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An academic year in review

As another Fall Semester marches forward, I find myself a solid month into my FOURTH (!!) year as a PhD student here at Auburn. Both to fulfill a departmental requirement and to satisfy my own needs to take stock, this time of year--more than January 1--prompts some annual reflection. My committee is satisfied with my progress, but am I? How have I spent my time these past months?

In whole, August 2014 - August 2015 was studded with benchmarks that make for delightful bullet points. While I think that intangible progress is more important than quantifiable achievements, it's nevertheless worthwhile to consider those resume-boosters.

Here are some highlights, displayed for fun on a few of my favorite photos from recent adventures:

Publications: This year saw the publication of my first-ever first author manuscript from my undergraduate research on mechanical sounds in greater sage-grouse! I also have a manuscript in press that addresses the loss of dichromatism in domestic canaries, and several colleagues and I worked to publish an opinion piece on the (mis)representation of meta-analyses in Molecular Ecology. I am most excited about the publications submitted but not yet accepted; hopefully, this coming year will bring closure to several lingering projects!

Awards: Most significant this past year was the super exciting (and a bit shocking!!) news that I was awarded an NSF DDIG for my canary mate choice behavior proposal. I have already begun making some good use of the dollars, purchasing new canaries (of old and new varieties alike), planning a new project, and considering travel for improved methods. I was also absolutely flattered to win this past year's departmental award for excellence in zoology, and I was touched to hear my work in the writing center has been appreciated by my writing center boss and biological superiors alike.

Conferences: Techincally, I've traveled to three since my last annual committee check-in; ABS in Alaska definitely takes the metaphorical cake for travel fun, though NYC for ISBE and the Florida marshland for SICB had their moments as well!

Other activities: This is my favorite slide, and is largely self-explanatory :)

So, what's next?

One of my biggest holes in my current tenure at Auburn is that I've had a blast working on small projects and reviews while waiting for the aviary and the canaries to be established and stabilized, but I have yet to acquire real data for my dissertation. At this point, I sometimes find myself swallowing down some bubbling anxiety that I will never take data from these canaries--there has been one set-back after another. What if I am a hugely successful PhD student... who never has a dissertation to defend?

That said, I am optimistic that the canary colony into which I have poured countless hours of care will finally yield some exciting new data, starting with immunocompetence challenges and assays this fall. With even a single robust dataset under my belt, collecting the rest may seem far less daunting. As I embark this year on the adventure that is TAing, I can't wait to initiate these long-planned experiments and execute some new and exciting protocols.

To be continued :)

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