Uh. Yeah. It’s been a while.

Welcome back! It’s been a while! Don’t worry I’m still here – and still working hard, and happy, and engaged. But! Contrary to the cover photo, that’s not the topic of this post 🙂

I’ve been told that the second year of graduate school is the busiest – It’s a lot like how the end of your junior (and beginning of senior) year in high school is incredibly busy preparing for applying to colleges and realizing you’re actually almost finished with all those 12 years of education! So in that kind of fashion, the second year of graduate school is when a lot of things wrap up and when you hit a pretty significant milestone – your qualifying exams. *cue ominous music*

By the end of your second year, you should have finished most of your graduate course work. For me, that means that I’ve taken courses on galaxy formation, cosmology, the ISM (interstellar medium – all that gas and dust in between stars). I’ve learned how to apply statistics to astronomical questions and how to analyze galaxies with luminosity functions. More importantly, I’ve learned about Allan variance and aliasing for my second project and I’ve immersed myself in the science of absorption profiles and simulated absorption for my primary project. I’ve learned a lot!

With all that learning, there comes a time when you need to demonstrate how much you’ve learned and how you are now a (mostly) capable scientist who can finish their dissertation. This is decided in your qualifying exams. For my department – it varies between schools, departments, and disciplines – my qualifying exams consist of two things;

  • A written ‘exam’: This is actually two papers outlining the work I’ve done on each of my projects and making some sort of statement on conclusions and future work
  • An oral ‘exam’: This is by far the most nerve racking. This consists of a three hour long block of time in which you give two short (about 15 minutes each) presentations on your two projects in front of your five person committee. The remaining two and a half hours are for your committee to ask you questions about your work. They can range from details about your methods to the broader picture of how your work connects to the rest of the field. You are expected to answer these questions in great length and if it is a question you do not know the answer to, it is the expectation that you attempt to answer the question right there, in front of them, so they can see your thought process.

The first part, the written exam, is due on the first of March. So for the past month and a half I’ve been working on putting those together. Happily, in December my primary project reached the point I should start writing it up to submit to an academic journal – so I’ve been able to accomplish two goals at once while working on that paper. Things for my second project were not so cleanly set up. At the beginning of January I thought I’d be able to wrap things up and start writing. Unfortunately, the results I had gotten didn’t make sense so I spent the majority of January troubleshooting and trying to figure out what was going wrong. Now that we’re nearing the end of February, I’m happy to say that both papers are nearly finished!

The second part of qualifying exams – the oral presentations – need to happen between the end of March to early May. Some joke that the hardest part of these exams is getting all of your committee members in one place for three hours. Due to this, I’ve been attempting to find out when my committee is available way ahead of time. I have one more member to find – and he’s the hardest to pin down! Even so – it looks like my exams will be held the last week of April or the first week of May. For context: I’m still needing to function as a student and have classes to attend as well as homework and tests to do. Those two weeks coincide with the end of the semester – the first week of May is finals week.

You may be thinking, “oh my! So much to do!” or “How do you prepare for that sort of thing?” and let me assure you, that’s exactly what’s been going through my head for the past two months. Fun fact about me; my anxiety comes in waves and it seems that my waves are out of phase with my peers. For waves to be out of phase means that a trough – or lower part – of the first wave occurs at the same time as the maximum of the second wave. In this context, this means that I’m nervous and anxious about things at a time my peers are not and vice versa. As the deadline approaches for the papers, I’m feeling actually quite relaxed and confident while my peers are getting increasingly more anxious. It’s a give and take though, my comfortable at ease mindset now comes at the cost of restless nights two months ago when I could barely do anything about what was causing me stress!

