Thursday, September 11, 2014

Friday, August 19, 2011

Summer 2011

We just got home from the second leg of summer on the road. What an amazing summer we have had!

  • 39 days on the road, divided between two legs of about three weeks each.

  • more than 7700 miles driven, all with a teething baby in the backseat.

  • drove through 19 states and 2 canadian provinces, seeing places as diverse as Chapel Hill, NC; Gatineau, QC; Brooklyn, NY; Ottumwa, IA; and Arco, ID.

  • We slept in 16 different beds. Well, we brought the girls' bedding, so they actually slept in the same bed most every night, just in 16 different locations.

  • We spent over $600 on gas during the second leg alone though actually managed to stay under budget.

We found that state capitol buildings and wal-marts were our ideal places to stop. The girls could get out, walk around, and look at interesting things. In one case we practically had the building to ourselves!

As you can see, there aren't many comfortable places in Wyoming to nurse a hungry baby. It's a miracle that our three-year old didn't have a single bathroom accident during the whole trip. There were some close calls, particularly out west where the bathrooms are few and far between, but we always made it.

One of Olivia's favorite part of the trip was playing with a whole new set of cousins and all their toys.

Anne was always smiling (at least almost always). It's hard to describe just how delightful this little girl is other than to say that she is a lot like her sister.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Summer 2010

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What a good life I have! I was able to raise a significant chunk of money this summer to come to France to research the creation of new regional health agencies. Thanks to hard work and the support/generosity of many people, I have been very successful in securing interviews with very influential and well-positioned people. I am focusing my study on three specific regions: Bretagne (Brittany, with Rennes as the capital), Ile-de-France (the Paris region), and Midi-Pyerenees (in the southwest, with Toulouse as the capital). We arrived in France a little over a week ago, beginning our trip in Paris where I did a number of interviews, and then in Bretagne where we have been based out of L'Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sante Publique in Rennes. Yesterday was a full day in which I took the train to the departments of Finistere and Morbihan and did interviews in Quimper and Vannes. Sarah and Olivia met up with me in Vannes and we got to tour the city and have dinner together. Olivia is convinced that every plane, train, or bus she rides is hers ("no, my train!"), so I felt lucky that she would share and let me ride with her.

What a Relief

I thought it would be a lot of fun to be in France during the world cup. Unfortuntaley, the French campaign turned out to be a complete disaster, and it looked as though the US might not make it through. Almost literaly at the very last moment, a Landon Donovan goal kept things alive. This feels like justice after the two goals that were wrongfully disallowed against the US, either of which would have made the difference between being eliminated or not. Thank goodness none of that matters anymore. The amazing thing is that the US won the group and avoided a match with Germany and then a possible match with Argentina. Instead they have Ghana and the winner of South Korea and Uruguay. No team is easy, but I feel like the semis are a real possibility.

I didn't get to see the whole game because I was touring the beautiful towns of Quimper and Vannes in western Bretagne (I know, poor me), but I did see part of it from the street while looking into a restaurant and had some fun conversations with people doing the same as me.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Life as a Doctoral Student

Looking back, I think this past semester will seem like a major turning point for me. It's amazing how much happened, particularly in the months of February and March. I think I've turned a corner from being a graduate student to being a budding researcher, with the major difference being that I now have projects of my own and am uses my classes as tools to help me accomplish my goals. Of course, there are still major hoops to jump through, but 2010 so far has been about developing and carrying out my own research agenda. I hope you'll indulge this "semester in review" post as it's a great chance for me to digest what I've just been through and put the next few phases in perspective.

1) Political Science admissions - One of the main reasons I chose Michigan was the possibility of setting up a joint degree between Health Policy and Political Science. Of course, until I was formally accepted by Poli Sci, this was just a possibility. All indications were that my application would be successful, but it was still daunting to gear up for another admissions process after working full speed for nearly a year on my original doctoral applications. I had the advantage of already being here and taking classes in the department I was applying to. Of course, this also meant that I was under a little more pressure to do well in those classes. Thankfully I got A's on both poli sci classes I took last fall and was doing well in the two classes I was taking when the admissions decisions were made (I ended up with an A- and A+). The good news finally came in February that I was accepted. Now I am in the fantastic position of receiving a degree (1 joint degree, not two separate degrees) from two departments that are near the very top in their fields. This combination dramatically opens up my possibilities after graduation, not only making more competitive for the jobs I apply to do, but opening up new markets I can compete in. In addition to the 30 or so public health schools in the US, I can now look for jobs in the countless number of political science departments or schools of public policy. Perhaps most importantly, I think this combination will greatly strengthen my research, and allow me to explore the questions of most interest to me in a robust way.

2) Jan/Feb applications - One of the nice parts of my current fellowship is the $1,500 I receive for professional development. Knowing I could use this money to travel to conferences I otherwise couldn't afford pushed me to explore options I wouldn't normally consider. One of the most intriguing meetings was the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) graduate student conference in Dublin, Ireland at the end of August. Of course, going to these types of conferences is a lot more productive and a lot more fun if you have something to present, so I suggested to my advisor that I was thinking of submitting an abstract. I honestly wasn't sure how serious I was at that time, but his encouragement and support pushed me over the top.

