Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Once more unto the breach dear friends...

the stage is set,
the players are ready.

the ice beckons, and I shall answer the call.

What an incredibly trying month it has been.  I sit here now, on my couch, pondering over it all.  My perpetual stomach ache of the past few weeks is finally subsiding, and my mind is free to again be something other than single-focused.  I am free....at last.

What the hell am I rambling on about?

Imagine if you will...getting three root canals done, while sailing over rough seas, and being subjected to the music of justin bieber for 3 hours.   Then...multiply that by 10.  That's about how unpleasant my morning today was.  

In order to pursue a PhD at The Pennsylvania State University, you must pass a qualifying exam.  This exam, called "Candidacy" consists of preparing two proposals and defending them in front of your committee.   This turns into a session of: "lets pummel the student until they curl up in the fetal position in the corner whimpering".  Needless to say, it is a miserable, yet necessary evil.  

This morning, I stood in front of my committee and presented my proposals.  One of which I discussed moderately with my advisor beforehand, one of which was completely my own idea.  For three hours I scribbled half-remembered equations on the board, talked about grain-growth in polar firn, and tried to pound my proverbial fist on the table that my ideas were good ones.

At the end, after 3 hours, I was kicked out into the hall where I sat for 15 minutes wondering if I passed or failed.  Meanwhile, they sat in the room deciding my fate.  There is a 30% fail rate for this exam, and if you do fail, you might (i stress "might") get another chance at taking the exam.  In my case, I had already decided that I wouldn't be taking it again if I failed....that I would be quitting the PhD program.

15 minutes later the door opened to hand shakes.  I passed.  I wanted to vomit.  It was over.  Then I was told that I barely passed.  It was a "squeaker"...to use their words.  Basically, my proposals alone would have failed me...but my presentation and defense were good enough to put me over.......barely.

I can't stress enough just how horrible an experience this all was.  Even now, with a Pass in the books, and knowing it's over, I don't really feel much better.  I thought I would, but instead just feel really stupid.  I forgot basic things I should've known, and now they all know just how much I don't know.  It fundamentally has me wondering:

- Am I cut out for writing good scientific proposals?
- Am I cut out for really pursuing a PhD
- Just what is it that I want to do for a career after I graduate?  Teach, Research, Industry?

I have 2 months down on the ice to think about this.  To think about what I really want to do with a PhD.   My manuscript for my masters has been submitted, and I will have nothing weighing me down.  I shall look forward, and put this experience behind me.  I survived.  I passed. It's over.  Time to focus on the future.

My future is limitless.  When I feel aimless, and am doubting myself.  Like always, there's Tennyson to guide me.  To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.   

       Think but this....and all is mended....right?

Anyhoo, last minute logistics to take care of and I fly out to Antarctica Thursday morning.  The ice is calling, and I must go.

- John, PhD Candidate

WAIS Divide Arch at camp opening this year.  Almost completely buried.

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