Thursday, March 1, 2007

Flying By The Seat of My Pants

This whole thing would all be so much easier and more readily comprehensible if I'd ever actually written a dissertation before. Nevertheless, I consider myself fortunate to be highly skilled at flying by the seat of my pants. The last couple of days have been crazy (and believe me, I know crazy - in the Biblical sense). I had a phone conference with Her Majesty My Dissertation Chair (HMMDC) yesterday to iron out a few details before I submit my next revision. A lot has happened since the last time we spoke, including the holidays, my teaching an undergraduate psychology course, a major national session for my school (which I didn't attend, but she did) and the death of my mother in law, but despite all of those things I've still gotten a lot done. HMMDC was a little peeved that I haven't kept her abreast of what I've been up to, but if neither of us is available, up-to-the-minute communication is difficult at best. All that aside, she was pleased with what I've gotten accomplished and she appreciates that I am as self-directed as I am.

During our conversation, HMMDC brought up a couple of issues. First, she thinks my new associate dean (the old one got a much better offer elsewhere - can't blame him for taking it) is a twit who tries to make things overly complicated for his dissertating students just for the sake of complicating things. This is a ginormous problem for both the amazingly smart, fabulous and wonderful HMMDC and myself because that type of thinking runs completely counter to ours and is part of why I picked her. Given that situation, she suggested that since Dr. New AD likes to "make his mark" on the dissertations he works on (read: piss all over everything), that now would be the time for me to seek his assistance on something trivial that I don't really care if he changes. He's already made it rather clear that he doesn't like the title, the table of contents or the order of presentation of the content without specifying what exacly he wanted to see, so there are promising areas there. HMMDC suggested that maybe if I seek his guidance in one of those areas, it would placate him before we get too deep into the process. I made preparations to do that, namely, "What would you like the title to be?" and "In what order would you prefer the presentation?" but haven't executed the request - more on that in a bit (film at 11).

The other issue brought up by HMMDC is that my exposure to the very small neuropsychology community is limited, consisting of my supervisor from the hospital, my second faculty reader (much beloved and brilliant Reader #2), and the other neuropsych faculty guy at my school, so I have not clue one whom to ask to be my external reader, since it's supposed to be someone affiliated with neither the school nor myself so none of those guys qualify. HMMDC advised me to consult Reader #2, who is a prominent (and have I mentioned brilliant?) neuropsychologist, and in the meantime she'd check with the geriatric psych folks she knows and we'd probably have somebody in a couple of weeks. Love love, kiss kiss, talk to you in 2 weeks, we were done.

That is, until about two hours later. HMMDC called me in a bit of a lather to inform me that she and Reader #2 had just been on the phone and this is what they had decided in the interest of getting me graduated: First, since graduation this summer will be in the same major city where my 80-something grandparents and many other extended family members live and I would like to walk at that time, they are putting a cattle prod to my ass to get me there in time and I should just buckle my seatbelt, hang on and shut the fuck up because it's going to be a bumpy ride - but we'll get there. I love a good challenge and am thrilled to be a blip on someone's radar at this point so I'm okay with that. Done is good. Done. Is. Very. Fucking. Good.

First things first, Reader #2 (whom I adore and have only the best, most wonderful glowing and gushy nice things to say about not only because of his brilliance as a clinician but his unwavering comitment to student advocacy) absolutely, under no circumstances, will ever Ever EVER work on a dissertation committee with Dr. New AD again. Period. Not really a problem because interestingly enough, ADs will be rendered unnecessary for dissertation committees as of the end of this month so HMMDC is going to ask for a special dispensation from the grand poobah of the school to ask if we can just go ahead and drop him now and either put someone else in that position or leave it empty, depending upon how many people the school wants on the committee. My vote is for leaving it vacant, because trying to get 2 academics to agree is easier than trying to get 3 to agree, and HMMDC and Reader #2 are already in agreement. Realistically though, I won't hold my breath because it's guaranteed that nooooobody from the adminisphere is going to ask for my input on the subject. In the interest of minimizing complications though, either way is still good news. Surely we can find someone to play nice and get me out.

The next thing, from which I am still reeling, is that HMMDC and Reader #2 agreed that since I will be using an archival dataset and already have approval from the hospital Institutional Review Board (IRB) to use it for my study, that I should go ahead and fill out the IRB exemption paperwork for our school. As in RIGHT FUCKING NOW, do not pass go, do not collect $200, and get it to HMMDC by 10am Pacific time this morning because they meet today. No pressure or anything. --Don't even ask. Anybody who knows me for more than 2 minutes knows damn well I got it in. I ended class early this morning because my lecture notes weren't fully prepared after being up all night doing that, but by Gawd, I got that IRB bullshit turned in, and with time to spare. I even watched American Idol first (you knew I would).

It probably goes without saying that I was pretty much a zombie this morning in class but the kids were excited to be released from my dungeon a little early and I got to come home and take a much needed and well-deserved nap, so that's a big ol' bonus.

Naptime over, I was just settling down into some good juicy revisions when my cell phone rang. Guess who? You guessed it: My NeuroNerd Hero, Reader #2. He wanted to be sure I was aware of his refusal to work with Dr. New AD (whom I've only met once when I read his tarot cards last summer). I told much beloved Reader #2 that as far as I am concerned Dr. New AD is expendable, but that his expertise as "Dr. Uber NeuroGuy" is not and assured him that we'd figure something out one way or another. I'm flexible, especially if it is to my benefit. As of the end of this month it will be a moot point anyway.

Next things next, Reader #2 proceeded to tell me that I should hire a statistics consultant asap to help me figure out the math part. Not to DO it for me, mind you, but to tutor me through the process, since I'm not a math nerd and all (although I play one on TV). I told him about the recent policy change I'd been emailed from the adminisphere about not receiving ANY outside help in the dissertation process. He got downright pissed and told me to send him the link and he'd get it changed. After all, an external reader is outside, right? So where do we draw the line? He said that not allowing a statistics consultant was tantamount to leaving the dissertating student floundering on the beach. I told him that although I've flourished and made a name for myself, the feeling of being left floundering on the beach pretty much sums up the bulk of my experience with the program for the last 6 and a half years, so what else is new? Of course now I can't find the link to the information but I know that's what it said among listing the punishments for such offenses, including but not limited to the rack, shoving glass shards under the fingernails or being forced to slide down a 20-foot razor blade into a pool of rubbing alcohol. We agreed that we didn't have that conversation, but he advised me to do it anyway after consulting with HMMDC and thank the stats consultant for the tutorials in the "thanks" page of the final document.

He then asked me about the revisions the school-based research person wanted to see in the next iteration of my proposal. He agreed with her suggestions but wants me to send everything to him before I send it anywhere else, a decision supported heartily by HMMDC. I can do that but it's going to take a couple of days since I've kind of butchered (read: really fucked up) the original document in trying to get to the revisions the research person wants to see. It takes time to unfuckup stuff, you know?

Okay, all that said...the coolest part besides hopefully getting out this summer is that Reader #2 knows a lot of the "Big Names" in neuropsychology and is having dinner with one of the biggest next week. Turns out Dr. Big Name owes much beloved Reader #2 a huge favor for saving his ass recently. Guess who's dissertation Reader #2 is going to ask him to serve as external reader? You know it baby - that would be mine - the Dissertation from Hell.

Yeah baby, I got it like that - by the seat of my pants. Good thing that's how I roll.

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