How to write and defend your PhD thesis in 2 months

  1. Start working from home. It’s lonely but it allows you to have whatever writing schedule you need every day and keeps you from distracting yourself by hanging out with your labmates. Only go to lab for mandatory meetings with your advisor or to get information out of your lab notebooks.
  2. Teach your labmates all your lab jobs (editing websites, taking over the lab safety and hazardous waste removal jobs, etc) for you while you are out. They will do them so beautifully and without asking very many questions. For this, you are forever grateful.
  3. Sometimes working from home means going to a coffeeshop and drinking a cappuccino while working. Your advisor agrees to meet you at the coffeeshop so you don’t have to go all the way into lab to meet with her. Also sometimes your labmates will join you.
  4. Work every day for 1.5 months straight, taking breaks when you need them but never taking a break that lasts for an entire day.
  5. Get on an antidepressant that reminds you to eat and sleep on a semi regular basis despite all the anxiety and stress you constantly feel. As soon as you defend, you can get off of it but for now, it’s necessary.
  6. Go home to California for a week and write feverishly at the desk you used to do your homework at in high school. Your parents will make you tasty food, force you to take breaks when you need them, and cheer you on. Plus one or both of them will stay up late every night playing on their tablets while you write so you won’t be as lonely.

    You and Gustav making weird faces on a tiny plane heading home…
  7. Exercise at least a little every day. It helps break up the monotony and the lamity of sitting at a desk all day and it reminds you that you are a human – not a writing machine. Soccer, swimming, running, and biking work pretty well. Take Cobalt on your exercise adventures if he’s around.
    One of your exercise breaks includes going to see the aspens change color with Titanium and her mom. So pretty… you could have stayed there all day. You tried to but Titanium and her mom said you had to go back to work…

    While you were looking for pretty aspens, you also found this cute little puff…
  8. Attend two of your friends’ weddings. Weddings let you take a break from your stress bubble and remind you that you are surrounded by wonderful people. :)
    One of the weddings you attend is at the Denver Botanic Gardens during the Chihuly glass exhibit. Having gone to undergrad in Tacoma, Washington, you can recognize a Chihuly piece anywhere but you still find it beautiful in this setting…

    One of your favorites is this boat. You even come back after the wedding to photograph it all lit up at night.
  9. Let Cobalt take you to a movie sometimes. It’s nice to do stuff with just Cobalt even though you are a stress ball.
  10. Go to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta with Cobalt, your sister in law, niece, and nephew because it’s great to spend time with people you love and also because the balloons are majestic and awesome to photograph.
    You go on opening weekend and it is packed! But it is a perfect day for balloons so the sky is also packed!
    You and your family get there early (~6 am) to see the first balloons go up. Included is this Wicked balloon, which you think is pretty neat because you are going to see Wicked later that day.

    You are among the first people to ever witness the Yoda balloon, which was unveiled this day.
  11. Learn how to use Adobe Illustrator in 3 days (your skills expand drastically when you NEED to make Figures)
  12. Go suit shopping with your friends the day you turn in your thesis. This is great because you get to shop for fancy adult clothes in celebration of turning in something epic and also you really need a suit for your defense talk…

    Here you are super nervous because your defense is the next day. At least the suit looks great!
  13. Go to your favorite undergrad conference to recruit new graduate students to CU even though you defend your thesis in a week. You’re stressed out, yes, but the students’ excitement to go to graduate school and learn is inspiring. Plus you have really cool conversations with your fellow recruiters, your sister (who is recruiting for her school), and some of your friends that you haven’t seen in forever (who are recruiting for their schools!)

    Look at you and your fellow CU grad students at the SACNAS 2014 conference, recruiting new grad students for your school! You look like a freak, but at least your friends look good. :)
  14. Be prepared to reanalyze your data at least 4 times while writing and then again right after you defend.
  15. Surprise your advisor by finishing everything on time even when she thought that “no one” could do everything in that short amount of time.
  16. Present your research to your family and friends with only one minor technical glitch that is easily solved. Do not lose your composure over the glitch or over the whole situation because your presentation turned out awesome and you really know your stuff!
  17. Shake hands with your committee faculty after your defense because you’re a doctor now! Yes, it feels weird and anticlimactic now but just keep smiling and it will slowly feel more and more real! Congratulations! Now it’s time to figure out what’s next…

PS – Is it obvious that you just read Neil Patrick Harris’ Choose Your Own Adventure Autobiography?

