Dr. Brian Bucher just for a moment!
Well, we did it. The final stop of the Ph.D. train. Graduation!!!! It was a day that felt so far in the distance for SO LONG! Having been with Brian since I was a freshman in high school has made this degree just as much mine as it is his. In high school we would just dream of getting married and having a life together. Back in the early days of adulthood as we emerged from high school and would have discussions about what the next steps in our beautiful life were going to be, where and what we wanted to do, never did we ever think that Brian's education would have taken so long.
First of all, selecting Physics for his bachelors degree was not expected. I remember like it was yesterday when he was filling out his application for Valparaiso University. He was selecting a major, and he really didn't know what to pick. We knew he was exceptional at math and science, which is broad, and to narrow it down to one major wasn't something that was coming to him easily. I remember him dragging his finger down the list of science majors offered at V.U. and he stopped at physics. I thought he was nuts. Our high school offered only one physics class, and it wasn't taught well at all either. But he stuck with that decision. He started at V.U. and worked his ass off. Having only the one physics class under his belt forced him to have to work much harder than the other students. The students that had come from much larger high schools had the opportunities to take multiple physics classes including advanced physics courses. I was still in high school for his freshman and sophomore years, and Brian would come over and we would do homework together. Many nights he would stay even after I had gone to bed. He would be plugging away at his work by the light of my desk lamp until it was done. I wouldn't even know when he would leave most of the time. There were times he would go home and continue his work there, too. The work ethic he has astounds me.
His years in undergrad were when he began drinking coffee, and there were times that I had to brew some up for him. I had no clue what I was doing. (Till this day, even with three kids, I am not a coffee drinker.) I would go up to my moms coffee pot and put what I thought was just the right amount of coffee grounds in the filter, and bring him a piping hot cuppa joe. After about 1/2 a cup he would have the shakes because it was so damn strong. Needless to say, I don't make his coffee anymore. :)
Once I graduated from high school, I decided to go to beauty school to be an Esthetician. It was a short program and I would be done within the time that Brian would also graduate from V.U. and I could take anywhere in the world with me as I supported him in his endeavors.
He worked so hard at V.U. He won an Outstanding Physics student award and was always on the deans list. Summer 2004, we had to make a plan for graduate school. We were at a crossroads again as to what direction in physics that he wanted to go into. He thought that he wanted to be more hands on and do something more along the lines of applied physics or engineering physics. He applied to University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin, University of Illinois, Purdue, U.C. San Diego, U.C. Berkeley, University of Notre Dame, M.I.T, and Cal Tech. He was accepted into all programs except for Cal Tech, which we have reason to believe one of his professors did not submit his letter of recommendation in a timely manor and he was on the waiting list at U.C. Berkeley. What a decision to make! And, as most of you know, he accepted U.C. San Diego.
Brian proposed to me the summer of 2004. It was something else we had discussed because we knew we wanted to be married going into graduate school. At the time, we weren't sure where he would be going, and we knew that I was going to go with him regardless, and that it would be much easier to just have the wedding done and over with than to have to plan one long distance after we moved. We may have been young, but we had a plan.
Brian graduated from V.U. May of 2005. Our wedding was July 2, 2005, and we moved to San Diego a week later! It was crazy. We moved into our first tiny little 670 sq. ft. apartment in La Jolla, CA. Weather was beautiful. I quickly found a job at a spa that was gorgeous. Brian worked his tail off. His adviser started shipping him to different labs, and also considered having him move to Lawrence Livermore National labs (where we are now). Brian wasn't happy with the direction his education was going, and I was horribly home sick!! (Surprise, surprise!)
So, mid summer 2006, 1 year after moving to S.D., Brian emailed the directors of physics programs at various universities in the mid-west to see if there was any chance there were openings in their graduate programs. You typically apply in the late fall to grad programs and hear back if you were accepted in the spring, so odds were against us for there to be an opening. Purdue had shown interest, but fell through. I had already started packing because I was going to make us move back no matter what. God had a plan for us though. Late July, Brian accepted the one an only opening at the University of Notre Dame that had previously been accepted by a student, but had been turned down at the last minute. It was meant to be. The stars had aligned for us in many ways.
We moved to South Bend just weeks after accepting the opportunity to take the spot. Brian felt much more comfortable in the smaller class size setting and focusing more on general physics than applied/engineering physics. It was the perfect fit. I loved South Bend. (here goes a side story....in all my years working at the Y.M.C.A., when we would go on a field trip to South Bend, I used to dream of living there some day. I thought the little city was cute and just the right size. I loved the look of the historical homes and I loved Notre Dame!....anyway)
Brian decided after his first year that he was going to study Nuclear Physics. He did his two years of course work, then worked for 6 long years on research. There were some very trying times. Along the way he switched advisers, which ultimately caused him to have two separate research projects. Double the load of the typical grad student. At times he would want to just stop and walk away and be over with it. It wasn't easy. Not for him and not for me. He traveled a lot attending various summer schools, and conferences all over the world. His first big trip was to Finland for two weeks when Landen was under a year old. His other major trips included Switzerland, Germany, England and Japan. There were many experiments that were 24 hour a day 1-2 week long stretches. He would come home to sleep when he could and sit with us for a short time then return to the lab. Keeping kids quiet while dad sleeps in a 900 sq. ft. house isn't easy. He would also participate in experiments away from Notre Dame at Argonne National Lab, Michigan State, and Florida State. He was always scheduled to do something.
