Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Graduate School is a Marathon.

Some say that graduate school is a marathon, not a sprint. You can step onto a track completely untrained and run as hard as possible for a short distance. That's a sprint. You may not win any races, but you can DO it.

For a marathon, you spend sixteen weeks (about) running 3-5 days a week, progressively longer and farther. Then the big race day comes! You lace up your shoes, roll on some Body Glide, buckle up your Garmin, pin on a bib number, and line up. The crowd nervously shifts with excitement. Finally, the gun booms, and masses of humanity surge forth! You probably start out too fast, inspired by the spectators and jittery from your caffeinated Gu, but you quickly realize that you'll be moving for (on average) 4-5 hours, so you slow down. You settle into your comfortable, well-rehearsed pace. You make some friends along the way, distract each other from the drudgery, and stick together for a few miles. One of you eventually pulls ahead, with amicable goodbyes. At the 13.1 mile marker, you rejoice that you just finished a half marathon, while trying to ignore that nagging little voice worriedly whispering, ``But you have the other half to go...'' Around miles 18-23, you despair. You wonder why anyone would ever run at all, let alone pay $100 for the pleasure of running 26.2 miles on a perfectly good Sunday morning. Everything hurts, especially your legs. You consider napping on the side of the road, but then what good was all that training? After mile 23, you realize that you only have one 5k left to go! You can do this! That medal is almost yours! You can eat a bagel and drink chocolate milk so very soon! Just keep running! Why is there always a hill near the end?! Your legs burn and tears well up but you don't stop. You can't stop. You see the finish line! You muster up the last drops of energy in your muscles and you sprint over it! You're DONE. You're a marathoner.

After five hours, thirteen minutes,  and fifty seconds of running:

So it is with graduate school. You spend sixteen grades in school (about), attending class 3-5 days a week, progressively harder and more specialized. Then, you graduate from college! You pack your
belongings, move across the country, arrive at your esteemed university, take safety training, strap on your badge, and pull out the NRL Formulary. The other students are equally idealistic, a little terrified, a little arrogant, and jittery from their coffee. Finally, classes begin! You take pristine notes, complete homework as soon as it's assigned, and jump into research. You quickly realize that it's much harder than undergrad, and you'll be here for (on average) 6.5 years, so you slow down. You settle into being relieved that 50% is passing. You make some friends along the way, commiserate with each other over advisors, and have grand adventures for a few years. Eventually, one of you graduates, with bittersweet goodbyes. At the symbolic halfway marker of sorts, you rejoice for passing Generals and earning a Master's, while trying to ignore those annoying little whispers of, ``But you still have that dissertation...''  Around years 4.5-5.5, you despair. You can't figure out why you are still in school, particularly as your undergrad classmates are making so much more money in the real world on your perfectly good Bachelor's degree. Everything hurts, especially your brain. You consider quitting, but then what good was all that schooling? After you get a job offer, you realize that you only have the final dissertation edits and defense to go! You can do this! That Latin-inscribed piece of paper is almost yours! You can eat cake and drink champagne so very soon! Just keep writing! Why do your readers add more red ink to your drafts?! Your brain fogs and blood pressure rises but you don't stop. You can't stop. You schedule a defense date! You dig out the last morsels of motivation from your being and deliver that talk! You're DONE. You're a doctor.

After five years, eight months, and fifteen days of graduate school:
The Doctor

Wee bit nervous.
Answering questions.
I love Barbara.
Chattin with the advisors 
Posin' with the stellarators


Eve said...

Very well told! Congratulations and great job!

mommyof2girlz said...

Congratulations Jess!!! SO SO PROUD OF YOU!!! LOVE YOU LOTZ!!!!

Alisha said...

Congrats Cousin! What an amazing accomplishment! I especially LOVE the Doctor Who accents! Well Done!

Audy Sederberg said...

Congrats, Dr. Baumgaertel!!!!

May you have many more marathons, but let's just leave it at one PhD, eh?

Pam said...

Well said. Please keep encouraging Sarah! I am so proud of you!

IrkaDblrka said...

Congratulations! Your post must be a mandatory reading for all fresh grad students!

nhunter said...

Congratulations!!! We will miss you so much here, but wish you luck as you move on!