Although the trees had just barely started to bud in Connecticut, summer was in full swing in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, which came as quite a surprise when I showed up in early May. Danny, the grad student I'm working with this summer, picked me up from the airport to take me to my new place, but it turns out I'm living in a forest (literally) and it took us a few tries to find the house. It's a really nice place, despite the fact it's buried in trees--it's got that whole rustic, "secluded in the woods" vibe going on. I'm living with four guys, two of which are UNC Law students who live in the house year-round, and two who are undergrads also doing internships for the summer. Honestly, it's great living with guys because they never hog the bathroom. However, I can tell they hate it when I claim the remote and turn on HGTV.
I came to Chapel Hill absolutely exhausted right after finals period ended, which was a pretty quick and stressful turn around. The day after I arrived I went on a run, got terribly lost (turns out most backroads are just people's driveways...), and didn't make it home until 2 hours later, sunburnt and thirsty. So my first impression of North Carolina was shaped by the suffocating humidity and relentless hills that made my workout a bit more painful than expected. But, I gave myself the weekend to explore the area and get settled before starting work in the lab, which led me to discover how beautiful Chapel Hill is. I had no idea a campus could be so full of trees but still be considered urban. It's weird because I'm used to going to school smack-dab in the middle of a big city, and UNC is very spread out, calm, and quiet. I showed up completely burned out from a long semester, but after a weekend of sleeping, strolling around the city, and binge-watching The Mindy Project, I was ready to roll with my internship at UNC.
My house is about a mile from the building I work in, so it's a nice walk every morning and late afternoon. The first few days (actually, pretty much the whole first 2 weeks) were a whirlwind. I met my adviser, was introduced to my project, was introduced to other projects going on in the lab, was told to write my first code in R, was presented with four years worth of data in the form of squiggly lines, and was presented with the challenge of learning an entirely new operating system in order to start working on all of the above. In short, I was completely lost, smiling and nodding my way through the beginning. Although information was being thrown at me left and right, I didn't feel as overwhelmed as I thought I would. Actually, I felt excited about stepping into an entirely new field, learning new skills and concepts, and having the chance to work with a new group of people. I expected to be given a list of tasks to complete, or papers to read, but instead my adviser gave me an overview of what I'll be working on and left me to decide how I want to approach the project. I have the freedom to solve problems any way I want, which is a huge amount of independence I've never had before. Although I work in a lab back home, this is the first time I feel like the project is truly my own, which excites me and helps to make a 10-hour day in the lab fly by.
After the first two weeks at UNC, I flew out to New Mexico for the IRIS orientation, where I met an inspiring group of people from around the country. I cannot express how much of a relief it was to be able to commiserate about not knowing how to program with people who are in the same position. We spent a lot of time outside, hiking until my feet were blistered, installing seismometers, and performing an active source experiment. There were also classes and lectures which provided exposure to various topics in geophysics, along with tutorials in MATLAB, GMT, and SAC--three computer programs often used in seismology research. My favorite part, though, was having the opportunity to meet so many people from a multitude of backgrounds and careers. Almost every activity throughout the week was led by someone different, who shared with us how he/she got to where they are today. There was also a career panel at the end of the week where we could listen to advice and ask away about what it's like to work as a geophysicist in academia, industry, and government. I walked away from the week with a broadened perspective of what possibilities lie ahead for me as I head into my senior year at Yale. I also had the chance to think about what I want to get out of the IRIS internship this summer, both as a student and as a person. In my next post I'll talk more about the goals I've laid out for the summer, get into the specifics of what I'm actually working on, and detail what I hope to accomplish by the time August rolls around.
I'm sure there will be a steep learning curve and lots of new experiences throughout the summer, and hopefully I can capture the ups and downs on this blog to share with everyone. Even though my hair has become a permanent frizzball in this weather, I am so excited to be somewhere new for the summer, and I feel lucky to join such an enthusiastic, driven team here at UNC.
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