So I may have mentioned that I’m not actually at University of the Frozen Tundra as I dissertate. I relocated because I sold my services to another research group for a year and was able to relocate to the town my fiance lived in. Then the fiance became my husband and he decided that he wanted to move, and now I’m in my personal definition of hell- a city I hate with a spouse I’m not so thrilled with who spends every night with at least half a bottle of wine. Lovely. (that would be the spouse drinking all the time, not me. I would be, but I know not to mix depression and depressants like booze, especially when I have to bust behind applying for jobs.)

But advisor and I keep in contact via cell phone and skype. We’ve kept to skype since the advisor-ly unit has been “home” this semester so it doesn’t burn our respective cell phone minutes. The most recent session went over things such as oh yeah my defense, but he also asked about the status of undergrads who have since graduated from the department.

It’s not an out of place question as he knows I’m friends with some of the undergrads, and in fact one of them I like to count as one of my best female friends, however the question is sort of odd given our faculty. Our faculty aren’t very involved with the undergrads if they can help it. That includes the Director of Undergraduate Studies (the DUGS) not learning the names of the undergrads even though he needed to sign their enrollment forms every semester, so I’d hear horror stories from the seniors about how they went to teh DUGS office and got asked “Who are you? Why are you here?” *headdesks*

My advisor on the other hand knows the names of most of the undergrads in the department even though he hasn’t taught them (or if he did it was for astro 101 their freshman year). Admittedly he gets some name refreshers with the weekly TA meetings for Astro 101 when he is teaching that course, but he even manages to remember the names of students even after they’ve graduated. I recently saw a post on Facebook that he ran into into one of the former undergrads on Mauna Kea and the former student was shocked he remembered said ex-student’s name.

So on the skype call the other week the advisor asked about my best gal pal and how she was doing. Not just a have you heard from her kind of thing, but a what’s she doing, has she finished her masters yet, did you convince her to write up what I saw her presenting at AAS as a journal article yet sort of discussion. Admittedly, my advisor has some amazing schmoozing abilities, but I kinda like that he knows how to work the mentorship things from multiple angles, including the not so subtle reminders that I should be doing some informal mentorship myself.

That said, I question his motives. . . he may have just been feeling me out to see if he could try and recruit her as a grad student replacement for me.


Um, dear lord.

My advisor and I skyped on Friday. He’s finally back from all his comet observing runs as well so we could chat rather than email.

Topics of discussion included job applications. I applied for one big postdoc which I either have no shot in hell of getting, or every shot in hell of getting depending upon the committee. For this application I decided to go big picture, so I tied my work into models of planet formation and then may have called out a future project for having a poorly designed observing strategy while stating what I could do to help the situation and provide options that wouldn’t mess with the other priorities of the project. I’ve got a bunch of other postdoc apps to send out for things that are right up my alley, or things I could spin to my research strengths, so fingers crossed for this coming year that I can start getting job offers rather than simply shortlisted.

Another topic of discussion was the 7 night observing run. I’ve been told to put that data at the end of the queue. Yay! I was wondering how exactly I was going to do a data shuffle on my computers right now to pull that project off as I don’t have half of a terrabyte free on my desktop or laptop.

But the big topic of discussion was *ohholyshit* my defense date. We’re assuming I’m going to get a job this year. And if I want to walk in May graduation, I need to defend before then. So. . . .we’re looking at a defense at the end of April. OMG. Paper #3 of my dissertation is almost done (I found a last few references, need to calculate the mass in asteroids in this certain family and finish up the conclusions and discussion) and it can get sent off to the journal. My goal was to have a draft of paper #4 to the former boss and the advisor in about 3 weeks, so I could send a revised draft out to the whole group near New Years and submit by mid Feb. And then paper #5 can be easily written while everyone is reading and reviewing paper #4. Technically April is enough time for my defense. . .half my chapters will already be published so that ought not be a problem, though realistically I ought to get a completed draft of the whole thing out by the end of March to go to everyone. Of course I still have yet to determine if late April works for my whole committee and I ought to find out how to put former boss on my committee even though I already have an external member picked out from our geology department.

