PS: I will post my dissertation in January when I return from vacation.
On Monday, I will fly to Berkeley to begin the dissertation filing process. (Don’t you dare congratulate me until I get this puppy signed and accepted.) On Wednesday, I ship my beloved feline to her kitty spa. On Thursday, the movers arrive. (And good god is this place a wreck from my festering; plus, not one box is packed.) On Friday, we drive out. This translates to:
For those who are unaware of my approach to vacation… I believe that email eradicates any benefits gained from taking a vacation by collecting mold and spitting it back out at you the moment you return. As such, I’ve trained my beloved INBOX to reject all email during vacation. I give it a little help in the form of a .procmail file that sends everything directly to /dev/null. The effect is very simple. You cannot put anything in my queue while I’m away (however lovingly you intend it) and I come home to a clean INBOX. Don’t worry… if you forget, you’ll get a nice note from my INBOX telling you to shove off, respect danah’s deeply needed vacation time, and try again after January 19.
It’s sick, twisted, and counter to the always-on culture that we live in. But gosh darnit, it feels mighty fine to come home fret-free. And this will be especially important for this trip because, starting January 19, I will begin my new job at MSR – w00t!
For those curious to where I’m going… the first 10 days will be spent driving cross-country so that G can see “real America.” I will spend the holiday with my fam before heading to Costa Rica for 2.5 weeks of adventuring. If you happen to have good knowledge of kitsch Americana along the 10, please do share! I love big balls of twine, 100′ grasshoppers, and stores dedicated to the unique, obscure, and downright weird.
There’s good news in all of this… in a very short period of time, years of weight will be lifted from my shoulders and that pesky “Dissertation in Progress: Do Not Disturb” sign will be lifted from my blog. I will be less bitchy, more interested in leaving my house, and much more likely to blog. Plus, I’ll actually start attending events again. (SXSW, anyone?!?!)
I’ve learned something very interesting in this process though… You know how when you were in college you kept wondering how your professors got so WEIRD? They all seemed to have their own unique brand of quirk, a penchant for collecting something random, and a twitch that made it clear that interacting with humans was not quite their speed. They don’t tell you this when you start your PhD, but this is a product of academification. It is caused by long years of jumping through hoops, complete isolation/alienation, and the pressure to be brilliant. It’s post-traumatic academic disorder.
So please be kind when you see me… I haven’t grown spots, but sunlight is scary and my collection of YA ARCs is growing out of control. And I cannot remember what it’s like to leave my PJs. And somehow I grew hair. Like lots of it. I look like a girl! EEK!
A week ago, I went to my normal pharmacy to get a prescription filled. When they told me they were out but could order it for me, I decided to try the nearby CVS. I was trying to make errand-running a one-day event. I walked into the CVS on Lincoln in Venice and politely waited my turn. When I handed my prescription to the clerk, she turned to the pharmacist to see if he had it available. He looked my prescription, looked at me, and said “I’m not filling that.” Confused, I asked him what? He repeated that he would not fill it and gave me a look that made me feel as though I was somehow a bad person. When I asked why, he grew curt and told me that he doesn’t fill prescriptions from out-of-town doctors. The woman waiting in line next to me rebuked his claim when she responded, “you always fill mine and my doctor is in Santa Barbara.” He silenced her with a stern look and told her this was none of her business. Standing amidst a flood of customers, I was too shocked and embarrassed to know what to do. So I left.
I’ve heard stories of people being refused emergency contraception, but my prescription has nothing to do with birth control. I’ve heard stories of people abusing the ADHD medication that I’m on, but I’ve been responsibly taking this particular medication since 2001 and my doctor would’ve easily confirmed that. I am a Berkeley student and my doctor is based in Berkeley. I have been seeing him since I arrived in Berkeley in 2003. When I moved to Los Angeles, he and his colleagues started sending me a physical prescription to fill down here provided that I visit annually for a check-up. Because my prescription is scheduled, it can’t simply be called in. Due to a bad reaction to whatever gelatin or sugar is used in the generic, I’ve always been given the brand name prescription. I hate paying the extra money, but I hate the headaches a whole lot more. While I’ve been given plenty of sympathetic looks when I shell out major duckets for the prescription, I’ve never been given a problem by a pharmacy before.
