Catching up

In the past 30 days or so, I estimate that I have driven approximately 5,000 miles, between Flagstaff, Tucson, Fort Collins, and Salt Lake City. About 900 of those miles were driven to growing sound of doom from under the hood. Fortunately, while it sounded terrible, the unusual hole in the muffler flange could be welded up at the muffler shop for $90. Alas, not so for the $50 joint at the end of the driveline. That repair involved replacing the entire piece, to the tune of $800. (Sternly-worded letter to Subaru mentally composed; never sent.) Getting hustled to replace my wiper blades at the Quik Loob didn’t bother me so much after that.

The driving season commenced with a trip to Tucson for my dissertation defense. I am happy to say that the defense itself went really well. I have some revisions to make, but am looking forward to carrying them out. Having essentially passed, and with some really constructive feedback shaping what I work on next, is extremely freeing, mentally. It gives me some renewed enthusiasm for a project that was feeling pretty stuck by the time I finished. Also noteworthy is that we dragged the department a little bit further into the Jobs Age, with Kieran sitting in on the defense via iChat. Slick.

I had an interesting conversation, afterwards, (was that with you, Jeff?) about how the department has an odd culture with regard to how these defenses work. It borders on the Fight Club Rule: Don’t Talk About The Dissertation Defense. This may happen everywhere, actually, and it’s likely less a rule than a function of how defenses take place: Students frequently return to town for a day or so (as in my case), do the defense, and then head back to jobs/home/research elsewhere. This doesn’t leave much time afterward for younger students to get a feeling for what the experience is like. It’s a really sharp contrast to the normal workings in a department like mine, where grad students extensively share information and experiences about things like prelims and oral exams. If someone had said to me earlier, “Hey, it will be an interesting and constructive conversation,” I would have been much more pleasant to be around the week before.

The several weeks since have rushed past: Christmas in Fort Collins (where I recommend the Armstrong Hotel, and we ducked in and out between blizzards, but only just and that by cutting a week-long trip to three nights) a few days at home, and a week in Utah. I finished a paper along the way, and have been bunkered back in Flagstaff for the past handful of days, wondering just how cold it can get here. (Several mornings of -12F, so far, suggest the answer is “pretty cold.”)

So what next? Seattle is what’s next. On Friday I trundle a few packages to the post office and then make my way to the airport — which I hope will not be closed in the face of another winter storm headed our way — for a twelve-week excursion to the Pacific Northwest. I’m headed to Redmond, more specifically, where I’ll be an intern at Microsoft’s Community Technologies Group. Doing what? I’m not exactly sure; the research group is involved with all kinds of neat stuff that dovetails nicely with my interests in collective behavior and new forms of organization. But I do know that doing sociology with an assortment of cool tools, data, and diverse colleagues will be great. It will be a very different kind of environment from what I’m used to, and I hope to be both challenged and invigorated by that. And, hey, Seattle is a great place to spend some time, though I hear they’ve had quite a winter, so far. I’m bringing my long underwear.