Where is the class that teaches what grad school is?

Brett and I were just talking the other day about how we had NO idea what grad school would be like before we started.  There was *one* thing that we did know however….we didn’t like the jobs that we could get directly out of undergrad.  We both have a lot of friends that did (and continue to) like the jobs that they were offered after having finished undergrad though…don’t get us wrong!  🙂  But after each finishing an internship following graduation with our bachelors degrees, we each knew that we wanted to do something different than the options that we currently had, so away to grad school we went.  (And by away, we mean that we stayed right where we were, at a top 10, R1 (top research institution) university).  I completed an independent study with a professor at the end of my senior year of undergrad that helped me land a position in an Aerospace Engineering research group that focused on experimental solid mechanics while Brett compiled a group of faculty around the university (literally…in various and very varied departments) to design his own graduate curriculum.  Both of us learned to navigate our way through advisors, seminars, classes, and research.  I discovered that I had landed exactly where I wanted to be, doing exactly what I wanted to do while Brett actively worked to form and shape his own way combining expertise from many different Computer Science areas.

So far, Brett and I have both successfully finished our masters degrees (you can even read find our theses online if you’re interested!) and have moved to the PhD.  Brett, having overtaken one step along the path to a PhD, passed his qualifying exam last year making him a PhD candidate.  I should pass my qualifying exam in June so at the moment I am but a lowly PhD *student*.  hehe…such labels!  Brett has published a few papers and my first one is currently ready for submission (woot!).  Being in grad school is nothing like undergrad.  For one thing, taking 6 classes is unheard of in graduate school and I complain (a ton!) if I have to take more than 2.  The content in grad classes is more intense, more up to date, and the homework (if you’re assigned any…which I always am but Brett never seemed to have any!) takes forever.  What takes up all of our time though you ask?  Research.  Its awesome, and it takes forever.  The mentality that your job goes on 24/7 is still very alive in graduate school.  The lab is always open, and I always have a key to access it while Brett always has a computer handy…and usually a projector as well haha.  Doing things that have never been done before is often frustrating and I spend a lot of my time feeling just plain stupid.  There are no text books or manuals describing how to complete the next experiment or how to calibrate that new technology with a projector.  The moment though, when what you have been fighting with finally makes sense or when that experiment finally works out, is what makes graduate school (and research in general) so worth it.  There was even an article describing this very phenomenon here …

         Fun things about graduate school:

1) We still live on a college campus which lends itself to lots of interesting opportunities and activities…..along with an AWESOME performing arts center and art theater in the area (this like is 3 in 1 haha)

2) Working hours are fairly flexible…though one of my advisors does have a habit of walking around the office and lab every Friday around 5 pm

3) The college town we chose to live in is cheap (one serious advantage to living in the middle of the corn fields)

4) Research is so much fun!  (usually)

5) The working environment is extremely collaborative at times

6) I have a lot of control over how I do things and what things I do

7) Our Rec center is fantastic…seriously, it is awesome and its open all the time and our student fees pay for our use of it

8) Brett and Raj play video games in their free time occasionally and call it research

9) We both get to collaborate with various experts around the country (shout out to Microsoft Research and NASA!!!)

10) We work 2 blocks from one another

         Not fun things about graduate school:

1) Research is frustrating!  (usually)

2) Working hours are flexible….which means that you could be working ALL the time (and we both know people who do)

3) The pay as a graduate student isn’t very good…seriously, I think I could earn more money working in a fast-food chain

4) The undergrads just keep getting younger…ok I know that isn’t exactly true but the age difference definitely keeps growing!

5) My office is in a basement with cockroaches and Brett’s office is often 60 degrees in the summer brrrr!


I think people often shy away from asking us about what we do.  Both Brett and I though are getting quite good at describing our research in non-engineering terms so feel free to ask us!  🙂

Holidays, Michigan, Illini games, and Holiday cards

We haven’t talked a lot about our winter break!  (mostly I think because I (Mallory) want to forget that HUGE chunks of it spent studying ever happened haha!)  We will post more pictures soon but these are two that seemed fitting 🙂  The first is Brett and KJ in their pjs with pups in their laps 🙂 and the other is when Brett and I went to the St. Louis Symphony’s playing of the Pirates of the Caribbean with my dad and brother.  The music was soooo good!  We’ll post more pictures of the rest of break soon  🙂

After returning to Champaign and after my qualifying exam, Brett and I had a great trip to Michigan with the pups to finish our Winter Break 2012-2013.  Here are a few pictures (from my phone!  the resolution continues to amaze me)  from the trip which included walking on the beach (seeing how much Caya loves the water (though is frightened slightly by waves) which I learned while hiking with a friend in TN), visiting a casino just to spend most of our time in the Kid Zone (read, arcade…why gamble for real when you can play AWESOME games and then win tickets to get cool prizes?!?!?!), yummy dinners out (shown here with one of our awesome wins from the arcade), and much more.  🙂  More pictures to come!


Click here to watch a movie!  — walking on the beach

A few weeks back from break Brett and I were able to take advantage of my dad’s season tickets to the Illini Basketball games!  🙂  The game wasn’t the greatest (we lost to Northwestern?!) but we had a lot of fun!  Go ILLINI!!!


Finally done (for the time being, hurumph!) with that pesky qualifying exam, I worked hard over the weekend to finish sending out holiday cards and then ran out of them before finishing!  🙂  I quickly drove around town looking for cards to no avail.  Que the Internet-to-the-Rescue!  More cards were quickly ordered 🙂  Just proves that you really can by anything at anytime on the internet!  So some of those cards will be a tad bit later than desired (seeing as its mid to late January and all haha) but better late than never.  Sending out holiday cards is still one of those ‘adult’ like tasks that I really enjoy.  I so love getting everybody else’s cards and reading about what their lives have been like for the past year.  For some of those people, I know everything that has happened before even opening the envelope since we stay in touch but for others it has been a while and the card is a nice and endearing way to see that we’re all thinking of one another.

What do you all think about holiday cards?  An archaic tradition or something to keep going strong?  🙂


Exams and the end of Winter Break

Hello everyone!

Things in our house have settled down since returning from spending the holidays with our families and then celebrating New Years here in Champaign.  Not many fun things have happened though…we just keep studying!  Brett has some pretty important deadlines on Friday and I still have that pesky qualifying exam on Thursday morning.  The pups have taken advantage of the cold weather inhibiting walks as well as our busy schedule and had some fun with a comforter earlier today…

Inca here has been posed with the crime she may or may not have actually committed 🙂  Good thing we’ll have a chance to get some much needed walks outside and some good, old, R&R this weekend  🙂

I hope that all of you are doing well!

Happy not studying to you all!  I will be among you again in 2 days!

Love, Mallory