You Drive It (Part 2)

Summer 2016 rolled along and I finished my work in West Virginia. Three days on the road home to South Dakota provided just the time and space I needed to create my plan: crazy to Scyller-normal.


To finish my bachelor’s degree, I needed 16 credits. My MT Tech advisor forwarded to their respective professors the syllabi from two 3 credits classes I would take at SD Mines as independent study. The course transfers were accepted, bringing the number down to 10 credits.

Over Christmas break, I emailed the lab instructor for two Production Engineering labs. He agreed my professional work exceeded what I would learn in the lab and supported my request for professional experience credits.

A note on the professional experience credits. The MT Board of Regents decided just prior to my application that non-traditional students such as myself could apply for professional experience credits. More than one administrator asked me to be quite thorough in my portfolio: while they knew me and my work product, the same could not be said of future students. Understandably, they want to maintain high standards for coursework. Ten single-spaced pages (complete with tables, schematics, diagrams, time frames, job titles, supervisors, and dates worked) my two one-credit course credits were accepted. Down to 8 credits.

Once I arrived on campus for spring semester 2017, I met with the mechanics of materials lab instructor. Given my prior course in Advanced Mechanics of Materials and the work done for a world class geomechanics lab, he agreed to a course substitution for the mechanics of materials lab requirement. Down to 7 credits.


Commuting between Rapid City and Butte took me 8.5 hours with two stops. Interstate 90 connects my starting and stopping points, but I opted for the Hwy 212 cutoff and enjoyed the bleak beauty and solitude of southeast Montana.

Screenshot 2017-06-10 08.13.24

Each leg of the journey ran 550 miles through four mountain passes, three states, two Indian Reservations, and only one Starbucks (easily accessed from the interstate). During the course of the semester, I made 7 trips or 14 legs.

Do not be fooled by the moniker, Spring Semester. Only the last week had spring weather and on 13 out of 14 legs I passed vehicles in the ditch. At some point on each leg, I had my 4-ways on, driving 45 mph with both hands on the wheel. Spring driving in Montana is not for the faint of heart (April Winter Montana Driving).


My sister and mom turned me on to Blue Apron and for this, I cannot thank them enough. Even though our brains only make up 2% of our body weight, our brains use 20% of the calories we take in. For top brain efficiency and time use, on Friday evenings I pre-made all the meals for my Montana week. On two occasions where I ran out of time (or energy) on Friday evening, I took my glass storage containers and the Blue Apron boxes with me. My hostess provided her lovely kitchen for me to use.


My brain needs 8 hours of sleep every night for three reasons: creativity, learning, and driving. I do not skimp on sleep.

Time was in short supply and if I only had the energy to stare at the page rather than write or solve problems, I wasted time. If I have to re-read material two or three times rather than apprehending it on the first pass, I wasted time. Wasted time is not efficient.

Existence constituted the last reason for sleep. I drove long hours mostly at night. If other drivers weren’t trying to kill me, the weather conditions were. If weather conditions were not trying to kill me, animals jumping into the road were. Get sleep.


Carlos Ghosn is Chairman of three separate car companies, Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi, splitting his time between Paris, Tokyo, and Brazil. He remarked in an interview that when he is in Paris, that is where his focus lies. When he is in Japan, same thing, and so on with Brazil.

I applied the same template to my time in South Dakota and Montana: when I was in Rapid City, I focused on my doctoral research, TA’ing, and my SD commitments. When in Montana, I focused on my undergraduate work and conducting my porosity and permeability tests in the core lab.

Compartmentalizing activities to specific locations prevented wasted time and gave me very firm deadlines by which, for example, I needed to finish labs and turn in homework (Montana), or finish grading and sample preparation (South Dakota). I simply could not afford to carry projects over from one week to another, one state to another.


In keeping with my cash only lifestyle, I now needed to find a way to pay for two semesters, both out-of-state, at the same time. SD Mines I covered with TA’ing, and a fellowship. For MT Tech I contacted two different SPE chapters and told them my story. Although I was out of the scholarship cycle, in exchange for a future presentation to each group on both my research and trip to Moscow, I received scholarships. A member of industry kicked in another bump. The remainder I paid for with academic coaching and a few odd jobs worked.

House Sitting

Old dogs, like old trucks, require a little extra love and attention. Bella no longer tolerated the itinerant lifestyle. Not only would I not be able to take her with me to Montana, but even traveling across town to her favorite sitter increased her anxiety. Hiring an undergraduate to both house-sit and dog-sit provided a happy solution. My house sitter had a quiet place to escape the dorms every other week and Bella enjoyed not picking up her dog bed and moving every so many days. The house sitter studied and Bella slept.


Besides my research and studies, I had commitments that I wanted to maintain: academic coaching, weekly book club, Theodore Roosevelt Nature and History Assoc., SD Mines’ SPE student chapter, attending an Unconventional Drilling Conference in Denver, the Governor’s Giant Vision Contest, and of course, my Sweetie and loved ones.

Good in Theory, Bad in Practice

If you think texting and driving is a distraction, my plan to dictate my dissertation into my laptop while hurtling down the interstate at 80 mph did not meet any driver alertness standards. Sixteen hours on the road every other week took away from my writing time. I made up for it by listening to my audiobooks at 1.25 or 1.5x (narrators read too slowly for my taste). I took notes while running tests, but the real writing will take place this summer.


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