Friday, June 3, 2016

Year One in Review

The semester, and thus my first year at grad school, has been done and finished with for about three weeks...which makes this blog post about two weeks late.

In fact, it was going to be infinitely late because I wasn't going to write it. Summer has started to invaded my life, changing my routine and giving me a taste of what the rest of my graduate career will look like. You see, I'm spending this summer working in a biophysics lab-- something I'll hopefully be doing until I earn my doctorate.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. This post was meant to be a reflective one, one that paused for just a second in my busy summer life to look back and relish in the astonishing fact that I have survived my first year in grad school.

Grad school is unusual in the fact that, unlike undergrad, I don't know how many years I have left. Am I one fourth the way to my degree? One fifth? Hopefully it's one of those two; even if it looks like it, I have no plans of becoming a professional student.

Regardless of how long I have left, I wanted to take a second to appreciate the fact that I did what at sometimes during the semester I considered to be the impossible: I not only passed all my classes (I'm looking at you Math Methods and Quantum Mech II), but ended up with a GPA that I am proud of. I highly suspect that some form of dark magic is to be blamed.

Last August I came to Columbia, Missouri, without knowing a single soul in the city. I didn't know what grad school was going to be like; I didn't know if I would get along with my classmates; I didn't know what teaching was going to be like; I didn't know what my new church would be like; I didn't know where Walmart was-- there wasn't even a Chick-Fil-A in my new city((luckily that changed quickly!)).

As a person who has publicly denounced change, I wasn't happy with the fact that everything that could change (new school, new city, new state, new friends, new job, new get the point) was changing. So, I threw myself headfirst into the newness, hoping that soon enough it wouldn't feel so horribly new. I went to picnics and choir practice, found study partners and alto friends. A month or so into the semester I was invited to a Mizzou football game ((it's super embarrassing to admit how much this meant to me, as the person who invited me along might be reading this!)). Even if the rocks (yes. we were sitting on rocks. no, we were not alone. yes, Mizzou needs to rethink their lives stadium designs) were uncomfortable, it was great to feel like I was making a new home here.

I found out that teaching labs was actually tons easier than I had feared. My biggest challenge-- besides time management because holy cow 25 students who all have long questions at the same time is difficult-- was not the students asking really hard question as I had feared, but finding different ways to say the same thing. I would try different analogies, looking for something that would click with them. It was frustrating if, after fifteen minutes, I hadn't hit upon the magic words that would make the student light up with understanding, but when I did, well that was pretty cool.

I found out that while not as great as physical proximity, weekly Skype chats were a lovely way to feel like I was still with my college friends. I found out that my new classmates were pretty cool; that having my own desk felt pretty professional, and that having a window in my office was a blessing and a rarity.

Eventually, and mostly without me realizing it, I started to slide into my new life until it felt like the newness had been worn away. I created new routines with new friends. I learned more about physics and how I could use it to probe some fundamental questions about the ways our bodies work.

Now, with almost a full year of living in Columbia behind me, I know where all the Walmarts are at (seriously, there are like five). I know some of the endless trails which thread around and through the city. I adopted a furry roommate. I got used to cooking all my meals (somewhat). And, as I am about to set up a dentist appointment, I'm feeling like I'm doing all the adult-ing y'all.

I went on a spring break trip which allowed me to connect with other graduate students not in my department-- which was great. I went on a volunteer/retreat bonanza with my church group-- I discovered that 80 lbs concrete bags were hitting the limit between what I could and could not physically carry.

This was where our retreat was; it was pretty magically beautiful. 

And I just saw the first firefly of the season out my window! My basement-ish apartment has been pretty awesome-- even if my upstairs neighbor just bought a drum set (yup. yup. and he likes to practice).

I guess I just wanted to stop for a minute before my summer whisked away. Somehow, my summer schedule has been packed full-- not exactly the laid back dream I had, but that's fine; I'm learning a lot. During the school year I had this optimistic goal: that I should read one published paper a week on a topic that interested me. While this goal experienced a stunning failure, as a part of my summer job I read multiple papers a day luckily on topics that I find fascinating. If you're ever curious about how one can use the AFM to investigate the health of a red blood cell-- or how type II diabetes effects your red blood cells-- or how one can reverse the aging of a red blood cell then hit me up! ((spoiler alert: my research job isn't actually about red blood cells, I just got on a medical research paper kick this past week...))

Do people still say 'hit me up'? Am I old? Or just positioned slightly outside the stream of pop culture?

Probably that last one.

As always, thanks for reading :)