a stack of hardback books about graduate school

So that book I'm writing! (Read the book announcement!)

Currently, I have over 80,000 draft words and notes (including the sample chapters I submitted with the proposal). This is a milestone because the manuscript goal is 80,000 words.

However, these 80,000 words are first draft words, not submission-ready words. They are only loosely lumped into chapters, not fully organized or structured. They are my reading notes, my thoughts and ideas, paragraphs that don't flow together yet, comments about statistics I need to look up, facts I need to verify, and references I need to track down. In short, it's all the raw content that will be able to be shaped into a book.

For those curious about mechanics, I have logged the majority of these words from my phone (I mostly use voice typing). I sit at the kitchen table taking notes while the kids eat breakfast. I add a few words from the floor in our playroom while the kids build with Legos. A couple hundred words a day adds up fast.

In my research for the book, I've read existing books on getting through graduate school, such as:

  • Jennifer Calarco: A Field Guide to Graduate School
  • Amanda I. Seligman: Is Graduate School Really For You?
  • Peter J Feibelman: A PhD Is Not Enough! A Guide to Survival in Science

I'm reading books about non-academic career paths, including:

  • Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius: So What Are You Going to Do with That? Finding Careers Outside Academia
  • Christopher L. Caterine: Leaving Academia: A Practical Guide

I'm reading books about issues in graduate education, such as:

  • Julie R. Posselt: Inside Graduate Admissions
  • Leonard Cassuto: The Graduate School Mess: What Caused It and How We Can Fix It
  • Kathleen Fitzpatrick: Generous Thinking: A Radical Approach to Saving the University

I've also been reading nonfiction books that aren't specifically about graduate school, but are nonetheless highly relevant to thriving and making the most of your education and your life, such as:

  • Daniel H. Pink: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
  • Bill Burnett and Dave Evans: Designing Your Life: How To Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life (Read my review!)
  • Adam Grant: Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World

I have more to read and research, of course—there's always more to read and research.

But as another student in graduate school told me once, at some point, you have to stop reading and start creating. You have to turn everything you know into something.

That's the point I'm at now. And honestly? Revision is the fun part.

Revision is where the magic happens. Revision is when I make the words flow. It's when ideas become coherent. It's when I hunt down that quote from that book I read two years ago that would be perfect to mention in this section, add references, rearrange content, and generally improve the coherency and structure of my words.

Revision is not a one-time process. It's not write, revise, done. It's write, rewrite, reword, rearrange, revise, repeat. Revision is what I'll be doing on the book for the next six months.

Unfortunately, revision is harder to do on my phone. I need more office time with a proper keyboard and monitor. So I've switched from having a daily book word count to having a daily book time count. This will be easier and easier to schedule as the weather warms up—I'll send everyone else outside while I get my quiet writing time in!

Making progress. I'll keep you updated!

* This post first appeared on The Deliberate Owl.


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silhouette of a person with arms outstretched on wintery day, in front of bare-limbed trees and a dim sunset sky

Some personal news: I have a book deal!

I'm writing a pragmatic, up-to-date guide to thriving in graduate school while keeping a healthy personal life, filled with sensible suggestions, concrete exercises, and detailed resource lists.

Tentatively titled #PhDone: How to Get Through Grad School Without Leaving the Rest of Your Life Behind, it'll be published by Columbia University Press in spring 2023 (tentatively—titles and dates will be finalized later!). I'm represented by Joe Perry.

From my proposal:

Every year, more than 500,000 people start graduate programs. Although more than half of these students are women, there's no book out there explaining how to balance breastfeeding with benchwork, or childcare with conference travel. Grad students today are on average 33 years old ... so why aren't we talking about managing marriage and a thesis, saving for retirement, or the fact that nearly 57% of students are also employed outside of school? Not only that, but of the 50,000 students who complete PhDs each year, a shrinking number collect coveted tenure-track positions ... even though everyone's still being trained as if they're all professors-to-be.

There's a serious mismatch between the advice about grad school that's currently available and our present reality. It's time to fix that.

I'm excited about this book. It's the book I wish I'd been able to read when I started grad school.

A long game

This project is years in the making. I spent months crafting a book proposal. I submitted to agents for a year before landing on the right fit. Then it took us over a year to find the right publisher.

Many people would have become discouraged even part of the way through this process. Some may have given up entirely. Others may have switched to self-publishing, thinking the speed of getting their work out and the upfront costs would be worth it—and for some, it would be.

But I went in knowing that publishing is a long game. Getting your writing out into the world takes time: to submit, resubmit, get reviews, revise, revise again. I don't want to be my own publisher; I want to write and have a team working with me on editing, publishing, marketing, etc.

Next steps for the book

Now that the book's been picked up by Columbia University Press, I have a deadline—which is exciting! I like knowing when my deadline is. That way, I can plan backwards and ensure I'm working enough up front, incrementally, so that I never run into crunch time. And yes, I've already made a spreadsheet to track my progress and keep tabs on book-related tasks.

