Friday, April 11, 2008

What Now?

For the last couple of days I've been trying to figure out how to write this post. What have I been up to these past couple of months? How has this experience changed me? What now?

I guess I'll start at the beginning. I spent every waking moment from the middle of January until a week ago working on my dissertation, which, for the record, was officially submitted and approved today (it is 9 chapters, 82 figures, 7 tables, and 174 pages). Well, that's not entirely true. I made it to a couple of spring training games, but believe me when I say I didn't stop thinking about my dissertation for more than approximately five minutes. As usual, Dean took a couple of weeks off of work to go to games and practices, and we spent a few days in Orlando and Ft. Myers. He went to practices and I stayed in the hotel room to work in a new environment without the distraction of kitties or my material possessions. Surprisingly, the chapters written in hotel rooms actually turned out the best.

10 days before my defense, bound copies of my finished thesis had to be distributed to my committee members so they could read it beforehand. Most people have on their committee their major professor, 3 departmental professors and a chairperson from a different department. For two years I have been fortunate enough to have a national interdisciplinary fellowship which paid roughly one and a half times what a teaching or research assistant would make. For my defense, it was time to pay the piper because on top of the 5 people mentioned above, I had to have two additional committee members from the College of Medicine. Turns out that all this didn't matter because not a single committee member actually read my dissertation. That's pretty normal though.

Anyway, three days before my dissertation was to be distributed I was still writing vigorously, and I had to leave town for a job interview. The interview, for an assistant professor position at a liberal arts college, was two days worth of interviewing, teaching, giving a seminar and touring the campus. I did the interview both days on about 3 hours of sleep as there literally weren't enough hours in the day to finish all I had to do. Needless to say, it didn't go well and I was made keenly aware of my own limitations as far as multi-tasking and performing under intense pressure. The silver lining was the experience I got interviewing and the ability to scratch teaching at a liberal arts college off of my "possible career choices" list.

My point with all this is that returning home from the dreadful interview only to have more writing to do on top of being terribly sleep-deprived marked one of my lowest moods in my entire life. Add to that the fact that I still didn't have a job lined up and all I wanted was to go hide under a rock. Dean, whose future basically depends on my ability to find work, wasn't about to let that happen. I am so grateful that he has been the supportive, loving husband he is.

But what I learned from that low point is that going through the last stages of your time as a Ph.D. student, in my opinion, makes you just as deserving of the degree as the 5 previous years I spent doing research. Whatever pride I take in this accomplishment is a result of being almost completely torn down only to emerge a stronger, more confident individual.

My mom and stepdad flew in for my defense. I want to thank them right now for putting up with me the evening before and the morning of. I was an absolute wreck and I'm positive I wasn't very much fun to be around. In fact, there were lots of times I wasn't fun to be around and again I have to give credit to Deano who endured the brunt of the "crazy eruptions." To show my appreciation I dedicated my thesis to him, something I thought was lame when other people did it, but now I see why it is completely appropriate.

When I started speaking, I was unbelievably nervous. Dr. Hari had told me time and again that I know this stuff better than anyone and I had no reason to be nervous, but I couldn't help it. I eventually calmed down, and from what I've been told actually did a very good job. My presentation was about 1 hour and 20 minutes, followed by about another half hour of questions from my committee members. Most of the questions were easy, and the ones I didn't know I didn't try to bullshit, I speculated on the answer while admitting I was only guessing. Then everyone had to leave the room except for the committee (did I mention there was an audience too?!) for them to deliberate. It turns out that instead of deliberating, the committee scarfed down the cookies I brought, which they were too polite to eat during the presentation.

Mom and stepdad and Dean and I had a wonderful celebratory dinner, I took calls from well-wishers and then had a lovely, relaxing weekend before they left. We went to a couple of state parks, and did something I've wanted to do ever since moving down here - went to Big Cat Rescue. We went drinking one night and accidentally wound up in a gay bar. (We thought there just a lot of lesbians there, but it turned out the good-looking gentlemen in suits sitting at the bar were lesbians too. In fact, everyone was a lesbian except for the four of us, but we were too happy and buzzed to care.)

So what's next? That's the million dollar question right now. I don't have a job lined up for certain. The good news is that a couple days before my defense I found out I made it past the first round of reviews for a national postdoctoral fellowship I applied for. The bad news is that I still have to wait 4-6 weeks to find out if I actually have the job. I think I have an excellent shot and the first round of cuts was the biggest. But not having a job is still scary as hell. Dean is working his job and Dr. Hari said he'd pay me until I found something, but who knows how long that could be - I am entering to most volatile job market in decades.

