Friday, October 30, 2009

What kind of pesky student

... calls their professor at home on a Friday afternoon, when that professor has been out sick for two weeks, to beg them to please look at their data?

This kind. It's not something I'm proud of. But multiple unanswered emails leave me feeling more and more desperate, until I do something rash.


And thank you to my kind professor, who is reviewing my work as I type and calling me back shortly.

My sad methodology chapter and a new outline

I was so anxious to have something to show for my week that I fired off my methodology chapter (chapter 3 in the current outline) to my adviser as soon as I could. I congratulated myself for doing that so early in the week, as it had been my goal to finish it by today.

And now as I read another gal's dissertation, I'm shaking my head and moaning in disgust. My methodology chapter was not at all complete. I had basically the first half, sure, but I completely forgot to include important things like how I actually went about measuring the vowels! Ugh. I know better. I've got to get my head out of the clouds and back into my dissertation.

On the bright side, it's been good for me to go through and read another dissertation. I wasn't sure if it would be worth the time (while this one is about imitation, it focuses on accomodation/convergence, which is not the direction I'm heading), but I think it is. If nothing else, I'd been needing to remind myself what a finished product would look like.

And it's making me rethink my outline. So here is a revised version, that will probably undergo further revision a month from now.
  1. Introduction - Background, pilot study, motivation
  2. Methodology - Normal stuff (including the analysis part I somehow managed to forget), hypotheses
  3. Results - Both the listener and speaker statistics, with plenty of charts and tables
  4. Discussion - Just what it says, polished off with a brilliant conclusion
Hm. Now that's looking too short, like I'm going to have to cram in so many subheadings that it'll be almost ridiculous. Oh well, I'll just work with this for now. Like I said, it's always subject to revision!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I feel so professional! I've had two people email me with an interest in my research, based on my poster at the conference I didn't actually go to. It's so exciting! And a little nervewrecking, since I didn't think the poster was that great. But it's a start, and I guess that's what's important.

Lesson: Don't be afraid to cold-email people. (Like cold-calling: contacting someone who you've never met before.) Not that I have been - I've done that more than once and had really good results. People are flattered when you're interested in what they do! Maybe the big names won't reply, but I think most people will.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Forensic linguistics meets Hollywood

Did you see the movie The Informant! ? It looks real cute. I haven't seen it yet (is it even still out?), so I'm not sure if there's actually any forensic linguistics in the film itself, but you might find it interesting that a forensic linguist was hired as an expert consultant for the case in real life! By the defense.

And here's a snippet of what he had to say about the case:
In cases like this one there comes a point when you have to present the brutal truth to the retaining lawyers, to suggest that the best they can do is to try to get a good plea agreement, and to remove yourself from the case.

Monday, October 26, 2009

University life and starting a family

I'll save the details of my work and such for tomorrow. Right now, I thought I'd include this funny PhD comic I saw the other day.

Thankfully this is not my plan (there are very few post-doctoral positions in linguistics), but it does reflect a common outlook on starting a family in academia.

Most people (notably my father) believe that being a university professor is a dream job, and one just perfect for having a family. You're off in the summer and for federal holidays and you have more flexibility than high school teachers - what could be more perfect? Well, when it comes to community colleges and small universities, there is certainly truth in that. When it comes to prestigious universities and research institutes (the ones that the faculty in your department expect you to go to), this is not so much the case. In fact, having more than 2 kids seems to be an unspoken taboo.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Forensic linguistics (authorship)

Did you know you can do more with a linguistics degree than just teach linguistics? And I don't mean translate, because translators and linguists are not the same thing (although in many instances these titles are flip-flopped). One of the most interesting non-academic linguistic path is into the field of Forensic Linguistics (FL). I could go on and on about this at length, but then what would I blog about later on when I have writer's block and need a relief? So today I'll just give the briefest of introductions. I'm more interested in forensic phonetics (dealing with spoken language rather than written), but I'll just touch on authorship attribution here.

The basic idea is that a linguist looks at two (preferably many more) texts and determines how similar they are. So for example, if there was an extortion threat mailed to someone, and there are writing samples of a person in custody, the linguist would be asked to compare the threat (the questioned document) and the writing samples (the known documents) to determine how likely it is that they were written by the same person. Neat, huh?

I personally think Tim Grant is the best person in this field, from what I've read, and it just so happens he was interviewed by the BBC about this. Here's his explanation of forensic linguistics. Enjoy!

And if you are really interested in this, the International Association of Forensic Linguists (IAFL) is where you want to go to learn more. Get on the (quite active) listserv and go to the conference. Join so that you get the International Journal of Speech, Language, and the Law (which you can also get by joining the International Association of Forensic Phonetics and Acoustics (IAFPA), which is FL from the spoken side).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sigh of relief

I finished my NWAV poster. We made it to the store 10 minutes before closing time last night to get it printed. (Apparently the three closer Office Depots couldn't print something that large, so they had to send it to this store that was farther away.) Then I shipped it out this morning. Guess how much an overnight poster box to Canada costs? Almost $70. Ugh. But that's cheaper than flying there and staying in a hotel, so I'm not complaining too much.