The next six weeks were a busy scramble to figure out what I was going to focus on for the abstract I submitted to ECPR and how I was going to carry out this research - all while staying on top of 4 doctoral level classes and maintaining balance between family (we spent February house-hunting, Sarah started a new online degree through UMass Amherst and we have a daughter who turned 2 in April), personal (I had my first colonoscopy and I signed up to run the Detroit marathon in Oct 2010), and spiritual/community pursuits (I volunteer in the nursery for 18 month to 3 year old kids on Sundays and am co-den leader of the wolf den in my congregation's cub scout pack).

My adviser in Public Health, Scott Greer, offered to let me write the chapter on France for a book he's putting together on the regional politics of health care in Europe. This generous offer has given my project more focus and a clear end goal. All of a sudden, Sarah and I were planning our second summer in a row and I was looking for funding sources to make this a reality. By February 15th I had submitted the ECPR abstract, as well as a grant for Dr. Greer to receive $6,000 to hire me for summer research, and a $5,000 research grant of my own through the International Institute here at UMich. Anyone who has put together research grants knows how much work they require, even if the final application isn't that many pages long. Developing my budget meant planning out where I wanted to go, how long I wanted to spend there, and what I wanted to do once there - not an easy task given how young the project still was. My ECPR abstract was accepted (read it here) and Dr. Greer and I did receive the $6k, though I did not receive the $5k grant. Strange as it may sound, losing this money was actually very good for my project as it forced me to focus my research and decide what would be most important to accomplish this summer. With too much money at my disposal I may have tried to do too much without doing any of it particularly well.

3) York University EU Center of Excellence Graduate Conference - In January I received an email inviting me to submit an abstract for the graduate conference at York University's new center of excellence in Toronto taking place in mid-March. My research project seemed much too new and under-developed in January for me to be ready to have anything to present by March 11th. However, by mid-February the prospect of an expenses-paid mostly risk-free conference seemed too intriguing to pass up. I submitted an abstract around February 21st for the conference taking place 3 weeks later, being very up front that this paper would mostly be a literature review and opportunity for me to become familiar with the history and theory of health care and regional politics in France. I developed a plan in which I essentially read a book a day and wrote a 20+ page paper over the course of a couple really long days - going to bed between 3 and 5:30am. Did I mention that much of this occurred over what was supposed to be my "spring break?" It's funny that the question of why I was doing this to myself didn't cross my mind more often; I was discovering my genuine interest and enthusiasm for this research.

I was so glad Sarah decided to come with Olivia, even though it turned out to conflict somewhat with a paper she had due later that week (of course she got an A!). I didn't get much time to explore Toronto with them but still had a blast. The conference itself was a lot of fun and I think my first presentation at an academic conference was a success. I was a bit nervous to hear the discussant's reaction, particularly about the theory section of my paper which I wished had been stronger. It turns out she thought that was one of the stronger sections of what she said was a very well done, if clearly quickly written paper. Here's the conference website.

4) Funding - Of course I didn't have time to celebrate upon returning home from Toronto, as I had two very different applications due within the week. The first was a $1,500 research grant from the University of Michigan Center for European Studies (which I received), while the second was to participate in a research seminar that would have provided me with over $4,000 in travel money in the summer of 2011 (which I didn't receive).

Anyone who has been through a doctoral programs knows that one of the perpetual dramas is where funding will come from to cover tuition, fees, and my stipend. No system for awarding such funding is perfect, so there's no point in going into detail about the process here except to say that it does produce some anxiety to not know how much money you'll have to support your family in the coming school year and where it will come from. I am extremely appreciative of everyone in both departments who helped put together a funding package I'm very excited about. I'll be GSIing (graduate student instructor, aka teaching assistant) a masters level health policy course in the fall and will receive a fellowship from Political Science in the winter that will allow me not have to work.

5) Infectious Disease - On top of everything I had going on, I had the opportunity to work with Scott Greer and Heather Elliot (an extremely talented masters student here at Michigan) on infectious disease policy in Europe for a conference Dr. Greer put together through the Center for European Studies. Although this isn't an area of focus for me, it was a great learning experience and a lot of fun to be a part of this project. The conference was rather small, allowing for a high degree of interaction, sharing of ideas, and networking. I think our presentation went pretty well. Check out the conference website here (including audio).

6) School - Did I mention that I was also taking four classes this semester? During the insane period between Feb 1st and March 30th, I not only submitted 4 research grants, 3 conference abstracts (I backed out of the third one because of funding issues and time conflicts), and presented at a research conference. I also wrote five 4-page papers, three 10-page papers, and took two exams. The miracle is that I actually did pretty well in most of my classes. Of course, grades become less important at this stage of academia, with the quality of my research taking precedent, but grades are still important marker of where I stand and I was relieved that my GPA essentially stayed steady this semester.

