The day I defended my Master’s thesis, in fact the moment I walked out of the room and the door closed behind us, my wife asked me, “Would you ever consider doing a PhD?”

My immediate reply was unwavering, “Not a chance,” I said.

I’d just spent the last three years working full time while going to graduate school. After working Monday to Friday and using evening and weekends to run lab experiments and write, I was more than happy to have some unstructured time. Fast forward several months later and I waded into the “What if…” waters of considering embarking on a PhD. I talked to Dave about what a PhD in the FluxLab would be like, and bombarded him with questions about coursework, comprehensive exams and potential projects.

It was an extremely difficult decision. At the time I had a very secure, well-paying job with a pension and benefits. I had never considered myself to be an academic, given my preference for more physical work over reading or writing, and I wasn’t sure how I would fit into a vastly different environment than I was accustomed. But there was something else too; I wasn’t completely happy. I was feeling rudderless, like I had no direction. My job was quite routine, and I wanted something more challenging. I wanted to be able to contribute to something at a higher level than I was.

Eventually I decided to take a chance and just go for it, and I am so glad that I did.

This year in the lab has been incredible, and I’ve been able to do things I never dreamed of, like dipping my toe in the Arctic Ocean and taking a ride on a helicopter. On top of the skills I knew I would have to develop during this degree I’ve also learned a few things I didn’t expect to, like how to back up with a trailer and how to wire a switch in the middle of nowhere with just a knife and electrical tape.

I have discovered there are definitely advantages of being a mature grad student. By far the largest is that after years working, I am so much more responsible and disciplined than when I was younger and earning my bachelors’ degree. At that age I didn’t have the grit and determination needed to make it through a thesis. I also better appreciate the high level of flexibility and freedom that a graduate degree offers. In fact, at my last job I literally had to punch a time clock every day.

Dave works very hard to create a positive environment in the lab and tries to provide lab members with what they need to grow and be successful. I’m learning and developing while working on projects that matter to me and get to do so among a group of stimulating people. Coming into this degree, I had enough self-awareness to know FluxLab was a good choice for me, and to top it all off, I fit in far better than I ever though I would.

Dan Wesley