While we're on the subject of costs, can you guess how much a 3' x 3' glossy poster goes for?


But isn't it pretty?

Okay, I know I have way too much text and way too few charts. It's not the ideal poster. But even my adviser commented that the colors are nice!

I don't think this is necessary, but just in case, this poster is copyrighted by me. Please don't reproduce it. Actually, if you look at it closely you'll probably realize it's not great. I couldn't put much content on there. But if you do like it or something, let me know!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Some motivation

My husband the scientist is my biggest motivator to getting my PhD in a timely manner. Example: In order to advance to candidacy in our department, you have to have two "publishable papers" plus of course your prospectus. It's really a great thing. Anyway, my husband told me he wouldn't propose until I had finished both my papers. And he was dead serious.

And let me tell you how motivating that was. I worked my tail off to get those done! Not to make it sound like I sacrificed quality for speed per se - but a motivation like that will really curb any perfectionist tendencies that might keep you toiling for an extra month.

Once I finished, we did in fact get engaged.

And a few months later, I had a new motivation. Once I finish my dissertation, we can start a family. YES!!!

I think some women might resent their husbands holding out these things that they so desperately want like a carrot on a string. But I don't (usually). I know he's being practical and helping to make sure I prioritize and finish what I've started. Because once we begin these other big wonderful life events, my tendency is to ignore little things like my research. Not the best plan if I actually want to finish this PhD. Which I do. Which I will.

Friday, October 16, 2009


I'm tired of complaining all the time. So I would like to celebrate the fact that this afternoon I ran some new statistics (on a different aspect of my data) and they worked! Hallelujah!

Yes, I actually belted out Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" when it happened. I sounded like this:

Or something close to that. I was missing the horn section.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

100 words

Really? How can I possibly condense everything I have to say to 100 words? It was tough enough to get under 500 words for the real abstract. Chopping down to 100 for the short abstract is tough!

It's okay, LSA. I won't hold it against you. And you know that. You know that everyone is so desperate to present at your conference that they will gladly slash abstracts and do anything else you ask. You'd like me to stand on my head while I speak to people at my poster? Gladly!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Second time around

I keep getting asked what I'm going to do when I finish. I don't have a good answer. At all. I waver and hem and haw, because I really truly do not know. I know what I would like to do. Actually, there are many things I'd like to do, and they bounce around in my head sometimes. But the one thing I really want is probably not what people want to hear when we're talking about a soon-to-be doctor of philosophy.

In linguistics the go-to place to start your job search is the Linguist List. Pretty much all the jobs are posted there, and I get a daily email that tells me everything that's going on in the linguistics world: job openings, conference calls, journal table of contents, and so on.

Today was the second time I saw an announcement for a teaching position at Mizzou. I'm from Missouri and would love nothing more than to move back there and be as close to my family as possible! While the job isn't quite perfect for me (I'm not a phonologist, but might be able to fake it with my phonetics background), it is still an excellent opportunity. Plus my adviser knows one of the three linguistics professors there, and that could help, right? Although she said that I probably wouldn't get the job, because the market is so fierce right now that a true phonologist would be easy to find. Great.

My husband the scientist is not adverse to moving there. He's even looked into what jobs he could get there. But they aren't in Columbia. They're a couple hours away from that, and that kind of commute just won't cut it.

So the question is, do I even bother applying? Part of me thinks I should apply for any and all jobs because (a) the market really is tough right now and (b) it would be good experience. But I've also heard you shouldn't apply for a job if you wouldn't seriously take it, and I'm not sure if I would if I actually got it. So then is it worth the time and effort to put together all those application materials?

Well, this week it isn't. I've got too much other stuff to do. Applications aren't due until November 2. That's plenty of time to sit on this, right?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Warning! Danger!

The alarm started buzzing a few weeks ago. Last week it upgraded to a ringing level, but I was able to ignore it with family distractions. This week is has exploded into a piercing siren and I can no longer brush it off.


Last night I actually worked after supper.

This doesn't seem like a big deal, I know. I am a student, after all, and doesn't that mean studying at night?

Well, no. At least it doesn't have to. Yes, it did when I was taking classes (although I think that with discipline even then it doesn't have to). But after I was finished with that and could move on to doing my research on my own schedule, I didn't anymore. I started treating my research like a 8-5 job, and it actually worked really well for me. The motivation of spending every evening and most of the weekend relaxing with my then-boyfriend now-husband helped me to really work hard during the day and get stuff done. It also helped that I had an office to go to: once I was on campus, it was basically linguistics time until the 5:00 whistle.

But I am no longer on campus, and working from home has drawbacks along with its benefits. For quite a while now I have been letting other things interfere with my work day, to the point where I now spend more time blogging, working out, cooking, reading, doing devotionals, and grocery shopping than actually dissertating. This has got to stop.

