Thursday, June 22, 2006

California here I come

Thank you all for your congrats. The other night, I was too excited (and exhausted) to tell you what this little bit of data means to me, so I thought I'd take a moment to do so now.

Grad school has really been a rough road for me (as it is for most people). In addition to all of the trials and tribulations that come with working in lab, I also had to deal with my husband living in another state for three years (though he was able to come home on weekends) and a crippling depression. Additionally, I got stuck finishing up the work of another grad student who left before she really should have and so much of my data is already published in a paper where I am not the first author (in my field, there are often several authors on a journal article). This is a problem because an unofficial criteria for graduating is having a first author paper. Now, of course, some people get to leave before then (such as the student whose work I got stuck doing), but so many professors have gotten burned by this, they are becoming very reluctant to let people do it.

So, until about two days ago, I was finishing my 6th year of grad school and I had absolutely no data that could be put in a paper of my own. And no idea if I would be getting some anytime soon.

We're going to get to Calif. soon, I promise.

In the meantime, NASA, in its infinite wisdom, decided to not give the project SOFIA any money for the next fiscal year (btw, the technical hurdles mentioned by that press release were nonexistant). This was the project that was going to be paying my husband starting in August until I graduated. They have already spent half a billion dollars (yes, that's billion, with a b) on this project and they were effectively cancelling it. It was a project for a telescope on an airplane. The airplane had been built and modified to fit the telescope. The telescope was in its final stages of development. Several instruments that were to accompany the telescope (one of which J was working on) were nearing completion. And now it is all stopped. In fact, they stopped giving them money for the current fiscal year.

Now, I could rant about the stupidity of this and the workings of the federal government and how this country is going to go to hell in a handbasket if we keep cutting funding for basic research, but that's immaterial at this point. The important thing is that J needed a new job. And that job was not going to be in Chicago. He was able to get funding through Sept. and then he heads to Pasadena to work with a group at Caltech. So, despite our best efforts, we are going to be separated yet again.

This made my situation even more desperate. I really need to graduate, but I had no data. I am determined to graduate by next Feb. at the latest, but yet, I had no data. I had no idea how I was going to accomplish this. Whenever I sat down to think about it, I got panicky. So, I tried to stop thinking about it.

On top of this, six years is starting to get old for a grad student in my department at my school. They frown upon you staying longer than that. They stop increasing your stipend every year. Your advisor starts thinking of you as a burden. Your committee starts pushing you to finish up and get out. Except I had nothing to finish because I hadn't gotten my start. This also made me panicky. Again, I tried to not think about it.

Then, finally, this week, I got a Result. Something I can build a paper around. Something that is going to let me get out of here and move to California where it is sunny year round (important because I have Seasonal Affective Disorder) and where my husband will be starting in October. This is what I've been waiting for all of these years.

I'm a realist, though. I know this could still go horribly awry. It wouldn't be the first time such has happened to a graduate student. But, now, I have hope. Hope that this will all end up okay and I won't be forced to leave without my PhD because after 6 years, I still didn't have a real project. Hope that I won't be separated from my husband for another 3 years (and this time, he wouldn't be coming home on weekends). Hope that I will eventually be done with research and I never have to look at a pipet again (well, at least for awhile--I gotta tell ya', after all of this, I'm sick of research).

So, that's what this is all about. That is why I am celebrating (a little, quietly, so that the lab work doesn't hear me and think that I'm getting a little too uppity and decide to stop working out of spite).


  1. You definitely have many reasons to celebrate--so crack the champagne (or whatever your wicked celebratory treat of choice is) and do it! Very happy for you and hoping the future brings nothing but the best.

  2. That is wonderful news. :-)