Winding Down into Winter

The cold has set in for good now, I hear. When it snows again this weekend, all estimates are that we most likely won’t see the grass again until somewhere in early May. The light dust of snow on the ground even now is heralding the end of the semester; after the break for Thanksgiving, we have only have two weeks worth of classes before the long Christmas break. It hardly seems possible that this first semester has gone so quickly. I feel I’ve hardly been here half an academic year already. Time, though, is of course relative so simultaneously it feels like Pensacola is long in the past.

In any case, with the Fall semester’s dying breaths come all sorts of final projects to put finishing touches on, forms to fill out for Spring registration, papers to write, and plans to solidify. I myself, in writing this, am taking a mental break from writing a paper for my Neuroscience class due this Sunday. There’s a presentation that goes along with it the first week of December, but I’m not quite as worried about it as I would have been in the past. I’m getting over my presentation anxiety. On Tuesday night I delivered a final presentation based on the big grant proposal I spent the greater part of the semester attempting to perfect. There’s a paper portion too that I’m working on; I wish I could have turned this version in to the National Science Foundation, but alas… their page limit was a whopping two, and the semi-final version has now reached eighteen. You’ll be happy to know that the presentation went well, and that I only went five minutes over the allotted fifteen. In my opinion, I also sounded like I knew what I was talking about, which is sort of a major step towards actually knowing what I’m talking about. You have to sound the part first. “Fake it til you make it” is a very real and very critical component of achieving the end goal of being Dr. Speed one day.

Though sometimes I feel like I’ve done very little at all this semester, and I still occasionally get a bit of Imposter Syndrome, but I know that I’ve made awesome progress towards my greater goal. I’ve made progress as a person as well. I submitted that grant, and have improved upon the research design and my understanding of the project as a whole. I’ve made valuable connections here at the university both within my program and out of it. I’ve delivered my first lecture (to a statistics class, no less). I made my new apartment into a livable home for my daughter and myself, though it still could use a few more bookcases… I’ve crammed more neuroscience jargon into my skull in a single sitting than I previously thought possible. Just yesterday I provided a necessary data point in a labmate’s fNIRS project, sat in on the following participant, and served as a model for another department member’s upcoming study on the neuroscience of balance. I’ve graded so many absolutely awful undergraduate papers, and some truly stunning papers too. I accidentally made a name for myself among my classmates as someone not afraid to call out bullshit. I have participated in a peace march and nonviolent protest. I’ve even got my halfling sorcerer up to level four in my first Dungeons & Dragons campaign- I mean, “weekly creative problem-solving and team-building exercise”. I’ve made friends.

I’m thrilled for the next semester to start though, to be honest. New projects to work on, new classes to conquer, and new people to meet in each one. My schedule has taken quite a bit of work to get perfected… I’m registered for Fundamentals of Neuroscience II, Foundations of Dual Language Immersion Education, Cognition and Instruction, the Neuroscience Seminar, and last but not least Snowboarding. I’m also going to be the teaching assistant for the undergrad course Cognitive Psychology and the instructor on record for all three lab sections. I’m completely thrilled about all of these classes (no, really!) and excited to get cranking on them.

I feel at home here. Both in Utah, at Utah State University, and in graduate school in general. I honestly feel that my decision to come here was the best decision I’ve made in a long time. It’s so satisfying to have made that huge leap of faith only for it to actually work in my favor so far. I’m so grateful and thankful for all of the help I’ve had to get this far. Without the generosity and support of my family (Mamaw, Dad, and Mom in particular), Dr. Rainey, the Callahan family, my ever-present ex-husband Terry, and you if you’re reading this… I wouldn’t be here today, getting ready to take another step on this awesome journey that I’ve found myself on. So thank you. Seriously. Thanks.

In the Zone

I have never in my memory been so consistently happy for so long. I kind of don’t know what to do with it. Even when group projects come up, or an exam the whole class doesn’t feel prepared for, or a professor delivers a lecture that feels absurdly over my head… at the end of the day, I feel at peace. I’ve been trying to puzzle out what it is that is making me feel so contented though, potentially risking overthinking the whole thing and cancelling it out.

Theory 1. Maybe it’s Fall. My newfound love of the season hasn’t yet worn off, so I could just be in a honeymoon phase with falling leaves and sweaters. Hot tea is just so much more satisfactory when it’s cold outside. Also, actually seeing squirrels bury nuts for winter right in front of me felt pretty special when I’d never seen it done before.

Theory 2. Maybe it’s the valley itself! I could just be so happy to be out of Florida that I’m delirious, so even Mormonlandia seem a mountainous paradise in comparison. Admittedly, it pretty much is a mountainous paradise. There’s so much to do in the outdoors and I haven’t even scratched the surface… though I did register for a one credit snowboarding class for Spring, so winter sports here I come! Also, the whole Mormon thing seems surprisingly low-key in comparison to the bible belt, and way more low-key than the culty Christian college folks back in Pensacola. No one here in Logan is shouting about hellfire on the street corners, but the stores are all nearly deserted on Sundays. I think it’s the best of both worlds, really.

Theory 3. It could also be finally being in graduate school, surrounded by people that have the same interests or at least the same level of interest in a different but tangentially related subject. It turns out it’s hard NOT to make friends when you’re both passionate about the same sorts of things and in the same small room for between 3 and 20 hours a week. Also, I’m getting paid to do something I’ve been doing since I was twelve- reading about the brain and what it’s getting up to.

Theory 4. It’s some strange and miraculous combination of all three of the above. I’m feeling like this one is the most plausible. In any case though, I’m ridiculously pleased with the turns of fate that have brought me here to Logan. In fact, just last week I had the opportunity to be a part of a graduate student panel for an undergraduate Careers in Psych class. We were asked to talk about why we wanted to go to graduate school, any advice we had for those looking to get in, and our lives as student researchers. It was a strange experience, being in front of a large class and talking about my life now, especially since I was the only true “non-traditional” student there. It really made me appreciate just how lucky I am to be at a place in my life where I can feel simultaneously challenged and content.

Also, being in a lab where leftover Halloween candy mysteriously appear on my desk in the mornings and my colleagues semi-seriously discuss participating in the “Dance Your Ph.D” contest is pretty awesome.