how I know we’ll always be engineers

This post could equally be named, ‘how I know we spend too much time around engineers’ but then I figured that we are engineers! So maybe this is just a great indication that we’re in this line of work (and thinking haha) for the long haul 🙂 (or that anything we do or touch will be affected by our engineering ‘know how’) 🙂

How I know that Brett and I have a lot of engineering friends/How I know we’ll always be engineers at heart:

#1  A conversation with a friend about some plans over the summer. I asked him if he would be back in Champaign by a certain date and he began his response with…

Y: “there is a non-zero probability that…”

#2  When I went to visit Brett in Seattle he had only shaving cream and Axe body soap in his shower…apparently that is all one needs? 😉
#3  A conversation at work about the correct technique to down large trees (as if that weren’t nerdy enough) then turned into a discussion about the fracture mechanics involved depending on whether the trees were solid or hollow.

#4  Talking with a friend about how the A/C was out on the floor where he works at NASA in Alabama. I asked how he was coping and he said…

B: “I have my fan on full blast and i’m trying to minimize my movements.”

#5  Running with the same NASA friend. We’ve been doing a run/walk routine while he builds up his running endurance.

M: “25 seconds left…sorry, make that 45.”
B: “I liked the first choice better.”
M: “We’ll interpolate.”

#6  A discussion with some co-workers at NASA about their work travel plans resulted in this exchange…

G: Did you hear that our travel was cancelled this week?
M: Yes, P told me yesterday. Is that good or bad?
G: We’re not sure. There is probably a hidden meaning in it but we’re engineers so we don’t know what it is.
P: Yea…just be direct with us. Are we going to prom or not?…No?…Ok, fine.



The whole truth about our summer, a.k.a. how we live at a distance for 4 months

While it may have not been completely apparent (though maybe sort of?) based on the summer’s blog posts, Brett and I have been living and working in completely different states since early June.  Brett, as he did last summer, has been working with Microsoft Research from Seattle, Washington while I have been working with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

We have decided officially though…that even though we made this work for another summer, living at a distance is not how we would like to continue our married lives together.  This summer, with a little luck, will be the last one that we need to spend across the country from one another.  We have been able to make our relationship work though and have both had really successful summers.  We both hear many comments about distance relationships…about how we just couldn’t get married last summer and then live apart (well…we did)…about how it would put a huge strain on our relationship (well…we’re fine)…and the ‘oh my, how do you ever make that work?!’ comments (well…we do).  Honestly, the hardest part about living separately over the summers is moving back in with one another!  haha!  🙂  We both are forced to become super independent over the summers and then we force each other to move as a unit when we come back together.  But…like I said before, we have done this before and we are fine!  I just can’t help but wonder why we get these sorts of comments when couples comprised of military personnel have been figuring out how to live apart for a while now!

None-the-less, I thought I’d share how we make it work over the summers, when we are living more than 2500 miles from one another.


Mal and Brett’s tricks to a distance relationship:

1.  We keep ourselves busy with our own hobbies.  When we are each busy doing things that we like, we have less time (and brain power) to feel lonely.  When each of us isn’t feeling too lonely about having to live so far apart from one another, we can continue to thrive as individuals and can thus continue to thrive as a couple.

2.  When we’re keeping busy we keep one another ‘in the loop’.  Though some long-distance couples (I’m thinking of military ones here especially…) may not have this luxury, Brett and I do.  We both, at almost all times, have our cell phones nearby.  I’ll text Brett when I’m heading out for a run with the pups and he’ll let me know when he’s leaving work and off for an evening activity with friends.  We both feel more involved in the other’s life if we know (at least vaguely) what they are up to at any given moment.  (We especially love updating one another on the things definitely not worth updating about)  🙂




3.  We skype or facetime at least every few days.  Seeing one another has been really important for Brett and I when we’re living apart.  It is easy to just chat quickly about our busy days and kind of forget that our spouse is on the other end of the telephone.  Some days our schedules don’t synch up enough to enjoy some face-to-face time (there are two hours of time difference between our two summer ‘homes’) but this becomes a priority at least a couple times a week.  Sometimes it means that we’ll skype one another right as I’m heading to bed and we’ll keep it running through the night.  Then, in the morning, I get to wake up ‘with’ Brett and I’ll turn off the skype call before I head off to work 🙂  On the weekends though (once again…if our schedules permit) I’ll get to keep the skype call running until he wakes up and throughout the day.  A couple of times we’ve even watched tv ‘together’ this way 🙂


4.  We’re patient with one another’s bits of crazy.  Brett and I have found that some personality quirks are magnified when we’re living long distance from one another while others are suppressed.  For example, my tendency to worry seems to grow when Brett and I are living apart.  Brett is super supportive during my bouts of worry 🙂  Brett, on the other hand, isn’t any better at doing things while talking to me on the phone when we’re living across the country than when we’re living in the same zip code 🙂  But we make it work.  Sometimes our schedules get in the way a bit…but we stay flexible to one another 🙂

5.  Be patient with one another and always apologize if you are mean.  I know that this one looks a lot like #4 but it really is one of the most important things that we’ve had to remember.  Sometimes, one of us just has a bad day.  It usually has very little to do with the other person but this bad day is hard to keep out of the tone of limited conversations.  If one of us is rude to the other, the important thing is to say we’re sorry and move on.

