Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Breather

Today I was at school (working) for about 7.5 hours.  I came home, had dinner, treaded, watched House M.D., made blueberry muffins, spoke to Robert on the phone briefly, finished up a delightfully trashy action adventure novel that ended with a bad-guy Delta Force agent cryogenically frozen (but conscious and going insane!) at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean, did some light weight work, played Alchemy, and am now going to bed.  It's so weird - go to work, come home, do things other than work.  It reminds me of my old, pre-grad school life.

Oh well.  Tomorrow, I'll be back in a more typical school mode, as I'll be getting my take home exam for one class and the infamous list of 12 questions for the in-class final next week.  But it was certainly nice to have what felt a lot like an entire day off because I didn't bring any schoolwork home with me to do in the evening.

App update: 16 down, 1 (due Feb. 1, so not a rush) to go.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Duck Duck Duck Duck Goose

Yesterday Robert and I went to the local wastewater treatment plant to see ducks.  We did see ducks - a whole bunch of mallards.  Plus one goose (a Canada).

And our prize: an American black duck.  My ABA Area Bird #472.

No, it doesn't look much like Daffy - it's like a distinctly darker female mallard.

In addition, we added the following to our NC list:
Green-winged teal
Swamp sparrow
Fox sparrow

The killdeer situation was kind of crazy.  Before, I'd only seen one or two killdeer at a time, but yesterday, a flock of about 30 killdeer kept flying and landing around where we were standing (on a strip between two ponds) looking at the ducks.  Oh, and running around.  I love watching sandpipers and plovers (e.g., killdeer) run.  They look so silly - their legs move at a million miles and an hour, but because they're so short, they do not move nearly as far as all that action would suggest.

Here's a good video of a running killdeer with the added bonus of the mom's famous broken-wing display used to lure predators away from vulnerable babies.  (However, killdeer babies are literally precocious - they can start running right after being born.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Five Minutes

I had decided that I wanted to send my advisor a complete first draft of my thesis proposal by 2:00 p.m. today, and I got it emailed by 2:05.  It's great to have this ball out of my court for a while.

Next up: grading research reports and completing PhD applications.  The bulk of the work for the apps at this point consists of writing (customizing) statements of purpose and putting together the packets that need to be snail-mailed to the schools.  I also need to finish and submit the online applications, but that goes pretty quickly.

Last night I dreamed that I was visiting Tam at school, only instead of her grad program, we were in a middle school.  The absolute low point was when Tam suggested we go next door for lunch to a place where they sell 50 cent sandwiches.  Each sandwich was one piece of white bread topped with a handful of little disks that look like bologna.  The sign announced that the following sandwiches were available:

"Meat, horse, mouse, shrimp, and puppy."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Small Bit of Good News

It hasn't been a great week for news around here, but I did get a small bit of good news by email yesterday.  I have received a $500 travel award for the conference I am going to be presenting a poster at in January.  Something like 18.9% of grad student presenters won the award.  So that puts me in the top fifth of student research being presented at the number one conference for social and personality psychology, which is nice (just for general self-esteem purposes as well as adding a line to the cv).  The money is nice, too.

The decision criteria included three things:
(1) Quality of the research
(2) Perceived interest in the research/topic to the conference-goers
(3) Strength of academic record (esp. previous publications / presentations)

So point 3 definitely is consistent with the idea that the best thing you can do to win a scholarship (or whatever) is to win another scholarship.  I think of it as basically a way of labeling yourself to the selection committee as "Pre-approved of by people like you."

Saturday, November 13, 2010


I have now completed 10 online applications and have the paperwork (transcripts, etc.) together in envelopes to mail to these programs.  I plan to pick up with the remainder of the 17 applications over Thanksgiving break, and even then, I still have quite a bit of time before those applications are due - the next one after these 10 is due 12/31.