My shock has since turned into a series of emotions. Confusion, anger, frustration. I contacted CVS to voice my complaint and was told that “a Pharmacist works under their own private license and reserves the right to refuse to fill for any reason.” Is this true? I cannot find authoritative information on the matter and I’m quite confused, so I have some questions for anyone who knows more than I do:
- Under what circumstances can a pharmacist refuse a prescription?
- Are there laws that dictate when and how pharmacists can refuse a valid prescription even when it can be confirmed by the doctor and does not conflict with any other medication?
- Are there examples of people being denied legitimate prescriptions for things other than contraception?
- How often are people denied their prescriptions?
- What recourses and alternatives do patients have when they are denied?
According to the USA Today, “The policy at most drug store chains and the American Pharmacists Association is that druggists shouldn’t be forced to violate their beliefs, but they must make arrangements so the patient can still get the pills from another pharmacist at the store or direct the patient to a store that will fill the order. That makes sense. Pharmacists with objections to some medicines should identify those situations ahead of time, and stores should let the public know their policies.” This was not the case at CVS. There were no signs saying that they wouldn’t accept my prescription nor did the pharmacist make any offer to connect me with someone else or encourage me to come back at a different time. He simply chased me away and glared at me as though I was a criminal.
Anyhow, I’m not sure what I can do other than never step foot in a CVS again. I’m lucky that I have choices, but, knowing that many people do not, the way that I was treated and refused service makes me really upset.
Update: the CVS pharmacy supervisor of Los Angeles called me to get more information. He agreed that what the pharmacist did was inappropriate and that, if he had doubts about the legitimacy of my prescription, he should have called Berkeley or held onto it to call in the morning. The supervisor said that he would make certain that his pharmacists had a proper protocol for what to do when they were confronted with similar situations. He was deeply apologetic and professional.
The supervisor also made me realize one omission in my story. I have a long history of filling this prescription at other CVSes in Cambridge and San Francisco. The supervisor told me that the pharmacist would have been able to look my name up and see that record at other stores such that, even if he had never seen me before, CVS would have recognized me and my prescription as legitimate and having history.
I don’t know what the outcome will be for the pharmacist, but my hope is that CVS will actually do something to redress the broader issue, if only to not blemish their brand. Hopefully my experience and willingness to object will lead to new policies that will protect those less fortunate from being denied prescriptions in the future.
Last week, I returned to Berkeley to defend my dissertation on the Day of Atonement (ironic, eh?). This involved both a public dissertation talk and a private defense. The public talk was an opportunity for me to share my findings with my department. The private defense was an opportunity for my committee to share their critiques and feedback with me. For those sitting on pins and needles, don’t worry, I passed. What this means is that my committee has now handed me a tree’s worth of paper covered in red pen and 2.5 hours worth of feedback to integrate in the next 6-8 weeks. Luckily, their general attitude was: “Good job! You’re almost there! Here’s a few thoughts for the dissertation and a large stack of thoughts for the book.”
This now means that I’m officially in the final throes of my PhD. I’m not yet Dr. but I’m close… real close… the kind of close where failing to finish is not an option. The kind of close where looking at my dissertation makes me want to vomit. The kind of close where I’ve started dreaming about the next project. The kind of close where I’m no longer convinced that I’m going to fail and where I’m completely shocked that this is for realz. Of course, it’s not yet over… I still need to edit this puppy and get it into a format that the Borg will accept at which point I will need to deftly enact circus tricks to get it through the layers of UC bureaucracy. But still… close! I can see the light!
The whole defense process was pretty emotionally overwhelming. I’m super duper thankful for the most amazing committee a girl can ask for. I call them the goddesses because they have been truly supportive in ways that I wasn’t really prepared for. That said, I can’t help but miss Peter. I wasn’t alone in this thought. Right before my defense, Mimi posted a Tweet that got me all choked up: “happy to get to play proud advisor today though really wishing a certain other advisor was here to share the moment.” We were all missing him. Many of those who attended my public talk had him on their mind and when I got to the end of my slide deck, I concluded with a dedication to Peter. Upon seeing tears in the eyes of people in the room, I had to choke back my own for the second time that day.
