Thursday, November 12, 2009

PhD Diary, Year Two: November, 2009

The fall semester is starting to wind down. I'm currently working on an experiment that has been carefully timed to end the day before Thanksgiving, so I can visit family in Florida for the holiday. Hopefully, nothing will go awry. It will be nice to see my relatives again -- I haven't seen them since last Christmas!

The past month has been busy (aren't they all?), but satisfying. I had one week that seemed really overwhelming when I was looking at my calendar: grading the second exam for my TA assignment, meeting with a famous scientist who'd been invited to give a talk at Emory, trying to organize things for my own invited speaker(s), and presenting a short version of my proposed dissertation work (which I will be writing up for a pre-doctoral NRSA next semester) in my advanced graduate seminar. I was freaking out about these things, but somehow I managed to stay organized and get everything done. I even managed to have a little fun (if grading exams during commercial breaks of a football game can be considered 'fun'). I also scheduled a fabulous dinner date at Cakes & Ale for the end of the week, so I had something to look forward to. Although the grad student workload can be a little insane, I actually get a perverse thrill out of getting all of these things done. It's a boost to my self-confidence when I'm able to complete a seemingly daunting task. I may have to be careful about what I get myself into, though -- I keep hearing about cool extracurricular opportunities (undergraduate mentoring, graduate school organizations) and signing up for things. Eventually I will surely come to a point at which I cannot take on more work and expect to retain my sanity.

And speaking of taking on extra work, I'm also trying to organize an event for Rebecca Skloot on campus. Ms. Skloot is promoting her critically-acclaimed new book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which I think has broad appeal not only for biomedical scientists, but for many other members of the Emory community. If you're a fellow Emory person and you're interested in helping me scare up some funding, please contact me.

Presenting an abbreviated thesis proposal in seminar really helped me organize my plans for the research I hope to accomplish over the next few years. My adviser and my labmates provided a lot of input, of course. But, most importantly, the assignment forced me to start thinking through my arguments for performing each experiment, what the possible results might be, and what each result would mean in terms of my central hypothesis. It was also the first presentation I've given in grad school using the word "I" (instead of "we" or "they") when referring to the creator(s) of some cool science.

Next semester promises to be even crazier than this one -- I'll be taking four or five classes, including an intensive grant-writing course. I'm not sure when I'm supposed to get anything done in the lab. But, after this year, I will have fulfilled all of my coursework requirements, and I'll be free to set my own schedule (within reason... sometimes, my tissue culture cells end up setting my schedule, and they don't respect weekends). Definitely something to look forward to. In the meantime, I'll have lots to keep my occupied.

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