March 31, 2016

#PhDin2016: February/March Re-cap

When I was at the AAAS meeting last month, an undergraduate neuroscience student was presenting next to me in the poster competition. He was shocked to learn I was a 5th-year graduate student.

"But you don't look all exhausted and run-down like other grad students. Impressive."

Just after I finished my first Results chapter earlier this month. Woo!
At first I was flattered, but then I was sad. The stereotype is so prevalent.

And then I congratulated my body for holding up, because psychologically, I was really exhausted and run-down.

I didn't blog about my dissertation progress last month because there was nothing to blog about. I was going through a nasty little bout of depression that was making it hard to make progress on anything, really.

This is not something I'm scared or ashamed to talk about. It can happen to anyone who finds themselves stretched a little too thin; I just don't happen to be as resilient as the next person. If I broke my arm, I'd have to wear a cast, and everyone would see it. My brain needed a little patching up, too. That's all.

And it needs to be talked about, because stuff like this happens if we don't.

Since then, I've sought help, and with some little pick-me-ups of sunshine, warmer weather, and making a little more effort to be kinder to myself, we're back on track.

Perhaps the biggest motivator is that I now have an official dissertation date: June 7 at 1:30pm!

I have a date!
As of today, I'm at 120 pages, which includes Methods, two-and-a-half Results chapters, four Appendix chapters (basically just relevant papers I've already published), my 10-page (thus far) Bibliography, Acknowledgments (strangely, one of the first things I wrote), and all the fancy-schmancy format-y stuff that kills an unnecessary number of trees once printed.

Still to do: two-and-a-half more Results chapters, the Introduction, and Discussion. I would view the latter two as daunting, but I've decided not to go all crazy and write a novel about sleep apnea. Who's going to read this, anyway? Literally five people.

Plus, you know what's helped with all the writing stuff? ALMOST 5 YEARS OF BLOGGING HERE!

Am I nervous about the defense?

Yes and no.  Yes, because it's a major life milestone. But no, because I have an extremely supportive committee who, for the most part, regularly reviews my data and knows my understanding of the field. Plus, by that point, I'll have written ~200 pages on the topic. Who will know it better than I will?

What I'm more nervous about is all the other stuff I have to do between now and June, which includes:

- Writing a short book chapter
- Assaying some blood and saliva to get data for a grant submission
- Preparing three posters and an oral presentation for the SLEEP conference in Denver (which we leave for five days after my defense...)

But, armed with colored pencils, I've color-coded the next few months. I can do it all. I just need to stick to the schedule, work hard, and keep being kind to myself.

Also, I went to D.C. with the Society for Neuroscience a few weeks ago for my second Capitol Hill Day (the day the Metro was down, of course). I enjoyed it even more this year than I did last year. I met one of my Senators, saw Elizabeth Warren walk by an office window three feet away from me (*fangirling*), and told everyone about all the cool neuroscience research going on at Penn State.

My amazing group of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts scientists posing outside of the Capitol building on a beautiful day.

It was also a great motivator for all the science policy fellowship apps I'll be working on over the summer. Many people are curious about what I'd like to do with my degree and my writing/communication experience, and the answer is science policy!

My husband is graduating from his physician assistant program in July. I'll follow him three weeks later. I've got a post-doc with my group lined up. I'm submitting an abstract or two for a conference in Italy in September. Good things are ahead. Let's do it!


  1. Oooh... Does this bring back some not-so-distant memories! I've got two thoughts on this:

    1) Don't let the Intro and Discussion freak you out. You are more prepared and capable than ANYONE ON THE PLANET to write this, so even your worst job would be impressive to anyone that reads it... who is still probably not even the 5 people on your committee. Because you like to write and share, maybe it would help if you craft them so they can be easily converted into a publishable review?

    2) I was excited about your career in science communication, because we as a society desperately need more of it. But I am even more excited about your career in science policy, because that is a big reason why we need more science communication. Good luck - You will be incredible!

    1. Thank you so much! And thanks for the science policy encouragement...I'm excited for it, too!


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