Either way – even with all that I need to do, I’m feeling pretty good about it at the moment and soaking it all in before another wave of nervousness approaches mid March 🙂

With all of that background, I’m sure it makes sense why you haven’t heard much from me! I’ve been quite busy! I promise I haven’t forgotten about tea time and actually have a number of posts I’ve been waiting for time (and mental energy) to write. To peak your interest, here are some interesting things you may see posts about in the next while:

  • I’m auditing a computational engineering class! What’s that like?
  • What an is “Elevator Speech” when you’re in science?
  • Have you heard of an awesome alien A.I. named Skippy?
  • Bullet Journals are fun
  • I’m engaged!?! How goes wedding planning?!
  • Speaking of my fiancé… What’s Alex up to?
  • Why “being bad at math” shouldn’t be a thing
  • Do you want to know more about my science? Let me try to tell you about it!
  • Astronomy Outreach – what people want to know and the kinds of questions are the most fun to answer

8 thoughts on “Uh. Yeah. It’s been a while.

  1. Yay! Hello!

    Is it strange if the oral exam actually sounds like a lot of fun to me? I love talking about things that I’m knowledgeable about. But at the same time, for so much to potentially be riding on it, it would definitely be very nerve-wracking too!

    I’m very glad to hear that your anxiety isn’t too bad while you’re getting things ready. I know it can be really exhausting when you’re trying to prepare for something that is stressing you out, but you need to push through that stress to make sure that you can actually resolve whatever is causing it… bleh. I should try to pay more attention to mine — it seems like being able to predicts its waves would come in handy.

    I’m very much looking forward to your “being bad at math” post! I think a lot about that same subject. Maybe we should collaborate on it. The Cottle Sisters Present: Why Being Bad At Math Shouldn’t Be A Thing. or something. 🙂

  2. I’ve always been so amazed and impressed at your level of self-motivation, self-discipline, and ability to organize and prioritize…. you get so much done! I have no doubts your orals will be fantastically received. And your upcoming topics look fun!

  3. Trough, not tough, Ms Betrothed! How about a phase interference chart, plotted with subjective data points assessed between you and your cohort? Could be cute. Is there any actual interference between you and them, due to these phase differences? Don’t assume anxiety when the orals approach. What could happen, anyway? As long as there isn’t a faculty member gunning for your chair by way of you (happened to me!), you should be golden. (And he also has the distinction of having swapped wives with another department member, not on my committee. Fun times.)
    Philosophical question: To what extent should any elevator speech be tailored to the recipient? What are the parameters for varying it? Note: Generically, these answers may apply to a strategy for answering the out of left field orals questions. But betcha they give you softballs, unless the passive aggressive scenario occurs. Any scuttlebutt on that?
    Hi to Alex!
    I also wanna see the bad at math post, Grace. Brain rewiring at age 19 turned years of Cs and one D to all As, whoot whoot. Is there an astrophysical solution to this common problem?

  4. You’re just amazing!! Thanks for the update and the explanation of your work and why anyone would be filled with anxiety.
    Good Luck with your qualifying exams. ( I have every confidence in you and your abilities).

    Looking forward to your next post.

  5. Hooray for a blog update! You are excellent at time management and being ahead of schedule, and it has served you very well throughout your university career. I know it can be a bit disappointing at times that study groups can’t offer you any help (since you are always already past everyone else) but I imagine you have a much firmer grasp on all the material than your cohort because you don’t ever rely on the help of others to complete assignments.

    I’m looking forward to more posts. Those are some great topics. Let’s be planning on a Afternoon Tea celebration when your orals are done!

  6. Great post! I believe your offsetting waves are a direct result of the fact that you are so good at organizing and completing tasks that you’re always a half a phase ahead of everyone else. You’ve kind of always been like that – which makes for much less stress not just in your life, but with those of us around you as well!

    I too am looking forward to some of those topics – the math one seems to have peaked a lot of interest, however I’m most excited about Skippy, because I have heard of Skippy and I know of his awesomeness. And the pairing of his awesomeness with your awesomeness will be awesome to the power of awesome. Shmaybe.

    1. Oh, and I learned a new word – had to look up ‘aliasing’ and now I’m that much smarter.

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