Category Archives: PhD

It’s been a long time, now I’m…coming back home.

Name the song for which this blog is titled.

If you said The Beatles’ “Wait” (from theRubber Soul album) then you are correct!

I don’t even know why I used that for a title; of all the Beatles’ songs out there, “Wait” has never been one of my particular favorites. In fact, it sometimes grates on my nerves. Part of is the nasally singing from Lennon and McCartney. Maybe also the incessant tambourine.

But enough of that. I’m actually writing a blog post for the first time in ages. I guess that’s really why I used the lyrics in my title – it has indeed been a long time since I could make time for this blog. This semester has been hectic, to say the least. It took a good month to really transition back into the swing of taking class, working as a research assistant, etc. but I’m glad to report that “the old Matt” is back, as Micheline likes to say.

So what have I been up to? Well, a number of things. My course work is primarily outside of Geography this semester, so I’ve been doing a lot of reading in political economy and political science. I’ve been finding really good connections between that and my geography reading and dissertation ideas, so political economy/theory/stuff will play a big role in my research over the next couple of years. Yeah, hard, to believe – but I’m on track to finish my PhD in a mere 2.5 more years. I metaphorically pinch myself sometimes at that thought, and it’s been a frequent one over the last few weeks because I’ve been planning my PhD “Program of Study,” as all first-year students have to do.

Other than the coursework, the dissertation planning is coming along. I don’t have a complete project, but I’m working on research questions and thinking about the short- and middle-term plans for accomplishing the research. The most obvious part of the planning is fieldwork. Karen and I will go with the “research team” to Oslo, Norway, again next summer. The plan at this point is to go a little earlier in the year, probably mid-May after UT’s finals. We may also go to some other Norwegian cities where the oil and gas sector is more active (Stavanger and Kongsberg are potential options.) The most important part is to get the plans nailed down early enough to get cheaper flights and find housing NOT at the last minute (like last year, when my fellow research assistant and I nearly caused Micheline to have a stress-induced stroke. Sorry about that, again!)

As for mid-term planning, I will apply for grants for more research funding starting next summer/fall to fund fieldwork in Berlin. I’m not sure how long fieldwork in Berlin would take (again, I don’t have a dissertation proposal complete yet), but I would like to spend the entire summer of 2014 over there, if not also part of that fall semester. Given how much time I know went into planning the Oslo fieldwork – at least two summers of fieldwork to plan, organize, establish contacts, etc. – I’m not ruling out any time period at this point. That is why I need to start securing funding so early.

Well, I’ve got to run. I hope you enjoyed my brief update, and as usual, I promise to try writing more often… but we all know how that goes.

Initial Thoughts on SAS

Hello from Stockholm, Sweden! It’s an early morning here, and I fly to Oslo, Norway, in about 45 minutes. I thought I would take a few minutes to jot down my thoughts on my SAS (Scandinavian) flight from Chicago to Stockholm.

First, let me just say, I was impressed! Why have I not flown this airline before? Well, for one, I haven’t needed to go to or through Scandinavia before. Second, SAS is usually a more expensive option that your standard American international carriers. However, this was a shared flight with United, so that may have keep the price lower. And by lower, I mean straight-up low. I’ve never flown to Europe for under $1000 until this trip.

Next, my comments about the plane: SAS has a pretty good lineup of aircraft in its fleet, and although this plane was not one of the newer aircraft, the Airbus A330-300 was still quite nice – and it was not close to full. I already posted a photo to Twitter of how nice the seats are (even in economy class) – a built in mirror, touch screen TV monitor with options for several movies and 30 music channels, and an option to watch the view from the front of the plane on screen! There was supposed to be a few from the bottom of the plane looking down, but for some reason it never showed anything. Guess it wasn’t turned on or something.

The food on board was pretty good as far as airline food goes: Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes with a nice warm roll for dinner; turkey and cheese on a similarly nice roll for breakfast. Nothing barf-worthy…and I’ve had barf-worthy airline food before. (Cough, now-defunct Northwest Airlines!)

