2015 UTEP Interdisciplinary Research Symposium

Just a very quick post because I must keep working on an assignment.

Yesterday I attended (briefly) the 2015 UTEP Interdisciplinary Research Symposium poster session. Since one of my main study objectives is interdisciplinar research and because one of my friends/coworkers presented a poster, it was a good opportunity to see what is being done here at my university.

The posters that strike me most were:

1. Stanley Mubako’s study about freshwater withdrawal and its economic impact, which required a lot of data integration from Excel, GIS, etc. We, the iLink guys, will certainly be helping him in some future project.

2. Alberto Esquinca’s narrative analysis of Latina’s resilence in CS and Engineering tries to find how to better support women studying (and having a hard time) in STEM programs.

3. Since my advisor is working in this project, I am feeling very inclined to collaborate on Kelvin Cheu’s proposal concerning smart cities.

4. Sergio Tarin is proposing an analysis of what is ethics.

5. Finally, my friend Luis Garnica presented his latest contributions to the ELSeWeb project, one of the crown jewels of the lab I work in. If you ask me, it was the most elegant poster of the session.

Sadly, I could not attend to any of the events programmed for today. I specially regret the “Interdisciplinarity 101” panel with Deana Pennington, Ph.D.

I am glad to have written these few lines. Hopefully I will have a new post soon. I hope you are having a great semester.

Regards.

2015 UTEP IDR Symposium

2015 UTEP IDR Symposium

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A view around The University of Texas at El Paso

I just wanted to post some pictures from UTEP, I hope you enjoy them.

*UPDATE ON March 22nd.*

UTEP Entrance by University Ave.

UTEP Entrance by University Ave. Or exit, since it was already night and I was leaving campus.

The Chemistry and Computer Science Building, my home in a way.

The Chemistry and Computer Science Building, my home in a way.

Mining Minds with Juarez, Mexico in the background

Mining Minds with Juarez, Mexico in the background.

College of Engineering

College of Engineering.

The Sun Bowl

The legendary Sun Bowl Stadium.

The Sun Bowl Stadium, during a foggy day. Weird in the desert.

The Sun Bowl Stadium, during a foggy day. Weird in the desert.

The big M (for Miners, our mascot) behind the Sun Bowl Stadium, also during the foggy day.

The big M (for Miners, our mascot) behind the Sun Bowl Stadium, also during the foggy day.

Going up the Franklin Mountains behind our home on a snowy day.

Going up the Franklin Mountains behind our home on a snowy day.

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Fall 2014: My first semester

My first semester as a student is done and I am about to start the second next Tuesday (after the long weekend due to the MLK Birthday). Sadly, I cannot tell I had the best results, but I am certainly confident to have learned very valuable lessons for the future.

*UPDATE*: I was reading this post today (March 22nd) and decided to add some more info and correct some things around.

1. Try to adapt to your environment as fast as possible. And even force it. I am certainly fortunate to have come to a city which I have been visiting for over twenty years, where I have friends. And I am even more fortunate because this city is very near to my hometown (about 250 miles). But believe me it is a completely different thing to know a city by visiting it than by living in it. If you can adapt quickly, you’ll have a great advantage. Even going to the store and select groceries is a challenge at first.

2. Be ready for a different system. Having studied in my home country for all my life, including bachelor and masters, changing educational systems has been interesting, to say the least. I now understand the value of a professor taking care of you, and appreciate them to help me in that way.  *UPDATE*: Also try to make friends, they can be an unvaluable support and help. Try both with locals and even international students, since each will have different experiences. Also, support your friends; in Grad School we all can use a pat in the back.

3. Take advantage of everything you can. American universities have a myriad of services which are very useful for students, many of them not available at home or at least not as consolidated as they are being offered here. In my case, I have been taking prfessional psychological counseling due to stress and anxiety issues. It has been a tremendous help to get back on my feet and keep this going. Counseling, athletic facilities, library, cultural events… You name it, you are already paying for it! Use them! *UPDATE*: Of course, if you have time. My case, I have not been able to use the athletic facilities. And also, get involved in the activities and traditions of your university! Such experiences will go a long way and will surely provide great memories! Extend yourself, do not only do what you are supposed, become a “universal” man/woman!

