Thursday, September 8, 2016

Looking back: summer

During the spring semester I used to daydream about the upcoming summer.

It was going to be my Shangri-La where everything was going to magically be perfect. Gone would be the endless lab grading, gone the stress over homework and exams, and my days would be spent "researching". How romantic! 

Blissfully, I ignored the reality of starting a new job, even though I've started enough new jobs to know how tricky that can be. I ignored all the messy complications we shove under the carpet of "research" and I naively assumed my summer would be perfect and stress-free. 


My summer was not perfect but it was pretty great. Sometimes you get so caught up in the day-to-day, so concerned with everything you have yet to learn, yet to understand, that you forget just how far you've come. I wanted to take a second to reflect on how my summer was; how I went from day one, knowing literally nothing about the AFM, to now, being pretty comfortable with the sometimes infuriating machine.

I started my summer off with a brief vacation home after my super stressful spring finals.

Have I mentioned lately how beautiful my garden is? To call it mine is misleading, as I do 0% of the work but still reap the benefits.

I traveled north to visit family, stopping along the way at this small town. There was a thrift store facing this courthouse where I snagged a beautiful blouse that I wear all the time for the low low price of like two bucks.

I dove headfirst into research, learning what it was like to go entire days without seeing the sun. The machine that I work with is super sensitive, which means it needs to be housed in basements where there are no windows. Melodrama aside, I made it part of my lunch break to take a walk around the deserted campus and soak in the vitamin D.

I learned what to do and what not to do with the AFM, I read a ton of papers, I drank a lot of coffee, and somehow, the summer managed to slip away when I wasn't looking.

The first week of July I traveled to Florida to visit my college roommates. I swam in a river, went canoeing, saw an alligator (all three happened on the same day), went to Diagon Alley, drank butterbeer, sweated more than I thought possible, pretended I was in London, saw cute animals, went to the beach, got hit in the head by waves (whoever said the beach was relaxing clearly did not go swimming), got sunburned (we all saw that one coming), ate delicious food, and was sorely sad to say goodbye.

Then, at the end of July I went to the University of Illinois for a week long biophysics workshop where I learned all about DNA while performing experiments and running theoretical simulations to model the flexibility of DNA. I met some awesome people, got spoiled by the utterly amazing food, went to more bars than I've ever been to, nearly fell asleep during the post-lunch lectures (we all saw that one coming), was exhausted but sad to see it end.

And then, in between my two trips I became an aunt. Charlie Pittman was born and he is, of course, the most perfect baby ever (though I just might change my tune whenever I end up having a kid). Even though I'm very far away, being an aunt is the best thing ever.

And then, the last few weeks of summer were spent cramming for qualifying exams which are an archaic, highly inaccurate way to determine if I can continue pursuing a PhD.

Somehow, my laid-back, chill summer turned into a jam-packed experience that flew by without me noticing. We are a couple weeks into the semester and I'm already missing it. It's difficult to juggle research with teaching two labs, three recitation sessions, and a class of my own with associated homeworks. Either way, change is what keeps things interesting, right?