Bitter grad students

One of the things I find most unpleasant about grad school is dealing with the older, bitter grad students. It is impossible to say if I will feel that way when I get there, but for some reason I just don’t have much patience for their attitudes. I know that grad school can suck, so I might be more empathetic, as I’m usually a very empathetic person. But some of these students, I read their attitudes as a result of their having expected more, and I find that foolish. Which may be totally irrational of me. But I’ve read a lot of stuff about grad school and academia life – the Chronicle career articles, books on parenting in academia, and an informative guide for PhD students.

Maybe, after gathering all of this information, I still have no idea what I’m in for. But I’m not sure. I kind of think I know what I’m in for, and I made a calculated decision to accept it. And given that, I’m determined to make the best of it that I can. I employ many of the strategies in the book for PhD students, and they help me to do what I can about some of the parts of grad school that can stink. I knew all about my advisor before I accepted to work with this person, and I consciously chose this person more because I get along and work similarly than because I was ecstatic about the research in the group. Instead, I found that my area of passion was close enough to what is being done in the group to create a niche for myself that crosses over between what I am most interested in and what the group was already involved in, and that has worked for me so far. Sometimes I’m involved in projects that only slightly overlap with my stronger passions, but I’m a good sport about it and find things to enjoy in all of the projects.

Admittedly, I failed the quals and that sucks. But I am only finishing my first year of grad school and I have a paper that’s been accepted with its revisions, so I will be a published first author before the end of the year. So it seems entirely possible that having failed the quals and having to take them again could be the worst part of my time in graduate school.

I learned early on that there are many, many unspoken rules and hidden pitfalls in academia, and that likely no one will tell you so you’d better just prepare yourself. And my philosophy regarding grad school sucking is that if you know what you’re getting into, you can plan for it and do your best to make it work ok for you. So I really seem to have no patience for the jaded and bitter grad students. I mean, what did they expect when they got here? Am I misunderstanding these students? Am I really in for some great awakening as to how much grad school sucks?

To my readers: were you a bitter grad student? Why?

More ferber conversation

There’s been a bit of a discussion in the comments section of my Ferber vs. Co-sleeping post.  My views on this have evolved some since I first posted about it, because I’ve been reading more and more about science studies on babies and sleeping and in general the nature vs. nurture argument.  I recently wrote a long response to a visitor and I just wanted to comment on this here because the discussion there has gotten interesting.  Here is an excerpt from my comment:

I may not be a sleep expert, but I do base my opinions in scientific research. One of the things that bothers me most about all of this is the assumption that babies and children are so malleable. They are, of course, malleable to some degree. But they are also born with inborn needs and desires and personality just based on their biological makeup. And at the age of an infant, most evidence suggests that babies do not have the ability to reason. They are responding to base instincts, that in an adult’s words would sound something like “I feel uncomfortable about XYZ so I’m going to cry to relay this information to someone who will remedy the situation.”

One source that I use to derive many of my parenting opinions is a book that I think is very critical to parenting but is not considered a parenting book: The Blank Slate, by Steven Pinker. Pinker is a biologist, and the book is all about the current state of scientific evidence over the nature vs. nurture controversy. You really need to read the whole book to understand the end, but the chapters at the end are wonderfully insightful, including the chapter on children. Pretty much my opinion these days (and it has evolved since my original post of this topic) is that whether or not you use the Ferber sleep method, it is not going to affect your kid’s development or personality. This may be different from what I implied in my post, because I’m not as concerned about letting the baby cry affecting the emotional development of the kid. I certainly think that co-sleeping will help a baby to feel secure and confident, and thus to explore the world knowing that there is a safe haven with his parents. There is research evidence of this that has shown such things as boys having more self-confidence and girls being less discomforted by physical closeness later in life. (Visit this page to read about this and then if you want, go and find the real studies they cite.) But I don’t think a kid who is “Ferberized” will necessarily exhibit low self-esteem. In my opinion, if there’s something you can do that will help with security and confidence, you should want to. But I do acknowledge there are plenty of good reasons not to – the one that strikes me most is if parents are so exhausted that they will snap at the kids and it will further hamper the feelings of security.

