I was fortunate to spend almost all of September and the first few days of October (about 3 1/2 weeks in all, plus about 3 days of travel time) in gorgeous South Africa, the country that sometime next year will become my base of operations. One of the best benefits of being a graduate student, if you have the right advisor, is that you can make your own work schedule. I meet with my advisor regularly, about once a week. Aside from those weekly meetings where I give my advisor a quick update and she- well- advises me, I have completely free reign.
I make my own schedule, manage my own time, decide what I am going to do on a certain day, and so on. I like this arrangement- I can work on writing my papers when I feel like thinking, and I can go mindlessly pick crystals when my brain is feeling tired. There is always much to do, but fortunately the tasks are varied. Sure, there are the occasional deadlines- time booked on a mass spectrometer, a meeting with a co-author, a conference, or a committee meeting. But most of the time I am just steadily working on my thesis.
I make my own work hours, too. I try to keep somewhat regular hours- I show up to the office between 9 and 10 am and leave by about 6 or 7 pm. I often work an extra hour or two after dinner, sometimes from home if I am feeling tired. Other grad students work crazy hours, though. I am almost always the first one in the office (there are 5 girls in our office) in the morning. For some reason, the other girls in my office are mostly nocturnal. This seems to be a common trait among graduate students, but it doesn’t matter as long as they do their work.
One of the especially great benefits of being a 5th year graduate student is that I already have much of my data in hand. I am still working in lab at present, but I should have all of my data by this coming January or February. Then, I’ve got about six months to just write. Well, do some modeling and write, but mostly write… and writing- theoretically, at least- can be done from anywhere on the planet.
Since I already have a big chunk of data in hand, I convinced my advisor to let me work on writing for a month from South Africa so that I could visit my fiance. In truth, only worked at about 1/2 or 3/4 speed… I took 10 days of vacation and I didn’t work any nights or weekends. But I did work, and I was able to live in South Africa for nearly a month. As difficult as graduate school can be at times, this is an amazing benefit- if I had a “real job” it would be much more difficult for me to say to my boss, “Hey, how about I work from Africa for a month?” and for my boss to reply, “Sure, that sounds fine. I’ll see you in a month.” Yet, this is pretty much the conversation my advisor and I had.
Anyway, I digress… what I really want to say in this post is that even when I am on vacation I am drawn to geology.
Graduate school is *very* difficult at times. Just before flying to South Africa, I had a very challenging committee meeting where one of my committee members ended up screaming at me (I’ll leave it at that… academics! Ugh!). I was very tempted to run away to South Africa and not finish my PhD. However, I did come back. Recently, I’ve been surprised by many of my graduate student friends saying, “Oh, how was your fieldwork in South Africa? Did you get some good rocks? Your pictures look amazing.”
I was confused about this until I started thumbing through my vacation pictures (which I had posted on facebook, of course) and realized that in a good 1/4 to 1/2 of them my fiance and I are looking at rocks. On our vacation. Now that I think about it, that’s pretty much what we do on all our vacations… sometimes we also look at animals. But basically, we go hiking and look at rocks.
So, I guess I need to finish this PhD in geology so that I can add some solid credentials to my innate love of rocks…
I’ll try to post another Geology Word of the Week(ish) in the near future. In the meantime, here are some rockin’ vacation photos from South Africa. I hope you enjoy!
Baboons, because as I said we sometimes also look at animals. But don’t worry- there are rocks in the background of this shot! The picture is slightly blurry because the fiance refused to let me go too close to the baboons, which apparently have very sharp teeth.