“Just Imagine The Audience Naked”

I don’t advise doing this, yet it is a common option for those with a fear of speech delivery.

Public speaking has never been something I considered to be a “strong suit” of mine.  There were things I did well growing up, and speaking in front of an audience certainly wasn’t one of them.  In high school, I hated answering questions in class.  I hated delivering speeches.  I didn’t like being singled out in front of the class.  Basically, I feared anything that would put me up in front of a group of my peers, or adults, and I avoided it like the plague.

With that in mind, I wanted to write up a blurb about my lectures last week and wanted to talk about them from the public speaking angle, so I checked into when it was that I last even mentioned “public speaking” on the blog.  Low and behold, I find that it was in a post dated January 8, 2006.  At the time, I was lamenting the fact that I had to deliver a presentation for the biomedical sciences program at SLU, in an event called a Colloquium.  As a graduate student at SLU, in the CORE biomedical sciences program, during your second semester in the program, you needed to pick an academic paper, research it, and present it in front of the rest of the people in the program, including four separate departments.  Usually, this group would involve other students and professors, typically never going above 50 people, but frequently only featuring 20+ people in attendance.  The scary part, of course, is that you were presenting this information in front of professors and they could ask you questions.

Tough questions.  Questions you knew you couldn’t answer, even though they thought you could, or should.

Unfortunately, looking back on that particular presentation, it wasn’t very pretty.  I had chosen a pretty boring paper and I didn’t present it well.  However, as a second-year in the program, you have to do another Colloquium presentation, in front of the same group, but by then you have a bit more knowledge and experience under your belt.  My second one was far better.

Over the intervening years (five of them…eeeeesh…), I  had quite a few opportunities to brush up on my public speaking skills.  I had to present papers in front of our department at SLU – a smaller group (up to 20), yet still including students and professors, still entirely capable of tearing you apart with their questions, making you look like an idiot.  Usually, I would over-prepare for these presentations, running through the talk over and over and over again for at least a week prior to its delivery.  And normally, the talks would go just fine.  Still nervous, though.

Looking back on a life of speaking opportunities, I can come up with a few instances when I wasn’t nervous.  One was Boy Scouts.  Another was teaching the undergrads at SLU in a non-major biology course we, the graduate students, ran.  And, most recently, to graduate students here at Iowa and Pharm.D. students last week.

The common thread that I find in these examples is somewhat cliche, but nonetheless important: confidence.  What I found was that, over the years, I was getting better at choosing when it was appropriate for me to speak in front of a group, and usually, it was appropriate when I felt like I knew more about the subject than the other people in the room did.  In the case of teaching undergrads at SLU, I was telling them about depressants and other neurological drugs.  This wasn’t a problem for me, as I knew deep down that there was no one in that room that knew more about the subject.  I would be able to answer any question they threw at me, and if I didn’t know the answer, I could fashion something workable and then get back to them with more details later. Even delivering my dissertation defense to complete the Ph.D., I was talking about the work I had done for 4+ years at SLU, and since I was the one that did the work, I was the most knowledgeable person in the room to talk about it.  The professors could ask me any question they wanted: I was in full control.

Which brings us to last week, when I spoke in front of, perhaps, the largest group I’ve ever had to: ~110 students.  These were pharmacy students here at the University of Iowa and I was talking to them about biotechnology.  Now, I am not well-versed in biotechnology, but it is material I’ve been taught before…years before…  Therefore, I was and still am no expert in the subject.  However, I still knew, deep down, that I knew more about it than they did, and I was imparting that knowledge to them in the most understandable way I could.  As usual, I still practiced the talks for over a week in advance, re-tooled various slides to ensure that they made sense.  I delivered the lectures, answered questions, and all the while, I didn’t get nervous.

So it may have taken 25+ years, but I think figured out public speaking.  It really doesn’t scare me anymore, at least not to the extent that it used to.  I still have to be somewhat choosy about the times where I want to put myself up in front of a group like that to talk about a subject, but at the very least, I think I have a system that I can work with.