Your choice of sleep method will certainly, however, affect your day to day home life – how much sleep you and the baby get, how comfortable you are or how stressed your heart is from hearing baby cry, and your baby’s physical stress levels. Research definitely has shown that co-sleeping leads to more regular breathing in the baby (visit the site mentioned previously or this page by Dr. Sears or this article on Dr. McKenna’s research)

This is an excerpt from the article on Dr. McKenna’s work, which I didn’t include in the comment:

Human babies may have evolved to sleep best-and perhaps most safely – when they snooze next to a parent rather than alone in a crib. Evidence for this contention comes from a pilot study directed by James J. McKenna of Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., and Sarah Mosko of the University of California, Irvine, Medical Center,

“When sleeping alone, babies sleep too soon, too long, and too hard,” McKenna asserts. “Contact with a parent’s body helps to regulate an infant’s physiology throughout the night.”

I’m a FREAK!

And somehow, this didn’t surprise me at all. I took the Brutally Honest Personality Test over at OkCupid!, after having seen it at propterdoc’s.

Your Score: Freak- INFJ

33% Extraversion, 73% Intuition, 40% Thinking, 53% Judging

Well, well, well. How did someone like you end up with the least common personality type of them all? In a group of 100 Americans, only 0.5 others would be just like you. You really are one of a kind… In fact, I do believe that that’s one of the definitions for the word “FREAK.”

Freak’s not such a bad word to describe you actually.

You are deep, complex, secretive and extremely difficult to understand. If that doesn’t scream “Freak!” I don’t know what does. No-one actually knows the REAL you, do they?

You probably have deep interests in creative expression as well as issues of spirituality and human development.

You’ve probably even been called a “psychic” before, because of your uncanny knack to understand and “read” people without quite knowing how you do it. Don’t fret. You’re not actually psychic. That would make you special and you’ll never accomplish that.

You’re also quite possible the most emotional of them all, so don’t take this all too hard. Nevertheless you most definitely have the strangest personality type and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

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If you want to learn more about your personality type in a slightly less negative way, check out this.

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The other personality types are as follows…

LonerIntroverted Sensing Feeling Perceiving

PushoverIntroverted Sensing Feeling Judging

CriminalIntroverted Sensing Thinking Perceiving

BorefestIntroverted Sensing Thinking Judging

Almost PerfectIntroverted iNtuitive Feeling Perceiving

LoserIntroverted iNtuitive Thinking Perceiving

CrackpotIntroverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging

ClownExtraverted Sensing Feeling Perceiving

SapExtraverted Sensing Feeling Judging

CommanderExtraverted Sensing Thinking Perceiving

Do GooderExtraverted Sensing Thinking Judging

ScumbagExtraverted iNtuitive Feeling Perceiving

BusybodyExtraverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging

PrickExtraverted iNtuitive Thinking Perceiving

DictatorExtraverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging

Link: The Brutally Honest Personality Test written by UltimateMaster on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test

So I also wanted to read more about being an INFJ.  I’d taken tests like this in the past, but the last time I think was in high school, and to be honest, I’ve changed some since then and I can’t remember what I had gotten anyhow.  So here is a portrait of an INFJ, called “The Protector.”

Considering moving abroad: Education in the Netherlands

So the first official post of my “considering moving abroad” series is on education in the Netherlands. I found a general overview over at Expatica, but it doesn’t go into as much detail as I would like regarding the university system. The pre-university education, at first glance, sounds pretty good.  This describes the first eight grades of Dutch schooling:

Obligatory subjects are: sensory co-ordination, Dutch, arithmetic, English, art and music, geography, history, science and nature, social structures, and religious and ideological movements.

Schools are required to not only teach but also impart social skills and insights. Attention is also given to the fact the Netherlands is comprised of different ethnic groups.

I am particularly glad to see that religious and ideological movements are an obligatory subject.  In America, those are often just covered peripherally through history lessons.  While I am a huge proponent of separation of church and state and that there is no place for the church in state-provided education, I enthusiastically think that it is important for children to learn about all of the major world religions and movements.  I wish I had learned more about Christianity as a subject matter when I was younger; my lack of knowledge regarding it left me missing many allusions and themes in literature and the arts.  Also, understanding the other religions and movements is a crucial step in understanding the people that are different from oneself.

Through Expatica‘s article I found this website: Study in Holland.  It has lots of information for international students, which may help me, as a foreigner, to understand their system.  From it I learned that there are two main types of universities in Holland: universities, and universities of professional education.  The universities are more like American universities, while the universities of professional education are more focused on providing specific training for a career than on a broader knowledge base.  About the regular universities:

There are 14 government-approved universities in Holland, three of which specialize in engineering. These institutions essentially train students in academic study and the application of knowledge, although many study programmes do also have a professional component and most graduates actually find work outside the research community.

