• Becca Dzombak

Summer 2018, in which I attempt to avoid the post-prelims slump

For the first two years of grad school - and possibly while I was working in the lab as an undergraduate - my advisor warned of the third-year, or post-prelims, slump. "It happens to everyone," he said. "So don't take it too hard when it inevitably hits you." Externally, I nodded, but in my head I harrumphed and swore it wouldn't happen to me. After all, things were going so well! I had so many cool projects and I was loving grad school.

Now, four months after passing my preliminary exam (YAY!), I still have many cool projects... too many. And I'm still loving grad school... most days. I wouldn't describe myself as jaded or pessimistic, but I'm not quite so naïve as I once was. Papers are taking longer to write than I'd planned, I didn't get the coveted NSF or NASA fellowships, and perhaps most frustratingly, the ICP-OES that I've been using since 2016 is the flakiest, most annoying, most broken instrument I've ever tried to use. (But shh, don't tell it I said that - I'm in the ICP room now and it can't know that I've been frustrated or it will definitely stop working again.)

Some things that help stave off a slump: going to Paris and eating many, many pain au chocolats. Doing super cool sampling of Precambrian rocks in northern Norway and running along the gorgeous fjord after work. And more simply, making an effort to actually hang out with your friends. Reading books for fun again. Writing for pleasure. Chipping away at to-do lists in manageable chunks. Working with great undergrads who remind you that you really do love your work, and that it's fun. (Hi Sonya!) Putting in time with other productive-but-not-research things (I'm loving my science communication work with AWIS!).

You know what else helps combat a slump? YOUR INSTRUMENT FINALLY WORKING AGAIN AND GETTING DATA FOR THE FIRST TIME IN WHO EVEN KNOWS HOW LONG. It's a hot Saturday afternoon and I'm here, in the almost-too-cold ICP room, running another hundred samples, and I'm not even salty about it. I'm just thrilled that it's working again. And the timing couldn't be better: I have about a week until I head up north for family vacation, then just a few days between that and my ICELAND FIELD WORK. Yeah, you heard me right. I get to escape Michigan in August and sample soils in Iceland, and hopefully see puffins. Then there's Goldschmidt (find me in session 12e!), and then my partner and I are sailing around the Washington coast for a week or so with his mom. And then it's a new semester and the undergrads will be back; I'll be teaching soils again (yay!) and taking a modeling class (yay?) and hopefully mentoring a new student in lab (YAY), so I suspect lab work might be limited to nights and weekends.

So far: slump avoided.

Me with the ICP in question. Note the hope in my eyes accompanied by a slight glint of fear that everything will go wrong at any moment.


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