Hurdles

Ok, groundbreaking observation here:

Sometimes in life, you have to do things you don’t like in order to get things you DO like. Therefore a sampling related to my day’s activities, and feel free to contribute your own:

Like: Being awake – Dislike: Getting out of bed

Like: Cooking – Dislike: Grocery shopping

Like: Onions – Dislike: Cutting Onions

Like: Eating meat – Dislike: Cooking meat – Extreme Dislike: Browning ground beef or sausage!

Like: Cleanliness – Dislike: Taking time to actually clean

Like: Owning things – Dislike: spending money

Like: Teaching – Dislike: Grading

Like: Driving – Dislike: Parking

Like: Coffee – Dislike:  ……  …. Dislike: ….. ummmm…….

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Realization!

Ok, I’ve had a realization about grad school. Simply put, all my previous “realizations” about grad school were a bit wrong headed. In other words, I keep thinking that I’ve got it figured out… and it just doesn’t work that way. Honestly, grad school would be a bit of a joke if I had it all figured out by week 5 anyway. So now I’m faced with the task of accepting that I probably will feel just a bit out of control and off kilter for much of the next few years.

So, why does this matter? Well, I’ve been thinking about this because the first few weeks were quite stressful for me, and I wondered whether I’d be able to keep up. But now, I think I’ve started to find a bit of a grad school “groove” for the last week, and to be perfectly honest, it feels good to have a groove. While I’m still riding that high, I know it can’t last. One reason for that is that I’ve (semi-officially) joined a research group and I’ll have to re-adjust my life a little bit more now to accommodate doing research on top of everything else. Another great reason to eschew the groove is that believe I learn more when I’m under pressure, sleepless, and a tiny bit manic.

So here’s to uncertainty, to coffee, to a hunger for knowledge and to staying on your toes. Well… and also to shirking your responsibilities at the worst possible times.

Additional news: I’ve recovered my car from Modesto and its in great shape now, greatly relieving significant stress in my life.

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Up-down-up-down-left-right-left-right

Ok, this has been a weekend of many ups and downs, so lets run them down together:

Up: Friday afternoon was met with ChemKeg, dinner with friends, and the watching of several Disney movies.
Down: I had a whole lot of reading to do on friday, which did not get done.

Up: Saturday I bought an iPad, groceries, and a few other essentials
Down: My bank account shrank significantly

Up: Saturday night some other first years held a fantastic party, and I played several rounds of the game “stump.”
Down: I had to wake up at the ungodly hour of 6:30 in order to…

Up: ROAD TRIP to Yosemite national park with five friends. We drove, drank coffee, sang songs and generally had an awesome time all the way to the park, where promptly…
Down: My beloved Ford Taurus’s transmission died, on a hill, in the middle of a road with no shoulder. Soon though…

Up: I caught a ride with an awesome German couple to the ranger station and got my car towed.
Down: We had to wait a long time to actually get to the campsite.

Up: Once there, we had a fantastic time that included swimming, a campfire, some “interesting” neighbors with a taser, and a late night of great conversation.
Down: Sadly… for SOME reason, I just couldn’t sleep that well and woke up at 5:30.

Up: I got to watch the sun come up by the river in Yosemite valley! Fantastic!
Down: I had split from my friends to get my car towed to Modesto. They would take the train, which I would get on in Modesto.

Up: I met the coolest tow truck driver of all time: Tom. What a stand up guy. I could write a whole post about this guy.
Down: I missed my train in Modesto. At the time, we also had been told it was the last train of the day.

Up: That was totally false! I caught the train, met some interesting folks, and met up with my friends in Emeryville for dinner.
Down: Remember that reading I had to get done….? Neither did I.

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….aaaaaand GO!

Ok, its been a while since I’ve updated you all on my situation, and a lot has happened! So here’s the long and short of it:

Classes have finally begun! No more orientation (and sadly no more free lunches…). This is the real deal! Classes started a week ago today, and by Monday I was already feeling a bit overwhelmed. I think I’m just starting to find a bit of a ‘groove’ though, and things should be fully settled with a few more weeks. By far, my favorite class is “Physical Organic Chemistry” with Prof. Bergmann. This guy is awesome. He’s a great lecturer, and really quite an accomplished chemist! He even has a reaction named after him.

For those of you not indoctrinated in the ways of chemistry, Physical organic chemistry is all about describing how organic (carbon containing) molecules bond and react using both quantitative and qualitative applications of chemical bonding theories. One of the major goals is for students to learn how to look at the structure of a molecule and predict a number of different properties!

