The enigma that is the PhD

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A PhD has always been in the cards for me.  I idolised it in college, denied it after my masters, and chased it after a few years in the workforce. It was something that, on some level, I think I always knew I wanted to take on. I think originally I sought the challenge. I wanted to see if I could really achieve that “highest” level of education, but beyond that, the more I learned in high school, college and graduate school, the more I wanted to learn MORE. I never wanted to leave this amazing “safe space” of exploration. Within the university walls, intellectual curiosity wasn’t just encouraged, it was expected.

So here I am, chasing that dream of having two simple letters placed before my name. I’d be the 4th Dr. Woessner in my family, and the only one earning that title on foreign soil. Every day I’m thankful to be going through this process (ok, well, maybe every other day or so…we all have our “off” moments) and though I remain just as driven to achieve that final outcome, I think somewhere in the last two years while I kept the “what do I want,” I’ve changed my “why.”

I always thought a PhD was that big thesis you write at the end. So my why was always, to prove that I can finish a thesis. For my non-academia centred friends, the thesis is that giant book of a document you construct to illustrate to the “world” (not really the world, the only people who likely every read your thesis are your supervisors, external reviewers, and maybe an extremely overly supportive parent) what you wanted to learn, what you actually learned, and why it mattered. For the longest time I thought this document was the PhD. Writing it, after all, marks the “finish line”… so it makes sense that you define the process by the product right?

Wrong.

While most people know the end product of the PhD, the actual process of GETTING it is shrouded in mystery. It’s like a secret society. A process best described by the following quote: “From the outside looking in, you can never understand it, from the inside looking out, you can never explain it.”

The PhD is not just a document. It’s a cult.  It’s a life. It’s a world all in its own. The further down the “rabbit hole” you go, the harder it is to poke your head back out and breathe. The only people who truly understand the extremes are the ones living through it beside you. There’s this instant state of camaraderie with any of fellow candidates. There’s an unspoken agreement to avoid “how far along are you” and “how’s your writing,” but then, even WE can’t help but to ask the questions now and then. Because we know. We get it….and let’s be honest, we are kind of curious about your progress so that we can adequately gauge our own.

But even though we innately “get” the journey we are cumulatively on, each individual is still walking their own walk. You can have research teams, groups and programs, and you can even be in the same college or university, but at the end of the day, you are the only one going through your journey. Because of this, it can be a very lonely road…if you let it.

This is the other side of the PhD, that no one really wants to talk about. The part where you spend long hours questioning every aspect of your project and all the decisions that you made, whilst simultaneously running through the countdown clock in your head. 4 years until I don’t have a scholarship, 3 years…2….1….

I guess what I’m trying to say is, the PhD is far more than the finish line. I know from the outside looking in, “when will you finish” is the only question some of my friends and family know to ask, but from the inside looking out, sometimes that’s the last thing we want to here….partly because there’s no easy answer to that. We are in a race against time are really our only hope for when we finish is that WE finish before our scholarship finishes.

I’m in the middle of my venture. I’m past the new and shiny phase of the project, but not quite to the complete disillusioned state. I still love my project. I still love the world and life I’ve created here, but it’s hard. My days, to a certain extent, will be on replay for the next 14 months or so as collecting data for my clinical trial is slow going. I’m doing other things, of course. Like almost every PhD student I know, I too am teaching, writing, and finding any  unique ways to improve my resume. I’ve also taken on a role at the university where I am helping to develop course content for several masters and undergraduate classes, and blending them into online videos and content. It has been such a steep learning curve, but something I’m sure will really help me when I am out job hunting one day.

It’s not all tough going….during your PhD you have some of the greatest “job” flexibility of your life– depending on the project you’ve set up. Mine, for instance, is an ongoing clinical trial. I am constantly enrolling new heart failure patients, and each patient undergoes about 9 testing visits over the course of 8 weeks, whilst also consuming the correct colour and dose of beetroot juice (my intervention of choice). This means that, for all intents and purposes, my project is always running, making it very hard to ever just “take a holiday.” Sure, I can work from home, and maybe take off early now and then, but if I want my project to ever be finished, I (and any holidays I want to take) am my own biggest obstacle.