Somewhat important if I plan on being a college-level teacher someday…

…when I grow up…  :-)

Turning It Up To ’11

There were various blog and Facebook posts bouncing around over the past few weeks discussing the year that was 2010 and the potential for 2011. I decided to spend those first few days not really posting much, mostly out of laziness, but also out of reflection.

2010 is going to go down as a seminal year for me, personally, as well as our family as a whole.  It was a year when I defended my dissertation, culminating in the completion of a Ph.D. and, therefore, the end of my tenure as a student (23 years in the making…).  It was a year marked by leaving the bustling city of St. Louis for the more laid-back trappings of rural Iowa, coinciding with both Brooke and I leaving our previous jobs (if you count being a graduate student as a “job”…) and starting new positions in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, respectively.  There was also a 10 year high school reunion in there.

The move to Iowa brought quite a few other changes.  We now live in a house, not an apartment.  I now have to (get to?) mow a lawn.  Brooke gets the garden she’s always wanted.  I have a longer commute, plus a bus ride, in getting to work.  We had to find a new church and have become more involved that we planned to (but this is how it always goes…).  We had to come to terms with the fact that it’s pretty hard to go out to eat once a week when you can’t just walk to Joanie’s for happy hour after work.  And we live on a gravel road now.  Oh, and it’s a lot colder in Iowa – nice in the summer, crazy in the winter.

Brooke and I celebrated our 5 year anniversary in 2010.  In many ways, we interact just like we did back when we were first married, if not as we did before.  Of course, the obvious big change in that area is the fact that we added a new member to the family, Meg, who was with us (outside of her mother, at least…) for nearly 10 months in 2010.  It’s been a wild ride learning to be a parent (still learning…), but we’re both getting better at it and slowly figuring out how to handle the problems that go with it.

So, when I say that 2010 was a “seminal year,” it’s because of all these things.  Lots of big change that will influence the course of our collective life that we’ll be able to look back on with fondness in a few short years.

What’s in store for 2011, you ask?  Who knows.  Seems hard to top the year that was 2010 when you look at that list.  I’d be just fine scaling the big things down for a bit so we can coast and enjoy the changes we just went through for a bit longer.  I don’t really see much coming over the horizon except for settling down a bit further, and that’s just fine with me.  A few things off the top of my head would be that I’ll find out if my grant gets funded, which will determine how long we’re staying in Iowa; we’ll try a family vacation with a 1+ year old; Brooke will almost triple the size of her garden and get some chickens; and I will brew close to 60 gallons of beer.

Sounds like a good start.  :-)

Fin

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Yesterday was a long time coming. 13 years of primary and secondary education, 5 years of undergraduate education, and 5 years of graduate education…and now I’m done: Ph.D. achieved.

Different graduate programs carry out their various processes in different ways, but the way ours works is that you complete a Preliminary Dissertation (e.g. “comps”) after 2 years in the program, then you carry out your research, write up a Dissertation, and then defend it. In the Pharmacological and Physiological Science Department at SLU, you have a “Private Defense” between you and your Committee, the individuals that have been evaluating you since the Prelim to determine when you’re ready to be done. The meeting was scheduled for 11:00 am and, while it started a little late, it only ended up lasting an hour. After completion of the Private Defense, we moved on to the “Public Defense.” This one was a separate presentation of, essentially, the “story” my Dissertation told. Anyone is allowed to attend this presentation and ask any questions they want, although typically, there aren’t that many questions asked. I had a few and answered them accordingly. After all this, the ballots allowing my graduation were signed by the Committee and I was then granted the Doctor of Philosophy.

After the Defense(s), we had a lovely reception in the main conference room of the department. Food was eaten, beers drunken(?), presents given, and memories remembered. All in all, it was a great experience. I’m certainly sorry to leave SLU, and I’ll miss all the friends I’ve made over the last 5 years. However, it’s time to move on to the next stage of life.