The one with the completed sewing projects

Can you tell I’ve been watching a lot of Friends?

Hey all! We’re still in the backlog of what happened to Potassium for the past few months so I today we are talking about the few sewing projects I’ve managed to complete while being completely overwhelmed in school. Yay!

First up we have the rice whale. I got the idea for this guy back during winter break when I spent pretty much the entire time at my sis in law’s house curled up with a rice frog made from Harry Potter fabric. It was awesome. I just popped him in the microwave for a minute and voila! Warmthhhhhhh… So I decided to make myself a rice creature of sorts… I went shopping with my mom for the fabric when we were visiting my family for new years. Then I went back to lab and got swamped and didn’t think about rice creatures for a while. Fast forward to April, my sis in law found me a pattern for what could definitely become a rice whale and my excitement was reignited! The pattern was in Russian so I kind of just guestimated about sizing and such and I made one total fail rice whale and one okay but not amazing rice whale before the one pictured above but yay! Rice whale complete! And I think I’ve got the pattern mostly figured out now too which is awesome. I wish grad school would stop trying to drown me so I could make more for family and friends….

Second up we have the shark hoodie. So I originally bought this hoodie to be part of a Halloween bat costume last year. For those of you who don’t know, I have a similar hoodie (except it’s blue) that got turned into a super awesome raptor costume for my first year of grad school. It’s still all raptor-y and I love wearing it. Last year, as a grumpy 6th year, I just pinned wings to my bat hoodie and then after Halloween was over, it got converted back into a normal black hoodie. However, when Cobalt and I were romping around NYC last month, I noticed that one of the pockets was starting to detach from the hoodie. Thus the shark idea was born. I should fix the pocket, yes, but how much more awesome would it be if I embroidered a shark over the pocket instead of just using normal black thread to fix the problem?! Wahahaha… I am proud to say that I used three different stitches here for the shark – chain stitch for his gills, the split stitch for his outline, and the satin stitch for his eyes. I found sewing this shark amazingly relaxing and healing after all the craziness in lab. AND now my hoodie looks way more awesome! :)

Now I need more art projects. Ideas? I found some crochet patterns for tiny sushi… Might be fun…. ;)

Potassium and her projects

Anyway, I apologize for never writing in here and being really bad about posting pictures that people are actually excited about (like from graduation or weddings I’ve recently attended). I have been saying that it’s because I am too busy and that is definitely true (I now have an army of undergrads – okay… 2 undergrads – to train in addition to doing all of my stuff) but I think that it’s partly that I’ve been kind of depressed lately. I get the feeling that my pictures aren’t going to be good anyway so why do I even try? And then of course I take lame pictures and I get mad at myself and go hide in the corner and am all emo instead. Also, lab work is actually starting to feel like it is destroying my soul. I am kind of having a life crisis about it – here I have spent years of my life training to be a scientist and what do I have to show for myself? Rage?! I hate it so much right now! It breaks my heart to think about how much time and effort I have spent working on something that makes me frustrated and infuriated and stressed out, etc. Here I am so close to finishing this degree I have wanted all my life and instead of feeling relieved and excited about the future, all I can see is how much work I have left to do and how much I just don’t care anymore. :-/

Whoa… that got deep for a minute. Anyway, I thought I owed you guys the truth so there it is. Now it’s your turn – ideas for new projects? Potassium needs some distractions from science, which is eating her soul. Also, if you know this feeling I am talking about, care to share some insight?

We’re Still Alive!

Helllloooooo everyone! It’s been forever since I’ve written a post. It’s so sad! I’ve missed you guys so much!

Anyway, it’s starting to be summer here in Boulder! It’s finally stopped snowing (maybe?) and a bunch of my friends graduated with their PhDs (stay tuned for pictures of my friends in their funny robes and hoods). It was a rough semester for me with the super sprained ankles (still healing…) and the crazy science all the time. Science is still crazy but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel! Last week, my thesis committee agreed to my (slightly crazy) plan to be ready to defend come mid September! So that means that as long as I don’t die of exhaustion soon I too will get to don a crazy robe and hood and be called Dr. Potassium. Wahahahahaha…

So yeah! It’s summer and I have a ton of stuff to talk about! Cobalt and I have been going to a bunch of concerts and plays (including seeing Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig and the Angry Inch last week in NYC) and I have fun graduation pictures, etc etc etc. Plus I want to update you on future plans/what it’s like being so close (and yet so far) to being done with the PhD program, etc. So let’s get these posts going again! Life is still insane with trying to graduate and such so I’m going to try to write in here maybe once a week (on Wednesday or Thursday I’m thinking). Who’s excited?! I am…