Anyway, the seats were pretty comfy, even in economy. Despite multiple crying/screaming/tantrum-ing children on board (and one dog, who was very well behaved), I slept somewhere around 2-3 hours. I woke up shortly before the cabin lights were turned on, at which point hot washcloths were passed out – again, even in economy! This was another airline first for me.

For those who are curious, today’s schedule should have me safely landed in Oslo at 10:45 a.m. Central Europe Summer Time. After customs, I am meeting my advisor, Micheline, at the airport, and we will wait for our undergrad research assistant, Grace, to arrive a little later. Oslo’s airport is about 25-30 minutes north of the city center, so it make sense to wait for Grace to arrive before heading back to the city. The plan is to then go to our apartments and then explore the city this afternoon. It’s overcast and rainy in Stockholm, but it’s supposed to be sunny and in the mid-50s in Oslo today. We shall see!

I’ll try to keep you all posted.

Squaring Things Away

So tell me this: Is “Squaring things away” really a saying, or did I make it up?

According to my friendly neighborhood (Internet) dictionary, square has a lot of definitions! (12 adjective definitions alone.) And I liked this particular Internet dictionary entry because it even contained a section for verbal phrases! So, square away is actually a nautical concept, originating from the work of squaring the yards of a sailing vessel.

USS Yorktown
USS Yorktown, Patriot's Point – Charleston, SC

Wait, not that kind of ship!

Pride (schooner) – Charleston, SC
The Pride – Charleston, SC

That’s better! (The yards of a schooner or other sailboat like this are the masts and spars from which the sails hang, in case you did not know.)

Anyway, the other definition of square that really caught my attention was transitive verb form #6: “To bring into balance; settle.”

Now, doesn’t that just sound delightful?

I’ve been doing a lot of “squaring away” lately. I finished my Master’s of Science in Geography this spring, and I even went to graduation.

Me graduating!
Me graduating!

Karen and I moved into a cute little house, and we even save on the rent. Unfortunately, this also means I’ve had lots of smaller projects to square away added to my never-ending to do list. In the last two weeks, I made a guest bedroom (sort of) out of a junk room, cleaned for my parents to visit, and worked on Karen’s garden seemingly non-stop. Yesterday we had the beds tilled by a friend, and we have them completely covered in (free!) fertilizer.

Then there’s the little detail of planning a PhD program and dissertation. I’ve only gotten 7 of my required 9 hours of course work for the fall squared away at this point, but I’m thinking a Directed Readings course may fill the last two.

I am also making (very slow) progress on a dissertation idea, but I’m spending way more time trying to figure out what fieldwork will entail when I get to Oslo – only two more weeks until I’m gone for a month! The dissertation idea, at this point, is to somehow compare the skilled migration experiences and place-making processes of IT workers in Oslo with those in Berlin. Given all that Berlin has been up to lately regarding the Blue Card, at least this work is timely if nothing else.

So I’ve squared away a few yards, only to have the sails open on me elsewhere.

Sail. Sail thy best. Ship of Democracy.

Dissertation thoughts

Today was the day that I faced the demon known as comps. That’s comprehensive exams, for those who may be wondering. To be entirely honest, they were not as brutal as I thought they may be. I don’t think my committee members took it easy on me (I did write almost 4,500 words today), so maybe I was just well prepared. For that I have to thank my advisor Micheline van Riemsdijk for doing her job of, well, giving me good, sound advice.

So what do I want to do with the rest of my Friday? Well keep writing of course! I did tease everyone a week or two ago that I would divulge some details about my potential dissertation topic, so I was thinking of writing about that. Then I started thinking that academia is rather hyper-competitive these days, so I decided not to share. But then I figured that happiness lies in the middle, so I’ll divulge a little but not enough details that in the event that someone other than my closest friends and family actually reads this, and that individual happens to need a dissertation topic, and furthermore that individuals happens to be a geographer… Well, then they won’t be able to replicate my ideas and take all the academic glory (is there such a thing?) for themselves. In the interests of time, I will copy/paste some sections from what I’m currently working for class papers and Ph.D. applications for your perusal. Feel free to ask me questions in the comments section below.

Continue reading Dissertation thoughts