We went against the grain and chose to start a family which is almost unheard of at the graduate level. Most people are just meeting their mate, or freshly married and not interested in having kids for a while. We didn't just start a family either, we had 3 babies in those 6 years of research. We also bought our first house shortly after Landen was born, so there were many times Brian would work all day then have to come home to homeowner challenges like replacing a dishwasher, and shoveling the drive way and cleaning gutters, etc..
I worked part time until Nolan (bucher boy #2) was a year old. Financially, it was a tough decision to make, but we decided that it was time for me to stay home with the kids and we had to survive on the grad student stipend. Thanks to Brian's impeccable book keeping, we did it. Even after I became a stay at home mom, Brian still cooked most all of our dinners, and did the grocery shopping. He also maintained our old cars until they simply had been driven into the ground. He is surely a jack of all trades, and he is what keeps us afloat. Not to keep talking him up, but he also managed to attend most all of the kids doctors visits along with me. The man is a saint!
During the spring of 2013, it was time again to make decisions. We had observed many of our friends struggle to find post doctoral positions over the years, so we were a bit concerned what the outcome would be when Brian started applying for post docs. He hadn't even started writing his thesis, but we wanted to make sure we had our ducks in a row for our departure from Notre Dame since we had a family to provide for. So, he applied for positions at Michigan State, Rutgers, Lawrence Livermore National Lab, and Los Alamos National Lab. The first interview he went to was at Lawrence Livermore. He hadn't heard from any of the others about setting up an interview, so we thought this was it. But slowly the others asked for interviews and this process drug out for over a month. We had verbally committed to Lawrence Livermore and then he was offered the position at Michigan State, and I had a nuclear melt down.
I probably would have been fine with Livermore had the option to stay close to home not surfaced. Because I then had a choice of two extremes and it sent me over the edge. Our ultimate location goal is to be in the mid-west once Brian takes a permanent position somewhere. So, the thought process was, which job is going to make Brian the most appealing and round out his education best for when that time comes. I knew in my heart that Livermore was it, but it took a long weekend of consulting good friends both in physics and out about what they thought was the best career move and what fit our family best. So, Livermore won. I have to brag a little more for Brian....after officially accepting the Livermore offer, he learned that he was also the top pick of the other three interviews. He's such a smarty pants.
The last chapter at Notre Dame was the damn thesis. I know I didn't write it, but it was tumultuous. Brian spent long hours on campus day after day. Because he shared his office with four other people, he would spend his days in quiet spots all over campus so he could write. At one point, when the deadline was approaching, he would go to campus all day, come home for dinner (I learned, or at least tried, to cook through this process) then go back into the wee hours of the night only to come home and get just enough sleep to do it all over again the next day. This became the routine even on some weekends. I will say it again....his work ethic astounds me. The goal was to have submitted the final draft before Thanksgiving so he could defend before Christmas, but it just wasn't in the cards. He busted it out and submitted his final draft before Christmas break. It was nice to have him physically and mentally back for the holidays. We wrapped up Christmas and New Years, flew to San Francisco January 7th for a week to find a house to rent. He defended January 21st, 2014, and we left South Bend amid the harshest winter in my lifetime. I believe we departed on February 1st. It was so chaotic, and delayed due to weather, that I can't even remember the exact day. Regardless of the circumstances, we were done. Brian finished.
Which leads to May 17th, 2014. Graduation day. Wow. A day that seemed as if it was always far in the distance, and there we sat, a family of five finally receiving the official document that we had all been on the journey for. The only thing I wish was different was that we could have all walked across the stage with him to show the audience ALL that he had accomplished in his time at Notre Dame. Sure, there were other parents receiving degrees that day, but it may sound greedy and selfish and braggy, but I feel that Brian received much more than a Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics that day. He received a Ph. D. in juggling it all and making a family in graduate school work while still being an outstanding student, parent and husband. He is beyond selfless and I could not ask for a better husband or father to my children. He sets such an amazing example for our three boys.
My hopes for him are to take his chaotic, joyful, frustrating, humbling, stressful and unending graduate school experience, and become and advocate for future graduate students that have the desire to have a family during their prime reproductive grad school careers. To show it can be done. It takes diligence, and you struggle, but it can be done, and it is so worth it! I hope when he lands his permanent position, it is what he has worked so hard for and it is the position he desires most. I hope he is able to continue to be the best he can be both at home as a husband and father and within his career.
It's been quite the journey. As much of a pain in the ass that I have been for Brian at times, I am glad that I have been able to be along for the ride. I feel that it makes our relationship stronger by having experienced everything together. There are no words to describe just how proud I am of him.
I love you Bri! YOU DID IT!!! WE DID IT!!!! WE ARE ND!!!