Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Lost Student

I love lists.

I love making lists. I love ticking things off my lists. I love putting small things ("Check Bank Balance") as well as big things ("Write Paper") on my list. I love putting things on lists that I've already done just so I can tick them off. You get the picture.

Recently, I had two big tasks nagging me on my To Do list: First Year Report and First Year Viva.

In essence, every year of the English PhD culminates in an approximately 75-100 page report and a defense of that report...including the usual ragging you get from your professors at a thesis defense. As Richard can attest to, I spent 4 cranky, stress-filled weeks straight with no weekends preparing both the report and the viva. How did they end up?

Both. Were. Horrible. We'll cut to the chase...I don't know what I should know at this point, my advisors made that point painfully clear and continued on to bash the two papers I'm working towards publishing, and I ended up sobbing in the bathroom.

This was one of the only times ticking tasks off my To Do list was unfulfilling.

Now I realize that life in the PhD world is not rainbows and ponies (okay...maybe there are ponies in my fairy tale) and that your advisors are put into your life for the cold, harsh reality that is the scientific world, but man this experience broke my confidence. I reacted so strongly (either to my horrible writing or the criticism, or both) that I woke up with the stomach flu the day after my viva. The day after that, I was sent off to summer school in Bristol for a week.

I am not going to lie. My mind was elsewhere in an anxious, self-doubting place. I was seriously questioning my ability to complete a PhD. After our lectures were done each day, I wandered through Bath and Bristol wondering if I could just see the beautiful sights without having to endure the agony of academia. I felt completely lost.

In fact, I'm still not completely sure I'm capable of completing this PhD. I do know a few things about myself though.

  1. I work my hardest and do my best when people don't think I can succeed. Seriously. If you ever want me to do something, just say, "Hey Kelsey, I bet you can't......"
  2. Very few women graduate with PhDs, especially in the sciences. I accept that challenge.
  3. As much as I moan and groan about how tedious and annoying science is, I get immense joy having conversations comparing American, British, and Spanish severe weather...and that passion is what got me here in the first place. So I guess I can't hate the weather that much can I?

So what's the verdict? Well I've already made my next list...
  • Read. Get up to date on the knowledge and blow my advisors out of the water.
  • Work more effectively, play more effectively. That will make me better prepared to work every day and better prepared for my papers, reports, and vivas. And it will make me less cranky when I'm with my friends, family, and boyfriend.
  • Take criticism to mind, not to heart. Note what needs to change and move on.
  • Write a blog post about what I've learned from my viva.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Letting Go

When I turned 12, my dad convinced my mom to get me a horse because girls who are into horses are too busy to be into boys. I proved that I have plenty of time for both.

While I was in love with Toby and his incredibly bouncy trot from Day 1, he was definitely not so in love with me. He would buck every time I put my leg on him, was terrified of barrels (ruining my rodeo dreams in the first week I had him), refused to cross any ditch or stream or bridge, ran for the hills every time I came into the field to catch him, refused to get in the trailer, bolted away from trot poles, and spooked at his own shadow almost constantly.

With time, my riding became much better (well, it had to otherwise I would have been killed by this maniac!). My trainer began calling me sticky butt because somehow I would magically sit Toby's shenanigans. Eventually, Toby began to trust my judgement and was less of a pill, but he has always maintained a bit of unpredictability. Of course, we had good days and bad, but he began to love our rides and time together. Or maybe he tolerated our rides only because there were carrots and apples waiting for him at the barn.

Either way, we became partners and fell in love. I would say Toby was my first true love with all the ups and downs that brings.

I was lucky enough to keep Toby through my undergraduate and master's schooling through a series of leases by some wonderful women, including my horsie mother, Martha. That meant I could come home on vacation and ride Toby as if I was never away.

But last week, the time finally came for Toby to find a new family to torture/love. I've grown too tall for Toby and my leasees have moved on to bigger and better things. It's not fair to Toby to hang around for the once or twice a year I come back to visit him (oh...and I guess I visit my family as well). Thanks to a Craigslist miracle, Toby's found a new family with 5 kids and 2 other horses to love on him day in and day out.

From what I've heard, Toby hopped straight on the trailer, calmly hopped off, and has been following his new pasture-mates around. He lets the kids hop on and pet all over him. I'm still convinced they picked up the wrong horse.

While I'm still heartbroken and tear up thinking about letting Toby go, I'm so happy for my sweet boy. I hope his new family (and the 5-year-old girl who has claimed herself as Toby's new owner) learns as much as I did on Toby and that Toby has a wonderful, long retirement. Here's to you, Toblerone!

(Here's Toby at his new home)