Maybe for some people getting a PhD really could just be about conducting a study and writing a paper, but I think by taking that approach you would miss an incredible opportunities for self growth. Every day I learn something new about my project, my field of study, and most importantly about myself. So sometimes I think it’s good to sit back and be thankful for where I am. My what hasn’t changed. I am still doing a PhD. But my why is no longer just to face the intellectual challenge of completing a thesis. My why is because I want to challenge myself. I want to challenge my way of thinking, my determination, and the person I want to become.

This PhD isn’t about developing a project. It’s about developing myself.

What a life.

What an opportunity.

What a privilege.

Three Minute Thesis

The idea of condensing your entire thesis project down into three minutes is almost laughable. Seriously. I’m just about a year and a half in, and already my project seems SO BIG that there’s no way I’ll ever be able to write enough words to do the study “justice.” So when I saw this competition advertised, I was truly intrigued. How on EARTH could people do this?

I remember going to the three-minute thesis competition last year. I rocked up to the lecture room somewhere around halfway through the presentations. There were maybe 15-20 people competing in the heats, and I made sure to catch the ones of people from my College. I was a spectator preparing to be entertained.

And boy was I. The talks were so good. Sure some presenters struggled a bit more than others. Some lost their place during the talk, or had a few too many “technical” terms, but overall, everyone in the audience could walk away generally having some idea about a myriad of drastically unique studies occurring at the University.

I found myself thinking about what words I would use if I were to present some day. Between presenters I distinctly remember musing to my friends about my silly “beet” puns and how I would give it a go sometime. And that was the last I thought about the competition.

Until 2.5 months ago. We received an email about the competition and something about it just struck me. I didn’t know how I could do it (after all, I’ve just BARELY started my study and last year the winner was already DONE), but I wanted to try.

The rules were fairly simple. Each presenter has 3 minutes (strictly 3 minutes—they had a countdown clock and everything), to present their research. Judges mark the performances based on content, delivery and engagement. You are allowed one static slide, no props, no costumes, and your speech must be in blank verse (no fancy rhyming or singing). Easy. No problem. I can speak for 3 minutes on MY research area.

So I signed up and got to work. Draft one. What was I thinking? Why on earth am I doing this? It’s not at all easy.

Woodrow Wilson (I think it was him) said “If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.”

And man. That quote has never rung so true. It seemed my first draft of my speech just got longer and longer and every time I tried to “edit” it down, I faced an internal battle of debating how important that one sentence, that one WORD was to the entirety of my project.

I finally got the timing about where I wanted and it was time to run my words by a test audience. Thank goodness for having some guinea pigs (I mean, housemates) nearby.

Never before have I realized just how “technical” some of the words I use in my field are. Here I was thinking I had simplified my topic too much, when in reality, my entire 180 seconds were littered with scientific jargon.

Exercise Capacity. Well yes, we can maybe guess what you mean, but what does it REALLY mean? 

Peripheral and central factors? Peripheral to what? What are you trying to say?

Beyond just the individual words, I had unknowingly written the entire talk in the format of a formal research presentation. Fantastic for a conference. Terrible for engagement of a lay person audience.

Draft two….ok they understand it now. Fix the words.

Draft three…. The university hosts a training. I realize that mine is way too long. What do I REALLY want to say?

Draft four….Supervisor. Help.

Draft five….ok. I think this works.

Unfortunately, draft five was finished precisely a day and a half before the competition date. I spent the next 36 hours in a state of pure panic as I paced the halls, office and bus stops talking to myself in a variety of tones and pitches with fairly energetic hand motions.

The day of the competition I’m in full panic mode. I am the very last presenter of the day so naturally, I have NO idea what anyone before me said as I used each of their countdown clocks to practice and time my own silent rehearsals. The presentation itself was overwhelming. I stumbled through a few parts, but other than that have next to no recollection of those 180 seconds.

We had 18 people presenting. One individual from each college (there were 5) would be chosen as the college winner to go onto the finals. Additionally, the overall winner and overall runner up would move forward as well as the people’s choice (who the audience voted for). I had next to no confidence going into the announcement, but somehow walked away with People’s Choice award, and a spot in the finals in 4 weeks time. Oh man. Now I have to go again….

I spent the next four weeks really trying to fine tune my talk. We received “feedback” from the judges. I use “” because the feedback I got was “great presentation” and “include more methods.” Cool. The university held another training day for the 8 finalists, and between that and many more practices at home with the housemates, numerous late nights of whining to the best friend, and countless train rides spent muttering to myself, I was finally ready for the Victoria University finals.

