Monday, April 2, 2007

So Damn Lucky

But so damn tired....

For those of you who do not know me that well, I am a graduate student working on research on children’s social development, particularly looking at the benefits of having friends. Part of the fun of being involved in research is attending very LARGE research conferences in which individuals from across the globe convene in a large city to share their latest research with one another. You’re probably thinking…BORING! In fact, they can be quite exciting and exhilarating, while at the same time completely draining on the body.

For me, these conferences serve a number of purposes:

1) This is the chance to see what other researchers are currently studying in their own labs. It can take over a year to get a study published in a research journal, so these conferences allow us to glimpse into what others are doing right now! This can serve two purposes of it’s own:

a) It is quite motivating to talk to other researchers as it can help spawn new ideas that I would like to explore in my own research. Plus, it’s fun to see other people who get excited talking about friendship and how children think about friendship…we’re all just a big bunch of dorks!


b) It is also very important to make sure that other people out there haven’t “snaked” your brilliant idea.

2) I can have my own “star struck” experiences right there in the lobby of the hotel or the line at Starbucks. I have been working in this field for over 6 years now, and I have quickly learned who the “celebrities” in the field are…and pride myself to find out that others agree with me that my advisor is one of these celebrities. It’s so amazing that they all converge into the same place as me, and for the most part they are interested in meeting other people with similar interests.

3) Of course these events would be remiss without lots of laughter, hugs from those who live far away, and meetings that take place over drinks.

All of that being said, I have recently returned from another great conference in Boston. After being gone for 5 days, it was such a joy to return to the comfort of my own home, where my husband was ready to put me to sleep and the cat was so excited that she drooled all over my face as I tried to sleep. Unless you have attended a conference of this nature, it is very hard to understand just how exhausting the entire experience can be. The best way I can describe it is to say that it’s like reading a complicated research article for 5 days straight while walking around a concrete-floor convention center in heels surveying the room for a celebrity that you would just love to talk about their latest research with.

I had the awesome pleasure of giving a research talk at a symposium on friendship for the very first time while in Boston. This symposium scenario works in that four researchers each give a 20-minute talk on their own research along a similar content area…this one being friendship. I have been working on a paper with a former graduate student here and she allowed me to actually give the presentation. Can I just tell you how amazing it felt to sit up on a stage with three other presenters who have all been doing research on friendship for the past few decades? There I sat amongst these celebrities in my Ann Taylor pin stripe suit thinking to myself “What the hell am I doing up here with these men? They are such amazing researchers and I’m just a 4th year graduate student who happens to have a project that falls under the umbrella of friendship research? Oh my goodness, I think I’m going to pass out.”

I was the slated to be the second presenter and so during the first presentation I had to keep telling myself to NOT drink the glass of water in front of me or I would need to pee before everyone had spoken. I was also telling myself that I could make it through this whole experience because I knew more about this topic than anyone else in the room (except for my collaborators who were there for moral support). So, I got up there…gave my talk…and it was just AMAZING!!! Such an exhilarating experience to have about 65 pairs of eyes on me, all interested in knowing what we had examined in young adolescent’s friendships.

The crème de la crème took place at the end of the four presentations. The man who I consider to be responsible for starting the revolution of friendship research over 30 years ago stood up at the end and offered his discussion of the entire symposium. This man is 80 years old, and it is still so obvious how dedicated he is to understanding children’s social development and the current research that is being published. He offered such an amazing viewpoint on all four presentations and had some critical questions that each of us needed to consider. I became incredibly motivated by his thoughts and suggestions, and I wanted to run back to a computer to do some new analyses right away (I know…I’m the biggest dork ever). After the entire symposium, I walked up to this man, who I consider my idol, and formally introduced myself, thanking him for such an insightful look into our project. He and I chatted for a few minutes about his suggestions and I walked away feeling like I had met the most amazing individual. In my mind, those few moments will always be remembered and I believe will also help guide me through my many more presentations I hope to deliver during my career.

Besides the “working” part of the conference, there are many, many opportunities to socialize. I was able to spend a lot of time with my former mentor from WKU. This woman made such an impact on my life that I thrive on being able to see her at these conferences and show her that the only reason I’m in this place in my life is because of her and her amazing husband, who regrettably passed a little over a year ago. She came to hear my presentation and sat in the front row beaming the entire time. Afterwards, she told me that not only was she proud of me, but that she knew her husband would be just as proud of me if he could have seen me. *sniffle* I was also able to spend a great deal of time with a close friend who graduated from UMD and is now a professor up in New York. She has been and continues to be such a role model for me that I reveled in the time we spent over dinner or drinks talking about her research and my dissertation ideas.

These conferences are very much about learning about the current status of the research world, but it is also so much more than that. It’s about meeting new people, mustering up the strength to walk up to your idol and ask him what he thinks about your ideas, expanding your ideas on research, and learning a little bit more about yourself each and every day. I am still completely exhausted from the whole experience, but I am also very invigorated to begin working on all the ideas that I have from the conference. Look out Denver…we’re all coming in 2009 and you had better be ready!!!

4 comments:

Julie said...

Bri~

How inspriational! I admire your dedication and the thoughtful insight :) I'm just a graduate student right now, but someday, I hope to complete my PhD...so I enjoy hearing about your experiences and adventures! Keep up the great work :)

Julie Albert

PHD Knitter said...

We're all big dorks :) and I'm okay with that ....

PHD Knitter said...

I'm not allowed to buy any new yarn or cast-on anything new until Maryland Sheep and Wool (First weekend of May). I have to finish up that list ...

Miss Noodle said...

Turd, what a wonderful account of your experience! I wish I could have seen you in all of your glory. I know your mind races and you get nervous and question your abilities when presented with getting up and imparting your knowledge to others, but just remember, you might be "just" a 4th year grad student, but once upon a time, so were all of those people you admire. You are on an amazing journey and one day, there's going to be another 4th year grad student up there, admiring *you*. YOU ROCK!