So now I guess it’s crunch time. I wonder how many days a week I’m going to need to hit the pool to deal with the stress. At least one clear upside to this kind of schedule is that I won’t have enough time to check the bleepity bleep bleep bleep rumor mill.

Um hi.

This would be night 6 of a 7 night run at the telescope for me. Observing is just about the only time I get to get my real astronomer on. You know the “real astronomer” thing that involves being in a telescope dome freezing your behind off for no obvious reason.

I think most of the public would be very disappointed to find out that us “real” astronomers don’t look through eyepieces. The gigantic telescope I’m at now actually does have an eyepiece, however the camera I’m using is where the seconday mirror would be, so the eyepiece is pretty darned useless. That may be just as well, I recall a previous observing run where I was using the spectrograph and did go out to use the eyepiece to see how good the tracking was on the moon to see if maybe the telescope would be useful for the LCROSS folks. I must say I pretty much don’t recommend looking at the moon when using a telescope over 2 meters in diameter, the image ghosts hang around for quite awhile.

I thought about counting how many observing runs I’ve done total, and on just this telescope but I think I might forget a few. I’ve been using this telescope since *ponders* the summer of 1999 when I started observing low mass x-ray binaries for my undergrad advisor. And now that I’ve admitted that I’ve been using this telescope over a decade I feel really damned old. It’s interesting to see what has an hasn’t changed since I started using the telescope:

What hasn’t changed? The telescope control system is still has Windows-riffic as always. We still have telescope operators (TOs) that move the telescope for us, and one of them was my TO on my very first observing run. The observer’s corner is always so damned cold that I have to wrap up in a sweater and a blanket to keep from becoming a popsicle.

What has changed: OMG the computers! I remember the days of the big clunky Suns in the observer’s corner. Now we’re using a mix of Windows (for the camera control) and Linux (for controlling filters and for poking at the actual data) and somehow with this change the computer monitors have shrunk rather than gotten bigger (I recall a wicked 24 inch dual monitor setup here). The cameras. . . the spectrograph is the same as it was in the last decade, but we’re gone from a sweet little 2K camera at Cass focus to a big prime focus behemoth. Not that I should really complain, half my observing run is an asteroid survey so I’m damned happy to be able to cover nearly a square degree in one image.

But before I start to go crazy for the night, here’s one of our two comet targets of the run, Comet Hartley 2, which is the target of a spacecraft rendevous by the Deep Impact spacecraft in a few days (ignore the weird gain change running through the middle of the image. . .the amps have different gains that will be corrected when I reduce the data):

Comet Hartley 2 in R band

So after the DPS I’ve decided that perhaps I should start a “No, Seriously?”  theme for the times where I just cock my head and squint at people either over science or sometimes the way our scientific organizations are run. The DPS provided me many occasions to do that very thing, but I thought I’d start with something that went public before the DPS.

So the “No, Seriously” part 1 goes to the purported detection of the planet Gliese 581g reported to be the “Goldilocks planet” in many major press stories (like this one from NPR).

No, seriously, this as a Goldilocks planet? I think not.

For one- this planet is so close to it’s star that it’s tidally locked. Unlike the moon, this planet really would have a dark side, that stays dark all the freaking time. The definition of Goldilocks seems to be predicated on the sub-solar temperature- ie the temperature at the equator at the noon meridian, so that still doesn’t mean water would freeze and one wouldn’t freeze their anatomy off on the dark side of the planet.

For two- this planet is orbiting an M dwarf star. Admittedly the reason this is being released is that Earth-like planets if they exist are easier to find around M dwarf stars if it is a “Goldilocks planet” because their orbits would be very close to the star and thus their periods would be short enough you ought to get multiple orbits over a few years of study. But this star is an M dwarf! M dwarf stars are low mass and this star is found in a region with low mass star formation. What’s the problem with this you ask? The problem is Aluminum-26. Aluminum-26 (Al-26) is an isotope only found as a product of supernovae in regions of high mass star formation. Studies of our own solar system indicate that Al-26 was present in the proto-solar nebula and is responsible for the differentiation (ie segregation of minerals and melting) in planetesimals (ie asteroids) and planets (ie Earth). We like differentiation- it gives us a molten core and a dynamo which then in turn gives the Earth a magnetosphere which protects the surface of our planet from getting blasted by the solar wind.

