Monday, August 16, 2010

The Adventures Continue!

Nine days hence my year in Chicago comes to an end and I'm headed off to Washington, DC to start a new chapter of adventuring.  Since I won't have the university consuming my every waking moment, I'm hopeful that I'll be able to sustain a blog (rather than have it squelched half a year in by a masters thesis).  If you want to follow my adventures in Washington, you can do so at Tales from Federal City, my new chronicle of discoveries and experiences.  I promise to do a better job this time!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties... the form of "having no time."  The first draft of my thesis is due on Friday's not done.

However, once it is done, I promise to do some writing.  After all, I have things to tell you about:

- my adventures in Boystown (over the weekend)
- my voyage to Washington (end of March/beginning of this month)
- another culinary adventure (involving chicken, spices, and some lovely brand-new knives that actually cut things in one single stroke instead of requiring a sawing motion which would be more appropriate for a log than an orange)
- job interviews and other career aspirations
- and more.  I think.  

Funny how only one of these is about Chicago.  I need to get out more.  But I have no time!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

So Close But So Far...

I am pleased to report that I did in fact manage to write ten pages of thesis and send out a bunch of cover letters and queries since I last wrote.  I am also pleased to report that at this time tomorrow I will be on an overnight train heading east.

I am not pleased to report that I'm nervous as all hell.

Perhaps that's an overstatement - after all, I have nothing to lose, only things to gain.  But I do not often trek more than a thousand miles on my own (the last time I did that was three years ago when I went over to Germany for study abroad, but that's quite another story), and I do not often find myself in the position of trying to convince the faceless entity of the federal government to hire little me to do something for them.  Preferably something at least mildly interesting that doesn't involve waterboarding.  Of course, the government isn't really faceless because I will be interviewing with people (living, breathing ones, I assume) and that fact that I have received more than one (in fact two) unsolicited invitations to things (as opposed to blanket e-mails that probably went out to hundreds of people, of which I have received three) suggests that I am a pretty strong candidate in someone's eyes.  My job is to prove that hypothesis correct - it's just that there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of people competing against me.  For pity's sake, there are half a dozen people from the London School of Economics, more than a dozen from the Harvard Law School, a bunch from Yale...

You'll forgive me, I hope, for being daunted, because even if those schools are not as intense as the University of Chicago - we're pretty crazy here - they have all sorts of name recognition.  I presume that government officials won't be bamboozled by an eminent name, but who knows?  Here's hoping the entire Harvard delegation is cross-eyed and socially awkward.  Ditto Yale and LSE.

Anyhow, I leave tomorrow evening from Union Station (Chicago) and arrive early on Monday afternoon at Union Station (Washington).  As far as I can can tell, the main difference between these stations is that the one in Washington is connected to Washington's public transportation system - the one in Chicago, as I have unhappily learned, is not.  Not even a few blocks away.  From the station I will proceed via Metro to my hotel (without even needing to change lines - bite me, Chicago Transit Authority), where I will secure my room, drop my things and, depending on how nasty I feel after an overnight on the train, shower.  Then I prepare my agenda for the following day(s) and, if the weather's nice, toddle about the capital.  Possibly meet up with a friend.

The following day (the 30th) is my 23rd birthday, so I will celebrate by running myself ragged.  I have an interview at Social Security at 11, register for the Fair at 12, attend the opening session (remarks, etc.) from 1-4, and then a tour and info session (and maybe interview?) at the Broadcasting Board of Governors at 4:30, then, if time permits, a reception at the Department of Agriculture at 5:30 (if the BBG thing doesn't go over), and then, back to the conference center for a meet-and-greet until 6:00 (that's if I don't make it to Agriculture - though I may skip it altogether if I'm too tired).  At some I shall eat.  And then, if nothing further presents itself (like people who want to do something for my birthday, about which I am being pessimistic so as not to be disappointed) back to the hotel and to bed.

Why?  Because the fair begins in earnest the following day at 9, and I intend to be there on the dot to get in and score a few points, so to speak, before the swarm descends.  The conference center (even just our allotted portion) is huge and there will be a lot to process.  Best to be there early and interact with people before they get tired and snappy.  This includes me.  This runs until 4; rinse and repeat on Thursday, except it only runs until 3.  I probably won't stay that late because my train leaves at 4-ish - another overnight, which delivers me in Chicago just before 9 on Friday morning.  Instead of heading home to do the reading I will need to do to catch up on the classes I will have missed (did I neglect to mention that this is all over the first week of classes at the U?  No?  How careless of me.), I will hop on another train up to Milwaukee to meet my parents and spend the Easter weekend at home.  I don't want to do it, but they would be wounded if I didn't.  So, honorable gentleman that I am, I have acquiesced.  I suppose I can relax when I'm dead.

