Typically I’ve reserved this blog for posts that are directly relate-able for people other than just me, but every now and then there becomes a need to share my personal story. This is one such time.
I think life is full of defining moments. Most of these moments pass us by so quickly that it’s not until many years down the road that we look back and pinpoint that time as being pivotal. There are, however, a select few moments that are thrust in front of you in big, bold flashing neon letters saying “I will change your whole life.” I recently had such a moment. In order to do the moment justice I will provide some back story.
It started in college. Here I was a lowly sophomore undergrad having senior students calling me “Future Dr. Woessner.” It was a little intimidating and I brushed most of the comments aside with a smile, but even then my friends were recognizing something in me that I hadn’t quite accepted- I had a desire for learning that would push me a lot farther than four years at college. Meanwhile, I patted my pre-med track friends on the back and wished them luck, deciding that 5-7 more years of school was not for me. Fast forward to senior year as I prepared to graduate with a BA in exercise science. I realized I still wanted more. I still felt like I didn’t know enough. I hadn’t mastered my subject. So, I went to get a Masters.
Throughout my time at UNC Chapel Hill I was challenged in ways I had never before experienced. I found myself in a constant state of reevaluation of both my personal and professional goals. Though I am thankful for the education I received and the experiences that got me where I am today, I walked away from UNC with my MA and more confusion than ever about my next step. I told myself I’d take a couple years to decide if a PhD was in my future. The best piece of advice I got in regards to earning a doctorate was to be 100% sure and have no doubts walking in, and after UNC I had a lot of doubts. I had some solid networking in place from UNC and ended up in a clinical research trials position at Duke. I settled in and quickly decided that I’d just enjoy my time in the “real world” and jokingly told friends who inquired about a PhD being in my future that I would need “a big old sign” to ever go back to the academic world. And so I let the idea of a PhD slowly slip out of the forefront of my mind and enjoyed my time at Duke.
Recently my boss shared with the research staff that he was being recruited by a university in Melbourne Australia. We all had a good nervous laughed and respectfully asked what the chance of losing our jobs was-minimal he replied. We all went about life, business as usual, until it started to become apparent that what once was an off-the-wall offer had now become a legitimate choice. And suddenly the choice wasn’t just for my boss, it was a PhD opportunity for me. If he chose to go, he had funding to bring in a couple PhD candidates, and somehow one of the slots was mine for the taking.
Fear immediately took hold of me. Australia? ME? Anyone who knows me knows that I am a homebody in every sense of the word. I have lived in a 30 mile radius since I was 8 years old, and I am that child who begs and pleads to come home for both Thanksgiving AND Christmas every year (granted, I don’t have to whine THAT much, but still). Could I really be that far away? I googled time differences (+15 hours), studied world maps, and read all the articles boasting about how many different ways you can die in Australia. Somehow, even after days of research, I found myself quietly thinking that I would go if he goes. I found myself dreaming about a PhD (in-between the dreams about being stranded in the outback surrounded by snakes and kangaroos). I started looking at US PhD programs realizing that this desire for more school had been suddenly re-awakened. I came to the decision that Australia option or not, Fall of 2015 I would be at a PhD program. I reached out to advisers across the US and updated my CV. I was a future PhD student at this point, I just hadn’t picked a program.
About three weeks ago now my boss made his choice. My defining moment was at my fingertips in the form of an email sent close to midnight: “We are going…adventure awaits.” There was more dialogue in the middle, but these first and last words will forever be the ones I remember. In an instant I knew this was it. It was my defining moment (and for those who read the whole backstory–this was that “big ole sign” I talked about needing). I had adventure and education all in one golden opportunity laid out in front of me. One of my biggest regrets from college was not studying abroad and here was my way to rectify that in grand style. I realized with a bit of shock and horror that I’d already made up my mind to go. I called my best friend and called my parents. I think I managed to get out the words “I’m going” before I started crying, but honestly my memory is a bit hazy on that night’s events.
Many details are yet to be worked out—there are passports to get, the program to apply to (I have a spot there through my boss/adviser, but the applying still has to happen), visas to obtain, bank accounts to change, etc. The more I think about it, the more overwhelmingly crazy it all seems. When I told my friends it was still a mixture of excitement and terror. “Who does this,” I kept saying. “Who goes to AUSTRALIA for four years to get a PhD?”
Me. I do. I’m scared, nervous, and excited all at once. I keep waiting to be pinched awake as this doesn’t feel like reality, but it is. Next year I will be in Melbourne Australia pursuing what I realize to be a lifelong dream of a PhD. My family and friends have been nothing but supportive as I make my plans to actually LITERALLY be the farthest possible distance from them all (sorry guys). This is my time and this is my next step. My blog title couldn’t be more fitting than it is right in this moment…because for me, it most certainly is “time to begin.”