One school's online app is still giving me fits because they did not send me the ID# to use to check the status of my application as they said they would within 3 business days.  I've emailed them about it, but I think I'm going to have to call and ask about it to get anything done.  (I would love to be wrong about that.)  The big issue is that I don't think the automated system has sent out the emails to my recommenders eliciting their letters.  Bah!  I am also annoyed that a couple of schools do online recommendations but do not give you any information about whether they have been completed, so I'll have to follow up with my recommenders individually on those.

In other happy news, I have finished my neuroscience paper!  At least, I have a paper that I've read through once and looks done to me - I'll print it out and read it again in a day or two.  It's due Friday.  (And yes, watch this space for the inevitable Word Cloud when I'm totally done with it.)

Debbie sent this joke to me this week:

"A magician pulls rabbits out of hats. An experimental psychologist pulls habits out of rats."

A good section of my paper is about classical conditioning of eating to external cues in rats (nothing at all like my typical topics in metacognitive aspects of attitude change), so this is strangely apt.  But I will note that experiment psychologists also pull habits out of rabbits.  The eyeblink response in rabbits is a standard animal model of classical conditioning.  I am not, however, familiar with any rat hat research using this paradigm.

But: here is a rat hat for a cat.

And that's that.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Can't Argue with Vulcan Logic

In the last 10-14 days, the weather here's gone from being 10+ degrees warmer than usual to about 10 degrees colder than usual (though it's warming up this week).  Waiting for the bus last week in the chilly rain, I was idly speculating on this abrupt shift.  When I got on the bus, an episode of Star Trek: Voyager was on.  Apparently, the crew was having difficulty beaming people down to this planet due to bizarre storms.  Tuvok said, "The only logical conclusion is that they are controlling the weather."

And hey, you know, that really does explain a lot.

The best line was when a teenage boy was complaining to his dad, who wanted him to stay home, living in their primitive culture, instead of attending Star Fleet, like "Dad, we have to start living in the 24th century!"  OK, it's not up there with "But I was going to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters" in the annals of SF teenage whining, but it was funny.

I dedicate this post to B., the one in Tam's program about whom she said, when I asked her to describe him, that he likes bad science fiction.  Apparently he is the "dweeb" of the group.  I know, you're thinking, But isn't Tam in a math PhD program - how can there be only one?

But as we all know, There can be only one.

(In the interest of full confession, I did immediately recognize the dude on Voyager as "Tuvok" even though I've probably seen fewer than half a dozen episodes of the show.  While you may be tempted to excuse this as just a function of my amazing intelligence - no.  There are people in my own program I have a harder time remembering the name of than this character from a minor Star Trek TV program.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Closing the Book on Wrens, Again

After the split of the winter and pacific wren left me with a hole in my North American wren life list (and perhaps more importantly, at a bird list disadvantage compared to Robert), I had hoped to see a winter wren within the next six months.  Happily, it only took 3 months and 3 days.  A cooperative winter wren made his spotty/blotchy little self known to me this afternoon at our local park, where Robert and I went because I felt this overwhelming need to get outside and maybe see some ducks.  Amusingly, Robert did not get a very good look at the bird this time.

By the time we got to the marshy area of the park, I was feeling so satisfied that I didn't mind at all that the only ducks on the water were three mallards.  Really, it was such a gorgeous, sunny, cool but not cold day that taking two hours away from extremely frustrating online grad school applications and the neuroscience of external food cues to just walk around, gawking and kicking leaves would have been quite satisfactory without seeing a single bird at all.

But in addition to my winter wren, we also saw two species that are new for us in North Carolina:

* Yellow-bellied sapsucker (a spotty juvenile who looked astonishingly like a bump on the tree at first, even with that white patch on its wing; evolution was pretty clever with that because under sunny conditions, the branches themselves are dappled dark and light, too)

* Golden-crowned kinglet (a bird I never saw in Texas, but have seen elsewhere)

Overall, a very pleasant outing.  However, I've still got a hankering for ducks, so I've put Robert on the case of planning a trip east to some wildlife refuges near the coast so we can see ducks, swans, and geese.  I've especially got my eye out for the American black duck, which - due to my heavy exposure to and love of Warner Brothers cartoons and hence Daffy Duck - I always thought of as the default "duck" as a kid.  (Arguably, Daffy Duck doesn't look that much like an American black duck, which is a kind of mallard-y looking bird, but it's the closest actual duck species I know of.)