It’s weird to be nearing the end and to realize that I’m about to move on to a new phase in my life. Everyone says that post-PhD is much better than grad school. I hope they’re right. My body certainly hopes they’re right. At the same time, it’s been an unbelievable 5.5 years. I can’t help but think of all that I’ve learned and done and the amazing people that I’ve been able to work with. I still can’t believe that Berkeley’s iSchool and my committee let me get away with all that I’ve done. When I started at Berkeley, Peter promised me that it would be the perfect place to cause trouble and grow into my own kind of scholar. He vowed to protect me as long as I vowed to kick ass and take names. I can’t help but smile thinking about those conversations and I hope that, somewhere out there, he’s smiling too.
I’m heading to London on Sunday to speak at Handheld Learning 2008 with a bunch of other cool smart thinking types. I’ve been remiss in posting this because I’ve been totally focused on my dissertation but I’m looking forward to this event and I think that some of you (especially all y’all Londoners) might enjoy it. w00t!!
Update: The video of my talk can be found here.
Guess who has a post-dissertation job? [Yes, that implies I’m actually going to finish this *#$@! dissertation.] ::bounce:: In January, I will be joining the newly minted Microsoft Research New England in Boston, MA. w00000t!!!!! I couldn’t be more ecstatic.
For those who don’t know Microsoft Research (MSR), it’s a pure research lab. What this means is that researchers are hired to advance the state of knowledge in their respective areas of research. MSR is a different structure than Microsoft proper and researchers are expected to publish in peer-reviewed journals and they are evaluated on the contributions they make to the field. Researchers are welcome to collaborate with whoever they please, engage with students at local institutions, and co-teach classes if that’ll help them fulfill their research agendas. Researchers are welcome to pursue the research topics that they find to be interesting and important. In essence, being a MSR researcher is quite similar to being a faculty at a research institution. To the shock of most folk, MSR is not about directly contributing to the bottom line of Microsoft, but about advancing knowledge that will benefit the future of computing.
As many of you know, I’ve been quite cagey about the possibility of the future for quite some time. I’ve been frustrated with academic restrictions and fearful that academia wouldn’t let me do the kind of research that I wanted to do. I’ve been equally scared of industrial research because I’ve watched too much research get trapped down behind closed corporate walls. I’ve always been in awe of MSR because of its openness but I wasn’t really jumping to move to Redmond. I had been pretty set that I was going to go independent and pay the bills through freelancing. Then, a funny combination of events happened.
It all began with Dopplr. Linda Stone noticed that I was swinging through Seattle and she called me up and told me that I had to do dinner with her. Linda’s plots are always tremendous so of course I said yes. When I arrived, she introduced me to Jennifer Chayes and Christian Borgs, the physicists who were starting the new MSR lab. Jennifer immediately began interrogating me about my research and about social science more broadly. To say Jennifer & I clicked is a bit of an understatement. Like me, Jennifer is loud, crazy, and intense. We got along like peas in a pod and spent the night chattering away. When she told me that I should come work for her, I laughed it off and didn’t think much about it. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Jennifer and Christian’s vision for the lab aligned with my view of research. They believe in interdisciplinary work, believe in the ways that new ideas can come from unexpected collaborations. While I know a lot of social scientists who curl their nose at the idea of a lab full of physicists, mathematicians, and economists, I find that quite appealing. I love the idea of such a diverse group thinking about how the world works from different angles. Plus, meeting the folks at the new lab – Henry Cohn, Yael Kalai, Adam Kalai, and Butler Lampson – only made me more intrigued by it. Everyone was so ridiculously nice and even though we didn’t work on the same problems we found funny intersections.
The more that I talked with folks at MSR, the more I fell in love with the possibility of going there. And then I started meeting with execs and realized that what MSR researchers were telling me fit with broader strategy. I met with Rick Rashid, the head of MSR, who explained why he started MSR and how he saw it fit into the company. I met with Ray Ozzie (who I’ve known and adored for quite some time) and he confirmed the importance of research for the future of Microsoft. Both of them made me feel fully confident that my approach to research would not only be tolerated but welcomed. Plus, there’s a broad desire to understand the intersections between computing and all things social which is straight up my alley.
