Day in the Life of a Grad Student

7:10 AM Woken by gentle buzzing of my Fitbit. Groan. Even though I’m excited about school, Monday mornings are still hard. Groggily stumble out of bed by 7:15 AM.

7:45 AM Complete with normal morning ablutions, feeding bunnies, making bed, standard morning routine. Remember to grab gloves since apparently it’s in the FORTIES, great, where did summer go?

7:50 AM Biking to school. Regretting not grabbing a scarf too.

8:05 AM Get to my office and start settling in, drink some tea, check email, contemplate my to-do list with dread.

8:30 AM Help a student who couldn’t make office hours with some questions on her lab. Feel bad for her being sick and also really hoping that I don’t get sick.

8:40 AM Okay, time to settle in and focus on a tough homework assignment. No one else is ever here this early, so this is my quiet time. Try to write some code, fail. Continue to skip questions until I’m just writing “tbd” and “uhhh” in the spots where rational, scientific answers should go. Curse the gods of python and numerical integration.

9:00 AM Abandon my pressing to-do list and depressing attempt at homework to watch press conference about LIGO. Get really excited and pester my boyfriend about it until he makes his whole office watch it too.

10:25 AM Time to attend lecture for the course I am TAing. I grade some labs during the lecture, which makes it actually quite productive. Mentally freak out over how long the labs are taking to grade and that they need to be done by tomorrow.

11:30 AM Back to my office to pretend I can write code. It fails.

12:00 PM Head to a meeting about fellowships. Free lunch, hurray! As the fellowships lady tells us about various fellowships that we can and should apply for, I start to inwardly freak out about adding that to my hypothetical to do list (in a year). Decide not to think about my future yet.

1:00 PM More useless attempts at writing code. I actually can do one part of one problem, I rejoice at the little plot that I get.

1:30 PM Class. Same class where I can’t do the homework. The class is interesting and makes sense, but I know that when we get homework on it I won’t be able to do it. Try to focus on just paying attention to the now.

3:00 PM Exoplanet journal club. A guest from Harvard is giving a talk and it is super interesting. Also intimidating. He is a grad student (although in his final year) and has many publications and can speak like a total expert. Journal club always makes me feel miles behind. There are many undergrads who attend who seem to grasp the conversation better than me. Always leave feeling inspired and dejected. On the plus side, cookies.

4:00 PM Special colloquium to discuss the announcement from LIGO. By the time I get there, no seats are open so I sit on the floor. It’s an awesome talk and everyone is really excited. I feel a little guilty thinking about my homework and grading and everything, but I’m glad that I opted to go. The finger foods at the reception afterwards are my dinner.

6:00 PM Back to the office. I really knuckle down on my homework and after a lot of frustration I realize I was missing a square in one of my terms. After I correct this, everything works better (still not well, but better). Manage to finish problem number 2 (of 3).

8:35 PM Decide to call it a day. Remember that the light burnt out on my bike the last time I rode, so hope that the street lights are good.

8:50 PM Get home and feed my bunnies. Poor guys act like they haven’t seen food for days. Wash some dishes. While washing dishes, freak out about when I am going to be able to work on my research this week.

9:20 PM Tell myself I should really either go to bed to get some sleep or grade those labs. Instead eat ice cream and write a blog post for my own amusement. Tell myself it is self care and therefore necessary.

9:30 PM Watch a TV show. In an optimistic move, take folder of labs out of my backpack.

??? PM Go to bed. Realize in a panic that I have 10 more labs to grade before 1 PM but it’s way too late for that now.

Thoughts on My First Week of Grad School

Well, I did it! I made it through one whole week of grad school, and no one pointed and laughed and threw me out on the street for not belonging here. In fact, I felt an energized sense of life and purpose that tells me I definitely belong here, even if it’s going to be a challenge and then some (and despite missing my boyfriend quite desperately and, oddly, being homesick for San Diego, where I haven’t lived for 11 months now!).

