When I was in college I wrote an article for the Wetlands Institute newsletter that I called “The Coolest Day Ever.” On that day I witnessed diamondback terrapins emerging from their nest and helped band osprey chicks. It was amazing! But even “The Coolest Day Ever” can’t top last week.
1st Prelims… (Wednesday)
Usually in the third year of a Ph.D. program, graduate students take what some call a preliminary exam (or prelim for short) others call it a qualifying exam. No matter what you call it though, it is a time when you show your committee that you “know your stuff” and are qualified and prepared to do the research you outline in your proposal. After you pass this exam you are officially a Ph.D. candidate. My prelim was a three-hour oral exam with my five member committee. Each one of my committee members gave me readings. Some gave me books, others gave me topics or authors. I spent the last few months writing my proposal and reading, reading, reading. I got to the point a few days before March 5th (the big day, or what one of my friends called the day Hurricane Heather would hit) where I just couldn’t read any more, my brain was full, and I was ready for this exam to be over. I was also just a little nervous, okay a lot nervous. My stomach was off, I was having a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep thanks to crazy anxiety dreams. But, I am happy to report that I passed my prelim!!! But that shouldn’t be surprising given that I said last week was better than the coolest day ever! Getting past this exam alone was enough for a good week, but I’m not done yet.
I have to say that the most amazing part of my preliminary exam experience was the tremendous amount of support and love I felt as I sat there answering the questions. I knew that I had a lot of people rooting for me and a lot of people sending me good vibes and prayers through those three hours. My family had sent me a gorgeous flower arrangement and sat anxiously waiting calls and texts all that morning. (They also sent me a bottle of Moet and Chandon for toasting later.) My friends sat waiting outside the room where my exam was and were there with smiling faces and hugs when I was kicked out during deliberation and when I was released with good news. Alyse and Demi also surprised me with my favorite teas and a new set of PJs, perfect for relaxing after. But back to the exam itself, I knew that I was not alone in that room, I had a lot of people behind me, cheering me on. And then after, I can’t even express how much more supported I felt if that’s even possible. One of the traditions at the lab is to toast the new Ph.D. candidate. I’ve been to a few toasts and know how they go, we raise our glass to the person who passed his or her prelims (we also do it for defenses) but as I walked around clinking glasses with friends and committee members I just felt so happy and so incredibly supported. I am so lucky to be at Duke, I am so lucky to have such supportive family, friends and colleagues. Then Facebook happened. People from all over the world from all times in my life sent me messages, posted on my wall and commented and liked a video of me popping the champagne bottle during the toast. Social media is incredible!
2nd Paris! (Thursday)
As if passing my prelim wasn’t enough, on Thursday, the day after my exam I received word that my abstract for an Ecology and Acoustics conference in Paris was accepted! This conference is all about soundscape, educating younger generations about sound and helping early career scientists network and meet other scientists working on similar types of work. Who does that sound like?!?! So on the heels of prelims this was amazing news. Not to mention that now that I was a newly minted Ph.D. candidate I opened myself up for conference travel support! Plus, my sister will be joining me for my travels and for an excursion to Provence to see the lavender fields in bloom!
I also need to mention that awesome job talk from Catalina Pimiento added to the awesomeness of last week. As I sat there watching Catalina talk about her science and her science ed/outreach work, I was completely inspired. She wove together her science, her outreach and education work beautifully and I realized that there are jobs out there that appreciate all of those things.
3rd.. No I’m not done yet. Skype (Friday)
In November I got involved in Skype in the Classroom and wrote a HuffPo blog about it. I really enjoyed using technology to interact virtually with classrooms all over the world and I am looking forward to using it again in the next few months. I was contacted by the PR firm that represents Skype asking if I would be interested in being interviewed by them for a blog associated with International Women’s Day (March 8th). I said sure, why not! I got on the phone and talked to them for fifteen minutes or so. They told me that they would be reaching out to reporters to tell them my story and asked things like where I grew up, where did I go to school, what was my hometown paper, etc. Their work led to interviews with both of my hometown papers! I couldn’t imagine teachers, friends and family, opening the paper and reading about me. I did my best to tell the reporters that I had great teachers in Hamilton, NJ that had a major part in why I am where I am and why I do what I do especially from middle school and high school. I told them about the importance of friends and family. Again, this is on the heels of feeling more support and love in a week than I’ve ever felt before. One of two articles was published, the other will run on Thursday. But the biggest thing was… Skype acknowledge me as one of 3 Women Changing the World Through Technology.They told me that they were going to include me in a blog about women who used Skype in the Classroom but I still wasn’t prepared for that. I am honored to be included in that list and hope that I can continue to live up to that headline. I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t even express the emotions that were going on in my head.
My mom encouraged me to write this out. Not only to inform people what was going on in my life, I did take quite a break from my posts here during my studying, but to also be able to look back and remember this week, to remember how supported and loved I felt and to go back to this week and this post when I need to. When I’m having a rough day or a rough week or think, why did I choose to do this? What am I doing and why am I doing it? I can look back and remember why, to remember that people appreciate the work I do, that people think it is worthwhile and good and that I have the most amazing support network I could ask for. I will always remember these feelings of support, love and confidence that this week brought on and for that I am so grateful to everyone who simply thought of me this past week. I am feeling so inspired and ready to face the world!