Challenge Accepted

I had a conversation with a fellow grad student mom today who was lamenting the fact that she couldn’t have just one day as a “normal grad student.” My reply was, “Yeah, but you’d just be bored.”

And yes, I really do understand and feel her pain. We work hard all day. Then go home where we don’t get rest, but rather we get to start in all over (as I write this post, my own toddler is screaming because he’s decided bedtime is for babies). And our munchkins don’t understand deadlines, only that they need mom. Really, though, who wouldn’t want to come home to this face?

A toddler smiling open mouthed at the camera with a monster shirt on.
The happy face of someone who couldn’t wait for Mom to get home.

The demands of having a kid waiting for me at home were something I was expecting though, having planned having a kid in grad school. What I was not expecting were the subtle ways in which my colleagues do not understand how to accommodate a mother in grad school. Academia is rife with hints that mothers are not welcome here (although it’s much better than in the past). From lab mates deciding to meet up at the pub last minute instead of the family friendly restaurant (when I’m already en route with my toddler) to the late night receptions at conference (where the main purpose is to imbibe). To be honest, as someone who didn’t drink before having kids, I only feel even more excluded than I did before, but that is perhaps a blog post for another day.

In some ways, becoming a mom in academia has made my job at networking both harder and easier. I might be losing out on some of the fun parties, but I’ve also been able to tap into a whole new academic network through other moms in the same boat as me. I feel like the support (unlike in other mom-on-the-internet forums) is very positive and academic moms have a great sense of humor.

I understand the wish to have one mom-free day of grad school (not kid-free, because we love our children beyond anything else). A day where we can plan a celebration lunch without worrying when we have to get back for the sitter or have a late night coding session without having to run home to breastfeed. (I can’t even start with trying to pump at school…) So, those who are perhaps wondering if grad school is the right time to have kids and thinking about making the plunge—yes! Totally worth it, but it’s really hard work. You’ve been warned. And it’s okay to have moments where you wish you could shed your mom mantel for just a moment, because you’re human.

Stay strong, my fellow grad student moms!

On Getting Into Grad School, Part 3

Have you read Part 2 yet?

October 2012: More Traveling Fun

Amidst getting through my senior year classes (which were amazingly more difficult than my previous courses), I traveled some more in the fall. At the beginning of October I went to the Grace Hopper 2012 Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. I had been given a scholarship to attend, all expenses paid. It was great because I was traveling with some of my friends from the west coast. We all stayed in the same hotel and I got to show them a little bit of Baltimore (like the train from the airport to downtown).

At Grace Hopper, I was sure to visit the booths of some of the schools I was planning on applying to. It was nice to connect up with people I had made connections with the previous year and with those I had made connections with over the summer.

Later in October, I attended ASSETS 2012 in Boulder, CO. This conference was a lot smaller than anything else I had been to, but it was definitely worth the trip. Here again, I connected up with people from the summer and learned a lot about the assistive tech scene. It was sort of an affirmation that this was the field that I wanted to go into and was proof that it was a viable field to go into. I think one of the best parts was going to dinner with Amy and Michele (that I worked with over the summer) and getting all sorts of advice on how to proceed with my grad school application process. It was a lot more information in one evening than I had ever gotten from anyone at my home institution. I am glad to have made these connections and definitely don’t want to ever turn up the opportunity in the future to make more connections like these.

November 2012: Wrapping Up the Semester and the Applications

By the time I came home from ASSETS I was ready to finish up my applications and get everything done. I had a much stronger idea of what to write for my personal statements and a stronger overall story for the application package. I spent the rest of November writing all the different personal statements and starting to turn in my applications. For the most part, I was able to get all of my applications done by the first of December. This gave me a little breathing room before finals. While the majority of the applications were due December 15th, I didn’t want to be trying to turn them all in last minute.

It was at the beginning of November that my first paper (I was second author) got presented at a conference. The conference was in Taiwan, so I didn’t have the funds to go, but it was still exciting to have a paper published.

December 2012: This is the End?

I got all my applications done before finals and wrapped up the semester completely exhausted. And broke. Did I mention how much money this whole process ended up costing? I’m a little scared to actually tally up the total, so I won’t. But it was a lot. It was probably in the neighborhood of $1000 after application fees, GRE tests, and transcript requests.

