My second year at Clemson was just as difficult and overwhelming as the first year (yay). Because I was “year-zero” (see this post for more) my first year, I was required to take one year of lower-level (undergraduate) physics courses before enrolling in the official graduate-level courses. So, “year one” really began my second year when I enrolled into the graduate level courses of the physics program: Classical Mechanics (I), Quantum Mechanics (I&II), Mathematical Methods, Statistical Mechanics, and Electromagnetism. I’d like to say that the prior year of taking very similar courses that I breezed through my year one, but that would be a big fat lie 😅. I struggled the whole way through. When I say I was studying morning and night and most of my weekends, I mean that. A small group of us in class would regularly work together on homework problems and study for tests. We continued to do this the entire year and even into the summer following the end of year one, when we were all required to prepare and take the Written Qualification Examinations (ooooooeeeeooooooo 👻🙀)

There are three “quals” that all PhD students HAVE to pass if they want to continue their PhD research at Clemson: Classical & Statistical Mechanics were on one exam, Quantum Mechanics on the second, and Electromagnetic Theory on the third. Every student is required to pass all three.


The three quals are given each their own examination day with up to four hours to work on 6-8 problems over the course of one week. And if that’s not horrifying enough, the entire department then confers together and discuss/debate/challenge students’ performances on the tests. I am certain I speak for the entire graduate student body in the Clemson Physics PhD program, but this was my own personal hell. I still torture myself wondering what was said in that conference room about my performance 😩.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel though!

Does your life feel like a floating dumpster fire? You are not alone!

The first 1-2 years are very clearly a stressful time of the early PhD career as a Clemson graduate student, but it really is a whole lot different after you finally make it past the Written Qual bump! At this point, you are done with your core coursework and can now finally start earning some research credits and start focusing on the stuff that you came here for.

This moment comes at the end of the year one – once you have finished those six graduate courses; you’ve taken all the final exams and have all your final grades, which is generally a time to rejoice and relax, right?

Haha. Just nope.

The clock actually just started. And it’s ticking. You got three (3!!) months to prepare for possibly the most difficult obstacle of your academic career. To be fair, you did also have about 1-2 years of relevant coursework that will hopefully come in handy.

Are you guys sweating just reading this?

Cause I actually have another complication to throw into the mix. This one is a given though, and hopefully doesn’t catch anyone by surprise, since it is a common practice for both undergraduate and graduate students. This concept is the measure of academic standing, aka needing to meet a minimum grade requirement to continue as a student in the program. This part can be confusing as a fresh graduate student, because you come into the program and you start hearing about how “GPAs don’t matter at this point” and how it’s really your research background and skillset. I am not really sure where exactly that should apply because even now as I prepare for postdoctoral positions after graduation, they all ask for transcripts with complete grades lol.

P.S. University: could it maybe not cost me $15 to send my own academic record (electronic, too; what does that cost you to send an e-mail, I mean really) to potential employers?!

Idk, maybe they are just trying to make you feel better because it can be hard for some students who come into the program and are used to being the top of their class, but then they are making 50% on tests (which can sometimes be a class average) and they will beat themselves up over it even if it’s the highest grade in the class (not kidding, I’ve seen it!).

The bottom line is, you actually do have to have a minimum GPA of 3.0 to remain in good academic standing with the graduate school. So, your GPA does actually matter even in graduate school. At the very least, it matters the most those first 1-2 years when you are actually taking coursework. This can be tricky to maneuver your first year and is even harder if you don’t have the right support or guidance.

I wish I could offer up some advice for this delicate time in your PhD, but I don’t really have anything general enough to share here. We are all going to have different education levels coming into the program. Some students are coming in with two degrees in Physics already and others just completed their 4-year degree in Chemistry. The resources you require to get past the written quals will vary because of this. The written placement test you take when you first arrive at Clemson is meant to help you anticipate where you may fall among your incoming class. You will also have an opportunity to discuss your placement test score with the graduate student coordinator (GRC) who should ideally provide you with the most likely path for you to succeed.

