Monday, February 10, 2014

Post-100: A Look Back at 2+ Years of Blogging

Last week I wrote my 100th post on Library of Babel. This week, I'm taking a moment to reflect on the two years I've spent doing this thing. If you're interested in starting a blog, consider these lessons from my experience:
  • Deadlines Are Important, If Illusory: Setting an arbitrary weekly deadline was absolutely crucial for this project. Somehow, almost 50 times a year, I've managed to convince myself that writing something by a self-imposed deadline was important enough that I actually did it. Occasionally, the thing I wrote was kind of cool.  
  • Lack Of Limitations Or A Theme Can Be Constricting: Limits aid focus, and the fact that I've never had clear boundaries on what I want to write here has sometimes left me grasping at straws when it comes time to put words on the screen. Occasionally something weird and cool comes of my last-minute desperation for an idea, but more often the result is just a blank week in the archive. 
  • Welcome Comments, But Don't Expect Them: In spite of appearances, people rarely comment on the internet; the vast majority of readers/viewers are doing so silently. It doesn't mean they aren't enjoying it though; I often talk to people about something I wrote that I had no idea they'd paid attention to, which is pretty gratifying. It's like getting blog comments in real life.
  • Which Posts End Up Being Popular Can Be Baffling: One post on this site has more page views than most of the others combined. It's this one, and as far as I can tell, it's from people seeing the main image through Google Images. I also have a couple people showing up each month to find out about Puritans. I'm proud of both posts, but I'm prouder of others that have received way less attention, and viewcounts don't usually correlate with quality so much as searchability. 
  • Checking Viewcounts Can Be Addicting: Blogger allows you to track how many people have looked at your blog, and how many have looked at individual sites. When I started blogging, checking these numbers became something of an obsession, even a time sink. I've now got it down to more of a managed habit, like Facebook. The important thing is to not sink into despair if the numbers are low. I try to remember to write primarily for my own enjoyment and benefit, because there will be times when I will be the primary or sole reader of the material.
  • Referer Spam Exists And Is Annoying: There are sites that drive traffic to themselves by linking to your site and sending robot views there, causing their site to show up in your viewing statistics as sources of views. If you're already obsessed with how many people are viewing your site, the fact that many of the pageviews are robots can be maddening.  
  • Writing Titles Is Hard: I often have something interesting to say that just seems to resist a good title. And I sometimes worry that a bad title will drive away readers.
  • The Urge To Tinker Must Be Controlled: I love tweaking the site's design, but I assume that it's irrelevant to >90% of the people who read the blog, so I try to keep it to a minimum. For some perspective, here's what it looked like a little less than a year ago.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

On Being a Future Doctor's Future Spouse

Doctor, doctor give me the news,
I've got a bad case of lovin' you!
No pill's gonna cure my ill,
I've got a bad case of lovin' you!
—"Bad Case of Loving You," Robert Palmer

December was a harrowing month for me and my fiancée, Anna. We had the stresses of holiday travel and socializing to deal with, sure, but everyone has that. Layered on top of it though, like a thick frustration frosting on the cake of exhaustion, was Medical Residency Interview Season.

Let me start by saying that, however stressed I may have gotten during this time, it was much more difficult for my fiancée, which will become abundantly clear as soon as I start talking about it. (Forgive me, it's just that she reads this blog and I need to get out in front of whatever raised eyebrows may be coming my way if I imply that the burden was primarily mine. I love you, dear.)

Anyway, Anna is almost done with medical school, and that means it's time to find a residency program. To the uninitiated: residency means you're a doctor, but you're not cool enough yet to really do all the doctor stuff on your own, so you have to let other doctors be the boss of you until you're totally cool. Residents achieve total coolitude after three years. And those three years are pretty intense; you end up working on the order of 80 hours a week. On the plus side, you get paid, which is more than you can say for medical school!

Finding the right residency program means looking at the info for a ton of programs, picking ones that you like, asking nicely if you can get an interview at those programs, scheduling the interviews for the programs that are willing to have you, traveling to the programs you need to interview at, actually doing the interviews, meeting the residents and faculty, asking lots of questions so you sound interested and engaged, and then traveling home once you're done so you can get back to your school work the next day. It's just, super, super fun.

And that's just the beginning. It's what occupied Anna, and to a lesser extent me, throughout late November and most of December. We spent our weekends, and sometimes our weekdays, hauling ourselves all over Indiana and a little over Chicago. (Anna was the sole driver on these trips, as I cannot drive stick, and she has a manual-transmission automobile. So really, she hauled ourselves all over Indiana and a little over Chicago. But I digress.) Anna's job was interviewing, being charming, etc., while mine was to assess my willingness to live in the various places we visited and to not come off as a boob at the various dinners she and I attended with programs' residents. We met at said dinners our fair share of bros and lady-bros, but there were cool people, too. (Boom, bros! Boom. If you can't handle these sick burns, consider not being such a bro.)

So when we crawled back home after a month of that, and holiday travel to boot, we were relieved that the whole process was complete and we would never have to do anything else with regard to this matter again. Wrong-O! It was time for round two: the second looks! These are the more "fun" events that candidates like Anna are invited to come to, indicating that the program is interested in having them back to meet more people in the program and socialize with them and the faculty. "Fun" is in scare quotes because sometimes the "fun" is more theoretical than anything. What with all the bros. (BOOM.) But also, not all the activities are necessarily appealing,* and the additional travel and socialization weigh heavily—even when talking with people we like, we're introverts, so it takes its toll. But, it's a good opportunity to assess programs we're really interested in more thoroughly; not just the people, but also the locations they're situated in. So we picked our top three programs, and we've been going to those. Our last one is this weekend!

The next step will be ranking the programs. The way residency works is, all the candidates rank their programs, number one through however many they want to list, and all the programs rank the candidates who have applied. Then a computer sorts all the candidates into programs, in a way that favors the the candidates over the programs; if you rank a program at number one, you get it, unless it's already full (of candidates who also ranked it number one but were ranked higher than the program), and then you get your number two, unless it's already full, and so forth. If my explanation was confusing, then I'm sure you'll love the one on Wikipedia.

Successfully getting into a program is called "matching," and you find out which program you matched with on something called Match Day. In the case of Anna's school, it's a ceremony that seems designed for high potential for public humiliation: students and their friends and families are gathered into a large auditorium. The students are called up to the stage in small groups, handed envelopes with their matched programs, and encouraged to read the results into a microphone, regardless of whether the audience will hear joy or disappointment in their voice. The only saving grace is that those who haven't matched aren't invited at all, and so all are spared the possibility of opening an envelope with a rejection letter. Note, though, that all of this is also streamed live for the benefit of anyone with an internet connection.

I am not a huge fan of this process, but I am a huge fan of Anna and I respect and admire her choice of profession, so I am happy to be a part of deciding with her, with all that it entails. I'm especially excited for what will come when the process is done, and we can move on with our lives together.

* We were invited to one second look event which included a "hipster themed" party, at which, I kid you not, doctors and future doctors were expected to attend "dressed like hipsters," whatever that means. I am inclined to read it as "Hey, current and future members of the upper middle class, come dress up as poor people for a laugh," but that may be uncharitable of me. At all events, we did not go to that one.