Songs of the Semesters

Part of my second attempt at a PhD involved music. As I returned to test taking, I returned to pre-test music playlists. The mix varied from term to term, based on the highlights of courses and life. (Originally in summer 2013) As I refocus, aiming towards oral comprehensive exams, the next hoop to leap, I thought I’d review some of the past and answer the people who ask what I play. I’ll include Youtube song video links.

Pretest mixes last 30-35 minutes, with some songs varied by term. For instance, spring 2012 included the New Zealand haka because I was taking class with another rugby watcher. Fall 2012 included the song with over 2 billion views, which I saw in the first week of release after visiting Gangnam about a month before. Perhaps I could do the dance at one point … .

Test mixes now always include two songs. The first is my personal theme song, Scars of Time, the opening theme from Chrono Cross. There’s a lot of backstory behind that choice.

I’ve used Chrono Cross since playing the game in Chicago. The closing song for test soundtracks has been around longer, since undergraduate days in Cambridge, Mass. Thanks to my roommate’s purchasing tastes, I introduced LL Cool J and Mama Said Knock You Out to the tape. Yes, we had cassette tape back then. Don’t call it a comeback.


Each semester at Georgia has had a theme song. If you consider the choices pessimistic, you are not totally wrong. While I greatly appreciate my second chance at gaining the academic union card, I haven’t enjoyed much of the process. Also, I’ve noticed that I take tests better when dissatisfied, perhaps a little angry. Relaxation and joy come after the struggle.

Fall 2011: Because the papers we read in EMAT 8020 had such bleakness, repeating lack of systemic knowledge or transformation, it felt like things could never improve. Thus, I chose a song about a hopeless place, We Found Love by Rihanna. I’m linking to the audio version, because I didn’t like the self-destructive video. I would imagine a video about desperate questing, more like what I felt, trying to reach what I want after the fall.

For a much more hopeful interpretation, Lindsey Stirling and Alisha Popat make some modifications in Kenya. This also lets me thank Ms. Stirling for much of the soundtrack in July 2013 as I wrote written qualifiers.

Spring 2012: Algebra 2 had Sylow groups, while I had to grind through lots of crazy algebraic geometry I didn’t enjoy. Searching for voice, I turned to Atlanta native Sylow [Cee Lo] Green. Here’s the sanitized version of F*** You.

Summer 2012: I traveled to interesting places in Asia, did some wonderful projects, and was pleased to meet many people. The song of the summer was bangapseumnida, pleased to meet you from Pyongyang.

Fall 2012: Grinding through two math courses and a not particularly good third course, I looked for something cold and brutal. There was no woman, just the lonely workload at 3 AM, behind Kanye West’s Heartless. I’ll offer you the lyric version.

Spring 2013: Continuing with two math offerings, plus a terribly taught third course, I realized that the way I do things is a little strange. To avoid the Beast of Academic graduate school, I realized the university mechanism wasn’t going to care about me, you know. After some thought, I remembered Boomkat, with Taryn Manning providing instructions on how to ride a wrecking ball. Taking tests would be The Wreckoning.

Summer 2013: Writing comprehensive exams, I was looking for something to show my level of dedication chasing dreams. Sailing, dogsled, camel, whatever – as Ryan Lewis and Professor Macklemore state, you can’t stop me, and you can’t hold us. Let the night come.

Fall 2013: I passed my written and oral comprehensive exams, moving to a quiet time. I lost the intensity for a while. I also got to travel to the San Diego area twice for work filming classrooms. San Diego is the notional opposite of the University of Chicago. Chicago has the rule of Jadis, the land of perpetual winter, while San Diego is the land of perpetual summer. Nevertheless, one can find happiness in Chicago and sadness in San Diego. Looking over beach cliffs, I recalled a dance remix, Summertime Sadness by Lana Del Rey, though I have absolutely no desire to reenact the video.

Spring 2014: Administrative troubles preparing for the dissertation … hmm, Not Ready to Make Nice by the Dixie Chicks? That’s not true, as I did make nice and get things settled. If I had any illusions remaining about academic life, they dissipated like mid-morning fog. “Consider this, the hint of the century. Consider this, the slip that brought me to my knees.” The PhD process always has bad times, and pretty much everyone thinks about dropping out at some point. Occasionally college dropouts become famous stars, like the four dropouts of the University of Georgia who formed R.E.M. and recorded Losing My Religion.

Summer 2014: I work in a world facing the future, but I feel more personally comfortable with screwball comedies. Thinking 2020, acting like 1940. Who transforms my songs? Scott Bradlee and Postmodern Jukebox, an alternative universe of pop music. There’s jazz and Broadway mostly, with plenty of surprises – Yiddish klesmer rap, a giant clown, tambourine, Motown, flaming instruments, barn dances. It’s really hard to pick one song, since I listen to so many. Perhaps Gentleman by Psy illustrates everything, but if you’re not sure, try a few and enjoy.

Fall 2014: My advisor called this my rogue semester, as I tried to bolster my CV for mathematics education jobs. In the end, I got a statistics job so my angle-shooting wasn’t necessary. The process wasn’t exactly what Ms. Swift described in Blank Space, but placing the singer as the PhD calling to me isn’t a bad analogy. Plus, this song was released during the fall. “It’ll leave you breathless, or with a nasty scar.” Yeah. “Boys only want love if it’s torture; don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Yeah, I knew what was coming. If only I could be one-tenth as attractive as Sean O’Pry!

Spring 2015: Academia is about managing failure. I applied to 17 jobs. I’m considered a great success because I only failed 15 times. In four of those cases, I’ve never even heard about my status. Change one very key reaction, and the song of this semester would have been New York, New York. Instead, I swapped my ringtone to the theme song from Rogers and Hammerstein’s musical, and planned a move to a place with plenty o’ room to swing a rope.

Summer 2015: In the rush to finish writing the dissertation, I turned away from anger and towards uplifting music. For once. Well, not entirely positive – Christina Perri made the playlist often. Nonetheless, based on a friend’s suggestion, my theme song became one of fighting, a Fight Song from Rachel Platten. If you look carefully, there’s even a reference in my dissertation defense slides (although there are many, many other subtle references so don’t fear if you missed it.) I completed my work, and I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me.

About Adam

My quest is a world where calling someone "virtuous like a fairy tale hero" is routine, not fantastic or ironic. My vocation is the teaching and learning of statistics. My dream is a long happy life with a wonderful wife and kids. Who knows if any will become true? More information is at my homepage on the twelvefruits network: http://adam.twelvefruits.com
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