You’re not too smart to talk to

4 Oct

Um… where the hell did September go? It seems like just the other day campus was starting to be flooded with undergraduate students. That was a month ago already. Now I’m freezing and eating copious amounts of apples and pumpkin. Coming up I have a conference to go to this month (not looking forward to that, I hate being away from my hubby), November is Thanksgiving, and December is Christmas. And sometime in there I need to give my proposal. More on that in a bit.

I realized that I wrote in my “where I’m going with the blog” entry that I’d write random thoughts on being a PhD student… then I realized I really haven’t talked about that much. I’ll be honest, I never really thought I would be here until I was, and Katie’s post on growing up  awhile ago made me look back and think “How in the heck did I get to this place in my life?”

By the way, the title is something that my new hairdresser told me. As usual she asked what I do, and I told her I’m a  Chemical Engineering PhD student. She started telling me a lot of people that work at Merck come into that place to get their hair cut, but they can’t talk about anything other than work, they’re too smart to talk to. Then, as though she would offend me by implying that smart people have no social skills, she tells me that I’m not too smart to talk to…

I was never really sure of what I wanted to do with my life. I always loved writing and music, but also science and math. I realized early on that writing and music would be a lot less fun when being pressured because they’re you’re job, so I stuck with science and math. In high school I had no idea what I would go to college for, what did I like? What did I want to be? My father told me at some point “You like chemistry and math. You should be a chemical engineer. I work with a lot of them, and it seems like something that would be good for you.” Okay, dad, that works for me. That is honest to God how I picked my major.

Two funny things happened in college. First – when I actually started chemical engineering classes, I realized I loved it. I actually liked solving the problems. Weird, right? Apparently my dad knew what he was talking about. Second – the first time I met with my chemical engineering adviser, he asked me what I wanted to do when I was finished with school. I told him industry – no more school after this, I hate school, I’ll be done with school, I just wanted to get a job and never think about school again. I was totally adamant, no masters or PhD, just a job.

The summer between my sophomore and junior years in college I did what is called an REU – research experience for undergraduates. I got into one at an ivy league school. I don’t know how that happened, I think they needed to fill a spot with a chemistry professor, one of the next few people on their list was a chemical engineer, and they figured “close enough.” I don’t care how it happened, it was a blessing. I like research. I like having a problem, going into lab, and figuring it out. I worked with a PhD student there, and after I got back to Ohio I thought – that wasn’t so bad, maybe I will get a masters after I finish. Maybe a little more school wouldn’t be so bad after all.

The next summer I did another REU, this one for bioengineering, although I still ended up working in the chemical engineering department. All of the research there was so interesting, and my situation was unique in that I wasn’t working under a graduate student, but reported directly to my professor. That summer was what made me decide to get my PhD.

I don’t know how other people are, do some people just know from the start that they want a PhD? Do other people fall into it like me? To be honest, I’m surrounded by PhDs or aspiring PhDs now, and we never talk about how we got here. What on earth made us want to subject ourselves to 5 more years of school (or more) at crap pay doing whatever the heck our advisor tells us to do??? It’s just something you don’t ask of each other, like a woman’s weight or something. Well, I’m here because I like research, and it’s harder to get a research job without a degree beyond a bachelors.

Although part of me wishes I wasn’t here, which is terrible. I’m lucky to be here. But somewhere inside me is a voice asking why I didn’t just open a coffee shop or become a pastry chef. Would that have been easier or more fun? Anything is going to be work, and I think I’d be asking the same questions no matter what I was doing. And science is cool. Label me nerd, geek, or whatever, but it’s true.

And that’s how I got here. I just started my fourth year, which is hard to believe. And soon I need to give my proposal. You have two papers/presentations you need to give as a PhD student. Your proposal (paper and presentation) is first and pretty much says “Hey, this is the research I want to do, and here is my plan for doing it.” The second, your thesis (paper) and defense (presentation), is an overview of all of the research you did – “This is what I did, this is what I got, and here is why it is important.” If a committee of professors like your defense, they sign a little paper saying you now have your PhD.

And that’s where I am. I thought it might be interesting to give you a glimpse into something you might not know much about and the chain of events that caused me to end up here. To be honest, my knowledge of the whole process was pretty limited until I got here. And it shows you a little more of me than just the exercising, cooking, and crafting.

Did you think you would end up doing what you’re doing? How did you end up there?

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