PART V: SOPHOMORE YEAR

I realized special things can happen when I apply myself.

So, I failed my first physics exam in college but, that didn’t stop me. I started spending hours per day studying, preparing for my next exam, determined to get an A. I started spending my weekends studying as well which was the beginning of losing my weekends forever (yay). My second exam came and went: 83 (B). My third exam came and went: 87 (B) – I believe was the grade. Then, the final. 95 (A). I got a B in the course with the highest score on the final exam and that’s when I decided I wasn’t going to look back.
I realized that with some effort I can actually do something special, no matter how hard it was. This is also right around the time when I started opening my eyes to other opportunities around me like scholarships, special physics courses or else that involved studying abroad, joining the Society of Physics Students (SPS), getting involved in the physics department as a work study student (paid!), and more. I slowly started becoming known in my department and in the college of science and technology (CSAT at Radford). That’s when I just happened to hear about the Arctic Geophysics course that you have to apply to in order to take the class and earn credit – that takes you to ALASKA to do REAL, hands-on research! At this same time I had heard about the physics department scholarship which would be useful if I ended up getting into the course. I don’t remember what I was doing exactly but I remember interrupting something with my work study to run to the computer lab to quickly apply for both the geophysics course and the scholarship. I spent maybe an hour in total doing this. I thought, there’s no way I’ll get either of these things but at least I can say I tried. What do ya know? A month later during that fall semester of my sophomore year, I got an e-mail congratulating me on being accepted into the Arctic Geophysics course but also outlining the thousands of dollars it took to take the course in totality.

For now, I skipped over the cost and called my dad and said DAD! YOU’LL NEVER GUESS WHAT I JUST GOT INTO! I’M GOING TO ALASKA! I remember the pride I felt and the pride I think my dad felt. I think I briefly said something like, it’s a lot of money though, and my dad saying, we will work it out.

I quickly and eagerly accepted to be in the course and then began the process of preparing to spend my sophomore year spring break in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost city of the United States.

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This was taken on my third trip to Barrow, Alaska. Taken approximately a quarter mile from the shore on the Arctic sea ice by our fabulous photographer. You can see the “Ice Walkers” (us) as the locals called us.
You see, I knew I chose physics so that I could get closer to the stars and sure, this geophysics course wasn’t exactly in my field of interest but, it’s hand on research experience. That is invaluable in any field and I mean, you get to go to Alaska. Who wouldn’t want to go there?

The Arctic geophysics course at Radford is offered every other year on the even years. I attended in 2014 and again in 2016 for ice research (but also travelled there in 2015 to perform unrelated bird research). It is a pretty intense course. You spend January, February, and half of March preparing for the 1-2 weeks the team spends in Barrow, Alaska in mid-March. This includes practicing with the equipment on campus, learning the theory behind the equipment, developing writing skills to log the research adequately, familiarizing ourselves with the data reduction software (RES2DINV), and preparing ourselves for the ICE COLD.

If I’m not mistaken, we even spent Saturday mornings preparing for much of the spring semester leading up to spring break. As I mentioned before, it also took a lot of money. I remember my family cashed out the government savings bonds that was gifted at my birth to pay for just lodging. I also remember the plane ticket alone being about $1,100.00. Then there is food when you get there, warm clothes (thankfully parkas, ice boots, and very warm carharts were provided),  and the actual cost of the course (included in the tuition bill for spring semester). It is no easy thing to prepare for with prices like that! It did help that I was awarded the Fall 2014 scholarship from the physics department – about $450 I think it was. Nowadays, I do believe there is more funding in place for this same course at Radford but, it could still be better so that anyone can consider doing something like this (regardless of income status)! I know the person running the course, who became a close mentor of mine in my undergraduate career, is dedicated to making this happen.

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Part of the research team, taking a break, at the 2014 trip to Barrow. I think I’m the weirdo that is still on the ground, mid-jump.
Let me remind you: I had no research experience of any kind and had ONE physics course (introductory physics at that) under my belt. I still have the original e-mail of my offer to the course and Dr. Rhett Herman, the instructor of the course, wrote, “I really love seeing when beginner students apply for opportunities like this, regardless of experience. Congrats!”

