Graduate student in transition

Fabric for Fashion and other sewing books

It’s been a hectic month.  I just got back from a week on the west coast of the US, and while the trip was a great success, there was a ton of work that went into it.  I’m going to hijack my own blog for a bit and talk about what’s been going on in my life outside of sewing.  I hope you don’t mind!  If you do, consider yourself warned and feel free to skip this one.  I promise I won’t be offended.  🙂

As I mentioned in my Highlights of 2014 post, I’m planning to graduate with my PhD later this year.  Exciting!  But this raises the question that every graduate student dreads: what’s next?  Although I haven’t quite figured it out yet, I decided to start applying for jobs and see where it takes me.  A postdoctoral position was advertised in Washington (the state, not DC) and seemed like a good fit, so off I went.

It turns out that applying for a post-doc is no small task!  Those of you who have been through this process know what I’m talking about, but I had no idea what I was in store for.  Suffice it to say that I spent the entire month of January preparing for the interview.  As in, I spent all of my usual working hours and many of my evenings and weekends preparing, and didn’t get any of my other work done all month, not to mention the lack of sewing time.  What an adventure!

I was stressed out all month and had this interview hanging over my head like a huge rain cloud about to burst.  My birthday came and went, and while I usually get excited about my birthday and like to have fun with it, this year I just couldn’t get rid of that huge cloud, even for a day.

The interview was this past week, and I’m incredibly happy to report that it seems to have gone well.  Whether I get a job offer or not is another story, as I’m sure there were plenty of other candidates who also interviewed well, but I’m so relieved to finally have it all behind me.  Preparing for the interview was a huge challenge and a great learning experience for me, and I think the next one will be much easier as a result.  A good interview experience also gives me confidence for future interviews, as I think I’ve figured out (a) what I need to do, and (b) how to do it well.

Maggie relaxing in the sunshineThe second component of my trip was working on a bunch of data that will go into my dissertation project.  To make a very long story short, my PhD has not gone nearly as smoothly as I would have liked, and almost all my data is coming in right at the end.  I’ve spent the past few years being worried about my lack of progress and frustrated by the experience of re-doing experiments and waiting months for the results to come back, only to have to re-do them yet again.  I think perseverance is the key to getting a PhD.

Anyway, after much drama and many years, I am finally in possession of all my data, processed, finished, and ready to go.  This represents a huge transition in the state of my work, and once again, I am so relieved to finally have everything I need to graduate.  Granted, there is still a ton of work to be done – analysis, writing, etc. – but at least the experiments are done and the data is in my own hands.  To say that I am elated about this is an understatement.  Even better, I think my advisor is finally satisfied that all the time and money she has invested in me will pay off in the end.

All in all, I came back from my trip feeling like a new person.  I feel more confident in my ability to get an academic job (if I decide I want one), and I feel confident in my ability to complete a meaningful thesis project and actually earn my degree.  I wasn’t sure if I’d make it for a while there!

This whole PhD thing is quite a wild ride.  You take a huge financial blow in exchange for years of frustration and self-doubt, only to come out of it with a piece of paper and a few initials to tack onto your signature.  Is it really worth it?  God, I hope so!

I’m very thankful to have a good emotional support network, a sweet kitty to snuggle up with, and a hobby that I feel so passionate about and that allows me to escape from work-related stress, if only temporarily.  And speaking of sewing, can you spot a new book in my arsenal?  It may have been a birthday gift.  🙂

Hope you all had a great week, whether it was filled with work, sewing, or both!

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21 thoughts on “Graduate student in transition

  1. Good luck with all the final preps (and hard work) towards graduating! How awesome to be on the home stretch. I still feel your frustrations of the past year though, even though it’s been many years for me since I’ve done anything like that. Like many health professionals, my degrees aren’t recognised by the registering body overseas, so I’m having to explore other career options at the moment. It’s a bit of a rollercoaster ride figuring out what to do!

    • Thanks for the kind words, Debbie. I can’t imagine being in your situation – all that hard work, only to have to start over in a new country! That must be amazingly frustrating. Best wishes to you as you navigate a new path. I hope you find something that you feel passionate about. 🙂

  2. Congrats on successfully surviving your first postdoc interview! It’s been years since I went through that but I remember pure exhaustion from travel and days filled with official talks and meeting people! It’s great that you’re getting an early start on this as I was interviewing in the weeks between submission of my thesis and my defence. Talk about a terrible plan! I would agree that 95% of a PhD is perseverance and patience and I have yet to hear of one that is pain free! But I have no doubts that you will find a postdoc that you can get excited about and where you can decide if continuing in academia is what you want. And I can vouch for some exciting pseudo/non-academic positions that are just as intellectually satisfying should you decide you want something different! Congrats again and best of luck with the analysis and thesis writing!