But you know. . . if you want to live on a planet that’s tidally locked and probably has no magnetosphere so you can get blasted charged particles, please be my guest. Somehow though I doubt Goldilocks would find the planet and declare it to be just right.

So in the last week when I haven’t been posting, I’ve been working on my DPS poster (which is just about done and about to go to Kinkos!) and a related article draft. During this whole time my laptop has been cranking the music.

I’ll admit, I have the worst taste in music. When working I tend to use my purchased library from iTunes that consists of Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Ke$ha and Christina Aguilera. If I’m really angry I put Garbage’s Bleed Like Me album on repeat. I think my fellow grad students at University of the Frozen Tundra are grateful I’m not around especially as I have a slightly bad habit of singing along with my music if I’m deep into doing my work and I really don’t notice when I do that and am using headphones.

But in the last few weeks my phone has been ringing off the hook- the advisor and I have a few too many irons in the fire so we’ve been skyping and cell phoning often. I know it’s my advisor because Daft Punk’s Technologic is my ringtone for him. I think it’s fitting with the lyrics “Write it, cut it, paste it, save it, Load it, check it, quick – rewrite it”. Yeah that’s basically my life dealing with my advisor. It took me a while to decide on that ringtone for him however- I had contemplated Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus as the advisor is the one that tells me to keep plugging on even when I’m pissy about job applications or paper reviews. Lately I’ve been thinking of changing to Gaga’s Telephone- the section with Beyonce singing about how she should left her phone at home because this is a disastah, but I don’t think I’ll do that until after the DPS or else I might have to explain the ringtone to collaborators (Eeek!).

But now I’m curious- what music did other astronomers and planetary scientists use when they were writing up? Do they still listen to that music during time crunches? Because god knows. . .I don’t know how I’d explain being 40 years old and rocking out to the Britney.

Dear fellow graduate students,

I hate to break this to you, but you look like an f*ing tool when you email all grads bitching about how you can’t find the green laser pointer and how this is completely unacceptable and it should always be stored with the outreach laptop!11! And you really look like a tool when you send the email out the next day saying “Oh I found it hidden with all the laptop cords.”

Perhaps along with the ethics training we do need to have some discussions re: professional conduct via email and how if you’re going to be a pill, maybe you shouldn’t do it from you work/school email account and should use a personal account for that sort of thing.


So glad I’m not there anymore.

Some days I love my life. Other days I hate my life and those days would include the days I have to write conference abstracts. I especially hate my life when I write the abstracts for LPI organized conferences- it’s like they want a mini paper as a freaking abstract.

Let’s all be honest: for most of us signing up for conferences means that we’ve managed to give ourselves a deadline to get something done. In my case I find it handy- then I know that I’ll have X done approximately in time for the conference. For that reason I much prefer the following type of abstract:

“I did some shit with some data. Or rather I will do some shit with some data about 2 weeks before the meeting when I realize that it’s sneaking up. Oh by the way, here is me talking out my ass about some “preliminary results”. They may be right, or when I get my poster/talk together I may decide my preliminary results are wrong. But hey, they’re preliminary and I told you that so don’t quote me on it m’kay?”

I know I didn’t finish the science for my DPS talk last year until about 10 minutes before I needed to upload the sucker. I am however happy that I waited until the last minute as my talk turned out better after to talking with folks at lunches and finding out what sort of info they wanted to know.

Since I feel comfortable sticking with a theme, and the Scientae Carnival is about “school” suplies I’m going to talk about more “school” supplies! Today’s topic is the iPhone.

