation, and that I got to a point where I was confident in my abilities, and knew that I knew my topic very well. I fully expected to be a prickly bundle of nerves come D-Day, but in the end, I was very zen, and I actually found this final committee meeting to be the one I had the most fun at, and also the most laid-back of all my experiences during my time in graduate school. I felt in control and like I knew my future, like more than anything, the people who have watched me grow as a researcher and a scientist these past seven years were just happy to be there to celebrate and mark this final rite of passage. So, yes, I passed, and am now officially Dr. Steph! Thank you to all of you for your supportive comments cheering me on these past few months, even as I let this blog go into hibernation mode. I've heard people say that following their dissertation, they were mentally useless for a week or two, but I kind of feel the opposite! I want to relax, and enjoy the weird reality of not waking up in the morning with a tight not of panic already hard in my chest, and that if I want to lie on the couch and watch an entire season of The Vampire Diaries or play a video game, I can! I can start working out again, without worrying that half hour would be better spent revising or making tributes to the gods of academia.  Best yet, I love knowing that all these mental resources in my brain are now freed up for some serious (or light-hearted!) fiction reading! I can't say that I have missed reading these past few months, simply because I've been so burned out that I just haven't had the energy or interest to read, but now I look at all the wonderful books that are waiting for me, and I am excited to learn their secrets. But I'm also excited to learn the secrets that the future holds, because for the first time in a very long time, I no longer have a five-year plan, or an obvious "next step" on a traditional career trajectory. It's time to spend some time rediscovering the joys of a life unplanned, and I look forward to taking some time to think about my passions (and maybe discover some new ones!), and think about what I want the next phase of my life to be. I should be done making plans at this point, but I doubt I'll ever fully tame the Type-A planner inside me, so hopefully, starting next week, I'll finally have some new bookish content for this blog. My life is my own once again, and I'm so excited to channel this renewed energy and enthusiasm into the things that make my heart soar. Right now, that means, jumping back into bed, and cuddling with Tony and the dogs, and then possibly lounging by the pool on this long-weekend Sunday and cracking the spine (only figuratively though!) of a new book. To those who have read this far, I hope your Memorial Day weekend is just as lovely! Doctor's orders!
12th May
2012
written by Steph
Hallelujah! Months of programming experiments, running experiments, analyzing data, reading papers, writing and re-wring have finally paid off. On Thursday morning, I did one last proof read through my dissertation and then I attached a PDF version of it to an email and sent it off to my committee! (For those interested, the final page count was 102 pages). In two weeks, I'll give a public presentation of my dissertation experiments, and then I'll undergo my final graduate school oral defense, and I will finally be Dr. Steph! It's hard to believe that after years of ups and downs, that my time as a student is finally drawing to a close. I haven't quite parsed the enormity of that just yet, but I've found through this whole process that I'm best off just focusing on getting through one day at a time, so that's what I'll keep doing.

Home by Toni Morrison

Of course, immediately after submitting my dissertation, I began to show signs of a horrible cold. I have felt awful for the past two days, and while I am definitely on the mend now, I am still not back in full fighting form. But I am well enough that I can finally write my monthly BookPage post, where I tell you about what I've reviewed in the latest issue. In the May issue of BookPage, I had the great good fortune to review Toni Morrison's latest masterpiece, Home. I'm a huge Morrison fan, so it was a huge honor to review one of her books in a professional capacity. It also didn't hurt that Home is her shortest book to date; in a time when my pleasure reading time has been severely limited (and I've had essentially no attention span), it was nice to have a book that needed my attention but didn't need a huge time investment. If, like me, you've been eagerly awaiting Morrison's latest slice of literary greatness, you can read my full review here. Obviously, I'll still have dissertation brain for the next few weeks, but despite being super ill, I've felt a lightness come over me this past week that has long been absent, and I'm optimistic that I'll soon recapture my full book-blogging mojo. In truth, writing this dissertation hasn't been nearly as awful as I thought it would be (though I'm totally fine with never doing this ever again), but I am still so looking forward to reclaiming my life. For at least a month, that is, since Tony and I are officially leaving Nashville at the end of June. We'll be moving up to Toronto for a couple of weeks to get our dogs settled in with my parents, and then we'll be heading off on our big world tour! (Don't worry though, we're bringing our e-readers so we'll have plenty to read on the myriad planes, trains, and buses we'll be taking!) So life will be busy for the foreseeable future, but with one of the biggest stressors finally stripped away, I am looking forward to refocusing on those things that enrich me and nourish my spirit.
1st May
2012
written by Steph

The Good Girl's Guide to Getting Lost by Rachel Friedman

[Note: this review is also posted at travel blog, Twenty Years Hence. Sorry for the cross-post for those of you who are subscribed to both (but thanks for supporting all our endeavors!).]
For me, the very best books, regardless of genre, are the ones that whisk me away from my own life and allow me to see and understand the world in a way I hadn’t before. If there’s one type of book with an innate affinity to do this very thing, surely it is the travel memoir! The very best of their kind aren’t just about traveling around in strange lands, encountering odd social customs and nibbling on questionable foods—though those anecdotes are fascinating in their own ways)—but are about the personal transformation that occurs when we venture out of our homes and leave the safety and security of the familiar behind.
As my own big trip looms larger with each passing day, it’s no surprise that I’ve been increasingly drawn to travel writing these past few months. Maybe I’m hoping to pick up tips and tricks along the way to ensure my trip is more successful, or maybe I’m hoping for inspiration… deep down, I think I just want reassurance that Tony and I aren’t alone in this dream and that leaving our current life to travel will turn out ok. I know that even in the pages of books, happy endings aren’t guaranteed, but I still can’t help but search for them nevertheless. To this end, I’ve been really gratified to find that the Nashville Public Library system has an awesome digitial travel collection, the irony being that now I can travel the world without even leaving the comfort of my home, not even to get a book! If that’s not the best of both worlds, then I don’t know what is. Anyway, NPL has a pretty bitchin’ selection of titles, ranging from actual travel guides to help you plan your stay, to memoirs and pieces of writing to inspire you to get off your lazy butt and actually go somewhere. This is how I stumbled across The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost (known as TGGG henceforth). (more…)