for today is the day of pain in the astronomy department at the University of the Frozen Tundra. Today is the one day every year the first and second year (and some third year) graduate students get to run the punishing gauntlet of the written qualifying exam.

When I started at the University of the Frozen Tundra the exam was the weekend after Martin Luther King Jr day. I may have pointed out at some point that if they moved it forward a week and kept with the standard week long grading scheme then people could sign up for thesis credits in the spring if the paperwork saying they passed the written exam was submitted by the Monday after MLK day. So somewhere in our department I expect there are some grad students cursing my name because they wanted an extra week to study.

In the end though I don’t think it matters. I was one of those third years taking the exam since I have huge test anxiety issues. And I have to say that year 3 went by much better on the exam, that time they actually bothered to proof read the questions before slapping them together on the exam so I didn’t find myself sitting there going What the hell are you asking like I did in year 2.

But even if students pass the exam they have to also worry about their “second year project” and their oral exam. I actually passed my oral before the written (in violation of uni regs, but whatever) and was happy I wasn’t like so many other grad students in our dept that got a pass with reservations (where reservations always seemed to involve a punishment of at least 25 page papers on the background of their topic of study). I think we’ve actually had one oral failure since I was a student and they’ve been allowed to redo their oral and are still in the program.

I’m glad to be done with all of that. Instead I’m thinking about my defense in April and how to squash what potentially may be 5 journal articles worth of material into an hour long talk with in depth background to convince astronomers that we really care about solar system studies. I may have just made a really awesome plot yesterday too for journal article #4 that made me giddy and may have caused a little squeeing. I’m not sure if that’s a sign I’m ready to finish or not, so many people seem burnt out and pissed towards the end. I’m just turning even bossier than normal with my advisor and squeeful.


and it’s T minus a few months before I become insufferable and demand that everyone refer to me as Doctor. The last week has actually been spent cursing my bleepity bleep Macbook. I have an old black one that still is covered under AppleCare which means the next repair will be free. That’s great except that the repair is something related to the wrist rest flexing and causing the trackpad to go wacky with the highlighting and random loss of huge chunks of text. Unlike most of the complaints I find out there it’s an issue with the right side (ie above the hard drive) rather than on the left side which is apparently caused by a bulging battery pack. So 60 miles down the freeway I shall go later this week to get this looked at while I pet the iPads and curse waiting until Feb.

I also sucked it up this week and added my name to the rumor mill thanks to the phone interview I had gotten and ignored my advisor who said it’s not nice to add names from shortlists on the rumor mill. I need the name recognition and I can see that lots of people have been googling my name + astronomy in the past few days to figure out who the competition is. Of course my adding my name to the rumor mill was also a power play- I noticed an increasing number of hits to my webpage from a major astronomy player institution where no one does my subfield. I’m hoping that meant I’m close to making a shortlist there too. Yay for hidden javascripts that track all the people lurking about my webpage.

Oh and with the new year I have officially decided to start the office cleansing- so I shall be using my scanner/printer/copier and scanning in all my undergrad notes as pdfs and compressing the snot out of them so I can fit them in my gmail code/scanned papers etc account as well as on external hard drive (though I’m going to tempt fate and only back up in duplicate, not triplicate). Hopefully by the time I become a Doctor I will have rid myself of about 15 cubic feet of dead trees.

So, I may have made a postdoc shortlist (the third I’ve made for sure since applying for postdocs last year). And I may have had a phone interview earlier this week.

Unfortunately I’ve only had one phone interview before and that experience was interesting at best. At times I lack a brain to mouth filter so I do recall referring to Janskys as “those obnoxious flux units infrared and radio astronomers use because they can’t use magnitudes” many years ago. Somehow however I got that job.

But I think this week the filter between my brain and mouth was lost again. When talking about the science I found interesting for the future, I was asked if I planned on following it up with JWST. My instant reply was that no, given the political situation with the budget overruns I’m not even counting on JWST flying. Shit. That was probably the wrong thing to say. But as it stands JWST is running billions over budget. It has/is going to be removed from the astrophysics division so it can be managed separately to help stem the flow of cash circling the drain. Ordinarily I’d say Yay JWST, but when some of the biggest supporters in Congress start to have issues with the cost overruns, I can’t help but be cautious when thinking of long term plans for the future.