I spent the morning in a panic (fairly typical for me pre-presentation). By the time the competition was kicking off, my nerves were calming and my excitement was rising. My biggest fear is forgetting my words (and when you have 490 of them to say in less than 180 seconds, I think that’s a reasonable fear). I knew my words though. I had them memorized by heart. I just needed to get out of my way and stop thinking. Just tell your story. You know your story. Be you. Stop thinking about the words and think about the story. It was the best advice I got (thanks Aurèlie). I got out of my head. I stopped rehearsing. I was in the moment. I handed over my phone so I had no distractions. I had no one to panic to. I was just there. Waiting to go. I was second.

The stakes were high. The winner from this round, we were told, would go on to represent the University at the Asia Pacific Finals in Brisbane, Australia at the end of September (in addition to a nice cash prize). Runner up would receive a cash prize and people’s choice would win a pretty hefty gift card to the campus store. Beyond the prize though, all the presenters shared the same motivation of just not wanting to MESS UP in front of a video camera, live audience, and our supervisors.

When I stood up, I took a deep breath. It felt like 30 seconds (I’m told it was more like 5-10). I smile, and just went for it. Line by line, the next words just kept coming. I focused on the audience. I found smiling, nodding faces and spoke right to them. I got in a rhythm and forgot I was even nervous. Wait, what’s the time. Am I on time? I glanced at the clock. Ahead of time. Slow down. I did. I got to my final line and brought it home. Relief flooded through my entire body. I wanted to collapse in my chair. I did. I felt good. At that point, the outcome didn’t matter because I knew that was the best I could have done.

Over the next 45 minutes we got through the other presentations. One by one we all started smiling. It’s over. It’s done. We were dismissed for food while the judges deliberated. I was immediately engulfed in hugs and congratulations. Guys, we don’t even know how I DID yet. The best friend was literally more excited than I was. She had sent me a flurry of texts right after my presentation (that I didn’t get until after because I didn’t have my phone….SHE had my phone). I had a picture from the boyfriend that was a selfie of him with my supervisor as they somehow ended up sitting beside each other. There was so much support from my friends and colleagues and supervisors. And there was food. And so we waited.

And waited. And waited.

Finally the judges came out. After the necessary thank you’s and congratulations, they announced that the decision was so difficult that they actually selected TWO presenters for the runner-up award. But first, they called people’s choice.

Mary Woessner

What. Wait. Me? 

 I went up, accepted my prize and couldn’t stop smiling. They then announced the two runner up places. Neither were me. At this point, I’m in a state of nervous, confused, perplexed wonder. Either I wasn’t even close to the top…or….no…surely not. I hadn’t even won my college heat in the last round. I wasn’t the winner or runner up either. No…surely not.

And the student who will be flying to Brisbane next month to represent Victoria University at the Asia-Pacific Finals is….Mary Woessner.

No freaking way.

They called me up. They called my supervisor up. There were photos and smiles and all the fanfare you would expect. It was unreal. All my friends had stuck around to congratulate me and all I could think was uh oh…now I have to do this again!

It was an awesome experience. The competition pushed me to my limit. It took so much longer than I thought. It took so much more energy than I thought, but in the end, I’m really proud of where my speech got to. I have no idea what the next month’s training will be like (I’ve been warned it is intensive), but no matter what happens, this was been one heck of a ride. And I’m so thankful for everyone who has supported me on this journey so far.

(Pictures from the day from top left to right: The supervisor and boyfriend selfie they were so pleased about, the acceptance of the award with my supervisor, the overall winner certificate. From bottom left to right: the people’s choice winner certificate, a random photo from the ice hockey match we watched later that night, chosen because it pictures my biggest cheerleader throughout the entire competition–told you you should have smiled for the photo).

 

 

 

PhD Students…we run the world

It’s hard to explain what being a PhD student is like because every experience is so unique. While success in the endeavor requires all aspiring students to possess a few standard qualities such as self-motivation, determination, and a certain level of intellectual curiosity, the journey one takes toward the finish line is a very personal one. Two students setting out on the same path, even in the same field of study, would have vastly different experiences based on how they choose to approach their research, who their supervisors are, the environment they are working in, and their own personal motivation and drive.

I knew coming into this PhD program that there would be long hours. I knew that this was a marathon, not a sprint, and I knew I had a LOT to learn….what I didn’t know, however, was how quickly I would become invested in my project and how simultaneously lost and found I would become in my research. Obviously prior to starting the candidature process I had a passion for clinical exercise physiology, but my path to a PhD started long before I knew anything about the clinical realm.