While you’re waiting for an exciting post next week, maybe you should update me. What have you been up to? Do you like the picture up there of me and Cobalt in NYC? I think it turned out really nicely…

This post is about pondering

I miss being able to ponder at the beach… I took this picture when my sis, Cobalt, and I headed to the beach on New Years Eve. It was a spectacular idea… :)

This month, I signed up to get e-mails from The January Cure, which is a challenge to get your house in order one day at a time. It was a lot of fun for the first few days until I headed back to lab after the holidays and then I had a sudden realization: I end up doing all the January cure assignments the weekend after they’re scheduled because I am never home. At first I thought that it’s just due to the fact that I’m in grad school and I have meetings at weird times and science that doesn’t understand what weekends are but I think that even when I am physically present in my home, I am not mentally present. I’m caught up in a mess of what do I need to do for tomorrow, what I should be doing right now, what I am going to eat for lunch tomorrow, what I am going to eat for dinner right now, how should I get to lab tomorrow (bus, bike, or driving?), how much do I hate grad school right this very instant, how many people are making me feel bad about myself, am I being grumpy to Cobalt, should I be getting ready for bed, is it going to snow, etc etc etc. I realized as I was cleaning the counters in the kitchen (this weekend’s activity) how much I am caught up in my head that I forget just to be alive and live. I have all these cool projects that I want to do and all these cool books that I want to read and all these delicious recipes that I want to use but I seem to be giving myself no time to do anything except be miserable. So then I took some time and curled up in my favorite bean bag chair in our office and read National Geographic. It was nice.

I’m learning that it’s important to think about the “intentions” we have behind our actions. For example, going for a bike ride with Cobalt is a lot more pleasant when the intention behind it is to be outside in the sun enjoying each other’s company even though it’s cold instead of OMG WE’RE FAT AND LAZY… MUST GO OUTSIDE. I think it’s going to be really useful to remind myself about intentions as I work on trying to finish my PhD this year. I have gotten really grumpy about science and my career in my “old” (grad school) age and I think it’s really crucial that I don’t let it ruin me.

In addition to pondering, cleaning my house and fighting tirelessly with science, I’ve been up to a lot of stuff lately! I went cross country skiing with some friends a few weeks ago, I made liquid nitrogen ice cream in lab last week, and Cobalt and I caught up with a bunch of friends this past weekend (including: friends from Albuquerque who were in town, friends who like eating hot pot with me and Cobalt, and married friends who like staying up late and laughing – seriously, we didn’t get home till 1 AM Monday morning…. :-/). What have you been up to? What are your New Years Resolutions? Tell me all the things!

Gustav wants to know

Where has Potassium been for almost a month!?!??!

He has a great point… Where have I been? I left off with promises of pictures and stories from all my adventures (including pictures from Germany!) and then I disappeared into the ether.

I’d say it’s safe to say that grad school temporarily won the fight against my time. This year has been crazy as I work hard to finish my project and figure out what’s next, etc etc etc… It’s definitely enough to cause a breakdown mmmm probably at least once a week. But really, that shouldn’t mean that you guys get ignored! You should be included so you can hear all about the insanity in real time! It’s crazy out there! Woooo!

Anyway, this post is mostly an apology (but not an excuse!) for my time away. Any requests for something you’d like to hear about? It’s been almost a month! A lot has happened (including my birthday!). As usual, I have pictures documenting almost everything. :D Also, how are you? Tell me everything! :) The holidays are coming up. Any fun plans?

I’ll leave you guys with one of my favorite pictures from my hike/fun with my new lens along the trails surrounding Boulder last weekend.

I just love how expansive it is. So much of the trail and the sky are included in the picture… And me! It’s weird that I have to be careful about my own shadow getting in pictures with the fisheye lens…

Back into the fray!

Hey everyone! I’m back from Germany! It was super fun! First of all, Heidelberg is an adorable town nestled in some mountains in Germany. You should be able to see that from that top picture here. The conference I went to was at EMBL which is a giant laboratory tucked into the forest above Heidelberg. I hung out with my friends as soon as I landed in Heidelberg (adventures will soon be posted) and then spent the next few days being bussed back and forth between the town and the lab for the conference. The conference was awesome. All of the talks were full of innovation and cool science (pretty sure that excitement was the only thing that kept me awake in the face of the death jetlag) and I made a lot of fun international friends! After the conference, I spent one day frolicking in Heidelberg and the surrounding areas with some of the cool people I met at the conference (again with the adventures being posted soon!).

