Saturday, August 29, 2009

Oriented And Focused

This week, my cohort had our orientation. There are five of us, four men and one woman. Two of us are married. One is Chinese and the rest are Americans. I am the oldest, then it goes 30, 29, 26, and 23 years of age. One of us comes from a psychology background, one from sociology, and the rest have business degrees. In all, I am impressed by the group I have the privilege of studying with, and I look forward to getting to know each of them better over time. I know their strong work ethics and keen intellects will encourage my best efforts. I couldn't ask for a better cohort.

The orientation itself made it clear from the beginning what our goal will be in this program: in fourteen years we should each be full professors and chairs (not department chairs, but endowed chairs). That achievement is completely possible, and it is good to hear our professors have set the bar high from the beginning. We had a great discussion that laid out what the program we will go through is designed to teach us (how to research) and where our focus needs to be (on topics that excite us). The classes are important for teaching us methodology and familiarizing us with the literature out there, but research takes precedence. I especially liked that our coordinating professor made it clear that he doesn't like the distinction between teaching and research: everything we do should be focused on teaching. Classroom teaching is focused on our students but research is focused on teaching (and learning from) our colleagues in the "guild" of researchers.

Classes begin next week. We will be taking an organizational economics class that will show us a lot of topics so we can begin to find subjects we might enjoy working on. We will be taking a class on research methods to help us understand the process of academic research. We will take a class from the professor who teaches instructors how to teach better. Last of all, but perhaps most important, we will have a colloquim where we discuss what skills we need to build during our time here and how to build them by looking at best practices and award winning materials. By the end of the term we should be well on our way to having our first two research papers begun. We will also have quite a few research proposals written for potential future projects.

In short, I am very excited to have begun. I've read over a hundred pages in academic articles this week, and I have plenty more to read both for class and because of suggestions by professors. I feel confident that I can handle myself so far, and I look forward to finding out.

-- Robert

Monday, August 24, 2009

I Passed!

I passed both my tests, despite the peculiar questions on both. I did really well on linear algebra "for having never taken the class" (my wife said that). The calculus was not as great, but getting it over with was all I wanted at this point. Now I have several reading assignments for one class and the textbooks purchased (except one) for two classes. I even know the rest of my schedule, which is a nice step forward. Wednesday is my orientation, then school starts Thursday, though two of my classes don't actually meet for the first time until September. We'll see how it all plays out.

-- Robert

Thursday, August 20, 2009

If Yesterday Threw Curves...

Today was knuckleballs. It was never clear where the next one was going. There was a multivariate derivative (that is, f(x,y), find f ' (x,y)/dy) and half a dozen limits. Out of all the tests I practiced, there might have been two limit questions total, and then it was half the test this time? Definitely peculiar. Here's hoping I passed it. I feel confident I passed yesterday, but after today I'm wondering if I showed enough work on either. Here's hoping.

-- Robert

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

One Down, One to Go

I took my linear algebra test, and I feel confident I did well enough to pass it. I don't think I got a perfect score, but I think I answered every question with enough right on my answer to get at least partial credit, and I suspect full credit on the vast majority of them. Tomorrow I take the calculus test, which hopefully won't throw the curves that this test did. Still, I feel pretty good that I can manage it: each time I practiced either test, I took less than an hour and there are three hours alotted for each. I took about thirty-five minutes (even taking my time) on the test today. Many thanks go to my brother-in-law who spent hours helping me practice and learn. I also have to thank my wife for her consideration in those hours of practice and study (and for having such a brilliant brother).

Next week is orientation and then classes begin. My daughter also starts kindergarten. I am excited to see what new patterns form in our lives. I'm also excited for what classes and work will bring. Who knows when I'll next be able to write a blog post. Thanks for anyone still reading. I appreciate the interest.

-- Robert

Friday, August 14, 2009


This is my last week without school. Possibly ever. Technically last week was, I guess, since I chose to study this week, but I've mostly relaxed and focused on getting the house in order. My wife and I have built five bookshelves now in the last two weeks. Yesterday we spent about six hours building a swingset for our daughter's birthday. So what am I doing right now? I am sitting in my back yard in my folding chair listening to this great jam on YouTube writing this post while monitoring the steaks on the grill and watching the kids on their new swingset. These days are special. We even got to swim today. I'm not sure if there will be many days like this in the future. I'm glad to have had this one.

-- Robert

Monday, August 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Old Man

For the record, I started calling my father "Old Man" as a term of endearment at least a decade ago. He knows it is not a disparagement - he told me when he turned 51 to tell my friends my parents were a hundred years old (my mom was 49). He wears his age as a badge of honor, so this post is not a knock on my father.

I hope you have had a wonderful birthday, Dad. You deserve it. You have stood by me through decision after decision that you did not fully agree with our appreciate. You have respected me enough to be a man and make my own way. For that, I am eternally grateful. I know you struggled with your own father when you chose a life other than what he had in mind for you, so perhaps you understood it was not easy for me to decide to leave the business world to become an academic. You have taught me so much that I hope to bring to my classrooms and perhaps even my writings: the value of keeping one's name clean, the price of doing what is right, the grounding that faith brings, and the importance of learning from failure. Most of all, though, you taught me the importance of loving your family more than your hobbies, and the importance of doing quality work. Hopefully one day my career will honor your name. I know you have sacrificed a lot for sis and me to have the wonderful opportunities we have enjoyed throughout our lives. With great opportunity comes great responsibility, though, and I have a responsibility to be the best I can. This tribute to you has turned into being mostly about me, but that's how you always seem to want things (no attention on you). So this year, instead of a gift you don't want, I'm writing this post.

I love you, Old Man.

-- Robert

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Good People

Today I went to see a student defend his dissertation. If he succeeded, he walked out a Ph.D. It was fascinating to observe, and it gave me hope that I could get to that point some day in the not-so-distant future. I also got to see the students that are just ahead of me in the program (started last year) that I met at interviews. Each of them said hello, remembered my name, and even said they were glad to see me. Sure those were just respectful gestures, but they took it further to show how genuine they were. They offered for me to email with any questions I had, one made sure I actually knew her address, and another took me to another floor to ask questions to the appropriate office for a question I had.

The professors, too, were nice to stop and talk to me - the one who hopefully will be my mentor even had me up to his office for a few minutes and let me look at some of his work when I asked. I wanted to talk to another but he clearly was busy. Still, he let me stop him in the hall for a moment.

Simply put, I am looking forward to working with some good people.

-- Robert

Sunday, August 2, 2009

August Is Here...

In August, we/I need to:

  • register our daughter for school

  • get her started in school

  • get me registered for school

  • get me a parking pass

  • get me on school insurance

  • take the tests to exempt calculus and linear algebra

  • start school

That's the short list of big items to accomplish. There's still the day to day - cooking, cleaning, yardwork, finding things we've unpacked, grocery shopping, etc. etc. etc....

All in all, though, I'm glad to be at this point. I get to find out if I'm cut out for this career. Am I really as good as I like to believe? Will I make any difference at all? Will I be the low man on the totem pole right from the start?

Hopefully I will do well. I believe in myself. I like to think that the people who let me in and seem to respect my abilities know something about evaluating doctoral candidates. Next month may be the hardest thing I have ever done - at least academically - but I still feel ready. I am excited. I am here.

-- Robert