I will still continue to write, but I'm afraid things may have to get much more vague. When I have a real job to protect (hopefully one at a government-funded lab) I'm going to have to be really careful and the rules may have to change a little.

I'm slowly getting back into reading blogs. Unfortunately, I'm horribly obsessive compulsive when it comes to reading, which requires me to actually go through and read what I've missed. If I haven't visited you yet, don't worry, I'll get there eventually. And thanks to all of you for stopping by and leaving encouraging words. It helped me more than I can say.


MIL said...

You are so awesome and I am so incredibly proud of you. You have worked so hard for so long. You deserve the national lab position -I hope you get it and can enjoy it and the new home you make. How many baseball parks within driving distance?

Jackie said...

It's SO GOOD to have you back! Even if you have to be vaugue I can't wait to read all about it! Not to mention I expect lots of pictures of the kitties! lol

Congrats again!

Dianne said...

You're back! there's lots of howling going on here - and the cats are happy too.

You will be a super star at whatever you do. You have smarts and heart and soul and you have Deano :)

The Di/Mi/Si trio are so proud of you and we adore you.

Jeni said...

I think I am probably as proud of you and your accomplishments as your family - especially your grandma -as I can understand how proud I get when my grandkids do something that we think is pretty special -and it in no way measures up to a doctorate in physics, for sure. Just keep plugging away, resumes sent, interviews done, cats rescued too -and before you know it, you'll have a fantastic job offer someplace in your future.
You're an awesome young woman!

fermicat said...

Try to enjoy the breather! The intensity will fire back up once you find a job, so enjoy some good livin' until then.

Glad you are getting out into the virtual world again also - it was good to see you over at my place again.

spants said...

You will find a good job, I know it.

So, are you happy to see that your old boy Johan isn't off to the best of starts? ;)

Hot4Teacha said...

Hell yeah, Nat! You are a rock star - I can't imagine doing all the stuff you did, and managing all that stress. I would be a huge pile of (*^)@&^% on the floor if I'd had to go through all that -way to go, sista (as Geb would say). I'm so excited for what lies ahead for you.

And I don't think it's lame at all that you dedicated your dissertation to Deano; he's the "rock" in your rock-star world.

greensunflowerRN said...

Congrats!!! Congrats!!! Congrats!!!

I hope you can breath somewhat easier now that have that done with, Dr. MB.

I cant imagine how accomplished you feel.

magnetbabe said...

mil -
2 major league, several minor leagure (Dean is reading up on it!)

jackie -
Thanks! Plenty of cat pics. Moving them will be a challenge...

dianne -
I have been keeping up with your cat adventures also. Thanks for your vote of confidence!

jeni -
Thanks so much! I am always happy when I can make you ladies proud.

fermi -
I want so badly to take a breather. I have a feeling that once something is secured I can take a couple of weeks off. In the meantime, it won't do me much good as I feel uncomfortable not knowing what's ahead for us.

spants -
Welcome back! The only bitterness I feel for Johan is his complete lack of loyalty to the team (and really the pitching coach Rick Anderson) that transformed him from a mediocre long reliever to the best pitcher in baseball. But the trade was inevitable and he deserves the media scrutiny (good and bad) that comes with playing for a big market team.

di -
Thanks! I'm glad someone else sees it way I do...

greensunflower -
Thanks for stopping by! Love the new picture. I feel accomplished and yet still unsure of myself. That will come with time (hopefully...)!

Scott said...

You came out stronger and even more confident!? Look out world. But I have to say that for someone so smart, you should know by now that there is no such thing as an accident, such as accidentally visiting a gay bar. I seem to recall that you had, shall we say, an experience in college. Coincidence? I think not!

magnetbabe said...

Scott -

Was that first part supposed to be a compliment? Either way I'll take it as one. ;)

As for the gay bars, they would be much more crowded places if everyone who did what I did in college went to them! Anyway, if I was to go looking to pick up chicks, I doubt I would have taken my parents and my husband!

Beth said...

Wow, I became a bit nervous just reading all that ... I can't imagine going through it. I imagine this will be a defining moment in your life ... one of the big ones.

TomCat said...

Good luck on that job, MBabe.

Once I accidentally stumbled into a "girls" bar. s I sipped my beer and my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I noticed not only that the gents weren't, but also that they were staring at me in a most unkindly fashion.

Scott said...

Yes, it was a definitely a compliment!