Monday, May 2, 2011

Messy Break-up

Get excited, it's time for another update. Hold onto your socks, because this might be a good one! Per usual, however, I'll apologize for the blog delay (though it's only been 2 weeks), and talk a bit about current events.

Unless you live under a rock (hey - some people do!), you're well aware of last night's big announcement...Osama Bin Ladin, the man responsible for thousands of innocent deaths and years of heartache, has been killed. This blog isn't generally devoted to current events and the like, but I felt it necessary to mention today because I'd like to share some great resources with you. Benjamin posted a blog with his reflections on the news, and he included a few links to some really interesting posts (reactions from world leaders, expressive photos, etc). Check 'em out if you have a few minutes.

And while we're on the subject of current events, yes I woke up to watch the Royal Wedding on Friday morning. However, I only watched 5 minutes of it (Kate's walk from the car to the alter) before turning off the TV and going back to sleep. Honest to goodness - that was enough for me.

Now, onto the good stuff...


As you may have been wondering, it's about time for an update on that not-so-little thing called my thesis. I'm pretty sure the last time I wrote about "the feces" was way back in January(?!?!?), when graduation and defense day still seemed to be far off into the distance of the grad school tunnel. Well, February, March, and April came and went, and here I sit on May 2nd...11 days from graduation...composing a blog summarizing a season of my life which has surely shortened my total lifespan by at least 5 years.

Maybe you noticed that my blogging habit slacked off - er, became nonexistent - following my post on February 20th. (Then again, maybe you didn't. Shrug.) For those of you who have any regular contact with me, or perhaps possess extravagant stalking skills, you already as I knew it, changed on February 21. Again, I say that with a slight intention of dramatic effect, but at the absolute core of my being, I believe that statement is true. You'll see why in just a second.

On February 16, two weeks before defense day, I sent my thesis to committee for review. That weekend, I received a simple question via e-mail from one of my committee members, but was instructed to double check the answer with our Department Head before sending my response. On Monday, February 21, I went into our Dept. Chair's office, with the assumption that he'd quickly and simply validate my answer, when instead, his response caused my world to fall apart.

In that moment, I was told that every bit of data analysis I'd spent the last three months doing, was wrong. He said I hadn't used the right statistical tests for the type of data I collected or for the type of questions I wanted to answer. He said I had to do not one, but two, completely different tests, in order for my research to be accurate/worthy/effective/insert any other research descriptor term here.

What did that mean? It meant that I had to run two different statistical tests on all of the data I collected, redesign and reformat all 42 tables in my Chapter 4 (Findings), rewrite my entire text sections of Chapter 4, and revise all of Chapter 5 (Conclusions/Recommendations). Mind you, this all happened 10 days out from defense day...and I was asked to get it done by the end of the week. Excuse me?

Needless to say, I was a complete and utter wreck. For four straight days, I did nothing but recalculate, redesign, rewrite...and cry. I cried like I've never cried before. I didn't leave my apartment, and I'm pretty sure my friends thought I was dead (okay, not really). No e-mails were read, no Facebook comments were posted, no Tweets were chirped. Lauren went into work mode - and didn't come out for a long, long time. (In fact, more than 2 months later, I'm not entirely sure I've recovered yet.)

Seven days later, the work I'd spent three months finishing (December, January,and February) was completely redone. Three days after that, I delivered my public presentation and survived my private defense. It did not come without more challenges, however.

In the private defense, my committee realized that the newest version of Chapters 4 and 5 was no more correct/accurate/you-know-the-drill, than the first one. In fact, the first one was much closer to the "right" one than the version I created in the span of just one week. Say what now? You got it - all of the time, energy, blood, sweat, and tears that were put into the previous week's revisions - was wrong.

After much consultation among the committee members and several other faculty (including a statistician), they finally came to a consensus on what I'd be instructed to do...oh, about two weeks later. Yeah, you got that, it took two weeks AFTER my defense, for my committee to figure out what they wanted me to do with my data. Talk about a mess.

As it turned out, I was instructed to keep my data set from the original statistical tests, and add one more test to the mix. I ended up having to add a third test to expand some of my findings just a bit. In the end, I was pronounced Queen of Thesis Tables as my 42 tables became 48, and I officially became the author of the longest thesis in my cohort - with a grand total of a 145 pages to show for it all. Crazy? Well the "fun" wasn't over yet...

Sometime early in the week of March 28 (almost 4 weeks after my defense), I made my first submission to the graduate school. It was returned with notes regarding formatting errors a few days later, and therein began my uphill battle with the graduate school. Having enough of navigating all those boulders, I decided to take about two weeks off for National 4-H Conference prep, work, and recovery time, before getting back on the thesis bandwagon.

In true form regarding the depths of thesis hell, revisions I expected to take days, ended up taking weeks. What was supposed to be two submissions (1 trial, 1 error-error free) ended up totaling at least four. Nothing I did, no help I received, no matter how hard and how many times I tried, I just could not get it right. It was incredibly frustrating and downright sucked, especially after the firepit I'd already been through. Finally, I begged and pleaded with the thesis editor to work her magic on my pages. She agreed, and finally (after a few more formatting challenges), my error-free, official file was accepted on April 25!!!!

With the absolute, hands-down, no matter what, final deadline of April 29, it feels like I made it...almost by the skin of my teeth. I have tried hard not to let it all bother me, but how can I not? I scheduled my defense early in the season because I wanted to be done. I wanted the thesis to be completed and out of my life with time for me to enjoy the people and the places around me. I worked my @%% off for 10 dang (insert many explicatives here) months, and never once did I get a break. It still took every ounce of my being, every patient bone in my body (there weren't many to start with), and every bit of my energy to make it out on the other side.

They say graduate school is a different beast, and man are they right. That beast is one I hope to never again meet in my lifetime, and I can't say I'd ever wish it on anyone. However, a close friend reminded me that this experience ultimately taught me that I'm stronger than I think, and I really can accomplish whatever it is I attempt. Way back in the Fall of 2009, I hated Raleigh, and grad school, and NC State with all of my guts, but I stayed. I wanted to give up, but I didn't. And every day, when I laid down to rest, I read the quote hanging on my wall..."Every great accomplishment starts with the decision to try." Bar none - this is my greatest professional accomplishment, and it all started with a commitment to try.


On Saturday, we had a burn party... A bunch of us thesis rats gathered at Lendy's house to cleanse ourselves of the (literal) baggage we collected along the way. Our biggest supporters joined us as we took the very therapeutic step of burning our research. And by burning our research, we mean, burning our research. We burned. By stacks, and stacks, and stacksss, we burned. We burned our full theses, the graduate school guidelines, revision notes from professors, IRB approval letters, research instruments, letters of consent, data, actual questionnaires...the list goes on. We burned anything and everything related to our thesis - an act of true and necessary cleansing.

And because they deserved a part in the cleanse - our significant others ("sig-ofs" for L.O. - ha!) joined in on the honors. They burned with us and for us, and held our hands as we shed the layers of grad school dust that was so heavily built up on the ones that they love. For, every layer tossed into the fire pit, was one layer closer to rediscovering the people we really are. It was a moving, incredible, and necessary experience.

Today, I write this as a continuation of the cleanse. I feel as though it's important for me to write through the process and the emotions that have plagued my life for the past few months. I write such detail here, not to bore you to death, but to help you understand just a little bit better, the experience I had with my (pile of) "feces." Like the burn party, this blog is another step in the process of healing. For those of you who might be interested or haven't yet seen it, the actual manuscript is up for public access here. Finally, the end is near...I can almost touch it!

And now...Thesis, WE ARE BROKEN UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The end.