My second college spring break was indeed spent in the frigid, subzero temperatures of the Arctic circle in Barrow, Alaska. I spent nearly all day out on the ice, collecting data, and taking it all in that I was here. In Alaska. A half mile away from the shore, standing on what we later confirmed was about 2 meters of ice with a bear guard always on watch, surveying the ice beyond the ice ridge that protruded above the surface of the ice a couple hundred meters farther out. At night we reduced the data we had taken during the day on the ice. Some days it was too cold (colder than -45 degrees Fahrenheit or -42 degrees centigrade) to do any research and those were the days we took the time to venture out into town and speak with the Natives there. We immersed ourselves in the Utqiagvik culture and the Iñupiat heritage, attending the local museum, buying authentic homemade art engraved on baleen, learning their ancient dances and rituals, and trying whale blubber, a local town delicacy. It was more than a research experience as you might have guessed. It was truly a turning point for me in recognizing what is possible not just for my career but in what experiences the world has to offer.

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We employed several different ways to measure the ice thickness, the most straight forward one being to drill straight into the ice. In Barrow, Alaska, this is no easy task. The drill batteries in subzero temperatures had a very limited lifespan (without hand warmers, less than five minutes with a full charge) and we are too far from shore to simply connect to a constant power supply. Picture here is Jesse and Sarah, two research students on the first (2014) trip to Barrow.
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A sample of the results from the 2014 trip. The contour plot shows you the ice thickness, where you can see the ice is no thicker than about 2 meters. This was imaged using the OhmMapper resistivity array. Basically it measures the difference in resistivity of materials and this can tell you what material (water or ice) you are looking at. One of the big issues we found with this array is the signal would get lost once it passed the ice-water boundary. Water has very low resistivity, and therefore the signal easily escapes into the water, never making its way back to the receiver to be measured. The red dots indicate surface temperatures measured from the ice surface. We were looking to establish a correlation between the surface temperature and the thickness of the ice. If there is one, you’d easily be able to measure ice thickness and evolution over large areas!
Towards the end of the spring semester of my second year in college, I heard about ERIRA: Educational Research in Radio Astronomy, held for one week at the Green Bank Telescopes in West Virginia (where the world’s largest directional radio telescope sits!). Once again I applied on a whim, knowing that it was a nationwide program that accepted less than 20 students per year.

The summer of 2014, I went to Green Bank, West Virginia to use radio telescopes and learn firsthand radio astronomy from leading scientists.

PART II: NEW GAMMA-RAY EMISSION DISCOVERED FROM VELA SNR

Where were we?

Ah, right. The new gamma-ray emission on the west of the Vela supernova remnant. After retrieving all of the known data available to us about this region, we started to piece together the puzzle. Here’s what we know!

1. New gamma-ray emission is uncovered directly to the West of the Vela SNR.
2. The gamma-ray emission is very high in energy, that is, all of the energy is detected above 50GeV.

But that’s it. We don’t know why gamma-rays are emitting at this one small section of the remnant. We don’t know what event occurred for this to happen. We don’t know what particles are responsible for the emission. Instead, we used this information and what it implies to make the next step: submit a proposal to view the region in X-rays. X-rays are also pretty high in energy but what makes this wavelength regime appealing to us is that present telescopes that can image in the X-ray have spectacular angular resolution compared to gamma-ray telescopes right now, i.e. we can see more features and distinguish between sources easier in the X-ray than in the gamma-ray. For example, the XMM-Newton X-ray space telescope  has an angular resolution on the order or arcseconds. This is 1/3600 of one degree. In comparison, a full moon is roughly 1/2 a degree in our sky so 1 arcsecond of the moon would be 1.388×10^(-4) (or 1/7200) of the Moon we see which is a really tiny, tiny, tiny part of the moon. We would not be able to resolve 1 arcsecond with our own eyes. Nor would we be able to resolve 1 arcminute (which is 1/60 of a degree or 1/120 of the full Moon) with our own eyes. The Fermi-LAT, on the other hand, can resolve very high energy (VHE) sources on the order of arcminutes. So, the angular resolution in the X-ray regime is much more attractive in our endeavor to try to find more information about this new gamma-ray source. 

Furthermore, the X-ray sky is somewhat less crowded. The gamma-ray sky has a lot of diffuse, or spread out, emission across the sky. A lot of this comes from our Galaxy as well as extragalactic sources (sources that are not in this Galaxy) and this can be especially distracting near the Galactic plane (see image below). We now know that the entire gamma-ray sky is full of gamma-ray emission coming from all over the Universe! The X-ray sky also has a diffuse background but it is a little easier to work with. 