Now that I’m out of school, after 22 years, one could argue that I’m finally ready to join the “real world.”

And I get to join the real world as Andrew J. Linsenbardt, Ph.D. :-)

Still Truckin’

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We’ve been doing pretty well these last few weeks, although things have gotten noticeably more hectic. As you can see in the picture above, we’re slowly packing stuff away, getting rid of furniture, and preparing for the move on April 30th (thanks, Baumanns, for all the help on Sunday!). We’re thinking a 14 ft truck will give us plenty of space, but don’t have all the boxes packed, it’s kinda hard to tell. We’ve got a pretty good start, though, and I’m carrying a few packed boxes downstairs every night.

Meg is doing well, and for the most part, she’s letting us get stuff done. She’s been sleeping 5-6 hours straight every night for the last few weeks, but these last few nights, she’s gone 7 to 7.5 hours without waking up. We’re told that’s pretty good for a 5-week-old! This means, however, that she tends to be a bit more active during the day, on average, which makes it difficult to do much packing or dissertating. Meg is getting baptized on Sunday, so we picked out music for the service…which also happens to be our last Sunday at Webster Hills. I think we picked some pretty good tunes for this one – should go out with a bang!

Speaking of “dissertating,” I handed out the “final” copies of the dissertation to my committee yesterday. In less than a week, I’ll be defending it and, hopefully, a Ph.D. :-) Way too much stuff to do over the next week! I’m not doing all that much studying yet, but I’ll be doing some reading over the next few days to help prepare.

Either way, we’re flying the the seat of our collective pants. Craziness!

The Stage is Set

As discussed a few months ago, we’re moving to Iowa City, IA for a postdoctoral fellowship I scored in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Iowa. Up until last week, we weren’t entirely sure what the exact plans were, so far as where we’d be living or when we’d be leaving.

Well. Now we know. :-)

I talked with my new boss, Dr. Doorn, last Wednesday and worked out various details of my employment in his lab. We had a lengthy conversation about all kinds of details, of course, and settled upon my start date being May 3rd. We opted to shoot for the beginning of May rather than June for a few reasons, one of which being that Brooke already told her current boss that they should have her replacement ready for the beginning of May, but also because the health insurance benefits in Iowa would save us some cash pretty immediately. My position will technically start May 3rd, but I won’t really go into work until May 10th, giving me some “adjustment time.” We’ll be back down on May 13th for my graduation, of course!

Therefore, we’ll be moving out of our apartment in Soulard on April 30th and moving in to our new place in Iowa on May 1st.

We went to Hannibal this past Sunday for Brooke’s Mom’s choir performance (very nice, Diana!), so Brooke stayed in Hannibal with Meg while I went ahead up to Iowa City to look for places to live. Brooke did an excellent job checking out practically every house on Craig’s List, so I visited a few of them and used the Flip Video to send some clips back to Brooke for her approval. I looked at a few properties, and investigated a variety of options, but eventually we settled on a farm house in Swisher, IA, about halfway between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. It’s got 3 bedrooms, one bathroom, a cellar-like basement, a huge attic (i.e. plenty of storage space), a 3 vehicle carport, and appliances (but no fridge…we’ll have to get that…and no dishwasher…so I may have to hire one…). We are expecting the lease to arrive here in St. Louis sometime this week so we can sign off on it.

So yeah, we’ve got one month for me to graduate; for us to pack…everything; and for us to say “see you later” to quite a few friends down here in St. Louis.

Somehow, I expect this April is going to fly by!