6.  When you are together, go on adventures!  Whenever Brett and I are able to be together for a weekend (yep…never longer than that for the summer), we have a great time together 🙂  We explore the city we’re in.  We try new places to eat and new things to see.  We show each other our favorite spots around town and we find brand new ones.


And that’s it!  We made it work using these easy tricks last summer when we moved 2500 miles apart, came together to get married, and then headed back across the country from one another and again this summer (except that getting married part…we already did that 🙂 ).  I wouldn’t say that it is easy-peasy but we make it work.  I’m just glad that we don’t have to for much longer!

Do you have any tricks for long distance relationships?  (whether they are usually long distance or not!)  🙂

why I am leaving graduate school

Hello everyone.  Brett and I have a big life update…maybe it won’t seem as big later on down the road but right now it feels like a really big shift in our lives.  I am leaving graduate school.

Though each department is different, the Aerospace (AE) Department grants two opportunities to take the qualifying exam.  The AE’s qualifying exam is a written exam lasting 3 hours, with 8 questions of which 6 must be completed, and it is a required stepping stone on the way to obtaining one’s PhD.  I have now taken the exam twice, and have not passed it two times.

Those are the raw facts…and the only ones that my department has been interested in paying attention to.  I have accomplished a lot during my graduate studies though, despite the very difficult times that I have experienced.  I successfully completed a master’s thesis and have almost completed all of the course work for my PhD.  I have a paper submitted to a top journal and under review.  I presented to a packed room at the most recent conference that I attended.  I secured my own funding for three consecutive years.  In my mind, these facts are important too.

I cannot ignore that my mother passed away and that I went through cancer treatments of my own while I was in the middle of completing my graduate studies and I also cannot ignore that these events affected me.  They have shaped so much of my world in the past 3 years.  The way that I think, communicate with others, and assess situations around me have all changed.  This is ok.

Some of the faculty that I encounter at the U of I have been really really supportive and compassionate during all of this while others have not.  It is true that I did not pass the qualifying exam.  It is also true that I have been very successful in my graduate studies despite everything that I have been through along the way.  Despite my difficulty in classes and tests, I have performed very well as a researcher and as a collaborator.  The way that I am able to think and focus my attention right now does not seem to lend itself to the AE qualifying exam…and you know what?  That is ok.

The folks that I work with at NASA in Huntsville, AL on an everyday basis have been so understanding and compassionate (we’re talking everyday interactions, working collaboratively on a opposed to just weekly meetings).  They have worked tirelessly with me to try and figure this whole situation out.  Not once has anyone minimized me or asked accusingly why I don’t understand a certain piece of information.  I have been encouraged to seek out full-time opportunities in Huntsville…not pushed out the door.  They believe that I am capable of completing engineering research and are excited about working with me.

I am not exactly sure what is next for me right now.  I do know, that my working environment needs to have a higher priority on my list of ‘must haves’ for any career choice that I make.  Brett and I still have some time left in Champaign before he finishes his PhD and we’re both going to make the best of it.  We love living in Champaign and it will definitely be sad when we leave this place in the future.  When we do leave, I may try and enter into a new PhD program or I may have discovered/created my new calling.  I actually have a few projects in my head and under way.  We’ll see how they turn out in the coming months.  🙂  I will update you all with details as the right time presents itself 🙂

Until then, I am excited about what this next part of our lives will look like.  A really great article written for Scientific American’s blog was written by a tenure track faculty member at a major, research institution.  The author described one of her strategies to being as happy as possible while trying for tenure (it is a very stressful and lengthy process) as, “I try to be the best “whole” person I can.”  The way that I figure it, I am doing my best right now to be the best, “whole” person I can…and some folks just can’t handle that right now 🙂

Study Buddies

I have been studying a lot lately…seriously, all the time.  My exam is today (FINGERS CROSSED!) and I’ve been busting my butt trying to get ready.  The pups don’t like it very much.  It means that I’m often home during the day but still ignoring them for most of the time.  While sometimes I have Caya looking after me


or on rare occasions, both of the girls


It’s really Inca who has stepped up to the plate to be my consistent study buddy.  These are all separate occurrences of her, laying in the middle of the floor in the office where I’ve been working (or at my feet)  🙂





blog_studyBug4What a cutie!


Illumiroom in Paris

Brett had a great time at his conference in Paris!  He gave an awesome presentation on his work, Illumiroom, at the CHI2013 conference.  This was the first time that actual details on the technology behind the project were released.  (A teaser video was released a little while ago and we shared it with you here).

If you’re interested in watching any of the interviews with the tech world press, here is one from Engadget and one from PC world  (I think there are a lot of these flying around but those two are good examples)  🙂

If you would like to watch the research video and/or the video that Microsoft Research released as a teaser you can check it out on Brett’s research website here.  Brett’s research website in general is pretty cool…it details each one of his projects and shows the cool videos for each one  🙂  Enjoy!