My other class is a bit more of a challenge so far. It is a class that teaches you all about different reactions in organic chemistry, and how to synthesize different molecules The class basically involves me writing as frantically as I can for an hour in the morning, and then spending several hours every afternoon trying to understand and memorize as much material as I can! Honestly… that’s what I really ought to be doing right now. I think this is probably one of the best experiences I will have though. It’s hard and confusing, but just within my grasp. By pushing myself, and dedicating a lot of time to really learning this stuff well, I think I will really get a lot out of it!

I also am teaching this semester… but I think I will dedicate a separate post to that after I’ve had more experience. Besides I’m too excited to talk about anything but TRIVIA!! That’s right, trivia! For the last two weeks, a few us first year students have managed to bridge the great social divide between synthetic and physical chemistry to field a team (or two) for the trivia night held at a local bar. We haven’t managed to snag a win yet, but we’ve been close!

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Learning to share!

I haven’t really written much yet, and part of that has to do with the lack of internet at my house. However, there are lots of other reasons why I haven’t written anything either. One of the reasons for that is that it can often be difficult to explain to friends and family some of the most interesting parts of the science I am doing. There is another, perhaps more important, reason that I need to own up to as well. Research is hard, and often not terribly rewarding. It can be a difficult, dreary, and disheartening experience at times, which makes it all the more depressing to dwell on when I’m not in the lab.

So, I can post infrequent (very infrequent) updates whenever something turns out incredibly well… or I can accept the fact that most of the time there just won’t be anything heartening to report. More importantly, I think embracing this nature of my work will not only lead to a better and more frequently updated blog, but ultimately help me survive grad school itself. I haven’t even started, and I’ve already felt the crushing pressure and doubts that failure can bring. The only way to really battle it though, is to accept it and push forward. So today I am resolving to do so.

On a happier note I am learning TONS, meeting lots of great people, and orientation activities begin next week. I am also moved in to my apartment, which I am sharing with some pretty awesome folks. The next few weeks are going to be crazy. Crazy and awesome.

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Me, checking out UC Berkeley:

This is what it’s like.

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First Day

Well, I survived day 1! Today wasn’t exactly a challenge scientifically, since I haven’t started any experiments yet, but it had plenty of other exciting challenges. These included reading procedural documents, filling out forms, trekking back and forth around campus for various things, and managing to get attacked by my own lunch.

Also, I learned how NOT to make friends with the people who work at the transit station…

I’m a little tired this evening, but still excited. Today’s real challenge was dealing with the nerves, and gaining the confidence I need to be successful here. For a while now I’ve been really preoccupied with the fact that many of my fellow students are much more prepared for this program than I am. However, today I realized that it doesn’t help me at all to dwell on this. So today’s watchwords for success are these (borrowed from another grad student): The only way I’m leaving this place without my Ph.D. is if they kick me out. In that spirit, I’m going to strive every day to give them a reason to do no such thing!

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Arrival

I made it safe and sound to California last night. Tomorrow is my first day at the school (and I’ve got some serious reading to do tonight!), but for now I am relaxing in the town of Walnut Creek. The drive was long, but lovely. I’m glad that I opted for the longer, but more scenic route. Next time I’ll try to include some exciting info on the work I will be doing, but for now I’m just going to include some photos from the journey. You can click on any of the pictures for a larger view of the same picture.

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Movin’ right along.

New Blog:

This is the first step on a brand new journey! One sure to be filled with excitement, new experiences and a good measure of anxiety. I’ve promised (to a fair number of folks) that I will keep in touch, letting people know how things are going in my life. This new blog is my best attempt at that. Tomorrow I journey to the strange and wondrous land that is California. This is also my attempt to organize my thoughts, share my conquests and woes, and seek help when I need it. I’ve called this blog “The Ring Stand” because in chemistry, a ring stand is a piece of equipment that provides safety and support for an experiment. The next 5 years of my life in Berkeley are going to be something of a major experiment in my life. It is my hope that this blog, and the community of friends that read it, will also serve to support me as I travel on paths yet untrodden and through perils unknown. Anyway, enough with the introductions, save to say that you should feel free to leave comments on any of my posts (especially if I’m being ridiculous and you want to point that out!)

The Road Ahead:

The most pressing business in my life right now is the journey of the next few days. Here’s the gameplan:

Day 0 (today): panic, start blog, say goodbye to friends and family

Day 1: Drive to Eugene, OR via I-5 (about a 5 hour drive)

Day 2: Take the scenic US 101 from Eugene to Walnut Creek, CA (about 11 hours)

When I arrive, I’ll be staying with the wonderful Clarke family while I wait to start my lease at an apartment in Berkeley. I want to publicly acknowledge how awesome their hospitality is, and how thankful I am to have a place to stay when I arrive.

The most important factor of my road trip though, is the awesome tunes I get to listen to on the way. Thanks to all my friends who recommended songs for my ultimate journey to California playlist! I’ve got about 3 hours of music planned, so if anyone has any last minute song suggestions, please send them to me via facebook!

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