Crunch Time

December was a pretty crazy month, for many reasons, but I can already see time getting the best of me here in the new year. I’m working on getting things scheduled for graduation, as there’s a timeline of sorts that I have to follow, and I’m getting ready to get this dissertation written. I’m going to turn in my “letter of intent” to the Graduate School at SLU this week to get the proverbial ball rolling, and I have my last committee meeting scheduled for next week to get a date set for my defense. Theoretically, we’re shooting for April to get the defense taken care of, as that should be late enough that I can get everything done (amongst other things…more on that in two paragraphs). I have one paper published and another one ready to go, once I get one last pretty picture of my cells (the microscope I’ve been using is down, so I’m waiting on repairs). Having two papers published should help get the dissertation written almost on its own, so I’m not too concerned about having much writing to do…yet I’m sure the process will be more time consuming than I’m planning for.

I do, however, have a job lined up in Iowa City at the University of Iowa, College of Pharmacy, in the Division of Medicinal Chemistry and Natural Products. Brooke and I both went up in December so I could interview with my new boss, Dr. Jonathan Doorn, while she drove around town seeing if it was a place she’d like to live. The projects running in the lab, the people working there, and the environment in general are quite appealing, and seem like they’ll be good for my career. Brooke has already started looking for jobs up there and has found a few that interest her, so getting this extra time to send out applications and look around at places to live is very, very helpful!

At the same time, Brooke is due to deliver our kid at the end of February, so that is seeming more “real” every day. Dr. Macarthur, my adviser, was also due to deliver her first child on the same day as Brooke, but she went into pre-term labor on December 23rd and now has a son two months early (both Mom and Ian James are doing well)! Ian’s early arrival puts things in perspective, as Brooke could, conceivably, go into labor in less than a month and not be all that early. Or, of course, it could be later as well. In either case, the whole “I’m going to be a Daddy” thing is starting to set in pretty thoroughly, amongst all the other changes that we have in store.

So yeah, basically, everything is getting wrapped up between now and April. In many ways, it feels like graduating from high school or from college where, in that last semester, you feel slightly overwhelmed and unsure of what the future will bring. The addition of a baby into the mix, however, creates a different perspective to work from as, now, child care is a factor, school districts must be considered, doctor’s appointments have to be scheduled, etc.

It’s going to be an interesting semester!

One more off the list…

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Brooke mentioned a few weeks ago that we hadn’t made it to a Blues game yet while living here in St. Louis. We’ve attended many Cardinals games in our years here, and one Rams game, but the Blues had eluded us so far. Really, neither of us have ever had any interest in hockey, so it wasn’t exactly a priority. Still, it’s one of those things that people tell us is fun, so we wanted to go at some point.

Well, as it happened, the Graduate Student Association at SLU (of which I’m President) was hosting a social event where we could get student rate tickets. Due to high cheapness, we got both or tickets for $30 (total), and that included a hot dog and a soda for each of us (about a $10 value). So yeah, a great deal! The seats weren’t anything spectacular, but the view was surprisingly good. It doesn’t seem like there’s a bad seat in that rink, honestly. The seats we had were something like $35 normally, so those “nosebleed” seats are still a far cry from the over $60 “nosebleed” seats at a Rams game.

A hockey game, it seems, is also tremendously more entertaining than an NFL game, as well. The action was constant, there were some fights breaking out, and overall, the speed and pace of the game was faster. Of course, the scoring doesn’t happen all that often, but with all the shots toward the net, it still gave us much to pay attention to.

Anyway, that’s another event we can cross off the list. We had a good time, but left early. Apparently, we should have stayed longer, as the Blues ended up winning (!!!!).

Maybe next time! Believe you me, I’m much more likely to go to an NHL game in the future than any NFL game.

Travels: Part I

Brooke and I were in different parts of the Midwest last week (or even two weeks ago, almost).  Here’s the first post relating to all that – Brooke’s will follow once she pulls pictures off the camera.