Then the worst part of the entire process began. The waiting.

Knowing that my entire future was in the balance and that the outcome of these applications would determine where I would be living and what I would be doing in less than a year was completely nerve-wracking. And it wasn’t just my life I was messing with- it was also my husband’s.

January 2013: Dealing with Rejection

Luckily, schools were on the ball and started culling their applications by mid-January. I got a couple of rejections right away. While this was a bit discouraging, I had mentally prepared myself for such occurrences. And a rejection was much better than not knowing at all.

But I didn’t have much time to feel sorry for myself or worry too much because I was also keeping myself busy with school and MORE travel! I was prepping at this point to head to the Tapia Conference in Washington, DC. I was to present a poster on work I had done in the fall for my professor.

Right before I left for the conference I found out that I had a phone interview with UC Irvine the Monday after I got back. While I was very nervous about this, I was happy I had made it past the culling phase with at least one school!

I also got invited to interview with Facebook at the Tapia Conference and invited to a Google workshop called Google.GetAJob(). I felt like I would have a lot of hard decisions to make in the next couple of months about our future.

February 2013: It All Starts Coming Together

The first week in February is when I attended the Tapia Conference. While I was there I spent a day visiting my friends at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. I talked to them about my grad school applications and interviews. It was really great to catch up and also know that what I was going through was completely normal. The conference itself was also really great. I got to meet people from all over and network with the research labs. I did a poster presentation, which I had only done once before. I got a lot of really great feedback and most of it was positive, too.

During the conference, immediately after my Facebook interview, I got an email saying that I had been accepted to present my poster at the Student Research Competition at CHI 2013 in Paris. If I had had any thoughts of just skipping graduate school and going to industry, they instantly vanished. I knew I wanted to do well at CHI and continue doing research that I enjoyed so much.

After I came home from the Tapia Conference, I had my interview with UC Irvine. It was very informal and a really positive experience. I was able to tell them I had gotten accepted to CHI, which really helped my own confidence.

I also found out that I was invited to an interview on campus at University of Colorado, Boulder set for the 14th of February. So, off I went on another trip after having just come back from Washington DC.

The night before I left for Boulder, I found out that I had gotten into UC Irvine. I was over the moon. It also made me feel much more comfortable while traveling to Boulder. There I met with students and faculty on the campus. I really loved the town, at least until I got snowed in and ended up staying an extra day. I’m not sure I could live in a place where there’s that much snow. It was still a great learning experience and I got a good idea of what I wanted to find out about Irvine when I visited them in March.

On Getting Into Grad School, Part 1

This blog is probably one that would have been better written in the moment rather than as a retrospective, but as you will see from the timeline I was too overwhelmed with everything else going on to think about writing a blog.

When I was looking to apply to grad school I scoured the internet for information from other grad students and professors looking for anything that would give me the best possible chance at a) knowing if this grad school thing was what I wanted to do and b) giving me the best possible chance of getting into the grad school that was going to be best for me. Now that I’m on the other side of the application process and I’m feeling great about the outcome, I thought I would attempt to share my experience for the next generation of applicants looking for more information.

DISCLAIMER: This is a completely personal experience and should in no way be treated as a how-to guide. Everyone is going to be different, coming from a variety of backgrounds and going into a multitude of different fields of study. Please don’t read this as the perfect way to get into the grad school of your choice; I’m sure there are much easier ways of doing it.

I think the best way to do this is write this out as a timeline of events, with links and info about each of the events. If this gets to be too long, I’ll break this into multiple parts and if something needs more attention than everything else, I’ll break that into its own blog article.

October 2011: Grace Hopper 2011

I went to Grace Hopper in Portland, OR as a student volunteer. It was the first time I got a real good look at what someone could really do with a computer science background. I met a lot of students who were in grad school working towards their PhD. I heard about some cool research being done that I learned was in the field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). Up until this point, I thought a computer science degree was good for getting a job at a software company writing code. The seed of the idea of grad school is planted.