The universities vary in size, with enrolments ranging from 6,000 to 30,000. Altogether they enrol some 205,000 students.

Among those, three of the universities I have already looked into are the University of Groningen, the University of Amsterdam, and Leiden University.  They all seem to be strong universities with rich history and robust research programs.

Most importantly regarding what we are looking into for our future kids and cost of living is the information regarding what university costs in the Netherlands.  This is what I’ve found so far regarding the cost of tuition:

Education in Holland is not free, but tuition fees are reasonable compared to other countries. In Holland, higher education is subsidized, which means that tuition fees can be kept relatively low, especially compared with the United Kingdom and the United States.

The annual tuition fees for enrollment on a degree programme or course at a Dutch higher education institution start at approximately €1,500 for EU students. The costs of programmes or courses for non-EU students are generally higher.

I would like to find out more about this.  By the time our own kids are ready for college, I imagine they will be citizens if we have chosen to stay in the country.  So I want to find out what it costs for Dutch citizens.

Of course, I am also interested in learning about the country’s educational system for my own research and career.  I have found a great site I will check out further and report back on: The Researcher’s Mobility Portal for The Netherlands.

Considering moving abroad

So my husband and I are still seriously researching moving abroad after I finish my doctoral program here in the US. I’ve decided that as we continue to learn more about these other countries, I will post about it here under the tag “considering moving abroad.” Although I may not get to posting for each of the countries and aspects we look at, I intend to more thoroughly research the health care system; education system (in particular how university works and if it’s paid for by taxes or out of pocket); status and power of religion; economic state (including cost of living and job market outlook); climate; work-life balance outlook (parental leave, vacation time, hours worked per week, child care options); immigration and naturalization laws; attitudes towards minorities, drugs, and sex; and likely cost of visiting and keeping in touch with friends and family in the US.

Wow, looks like a big project. But then, we have at least three years to do this work, and it means so much to us we are eager to find out the information. So, let’s get started with my next post, about education in the Netherlands!

Voice Chat and Race in WoW

I find these articles on Wired by Clive Thompson to be really fascinating. First, I read the article on voice chat in online games. As I’ve mentioned previously, I play World of Warcraft. I have certainly been in groups and guilds where they requested that I download Ventrilo or Teamspeak and use that to communicate over voice chat instead of typing. I always, always resist this, and I found this article interesting, to see that I am not alone. Until a few months ago, I did not play as a serious role-playing character on a role-play server, but I always found immersion into the game world to be important, and I feel that voice chat really takes me out of that. Not only that, but I know that one of the reasons I resist is because I like the anonymity of text chat. Thompson writes:

I had just experienced the latest culture-shock in online worlds: The advent of voice. Games that were governed by text are now being governed by chat, and it is subtly changing the feel of our virtual universe.

There are good reasons why so many multiplayer online games are launching with voice-chat software. Partly it’s to welcome newbies, who often find that old-school text-chat is simply too complicated. Also, voice chat makes pell-mell action easier to handle: If you’re running a guild raid with 50 people, it’s much easier to bark orders than to type them out (which is why voice chat has long been popular on first-person shooters on Xbox Live).

But many players are now discovering that voice tweaks the social environment — and sometimes kills off part of what made their favorite world so much fun.

After all, one of the great things about virtual worlds was that they were, well, virtual. You could adopt a brand-new persona, and leave your dull, dreary existence behind. Outside are the suburbs and your shift at Chick-fil-A; online is a land of snowcapped mountains where you sit astride a cat-like mount, while stars rain around you.

This lovely shift in identity was true even if you weren’t a hard-core “role player.” When I log on to World of Warcraft, I don’t try to seriously pretend I’m a medieval person. I happily text-chat with fellow players about 21st century stuff like music, Lost, our jobs. But somehow this social activity never breaks the “magic circle” of the game, the sense that we’re in a different place with different rules. Maybe it’s because text-chat is inherently abstract; it’s something that happens in our heads, in a sort of ludological backchannel of our minds.

He really hits this on the head for me. For one, I am a 23 year old female, and I know that when I speak on voice chat it becomes clear. Even though I play female characters, since many males play females avatars as well, people don’t always assume I am really female. In addition I could be middle-aged, or a kid, or something else that’s not as sexy. Now I’m not saying I have a sexy voice, but I usually feel more comfortable in this online male dominated world without sharing the details of my person and personality that voice chat shares. Apparently I’m not alone in this feeling:

This is particularly a problem for women, because often women thrive in MMOs precisely by downplaying their sexual identity. When Krista-Lee Malone, a student at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, did a study of the impact of voice chat on online worlds, women all told her they were treated differently once other players — particularly younger men — could hear their voices. (“They got hit on a lot,” Malone says.)