The first week went quite well, I think, but I know it is also not quite a true test of what is to come. For one thing, I didn’t get assigned any homework in my own classes, which I know will ramp up significantly in a short time. We were also still covering mostly introductory material, so I didn’t have to feel too out of my depth yet (I can already tell that the math is going to be my limiting factor). I also didn’t have any labs to run, which will be yet another thing to do in the coming weeks. And I’m still new enough to get the benefit of the doubt about having zero clue how to do or even start my research. So it’s not quite an all clear, but it does feel good to not have figuratively died during my first week.

Classes that I am taking this quarter are:

A million other things that I am doing this quarter:

  • TAing for an undergrad non-major course on stars (this includes attending their lectures, grading, holding office hours, and running 2 lab sections)
  • Attending various seminars/colloquia throughout the week
  • Sitting on a committee as a grad student representative
  • Probably other stuff I am forgetting at the moment

So it’s not the worst schedule but it certainly isn’t going to leave me a lot of free time or sanity. The good thing is that, since UChicago is on a quarter schedule, I only have to endure this for 10 weeks!

In summary: feeling good but a bit anxious and overwhelmed, still worried that I might not be capable of doing this (particularly the math), but super excited to be here. And now I have to go work on this week’s homework!

Let’s Get It Started

Well, this is it! Okay, not it it. Classes don’t start for another week. But tomorrow, for the first time in a long while, I have a schedule. I have places to be. I’m officially setting foot on campus as a student. I’m nervous, because I’m me and I’m always nervous about meeting new people and navigating social situations, and I’m nervous because I’m half-paralyzed with doubt about this. It’s such a huge, huge change in my life, and I thought I was mentally prepared but now I don’t think I am. But, I don’t know if I ever could be prepared, so all there is to do is jump in and do it!

I have not posted about my studies because they have been nonexistent. I know it sounds crazy to say that moving can completely consume one’s life for weeks on end, but it did in my case! Whether it was cleaning my new condo from top to bottom (an effort of three days and countless buckets of soapy water), making three trips to IKEA sans car(which is 35 miles away—my favorite trip was when I missed the bus and had to take a 3-hour public transit trip by way of Joliet), putting together 24 cartons of IKEA furniture (a drill helps a lot, but my poor fingers are still torn up), or trying to figure out how to fix a trickling toilet (I still can’t believe it was a $7 part and took 2 seconds), I’ve been B-U-S-Y. Oh and I also spent some time turning 30 in there (eek!). The good news is that I am mostly done, just in time! I have about 2 boxes left of random stuff from my old desk that I need to put away—and I may need another piece of furniture, as my new desk has less in the way of storage—and I have got to most of the biggest to-do items. The biggest outstanding one is my dang shower, which basically won’t give more than a limp trickle of hot water. I got a plumber here today to fix it only to discover that my shower for some godawful reason doesn’t have its own shutoff valve, so I have to arrange with the HOA to shut off water to the entire building. Which requires 48 hours notice and has to be between 9 and 4 on a weekday, so gods know when I’ll have a chance to do that. Yay cold showers in the meantime. Guess it’s good for my hair…

Anyway, that’s all the hullabaloo around these parts. Hopefully tomorrow and the rest of this week will make me feel more confident and comfortable in this journey I am embarking on. Or it will just make me even more nervous! Time will tell. In the meantime, I need to check the weather for tomorrow and figure out my biking route!

Never Gonna Give It Up

*blows dust off blog*

Hello there!

So the reason that I haven’t posted is not that I haven’t been studying. It’s just that I haven’t been studying very much. It took me 3 weeks to finish what I had scheduled for a week of studying. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why my productivity has plummeted. There’s a lot of other things going on in my life, to be sure. My family was on vacation nearby, I’ve finally gotten approved to buy my condo, my boyfriend came back from his long trip, etc. But mostly I think I’m just shifting down to enjoy my last couple weeks before the flurry of moving, classes, and all that jazz. I am going to have lots of time to study in the next few years!!

But that doesn’t mean I’m totally giving up on my studies. I still like to be productive (at least a little) and I am enjoying going through this material. I’m just not going to be too hard on myself if I can’t stick to a rigorous schedule.