January 2012: Industry Job Interviews

Between Grace Hopper and early 2012, I subjected myself to several really uncomfortable industry interviews. Let’s just say coding on the fly, in a high pressure situation and recalling complex algorithms and data structure optimization is *not* my strongest skill. It’s at this point I really start to question what I am doing and why I am trying to push myself into something that clearly isn’t working out.

February 2012: DREU Internship Application

At the very last minute, I decided to apply to the CRA-W’s DREU internship. It’s also around this time that I started working with a professor at my campus on his smart grid research. He had asked for volunteers, so I decided that it was worth the experience.

It was also around this time I decided that I wanted to pursue a career more in the area of HCI. I was taking the elective “Intro to HCI” offered by my school (which turns out was that great of an intro) and thought my interdisciplinary studies in Psychology and Computer Science were a good fit for this area. I applied for a scholarship to attend CHI 2012 in Austin, TX through the ACM-W.

March 2012: DREU Acceptance and Matching Results

At the beginning of March I received an email saying that I had been accepted to the DREU program for the summer. I was really excited and very worried at the same time. I hadn’t done any extensive traveling and never really on my own. They said they would email me soon with my matched mentor and the location I would be traveling to for the summer. I looked at all the past mentors and their universities. Where would I be living that summer? Who would I have to work with? The only things I had heard from friends that had completed REUs was how awful it was. The mentors just give you some project and are too busy to actually mentor you. The projects aren’t of much consequence or the results end up being something you can’t get a publishable paper out of… I started wondering if I had done the right thing.

I was up all night worrying I would be shipped off to some strange place I couldn’t survive and have a mentor I wouldn’t be able to work with. However, I was not in agony long. It was at school the next day when I got my match-up. The rest, as they say, is history. You can read plenty about my DREU internship on my blog space. Dr. Amy Hurst was the best mentor a person could ask for. She was exactly what I needed at a time when I didn’t even know what I needed or what I was doing with my life.

April 2012: CHI 2012 in Austin, TX

My first real research conference was CHI. Talk about amazingly overwhelming. It’s a lot of people. And I had never been to Texas before. And it was my first time on a plane in years. I really enjoyed it, nonetheless. I think my overall impression was excitement that so many people from so many different places were all passionate about the same thing. There were more computer-oriented people and there were more psychology-oriented people, but they all meshed together to make something pretty exhilarating.

People ask me what my favorite talk was and I don’t even remember. I think if I went back to the program notes and see what I went to, I would probably recall. I have learned a lot since I was there though. How to go to conferences and pick what talks you want to see is an important skill.

CHI is also where I met Dr. Amy Hurst for the first time and some of her students. All in all, it was a good first experience into a world I was soon to submerge myself in.

The saga continues next time in PART 2…

Lean In, A Review

I recently finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In. I would highly recommend this book to anyone. While I’m not quite sure how I would classify this book, it was definitely full of interesting anecdotes and good advice. I think there is probably a little something for everyone. The book discusses how women can help themselves advance in their careers and take up more leadership roles. There is also discussion of how male managers can change the way they do things now to facilitate more women advancement.

This book hit very close to home for me, personally. There were many repeats in the book from Sheryl Sandberg’s speech at Grace Hopper in Portland 2011. As I am in the stage of my life where I am personally making choices to advance my own career and take up more leadership roles, a lot of what I read in here was a sort of affirmation that I AM making the right decisions. Also, that the guilt and frustration that I have felt while trying to make the best decisions possible is completely normal. It’s okay to put my career ahead of family- sometimes. I also found that she was giving me permission to be proud of my own accomplishments and not to give into the Imposter Syndrome (more on that to come in another blog post).

The book is a quick read (I read it on my flights from California and back). And the price is quite reasonable on Amazon. If you’re not sure it’s the book for you, go ahead and watch her keynote from Grace Hopper first.

This book is great in that it opens up the conversation for everyone to talk about gender in the workplace. It’s a conversation that needs to be had.

Fall Week 6

This past week has been EXHAUSTING.  It was a whirlwind of exams and getting everything finished up for Grace Hopper.