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The gamma-ray sky at energies from 50GeV and up to 2TeV as seen with Fermi. This was first reported in Ackermann et al. 2016; the 2FHL catalog. Our source of interest in indicated by the magenta circle. The center of the image shows you the Galactic center with the Galactic Bulge dimly visible in gamma-ray emission. There are “Fermi bubbles” or arms reaching out from either side of the center. The long line of gamma-ray emission shows you our Galactic plane, where nearly all of our Galaxy sits. The rest of the emission is coming largely from extragalactic objects.
So for this reason, we asked for time on the XMM-Newton X-ray space telescope to observe our peculiar source and we got it! After cleaning the data we received from the telescope, we were able to study the X-ray emission that exists at the same location in space as the gamma-ray emission we see. We indeed found an X-ray counterpart which is a compelling overlap in both shape and position for the X-ray and gamma-ray emission. The other nice thing about looking in other wavelengths, if you can find one positive counterpart, you can then use this new information to look further into other wavelengths to see what other emission this region might be giving off. That’s exactly what we did! The images below reveal the X-ray emission we see after cleaning up the data and the first counterpart we found by using the position of our gamma- and X-ray data and the shape we resolved with XMM-Newton​.
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This is the X-ray emission we see with XMM-Newton coming from the 2FHL position. The circle is 5 arcminutes in radius and denotes where the gamma-ray emission is observed. We used this odd shape of X-ray emission to try to find other counterparts.
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This is an optical image, specifically looking at the Hydrogen (-alpha) emission at 656 nm. You see a filament, or very thin structure, that traces the X-ray emission we see, with the 2FHL position again indicated by the white circle.
A picture is starting to form in our minds… We have gamma-ray emission that is very concentrated to the west of the Vela supernova remnant that has soft, or low-energy, X-rays tracing out an optical boundary or filament. Something must be happening at the edge of the remnant here for it to be so energetic with so many puzzle pieces. We started leaning towards the idea that maybe the remnant is running into something here and is shocking it. Imagine a hot, really fast-moving wave of heavy mass hitting a cold, slow clump of gas. A lot of mixture, turbulence, and violent disruption happens on many scales. You would expect the cold, slow clump of gas to ignite in some way; the gas particles responding rapidly and enthusiastically with its new momentum from the collision, colliding into each other and gaining massive amounts of energy at the collision boundary. It begins to illuminate its surroundings as these interactions take place, heating the gas and shocking it further. The gas clump likely feels an incredible increase in its temperature. 

It seems reasonable then that this is in fact what we are seeing but we cannot say for sure. If this work will be worthy to publish, we need concrete evidence that a shock-cloud interaction is taking place and causing the emission we see. So, we keep digging for more puzzle pieces.

Quiz! Take it here: ​http://www.quiz-maker.com/QJJE4WP

PART I: A CANDIDATE FOR COSMIC RAY ACCELERATION

Here I’m going to break down my Master’s thesis with you. Let’s introduce ourselves to cosmic rays first.

Cosmic rays are a wild phenomenon. They are relativistic electrons, protons, and other heavier nuclei that are traveling almost at the speed of light. About 90% of all cosmic rays are known to be protons while the rest make up the other 10%. It’s amazing to see these massive particles moving so close to the speed of light because it means they must have come from an immensely violent origin for the particles to have attained such high energy. It’s important to note that cosmic rays are distinct from light in that light particles are completely massless and neutral in charge (i.e. they do not have a charge).  We know these particles exist – they bombard Earth from all directions and from a variety of sources, one including our Sun. High energy astrophysicists want to know what sources are capable of producing such high energy particles.

However, this question is not a straight forward one to answer. These particles not only have a mass but, they also have a charge. A charged particle readily interacts with magnetic fields which is a prominent feature throughout the Galaxy and the objects it contains. This makes tracing a cosmic ray’s path back to its origin, like we are able to do with light particles, incredibly difficult. The image below (right panel) illustrates a complicated cosmic ray path, rendering it impossible to know where in the Galaxy this cosmic ray formed. The left image shows us real data measured from Earth, showing us the spectrum of cosmic rays we have detected. Don’t freak out – a spectrum is simply a graph that shows you which energy range contributes the most to the flux we observe. The flux you may think of as the emitted power of the object as observed from Earth. For example, we see the lowest energy cosmic rays contribute the most to the overall flux by studying the observed spectrum (displayed in the left image below) because the peak of the spectral flux (on the y-axis) occurs at the lowest energies (x-axis). Additionally, right around the 10^6GeV (or 10^15eV) mark on the x-axis roughly tells us where Galactic cosmic rays cap off; cosmic rays with greater energy than 10^15eV must be explained by something even more energetic than any object known in our Galaxy. We therefore identify cosmic rays with energy less than or equal to 10^15eV Galactic cosmic rays and cosmic rays with energy greater than 10^15eV extragalactic cosmic rays. 

