Reading week

All holidays have limited importance for graduate students. Or, rather, holidays are the best opportunity to work on the independent research which is meant to be the reason for being in grad school, as teaching and other duties tend to somewhat abate.

An ambitious aim would be to complete all the parts of the survey for my PhD thesis which can be done using open source information, since I am still working on Research Ethics Board approval to begin talking to people.

February update

Life since October has been a potpourri of different kinds of intense stress. I thought that the uncertainty of finding a new supervisor over the summer was intense, but it turns out the stakes of a PhD (succeed or fail) are pretty low and the risks involved are mostly ego- and finance-related.

By contrast, uncertainty about having a stable place to live permeates all elements of life, like static hiss behind music. It’s worse when accompanied by feelings of powerlessness.

Worse by far is stress from friends in serious trouble. The feeling of responsibility has a different tone from efforts to resolve large-scale economic and political problems: the feeling is that critical outcomes can turn in the span of hours to weeks depending on what you do or do not do. Furthermore, decision-making is undertaken under overlapping types of uncertainty, from not knowing what’s really going on from day to day and hour to hour to never being sure if any action will have a helpful or a deleterious effect.

I have certainly been earning my new proliferation of grey hairs.

PhD update — January 2018

I have created a draft update to my research ethics proposal, based on the comments from the U of T research ethics board. I’ve circulated it to my supervisory committee and am waiting for any comments from them before checking it over again and sending it back to the board.

I have two sets of tutorials this week: Canadian politics tutorials today about NAFTA and U.S. politics tutorials Wednesday and Thursday on the presidency.

The week is peppered with student meetings, with some people asking about/seeking better grades on last term’s exams and papers, and some seeking advice on ongoing essays.

The most time-consuming thing is commenting on and grading a large batch of essay rough drafts. For those submitted on time (about half of what I have received so far), they are meant to be handed back in the U.S. tutorials. Pushing through the set will be my main alternative to thesis work / recreation / relaxation for the next 4-5 days at least.

Holding two TA positions at once has certainly been helpful from a financial perspective. It has been allowing me to slowly rebuild my PhD fund after the expenses of another unfunded summer. It has been a major impediment, however, to making progress on my thesis. Thesis research is a demanding cognitive task not easily undertaken in the gaps between other obligations or when exhausted from hours of commenting on disorganized papers that have never been proofread.

This summer, instead of trying to keep my finances on a level, the plan is to make a concerted effort to undertake the data collection, analysis, and reading which will feed into the completion of my doctoral thesis.

Threat to neutral and allied states from an American nuclear strike on the Soviet Union and China

Fallout from our surface explosions in the Soviet Union, its satellites, and China would decimate the populations in the Sino-Soviet bloc as well as in all the neutral nations bordering these countries—Finland, Sweden, Austria, and Afghanistan, for example—as well as Japan and Pakistan. Given prevailing wind patterns, the Finns would be virtually exterminated by the fallout from surface bursts on Soviet submarine pens near their borders. These fatalities from U.S. attacks, up to another hundred million, would occur without a single U.S. warhead landing on the territories of these countries outside the NATO and Warsaw Pacts.

Fallout fatalities inside our Western European NATO allies from U.S. attacks against the Warsaw Pact would depend on climate and weather conditions. As a general testifying before Congress put it, these could be up to a hundred million European allied deaths from our attacks, “depending on which way the wind blows.”

Ellsberg, Daniel. The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Bloomsbury; New York. 2017. p. 137 (italics in original)

Two midterms to grade

Today I had my final time-specific academic obligation for 2017: invigilating the midterm for the US politics course I am helping to teach.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be grading two sets of midterms and preparing and submitting my response to the comments from the research ethics board on my dissertation project.

I am seriously behind on almost everything, so here’s hoping the general structurelessness of the holidays proves reasonably productive this time.

2017–18 course 1 essay 1

This term’s first big batch of grading — essays for my Canadian politics course — is due no later than Monday evening. Please wish me fortitude in getting through the last three dozen.

I believe basically everyone finds grading stressful and tedious. It invalidates my ordinary procrastination flowchart, since it is always possible to devote time to long-term projects or self-care activities instead of reminding people that essays need to have a thesis, or tabulating grades in Excel and U of T’s poorly implemented online portal.

November 18th in previous years

2014: Clara

2013: The scale of our energy challenge, Lauren

2011: The Hound of the Baskervilles

2010: Ottawa solar power workshops, Six Easy Pieces

2009: Anthropogenic climate change: evidence from isotopic ratios, The IPCC, climate, and consensus

2008: Oil tanker captured off Somalia, Climate change and forest management

2007: IPCC 4AR SPM, The Bottom Billion, ‘Nuclear weapons sharing’ in Europe

2006: A market for kidneys?

2005: Not particularly notable day (and dietary justifications)