I was late to the cult of iPhone. I remember my officemate getting the first iPhone and immediately bragging about how he was using jailbreak. I of course sat there squinty eyed going “but why would you want an iPhone when the first thing you need to do is circumvent the operating system?”. But finally this last year after our move to the land of the wanna-be Ivy I gave in and ditched T-Mobile after multiple crappy changes to their internet service and went to AT&T and purchased the iPhone. Yes, my iPhone has music and videos loaded on it for the dog walking and the plane flights to telescopes, but I also feel love for my apps. I don’t have many, in fact I only have 1.5 screens worth. But the two most handy items I have are Facebook and Twitter. Facebook is handy for communicating with astronomer friends on trips and Twitter. . . well I have an unnatural love for twitter.

My love for Twitter as a scientist is related to not needing to be in 5  places at once. At the AAS meetings you can easily find tweets from a parallel session you couldn’t make with the meeting’s aas hashtag (this next meeting in Jan will have the hashtag #217). During the press conference for the Astronomy Decadal Survey I sat in a room watching with a ton of people cursing the rambling that was going on but found a link to an high level review of the results in a tweet. I’ve also seen info from other conferences thanks to other scientists who live tweet with their iPhones after asking their followers if there is any interest. This week I’ve learned about astronomy education, the fires near Boulder Colorado, the latest hurricane updates, how to play with tables and databases in Python, the peach and apple statuses at the local orchards, the Gemini Observatory transition plan, and oh yeah football scores from my undergrad institution (and that’s just tracking back to Friday).

Downsides to the iPhone are plentiful though, the most obvious of which is that you’re always plugged in. Sometimes being plugged in is good- at conferences you can plan and maneuver lunches and dinners via friends on twitter, or via text message. But if you’re like myself you also have an email addiction. I blame my job before undergrad where I was expected to turn around email responses as fast as possible. Thanks to my iPhone I’ve spent a number of Sundays cursing because I could check my email while I was out and saw yet another email from the advisor wanting something. However deactivating push capabilities for your phone (where servers can push data to your phones) can keep the headaches to a minimum.

So the iPhone- it’s handy! I find myself lusting over the iPad now for the reasons of Pages and Keynote, but I’ll wait until the second hardware release. As it stands I think I shall leave my laptop behind at the DPS meeting and use just my iPhone as I’m only doing a poster, and I don’t feel like lugging my laptop all over the US. Perhaps in a month I can say how useful it is to have only one’s iPhone to stay plugged in.

So earlier this week I had to request a graduation packet from the University of the Frozen Tundra. It not only has handy documents like the Reviewers Report (the yes, this is or no, this isn’t ready for defense form), but it’s the only way I can actually get the formatting guidelines for the dissertation!

The grad college is quite helpful in that they make templates available in LaTeX and Word so you don’t run afoul of the ruler wielding person in their office, and they clearly state the margins on the website, but other items like font sizes are missing. I had to require the packet to find out that only standard fonts 10 point or larger are accepted and it must be double spaced (okay that one I figured out from the LaTeX template). Oh and there is an exception for examples, quotes, tables and charts that say “similar size and easily readable” followed by “no smaller than 9 points”.

Shit. Guess who has tables that only fit on the page in /rotate with /tiny in LaTeX? I guess I’m going to have to break up tables. And I need to figure out who to write to request permission to reprint my thesis articles in my dissertation. Guess with this last manuscript when I submit the copyright form I can double check things.

So what did I see in my inbox at University of the Frozen Tundra, but the colloquium schedule for the next term and at the end of the month, my advisor’s other senior grad student is scheduled to defend in the standard colloquium slot.

While this other student has been around longer than me by at least a year, it’s hard for me to not be jealous. Ze’s scheduled to defend because he has a job lined up. One I heard about last time I was in the Frozen Tundra which makes me a little uneasy. I don’t think he has the experience. I also think that this person defending is problematic as they have zero first authored publications right now.

In the end this all doesn’t really effect me, but I am a bit pissed that I have 3 first authored pubs right now (with 3 more lined up, one should be submitted in the next month) and I’m living in rejection city. More often than not I’ve been feeling like I can’t win- I don’t have a famous advisor and I’m not doing something like cosmology which is sexy and has like 80 million postdoc postings.

So for today, I think I may have a quality sulk with my next manuscript and will plot all my fellowship applications for the next two months.

July 2018
« Jan