Gosh. My post about my second year turned into the cliff notes version of the graduate student handbook. My b y’all. That whole year is honestly pretty blurry for me (and uneventful, as you may have guessed). The one thing that sticks out to me that year was meeting Noah ❣️ (my beau). We were neighbors and met at the community pool at our apartment complex the summer before heading into those graduate courses. Oh, I also got my first cat on September 11, 2017 — during the fall semester of year one. It was when a tropical storm swept through the Southeast and cut the power to much of the area for about 24 hours. Naturally me, my boyfriend, and my roommate decided to go to PetSmart to get a toy for Ruca (yes, during a tropical storm 🧐) and came home with my cat, Mars. No, Mars was not the toy. He is 4.5 years old now and has established my morning routine for me.

Below I share the social media post featuring me and one of my best study buddies from year one when we learned that we passed our written quals! Allen and I spent (what felt like) every waking moment together studying for those exams. I miss arguing with you, Allen! Cheers to good memories but many more cheers to having this stressful time of our lives far away in the past 🤓.

WARNING: the caption text features a couple expletives, I do apologize.

Please note the aformentioned PhD requirements are specific to Clemson’s physics PhD program. Each program varies even just among the graduate school at Clemson and at each academic institution.


became my new home the fall of 2016.

Chapter 2

Physics and Astronomy (PandA) department at Clemson University represented by some professors and graduate students at a 5K run in spring 2016 (P.S. and I won fastest female!)
Fours years ago I had just moved from Radford, Virginia to Clemson, South Carolina to begin my participation in the physics PhD program at Clemson University. I was devastated to leave Radford – I think I had developed a fairly strong bond to the town from my four years spent living and studying there. I think some of it was also being young and aware that Radford was the first “home away from home” for me and I was leaving it. And a sprinkle of the reality that is taking on bills and life on my own in a new way, even farther away from home. Home home. Out of state. Where I know no one. And am not familiar with any surrounding regions. And am really nervous of my ability to even participate in a PhD program of any kind. Yeah, so lots of feelings. Of course excitement was there, too. I’d experienced a big change before and loved every minute (going away to college) and I was fully aware of the opportunity that lie ahead of me at Clemson! With big life changes comes the usual fear of the unknown but so should being open to a new chapter of your life, one that could bring great things to you (but easier said than done amirite). What’s that saying? You know, ‘replace fear of the unknown with curiosity’?


The astronomy community, the LG (local group), at Clemson, spring 2018 (two years into the program). This photo makes me laugh because apparently I had told Ross (the one crouching) that he was blocking someone and apparently he was not.
I put a lot of pressure on myself that year. Entering graduate school is when I realized that I had anxiety issues and it was hitting the point where I could no longer ignore its impact on my life. I talk more about it here. When I entered Clemson, I began teaching introductory astronomy labs in conjunction with taking full time coursework. The Clemson physics and astronomy department does a placement test to help you figure out the proper track for your PhD program. I ranked the lowest score of my incoming class. They suggested to me that I take year zero, which would require two years of full time course work and re-visit courses that I was weak in (thermo, quantum, haha just kidding, all of them). I was the only one to enroll in year zero courses from my class and was the only graduate student among undergraduates for the entire first year of graduate school. I registered this as my first failure. I’m already falling behind, great. But, I was taking this seriously. I asked the department chair at the time, what are your success rates for students if they follow their recommended tracks? The students who do not succeed are almost always students who were recommended year zero and choose against it and failed trying to muscle through courses they couldn’t understand. Personally, I’d rather take six years to earn my PhD than just not earn my PhD at all. So, even though for whatever reason (ahem, imposter syndrome) I felt a little embarrassed being the only graduate student in my year zero classes, I signed up for them, and it turned out to be possibly the smartest decision I could’ve made at the time. (P.S. I’m pretty sure the only person to “look down on me” for being in year zero was myself and if it wasn’t, kindly fudge ’em.).
Of course I didn’t come to appreciate that decision until later. There were two new aspects to my life that, at first, made me very uncomfortable.

Teaching to students my age
Being the dumbest person in the class and be the only graduate student there. 
I struggled with both that entire first year. I had a big teaching and course workload. My first semester in graduate school, I was teaching three 2-hour astronomy labs per week, grading, reporting grades, offering feedback, working with students, facilitating projects, grading paper reports. That’s just the teaching portion. Oh yeah and for astronomy labs we had to offer weekly observing nights as a final project. So we were out once to twice per week at night observing with the students, fall and spring semesters. On top of that, I was taking three courses: electromagnetism, classical mechanics, and quantum mechanics. There were all very hard and very time consuming, even as a year zero course.