So, I went to Chicago this year for our annual Society for Neuroscience meeting (I only took a few pictures, but here they are if you care…).  We decided to take the train this time around, as something of a change from the typical “hop on a plane” experience.  To be honest, the trip up there via Amtrak was actually pretty nice compared to flying Coach on an airplane: you get much more leg room, slightly more comfortable seats, AC plugins for your laptop (if you want to watch a movie, for example…no WiFi available, sadly…), roomy bathrooms, and a full-service snack car.  The trip was a bit over 5 hours, so it was basically as long as a car ride, but quite a bit more comfortable.

Anyway, we made it to Chicago and got off at Union Station.  Once there, we found a taxi and started heading toward it.  A “gentleman” grabbed our bags and put them in the trunk of the car.  At this point, Dr. Macarthur got in the back seat, and we both noticed that the driver of said car was still in the car, making me wonder who this guy was.  He then demanded a tip.  I was, of course, rather confused by this whole situation, not being used to taxi service in major metropolitan areas, but Dr. Macarthur was kind enough to get rid of him for me.  Once we started driving, Dr. Macarthur told him “Palmer House Hilton” as the destination.  The driver was talking on his cell phone (which he wasn’t supposed to do…), and a few minutes later, we made it to the Hilton Chicago.  Not where we wanted to go.  Then Dr. Macarthur tried explaining this to him, and he actually argued with her about it.  She was not pleased about this, of course.  Long story short, he ended up turning off the meter so we weren’t double-charged, so that was a bit better…  My first exposure to “Chicago,” proper.

The conference itself was pretty good.  Over 30,000 attended, making it pretty crowded.  I wasn’t a huge fan of McCormick Place (the convention center), as it seems pretty poorly laid out (multiple levels, funky entrances, etc.) and not in an area populated by any restaurants, making lunch a bit difficult.  We saw some interesting posters and heard a talk from Dr. Francis Collins, the current head of the National Institutes of Health.  My presentation wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon, the final day of the conference, making me wonder if anyone would still even be around to see my stuff.  Thankfully, I garnered some interest and got to present it multiple times…not as many as last year, but still, much more than I’d expected.

So, we left Wednesday afternoon, again via taxi.  This time, the driver didn’t come to a complete stop at a stop sign, so we got chased by a cop on a 4-wheeler (yes, they have those in Chicago…with sirens…).  The cop was on a power trip, taking advantage of this poor Asian guy that spoke little English.  When the cop went back to his 4-wheeler to input the license and registration information, the driver made the unfortunate choice of getting out of the car to go talk to the cop, who then proceded to yell at the driver: “GET BACK IN THE VEHICLE!  DO NOT EXIT YOUR VEHICLE!”  He knows better now, I guess…  Considering how many people don’t come to complete stops at stop signs, I kinda felt sorry for this particular driver, as he was actually a much better driver than the vast majority of taxi drivers out there, weaving in and out of lanes.  How about you cops on 4-wheelers try picking up some of them, eh?

Finally, we hop on the train for the ride home.  About 5 minutes north of Joliet, IL (which is around 30 minutes outside of Chicago…), we stopped to allow freight traffic to pass by.  Well, they couldn’t re-start our train.  Apparently, one of the computers wasn’t rebooting properly (probably running Windows Vista…).  We spent 2 hours sitting there waiting for the train to get going, and during that time, we were low on power as they’d shut the engines down.  Without power, you a). don’t have lights (making reading difficult) and b). don’t have snack car service, as you can’t use the cash register and can’t use the microwave.   They never actually re-started the train, but instead waited for the next train from Chicago to come down and attach itself to us, so we ended up having two trains heading down to St. Louis, making two stops at each town on the way because there were two trains-worth of people trying to get to their destinations.  Thankfully, Brooke was kind enough to pick us up 2 hours later than planned (12:45 am…).

So, that was my trip.  There were more good things than this (restaurants, some sights, etc.), but these are the more interesting aspects to report.