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The cosmic ray spectrum as measured from Earth, identifying contributions from different particle populations where applicable.
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Illustration of the path a cosmic ray takes as it travels in the Galaxy. Upon detection on Earth, we cannot reconstruct its path to understand its origin.
The spectrum to the left I took from here and is cited to be from the original experiment here. Unfortunately, the first source requires you to have credentials or pay $$ but the original experiment is available on the arXiv, a free service for all.
Now that we have a good grasp on what cosmic rays are and why we are so interested in them, I present to you the first source I extensively studied. It started out as an unidentified gamma-ray source discovered by Fermi at very high energies. We’re talking about energies above 50GeV which is on the more energetic side of the gamma-ray energy range.
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A reminder of the type of light we are talking about when I say gamma-rays. These are the highest energy rays of light!
The unidentified gamma-ray source led to my first published paper and was the basis of my Master’s thesis. I will link both at the end of this blog post!
In addition to a new, very high energy, gamma-ray source being discovered, this unusual guy also has some interesting characteristics. It’s spectrum in the high energy range (above 50GeV) is what we describe as hard. This means the majority of the flux is dominated at seriously high energies and increases rapidly with energy. We can describe its spectrum in this range with a power law. A power law models the observed flux assuming the energy falls off with a given power law index. For example, gravity behaves like a power law – its strength decreases with increasing radius with a power law index of 2. The smaller the power law index, the more dramatic this behavior would become. So in the gamma-ray energy range, when we see a very hard spectrum with a small photon index, this indicates there is efficient particle acceleration occurring here – i.e. the environment generating these gamma-rays is also probably accelerating massive particles close to the speed of light. This further implies that this environment could be generating its own cosmic rays and injecting them into the Galaxy. This was intriguing to discover so the first thing we did was see where in the sky it is located. We look at the objects around it, determining if this is truly a newly discovered candidate accelerator or if a known source in this region of space is now being detected at such high energies. I should mention that the special thing about this source is that it was reported in a catalog of objects using the Fermi-LAT with a brand new software update that enabled the instrument, for the very first time, to detect gamma-rays at energies above 50GeV. The official name of this source is 2FHL J0826.1-4500 which you see in the images below. For the purposes of this blog post, I will name it “Geronimo“. 
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The spectral energy distribution (SED or the spectrum) for the unidentified gamma-ray source. See how it quickly increases in energy? The shaded area marks the range of power law indices that are in agreement with the three data points. The best fit index is 1.3 for this source.
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Where in the gamma-ray sky (with Fermi) this source is located. The very bright, extended source marks the Vela complex – a composite SNR.
2FHL in the name stands for the second (2) Fermi-LAT High Energy Catalog. The numbers following represent its equatorial coordinates (in J2000). In other words, any astronomer anywhere in the world can find where this source is located in the sky using its Right Ascension (R.A.) of 08:26:07 and declination (Dec.) of -45:00:00. Almost all astronomical objects are given official names based on their coordinates in the sky. You will typically see either equatorial or Galactic coordinates used. 

You see in the image to the right above that the source lies exactly west of the Vela complex which is a composite SNR. The Vela SNR is the closest composite SNR to Earth at only 290 parseconds or almost 1,000 light years (or 5.879×10^15 miles). This might sound incredibly far to you but in the grand scheme of things, the Sun and the Vela SNR are almost right on top of each other when you look at where they lie with respect to the rest of the Galaxy. I have a really cool schematic from a published article that I’ll try to find to illustrate this! 

When we saw how close in the sky this unfamiliar gamma-ray source was to the Vela complex, we began to dig deeper into the Vela region to try to understand the possibility of this source being associated to Vela in some way. This required a thorough multi-wavelength analysis. This entailed grabbing all information known about Vela in all wavelengths of light: radio, microwave, infrared, visible, ultraviolet, gamma-ray, you name it. I tracked all published work on the Vela region and read it. What we found is that this source is indeed a by-product coming from an interaction of the Vela SNR moving into its surroundings. Before we go any further, how about a quiz to make sure we’re all on the same page? Then, we can move onto Part II: how the different wavelength information helped us piece together what is happening to the west of the Vela remnant! 