While the full book timeline is approximate at this stage, the next steps are:

  • I write the book. I have a couple chapters drafted already, with outlines and notes for the rest. That's an interesting thing about nonfiction books—they're generally sold on proposal and not from a finished manuscript.
  • My editor at CUP reads it. I revise as needed.
  • Once the manuscript is finished, time to print is less than a year. In that time, the publishing team works their magic: formatting, cover design, cover copy, production, sales and distribution work, etc. We ramp up marketing for the book.
  • Then you can buy it!

I'll post updates along the way!

* This post first appeared on The Deliberate Owl.


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group shot of nine interns and Garry (one intern, Leo, is not pictured) in front of blimps, holding quadcopters and shiny cars

In the summer of 2010, I interned at NASA Langley Research Center in the Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholars Program.

My lab established an Autonomous Vehicle Lab for testing unmanned aerial vehicles, both indoors and outdoors.

Overview

I worked in the Laser Remote Sensing Branch of the Engineering Directorate under mentor Garry D. Qualls. There were nine interns besides me - here's the full list, alphabetically:

  • Brianna Conrad, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Avik Dayal, University of Virginia
  • Michael Donnelly, Christopher Newport University
  • Jake Forsberg, Boise State University
  • Amanda Huff, Western Kentucky University
  • Jacqueline Kory, Vassar College
  • Leonardo Le, University of Minnesota
  • Duncan Miller, University of Michigan
  • Stephen Pace, Virginia Tech
  • Elizabeth Semelsberger, Christopher Newport University

several quadcopters stacked up in a pile

Our project's abstract

Autonomous Vehicle Laboratory for "Sense and Avoid" Research

As autonomous, unmanned aerial vehicles begin to operate regularly in the National Airspace System, the ability to safely test the coordination and control of multiple vehicles will be an important capability. This team has been working to establish a autonomous vehicle testing facility that will allow complex, multi-vehicle tests to be run both indoors and outdoors. Indoors, a commercial motion capture system is used to track vehicles in a 20'x20'x8' volume with sub-millimeter accuracy. This tracking information is transmitted to navigation controllers, a flight management system, and real-time visual displays. All data packets sent over the network are recorded and the system has the ability to play back any test for further analysis. Outdoors, a differential GPS system replaces the functionality of the motion capture system, allowing the same tests to be conducted as indoors, but on a much larger scale.

Presently, two quadrotor helicopters and one wheeled ground vehicle operate routinely in the volume. The navigation controllers implement Proportional-Integral-Derivative (PID) control algorithms and collision avoidance capabilities for each vehicle. Virtual, moving points in the volume are generated by the flight management system for the vehicles to track and follow. This allows the creation of specific flight paths, allowing the efficient evaluation of navigation control algorithms. Data from actual vehicles, virtual vehicles, and vehicles that are part of hardware in the loop simulations are merged into a common simulation environment using FlightGear, an open source flight simulator. Evaluating the reactions of both air and ground vehicles in a simulated environment reduces time and cost, while allowing the user to log, replay and explore critical events with greater precision. This testing facility will allow NASA researchers and aerospace contractors to address sense and avoid problems associated with autonomous multi-vehicle flight control in a safe and flexible manner.

Articles and other media

In the media

On my blog

Videos

Most of the summer was spent developing all the pieces of software and hardware needed to get our autonomous vehicle facility up and running, but by the end, we were flying quadcopters! (Captions are below their corresponding videos.)

Credit for these videos goes to one of my labmates, Jake Forsberg.

Object tracking for human interaction with autonomous quadcopter

Object tracking for human interaction with autonomous quadcopter: Here, the flying quadcopter is changing its yaw and altitude to match the other object in the flight volume (at first, another copter's protective foam frame; later, the entertaining hat we constructed). The cameras you see in the background track the little retro-reflective markers that we place on objects we want to track -- this kind of motion capture systems is often used to acquire human movement for animation in movies and video games. In the camera software, groups of markers can be selected as representing an object so that the object is recognized any time that specific arrangement of markers is seen. Our control software uses the position and orientation data from the camera software and sends commands to the copter via wifi.

Autonomous sense and avoid with AR.Drone quadcopter

Autonomous sense and avoid with AR.Drone quadcopter: The flying copter is attempting to maintain a certain position in the flight volume. When another tracked object gets too close, the copter avoids. We improved our algorithm between the first and second halves of this video. Presently, only objects tracked by the cameras are avoided, since we have yet to put local sensors on the copters (the obstacle avoidance is done using global information from the camera system about all the objects' locations).

Autonomous quadcopter tracking and following a ground vehicle

Autonomous quadcopter tracking and following a ground vehicle: The flying copter is attempting to maintain a position above the truck. The truck was driven manually by one of my labmates, though eventually, it'll be autonomous, too.

Virtual flight boundaries with the AR.Drone and the Vicon motion capture system

Virtual flight boundaries with the AR.Drone and the Vicon motion capture system: As a safety precaution, we implemented virtual boundaries in our flight volume. Even if the copter is commanded to fly to a point beyond one of the virtual walls, it won't fly past the walls.

Hardware-in-the-loop simulation

Hardware-in-the-loop simulation: Some of my labmates built a hardware-in-the-loop simulation with a truck, and also with a plane. Essentially, a simulated environment emulates sensor and state data for the real vehicle, which responds as if it is in the simulated world.


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