I do not guarantee updates from Washington, but I will see what I can do.  It's supposed to get up to 85 on Thursday there - and me in a suit! - but I may find time to post a few thoughts and/or daily digests.  We'll see - wish me luck!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


My current joke: Guess which part of Spring Break the University of Chicago doesn't understand.  Hint: It's not the "spring" part.

That alone should give you a bit of an idea as to why the post below this one is from the middle of February.  I promise you I didn't plan it that way, but this has been the most exhausting March I think I've ever experienced.  Which, considering some of my Marches back at undergrad, is saying something.

I do have posts I intend to write to fill in the gap between this one and February 18th, and I had intended to write them over break.  However, yesterday we were informed via e-mail from our preceptor that fifteen pages of our theses are due at the beginning of next week.  No earlier warning - just yesterday.  Needless to say, neither I nor anyone else has fifteen pages written.  As of this posting, I've got two (which, let's be honest, is probably more than my friends vacationing in Mexico have got).  So although I had intended to spend part of spring break posting here, I don't think that's going to be possible.

Lest you think I am simply whining excessively over a single paper (even if it is a master's thesis), I will throw another important factor into the mix.  Around the beginning of March I was notified that I have been awarded a finalist spot in the federal government's Presidential Management Fellowship program, a prestigious and highly competitive placement program for people with newly-awarded graduate degrees (read more here).  Why am I telling you this?  Because the invitation-only career fair is next week.  Fortunately, I have all my travel arrangements and hotel safely booked away, but there is that small matter of sending out resumes, cover letters, and various queries before the fair begins, because you can't do it all in two and a half days.  So competing with my thesis - 15 pages by the 29th, you'll remember - is something arguably even more important: my future.

Am I over-dramatizing?  Probably.  There's a good possibility I could get out of bed tomorrow, grab breakfast, pack up my things and beat it to the university where I'll hammer out ten or more thesis pages, then come home and send out half a dozen resumes after dinner.  Likely?  No.  My goal?  Absolutely.

(Look for more material between now and February 18th - I will do my best to fill in that gap, I promise!  I've got all sorts of neat stuff to talk about, like the Museum of Science and Industry, my favorite bookstore that I introduced you all to in the fall, spring fever, artwork, cooking...)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I Am Unfamiliar With Alleys

In the town where I grew, there were very few alleys - in fact, the only two I can think of were downtown, not in residential districts.  In Hyde Park, on the other hand, alleys grow on trees.  Well, not quite, because it's entirely possible that the alleys outnumber the trees.  But perhaps I exaggerate.

In any case, I walked by this alley on my way between grocery stores (which, of course, means it's a Thursday) and snapped a picture of what I saw.  What intrigued me most was the cobblestone, another thing Appleton, WI is almost totally bereft of, with the exception of the street sandwiched between the block of downtown containing the hip university students' cafe, the imports store, and the ultra-expensive gourmet grocery store; and the ugliest parking structure I have ever encountered.  It's a treat - it looks like it belongs in Sarajevo circa the mid-1990s (if non-history buffs don't get my joke, let me remind you that Sarajevo was under continuous siege from 5 April 1992 to 29 February 1996...)

I believe I was talking about cobblestones.  You might recall that I've had a run-in with cobblestones once before and mused on it for a while - that street was paved over.  This one - this alley, to be more precise - looks like it will be around for a while.  What I particularly like is that it has begun, in a way, to meld with the nature around it.  There was a pond collecting in the left foreground (and on the sidewalk - I had fun trying to maneuver through that without soaking both feet) and as you look farther off, if you don't concentrate too hard, all those patches of water and piles of snow begin to blur together and, towards the "vanishing point" of the picture, it's hard to tell if the cobblestone has given away to a lake or if it persists until it reaches its outlet, whatever that may be (it's blotted out by the brightness of the sun).  I think the reason I took this photo - because sometimes I can't explain why I feel compelled to take a photo until well after the fact - is this cobblestone-water-ice-sun goulash which sums up what I actually like about winter.  That and the puddles of dirty meltwater which suggest that spring, my favorite season, is coming...