Like most people in the sports science field, my passion for exercise science began from my obsession with athletics. As a lifelong athlete, when I found out that I could major in “Sports” at college, I was immediately won over. What could be better than working with high performance athletes? Forever driven by my competitive nature, I knew working with other athletes was my dream job. I very quickly learned, however, that of all the students who endeavor to work professionally with athletes, maybe only about 10% actually make it. Undeterred, and knowing I needed something better than a bachelor’s degree to “make it” in the field, I progressed to a masters in Exercise Physiology.

It was in my masters program that I was first introduced to clinical research studies and the exercise is medicine movement. A shift was happening whereby exercise training was becoming more mainstream and starting to be recognized as a medical intervention to aid in both treatment and prevention of diseases. How cool. I mean, obviously we all intuitively KNOW exercise is good for our health, but gosh it’s just so much work to wake up early to get in a workout before work. But what if you knew that just 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week can dramatically improve your health outcomes. What if you knew that regular exercise could combat high blood pressure in similar magnitudes as some medications?

This exercise is medicine movement is what first sparked my interest in clinical exercise physiology. I loved the idea that exercise could act as a treatment in lieu of medications, and, in some cases, actually be MORE effective. Over the next few years my interest in clinical populations slowly became a focus…and before I knew it these patients were my passion. As cliché as it may sound, I found myself finally feeling like I was truly making a difference in my little niche area of research. I was working with patients who could hardly walk 10 meters. Three months of an exercise intervention later and they were bragging to anyone who would stand still long enough about how they had walked all the way from their car without stopping, or how they did their grocery shopping with a cart instead of a scooter. I had one participant explain that for the first time they were able to get down on the ground to play with their grandkids, without worrying about how they would stand back up. Hearing all these stories made me realize that this is the type of research I want to be involved in. I was making a measurable, significant and quantifiable difference in the every day lives of these patients.

My PhD project differs slightly from my previous clinical work in that I have shifted to working with patients with heart failure. I have no prior experience in this population, but I have spent the last 6 months learning everything I can about the disease pathology, progression and prognosis. I will be working with some of the most fragile clinical patients, which is both exciting and daunting. Exciting because these are the people who need interventions the most, but daunting because they are typically very physically compromised. While I won’t be incorporating an exercise intervention in my project (while 3.5 years seems a long time for a PhD, it’s actually quite short for a clinical trial), I will be testing the effects of a natural dietary intervention (yay beetroot juice) on exercise tolerance in heart failure patients. Before you scoff at the idea of beet juice, go Google some articles on exercise performance following beet juice supplementation. There is some pretty cool data. I won’t go all science-nerdy on you just yet (I’ll save that for when I reach expert status in my PhD process), but I will say that there has been promising data from both healthy people and clinical patients demonstrating the benefits of beet juice on exercise performance.

So for me, my PhD journey started a long time ago. My project is now set. I know what I am working towards. Pieces may be tweaked, but the overall concept is pretty much in place. Even so, this process leaves me in a constant state of learning, development, and self-reflection. Working on a PhD is unlike any other degree. You are truly in charge of your own education, and while homeschooling for most of my life definitely taught me the power of independent learning, this level of studying is a whole new extreme. Some days I literally get lost in the literature, only to emerge hours later wondering where the daylight went. But I truly wouldn’t have it any other way. I am being paid to learn everything I possibly can. I have been given 3.5 years to focus on one area of a field that I have a deep passion for. Three and a half years to make some meaningful contribution to the study of a disease plaguing millions of people worldwide. And, on a more self-indulgent level, I have been given 3.5 years to build myself into the strong, independent, confident researcher I’ve always wanted to be.

Everyone’s journey is unique. This is simply my story. Hopefully this gives a small insight into my motivation and passion for my chosen field. One of the things I value most about this experience is sharing it with other students who are equally as passionate and motivated as I am, but in a completely different focus area. While we can’t always help or advise each other on methodologies or recent articles, we can share in the experience of taking an idea, formulating a hypothesis, and changing the world, one dissertation at a time. Ok, fine…maybe we won’t all change the WORLD, but if my research somehow made a difference in the life of even just one person, that would be good enough for me.

