One down, N to go

This has been a very intense year, but the end has been worth it. In August, I started graduate school at Indiana University in the Computer Science Program. By October, I started having my first round of grad school anxieties – was a PhD worth it? Was I just doing more of the same by staying at IU? Was I going to grow? Several job offers and much discernment later, I realized that I truly wanted my doctorate, but that I had not positioned myself in the right programs — my interests are intensely interdisciplinary and more cognitive than computational. So, after some negotiations, I transferred from Computer Science to the Complex Systems Group in Informatics, which is a much better fit for my research goals.

After this academic identity crisis, I came down with mono in December. Since I was the AI for the 75-student Data Structures course, I had to take incompletes in my coursework to focus my much-diminished energy on teaching. Despite the setback, mono was a very positive catalyst for me. I finally got to a doctor, which woke me up to the reality of what I had done to my body over the past 6 years: I was 23 and my blood pressure was in the hypertension range. For some reason the nurses weren’t freaked out about this, the doctor just said to check it out in a few months, but I knew something was wrong. So while recovering from mono, I decided to change things. I quit drinking to focus on my incompletes, started hitting the gym 5 times a week, picked up running, and have lost 40 pounds since January. I have collarbones, wristbones, and an Adam’s apple. It’s fucking awesome. Plus, I finished my first year of graduate school with a 3.83 GPA! 😀

Research-wise, I’ve been distilling a new research area and imagining what my committee will look like. Right now, I’m diving into a literature review on what Colin is calling “biographically-plausible corpora”. The general intuition is that while “big data” approaches can create excellent recommendations, humans gain expertise from much smaller datasets. Thus, instead of training semantic models on 50 million books, what happens if you train them only on 50 or 500 books? I’ll be presenting this work at a symposia at IACAP 2013 in July.

I’ve also had two side projects. The first is a return to Polyworld to examine correlations between TSE complexity and social behavior — an ALife approach to the social brain hypothesis. The second is an examination of the information flow between science and the humanities using the PhilPapers index and the UCSD Map of Science. Preliminary results are being presented as a poster at the Joint Conference on Digital Libraries (JCDL) and we’re aiming for a journal article by the end of the summer.

Outside of school, I’ve been really enjoying myself musically. In January, I joined The 123s, playing alto sax on early rock, blues, and soul covers (stuff like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Little Richard, Smokey Robinson, and Chuck Berry). This month Afro-Hoosier got a new trombone player, which has allowed me to switch to bari full-time. I’m playing gigs every other week, and on May 17th I’ll be playing my first gig in another town – a fundraiser out in Lafayette. On May 23rd, I’ll be headlining at the Bishop with The 123s. In the next 3 months I’ll be seeing Of Monsters and Men, Cold War Kids, Portugal. the Man, Todd Snider, The Wailers, The Postal Service, and all the bands at Outside Lands. Life has been good to my ears.

So, all in all, I feel pretty great about where I’ve come this year. It took a bit of soul-searching to realize how much I wanted my PhD, and a lot of work to get my body ready for it, but I’m ready now and extremely satisfied with my position.

2 thoughts on “One down, N to go

  1. Valkyrie Savage

    Jaimie, you look great! I’m glad to hear you made it through your first PhD crisis even better than you went in. 😉 I’m totally going to have to pick your brain about Jakarta sometime in the near future (we’re flying that-a-way on the 30th of the month).

    Man, I gotta appreciate the magic of RSS for bringing me occasional stories from you. 🙂

    1. Jaimie Murdock

      Thanks, Valkyrie! Let’s do a Hangout soon and talk Indonesia. If you’re mostly hanging around Jakarta, I’d recommend wandering out to Puncak – really pretty mountain pass in the tea fields. If you’re willing to travel to the other side of Java, getting to Borobudur and Parambanan are a must (ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples). If you get to travel to any other island, go to Bali and visit Uluwatu, Kuta, and Ubud (cliff temple, beach, and artist town, respectively).

      Super sad about the demise of Google Reader, still trying to figure out my migration path. Brian Slattery and I have been talking about a new open-source, self-hosted, social reader platform. We’ll keep you in the loop!

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