The Sceptical Chymist | Materials Girl: End of the beginning

Published in Chemistry

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[Posted on behalf of Materials Girl]

Just a few months ago, I was floundering to bring my projects to a reasonable stopping point and unify them into a coherent story (aka: my dissertation). The postdoc in our research group assured me that any self-perceived lack of direction and internal bursts of sheer panic were normal, while our sole PhD alumnus offered advice and described his similar tribulations on the road to graduation. YKW (my advisor) was perpetually ‘busy’ and stuck to his ‘hands off’ strategy, leaving me to forge my own path (and procure my own funding). More than once, I felt completely and utterly lost.

However, only one option existed. Nothing was going to keep me from earning my doctorate, so I pushed past the bouts of fear, anxiety, doubt, anger, and hopelessness. Even when the path was unclear, I set deadlines, sat down, and forced myself to crank out manuscripts. Although half of my projects ended up excluded from the dissertation, I made something out of what previously felt like nothing. I wrote frantically, I set my defense for April 1st (no joke), I made slides like a madwoman, and I finished.

And so, everything now ends, and begins – it is the end of my journey as a graduate student, and the beginning of a real career. Baby steps are still in order, to avoid freaking out about real life and my future. (Do people really know what they want to be when they grow up? At age 27, I’m still wondering). The next step is a postdoc position, which has been waiting for me since last fall and helped motivate the rapid progression toward finishing my PhD. I’ve moved out of sunny SoCal and joined the chemistry department of a small, STEM-focused school that works closely with one of the national labs. Time to return to my roots! Materials are still the basis for my research, but it’s refreshing to be back in an environment where, say, people know what NMR is or think that o-chem is actually fun – not a dreaded undergraduate requisite.

The future is no clearer to me, but it is brighter (and significantly snowier!). Call me Dr. MG. The journey wasn’t impossible after all.

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