Quiz! Take it here: ​www.quiz-maker.com/QFPQXTZ

The published work can be found here. My Master’s thesis is linked here.

2019: YEAR IN REVIEW

I had a really exciting, productive last year! I hope you did, too. Let’s celebrate together!

2019 was a wild ride from start to finish.

 

In January of 2019, I began writing my application for the Chandra X-ray Center predoctoral fellowship (subdivision of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) that I was offered later in May that I accepted immediately and then prepared for the rest of the year, and now am just days away from starting! This same month, I had to prepare to re-take the one written qualifying exam that I failed the first go-around in August 2018. It was my second (and last) attempt to pass the classical and statistical mechanics exam – and I did! This meant I could continue to pursue my Ph.D. I almost forgot – this was the same time my first paper was published!

That same spring semester of 2019, I prepared to defend my Master’s thesis on a candidate for cosmic ray acceleration (I’ll do a post on that very soon!). Additionally, it was my first semester as a full time research assistant which means NO teaching duties of any kind! 

In March of 2019, I turned 25. Woo!

In April, I successfully defended my Master’s thesis. However, I forgot to apply for graduation at the beginning of the semester so I didn’t actually earn my Master’s degree from Clemson U until just a few days ago (I applied for graduation in fall 2019). I should receive my diploma in the mail in the next couple of weeks!

In May, my parents made the big move to a new neighborhood in Williamsburg. My sister and I grew up in the suburbs of Hampton, VA where my parents’ lived up until this spring. They had been itching for something new and a little more along the lines of their needs and they seem really happy where they are now!

In June, Noah and I travelled to Europe for two weeks to visit and explore with our two good friends and we visited over five countries! I planned this trip for us as a way to celebrate the many accomplishments I had in the spring semester and to wish us all more adventure, fun, and progress for the rest of the year to come. It was our first time ever leaving the United States and it was awesome to get out of our comfort zone and experience completely new things.

From August to November, I finished my last semester of electives towards my PhD and prepared for the move and new-ish research project in Cambridge, MA. During this time, my sister and her husband got new army orders to prepare to be stationed in Kentucky in spring 2020. This is great news as they have been stationed so far from us since Dale, my brother-in-law, has been in the military. They first lived in Fort Drum, New York and later Alaska. Now they are back on the east coast! In addition to their moving closer to us, they have a wonderful new family with the Brantley addition, my nephew. That little twerp is seriously awesome. He is so well-behaved and good natured about things. He smiles pretty much all of the time. He LOVES dogs and animals and his Auntie Jordie (me)!

In December, I officially moved my pack, Noah, Ruca (the beagle), Mars (the tabby cat), and Bella (the black cat) up to Cambridge. Noah was offered and accepted a job with the USPS in Cambridge. So we are still transitioning but things are starting to wind down as everything falls into place. Most of all, we get to spend time home with family for the holidays.

I’m so grateful for so many people and opportunities that made this year so special to me.

My family and friends kept me sane. My parents helped me financially, emotionally, mentally, etc. with this move. I don’t know if the move would’ve been possible without them. Noah has been a great, loving, and supportive partner through it all. I have amazing mentors in my field: Marco, Stefano, and Dan to name a few. They have taught me what I know and continue to work closely with me on my PhD research. I am also so thankful for the ladies in our departmental office and the department chair for all of their hard work and help in getting me transitioned with the fellowship, both in person and with the paperwork. I have been blessed with an outstanding support system in my career! I can’t wait to see what my new research community at the CfA has to offer.

New Year’s Resolutions & Continuing Goals

I know. It’s a little cliche and sappy but it’s always good, in my opinion, to share your hopes and dreams with others to help keep you accountable and to even remind yourself of why you want certain things for yourself and others. I’m sharing goals that I want to accomplish in the next year (or maybe more) as well as goals that have been carried over from 2019 (and maybe earlier) into 2020. 