As the pieces came together, I realized that it just made complete sense. Going to MSR will allow me to continue the research I do and it will give me a productive, collaborative, interdisciplinary environment in which to do it. There’s amazing work at MSR concerning social media and even those at MSR-NE who are not working on social media are more than open to the topics engendered by it and more than ecstatic to engage with me. Being in a room full of scientists might not seem like the most obvious fit, but really, you have to meet them to understand how invigorating an environment it is.
Personally, going to MSR will mean a continuation of the good things that I do and a reduction of the things that exhaust me. I will continue to publish, go to conferences, and blog. I will keep my Berkman Center fellowship. I will continue public speaking, political interventions, and sitting on advisory boards. I will get involved in the intellectual communities in Cambridge and collaborate with scholars. I will escape dissertation hell (w00t!). I will escape IRB bureaucracy and have a much more sane ethics review process. I will stop consulting and doing private corporate talks. I will get to lower travel to a sane level. All of this will be possible because I will get paid to do the research that I want to do.
I have no doubt that this move prompts concerned questions from those who know me as well as those who don’t, so let me take a moment to pre-emptively respond to criticisms that I’ve already heard…
- But you hated Boston… It’s true that Boston and I weren’t the closest of friends. We’ve called a truce and we’re going to see what happens. One thing is for certain: I can’t wait to get back to some very dear friends (although I will miss my west-coast pals). And I *cannot* wait to get back to my favorite gym in the whole wide word: Healthworks. Mmmm… oh goddess do I love that woman-friendly place. I’m even kinda excited by the idea of turtlenecks. I think I look HOTT in turtlenecks.
- But you’re a Mac fiend… In every company I’ve ever worked for, I’ve always used products produced by competitors. I think that companies who expect employees to buy into their product line hook, line, and sinker are cults. Much can be learned by understanding why people know about your product and prefer a different one. There are plenty of Microsoft products that I use and adore, but I ain’t giving up my beloved Xanadu. And, surprisingly, Microsoft respects this and is willing to let me continue to work on a Mac.
- But industry research is selling out! When research is useful, people use it. It doesn’t matter if you’re in industry or academia – if you publish for others to read, you’re a fool if you don’t think it’ll get used. MSR is giving me the opportunity to direct my research agenda and produce scholarship for the public good. They will inevitably use what I produce, but they would’ve anyhow. In any other configuration, I would have (and have) consulted for private companies to make ends meet. There is no doubt that I will effectively consult for Microsoft but my research, like always, will be for the public good. I will continue to publish and I will probably publish more since I won’t be writing grant applications or consulting.
- But job security!?!? I find it odd that academics always point to job security as the reason to stay in academia because I am watching too many of my favorite elder scholars struggle desperately to get research grants to keep their labs going. How is grant-driven academia that forces you to give up research to go out begging for grants considered job security? And besides, I’m happy to keep producing quality work steadily over time rather than racing the hamster wheel for 7 years. At least at MSR, I don’t have to wait to get tenure to be rebellious.
- But Microsoft is the devil incarnate! Years ago, I crafted a post comparing search companies to evil nation states of the 20th century. I think that my metaphors still hold and I’ve already worked for (and survived) Japan and the States. There is plenty about Microsoft’s history that I have problems with. There are even issues today that I disagree with. But I’ve never been a part of a company (or a nation-state) that I fully agreed with. Even though I dream of going to Canada, I plan to stick it out here and push to make change. Likewise, even inside Microsoft, when I disagree, I will say so. I don’t think that Microsoft is the devil, but I think that they’ve done some really stupid things and are actually working hard to right some of their past wrongs. I commend them for this. And hopefully I can do some good by being there. When I told Bill Buxton that I intended to address this issue here, he offered another perspective: “there’s no merit to being an angel in heaven.” I like that. That’s a good one.
I have every expectation that folks out there will not understand my reasoning and will think poorly of me for choosing to go to MSR, but I’m utterly ecstatic. My interactions with folks at MSR have been non-stop fantabulous. It’s an intellectually stimulating environment where I will have the resources and space to do my research and the encouragement to pursue a social media agenda. And frankly, I can’t wait. I can’t wait to be a part of an invigorating research environment. I can’t wait to think about the intersections of science and social science. I can’t wait to begin a new project and publish, publish, publish. I’m a bit wary about the snow, but we’ll work on that one. At the end of the day, I couldn’t be more pleased. w00000t!!!!!