4. Network. I have always felt uncomfortable with this word considering that professionals use it as a pretext to take advantage of other people, but from now on for me it means to know people which have different abilities than yours and that can complement you and your work. I was fortunate to attend a seminar by the end of my first semester (future post coming), and it really nourished me to meet people facing challenges like my own, each with their characteristics. Even though you think of yourself as a shy person, always try to talk and contact the people around you: you will be happily surprised if you are open and sincere.

5. Find a topic for your thesis / dissertation AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! Even though it sounds corny and cliché, I can’t stress this enough: Find a topic which makes you passionate for research, and do it fast! I was fortunate that I took the Graduate Research Methods class, and that the professor made us complete a first draft of our research proposal. I won’t lie to you, it was HARD to find a topic, especially within the limited time of a semester. Within the first two months, I switched topics three times, but thanks to the  professor and my dissertation advisor I managed to find a topic which really intrigues me and makes me want to start working on it. I feel I am on a solid track to get something done, and it is something worth! And once you have it, make a plan on how you will be making your advances towards your goal.

6. Pay attention to your family. You can get deeply immersed on your studies, I know it gets hard and you feel you have to. In my case, I am married and have two little kids, and I have my parents back home, my brother and his family, my in-laws, some of my cousins… During my hardest time this semester, my immediate family resented my stress and lack of quality for them. Be careful with it, even if your family is not with you, always find some time to keep in touch. Work will not be over, never. But you may lose your family. Don’t risk it. Work hard, of course! but always make time for your family and give them all you can during that time. Make it special, show them how you love them and that you are truly caring and sacrificing for a better tomorrow.

7. Take care of yourself. Long hours, hard work, sleep deprivation, malnutrition will take a toll on you. Manage yourself carefully through the tide of assignments, exams and even work. Find a time for you. Keep track of what you eat, and try to eat healthy: your body and mind will thank you and keep helping you. Try to exercise; it goes a long way with stress.

8. Keep the faith. If you do not actively profess a religion, jump this point. I am Catholic, but sadly I must confess that all the work and pressure took a toll on my religious life. Do not. Always find your time for God, find refuge and comfort in your belief.

*UPDATE*¨: 9. Find support. I mentioned something about in a previous point, but let me go further. Many of the guys/gals you are next too will also have similar problems as you. Being overworked, stressed, missing their family… You name it. Help this people, care for them and let yourself be cared. Such relations may end up been truly endearing and enduring.

That’s all I can think right now. There are certainly other more personal lessons, but I wish to keep those private. You will certainly have your own.

I hope you have a great Spring 2015 semester. Keep working hard!

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It’s been a really long time…

…since I posted something, but believe me I have good reasons: I have been really busy completing my last (for now) semester as a teacher at my University, keeping up working hard as SysAdmin, preparing two scholarship requests and taking care of my family. It has been a hard time but fruits of these efforts will come hopefully, and allow to prepare my studies.

During this time, I did my best with the scholarship processes, and just thought about some things that may be useful when you are trying:

* Search for scholarships. Find those related to your studies / location / desired university and check the requisites, which may vary but will usually have to do with languages, academic proficiency, etc. If you can’t get any obligatory requisites, move on to the next.

* Be a good writer. This is not something you will get in a short period of time; instead you must train yourself all your life by reading a lot and writing a lot, in order to know what is good writing, what is not, and how to edit your own writing. The trick, if you ask me, is to have ideas, organize them, be able to explain them clearly and do not tire of checking what you have written. And of course you need to write well: your academic career depends on your skills to communicate this way.

* Get a good editor. Most of the times you will be condescendent to your own writing, so you need people who can criticize it with no mercy. I was lucky that my father is a retired professor and spent many a year doing research and teaching writing in college, so he had experience and time to check whatever I sent him. Also, my soon-to-be professor helped me a lot editing my texts and throwing a couple of ideas in.

* Read, read, read, study, study, study. At some point, specially for doctoral studies, you will need to show at least a little knowledge concerning your study area, and perhaps even specifics about your project. The only way to do so is by understanding what has been done on that area, studying and reading papers, reports, talking to people working on the field, etc. You will not know everything in depth, but you should understand the basics and be able to explain them during an interview and/or project proposal. The depth will vary.

* Make time for your writing and have your own process. There are many things that will try to keep you away from the white sheet (or screen), so better get used to just make time for it and work hard. My process usually involves reading the articles which fuel my interest and get the main points, prepare an outline of the subjects I will address, follow a funnel model where you first explain general information about the subject and begin building towards a deeper explanation of the issue, share with your reviewers and edit tirelessly.