    • Thanks so much for the words of encouragement! It sounds like you know exactly what I just experienced with this interview. I think I talked to people non-stop for 12 hours straight! I was exhausted by the end, not to mention losing my voice. 🙂 I’m very glad to hear that everything worked out for you and that you found a job that you feel passionate about, whether it’s in academia or beyond. I’m still not sure exactly what I want, but I feel like a post-doc is a good opportunity to explore my options. I’m sure you’ll be hearing much more about this from me in the coming months! Please continue to chime in with advice if you have it. 🙂

  3. I really loved reading this, Carolyn! While it’s not so great that the last month was so stressful, it’s really fantastic that you had a great interview experience and feel re-energized now. Having abandoned my (utterly useless) graduate program half way through, I have great admiration for anyone who can persevere and make it through.

    • There were definitely a handful of times along the way where I was seriously considering dropping out, but I’m glad I stuck with it. I think a PhD is an investment in yourself – you have want it really badly and for purely selfish reasons, otherwise what’s the point of putting yourself through the ringer like this? The hardest part is yet to come, so hopefully I’ll hang in there. 🙂

  4. If you’re interested in any less-academic jobs, look into clinical science. There’s Tons of specialities, including quantitative blood chemistry, HLA, etc. Plus, hospitals truly need more of these people. You don’t have to worry about funding, but you will need to pass exams. Most of these positions include research, so you wouldn’t be leaving it behind.

    • Thanks for the words of wisdom! Medicine is not exactly my expertise, but I think you’re right that there are many research positions out there that aren’t strictly academic. Then again, I love teaching, so it would be nice to maintain some sort of interaction with students. We’ll see what I can find!

      • There’s a lot of science in medicine, especially with things like clinical chemistry. While hospitals pay more, I, too, love teaching, which is why I have a teaching-only job! Depending on your area of interest, and where you’re willing to move, I would be happy to help. I know people at a few places 🙂

  5. As someone who had her doctoral viva less than two weeks ago I can totally relate. A PhD is a rollercoaster and having a “support group” behind you makes ALL the difference. In my personal experience, the last few months and especially the 3-4 weeks before submission were arguably the most psychologically stressing hours of my life. Hang in there. It is possible, trust me.

    • Oh my gosh, congratulations Vaire!!! 🙂 I didn’t know you were a doctoral candidate! I’m so incredibly impressed and admire you for getting through the final push. I’ve heard practically everyone say that the last few months are the worst, and I have no doubt there is a lot of stress waiting for me in the next few months. Huge congrats again! I hope you’re enjoying some much-deserved down time! 🙂

      • Ha! I submitted in October. I did make a conscious effort not to mention it on twitter or blog comments as much as possible, as I wanted the blogosphere to be a thesis-free outlet. I truly needed it that way! =)

        Congrats on being almost there! And good luck with your interviews.

        • That’s a great idea – it’s good to have an outlet. Clearly I’m not as good about separating my work and personal life, LOL. Just out of pure curiosity, what’s your field? Anything science related? I’m in environmental science.

  6. Good luck with your writeup and submission! Glad to hear that the interview isn’t hanging over you any more and that you’re feeling better. If you approach your analysis and viva as methodically and carefully as you do your sewing projects, I should think you’ll be fine.

    Facetiousness aside, really, all the best with both completing your thesis and figuring out what to do next.

    • Thanks so much for the words of encouragement. I think the curse of being a perfectionist is the compulsion to do everything fastidiously, and therefore everything takes forever to get done. Hopefully it’ll result in a interesting thesis though. Regardless of what I decide to do next, I’ll always have my sewing! 🙂

  7. My goodness, it sure sounds like you had a hectic January. Congratulations on your interview going well. I hope your dissertation goes smoothly from here on in. You can do it!
    I like to sit and pet the swatches in my copy of ‘Fabric for Fashion’, but I don’t think I’ve read ‘Couture Sewing Techniques’ or ‘The Art of Manipulating Fabric’. I must see if my library has them 🙂

    • Thanks for the good wishes, Vanessa. I’m sure I’ll get through it all eventually, probably with many bumps along the road!

      I’ve been really enjoying all 3 books lately. The swatches in Fabric for Fashion are so helpful and informative, and the other 2 books are jam-packed with great information, almost like textbooks. I’m quite amazed at how much technical information is squeezed into the fabric manipulation book in particular. It’s a masterpiece!

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