And I’m kicking myself because there was other discussion about how this professor is the only one in *subfield* at this institution. I wasn’t sure if it was politically incorrect to correct them, but they were very wrong, there are people in a partner department and some others in the same department running on soft money that do some complimentary work, some of whom I see every year at the annual conferences and know on sight. In this case I held my tongue and I wonder if I should have.

But. . . now is the time for waiting. They mentioned maybe an offer this week, but nothing is on the rumor mill and it’s a holiday so I wouldn’t be surprised if all the uni admin types needed to make any sort of offer were already out until the new year. But until them I have at least one other postdoc application to churn out and a newer, better paper draft of paper #4 of my dissertation to write.

Today I am not being the visual of a scientist which most children are taught. I’m female, sitting on a big yoga ball in front of two computers working on data from a major NASA and belting out the Glee versions of Britney Spears songs.

Yes parents of the world, your children could also grow up to be scientists working on very important findings while dancing along in their seat and singing trashy pop music. Isn’t that what you always wanted your darling child to do with their grown up life?

I’m ashamed to admit this week I’ve had a minor meltdown of sorts.

It started last week in the most normal way- I had a horrible nightmare about an observing run. Or rather an observing run that didn’t happen because I was an idiot and put off travel arrangements so much that I *forgot* to go on the observing run.

Now for most astronomers I don’t think this would phase them. As I’ve learned from twitter, the observing run nightmare is common amongst most of us. I think I actually qualify as some people’s nightmares as I’m rarely ever ready at dusk for observing, though in my defense it’s because I’ve learned to go with the flow because inevitability the instrument acts up at dusk the first night. But given that I’ve been in this field for way over a decade, having my first observing run nightmare scared the shit out of me.

I came to the conclusion however that this was all because I hadn’t seen the fall telescope schedule yet. See in October while I was at the DPS meting I may have requested a week of observing in the spring. And I may have put Feb to April as acceptable months. Back in October this date range hadn’t made me think twice, but now with a defense date set in late April and a committee submission date of April 1, I was a little stressed out.

Well apparently a comedy of errors took place and in fact the night I had that nightmare was the night the preliminary spring telescope schedule was sent out to every institution except University of the Frozen Tundra. A kinda soul at one of the other universities forwarded me the schedule Sunday night. . . Guess who got scheduled for a week of observing starting March 30th?

But of course I didn’t know that University of the Frozen Tundra hadn’t gotten the schedule. . .I just though my advisor “forgot” to tell me the schedule had gone out. I spent Sunday night freaking out and trying to figure out how to draft an email with a minimum amount of 4 letter words yet a catchy subject line. Apparently the subject “Preliminary Spring Telescope Schedule, oh crap no” was what was needed.

In the end the run is getting cut down to 3 nights which I find more reasonable. Otherwise I was looking at 10 nights of travel (with the 7 nights of observing and then travel days) like I did in Late October for Hartley 2 observing support which really wore me out. And I’m still not clear if I’m observing or if my advisor is doing it for me (or drafting one of the poor grad students out of the lab that doesn’t even do solar system!) but I’m glad I had a meltdown because the resolution was a huge weight off my shoulders.

Now I just need to submit paper #3 of my dissertation and finish writing paper #4 on the wee asteroids (or weesteroids as they have been termed by some) and then maybe I can stop having meltdowns about my dissertation deadline.

For the December Scientae:

I think I may have a serious stick up my backside these days, I don’t do a whole lot for funsies. Perhaps that explains why I’m miserable in the current town. But the few things I have for funsies:

My dog provides lots of fun. I may refer to him often as my furry overlord but how could you say no to this face?

I spend far too much time laughing at him snoring or sleep barking and chasing squirrels in his sleep.

Yoga class. I wouldn’t normally refer to yoga class as “fun”, rather a way to spend some time away from the dissertation when trying not to go batshit. But given that I have 10 years of ballet training under my belt, I cause entertainment in yoga class for not doing things right. I took a while for my yoga instructor to watch and realize that I had a ballet past when reaching for the barre that didn’t exist when doing tree pose. Unfortunately all those years of ballet didn’t actually teach me any grace, so all you parents out there, be forewarned!

I have a small . . issue. . hoarding Lush. Specifically hoarding Lush bath bombs. Somewhere my inner 5 year old has way too much fun glitter bombing the bathroom and the house with Avobath. . .or playing in the tub with the seaweed from Big Blue. So when I’m stressed out you can bet the first thing I do is play in the tub. But be careful with some of the bath bombs. . . ninja star glitter is just not fun when found in delicate places.

