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.
(“Fist bump” is what they’re calling it, right?)
Anyway: Thanks, bro.
Selling a house, I have found in the last couple of weeks, is a lot like conducting survey research. You work furiously, vigorously, exhaustively in preparation. You agonize over the minutia and at least twice a day you doubt the entire damned project. Then, after weeks of effort and deliberation, you start distributing the survey and go ahead and list the house.
And then, at full speed, you run into a wall, because at that point the success of all that work depends essentially on either having something that somebody wants, or getting strangers to be nice to you. So you wait, and every time the phone rings (or your inbox chimes) you lunge to see if you have a response. It’s like a homemade ulcer kit.
But the similarities don’t stop there, oh no, they go much deeper. At some point, after investing so much work and time, you really start identifying with your project. Incomplete surveys? Rejection! Inadequate oohing and aaahing at your open beam ceilings, mature native landscaping, and designer light fixtures? Rejection!
And not even spring break can save you.
A handful of weeks ago we took a trip to Flagstaff. It’s not exactly the Great White North, but it’s north of here, and it was plenty cold up there that night. But I like Flagstaff; it’s smaller than Tucson and is more like my kind of town.  So I’m happy that Heather’s organization offered her a new position there, which she decided to accept (turns out she’s really good at those maps). Heather will move there in April, and I’ll follow her after the semester ends.
This will mark Heather’s transition to full-on Sugar Mama status, as I won’t be teaching or working as an RA during this time. (Though I hope to find a fellowship or something to give me a little funding, because although her new job is a step up, Heather is still working for The Non-Profit, so her new salary doesn’t quite make up the difference. I’m looking to avoid accumulating any name tags and/or hair nets during the next year.) Instead, I’ll be focusing full-time on my dissertation. I am a little nervous about the creep of slack that seems inevitably to accompany the away-from-department dissertation process, but since Flagstaff is just a quick four-hour drive from here, I’m planning regular visits back to town so that I can keep in touch with departmental goings-on and keep accountable to my dissertation schedule.
My dissertation seems to be on track: With my ASA paper finished, I’ve returned to working on finding survey respondents, distributing the survey, and collecting additional survey data. The goal? To have major data collection near completion by the end of the semester, so that I can produce some early analyses this summer and impress impress various people with them.
With all that ongoing, my list of non-sociology background tasks just got longer: It’s been a while since we moved, and there’s lots to do.
1 It’s close to the Grand Canyon, for instance—although I know I’m not supposed to think about hiking when I have so much work to do.
Spring brings season cleaning over at Lago’s place, where the new design truly is springtime fresh. Both he and Brayden express enthusiasm for their springtime productivity and the upcoming ASA meetings in San Francisco.
When it came time this winter to prepare material for summer’s ASA, I was between papers and projects. One ongoing project hasn’t yielded anything new in the past several months, my dissertation was (still is?) too vague for a working paper, and there just wasn’t time to prepare a conference version of a third possible paper. So this year, I’m free and loose at the ASAs. I’ll be the one networking furiously (read, drinking coffee alone) in preparation for shopping myself and my dissertation around.
And how is the dissertation, you may ask? Organizationally, it’s coming along: I have a possible bead on two really useful sources of data, and I’m planning some spring and summer travel to collect it. On paper, it hasn’t progressed much for several weeks, which will leave me scrambling in the near future to reformulate some important ideas. Still, dicussing it with various folks has been productive and is keeping me enthusiastic, though not yet able to pound out many pages of writing.
What else of spring? Well, over at Eat Your Vegetables, Lane is sporting a bristle-brush of facial hair in celebration of the playoffs, while I am smooth-chinned for the first time in close to six years:
Facial hair is neither created nor destroyed. The circle has been made complete.