 

  • Keep cooking meals at home and branch out with new recipes (please, no one take that as a hint to get me a recipe book. It takes up space and I just use a Google kitchen display for recipes!)
  • Keep studying. Even things not pertaining to my field. I already don’t do much theoretical (aka MATH) work in my field. I want to stay sharp so I’ll need to make sure I do this in my own time.
  • Become fluent in Spanish. I’ve taken Spanish all of my life and I STILL cannot speak it fluently. I’m getting there-ish though (not really). Spanish books for learners would be an awesome gift though instead of a recipe book….
  • Publish 3 new papers by 2020. I have 2 still in the works but should be wrapped up very soon, I hope, and one more that should manifest from my CfA research project early on.
  • Maintain good health and diet. I have been an avid runner since I was about 19 years old. Ruca and I run regularly now, about 4 miles 4 days per week in addition to a 30 minute work out routine that I developed myself over the years. I am not the greatest when it comes to diet so I’d love to work on that through cooking at home.
  • Stop complaining. I’ve realized I’ve gotten stuck in a rut of complaining. a lot. I’ve also noticed it puts me in a worse mood by focusing on the negatives so much so, in 2020, I’m gonna zip my lip and go with the flow. 
  • Join the equity and diversity group at CfA. As always, I find it hugely important to speak up for your marginalized peers and to make sure you understand how you can actually help. 
  • Find new ways for educational outreach in Cambridge area. Being an active scientist that engages with the general public is another important note for me. I want to keep actively fighting against misinformation. If anyone has ideas on this one, that would be great! Shoot me a message on the contact form or even include it in your response below.

Now it’s your turn!

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Or something that you overcame this year. Celebrate your malleability, adaptability, and willingness to improve, change, and embrace the good and the bad!

 

What are your hopes, dreams, and goals for 2020 and beyond?

LIFE IN CAMBRIDGE (SO FAR)

Honestly it’s been really stressful.

Because it’s mainly just a dozen or more errands I have to complete to get settled in! I have been on a hiatus from the blog the past few weeks because I finished classes a week early and started making the move from Clemson to Cambridge. Having such a big move and moving to a completely different place than anything I’ve experienced before, I have a few things I want to say. 

Moving to the big city from the small town is scary. It’s scary as hell. It’s also expensive. I’m used to friendly smiles whether or not you meant to make eye contact, the “Hi, how are you today?” as you pass by strangers, and just the general friendly banter. You don’t get that quite as often here. I’m not saying I’ve never dealt with a rude person in the South before but I can tell you their attitudes toward you are totally different. I’m also not saying I haven’t had plenty of friendly encounters since being here but it’s certainly a slightly different interaction. 

The expense is also a huge adjustment. Noah and I rented an entire house (2 bedroom, 1 bathroom) with a large front and backyard for $725 per month which included our own private driveway. Here, I pay nearly $1,000 per month for a single bedroom in a four bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment that has off-street parking granted that your car is registered in the state and you have a city residential parking permit. I got all of that done my first few days here; I went to the RMV (Registry of Motor Vehicles, I guess Mass is SpEcIaL) and registered my car and converted my license for about $250.00. Then I had to go to city hall in Central Square to pay $25 for the city residential parking permit. Additionally and lastly (I hope), I need to get my car inspected within the first 7 days of having registered the car with Mass. I have that scheduled for tomorrow at the local Honda dealership and should cost no more than $35.00 per Mass law. This isn’t including the cost for shipping my things here, driving here from Clemson, SC, or else. It’s been so financially consuming my bank account has CANCELLED Christmas. I simply cannot afford it, sadly. Luckily, my family and friends are wonderful and awesome and simply ask for my presence this holiday. Which is all I can give, lol. So, the financial burden of getting up here and getting adjusted has been a large part of the stress I have been under.

Maybe you’re wondering why I am even sharing these dull errands with you. Well, I want to share my experience with a big move, especially for anyone who may have been too worried, concerned, or fearful to make a big move that they have always wanted to do or maybe feel like they need to do. Especially to those of you who have been born and raised in your hometown and, perhaps you have never lived anywhere else. It’s probably pretty terrifying thinking about a big change like moving to an entirely new city. I’m here to help you sort through the overwhelming tasks that come along with a big move. I want to share my pain, my stress, my anxiety, and my homesickness with you all. It’s hard making a big move. I already miss my friends back in Clemson. I miss my yard and being able to be as loud as I want in my own home, cleaning and keeping things exactly how I like them, and only having my fur babies and my partner as housemates. I miss the inexpensive life of the South. I miss my research group. And I have no clue what to expect with my new co-workers, peers, or hosuemates. The uncertainty stresses me tf out. Add a sprinkle of crippling social anxiety and OCD to add as the cherry on top, why dontchya? 