It became obvious the first lecture that Clemson undergraduate degrees in physics were way more involved and intense than where I just came from. I was impressed and also terrified. This was mostly all new material for me but it wasn’t supposed to be. I was very aware of the holes in my education and this intensified my anxiety but it also intensified my determination. I didn’t prioritize social interactions my first year in Clemson and it was another added stressor to my life. It got lonely! But I was pretty busy studying physics, after all, I was catching up and was still quite a ways behind. And, ya know, teaching.

It was a lot having to balance all of these added areas to my life and it took some time to find the right balance. I kept my head down that first year of Clemson. I consider that a long phase where I was a little seedling waiting for the right time to sprout and bloom in growth! It was a very difficult year, and the second year at Clemson was not any easier. Graduate school really is no joke. Not to mention, there are a lot of problems that we still need to address in academia, too, so we can better support each other as we progress in our careers but, it’s equally valuable to be grateful for your experiences and your fervor to overcome the negative ones and how they have helped you grow into the scientist (or whoever you are!) that you are today. That is something to always be proud of.

While yes, it was exhausting and hard work, I changed a lot as a person (for the better, I think) during that short time and learned a lot about myself along the way. There’s so much more I wanted to mention with this first year of graduate school but admittedly I have been struggling with a bit of writer’s block and can’t find the right words. Nonetheless, I hope the bit I have shared can help someone pull through an awkward time of their life, one that maybe fosters similar emotions.

Blooming takes time.




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).
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.

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?


​Just guess.



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. 

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. 

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.



This is when it all really takes off.

The summer before my junior year, I got my first real taste at astronomy research at ERIRA: educational research in radio astronomy. It’s a week long that’s filled with a dozen projects you can pick to be a part of (even more than one, which most of us did).


That was an amazing week! The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) hosts ERIRA every year and the telescopes sit in a valley in the middle of the Appalachian mountains in Green Bank, West Virginia. The largest directional radio telescope sits here (and pictured below!) with a whopping diameter of 100 meters. The telescope is so sensitive, you are not allowed to have WiFi, cameras, cell phones, laptops, regular phones, or desktop computers nearby and especially not outside. I’m not kidding! So for the week I was there I was isolated from the rest of the world, in this gorgeous, dark valley. At night you can see all the stars, count a satellite moving by a minute, and see the Milky Way. It was breath taking. Being unplugged for that entire week was rejuvenating. If you wanted access to your laptops and cell phones, you had to use them inside and could only use an ethernet. Computer labs are literally encased in a Faraday cage and you have to be sure to completely close the cage up when entering or leaving. The control room for the telescope is even in a Faraday cage.

What’s more is the city has something like a 15 mile radius of Radio Quiet Zone. Anyone living in Green Bank is not allowed to have WiFi or other popular technology that could interfere with the telescopes. In fact, there’s a neighbor there that was so disgruntled by the law that he not only got WiFi, but named his network something like “Ki$$MyA$$NRAO”. The city is becoming well known for its radio quietness because people who believe they are getting sick from electromagnetic radiation are moving there. This is not a legitimate disease! But anyway….

So, I didn’t hate radio astronomy. In fact I loved everything about it minus waking up at 2:00am to survey 3 hours worth of the night sky. That part I did not like so much. I decided to join like four groups and I studied the following:


  • Searched for pulsars
  • Studied parallax using Saturn’s moons
  • Measured the mass of the Milky Way Galaxy
  • Measured the heat flux from Jupiter

My favorite was measuring the mass of the Milky Way. I saw firsthand how people discovered dark matter! We took data for hours at night for the whole week and used a few simple physical equations to find the velocities of all of these objects. We then calculated the entire mass of the Milky Way using this. I remember I kept calculating the percent error over and over! I kept thinking, why am I getting 99% error on the Galactic mass?!!?!?!?!?! 