Funnel Model, taken from the University of Victoria.

* Get ALL the requisites. Period. Scholarships are usually contested, and you must show that you really deserve one and that you are trustworthy of receiving such honor. Show this with your documentation, this is how the committee will get to know you.

I hope you find this information useful; it is not all that I figured out by myself, but I think it can help you. Good luck.

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After such introduction, I wish to continue explaining…

…the purpose of this blog. As I said before, I want it to be my diary, the record of this journey I’m about to begin. I won’t compromise to regular posting, but I want to post when an experience is significant: either a worthy experience, an interesting lecture, a challenging project, a research material, etc. I hope to post when something happens, and I hope I have the time and brain power to do so. As you know I am mexican and you may wonder why don’t I write in spanish? Simple reason: I will study in a english speaking country and program. And even though I work for an american company and practice my english through the work day, I need to start polishing my language abilities.

 

Just a brief post today. Hope you have a great weekend 🙂

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That impulse got me here today, but not only that… also the will of God…

Before, I used to mistrust, to think less of my own. Last year, my wife took a training session on Albuquerque, New Mexico. Our baby girl was six months old at that time, so I went to take care of her. Since I was still considering the possibilities of a Ph.D., I checked for info about it in the University of New Mexico‘s Computer Science website and sent an email but got no answer. I made a phone call and the very kind attendant got me two interviews with the professors! I took my baby and talked to them, it was a great experience. After I left, something had changed in me. I thought that perhaps I could do it, that I belonged. But then again, doubts came to me and I kind of forgot about it, burying my interest under the pile of considerations.

I was talking about God. His will was expressed to me in a strange way: Last year I was checking exams or homework, I can’t remember. It was I think the end of october. I found myself with such a peace and dedication that I said to myself “I really like this. I would like to do this for the rest of my life.” Two days later, my coordinator (a good friend who had listened to me talk about going to a Ph.D. for years) sent me the guidelines for a state government scholarship for UTEP. I told my wife: “This is a sign of God” and I started to prepare my application for both the University and the scholarship.

As I said, that was the end of October. The scholarship requisites indicated that I needed to show the standardized exams scores, GRE and TOEFL. For years I had gathered TOEFL and GRE books to be prepared. Having some experience with TOEFL tests, I focused on the GRE. I gathered all other requisites and called the CS department on November 20th. I remember the date because it is Mexico’s Revolution holiday and I was at home.

Prof. Olac Fuentes gave me good hopes and recommended me to get the best GRE score I could for admission sake. I doubled my efforts to study for the exam, which I programmed for December 13th in El Paso. That night I slept about 3 hours since our baby was not feeling very well. I completed the exam and did so so. The TOEFL, on Dec. 20th went a lot better. I delivered my application papers on December 26th.

And now, after a little over two months, I’ve got the results. I got the scholarship and have been admitted. Now I must continue looking for scholarships and apply for them.

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Today march the fifth, in the year of Our Lord two thousand and fourteen, Ash Wednesday and beggining of Lent…

…I begin writing on this weblog, which I wish to be my companion and testimony of the journey me and my family are about to begin.

Believe me when I say that this is an important day, and that is why I wish to make it a little more special by starting to write here. And why is this day so special? If you are reading this entry, you must have seen the title of the blog and may infer what I mean: Today I have been admitted to the Ph.D. program in the University of Texas at El Paso.

Before going on, let me explain a little about me. I live in Chihuahua, Mexico, studied both my bachelor and masters degree at the Faculty of Engineerings of the Universidad Autónoma de Chihuahua. I have worked in the industry for almost ten years since I graduated, mostly on systems administration. About five years ago, when I completed my masters, I decided to begin teaching in my Alma Mater, and have been doing so (part-time) since that time. Also around that time, I began thinking of the possibility of continue studying a doctorate. My father, who I must say is a big reference and inspiration for my academic endeavors, studied a doctorate at the Institute of Geophysics at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

I thought of the possibility of doing so since that time, never really deciding if I should do it. To be honest, I did not even thought I could be able to do so.

Then, I got married two years ago. My dearly beloved wife has been truly supportive, not to say that she has motivated me to go further of that I expected of me in different aspects of life, sometimes even pushing me real hard. I now see that I needed that impulse so I could get things going by myself. And about that I will write my next post tomorrow.

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