But hey, if I can survive, you guys can, too. I’m not gonna lie. I have no idea if this whole big move was worth it. I really hope it is and I am genuinely excited to experience the city and this new life once I get past the transition. Even though registering your car in Mass is a goddamn nightmare (P.S. I went to the RMV two separate times before realizing my auto insurance company didn’t properly complete the RMV-1 form and then when I went back a second time, they complained that the RMV-1 form was completed in handwriting as opposed to being typed up. Which, by the way, is not specified anywhere online or on the forms so like…..No. Take this form before I cry). But don’t worry! I added tips below. 

Tips to surviving a big move

  1. See if your employer offers reimbursement on moving expenses and what type of expenses would be covered. There could be a maximum expense amount they will agree to cover so be sure to plan accordingly.
  2. I used UPACK Relocube to ship my things. It’s not cheap but my employer will reimburse me luckily. I used a dorm/studio apartment sized cube. They come and drop off a large portable storage unit based on your needs and you pack it as you see fit. When you’re ready, they come and pick it up and deliver it to your new residential address for you within 3-5 business days! It was my first time ever doing something like this and my experience was awesome and I highly recommend it. You can track the shipment real time and always know where your things are. 
  3. If you’re driving and/or bringing your car, figure out if you need to be a resident in that state. If you’re a student, you can generally get away with not being a resident. However, in cities like Cambridge, it’s virtually impossible to be an out-of-state student with a car. It’s in your best interest to register your car and get a city residential parking permit. If you can get to a city like Cambridge without a car, you can live life without one. I barely use my car as it is because public transportation is awesome and I’m a southerner and terrified to drive in snow. You can plan ahead of time by doing this research before the move which will make it much smoother!
  4. Be sure to research the area you will be living in. Make sure you like the location, safety (street lights, crime rates, etc), local shops you will want to have nearby (pharmacy, vet, coffee shops, etc). Figure out how far your commute would be under different circumstances (inclement weather, public transportation or commuting, etc).
  5. What’s the price for a gallon of milk at your local grocery store? Bread? Eggs? This will be helpful in understanding the fluctuation in prices you will need to prepare for. 
  6. Reach out to friends on social media that might be in the area where you are moving to. They could be a huge asset in helping you find housing and getting your feet on the ground. I have reached out to TONS of old friends, acquaintances, peers, and they have all been so helpful in giving me advice and places to look for housing. 
  7. If you have animals, be sure to consider what they need to make this move as smooth as possible for them, too. For me, I had to get Ruca more anxiety medications because he is a nervous nelly. He hates car rides and has never flown with me but now that I am so far from my hometown, I must fly home for the holidays. So Ruca must fly with me (in the cabin) and he will thus need Trazodone. Mars, my tabby cat, also has issues, particularly with his cat carrier. If I put him in the cat carrier for long periods of time, he goes bonkers. He will distort his body and press up against the carrier as hard as he can and yoooooowwlll the entire carride. I knew I wouldn’t last with Mars in his cat carrier from Clemson to Cambridge so instead I invested in seat belt leashes. I used these:
And they are also linked here (P.S. They are only $10 for a pair of two and are currently Amazon’s choice).  I also used this cheap upholstery pet protector. I used the hammock design so it created a cozy space in the backseat for both Ruca and Mars. It kept Mars from trying to get up front (which he does try to move around quite a bit in the car and that makes me nervous he’ll make me get in an accident) and keeps the pets from bouncing around if I need to slam on my brakes. The leashes are especially awesome because they have the stretchy elastic near the clip so this helps absorb any sudden jerks the dog or cat may feel. It worked really well!
My nearly-final tip is as soon as you commit to a big move, start saving as soon as humanly possible. This will help ease any emergencies or unexpected expenses that will likely come your way. 

My final, final tip is to relax. Which is honestly really rich coming from me. I’ve been a basket case these past few days. But I’m here and alive and I’ve managed to get most of the annoying errands over and done with.


Enjoy the time you have in a new city. Explore, adventure, try new things! Acquaint yourself with everything your new home has to offer. Find your favorite take out place. Find your new running route. Before you know it, you’ll realize you just made this new place home and according

to Creed from The Office, humans just have a knack for making a place home no matter where they go.