Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Graduation Weekend...and beyond.

The doctor is in...

Well...after nearly 8 years in graduate school, 2 degree tracks (MS and PhD), 5 field seasons in Antarctica, 6 visits to the ice-core lab in Denver, countless hours coding in matlab, months of writing and editing, over a dozen courses taken, and literally thousands of scientific papers read....

It finally all ended this past weekend.  Despite my successful defense late last year, I purposely delayed my graduation until Spring so that I could finish up my manuscripts and have a little more time to job hunt.  It was really hard last year having all of my paperwork done, but not be able to turn it in.  This past Saturday though, all of that was forgotten, as I did finally get to walk across a stage, shake the University president's hand, and have my doctoral degree conferred.  My mom and sister, as well as C were all able to come as well, which made it even more wonderful.  The fact that it happened on mother's day was an added bonus too!

The entire weekend was a blur, a whirlwind of travel and planning.  I knew that my sister wouldn't be bringing my 2 year old nephew with her, so I decided to head up to see them on the Thursday before graduation.  Then, we could all drive down together for the actual graduation on Sunday night.  First thing Friday morning we all headed to Niagara Falls for a whimsical visit to the falls.  We had a great time and my little nephew loved it.  We went to both the Canadian and American Falls, and it was during this trip that I learned my nephew will likely one day become an ultrarunner like me!

Canadian Falls

American Falls (with lots of snow/ice still hanging on)

Water plunging over the American Falls

My nephew showing off his new ultrarunning skills.  I predict a sub-14 hour hundred-miler in his future.

After our trip to the Falls, we headed back to Rochester for the night.  The next day, I decided to again run my childhood hometown ultra.  Last year, on a whim, I signed up for the 12-hour Mind The Ducks race in Webster NY.  The race is on a 1-mile loop about 5 miles from the house I grew up in, and only about 2 miles from my old high school.  I hadn't planned on running it again this year due to graduation, but once I decided to come up early, I figured why the heck not.  I knew I would have to leave a few hours early, so was not going in with the plan of "defending my title".  Last year, somehow, I managed to eek out 72 miles and come away with only my 2nd overall win at an event.  But, despite the rarity of such an occurrence, I knew this year would simply be about having fun.  I also knew the forecast was predicting mid-80's temps with high humidity, so I wasn't thrilled with the idea of going out hard.  

I took it easy most of the day, and had a soft goal of 50 miles in 10 hours.  I ran a conservative 9-10 min/mile pace and tried to keep smiling.  The heat of the day did get pretty rough, so everyone slowed down significantly.  I remember walking quite a few more laps than last year.  Still I managed to enjoy myself and rack up some decent mileage.  Like last year, I also knew that I'd be running 3 Days at the Fair in less than a week, so I didn't want to push hard at all.

Sometime around 4 pm I realized I was on pace for a little over 50 in 10 hours, so I planned to hit 52 and get the double-marathon award.  I ended pushing a little bit harder and getting 54 total when it was all over,  and pulled myself out of the race just over 10 hours so that I could drive back to Pennsylvania before it got to be too dark.  Overall, it was another excellent experience at the event, and I was thrilled I made the last minute decision to run again.  It is really a lovely looped course.  Next year I'll hopefully be able to return with a full 12 hours, to give myself another honest chance at a top finish!

Just before the start, enjoying a calm morning by the ponds

A nice reflection shot of the ponds

Race Start

Runners heading around the loop

An early morning photo from when it was still cool
(photo : R. Heerkins Jr.)

After 10 hours of running, I decided to say hi to the locals.

More geese

Baby geese!

Before heading out of town, I stopped to get a world famous Abbot's soft-serve ice cream with sprinkles.  I figured that my 54 miles made it well-earned!

...And then....Sunday morning finally came.  After what seemed like an eternity, it was finally the dawn of my graduation day.  I woke up that day a graduate student, and would go to bed a certified Doctor.  I couldn't wait.  All the hard work, all of the hours of research, and even the countless hours and hours of self-doubt about whether or not I'd actually finish, were about to FINALLY be resolved. I would walk across a stage and be introduced for the first time ever as Dr.

I was eternally grateful that all of my family came down for this day.  I know that it was a lot of travel for everyone, and I was so appreciative that I could share in the day with others.  The ceremony itself was pretty standard.  Degrees were conferred, speeches given, photos snapped, and hands shaken.  In the end, it was all pretty routine, but during the entire 3 hour ordeal, I just couldn't wipe the goofy grin of my face.  I never attended my Masters Degree commencement, so for me, this graduation held somewhat of a double meaning as well.  It was a surreal contentment that I felt, and at many times I even got really choked up.  I particularly recall a moment when the University president asked us to turn around, look for our families in the crowd, and then acknowledge them all for all that they've done to help us get to this point.  That was a really difficult moment for me, especially since my dad was not there to see it all.  I know he was definitely a big part of me getting through so many of my low points. for everything.  Miss you.

Figured it best just to show some pics from the day, rather than bore with the details of the ceremony.

Putting on the gown for the first time!

Me and Mom

Me and Carri (sister)

Me and C

Entering the arena....can you spot me?

The distinguished deans and speakers

Ready to walk on stage to receive my degree.  My advisor  (Prof. Alley) is standing right in front of me.

Receiving my Degree!

And the Dr. is in....

Finding my seat, clutching my diploma for dear life!

And it's over....

Myself, my advisor (Prof. Alley), and another one of his students (Nate)

5 years of work for this...

Myself and Prof. Alley (my advisor)

The family

me and C

I thought I'd also attach the two most important pages of my dissertation, at least in my eyes...




What's the big news moving forward John.  Well, I'm happy to say that I am moving to start a new job!  I'm heading up to New Hampshire to start a new job as a Research Scientist at a lab that specializes in Cold Regions research.  In other words, I'll be working on a lot of great projects associated with Arctic and Antarctic research.  I'm really excited about this new opportunity, about the people I'll be working with, and with my new location.  So wish me luck moving forward!  I'm definitely eager to start playing in the White and Green Mountains of both Vermont and New Hampshire.  Lots of potential crazy trail adventures in my near future for sure.

In the coming weeks I'm sure I'll share more information regarding the big move as things progress further.  For now, this is about all I can say with certainty.

In other quick news, I did end up running 3 Days at the Fair again this past weekend, and I plan to do a full write up on that.  I managed to eek out 248 miles (2 more than last year), for a new 3-day best.  I was really hoping to break the mythical 250 barrier, but I came up just a tiny bit short.  I guess that gives me a goal for next year!

Finishing an early loop at 3 Days...


Ultra Monk said...


ScottyD said...

Congrats Doc.

Anonymous said...

Congrats John - a great achievement. Also, white and green mountains should keep you occupied. --RA