What Happens When The Brain Just Stops

Well, this might take a while to figure out
So don’t you rush it
And hold your head up high right through the doubt
‘Cause it’s just a matter of time
You’ve been running so fast
It’s the seven day mile
Has you torn in-between here and running away

— “Seven Day Mile” by the Frames

So, as you may have guessed from the title, qualifiers did not go as I might have expected. I went in and gave a great presentation, said I would start taking questions, walked up to the board, and, as the first question left a committee member’s mouth, my mind went blank. Hello, this is Nicole’s brain. I’m not in right now, but you can leave a message…

I stared at the board and knew that the questions I was being asked were easy and straightforward, but I could not, for the life of me, convince my brain to do anything except tell me, “You should know what to do.” I never fully recovered from that initial moment of blind panic, and the second half of my exam consisted of me stumbling and second-guessing myself all the way to the answers.

I think the committee recognized that something was wrong because they never once suggested in their two-plus-hour deliberation that I shouldn’t remain at Cornell. They really liked my presentation and thought I did a very nice job of presenting the information and myself, but that, in the question-and-answer session, I had demonstrated shakiness and hesitancy on some of the advanced fundamentals of my subject.

Frankly, I knew as I was standing at the board that I was blowing it and I didn’t know what to do to save myself. I can’t disagree with the committee’s decision one bit. The person who worked so hard preparing and studying and knowing all of these things was not the person who stood at that board.

I have until December to work my way past my anxieties and to make sure that my knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals–as well as my ability to express that understanding and knowledge–are so solid that no amount of anxiety prevents me from doing this and doing it well. Thankfully, I have a friends and family and a wonderful boyfriend who are all being extremely supportive of me right now; dealing with my random bouts of tears and vicious self-deprecation…

In the end, this set-back will be temporary, and it will make me a better student and teacher and researcher than I would be otherwise.

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