Some more pictures:

Another favorite German word of mine is schloss or castle. I visited the castle with my friends the first day I was there and it was stunning. I learned so much European history… Look forward to a post on the schloss definitely. :)
My last day there, my new found friend T and I went for an epic hike (involving us getting lost a lot) in the mountain next to Heidelberg. The trees were so interesting!

Anyway, now I am back in Colorado. I’m super jetlagged still but life is insane in lab. I have to prepare (read: do multiple experiments) to give a presentation in a few weeks and if I really want to graduate at some point, I have to come up with what will ultimately be the “story” for my thesis. There’s actually a lot to talk about regarding my feelings about graduate school right now so I think maybe that will be in its own post soon.

Random questions below:
How are you guys? Is there anything specific you want me to definitely mention in my Germany (or Boston or San Antonio) posts? Do you want to know my favorite German word (it’s tchüss! – it means bye!)? I’m super frustrated with science/lab right now. Does anyone have any advice for relaxing/getting through hard work times? In other news, I am super excited that Allegiant finally came out today (where was it on my 10 hr flight back from Germany last week?!). Is anyone else a fan of the Divergent trilogy?

In other news, my blog is 3 years old today!!!! How did this happen?!

The eye of the storm

Success! The cannolis, pizelles, and other Italian desserts made it safely back from Boston (despite getting teased by TSA about the fact that there is more than 3 oz of cream in the cannolis… :/). Yummmmmmmmm…

Hey all! I’m back from the first two of my three conferences, enjoying this little break before I head out to Heidelberg, Germany tomorrow for the third conference! Epic…

How have you guys been? I am all right, despite having a pretty major breakdown about science/life/careers/etc right before I left for the first conference (more on that when I get back from Germany). Both conferences turned out to be really fun.

First I was in San Antonio for SACNAS where I was one of three graduate students from the University of Colorado recruiting future grad students and students for our summer research program (SMART). SACNAS is awesome because it’s both a science conference (with talks and poster presentations etc) but also a huge celebration of all of the cultures that make up this country. It is just such a fun and supportive place to be (just what I needed after feeling so down the day before)! Plus I had a great time bonding with my fellow graduate students. They helped me finish the poster I presented in Boston (and will present in Heidelberg). It turned out really nicely so I am super grateful for their help!

This was from the Pow wow at SACNAS. So many beautiful outfits and dances. We got to dance too and it was awesome!
We got serenaded by a mariachi band while out at dinner in San Antonio!

After recruiting at SACNAS, I took off for Boston for the Salmonella conference! I ended up flying with a bunch of retired Texans who were heading to the east coast to watch the leaves turn. We bonded right away in line for the airplane and it made for a pretty funny experience. Upon arriving in Boston, I met up with my lab mate Titanium and my boss and we headed to the conference together. The conference was kind of intense… who knew there could be 5 days worth of talks (and posters) about Salmonella?! For the most part it was very interesting and exciting to learn about all the different ways people can go about studying such a vicious pathogen. I now feel inspired to build my own super team of scientists from all scientific backgrounds to try to answer some really hard question (let me know if you want to join… I’m going to make us matching T-shirts!). It was also fun because 1) there were people from all over the world attending the conference (new friends!!!!) and 2) Boston turned out to be a really fun city to explore! I can’t wait to share some of my adventures with you but for now I will leave you with these pictures.

My favorite of the random pianos around Boston. I played Heart and Soul on it. :)
Titanium with two of our new friends the last day in Boston! :)

And now I am off to Heidelberg for my final conference. I have been learning some German words/phrases (turns out German is a SUPER fun language to learn) while traveling to my other two conferences. How exciting! Also, I just got an e-mail from some friends over there who are going to pick me up as soon as I get to my hotel and take me exploring! I feel so lucky and excited for this opportunity but also nervous about traveling so far away (even though I just went to Paris) and terrified that I am going to get sick… Maybe I should go buy some Emergen-C….

Now it’s your turn: tell me anything! If you are unsure where to start, you can tell me about a time where you did a lot of traveling in your life. How did you keep from getting sick? How did you go about exploring where ever you were (eating at various restaurants, going on tours, walking around, etc)? What is your favorite activity to keep from getting bored on the airplane? :)

Next step: traveling!