I went up to our instructor of this project and asked him this. He said, dark matter. And I was like OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH!!!! I didn’t really know much about dark matter (and I still don’t) but that result was really intriguing.

I carried what I learned with me back to Radford and my mentor, Dr. Rhett Herman, suggested I continue my radio astronomy interests through an independent study. I said, I mean yeah why not?

The start of my junior year, I was full swing in taking hardcore physics classes like modern physics, electromagnetism, electronics, and now an independent study. We purchased a pretty inexpensive Radio Jove Kit, mainly funded by NASA. It came with everything I needed to build my own telescope and radio receiver and all I had to do was actually build it. This was a really fun time because I not only got access to the roof of the science hall on campus but I also got a key! It was awesome. I got to go up to the roof whenever I wanted to work on the antennae. Naturally I was up there all of the time.

I had to build the antennae, build the radio, and get a computer set up to be compatible with the radio and software. Then I needed a nice quiet space so I could listen to static. Yep, that’s the stuff.



We just became best friends if you know what movie this is 😉
I built it all. But something didn’t work. I think something went haywire in the radio receiver – maybe a burnt out amplifier. I’m still not sure. Unfortunately, it took a little while to realize I wasn’t listening to anything. I did my radio astronomy independent study for both fall and spring semesters of my junior year but sadly gave up, anticipating the preparation for the 2016 trip back to Barrow, Alaska. Which by this time, I was very involved with. I wouldn’t shut up about the Arctic ice.


In the spring of my junior year, Rhett asked me if I wanted to help him build some electronics to be deployed in Barrow, Alaska in June 2015. The purpose was to measure a few quantities about the microclimate (about 10 meters above the tundra surface) in order to see why Arctic bird populations chose certain nesting sites and whether or not these decisions led to their survival. That was an incredible experience! I’ll get to the actual deployment of the equipment later and for now, I’ll focus on the preparation – which there was a lot of.

This was a really fun project to work on and I show a few photos of me working on the prototypes over the spring semester above! Because we had such little funding for the project, we had to be super resourceful on how we built equipment. We knew we wanted to measure the microclimate of the tundra environment which we defined to be about 10 meters above the surface. We used garden sticks as long standing platforms to places sensors on. We wanted to keep track of temperature (and any gradient that may exist as you move away from the ground), humidity, wind speed, and pressure. There are some pretty cheap electronics that can make that happen. I extensively made use of Arduino hardware which utilizes a custom software to run the codes but is set up in C++ language.


We eventually realized a huge problem. The temperature sensors were so sensitive that when exposed to direct sunlight, they read out temperatures nearly 10 degrees higher than the true temperature of the air. The direct sunlight was likely to effect the other sensors too and we weren’t sure how to go about this for a few months. Then it eventually dawned on me how perfect field hockey practice cones are for this exact problem. So I threw these babies on top of every temperature sensor, mounted them down, and tried it out. It completely solved the problem. Thank goodness for my field hockey days or we might’ve been stuck on that part a lot longer!

During this same time in the spring semester, I was taking full time classes (and getting a small extra stipend as a research assistant for the equipment development). I’m pretty sure I was taking electromagnetic theory I and optics. I was T E R R I B L E in these classes. I’m fairly certain I got a D in theory and only managed to weasel out of taking the course again because it was technically an elective for me since I was an Earth & Space concentration physics major. Just as a reminder that while yes, things were really going well for me at this point in time in getting a lot of research experience, it’s not like I was this amazing overachiever always shocking people with my great performance. 

I got a B in optics but I knew I didn’t deserve it. The teacher was too nice to give me the C or D I truly deserved. Looking back, I could probably crush that course now because it’s all just algebra for the most part but for some reason I wasn’t as invested in this course and never took the time to sit down and really understand the material. I guess I was too busy building nesting location measurement devices!

In June 2015, the summer after my finishing my junior year, we went out as an interdisciplinary team: a physics crew to deploy the equipment and a biology crew to determine deployment locations and interpret results. We spent a week out there and it was amazing. I have so many great stories of bird watching out there! I truly appreciate the bird watching hobby now. Birds are fascinating. You’re probably thinking wow she really is a nerd but like, I literally watched birds of prey PREY on other birds! And I even saw a bird do a broken wing dance for me to try to lure me away from her nest. I had no idea I was anywhere near her nest at the time. I later got up and realized I had been sitting on it the entire time. Thank GOD the eggs were all still in tact.

