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On Sunday, the sun was out again! I woke up early and walked around the island taking pictures of parks that I found hidden behind unassuming corners. I’ll post a photo tour of the island soon.

The day was too beautiful to stay inside. I packed a lunch, filled my water bottle, and set off for a walk along the lake to Bregenz, Austria (about 10 km or 6 miles from Lindau). There’s a path, either gravel or paved, the whole way. There were lots of bicyclists of all ages out enjoying the weather.

When I got to Bregenz, I explored the town, but decided I would rather be at the lake watching the people and the sailboats. I had some apple strudel at a café and then I caught the train back to Lindau. It was a great day.

This Saturday, I went with some of my office mates to the Isle of Mainau (on the western side of Lake Constance) for the opening of the exhibition on energy. The powers that organize the Lindau Meetings also organized this exhibition. It’s a way for them to be involved in an outreach project that brings science to the public, to extend their visibility beyond the yearly meeting between Laureates and students.

Saturday was the first sunny day we’ve had in a long time. All the dignitaries showed up and the ceremony went well. I couldn’t understand the speeches (they were in German—surprise!), so I stood in the back of the crowd and watched a hawk circle the apple orchard. He was flying low enough that I could see him tilt his tail left and right to turn. Then, he tucked his wings by his body and swooped into the trees. When he came up, he didn’t have anything in his talons so I guess he missed his target. Bummer for him.

After the speeches, I walked through the exhibits. For the most part, I thought it was well done. It does a good job of telling people about ways to conserve energy and new technology that provides sustainable energy. I’m writing an article about the exhibition for the newspaper, so I’m glad I got to see the pavilions for myself.

Later that day, my officemate and I gave the director of the Deutsches Museum (a really big science museum in Munich) a ride to the city center to catch his train. We were talking about how to communicate science to the public and he brought up a new idea. He said that he is interested in teaching people about how science is done. Science is a “fragile process;” it is constantly changing as ideas are tested and refined. It is not a collection of facts that are set in stone. I liked that idea. I want to help people be able to evaluate science in the news for themselves, to be able to tell real science from bogus interpretations. Helping them understand the “fragility of science” is one way to do that.

My defense went well. I’m pleased with how my talk went and the questioning session wasn’t too bad. While I was being interrogated, my mom and Chris set up a great reception. If you ever need a bakery in St. Louis, I recommend the lemon raspberry cake at La Bonne Bouche.

This is how I would like to celebrate receiving my PhD:

I’m still working on finding a pile of puppies. I spent most of Tuesday sitting on the couch watching TV. I needed the brain break. I woke up on Wednesday ready to take on the world. Even thought it is cliche, I had the feeling that it was the first day of the rest of my life. I could finally tackle the things that completed the sentence “When grad school is over I can….”

I started by going to the  mall and replacing some of my clothes that were destroyed by chemicals. Then, I did some cathartic cleaning around the house, scrubbing away the grime from months of quick cleaning to wash away the stress from the past few months/years. Today, I’ll start working on the revisions for my thesis. I’ll have some fun too….I’ve got marigolds to plant and dinner to cook!

Countdown till thesis is due: 16 days.

I finished my experiments on Wednesday. It’s been an emotional week and half as I frantically worked to get data for the conclusion to my thesis. It involved some long hours, a few boxes of Kraft mac-and-cheese, a cold, and one complete meltdown. After all that, it turns out the end to my thesis is somewhat unsatisfying.  It leaves some loose ends dangling, but I’ve just simply run out of time to tie them into a neat bow.

There’s a piece of me that’s mourning the loss of a tidy end to my story. Though I hated doing the lab work, I was dedicated to the question my research asked. I decided to finish my degree because I wanted to answer that question. And I almost did. I’ve done the heavy lifting for my project, so it should be fairly straightforward for someone else to repeat my work and finish the story fairly quickly. The answer will come–I just won’t be the person to collect the final pieces of data.

When I get sad, I remember the words of a wise eight year old. “I know how you feel. We feel the same about Pluto not being a planet…But we Just have to get over it-thats [sic] science.”

In 2006, when Pluto was ousted from its planetary status, many kids were upset. They wrote angry letters to Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium in NYC, protesting the change. Two years later, they had calmed down. Their letters became empathetic and apologetic. The reminder to “just get over it” came from one of these later letters. Check out this letter and others here.

Meanwhile, life pushes forward. I’m heading to an internship that gets me started on the path towards becoming a science writer, a road I’ve been eager to travel for two years. I’ll carry with me the life lessons I have learned during my quest for the answer–the importance of struggling with difficult questions and listening to myself; the feeling of spinning my wheels for many months, frustrated by the lack of progress, but not actively trying to solve my problems; remembering the extreme joy and relief after I buckled down and dug myself out of the quagmire; personally understanding what it means to do research and be a Ph.D. scientist. These lessons are more important than a tidy ending to a few years of hard work. After all, science is messy. Get over it and move on.

Image from via Flickr

My thesis is due to my committee in 5 weeks. I’m not done with my experiments for my last chapter. To continue my work, I need data from collaborators, who I’m hoping will respond in a timely manner. Despite all of this uncertainty, I feel great! As I write and revise my thesis, my determination grows. I will finish this chapter of my life and I’m excited about starting to write the next one (literally!). I had no idea that I would actually enjoy these final few months of grad school, but I’m sure glad it worked out that way!

I’m a fan of a big Sunday dinner. Nourished by food and rest, it’s a calming start to the week.

Last night we had smothered pork chops. For dessert, chocolate stout cake and an unexpected blessing. My labmates used this recipe to make over 100 cupcakes as our wedding cake. They got rave reviews all afternoon and I gave out the recipe for weeks following the celebration. As we ate our cake, we found ourselves reliving the joy of our wedding.

An added bonus of having “our wedding cake” recipe on file–no frostbitten cake for us on our first anniversary! We’re having a fresh one!

It’s going to be a quite an exciting year for me as I transition from doing science to writing about it. In a couple of months, I will be finishing my Ph.D. 10 days later, I leave to go to Germany for three months for an internship. I’ll be working communications at the Lindau Meeting of Nobel Laureates. More about that later.

I planned to start this blog as a place to share my adventures in Germany, but then I realized that they won’t end there. I hope to continue this throughout the year to share my view of the world with you, from new places I visit to inspirations from daily life. Enjoy!

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