A picture I took as we left France…

So… in addition to all the other craziness going on in my life right now, I am gearing up to go to not one, not two, but THREE consecutive conferences next week. First step is SACNAS, a conference for minority STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) students that is near and dear to my heart. I went last year to recruit people for CU and I guess I did such a good job that they asked me to go back this again year! Yay! I am super excited about that! Also SACNAS is in San Antonio, TX this year and I have never been there… oooo new place! Then directly after that, I fly to Boston to attend a conference about Salmonella (for those of you that don’t know, that is what I am studying for my research project) with my friend Titanium and my boss. I have never attended a conference with my boss before so that should be fun. Also, a lot of big name Salmonella people should be there so it will be awesome to meet them and hopefully they can help me with the still mysterious parts of my project. After all of that, I fly back to Colorado for ~ 48 hours before taking off to go to Heidelberg, Germany (!!!!) for a conference about new techniques in microbiology. It is going to be awesome because there will be scientists from all over the world attending this conference! I feel very lucky/excited that I get to go to Europe twice in one year but I am also super nervous because I know absolutely NO German. At least in France, I could read signs and talk to people in my sub par/super slow/sometimes Spanish French. So that will be interesting…. Seeing how I got slightly culture shocked upon landing in France, I’ve bookended my trip to Germany with people that I know in the hopes that that should ease the transition to visiting another new country.

Now it’s your turn! Have you been to/lived in San Antonio, Boston, or Heidelberg? What should I definitely check out/eat/do there? Any travel tips for traveling with a poster roll as my second carryon (thrilling…)?

In other news, what have you guys been reading lately? I just finished Patrick Ness’ newest young adult book More Than This and I am still reeling from the crazy ending! Whoa!

PS – Patrick Ness is one of my favorite authors if you’re looking for a new set of books to read…

Everything’s better in orange!

Hey all, life is currently causing me rage and anguish so instead of a post, I leave you with this picture of my awesome orange hair. Cobalt and I had a hair dying party this weekend to commiserate life being meh right now and I think my orange turned out pretty well!

Now if only it would stop fading epically…

PS- who wants to guess what fun color Cobalt’s hair is?

The great defenders!

Some of the awesome girls in my class back in the first week of our first year of grad school… awwww we were so young!

Helllloooo everyone! I finished my committee meeting yesterday so I am back! I think it went pretty well. I analyzed a lot of data and didn’t sleep pretty much for the past two weeks so that I could put all of what I know about my protein in my presentation for my committee members. They were helpful in telling me what they think I should focus on that will tell the best story (i.e. so that I can write a paper/my thesis) so that I can graduate within the year. Yeesh… It’s going to be an epic year. That’s all I can say about that…

Anyway, for now I am happy to be back in a world where I don’t have to analyze data and think about my project every waking (and sometimes sleeping) moment. I have a lot of stuff to catch you up on but first, I want to talk about my two friends E and L who are both defending their PhD theses today! Congratulations you guys! You worked so hard and by the end of today you will be doctors!

And now a little back story. First, L is my first friend here in the state of CO. I met a lot of the people in my class all at the same time (recruitment weekend) but I actually met L at the University of Washington’s recruitment weekend two weeks earlier. The next weekend, she went to go check out a school in Canada while I checked out UC Davis and then we reconvened after that here at CU chemistry program’s recruitment weekend. I am so glad we both decided to come here. It has been an honor getting to know you L and I hope we keep in touch about what’s next for you!

Potassium and L (second from the right) with two other girls they met at the University of Washington recruitment weekend. I wonder where those two other girls ended up going to graduate school…

Now E! E is an organic chemist in my year but we decided early on that she is an honorary biochemist because we pretty much were inseparable our first year. E, I will never forget our horrible decision to go to Wendy’s and get milkshakes right before an indoor soccer game. It was worth it because we had to get caught up on everything but man… that was an interesting soccer game. Also E was my first photo buddy here in town because we got our DSLRs right about the same time. It was so much fun running around Boulder county learning how to take pictures with you. Also, I think we all had a blast at your wedding! I know you are about to head to Portland soon to join your hubby and I wish you the best of luck! Keep in touch friend, I will really miss being neighbors! :)

Potassium and E, photo buddies…

That’s all for today everyone but stay tuned because I have engagement pictures for you (hopefully) next week! :D So what has been going on in your worlds lately?