Since my last post, I have continued on with Bob in the Stars section, reading 3 chapters: The Fate of Massive Stars, The Degenerate Remnants of Stars, and General Relativity and Black Holes. The general relativity stuff is necessary to discuss black holes, but it did feel a bit out of place at first and I had to check back to make sure I was still in the Stars section! These are really fascinating topics, getting into some of the extremes of nature that are on the edge of the field today. My first class this upcoming quarter is going to be on stars and I am really looking forward to it!

I also made some progress through Mathematical Methods and the diff eqs chapters. I finished the chapter on series solutions of ODEs and made it through the chapter on eigenfunction methods for differential equations. To be honest, I am feeling like this is going over my head at this point, but I am trying not to let it upset me. Sitting at home with a pencil and piece of paper and the calculator on my phone trying to work through Bessel’s equation and Legendre’s equation isn’t exactly the best test of my mathematical abilities. I am just focusing on reading through the material now and trying to follow the authors’ arguments as best I can.

I didn’t do much coding over the past couple weeks. I worked through the chapter about errors and accuracy, but that was pretty short and was mostly just about some practical issues and not really new coding. But I am feeling pretty comfortable with Python now, so I hope that I can work with it as needed and continue to learn (and perhaps learn more languages if needed).

In the next couple weeks, I plan to continue to work through Mathematical Methods and An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics. I don’t know if I’ll finish, but just do what I can. I also intend to get more into some of the info that my advisor has sent me about the project I anticipate working on.

Today I Don’t Feel Like Doing Anything

So, here we are, another week closer to my start date and another week of lackluster productivity. Last week I was visiting my boyfriend and, although I brought all my study materials, I didn’t get a lot done. I planned to get back to it this week but…the best laid plans of mice and men, I suppose. I had 10 study assignments planned and I only got through 4. Of course I am still hoping to hit some more this weekend but getting through all 10 seems unrealistic. But no use in being hard on myself! I’m still enjoying the studying, I just have a lot of other things on my plate and I think I am trying to savor this vacation/free time as I know it will be gone soon! So I am going to appreciate all the things I did get done (a 2000 piece puzzle and some freelance writing and fiction editing and over 10,000 steps a day!) and the free time I’ve had (hello, bingeing on Insecure and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and re-reading Wheel of Time for the fourth time). Plus I did do some studying! So what did I actually get to?

I read two chapters in Bob, both still in “The Nature of Stars” section. These two were Main Sequence and Post-Main-Sequence Stellar Evolution and Stellar Pulsation. Super interesting! I also found out that Stars will be one of the first classes I take in grad school, so it’s nice to be brushing up on it now. The chapter on MS and post-MS was super long but full of so much good information. I also appreciated the timing of the chapter on pulsation because it actually ties into a video that I am planning on recording soon (today, maybe?). Overall, I am about 40% through the textbook, so I need to pick up the pace a little if I want to get through it all.

On the math side, I continued my work on differential equations. This is a big topic (6 chapters of the text), so I’ll probably be on it for a bit! I moved on from first order ODEs to cover higher order ODEs and started on series solutions for ODEs. Not going to lie, there was some tough going in there, mostly in recognizing which method will work to solve an equation. Not always easy, but satisfying to be able to work them out.

Lastly, I did get a bit of a chance to continue working on my physics Python. I completed the chapter on graphics, including a pretty sweet rendition of the Mandelbrot set (which only required the tiniest bit of help from Stack Overflow). I started the next section on accuracy and error, which is a little less exciting than making rotating 3D graphics, but definitely very vital when doing calculations and data processing using Python.

So, that’s where I’m at! Totally not freaking out about next month. Not at all. Just enjoying life! Okay, maybe a leeeeetle of column A, little of column B!

We Are All Born Superstars

Happy Monday! It’s thundering and raining up a storm here, so I’m pacing around the bottom floor of my apartment to try to get my steps for the day. Exciting stuff, what can I say.

Speaking of exciting stuff, today I got to practice differential equations! No, that’s not sarcasm, I actually really enjoy solving differential equations. It reminds me of the time I went to summer school in college. I took Diff Eqs so that I could free up some space in my academic year schedule (to take classes not at all required—yep, I have always been a huge nerd). I was still a fresh-faced third class midshipman, excited about not being a plebe anymore (the new class of plebes (Class of 2010, jeez I’m old) were there and calling me “ma’am” when they ran by me, which was…strange, to say the least), and loving getting to spend my time chilling and doing math. I gave up my summer leave to do so and never regretted it.

