PhD Defense Day!

I cannot believe how quickly the day arrived, but after a month of writing manuscripts, organizing data, and creating a powerpoint, it was the morning of my PhD defense!!  To maintain tradition, formality, and pay special tribute to the historical University of Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning – students within the Clinical and Translational Science PhD defend our dissertation in a nationality room at the cathedral!

My cheering section!

My parents drove out for the weekend to attend my presentation. They rolled in with a cooler full of congratulatory Maplewood Meats. Drew restored his stash of blueberry breakfast sausage, and I was able to replenish our summer supply of brats!  We had a nice weekend at the house while Paul was on call. Curty finished a few house projects that were waiting for his handyman skills.  The ladies went to the Waterfront to do some shopping for groceries and decorations.  Taylor and Katie came over for dinner, and everyone was kind enough to allow me to practice my PhD talk multiple times as obligatory audience members.

Curty and me in the famous Hienz Chapel!

Soon it was Monday morning and we were on our way to the Cathedral – many years of work were about to be summarized and condensed into a a thirty minute talk.  It was wonderful to have my committee, family, friends, classmates and colleagues in the room while I defended. I definitely didn’t mind presenting to an audience of friendly and engaged faces.

While the adrenaline rush was calming down, my committee returned from their hallway deliberation and congratulated me on the completion of my PhD! Whooot!!  It was a great feeling to be done!  We celebrated with photos, a walk around the Hienz Chapel and a small quiet lunch at the porch.

I should really copy and paste my acknowledgments page here, but I think many people deserve a separate shout out for all of their help and assistance. First, I need to give a specific thank you to Dr. Binion, who was my primary research mentor in Gastroenterology. Dr. Binion has had a major influence on my research. He welcomed me to his group and challenged me to take on new research topics and ideas within the area of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). I have been working in this area since high school, as I have a personal interest in IBD – and was an honor to work with a mentor who driven to do research to serve his patients. People with IBD come from all over the region to seek care from Dr. Binion, which speaks to his personality and expertise!

Dr. Binion, I couldn’t have done anything without your support! Thank you!
My committee and team! Thank you!!

I also have to thank all the other members of my committee – especially Dr. Smith and Dr. Ferris who worked closely with me on cost-effectiveness projects at the intersection of preventive dermatologic care for those with IBD. Dr. Smith is a superb mentor and clinician with far reaching expertise in modeling. Dr. Ferris is a dermatologist and extraordinary clinical researcher who is actively involved in many new and exciting projects. Her insight into patient flow, preventative medicine and screening within dermatology was invaluable.  Finally, Dr. Switzer who lead my committee and Dr. Abebe who answered all of my detailed stats questions made the whole experience possible.  I was so fortunate to have a supportive, diverse and well rounded committee, which made the journey towards my degree all the more rewarding!

Couldn’t do anything without these two!

Lastly – to my husband and son, who selflessly went on this journey with me. I cannot believe how much we’ve grown together. When I started the research portion of my combined MD/PhD program, we were buying our first house as a newly engaged couple. We then married, and had our son. Once our little light was born, I took on a whole new set of research projects, completely changing programs. It was a brave and exciting undertaking for which my husband was fully supportive. I am so grateful for his support. We then had to spend a year physically apart while he was training in Cleveland and finally reunited in Pittsburgh. Since his return, we bought a new home, and are looking forward to welcoming our second child! Though I will always remember my PhD as an academic endeavor, I cannot believe how much “life” we were able to fit into the past four years. I became a wife and a mom – and we have grown as a family. This time together has truly been a blessing. Thank you graduate school and thank you to all who came with me on this academic and personal journey!

My favorite picture – my partner in crime and motivation! Yay mom!

Fourth of July Visitors!

The always gorgeous PNC Park!

As I have mentioned many times – we are always pleased to have Pittsburgh visitors! I love when the house is full of family and friends. This time my cousin Andrea and 2/3 of her boys joined the festivities!  They road tripped with my mom to visit over the long fourth of July weekend!  It was perfect timing since I just finalized and submitted my written dissertation to my committee – I was a semi-free woman! All that was left was creating a massive powerpoint presentation for my talk, but that could be managed 🙂

Trying to stay cool with my little buddy!

We had quite a few festivities planned for the weekend, including walks for dessert in Squirrel Hill, doing a little local shopping, and catching the home town Pirates game! Paul was working most of the weekend, but he was able to join us for dinners and much of the evening fun.

I guess he liked the lemon ice! All in!

The Pirates game was awesome – a very warm summer afternoon in PNC park. The little guy got the nod to join us and luckily we stumbled upon an open seat so he didn’t have to sit on my lap the entire game. Andrea treated us to some frozen lemon ice. At first the little guy wasn’t so certain that the tart taste was worth it, but after just a few bites he was ALL IN. He took down the lemon ice like it was his job, complete with drinking any remaining sugar water. I wasn’t even mad, I was impressed!  It was the perfect day for a ball game and I think everyone enjoyed the time outside watching the Pirates. We also followed this up with a major tooth brushing before bed, haha!

