Thursday, March 29, 2012

Graduate School, the Countdown

The last 6ish months have been centered around the one, final requirement for this MSEE I'll (hopefully!) be getting in May. All the previous stuff - coursework, homework, tests - those were just hoops to jump through. Minor irritations on the road to getting this graduate degree that I'm not sure I even want anymore. No, it's the thesis that matters. The thesis tells you, your adviser, your department, that you actually did something during the past twenty four months.

So you struggle. You beat your head against a wall, because if you're like me, you never had to write something this broad or deep using your technical writing voice. During college, we wrote 10-15 page project reports for our unit operations lab, but they didn't need tables of contents, lists of figures and tables, references, and appendices. Although I know a lot about optical particle counters, tray dryers, and water filtration systems. And most of my writing since college has been short bursts - emails, short reports on projects at work, and blogging. None of which are conducive to the sort of writing theses require.

So it wasn't surprising when I came back from our trip to Ireland over Christmas to find that my adviser wanted the entire results and discussion section rewritten, reorganized, rethought. And that was only the tip of the iceberg. Well then. And to do that while interviewing, waiting anxiously for the call, the one with a job offer - well, things were a wee bit stressful for a while there. Every draft since, however, has gotten closer and closer. (Although, of course, I was happy with my thesis a couple rounds of edits before my adviser was. That's what I get for choosing to do my research with a perfectionist!)

Through it all, I've stomped, complained, cursed, and yelled. It's hard to have someone tear apart something that you've put so much effort into. Every incredulous red comment (what were you thinking? why didn't you check this? fix this!) was a stab in the gut, a judgement on my intelligence, my hard work. How do people do it? How do you manage to work through that battle with grace and equanimity? Because I didn't. Oh no. J would very gently remove my laptop from in front of me, telling me that the email, the draft, the questions would still be there in the morning. That I didn't need to deal with it now, and that I needed some time to cool down. Oh, and I needed to remember that my beloved MacBook Pro would not survive a headfirst propulsion into the wall across the room.

But! Vindication! After all those months, I finally received the go-ahead to send my draft to my committee members. I can schedule my defense. Okay, so that's a bit of a letdown - you mean that after all that work, I still have to stand up in front of people and talk about it? Honestly, does anyone even care anymore? But really, I'll take it. After having to give presentations in front of the guys in my old department, the idea that I will be presenting to people who 1) know what I'm talking about, 2) are there of their own volition, and 3) are not looking for a reason to criticize me - what's to worry about?

So mid-April, defense. End of April, submission of my thesis. May, Wisconsin. Let's get this show on the road, shall we?


Molly Nelis said...

Defending is the easy part, no one knows you research like you :)

At this point it is a matter of distilling the details to make a big picture.

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