7) Prelim exam - Last weekend I took my first year prelim exam in health policy and services. It was a somewhat daunting experience, particularly after dealing with some burnout on the heels of an extremely busy semester. The content was not particularly difficult to understand, it's just that there is a lot to master. The exam itself was a marathon, with a 5.5 hour in person session in which I had to write essays in response to 3 seperate questions about the current health reform. After that portion was handed in on Friday afternoon, I was given a new question to take home and write a 3,750 word paper due Monday morning. Sarah and Olivia went to Niagara Falls and Toronto with some friends, so I had the place all to myself. Although I don't think they should be rushing my responses to capital hill to solve any policy debates, I do think it went well and that I passed. With this hurdle out of the way, the only hoops standing between me and candidacy (the phase of your doctorate when you focus solely on your dissertation) are my class work (probably 2 more years), a poli sci prelim, and a year long project in health policy.

8) This summer - I know this has been a long post, so I won't say too much yet about this upcoming summer, except that I couldn't be more excited. The most immediate thing on the horizon is the fact that we're moving. We decided not to buy a place but found what we think will be an even better deal for us.

The fact that the cheapest flights we found were out of Montreal means we will have a couple days with Sarah's sisters in eastern Canada before and after the trans-Atlantic flights. We leave for Paris on June 15th and will be spending a chunk of time doing research in Paris, Rennes (Bretagne/Brittany), and Toulouse (Midi-Pyrenees), as well as visiting Sarah's family in Nice. We may even swing down to Barcelona for a weekend! I'm very excited that we're going to be in France for almost all of the world cup. Hopefully the French team can get their act together in time to put together a nice long run (though I'm not holding my breath). On top of all this I get to see Phish twice on their upcoming summer tour! Sarah and I are going to the show outside of Cleveland on June 12th and I've got pretty good seats for the first night of Deer Creek outside of Indianapolis in August.

PHISH SUMMER TOUR 2010 from Phish on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Puerto Rico & Plagiarism

I enjoy keeping an eye on Idaho politics and thought these two videos about the recent GOP congressional primary were too funny not to be shared.

Guess who won.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Idaho Capitol Building

I spent 3 months interning for the House Democrats during the 2006 legislative session in Boise and had a great experience. I really love that building though I'm glad it's been remodeled. My office was in a windowless basement cave and I attended many committee meetings where there weren't enough chairs for more than 10 members of the public to attend. I can't wait make it back to Boise and see the changes they've made.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Health Reform

I have a confession to make: I'm burnt out on health reform. I know, it's terrible since I'm getting a PhD on the politics of health services. I don't know everything about health policy, but I know enough to realize that the debate has been twisted and distorted tremendously by both sides. What a complex issue! Suddenly, health reform turned into a debate about abortion; what a mess. I'm also hoping that we can finally put to rest the idea that health reform is a government takeover, that is a real big stretch.

As you have probably heard, 60 Senators have supposedly agreed to support health reform (the cloture vote is tonight at 1am). Although a major breakthrough, there are still many hurdles that have to be passed before a passed bill arrives on Obama's desk. The biggest question will be what compromises will come out of the conference bill between the Senate and the House. Does anyone know if the conference bill needs 60 votes as well, or is that step automatically skipped?

Although I'm a bit burnt out, I will be really interested to see what happens at this point. I don't know enough of the details to know whether I would prefer the House version (which includes a public option plan) or the Senate version (which doesn't include a public option, but does include an opportunity to buy into a privately run plan that is monitored by the same people who monitor the plan for federal employees). Either one seems fine to me.

Have you read David Brooks' latest column on health reform? I think it's one of the most balanced (brief) discussions I've seen. I agree with a rebuttal I read elsewhere that his arguments against reform aren't really that strong, but I still think people have some legitimate concerns.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lamaze International

I was recently quoted in a article about our experience taking Lamaze-certified prenatal classes before Olivia's birth and the way it helped us feel prepared. Here's the link to the full article:

Here's my quote:

“When my wife, Sarah, and I had our first child we felt we were in many ways better prepared than most. I was working on a master's degree in public health and she is a registered nurse. However, we had a lot of questions about pregnancy and the birth process, and we wanted to be able to make informed choices. Thus we signed up for and attended an eight-week childbirth preparation class with a Lamaze Certified Instructor.

“This instruction gave us more confidence in my wife’s body and ourselves. During labor, many things our Lamaze Instructor taught us were useful, such as the labor position my wife used: on her hands and knees. We were taught that she should move around and be in positions that were the most comfortable for her. My wife refused to have continuous fetal monitoring because she found labor so much more painful on her back. We also stayed home longer, because I felt more confident supporting my wife through early labor and thus she was never confined to a bed.” —David K. Jones, husband to Sarah Sacuto

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Phish Fall Tour

It's so great to have Phish back! Here's a couple clips from one of their recent shows at MSG in NYC (no, we didn't make the trip). The above clip is the Rolling Stones song "Shine a Light," and the below clip is of their song "First Tube," (also from one of their MSG shows).

Sarah and I did get to the first show of the tour in Detroit (my 19th and her 2nd Phish shows). Thank you to our babysitters who made the evening possible! Here's a brief clip of the jam after the song "46 Days." There's nothing like the light show at a Phish concert!