First, thanks to all of you who’ve written nice things asking me about my health. Since I bitched here, I feel compelled to send an update too. The good news is that it’s relatively simple and I’m going to be fine. The bad news is that it’s going to take a little bit.
For those who don’t know the backstory, I fractured C2/C3 when I was 16 playing ultimate frisbee. I’ve had various problems over the years as a result, but it’s been a while so I was rather shocked to see old symptoms reappear. After finding a doctor who didn’t think I was crazy, we set about to test things and figure out what might be causing it. Blood work, CT scans, physical evaluation, etc. Everything with my blood work and CT scans came back clear. There are still old scars on my neck, but that’s nothing to worry about. Nothing new. But, here’s the funny part – my alignment has gone to shit in all sorts of funny ways.
My body’s alignment issues are funny because they’re the result of trying to exercise. ::groan:: So, I knew that the various injuries that I’ve acquired over the last few years in an attempt to get into shape – golfer’s elbow, strained shoulder, knee issues – were most likely caused by my attempts to compensate for my neck and wrists. Well, annoyingly, it seems as though my body has decided to additionally compensate for those injuries, further setting my body off kilter. The result? Dreadful alignment, pinched nerves, trapezius spasms, etc.
Doctor’s guess is that this, combined with dissertation stress and the allergies and cough I managed to develop in Beijing, set my body into especially high freak out mode. It was a matter of time and, well, time hit this summer. As in the past, the problems with my vision are stemming from trapezius spasms. Only this time it’s not due to too much exercise, but to improper exercise. Even working with a personal trainer wasn’t the best of ideas because my injuries are too complex for that to work out well so that probably made things worse. But it’s all fixable.
The good news is that no one is suggesting surgery or medicine. Instead, physical therapy. Directed, targeted, measured exercise with constant assessment. Get the body back into alignment without causing new injuries. Do exercises that don’t let me compensate in stupid ways. Very precise and careful development of muscles. No additional exercising “for fun.” The doc guesses it’ll be a few months until I feel right again, but that if I work with a therapist to put my body back into shape, I should feel ten bazillion times better shortly. If not, we reassess.
Personally, I’m relieved. This all makes sense and the “solution” is something that I can live with. Or at least try without reservations. The only downside is that this stupid sneezing is probably not going to go away so long as I live in environments with pollutants. Hrmfpt.
Some of the questions posed when I requested brain fodder were, shall we say…. odd. In fact, it felt a bit like an “About Me” quiz. So I couldn’t resist answering….
Alison Bechdel or Jorge Cham? Jorge Cham. It might be different if I ever left the house or could face thinking about my identity. There is no danah, only Zool. I mean dissertation. Besides, did you see today’s PhD Comic? Running low on excuses… like asking for brain fodder…
Why is belly-button lint always blue? Well, if you’re wearing black clothes, black is never true black… typically blue. And then you mix with other colors and voila. Try wearing only white clothes for a week. And read The Incredible World of Navel Fluff. Some people have far too much time to think about these things.
Are you Jewish? Not according to the Israeli Orthodox. But, really, what queer, feminist is? More seriously, my parents aren’t Jewish, but my partner is and we celebrate all of the Jewish holidays.
Sweet or Salty? It was always sweet until recently. I think I’m getting old. Or adjusting to living in a desert.
Where did zephoria come from? When I was in college, zephyr meant three things to me: 1) the west wind; 2) an IM client; 3) the puppy dog that I lived with. In other words, zephyr combined my geekiness, my love of nature and animals, my desire to go to California, and my communication-driven-ness. Euphoria was what zephyr made me think of. Thus, zephoria. Plus, I always liked words that started with ‘z’.
Favorite color? Silver, especially the silver that sparkles rainbows. Like the way that I imagine Edward’s skin to look when he walks into the sun in Twilight. Not quite diamond silver, but the metallic silver that you can only get in nature, not car paint or clothing.
Who killed edupunk? Mmm… fun David Lynch plots ensue….
First, thanks y’all for your advice and support. Today, I visited a different doctor and it was much much better. She was willing to parse out the different symptoms and offer hypotheses and ways to test these possibilities. She ordered full blood work and, with the advice of a spine/neuro brother team, a CAT scan. Plus, since we know the neck thing is an ongoing issue, she’s ordered PT to help me further stabilize my neck without creating new injuries. This is purrrfect since personal trainers, swimming, yoga, and pilates have all been abysmal failures.