Let’s Do The Locomotion

So, tomorrow I’ll be embarking on my first train ride.  Not to say that I haven’t used light-rail metro systems, but this will be the first Amtrak system that I hit up.  I’ll be leaving (eeeaaaaarrrly…) for Chicago to attend this year’s annual Society for Neuroscience meeting.  2008’s was in Washington, D.C. and 2007’s was in San Diego, so Chicago is considerably less interesting to me, but perhaps a train ride will make things a bit more interesting.

We basically decided that, rather than waiting at the airport and flying, we may as well take the 5.5 hr train ride instead.  As I understand it, these trains have quite a bit of leg room (compared to the Coach area of a plane) and a snack car, so it should be more comfortable.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the trip.  We’ll probably get a chance to head by a few “sights” while in Chicago, as it seems that there is relatively little to see at the meeting on Monday and Tuesday (I present late on Wednesday).  It looks like they put the majority of Parkinson’s-related research on Saturday (when I’m not there) and Wednesday (while I’m also presenting it), so we’ll probably dabble a bit in some posters and then go to Shedd Aquarium or something.

This will also be my last formal presentation of data at a meeting like this, certainly while a grad student at SLU.  I at least think I’m going out with some good work, and the poster looks pretty.  I’ve got some fluorescent images on there to add a bit more color to otherwise boring graphs (I had Brooke help me with some of the color choices, of course, as my Mom saw fit to give me color-blindness…).

Also, as this is my last trip as a grad student, I’ll also be hitting up the NeuroJobs portion of the conference, seeing if I can land a job somewhere.  I’ve sent the resume to a few places, but haven’t really concentrated on it much yet because of various school-related things, and, well, doing experiments and such.  After this week, I’ll be hitting that up in earnest.

Regardless, it doesn’t look like the busy-ness of the last few months is going away anytime soon.  Guess I should get used to it.

2010 will bring a few new experiences!

So, when I said “I have a feeling this school year will have a ‘whirlwind’ feel to it,” I was indeed talking about something a bit more specific (but wasn’t discussing much publicly yet). Liz requested a bit more information on such things, so I figured I could go ahead and bring everyone up to speed. :-)

As most of you already know, or found out Friday via Facebook, Brooke is pregnant.

We actually found out toward the end of June, and told our respective parents/sisters around the July 4th holiday. At that point, we were about 6 weeks into the pregnancy and, as many of you know, that’s a bit early to go around telling people, as the chances of miscarriage are still a bit high at that point. We did wait, however, to tell our ‘rents until we had confirmed with Brooke’s primary care doc. We made another appointment with the OB/GYN doctors at SLU to get that ball rolling, as well, around the 8 week point. Once we hit 10 weeks, I told people at the lab; Brooke told people at her office a little before that, as it’s difficult to explain all these doctor appointments without giving some reason (especially when you’ve got a lot of stuff to do!).

Anyway, we finally got to hear a heartbeat on Friday afternoon (now at the 13 week period), and that’s when I put the news up on Facebook. We’re told that once you’re able to hear a heartbeat (usually around 12 weeks?), the chances of miscarriage drop dramatically. So far as we know, everything’s going splendidly! We’ll be doing an ultrasound on September 24th (~18 weeks), where we’ll hopefully be able to see the gender of the baby.

The baby is due February 24th. So, hopefully, I’ll have a newborn in time for him/her to witness my graduation!

So yeah, that’s basically it. Brooke has been feeling surprisingly well throughout this whole deal, with the exception of some headaches. She usually takes ibuprofen or naproxen for such things, but acetaminophen is all you can take when you’re pregnant (without a prescription for something more powerful, but still relatively safe for mom + baby). Brooke has noticed that she’s eating more for lunch now, and seems to be craving a few odd things here and there. I’ll keep reminding her to post things on her blog that are more specific to those points, though!

At any rate, 2010 is looking to be a pretty memorable year. My graduation, likely moving to a new town, having a kid…

What’s the worst that could happen? :-)