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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?


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.

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.

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.

I decided to try and join one of the many blog carnivals and the September Scientae carnival asks “What are your favorite school supplies?”

So my favorite school supplies:

Reams of paper– I may be an observational astronomer that uses digital images but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a desk covered in dead trees.

Brightly colored pens – Ummm, I have a pen problem. I’ve kinda always had a pen problem (I seem to recall hoarding skinny Crayola markers in elementary school). My current favorite pens are Stabilo point 88 pens (which I found at the bookstore of University of the Frozen Tundra when I was back there in June), Uniball Vision Fine points (which I have in pink, blue and green) and an assortment of Zebra Sarasas.

Buying in a broad assortment of colors means a lot of my work is color coded- when I code or troubleshoot printout of code I do so in the color purple. Manuscript edits I do in pink. Greens and blues are assigned to current working manuscripts, so that notes in my lab book about what I’ve done or references I ought to use in the manuscript are all the same color (I tend to work on two projects at a time so I can swap when I get stuck and think about things).

But though I love pens- I hate the Sharpie pens. They’re quite colorful but they bleed like a mofo.

Moleskine Cahier Notebooks– I use the big 7.5 x 9.5 inch notebooks as lab books. And I only use the the ones with blank pages- that way I can write extra wee if I want, and can sketch diagrams without any graph paper or lined background. The notebooks are softbound, so they nice and flex-y when you find yourself needing to put them on the scanner to email some math to your advisor so he can double check it 😉

National Brand Chemistry Notebooks– these are lined and are hard bound. I wind up using these for notes at seminars and conferences and notes from random articles I’ve read. The pretty blue covers make them easy to find on a disaster desk.

A Mac– my dissertation is being written on a MacBook and an iMac, both of which are mine, all mine. The ease of installing software is important, but I still haven’t reformed the advisor to the cult of Mac yet (hell he just moved to buying Linux boxes rather than Sunblades this last year, so I think he’s more comfortable with a computer system he needs to pay someone else to maintain).

IDL– praise cheebus for IDL licenses. Originally in undergrad I learned Fortran and while that was great and all, Fortran77 was quite clunky. Rather than move to Fortran 90 or 95, I’ve gone to the land of IDL. The use of pointers has been awesome when sorting gigantic data files. I think I may be an anomaly these days though, as an astronomer I don’t use IDL to do fits image processing, rather I use it for a lot of numerical crunching.

IRAF- the name we used in undergrad was “Incessant Rambling and Fumbling”. That may describe the IRAF experience well for an astronomer who is just starting to use it, but as you get older and use it more, you learn where all the packages are hidden. I guess one day I may have to move over to PyRAF which is IRAF with a python wrapper, but I just think that’s dumb and poorly documented, so I’ll stick with IRAF thanks.

TeXShop– This is Mac specific and I find myself loving TexShop everyday. And every journal article I write and my dissertation are written in Tex, so I love having the Typeset button where it compiles and shows me the pdf rather than having to sit in X11 cursing at latex and then dvipdf (or dvips and then ps2pdf).

External Hard Drives– handy for backing up data (I have 3 terrabyte harddrives in my office for backing up dissertation data in triplicate) and for taking home data from the telescope. I’m going to have to buy another darned external in October because a week at the telescope with an imager at prime focus (with something like 64 megapixels per image) results in more data than I ever could have imagined ten years ago when I was a wee undergrad.

Small white board (or 5)- good for writing checklists of stuff that need done, lists of job applications (Ack it’s almost that season again), random bits of code I’ve been thinking about or even to just display handy printouts (like diagrams of the main belt that mark the regions for all the dynamical families).

Hair thingies– having hair somewhere between waist and classic length, my hair flies around a bit, especially when I’m frustrated. Keeping my hair out of the way is a good thing. Right now I have a claw clippy and some grabby ponytail holders on my desk.

I’m practicing avoidance techniques with the end of my dissertation. In part the dissertation scares the shit out of me, especially the last two papers (they’re epically huge and yeah, they make me want to cry) and I’m feeling like it’s not worth hurrying up and finishing (say for a Dec graduation rather than a May grad) if I don’t have a job lined up. As of yesterday however, I couldn’t avoid- I have journal article proofs I’m supposed to correct by Friday! Eeek!

So the best way for me to correct proofs is to mark them up, so I set my old printer going. . .and going. . . .and going. Over 2 hours later it finally finished printing 13 pages of proofs. It took so long because el crappo printer has decided to try and “build” the color black out of colors even though a full black cartridge was loaded about 4 printed pages before. I had gotten a little pissy with it since it didn’t print duplex, so I did actually have a new printer sitting in a box in the house just waiting for me to have a fit. Well I decided to set it up, but it wouldn’t fit in the same spot as the old printer. Crap. The only place it would fit is my bookshelf, but that would require me to get rid of some old crap.

What did I find on my bookself? Well to start, I found my physics lab notebooks from my freshman year (1998-1999). Off to the recycle pile those went. I also found random articles from planetology class, old class notes that had been copied into notebooks (I take notes on copier paper and then copy them into notebooks for classes so I have to review the material) and. . . . European history outlines from my sophomore year in high school.

All this crap has moved across country with me multiple times, and they’ve definately made my moves more spendy (both in terms of weight and extra boxes for the crap). But right now I’m trying to figure out how much stuff to purge. Do I:

  • Toss every physics homework set (and notebook I may find) from undergrad
  • Keep the old physics notes etc thinking I may wind up stuck and teaching physics classes at some point
  • Keep all the astro notes? Throw out the astro notes from undergrad (which I’ve actually found more helpful than most of my grad coursework)?
  • Toss all over my course notes with the realization that like everything is on the internet these days?

I sort of wish I could do the last option just to clear the floors of crap, but it doesn’t seem prudent as a graduate student. Maybe I can do that into postdoc #2 if I ever get postdoc #1. Right now though I’m leaning towards tossing all my physics undergrad stuff except stuff from quantum mechanics (because that was the class I had the most trouble with and one I didn’t have to take as a physics requirement for this PhD). I think all grad programs should have a class as students are about to graduate: Physical Sciences 8001: When to Purge  the Shit You’ve accumulated over 8+ years in college.

Just yesterday I gave a talk to the local REU students on solar system studies and what they tell us about planet formation. At the end I wound up giving grad school advice that made them laugh- they thought I was joking when I said that getting into grad school is all about astronomical incest. Realistically, every grad school I’ve ever been accepted to involved some level of incest including a case where I got out of the rejection pile and into the acceptances based on one phone call (apparently it helps to be friends with a professor another school is trying to woo). My position now was a bit of a direct favor- rather than old professors and advisors calling on my behalf, I just very pointedly mentioned on a Sunday night telecon with a research group that I was applying to advisor’s university (and no, I wasn’t part of the scientist group, rather I was on the call in a work capacity). A week after the application deadline for the department I was accepted and it was very clear whose graduate student I would be.

At dinner last night one of the older REU students was picking my brain on networking and how to work the system. Maybe one of them will have an easier time this year with their applications.

July 2018
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