In any case, reminiscing aside, there’s just something very satisfying about it. Identifying the best way to solve it, doing some algebra, then some calculus, and somehow ending up with a solution. Quite good. Today’s chapter was limited to first-order ordinary differential equations, aka the easy ones.

On the astrophysics side, I continued my journey through stellar astrophysics to learn about protostars, star formation, and pre-main-sequence evolution. This was an interesting topic, and I liked how the book layered on the complexity. Start considering only gravity, then add gas pressure, then add magnetism…now you’re cooking with gas! There’s a whole host of interesting complications to consider, and the text frequently mentioned that it was an active area of research. Which makes me wonder what the status of it is now, 11 years later! I may have to do some digging just to say.

It was a good day for studying here, even if I did lag a little bit and not finish until 10 PM.

Playing Catch Up

I haven’t updated all week! But not because I haven’t been studying, dear readers. Never that! It’s just that I fell behind rather early on this week (Tuesday), and I kept telling myself I’d post when I caught up. But then I never caught up. At least, not until today! Had to devote some of my “weekend” time (as if I don’t have enough free time right now, but it’s nice to have designated days that I don’t stress myself out as much—plus I usually use the extra time for writing) to studying, but I finished my self-assigned studies for the week!

It was quite an interesting week, really. The Bob material ramped up really quickly and got very tough, but it’s all fascinating. I continued the section on stars, and I covered 4 chapters: The Classification of Stellar Spectra, Stellar Atmospheres, The Interiors of Stars, and The Sun. The chapter on atmospheres was a doozy and the one that got me behind on Tuesday. Really, these chapters had everything. Complicated math, analytical solutions, numerical solutions, searing temperatures, nuclear fusion. Super cool stuff. The proton-proton chains! I forgot that in astrophysics we just call everything that isn’t hydrogen or helium “metals”. Oxygen, carbon, nitrogen—all metals!

Speaking of complicated math, I had a couple chapters in Mathematical Methods this week as well. They covered Fourier series and integral transformations (primarily Fourier transforms, but also Laplace transforms). For some reason I was intimidated by the faint memory of Fourier series, but it actually ended up being relatively straightforward. I was able to follow along and work out the examples, and I only swore a couple times. Definitely useful material to review.

As if that weren’t enough, I also hit the Computation Physics book this week as well. I’m about halfway through the third chapter, which deals with graphing. This is totally new for me, as this type of visual coding wasn’t covered by Codecademy at all. It’s not super difficult, but the results are pretty awesome. I wrote a program in only a few lines that shows a diffraction pattern of circular waves! This type of thing is going to be super important for me in my research (I expect), so I’m glad to be getting a taste of it now. I’m starting to feel pretty comfortable in Python. I know it can (and will!) get a lot more complicated, but I’ve got the basics down well enough to be able to tackle the more complicated stuff.

So, all in all, it was a productive week for me! Now I shall take my shortened weekend and begin again on Monday. &9786;

You Spin My Star Right Round

I was so excited about the weekend that I just went ahead and decided to have it early! That’s the joy of a flexible schedule. I took all of Friday off and enjoyed it immensely. Of course, the work still had to be done. That’s the joy of being a stubborn goal-setter, I suppose. But I did a bit on Saturday and a bit today and still enjoyed the rest of my weekend.

Yesterday I tackled a Mathematical Methods chapter on line, surface, and volume integrals. The line integrals are straightforward enough, once I got the hang of proper parametrization and limits again. It got a bit trickier with the surface and line integrals, and I confess that by the end of the chapter I was sort of lost. Most of the examples in this section were proofs rather than working out samples, and I find that doesn’t help me grok the material as well. Divergence and curl manage to be more confusing in integral form, although I know it is quite practical. In any case, it was a solid chapter and had lots of physics applicability (Maxwell’s equations, anyone?).

