Friday, August 29, 2008

The Merely Difficult


"The merely difficult we do at once,
the impossible takes a little longer,
miracles by appointment only!"
--unofficial Seabees Motto

Today marks the end of the first week of the fall semester at UNM.
Getting into a routine this week has been remarkably hard because each evening of the week we have had some reason to go to a meeting. Monday was Scouts--which was expected. Tuesday was the Scout troop council, which was not. I work late on Wednesday, and last night was East Mountain High School's Open House. The good thing is that the Boychick was a good sport through all of this and did his homework--including math--with no complaint. The strain on all of our routines has been exacerbated by the chaos in the hallway and the fact that the Boychick is currently sleeping on a mattress on the floor of the Chem Geek Princess's room.

But we are managing.
Even though all of us--proud carriers of the Broader Autistic Phenotype--get mighty cranky when our routines get disrupted. When there is no routine we snarl a lot.

Dealing with UNM Bureaucracy makes me positively grumpy.
On Monday, as I was leaving the COE Graduate Writing Center for lunch, my supervisor stopped me at the door to Tireman Library. "You've got to go to OGS (Office of Graduate Studies) right away!" she informed me. "'The Platform' is saying that you are not eligible to place for your GA."

In any normal place, one might figure that it was a small snafu, but here at New Mexico's Flagship University--the same University that ceded territory temporarily to Mexico last September--students and faculty automatically assume the worst.

When I got to OGS--still unlunched--the work-study could not find me in the computer.
"You'll have to wait for Edwina to return from lunch," she said, snapping her bright blue bubble gum. "Please have a seat right over there."

Oh, no! Not Edwina. When you have to see Edwina it's really bad. I remember that much from my TA and RA days in the biology department. Edwina is the administrative assistant of last resort.
Being a Nervous Nelly, I was certain that I was headed for a disaster of biblical proportions. Or worse. I mean, it's bad enough if G-d forgets your name, but when the UNM computer doesn't know who you are do you even exist? Now there was an existential question for me to ponder as I waited for Edwina for return from lunch.

Fortunately, before Edwina returned from fortifying herself for an afternoon of unsnarling gnarly bureaucratic messes, another COE Graduate Writing Studio GA came in with her passport. While putting the GA's info into the computer, the work-study looked at me and said, " I found you!" And she was able to tell me that I had not submitted my demographic data form. (That's the really important form that lets UNM reassure itself that I am " female" and "other" and that UNM is therefore "inclusive"). For this reason, they had discarded --shredded, I fervently hope!--all my other hiring paper work. Could I please submit it again? Post-haste? Of course I could. But not being in the habit of carrying around my passport (needed for the I-9), I took custody of a bunch of forms to "bring back tomorrow."

Which is why I was at UNM on Tuesday normally a day I am scheduled to study at home.
Since I had driven to campus suffering from sinus pressure due to the drop in altitude anyway, I decided to find out how to do a dual-disciplinary Ph.D. I had sent an inquiry to OGS last week, and received a response on Monday. Bill at OGS wrote that I needed to talk to the Psychology department head and their Grad adviser about requirements.

That was easy.
The department head e-mailed separately to tell me that she was very interested in my work and that I should talk to the adviser so that I could get started. The adviser started by telling me that I am crazy. We laughed. Everyone on campus is certifiable, after all, and here we were sitting in the Psychology building. Oh, she continued, and had I taken the GRE in the past five years? Since it was longer ago than that, I'd have to take it again. It's not the the Psychology Department wouldn't accept old scores--they tend to be remarkably stable for people my age--it's that ETS would not release them. A money-making ploy, no doubt. Sigh.

Then it was back to OGS to see how to inform the university of dual status.
I waited to see Doug. When I sat down in front of his desk, I briefly told him what I wanted to do.
He said, "You can't do that. There's a policy in place because at the Ph.D. level we don't want students to become scattered."

Or think outside the box.
Innovation, thy name is not the Ivory Tower.

I smiled, and leaned forward. I said, "So you're telling me this may be more than 'merely difficult?'"
He got the reference. He asked for my ID number.
I couldn't see what came up on the computer--it had one of those privacy screens--but I was fairly confident of what it would show.
He asked me to describe to him how my research would require the bringing together of two disciplines. I began talking and waving my hands. (I can't help it, it's genetic).
I told him about my background in the biological sciences.
I told him about the brain research that I want to do.
I told him about the gap between what we know about genetics, epigenetics, development and interventions for very high functioning kids with ASD.
I asked for a pen. He handed me a blank piece of paper as well.
I drew a diagram showing how the two disciplines come together.
Finally, he handed me a form for petitioning the Dean of Graduate Studies for a variance from policy.
He said: "You have my interest. Anyone can petition the Dean. If you succeed, you will be breaking new ground. Things change slowly in universities. But they can change."
And he told me what I'd need to do in order for the Dean to take my petition seriously.

I am going to have to rethink some of my other commitments.
I have scheduled the GRE.
I have a 0.5 FTE GA.
I have 3 research hours.
I have 3 seminar hours.
I am a mom.

Everything else will have to wait.

This is going to take a little longer.


1 comment:

Kaber said...

My ASD boys like to sleep on the floor in their closets. I really don't get all the ASD phenotype genetic stuff. sounds like you are doing great at it. Good luck with the future of how it all plays out for you.

Hope your schedule gets back to a predictable pattern soon.
The whole boychick name makes me giggle inside each time I read it.