Tag Archives: PhD

A Life Update (Using PHDComics)

So, I last posted quite some time ago. At the time, my dissertation was merely an outline:

And, at the time of my last post, I had had this conversation about a year before:

And… Hillary had also made this point:

But because of the voodoo guilt spell they entrance you with upon entering graduate school, we still didn’t see each other as often as we would have liked. Thank goodness for modern technology.

Since this didn’t happen last winter:

…it was time to get cracking on the whole writing thing.

So naturally, the next thing I did was marry the love of my life and leave on a honeymoon:

And then I was back, as a newly married man. Full of motivation to move up Boston to be with Hillary.

…and the questioning intensified:

So I tried some of this:

…and then wrote, and rewrote everything multiple times.

I experienced every combination of these:

(Except one… can you guess which?)

Did one of these:

And then I got my dissertation to the committee:

At ~250 pages… you can imagine I killed many trees during the editing process:

I then successfully defended! (With many friends and colleagues from both in and out of graduate school present.)

Defense!

I then celebrated with my friends and family that weekend:

Tailgating Football!

And then this sequence of events happened almost verbatim:

(The only difference was my margins were fine… but apparently one of my supervisors was technically my “co-supervisor,” requiring a new round of committee member signatures.)

And now… I’m training the new folks and wrapping up some old projects. Soon I’ll be on my way to Boston.

…anyone up there hiring?

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Anatomy of a 14-Hour Day in the Lab

The “Ambitious” Phase:

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The “Everything is Going to Plan” Phase:

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The “Minor Setback” Phase:

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The “Major Setback” Phase:

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The “Why the Hell Does My Professor Want Me to Do This Now?” Phase:

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The “Oh, For Fuck’s Sake” Phase:

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The “Why Is Everything Breaking? Phase:

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The “Burger & Beer Dinner Break” Phase:

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The “Holy Shit! It’s 10pm and I’m Not Done Yet” Phase:

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The “Finished!” Phase:

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The “Why The Hell Am I Writing a Blog Post Instead of Sleeping?” Phase:

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The “Heading to Bed” Phase:

If You’re in Boston Next Week

…and interested in perovskite oxides (Wait! Don’t all rush to the door at once! I haven’t told you where you’re going, yet!), I’ll be giving an invited talk at Northeastern University.

It’ll be a longer and more in-depth look at some of the things I talked about at the American Physical Society March Meeting a few weeks ago, and it’ll include some fresh data just back from our new PPMS.

Here’s the announcement:

Screen Shot 2013-04-05 at 5.31.44 PM

Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day

This last Saturday I volunteered at Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, put on by the University of Texas at Austin’s Women in Engineering Program:

There were 2,500+ girls in 1st-8th grade wandering around the engineering block of UT’s campus, exploring different activities facilitated by north of 700 volunteers. I can only speak to my own experience (I didn’t get to see every activity), but I think it was a really fun and worthwhile experience.

In our room, we had the “Don’t Sink the Titanic” activity. Basically this consisted of giving the girls 1 square foot of aluminum foil, 1 foot of masking tape, a couple rubber bands, two straws and 6 popsicle sticks… using that hodge-podge of materials, they construct the best and strongest boat they can, and compete to see whose boat can hold the most golf balls without sinking.

Trying to hold as many golf balls as possible!
Trying to hold as many golf balls as possible!

The record was 46!

To put that in perspective… the most one of the volunteers was able to get was 33. These girls were pretty amazing.

Getting girls and young women excited about the so-called STEM areas of study (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math for the uninitiated), has long been a concern for education and science policy. It’s events like this that can try to help reduce the gender-gap in these areas by getting girls excited about building things and creatively solving problems.


But we still have a long way to go. Events like this one can plant the seed, but it will take a sustained effort by parents and educators at all levels to help that seed flourish and bear fruit.

I work in a research group of about 17 people. Two of them are women. That’s a ratio that needs to change. The good news is that it is (slowly) changing. And with a vigilant and sustained effort, we can get more girls excited about science.

So, go ahead: introduce a girl to engineering, introduce a girl to physics, introduce a girl to biology, introduce a girl to robotics, zoology, climate science, Python and astronomy. We need them, and it’s up to all of us.

Dwarfs Standing on the Shoulders of Giants


There is a risk in the sciences of losing the creativity and the courage to boldly pursue completely untested hypotheses and ideas. And while this can’t be avoided in graduate school (at least for the way we currently do graduate school: students basically do the research their advisers tell them to do in order to get the field’s merit badge–a Ph.D.), it’s important not to let the creative juices dry up during this period.

After all… some day (hopefully), you’ll be the one laying out a direction for a team of wide-eyed and terrified kids who just spent the last four years drinking too many beers. And when that time comes what kinds of problems are you going to try to be solving? The problems at the margins?

I’d encourage everyone (mostly myself: this post is really a reminder to me, rather than a plea to you, dear reader) to heed my professor’s advice. (He’s no slouch himself, Dr. John B. Goodenough just received the National Medal of Science.)

He said this to a room full of chemists he was giving a talk to back in the day: “Stop fiddling around the edges and do something useful.”

By which he meant that we shouldn’t be afraid to blaze our own trails. It’s the high-risk high-reward ventures that really have the chance to make a difference in this world.

Ok… now back to the lab.

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