Today I settled in for a good read in Bob. I finished Part I, so I got to start on Part II, which is all about stars. This chapter dealt with binary stars and how we can use their orbital characteristics to glean information about them. It’s quite an interesting topic and one of the biggest challenges of astrophysics. How can we, stuck on Earth or the immediate vicinity, gather meaningful data about things that are farther away than we could ever hope to directly observe? Luckily, smart people have come up with lots of methods over the years. This chapter briefly covered several of them, including light curves, spectrum shifts, and astrometric wobbles. It also gets into the angle of inclination and how we deal with the fact that, by sheer chance, we have to observe other systems from whatever angle we have, which may not be nicely head-on or side-on. Lastly, the discussion moved to extrasolar planets, which can be detected by many of the same methods, although their effects are much, much smaller because planets are a lot smaller and dimmer than stars! I had another chuckle about the ageing of this text. At the end of the chapter, it states, “Although Earth-sized planets have yet to be discovered around solar-type stars, […] it seems likely that such discoveries will occur soon.” Exoplanets as a field has been experiencing huge growth, and they were not wrong!

Go go exoplanets!

Photo: NASA Ames/JPL-CalTech/R. Hurt

Did You Make It to the Milky Way

I took a break from math today. In the morning, I got through another Bob chapter, this one on telescopes. This was very interesting information, applying many of the theoretical concepts (diffraction, refraction, etc.) into a practical form that enables us to gather information about the universe around us. Very interesting but it also sounds very frustrating! I have a lot of respect for people who do it, but instrumentation is absolutely not my thing. It was also interesting to read this chapter from a perspective over a decade after it was written. Talking about the upcoming JWST, other projects that have been canceled, and referencing projects that were upcoming at the time but are now ongoing (e.g. Gaia). In many ways, these things go fast but also they take so long! Who knows what observing instruments might be available for me before my astrophysics career (if I have one…) is over?

In the afternoon I returned to my Python environment. I had hoped to finish the rest of the second chapter, but it was a little slow going after I ran into a couple bugs, and so I only got through one section. Still, it was a helpful section (mostly dealing with for loops) and I made it through all the examples and exercises with a rather minimal amount of headaches. I am a little annoyed that my last program worked but was really inelegantly coded. I am quite sure there had to be a better way to it—but, it worked, so yay!

Looking forward to Friday tomorrow. As much as I love studying, I also love my breaks! The ones where I don’t let myself feel guilty for not opening a textbook. Still lots of other things to do!

All the Small Things

Today was a bit of strange day, mostly because there was no physics in the mix. Only had a couple of those days but they usually leave me feeling like I’ve forgotten something! But of course I have not, because I have my schedule all written out for the week. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail, after all. Or because I’m kind of ridiculous. (Like how my boyfriend teased me about writing up a packing list—complete with expected activities and weather forecast—for a 4 day trip. I swear that’s just conscientious, not crazy!)

Anyway, I started out bright and early (okay, it’s a lie, I didn’t get out of bed until 9, but I did get started right away after I got up!) and got Python running and waiting for some juicy new code. I worked through two more sections in the introductory chapter of the text, covering if/then/else and while loops, lists, arrays, and a few other items. The arrays were new to me, and I still mentally giggle at the “numpy” package, but they seem like they will be very useful indeed. I ran into a problem while trying to write a small program to display the first several Catalan numbers. This should have been straightforward, and I reviewed my logic a hundred times and it was impeccable. After much frustration and some poking around Stack Overflow, I realized I just had to move one of the calculations from outside the loop to inside it. I was ready to rage-quit, but it was so simple in the end! Writing code in a nutshell, I suppose.

After a break for some grocery shopping and a few chapters of the Wheel of Time (I’m re-reading, currently on the fourth book), I dove back into vector calculus. Today I was finishing up the chapter, and I got into the del operator, gradient, divergence, curl, etc. Aside from esoteric theory on curvilinear coordinates, this was pretty straightforward. It can get a bit tedious to work through the longer examples, but it is quite satisfying when it all comes together. And it’s nice to be able to follow what’s going on!

And in non-studying but sort of related news, the condo-buying process has been going pretty great. Inspection was done, no major red flags, attorney review is almost finished, and I may have a place to live for the fall soon! Which just makes me realize that this is all going to actually start happening very, very soon.