There are still lots of question marks, but I’m much happier with how we’re proceeding. I feel like I’m being taken seriously and that she’s treating this like a puzzle to be solved systematically. And she’s not focusing on treating the symptoms but getting at what’s underneath them. w000t!
Anyhow, thanks for all of the love and support and hopefully I’ll know more soon.
Ever since I left Beijing, I’ve felt like hell. A myriad of odd and seemingly disconnected symptoms have plagued me all month. My least favorite is the persistent cough that tastes like iron that makes me think I’m coughing up my lungs for realz. I find the sneezing to be mostly entertaining, although 14+ sessions a day of 3+ sneezes each has gotten a little overwhelming, even if said sneezes are awfully cute. Most of the others are just odd. None of them are worrying, except in aggregate. I feel like my body is rebelling against its very existence. Unfortunately, the seriousness of the odd symptoms took a turn for the worse this weekend. The combination of dizziness, nausea, and loss of vision forced me to leave a geek campout that I had been looking forward to for quite some time. Luckily, good friends were there to worry about me and help me get back to LA.
The Internet is dangerous when you have a disparate set of odd symptoms. There’s good reason to believe that I have mono, rare allergies, and a wide array of different cancers. Needless to say, I don’t trust the Internet to diagnose me. So I set about trying to find a way to get a doctor to help me. For once, I have real health insurance. (Of course, that doesn’t help so much when you don’t have a primary care physician because getting an appointment is a bitch. And goddess knows that going to the ER in LA sounds like the worst idea possible.) I ended up going to a university clinic where the doctor listened to my symptoms, decided that I must have migraine auras, wrote me a prescription and whisked me out of there before I had time to process what was said. Not a single test, unless you count the reflex one. I paid an absurd price for the meds and then went home to read about them on the Internet.
What I found bothered me. Oddly, the list of symptoms for migraine auras pretty much matched up with the list of side effects for the medicine. What it supposedly treats are also what it might cause. While headaches are not a requirement for migraine auras, headache-free migraines are rare and usually involve a history of related migraines. I don’t have these problems. So I’m sitting here, reading about a diagnosis that doesn’t seem right and reading about a medicine that seems to cause more problems than it helps. Besides, the instructions indicate to take the medicine when I have a headache. And furthermore, what does this have to do with my iron-tasting cough?
While the Internet is not diagnosing me, it is making me call into question the supposed diagnosis and treatment. I feel both empowered and disempowered by this source of information. Or rather, what makes me feel disempowered is the lack of a way of integrating this information into a productive move towards wellness. If I take the meds, I’m subjecting my body to chemicals that seem unnecessary and irrelevant. If I don’t, I’ve just wasted a day and am back to square one in feeling shitty with no path forward. Part of me wants to call the doctor, but I didn’t like the dynamic in our meeting so I can’t imagine a phone one where I come bearing Internet information. Instead, I will see another doctor.
All of this makes me wonder… isn’t there a better way to integrate information and medicine in a productive manner? I mean, I’ve read Birth of the Clinic and I know all about the power relations involved in medicine, but can’t we undo that somehow? I know that the doctors don’t know everything but I hate being treated like an idiot in the clinic and feeling like a criminal when I investigate my diagnosis/treatment and, implicitly, call into question the authority and power of the doctor. All I want is to be healthy and to know why my body feels like crap. What will it take to make medicine a collaborative endeavor? I’ve known some awesome doctors who are more collaborative over the years, but why can’t that be the norm? And why can’t there be a better way to match doctors and patients than geographic lookups on insurance websites? How can we get Yelp-like descriptions of doctors rather than the RateMyProfessor-esque ratings that do exist? What’s it going to take for the walls between patients and doctors to come down?
Yes, I’m ranting. I need something to do with this pent-up ickiness. Besides, ranting here also serves to explain why I’m dreadfully behind in responding to everything, especially anything that requires thinking. Sorry about that. My brain is moosh. I just hope that my angry body isn’t doing permanent damage on my mooshy brain.
PS: I can’t wait to be healthy and post-dissertation so my blog stops looking so lame.