Nowadays, I also seriously role-play, so to me voice chat is out of the question unless everyone wants to stay in character over chat. But another reason that I know I resist is because of my own biases. I am such an extreme liberal, and one of the problem with everyday chat instead of only RP (role-play) chat in the game is that discussion often turns to elements of pop culture or politics that I don’t want to discuss with these random people. It’s often challenging for me, and since World of Warcraft is supposed to be a leisure time activity, I don’t want that discussion in there. When we add voice chat, all of a sudden issues are added: I can tell if the person is from the south, or it turns out that it wasn’t just typos but poor English (which doesn’t bother me from foreigners but does somewhat, I admit, from American-born adults, since it implies lack of education). Now, I have family from the south, so I’m not particularly biased against people from that region of the country. As a complete leftist, as a person more liberal than most democrats, I worry that the likelihood that such a person will have politics and beliefs that I not only disagree with but am infuriated by (because I see them as causing unnecessary pain and difficulty for so many people), is a bit high. So I’d rather not know what part of the country you are from, wheter you are a college student, a well-educated career person, or a member of the military. In the article, Thompson mentions how so much identity is shared by the addition of voice:

But voice has much higher emotional bandwidth. It conveys a lot of identity: Your voice instantly transmits your age, your gender and often your nationality — even your regional location too. (I can tell a Texan accent from a Minnesotan, and you can probably tell I’m Canadian by my nasal “oots.”) With voice, the real world is honking in your ear.

I have more to write about the article on voice and race in fantasy games, but I need to run to go babysit this morning. Sorry about the lack of conclusion to my discussion!

Ok, I’m back. I posted this already this morning, but I’d like to add to it, and I changed a bit of my last paragraph to better clarify what I feel about this.

So I sometimes don’t like to admit that I have my own biases, particularly against conservatives in America, and religious believers. I do my best to temper them, because I know some conservatives and religious believers who are good people – in fact almost all of them are at least motivated by the desire to do good, but in my mind, they just get it so plain wrong that it’s hard not to fault them for not seeing the pain they are causing to people who are different from them.

The same author, Clive Thompson, also wrote an article on race in virtual worlds. It’s a pretty interesting article, and I have one comment on my own instinctive feeling about race in World of Warcraft, and pretty much all the other fantasy worlds. This thought sums it up: “Humans? Ugh.” I had always explained it as the idea that if I’m going to be in a fantasy world, why would I want to be a race I already am when I could pretend to be a cute little gnome or an ethnically interesting troll, a noble orc or an nature-loving night elf?

Thompson writes:

Except that races inside games often seem to reflect, in a creepy way, some of our most regrettable biases about race in real life. For example, when World of Warcraft first came out, players were amused, stunned or both to discover that the evil trolls spoke in … Jamaican accents. Aaron Delwiche, a game academic at Trinity University, asked his student Beth Cox to analyze all the “emotes” in World of Warcraft — the spoken greetings or hand gestures Blizzard pre-programmed into each race. She found that Trolls were “disproportionately more likely to make violent or sexual statements,” Delwiche notes. (Some of their sentences were even scripted in Ebonics: “You going to axe me out?” says the female Troll when you hit the “flirt” command.) In the same way, the “good” alliance characters tended to employ Western, Christian-like symbols, while the evil horde had totems and shamanistic magic. “Clearly, there’s something interesting happening there, and it’s not just coincidence,” Delwiche adds.

There’s evidence, too, that players bring their own racial biases into the game. When Nick Yee, a game academic at Stanford University, polled World of Warcraft players in 2005, he found that while there were nine possible races to choose from, a significant majority — more than half of women and almost half of men — chose to play as the two most “white-looking” and “pretty” races in the game: Humans and elves.

This is interesting to me for two reasons. One is that the trolls’Jamaican accents seemed fun and natural to me, because trolls (In Tolkien-esque worlds) are from tropical jungles, and I associate a Jamaican accent with being from a warm place. The bigger thing though is that it’s made me realize that perhaps my instinctual dislike of human characters in the fantasy world is related to my repugnance of many aspects of Western culture. I see humans more as greedy than noble, and I’d rather be a gnome. At least they are good at science.