GREs were on Monday.  I took about 3 hours and I’m happy with my scores.  They aren’t official for another week or so, but I got an estimate right after the test was over.  I’m glad I have one less thing to worry about when it comes to grad school applications.

Tuesday I had my Web Data Management midterm and Thursday was Algorithms. PHEW!  Both went well, I think.   We also gave the demo for our first team project in Web Data Management.  This was the first time I really had to do a demo for an instructor like this.  I had one demo for Systems in the spring, but it definitely wasn’t anything like this.  Now I know what to expect for next time- the prof actually asking us why we chose to do things certain ways, etc.

After exams finished, I was able to focus back on grad school stuff.  I’m working on getting my three essays written for the NSF grant, which is due Nov 13th.  I know that the deadline is going to come at me way too fast, so I want to get rough drafts written for everything.  I have a personal statement draft for grad school applications done, so I’m hoping to use at least some of that for NSF.  I’ve also got a draft of my previous research done.  All that’s left is the research proposal.  I have an idea for it, but I have to do some more background research first to make sure it’s viable.  I hope so because it will be pretty good, and go fairly painlessly (I hope) once I have the research bit done.

My CREU research is also experiencing some forward momentum, as I’m starting the process of collecting wattage data.  I’m hoping after I get back from Grace Hopper to have some more done!

Off to Baltimore!!

Fall Week 5

I have yet to have a blog post this semester get published on time.  I am endeavoring to correct this.  Perhaps this is the week I get lucky!  This week I had to make some tough decisions and figure out what was going to get cut from my schedule because I am just too busy.  Between working (research), school work, home life (some of my home life is feeling sorely neglected at the moment), traveling, and getting ready for grad applications I have zero time.  It’s getting me sick and I’m super exhausted.  So, something has to give.

I decided to drop the Game Design class, even though it is by far my favorite elective.  I am still going to attend the lectures, but I simply don’t have time for all the homework.  I was spending ten times more of my outside class time working on projects for that class than all my other classes put together.  Not a good balance.

This week started off the first round of exams.  This coming week I have GREs on Monday, Web Data Management on Tuesday, and Algorithms on Thursday.  Luckily, then I’m off to Baltimore for Grace Hopper!  I have finished downloading the conference app on both my phone and tablet.  I’m starting to figure out exactly what I need to pack.  I’m super excited!!

Since dropping the extra class, I’ve actually managed to get some things accomplished.  I’ve finished fixing up my DREU section of the website, so that I can get my last paycheck (which I could really use right now).  That was a huge weight on me.  Now I have to build a new section for my CREU work, which I’ve been putting off.  I think I will actually have enough time this weekend to get that done too.  I’ve also gotten a nice chunk of research work for CREU done as well.  I’ll hopefully get around to updating my website, so I can start sharing snippets of that.

I also attended the club orientation on campus so that our ACM-W Chapter can be official.  I got some good ideas for things I would like to do with the group, so I need to start organizing meetings for that.  I still have to work on the website, but I think some of this will have to wait until after Grace Hopper, unfortunately.  There is just not enough time in the day for everything!

Fall Week 3

This week was short because of the holiday on Monday.  Also, on Wednesday it was my husband’s and my second anniversary.  I have been pretty much swamped with school work, research, and ACM-W, but we did manage to make it out to dinner at least.

Time is going by way too quickly.  Grace Hopper is only a month away.  Pretty soon I’m going to be out of time for things like grad school applications! AHH!

I have managed to play a little bit of Guild Wars 2 and can’t wait until December when I’ll have more time to get into it.  I’ve made a plant person who casts awesome spells.  Pretty fun.

I helped move my brother back up to Seattle (at least for a while) as he’s taking a class up there.  It’s weird having the house a little more empty.  But it was nice heading north and visiting with my grandmother for a bit.  I spent most of the weekend working on my game for game design class.  When it is good enough for public consumption I’ll post it in my portfolio.  Stay tuned.


Fall Week 2

Well, as it might be imagined, I am super swamped.  I feel like I’m being pulled every which way and I need to get a better system for organizing my life.  I’ve this giant running to do list that is a little overwhelming.  I’ve started breaking things down by day and trying to organize one 24-hour period at a time.  We’ll see how it goes.