Once again, I really love the serendipitous nature of birding.  We only even took our binocs with us in the event that we might see some ducks on the pond, and a lifer passerine decides to make a conspicuous appearance at the exact moment I'm walking by on the trail.  Nifty.

P.S.  I am now up to something like 6 or 7 (of 17) online applications completed.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Weird Weather Information

It sure was a relief to read that overnight, "no accumulation of graupel is expected."

But check out how nifty it looks:

Two Online Apps Completed

One with an 11/15 deadline to qualify for the awesome $30,000 per year for 3 years fellowships.

One with an 11/15 deadline for a free (rather than $65) application.

More tomorrow.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

SOP Update

This evening I wrote statements of purpose for 6 programs.

Only 11 more to go.

Oh boy!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Carrot Addiction

Bunnies, I guess you're not alone.

Katy tries to hide her carrot bingeing from the humans

An abstract:

"Presents a case report of carrot addiction in a 49-year-old woman that occurred under conditions of stress due to marital problems, leading to a depressive illness and increased smoking. The patient maintained that the sensations of carrot craving and withdrawal were quite distinct from those associated with smoking. The patient was advised to record her daily carrot consumption. The patient did not return for several months, but stopped eating carrot after an operation, at which time she also stopped smoking. Compulsive carrot eating, regarded as a rare condition, has received scant documentation, unlike hypercarotenemia due to unusual diets or food fads. Nervousness, craving, insomnia, waterbrash and irritability are associated with withdrawal from excessive carrot eating. The basis for the addiction is believed to be beta carotene, found in carrots. Does carrot eating, an aggressively oral activity, merely act as a behavioural substitute for smoking? Or does beta carotene contain a chemical element that replicates the addictive component of nicotine? Further study of this unusual but intriguing addiction may reveal more about the basis of all addictions, with particular implications for the cessation of cigarette smoking."

Kaplan, R. (1996). Carrot addiction. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 30(5), 698-700.

Perhaps the rabbits would argue that the very idea of "excessive" carrot eating is ridiculous.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Thank You, Neuroscience Textbook Authors

I am now officially awaiting the perfect opportunity to make a double entendre with the phrase "excitation-secretion coupling."  Readers, you are on notice.

Monday, November 1, 2010

One Down, Countless More to Go

This evening I finished one of my term papers, due November 22.  It turned out to be an over 20-page project proposal (probably falling in the "I did not have the leisure to make it shorter" category).  I will proof-read it again a day or two before I turn it in, but it's super nice to have one thing off my mental to-do list. 

In addition to the countless applications I have due on/by December 1, I also have another 20-page paper (a review paper for neuroscience, so that one is going to be rough going - due November 19 and I haven't started even reading articles yet) and my thesis proposal to write this month, as well as a class discussion to lead.  (Fortunately, I am already familiar with two of the three papers for that class session, so I hope the prep work won't be as dire as it sometimes is.)  Good thing I don't have normal, ongoing coursework or a TAship or anything like that.  Oh wait.

Life is going to be pretty much fucking crazy for everyone in the program until at least December 8 (when we turn in our second final).  After that, things are only really busy and stressful as we continue applications and struggle to get our act together to start collecting data for our thesis as soon as the spring semester begins.  Looking at my classmates, I see us falling into about 4 categories right now:

(1)  Slightly suppressed anger

(2)  Laughter at the impending doom

(3)  Panic and frenzy

(4)  Tharn

Or maybe by "us," I mean "me."