For those of you who read this blog, you'd have noticed the big decline in posts in the past few weeks. The reason was all the work I was doing for the 11th International Conference on Concrete Pavements, one of the most prestigious conferences in the area. By virtue of my advisor's position, I was saddled - progressively - in making the flash drive, the proceedings, and generally all the little stuff that grows to gargantuan proportions in organizing a conference. That was a good experience and I suppose I could add that to my CV, but it did come at the cost of virtually washing out the last few weeks before the conference.
But not without some reward, for my adviser clearly appreciated what I did, and thus invited me to the very exclusive President's dinner, easily the fanciest dinner I've ever attended in my whole life. I wonder how people get used to such stuff - it was very nice, but there was the perpetual pressure of not doing anything wrong! And as much as I enjoyed myself, I was glad to leave.
However, it turned out that the conference didn't really end for me there. For, sleep-deprived and very full, I was trying to stay awake at the closing gala and awards night to find out that I had one my first award - Best Paper by a Young Author! I must say, my adviser did a deceptively good job of hinting that someone else had won it for a month! Having worked for the last few years on a topic that very few people seemed interested in, with Mechanical Engineers being able to understand it more than Civil Engineers, I must say, it was quite a big boost to get an award for a paper that could've gone in so many different ways, when I look back on how I wrote it!
The biggest positive I took away from the conference and award was that the two previous recipients of the award from my research group both ended up as assistant professors, and are now trudging through the academic life that I still dream of. Over the summer, I had a sudden scare that my adviser had lost interest in the topic and was going to terminate it (and me) just after the conference. Partly, it was driven by the fact that I was doing rather mundane tasks for the conference (although in hindsight, they were quite crucial and needed a dependable hand). Now that's its over, and with an award that will stay with me forever, I can set those trouble aside.
I've learned an important lesson, and I suppose I should spell it out for whoever is interested - getting a PhD is about persisting with what seems impossible, and keeping at it no matter what. Now, more than ever, I feel I have the wind under my wings. I just need to jump.