I’ve been trying to get my DREU final report finished up and sent off.  I’m actually quite happy with the results.  I migrated my work into LaTex and am starting to feel pretty proficient in editing in it.  I’m going to post my paper in my portfolio, if you’re interested.  I am a little bummed I couldn’t participate in some of the interviews and maybe work on getting something into CHI for this year.  I guess I could still possibly submit something for the Student Posters in January.  We’ll see.

I’ve also officially bought my plane tickets to Balitmore for Grace Hopper the first week of October.  I’m excited to have won the scholarship.  I’m looking forward to seeing Baltimore again too.  I’m already planning on meeting up with my friends from UMBC that I met during the DREU program.

I think that’s all for now.  I’m hoping I can use these blogs to get myself organized too.  We’ll see how it goes. 🙂

Week 8

This week I finished up putting tags into the clothes. I also did a lot of writing this week.  I submitted two poster abstracts- one to the campus Research Festival and one to Grace Hopper.  I also started a draft of the final paper for this project I have been working on all summer.  Luckily, actually quite enjoy the writing process.  I’ll be finding out this coming week if my poster abstracts were accepted.  Next up:  making a poster!

On Thursday, I went to the ADA Celebration on campus.  We put some of our projects on display, including the clothe I have tagged.  It was really great meeting people and talking a bit about the work we have been doing.  We also heard speeches from Dr. Hrabowski and Governor O’Malley.

UMBC HCC Group at the ADA Celebration July 26, 2012
UMBC HCC Group at the ADA Celebration July 26, 2012
Me at the ADA Celebration
Me at the ADA Celebration

This coming week I’ll be working more on my paper and designing my poster.  I hope the RFID reader parts come in, so that I can build the last system for the project.  I’ll also be playing around with an NFC enabled tablet to see if I can get it to read the tags we have in the lab!


What every (nerd)girl wants for the holidays.

Ok, so not EVERY girl wants these things, but hey, I thought I would have a bit of fun this week and just give you a list of items I would love to see under my tree this holiday season.

HTC Rezound. For the past two years I have been a Blackberry girl. My contract is up this month and it’s time for a new phone. This Android seems to be exactly what I’m looking for. With 4G capabilities, I’ll be able to do all my tech things on the go. I will be able to edit documents, send emails, and play Words with Friends from just about anywhere. It’s going to make my Blackberry look sad and small.

GOgroove Laptop Speaker that happens to look like a Panda. Don’t ask me why, but my computer gadgets tend to have two themes: red or pandas. I like pandas, okay? These little portable speakers plug right into a laptop or music player. Cute and loud, who could ask for more?

Zumba Fitness. When I’m not sitting in front of my PC, I love to Zumba. And here’s a game they’ve made that bring Zumba into your living room. I hear exercise is good for you, so this is what gets me moving. And not having to go to a gym or fitness center is a big plus.

Samsung Galaxy Tab. I was one number away from winning this in the raffle at the Grace Hopper Celebrating Women in Computing Convention. I think this means, by all rights I should have one. While this is definitely not a “must have” item, it still would be nice if Santa found he had a little extra spending money this year. A tablet would be one of those gadgets that would be nice for in-between tasks. Not quite big enough to play all my computer games on, but bigger than a phone so easier to read the latest e-mag.

Skyrim. I am a die-hard Morrowind fan. Oblivion was a letdown for me, but this latest work by Bethesda may just rekindle my love. There has been a lot of enthusiasm, including on this very website. The promise of an organic world with non-linear gameplay is definitely my cup of tea. I want to get my hands on this game and try it for myself.

Raspberry Pi. This bitty computer looks awesome. I want one. Seriously, at the price they are offering, I want several. It’s a board that is basically a sandbox for those interested in doing some serious programming or not so serious, if you’re so inclined. It comes with great stuff like USB 2.0, SD Card, Micro USB, RCA and Audio jacks, and HDMI. If you spring for the pricier version, it comes with Ethernet hook-up as well.  Awesome.  If Santa doesn’t get this for me, I’m definitely buying one anyway.

What tech gadgets and games are you hoping or wishing for this holiday season?