Ideally this will make me start using my time more wisely and I can go back to having a disciplined work day. But with a conference next weekend (!) that I have not yet made my poster for (!!), I'm seeing more evening work in my future. Ugh.

But once that is over, here is what I'd like my schedule to look like. I've got high hopes that it will be a really good and productive routine. The key will be keeping myself off the internet once 10:00 rolls around, even if I didn't get to read/write all the blog posts I wanted or look at so-and-so's new facebook photo album.

8:00-8:30 Prayer/devotional time
8:30-9:00 Run
9:00-10:00 Shower and Internet time
10:00-4:30 Research!
4:30 Reward with more internet if was productive
5:00 Start supper

Friday, October 9, 2009

Slow going

My poor old laptop is painfully slow. When I bought it I thought it would last me through all five years of grad school - ha! Last year my husband the scientist convinced me to get a new one, and I'm so glad he did. Because trying to do my research and write my dissertation on that thing would be, as I said, painful. I'm actually writing this whole post as I wait for it to open up a document within a folder. Yeah, it's that slow.

But I shouldn't rag on it too much, because I was able to put a trial version of SPSS on it, and it worked the first time! Yesterday was a really productive day - I was able to run all of my tests on that, despite the slow going. All the chi squareds for independence were disappointing - very few significant findings. But my binomial tests were beautiful, with most p values registering at .000!

I was also able to talk to my adviser yesterday and discuss the results I did have. She suggested I make sure and call my committee members (not just email), because they need to be constantly reminded. She's told me more than once to just keep calling and bugging her, or I'll never get in touch with her. It's weird to have to pester the person who's supposed to be guiding you, but you get used to it. That doesn't mean I like to feel like that annoying student who keeps calling, but I'll do it out of necessity.

Oh, the file finally loaded! Off I go!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I thought I'd be done with this a month ago

Actually, my plan was to be finished with data gathering and statistics by the end of August. Data gathering was done. Statistics still are not. Who knew they'd be this much work?

I do have to say I'm learning a lot. Depending on what I do after graduation, that may or may not ever come in handy for the rest of my life. Maybe I'll tell myself that I'm not just learning about specific tests, but learning valuable lessons in perseverance.

I think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, though. I found a trial version of SPSS that I can put on my old laptop. So today I created a bunch of data files and put them on my jump disk, so first thing tomorrow I can plug those in and start testing! I'm hoping I can finish that all in one day, so I can type it up on Friday and send it on out to my committee members. Time is getting short after all!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


I didn't post yesterday. Did you notice? It's because it was MY BIRTHDAY!

At first I told myself that the best gift to give myself would be a good morning of solid work - then I would feel great the rest of the day! Then I decided that I should really spend some time indulging in the blogosphere and facebook. And then I'm not sure what happened after that, but it was lunch time. And then I did work for an hour or two, and then got a call from my friend Jenny and we always talk for a while. And then I had to hurry just to get in a run and shower before it was time to go out for dinner! So yeah, not much got done in there.

Oh, and remember how I said I didn't mind family responsibilities interfering with my work? I still don't really feel guilty about that. But it turns out I only like to be helpful when it is on my schedule. I need to work on that.

I don't think I mentioned that I did hear back from one of my committee members! He suggested a logistic regression, so I ran that. I see some very nice p values, but I don't know which (if any) of them are applicable. Today I also ran some loglinear models. I think they said I have significant three way interactions. I'm not really sure what that means, either. I think I'm trying to complicate things too much.

I really need to create my NWAV poster. But that's based on my listener results. And those are the very statistics I'm struggling with. But I will prevail!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Oh dear

Now I have to confess that I didn't really do anything today. Darn. Apparently the threat of having to admit this to you all wasn't enough to make me do my research.

Honestly, when it's because of other family responsibilities, I don't feel guilty in the least. Of course that's more important! When it's because of other time-suckers like the internet, that's when I feel guilty. Today was a combination, but I'm going to say that it was mostly family, so I don't feel too bad. I mean, I didn't even have time to post on my other blog.

And actually, I did maybe an hour or so of work. And it's only 4:00 now. If I can get in another 45 minutes, I'm going to feel good calling it a day. I can't believe it's already the weekend again!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Dear SPSS,

We are no longer on good terms. I used to think you were the answer to all my statistical problems. Actually, I still believe you hold the key to beautiful p values. You can make my research significant!

But then you had to go and hold my Mac against me. I'm sorry. I honestly would not have purchased this computer if I'd realized you weren't fulfilled by it. I didn't know you could give me more on a PC. That "exact" button is all I'm looking for from you now. And you can't give it to me here.

I'm not sure if we can still be friends after this. It's going to take time for me to reach out and meet new people, to find someone who has your 16th (or later) version installed on their laptop who is willing to let me use it free of charge. Because we both know you don't come cheap.

This is painful for both of us. I'd like to say it's not you, but, well, it is you.

Your former friend and fan,