Learning how to soak corn for the grill from Oma!
The boys getting dinner ready for grilling!

While we had visitors, I finally located the Squirrel Hill Farmers Market! Even though it is closing in on the end of the season, its was nice to walk down and check out the vendors. After the market , we had the perfect night for a back yard campfire. We stayed up late and played outside in the perfectly warm weather. Andrea taught us the secret of replacing chocolate with Reese’s Peanut Butter cups in our s’mores – making them even more sinfully delicious!

Our cozy backyard campfire!

We shared many delicious dinners and laughs over the weekend. It was a blast and soon Monday was sneaking up on us and they had to take off for Wisconsin. Our dog Dale sure misses all the excitement of boys who want to play fetch all day long – and I miss having everyone around, giving us joy and the proper excuse to explore the city! Looking forward to our next gathering!

Time well spent with family over the fourth!

Visitors before thesis writing month!

Both wearing mom’s rain coats! Pretty soon he’ll be too big for my clothes!

We had visitors lined up to visit over the Memorial Day weekend! We were excited to host Paul’s parents, grandparents and his youngest brother at the new home! We couldn’t wait to try out all of the extra room we had now compared to our charming first home.

They drove out from Wisconsin to visit over the long weekend. We had dinners around the new kitchen table and they helped me put my home in order. Kathy and Tiggy are natural decorators so we spent a lot of time organizing and placing all of the decorations on the walls!  Decorating gives me anxiety, so their help was greatly appreciated! Now our house finally has some charm and color – it really looks nice! Paul absolutely loves the formal living room which has come together complements of the picture and mirror hanging skills of Tiggy, Bumpa and Kathy!

We also spent a lot of time outside putting together the yard and landscaping! Tiggy and Dooze were kind enough to weed the bushes in the front and we all made an effort to plant the front yard full of annuals and perennials! Our new neighbors have such gorgeous plants and landscaping, so I am so grateful to a have their help in adding a little color to our front yard.

Family photos at the park!

During their stay we went to the Porch for brunch and drove around the neighborhoods. While at the porch Paul took the little man onto the Carousel in Schenley park. We took some family photos and then all piled back in the car to head for home. It was so enjoyable to have the house full of laughter, company, and wild happy hour conversations. Unfortunately, they had to leave early morning on Memorial Day – but we sure appreciated the time we had while they were here!

After our visitors left, the month of June was upon us. June was primarily dedicated to writing and reviewing work for my thesis. I was hoping to have all my papers in submission by my thesis defense date, so it was going to take a bit of work and grind to pull everything together.  I of course had to balance the work with a few days of play and time with my family. We went to a adorable farm in the south hills to see the horses and goats. Goats are the little guy’s favorite animal, so he had a good time with that. We took a dip in the pool and had a great day.  June also consisted of family dinners and many trips for frozen yogurt to celebrate the new warm weather. We also celebrated my birthday with our first trip to Casbah, which was excellent. I love this time of year. Hopefully everyone else is enjoying their summers!

“Hi goat!”

Software training and virtual dog walking!

Our dog Dale… brought to you by Wag – haha!

In May I was able to take advantage of another wonderful research training opportunity, which involved a quick trip to Boston, MA.  Shortly after returning from Digestive Disease Week I was on a plane to Boston to take a short course on the software package I use for my decision analysis and cost-effectiveness analysis research.  It’s always a bit hard to travel when you have a toddler, dog, and a husband who’s work schedule is not always predictable. Regardless, we lined up the appropriate childcare help like a mosaic of moving pieces and everything went well  …until there was a slight hiccup in the scheduling which required me to scramble a bit.  I was sitting in our cramped classroom and got a text from Paul that he was going to be stuck at the hospital much later than anticipated… likely 9PM.  Oh crap. My flight didn’t get into Pittsburgh until mid-night. Luckily Drew was picked up by friends from daycare and they were gracious enough to let him stay until the late evening hours.  That left our poor dog who was rapidly approaching his bladder limit. I did what working moms do… I got creative. I was googling and found a AWESOME, life saving dog walking service available in our area, called “Wag” (www.wagwalking.com).  It is almost like Uber/Lyft for dog walking. You say your dog needs a walk and someone comes to your house to take your dog out for ether 30 minutes or 1 hour. You can then track your pooch and dog walker as they adventure around the area. The walk is complete with pictures and everything happens through your mobile phone and text messaging. It was seriously a LIFE SAVER. I couldn’t believe it was possible to do such a thing on short notice, from Boston nonetheless, but it was!  I highly recommend the Wag app if its available in your area. PS. If you do try it, sign up with my referral code: ALYCE1596   You’ll get $20 free, essentially your first dog walk is free!

Over all it was a great trip to Boston. I learned a lot about the software and even more about how to juggle all the many needs and schedules our family from a distance! On the way home they bumped me to a different flight with a complementary voucher for future travel (which I love!)- so it was an overall #win.