PART VII: SENIOR YEAR

Writing these posts always brings me back… Senior year, my last year at Radford University. I was knee deep in physics coursework, running with Ruca by the New River, shenanigans on Downey Street on Darkside, and also in a blindingly toxic relationship.

 

Fall of my senior year I took an astronomy course, some general chemistry, Spanish, and … Goodness it’s been four years almost! I can’ t remember! I want to say it was electromagnetic theory I. I know in the Spring of my senior year I took quantum mechanics, Spanish, and the Arctic Geophysics course again. Honestly, it was a year where I was not very academically inclined, at least compared to years past. I don’t regret that though. I was fully aware it was my last year in college and I intended to enjoy a little more of the “college experience” before leaving. I was also a little distracted by my then-boyfriend (things did NOT end well, lol). But hey, it was a ton of fun. I made lots of good memories and friends. When I moved out of Radford, I was a sad girl for a long time. I was really excited for the next chapter of my life but, looking back, that was the first time baby Jordan really made a home for herself in a new place and now she was leaving it. 

And sure, when I moved home for the summer I was freshly (and not happy about it) single and things seemed really uncertain, even though at this point I had accepted Clemson University’s offer for their PhD program. It wasn’t until I actually moved to Clemson that I began to feel excited about my new life (though it still took a long time to adjust and to feel like Clemson was a new home, ya know).
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Me decorating my graduation cap, the morning of my college graduation. May 2016.
The fall of my senior year is also when I “prepared” and took the graduate record examinations (GREs). For some subjects, you have to take both the general and the subject, where for me, the subject was physics. The GRE is basically the SAT of graduate school. It’s the usual standardized test that unnecessarily takes up your time and money. I did not do great (at all, not even a little bit) on the physics GRE. 

 

Like, I did really bad. I barely studied. Mainly because I didn’t want to in my free time. I mean, I’m in the middle of a full time semester. Why would I want to study for a test I just signed up for? Other than that it cost $500.00 to do so? Lol. That and I found out later that I had a small exposure to physics, even with a Bachelor’s degree from a small school. When I started at Clemson, I had to take some classes I was missing before entering the PhD program. I was really intimidated by that realization but I’ve since come a long way.

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I am fourth from the left. May 2016 college graduation with some of my physics peers.
 

 

People always use this analogy on how to be successful life: Imagine you live your life day by day, with little planning. It’s like trying to balance a ruler on your fingertip but only focusing on the base of the ruler. The ruler falls every time. If you look at the entire ruler, however, you find that you can easily balance it. I always felt like I lived life by just focusing on the base of the ruler. Honestly, I still do. And it seems to work out pretty okay for me. I stumbled into graduate school much how I stumbled into college. Though I really stumbled into it this time.

Jordan, are you applying for graduate school? Are you taking the GRE? I just got into blank blank!! I just got an amazing job offer after I graduate!

​I sat down and asked myself what I wanted to do. Apply for career positions or apply for graduate school? After pondering it for about thirty minutes, I decided I like the dynamic of a school schedule. That was all it took for me to commit to applying to graduate school. Cue the GRE “preparation” and performance. I devised a list of graduate schools and kept track of statistics I found important. For instance, I wrote down how many applicants they received versus how many they enrolled, how many female students they had, what was the faculty to student ratio (i.e. would your thesis advisor be stretched thin with students? What if you’re like me and need your advisor to sometimes hold your hand through tasks?), and what their stipends were for teaching and/or research. I applied to 8 or 9 schools. Let’s see if I can remember them all.

I applied to University of Maryland in Baltimore, Clemson University, College of William and Mary, University of Virginia, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Wake Forest University, University of South Carolina, North Carolina State University in Rayleigh, and Colorado University in Boulder (Woo! I got all 9). I spent – ahem, my parents​ spent – around ~$2,000 just applying to graduate schools. That includes the cost of taking both GREs (the general and the subject), fees to send the GRE results to select schools, and graduate school application fees. Guess how many I got into?

Guess.

​Just guess.

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Guess.
 
 
 
 
 
One.

 

I got one acceptance.

To Clemson University. And it wasn’t even formal. It was a hey, we have one or two more spots left for teaching assistants. Whoever responds first gets dibs! And you best believe I had that acceptance letter signed and sent that very same moment. At that point in time, I had just barely made it into graduate school. I just weaseled my way right in. Clemson simply needed more staff for their high demand in physics labs and I hopped right on that PhD train (and that is part of the reason why imposter syndrome has developed so strongly with me XD). 

No hard feelings though. I took what I could get and I feel like Clemson is really glad to have me (and vice versa). But, when I got the offer from Clemson, I was like who? 

​Where even is Clemson? I asked myself. Quick Google search showed it was still in the Appalachia, where Radford is, just farther south in South Carolina. I thought, okay cool so similar surroundings; rural and mountainous. Sign me up! And that was that. I barely registered what Clemson University was all about. Didn’t register during applying – only mattered when I realized that that is where I was going to live for the next however-many-years-it-takes-to-get-my-PhD. 

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The heart of Clemson University.
 
In short, I basically live my life as a sequence of on-a-whim, off-the-cusp decisions and opportunities. So far it has been a decent method for me.

Clemson did indeed turn out to be the perfect mixture of rural and development that I needed. Clemson is a huge University (from where I was coming from) and a way bigger town than Radford but still small and rural just outside of campus. It is a beautiful town and area, as is much of the Appalachia in my opinion. 

And even though I didn’t feel very lucky at the time, the break up I had before graduating ended up being a really good thing for me because that first year into the PhD program at Clemson was hard!  I am thankful and grateful, looking back, that I had Ruca and little distractions. I was able to focus on physics and get where I needed to be to pass exams and pursue my PhD. Ruca kept me sane. I didn’t do much socializing or integrating into the community my first year there. I felt a little alone. It was a new place with new faces plus I was really busy with school work. That first year, I spent a lot of time exploring the area with Ruca. 

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Ruca and I discovered South Carolina Botanical Gardens on Clemson’s campus. It is one of my favorite places to be! This was taken in March 2017, the spring semester of my first year at Clemson.
 
Let’s recap briefly.

 

I was a mediocre student my last year of college. I got a C in quantum (but I definitely deserved a D). I was distracted by a boy I really liked but our relationship was really toxic and ultimately distracted me and made me be less academically successful than my previous college years. But, I still had a great time, enjoying all the non-academic activities that college often brings and it was hard to say goodbye to Radford when it was time. I stumbled into graduate school on a whim with little thought though lots of time and money were spent into applying. I only got one offer which I accepted. I later graduated college in May of 2016 with my Bachelor’s in physics and was anticipating beginning the PhD program at Clemson University. In August of 2016 I moved to Clemson, South Carolina – not knowing a soul down there. It was just me and Ruca for that first year and I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

So far, the cliche “Nobody ever said it would be easy, they just said it would be worth it” is, like, totally true for me.

 

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