On that note, I’ll share a piece of writing I particularly identify with…a poem I discovered many years ago at a LeaderShape conference (spoiler alert, it’s the one in the featured image of this post, so if you read it there, feel free to disregard the following):

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Updates on Oz

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Following countless questions in regards to my plans to trot across the globe, I thought it best to provide some more details on my venture to the outback.

I have purchased a flight and officially depart the U.S.A on February 3rd, 2015. Yes, I know, it’s still months away, but since I found out in April and it is now mid October, I’m convinced time is flying past me, and I have already woken up once thinking my plane had left without me. Even harder than that transition of continents will be my departure from the great state of North Carolina- my adopted home state (in spite of despising sweet tea-sorrynotsorry) for the last 17 years. My family has since moved back to the Midwest (still planning to return to the east coast someday), but my “home” has always been here. I know this state, I know these people, and I love the life I have. So on December 15th (approximately) when I pile all my worldly possessions into my little hyundai hatchback (flashback to college when I did that for the first time), I will still feel like I’m leaving part of me here.

Anyway, back to updates. The application process for my planned graduate school in Australia was, to say the least, arduous. Due to changes in their system, a few glitches in the application (and maybe in small part due to the Aussie’s ‘no worries’ laid back lifestyle), it took over two months to get my full application in. Before the questions abound, yes I have a flight before I have a school, kind of. My situation is quite unique in that my boss from Duke (who now works in Oz) has a couple PhD spots available to offer at his discretion. So while I still need to go through the hullabaloo (wonder if the Aussie’s know that word!) of applying for both admission and a scholarship, I really just need to meet their minimums. Obviously meeting minimums has never been a mantra of mine,  so I put a fair amount of work into the application hoping to earn admission and scholarship off my own merits (but it’s nice to know that either way I have a place).

In any event, I won’t hear back about admission for a few weeks-months still and scholarships aren’t even considered til mid-December. Now you see why it’s pretty necessary to commit to a flight over early on, as if I waited for the actual news, my already pricey flight would’ve shot up like a rocket. My mom and I have previously joked about how selling my car was just so I could pay for the flight over (thankfully not true, but not terribly far off either).

Through a series of very FORTUNATE events, I’ve also been in contact with a potential roommate in Melbourne. The whole thing is a bit crazy, but I’ll save the story for when everything is set in stone, and I feel sure enough to type it without jinxing it’s perfection.

Contrary to popular belief, this is not a short-term move for me. For some reason, a vast majority of the people I’ve spoken to are under the impression that a doctoral degree takes only 1-2 years. Boy, I wish. Even with my Masters, and even with the course load abroad being less cumbersome (as the focus in international schools is research, while U.S. schools require 1-2 years of classes and then research), this adventure will last 3-4 years. It seems like a long time, and it is. This isn’t a semester abroad or a year of “toughing it out,” and it’s also not an Australian vacation. It’s an opportunity to advance myself in a field I love. I’ve had a lot of jobs throughout my life, but this is my big break to set myself up for a career (read more about my aussie adventure opportunity here: https://time2begin.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/defining-moment ).

I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from friends and family regarding this move and so much support. It still kind of surprises me, however, that the most common response is something along the lines of “you’re so brave.” Really? I don’t feel brave. I feel like anyone in my position would have made the same choice I did. Now maybe from your position (you might have a family, significant other, budding career, etc) it seems an impossible choice, but from my viewpoint, going seemed like not only the best choice, but the right one as well. Don’t get me wrong, when I first heard the opportunity was real, there were definitely tears, and I honestly can’t tell you whether they were happy or sad. Can you cry both at the same time? I feel it was both. I’m leaving everything I know for an opportunity to earn what I want in the unknown. So maybe it could be described as brave…I guess I can see traversing into the unknown in that light. To me, however, I’m simply reaching. I’m reaching past the limits I once set for myself. I’m reaching past the limits of where I thought my life would lead, and though it is a bit scary, it’s also incredibly exhilarating.

Everyone’s life won’t lead them to a new country or doctoral program, but we all have things we’d like to reach for but don’t because we see limits. True, sometimes in life there are indeed realistic limits to what we can do, but oftentimes the limits we see are self imposed. Stop setting limits. Stop throwing up walls because you think you can’t or think you shouldn’t. Reach high. I can’t say you’ll always touch the stars, but I promise if you don’t try, you’ll never even come close. Your future is unlimited…who are you to say otherwise?

Defining Moment

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.”