I also have two things I miss from my old hometown. . . which I’ll willingly admit was Los Angeles.

Item #1 is Huntington Library in Pasadena. I had an annual pass and was there weekly most of the year. I loved searching around there and seeing that the gardens were all dead during the week. Unfortunately now, I see it on film and sniffle because I miss it so- the two cases this weekend were in the movie Serenity (the Lily Ponds FTW!) and the wedding scene at the end of Legally Blonde 2 which was in the rose arbor right outside of my beloved herb garden at Huntington.

Item #2- I have an insane quantity of perfume from BPAL. I even have Snow White from 2004, one of my very first purchases. Not only do they sell about a bazillion scents which I huff and wear, but there is always a new scent at full moon and will call in Los Angeles and a few other places across the US. Will Call is entertaining- imagine a bunch of women from crazy different paths in life getting together and doing a lot of OMG sniff this! Yeah that would be will call. I miss my gal pals oh so much from LA and being able to go to these events on a monthly basis.

So in summary, I’m boring and only do little things for fun. I would probably do more if I were in a location I hate less and wasn’t ~4 months away from needing to hand in my dissertation.

So given that I’m about to submit paper #3 of the 5 papers in my dissertation (which OMG is due to the committee in final format 4 months from yesterday) and I find myself worrying about the stupidest thing- which email address to associate with the publication.

By the time it actually gets published in the journal I should be defending. . .meaning that in the future if people have questions I likely won’t be at grad uni and probably won’t be keeping my account there either as it fills up with unmeasurable amounts of crap from both the physics and astro departments right now. I’d like to switch to my gmail account, it’s all prim and proper and my full name, as it will be with me no matter where I go. But I’m not sure that using the gmail account is the best idea. . . on one of the recent papers I was a co-author on, the much older faculty member refused to use my gmail account even when asked multiple times because it wasn’t “official”.

I wish I could spend more time writing than worrying about stupid crap like which email gets associated with my publications.

So today the random thought came to my mind after being the only person in this god forsaken town to get over so the damned ambulance could pass (seriously I swear this place is full of the stupidest drivers known to man): I really need to go get certified in CPR and First Aid.

I thought about this on my last observing run. Rather the big bruises on my shins from running into the box for the AED at the telescope dome right behind where the operator liked reclining his chair gave me constant reminders that “Hey you should learn how to use that damned thing”. I would have loved to have had company on that observing run in the form of either my grad advisor or my old undergrad advisor. But to be honest. . . I worry when I see old astronomers up on the mountain. I’ll see them huff and puff more than me and I’m an asthmatic that is stubborn and refuses to use her damn inhaler. Plus the awesome telescope operator is getting on in years too and well. . . I’m just scared that one day I’m going to have to use that damned AED and I won’t know how.

Perhaps I ought to sign up for the combined CPR and First Aid class next Saturday. At least maybe the next time I go observing I won’t worry about what might happen up there (except when someone needs oxygen. . . .the damned oxygen bottle has been empty for the last 3 years and yes I complain every freaking time I’m there).

Because I do things on paper (as the 6 white boards in my home office have other important things on them. . .actual code I was writing and debugging) and things wind up looking like this:

My awful code map

My code map which uses most of the colors of pen I have on my desk

Yeah. We’ll not talk about that actual code in idl and it’s amazing abuse of if and where statements. Why write a properly laid out code when you’re an astronomer and an electronic bludgeon can get the job done?

So when thinking about my advisor and my suspicion of his desire to poach my best gal pal, I got to thinking of the gender breakdown in my department.

Since I entered the department 5 years ago, four women have graduated with their PhDs. Two of those four were advised by my current advisor. We also had two women in classes ahead of mine “drop out” with master’s degrees due to advisor conflicts (and in one case it was pretty nasty as I think she was darned close to finishing).

So then I started to ask: how many people has our department graduated in the last ten years with PhDs? How many of them have been women? Thank goodness for a webpage that tracks alumni and tells me what degrees people graduated with.

The answer? We’ve graduated 29 individuals in the last 10 years. That seems almost on par with most entering classes being a class of 3 as it was with my class and the class right behind me. Of the 29 individuals who have recieved PhDs in my department, 7 of those have been female.

When I graduate, my advisor will be responsible for more than 1/3 of the female graduates with PhDs in the last 10 years in our department. God, that’s sad.

July 2018
« Jan