My first PhD semester: 5 things I learned

December 20, 2018

The couple days before Christmas break are strange. You’re done with final exams and suddenly all the stressful, approaching deadlines disappear. Everyone around you enters vacation mode and your thoughts are on Christmas break plans. You know you have things you could be doing, but also think that there will be time in the new year. So, I thought it would be a great time to reflect on my first semester of my PhD program and write out 5 valuable things I learned.

  1. Publishing a paper takes a LONG time. I submitted a manuscript of my Master’s research on July 2nd. This morning (December 20th), it was finally published online. Six months of reviewer comments, suggestions, and revisions finally came to an end as I confidently submitted the last and most updated version of the manuscript. It was a valuable learning experience- I now know the process and the feeling of eager anticipation when submitting a paper for publication. I can see why it can be addicting to some- I can’t wait to submit my next.
  2. This one is nerdy. I learned (and really enjoyed) how to use Matlab. Matlab is a powerful modeling computing environment that uses computations and algorithms to analyze large sets of data to present in visually appealing formats. I used it profusely throughout the semester during my Quantitative Methods course. My favorite application was during my final project, where I got to explore plotting and interpolating longterm data collected from the NOAA Gooses Reef Buoy outside the mouth of the Little Choptank River.turbidity_chl_timeseries
  3. A PhD is not a competition. I have always been a very competitive person. I would have secret competitions among friends in high school math classes, and I aimed to have the most cords around my neck at college graduation. While a lot of that competitive drive made me work very hard to get where I am now, I’ve learned that it doesn’t really matter how I compare to other people. My peers and I at HPL come from different backgrounds, schools, and experiences. We are all at different stages of our career; some coming straight from undergrad, some with their masters, and some having worked for years and now going back to school. All of our paths are different, and while we will all be successful in the future, there is no need to compare our success right now.
  4. I have learned a lot of new laboratory techniques. Coming from a Master’s of Environmental Management program, I didn’t take many lab based classes and therefore haven’t had much experience working in a scientific lab. On the very first day, I was measuring chromophoric dissolved organic matter (CDOM) using a spectrophotometer. I’ve learned how to filter water samples to estimate total suspended solids (TSS) and how to measure absorbance of phytoplankton pigments by comparing before and after chemical depigmentation. I’ve also learned a lot of new field techniques (see first blog post) that I had never done before.Vf5JQaebQDiWbjGS+laYcg
  5. I discovered that I learn better if I pretend I’m explaining material to someone else. What do I mean by this? I was having trouble retaining new information from reading textbooks and papers. I kept wishing I had a powerpoint lecture on the material that summarized the main points and explained concepts further. So, I decided to make one! I channeled my inner professor and looked up every concept I didn’t understand in order to be confident in explaining it to someone else. And these powerpoint slides might just come in handy in the future if I decide to teach the material I’m learning now.