Photos below are us in the Arctic tundra taking data real time! There are also a couple photos of a local presentation we did. The community there loves being clued in on what research scientists come to do in town. They are quite involved actually, in a great way. They are very supportive because they have seen first hand, generation after generation, of how anthropogenic climate change has impacted their ecosystems.

I wanted to end this post about my junior year with the internship I got that summer, which happened at the same time as my trip to Barrow in June. It was my junior year and this was my last chance, before thinking about what to do after graduation, to get some summer research experience in a paid internship (spoiler alert: all STEM internships and graduate school are paid for!!!).


I had applied to about 20 internship programs both my sophomore year for the summer of 2014 and again in my junior year for the summer of 2015. I got one acceptance. But that didn’t matter because I at least had one offer to pursue and gain more experience in. I was accepted into the College of William & Mary’s REU program that worked in collaboration with the NASA Langley Research Center (LaRC). Both of these are very close to my hometown. In fact, the NASA LaRC is IN my hometown and was only ten minutes away from my childhood home! So, I began packing and preparing for my 10 week paid internship in Williamsburg and possibly Hampton, depending on the project I was assigned. I, of course, chose to do all astronomy related topics but was assigned a material science topic. So just to reiterate that at this point, I had very little astronomy research experience, even though that was my passion. The goal in undergraduate school is to try to get your hands on any kind of research experience because the skillsets are typically very broad and will serve you well throughout your career. And it did for me. Not to mention, my supervisor at my internship wrote all of my recommendation letters to graduate schools.

Later in the fall of my senior year, the College of William & Mary paid to have me present my research at a Council for Undergraduate Research (CUR) symposium in DC.

This also ended up being the same summer I did a college thing – I got a dog without telling my parents. This was around the time my mom kept saying she wanted another dog. My dad vehemently denied my mom getting a new dog. So my mom jokingly said one morning, Jordie you should bring a dog home that we will keep but your dad will be mad at you and not me. And I was like ha, I mean, yeah. I want a dog too! Only I wasn’t kidding.

Fast forward a couple weeks later, my boyfriend at the time had a brother who had recently taken on a stray beagle, Fievel. He was about 1 years old at the time of being found out in the wilderness of the Appalachia and was timid, shy, and very malnourished. I knew Fievel back then already as my boyfriend and I would sometimes take care of him in Radford. Unfortunately, Fievel’s current dog owner, after rescuing him, neutering him, vaccinating him, and giving him all of the things he needed, got a job that was pretty time consuming. It broke his heart to have to consider giving Fievel up to someone else but he knew he wouldn’t be able to give him the life he deserves while working 10 hours a day. I snatched up the opportunity. I remember coming home with Fievel, not saying a word about it at all to my parents, and just seeing their extremely angry reactions. My dad was throwing expletives all around saying how this isn’t a joke and I’m not financially stable to have my own pet and this and that. I mean it was all true. I should not have gotten a dog while broke, being completely dependent on my parents, and doing school full time. My mom “threw me under the bus” saying we did not agree to this! I said, Ma, this was YOUR idea. But damn, we sure were all one lucky bunch to have a dog like Fievel come into our lives. Twenty minutes after I had arrived home with a strange dog, Fievel and I were sitting on the couch just relaxing and watching TV. My dad comes in and pets Fievel and says, “Is he always that docile?”

I eventually renamed the dog to Ruca. Today, nearly five years later, my dad will insist on watching Ruca when I’ll be out of town or something (most recently, he offered to take care of Ruca while I adjusted up in Cambridge). We all love our little surprise addition. I truly was so lucky to make such an impulsive decision on such an easy, happy-go-lucky dog. He’s been by my side ever since!



Goodness he’s so young here! Circa Sept. 2015, just a few months after getting Ruca. This was in my old Radford apartment!

Writing all of this, I’ve realized I’ve unpacked A LOT. My junior year seemed to be one of the most exciting years from undergrad. If you want to know more about any of these experiences or how I applied to various programs or whatever it is, feel free to comment below or contact me!


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.