Phew. It’s been a long time since I’ve made it over to this part of the internet!
As you probably know, the reason for my extended absence was an important one: I was finishing my PhD in Neuroscience. As noted on this blog, I really locked things down and got focused in July 2011. From then on, my days, nights and weekends were filled almost entirely with reading, writing, editing, writing, analyzing, and yet more writing. In mid-October, I locked down my defense date and things got even more intense as I was working under a non-negotiable deadline. I even skipped out on almost the entire Atlanta 3 Day, which was a heart-wrenching sacrifice to make. I have never worked harder on any one thing in my life than I worked on my dissertation during that time. It was stressful and ugly, but I got through it and thankfully, my husband didn’t disown me in the process. On November 15th, at around 2am, I was finally able to tweet the words I’ve been wanting to tweet since before Twitter was a thing:
When I wrote that, I had just sent out my finished dissertation to my thesis committee members. They had two weeks to review it, and on November 28th, I received five provisional approvals of my dissertation. A whirlwind of intense nerves and preparation then followed and on December 15th, I stood up in front of my friends, family, colleagues, and thesis committee and successfully defended nine and a half years of graduate school work. The whole process was a whirlwind and it took a while before it actually felt real. Truthfully, it still doesn’t feel real, even this many weeks later.
I knew that when I finished my dissertation and my defense, it would take me a little while to “recover”. It was a prolonged period of intense stress and it definitely took both a mental and physical toll on me. I thought that after two weeks of down time, I would pop back up, ready to jump into my old life again. That definitely hasn’t been the case. Over the weeks since my defense, I’ve been making a concerted to listen to what my mind and body needs and to just take it easy. I have been trying to restore my running and exercise routines (including racing for the first time since July on New Year’s Day!) and I’ve been taking care of some lingering health issues that cropped up while I was writing as well. I celebrated my success with friends and traveled to DC in mid-January for a dear friend’s baby shower. I even took a 10 day long trip with my mom that started with a day at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and involved a week long cruise around the western Bahamas. It was low key, relaxing and just what I needed. In short, I’ve been decompressing. It turns out, I desperately needed it, much more so than I initially thought.
At the Atlanta Track Club Resolution Run on New Years Day with Julie (left) and celebrating with some Atlanta “ex-pats” up in DC (right)
2011 was one of the hardest years of my life. In order to finally accomplish a serious career goal that has been hanging over my head for almost a decade, I had to shut down just about everything else in my life that brought me joy, happiness and fulfillment. As I was toiling over my computer and my stacks of papers last fall, I made a very important promise to myself: in 2012 and beyond, I am following my heart. It’s time to rebuild my life. It’s time to rebuild my friendships that have been languishing. It’s time to do myself a solid and focus on my health and fitness. It’s time to rediscover all of the things that I love about living in Atlanta. It’s time to restart old hobbies (like blogging!), pursue new interests and have fun. And most importantly at this juncture, it’s time to find work and a career that is fulfilling, challenging and meaningful to me. I fell out of love with lab research a very long time ago and without passion for that work, it became tortuous to put in the long hours that being a successful scientist requires. I’m ready for new challenges and I’m ready to fall in love with my work again.
Now that I’m feeling more like my old self again, I am starting to look at the big picture and make some decisions. Because my defense was so late in the fall, I missed the deadline for processing the paperwork for a Fall 2011 graduation. As such, I am technically still enrolled at Emory University through the end of the Spring 2012 semester, at which time my degree will be conferred. While I would have loved to have left all of that behind in 2011, this gives me some time to wrap up some loose ends around my lab. I am still revising my final manuscript, which will hopefully be published next summer. I am also jumping into my job search with both feet. I am pursuing job opportunities in the Atlanta area that will allow me to work at the intersection of science, communications, and advocacy. I am also looking to strengthen my background in public health and political advocacy through volunteer work and training with a number of biomedical health not-for-profit agencies. While I am going to be somewhat cautious in what I publicize about this process (especially on the job search front), I am anticipating sharing some my volunteer and training experiences with all of you in case you are likewise interested in pursuing more formal involvement in the not-for-profit area beyond the Race for the Cure/Relay for Life type activities. It’s going to be a little slow as I feel out the direction that I want this blog to move in (while respecting my hopefully future employers right to privacy), but rest assured, I have no plans of closing it down any time soon.
Finally, I would be remiss if I closed this “I’m back!” entry without acknowledging the recent events surrounding Susan G. Komen for the Cure. When all of the news was breaking about SGK, I was blissfully reading books by the pool on a boat in the Caribbean, floating down a river in Jamaica, snorkeling in Grand Cayman, and swimming with dolphins in Mexico. As such, I missed the outpouring of news, misinformation and immediate emotional reactions, which I’m seeing as a fortunate happenstance. I have been collecting and reading a wide array of news articles, blog posts, and interviews on the events of the last week or so and have been able to take it in with an open mind, untainted by the interpretations and reactions of my friends and family. I was even lucky enough to be able to meet with some representatives of the Komen Atlanta affiliate in person, as we had a pre-arranged meeting set up before I left to discuss volunteer opportunities. In order to make sure that my ultimate actions are reflective of my personal feelings (and not just a reaction to what others are doing/saying), I have purposefully stayed away from Facebook and Twitter this past week while I work through the material I gathered. I am still processing all of this information and will have a post up sometime over the weekend summarizing my thoughts and how these events will color my involvement in SGK in the future. I have found the entire debate to be fascinating and it has resulted in some serious soul searching on my part. Rest assured that any decision that I make moving forward will be well considered and well informed.
So that just about sums up the last eight months in the world of Dr. Kristen Walks. With my new degree in hand, and finally free of (most of) the shackles of graduate school, I’m stepping out onto a new path. It’s scary, but exciting to be putting my money where my mouth is and to be finally be chasing some dreams that I’ve had for a long time!