Grad School

Another lapse in posting as usual. A lot has happened since last time. Most notably M. finished her 3rd year of medical school! She is now (unofficially due to a little 2 week ENT elective) a 4th year medical student, bearing down on residency and boards. I on the other hand continue to languish in the most unstructured and non-goal-oriented education system on the planet. Four years ago I advanced to candidacy and was left to my own devices. It’s sort of like putting someone at the start of a big maze, blindfolding them, tying their hands behind their back and expecting them to magically run through without smacking their face against a wall. After many smashed faces and misguided turns I may finally be nearing the end. I held my last (hopefully) annual review a week ago and announced my plans to be done at the end of the calendar year. Everyone was on board and told me to start writing the backbone of my dissertation. Calculations to be added in later. More later…


I haven’t posted in a while because of the completely unholy quantity of time I’ve had to put in to work to keep my research from completely falling flat while teaching this term. I just have to throw a few gems out there from recent lab reports I’ve recieved. Here they are in no particular order,

In order to record the data, we relied solely on visual observations such as smell“,

the data suffered from high precision“,

There was no reaction in this case, however, the reaction shows that there was still a reaction

Unfortunately the list goes on. and on. and on……

It’s been a while since this thing’s been updated, but I’ve been living a fairly solitary existence consisting of programming, programming and yet more programming. After spending all last week writing my necessary subroutines to calculate the equations of motion for a small molecule in a cryogenic crystal, using GSL vectors and matrices, I found that I had some fatal flaws. I had some serious scope issues and now have to rewrite it all using arrays. My advice to anyone who wants to try this is to use nonstructured arrays from the beginning.

And if anyone knows of a LAPACK package compatible with c++ that will compile with the latest version of gcc let me know. I know that TNT has superceded LAPACK++, but I don’t want to use structured arrays. At this point I just want my program to work.

But even if I do get it working soon I can’t do anything with it for at least a month due to my favorite yearly event. No, hike naked day isn’t coming late this year, it’s the ever destructive annual campus-wide electrical shutdown. There’s nothing like a good ten-second power outage to disrupt months of research.

Your thesis advisor’s role it to guide you to the pearly gates of enlightened rationalism by giving you advice on how to make progress on whatever irrelevant topic you may be overspecializing in. So when you are stuck on something, you ask them, and they fill you in on the stuff that no one ever told you, but you are expected to know. You then say, “Aha, I see. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with me.” And your problem is solved and research continues. At least that’s how it works in theory. And as a theoretician I can tell you that theory does NOT always work. Just try applying Redfield theory to nuclear dynamics when electronic coherences are involved. As another example I give you my conversation with big boss man last week:

BBM: So how are things going?
Me: OK. I’ve almost got my eigenfunctions and eigenvalues determined, but I’m having a some normalization issues.
BBM: Hmm.
Me: Yeah..
BBM: Well all that I can tell you about normalization issues is, don’t have them.
Me: OK, thanks.

I’ve since gotten all of my wavefunctions normalized to the same value. It’s not 1, but whatever. It’s 0.313314 to be exact, which who knows where the heck that came from, but I’m going with it.

As a grad student blogger, it is my responsibility to inform all of my readers about the intricacies involved in slogging towards the ever elusive PhD. Highlighting the ins and outs of the bottom rungs of the ladder toward enlightenment. So what do I do when I come upon someone who’s done it better? Steal it, of course. Or in the language of the biz, cite the work with proper footnotes and references. I stumbled upon this comic from the Stanford Daily, after seeing various strips hung on office doors. After reading a few of them I’m convinced the author has been following me around for the past “n” years and documenting my every move. He’s got it all. Funding issues, dating undergrads, free food, housing issues, nonproductive trips to see the family. It’s eery. Here’s one that I’m going to print out and bring with me to seminar today. The only square on here that isn’t routinely used is the HIV/cancer one. Amazing.

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I just looked out my window to the parking lot entrance from an intersection just below my office to see a man lying in the middle of the entrance in a pool of blood and a mangled bike next to him. No car in sight, though. One man ran over from an adjacent office to help hold the man down until EMTs arrived. Whatever happened, this guy was drenched.

They need a pedestrian overpass at this intersection. The bike path system runs right through it. It is seven lanes wide and has the highest speed limit in town. Last year I saw the carnage after a woman on a bike was run over and killed there. My best friend was hit by a car not 10 feet from where this guy was just maimed. I routinely see people blast the red light at full speed, at least twice a week, to potentially run over any pedestrians crossing with the light in their favor. It’s a mess.

I used to be impressed with how bike-friendly this town appeared to be, as city officials loudly touted. But after commuting on bicycle over the last few years I’ve become disenchanted. I almost get hit by careless drivers not checking the bike lanes before turning or pulling out into the road almost weekly. The above incidences add to it, and I can rattle off a list of people I know who’ve been hit on bikes here. Yes this town has a high volume of bicycle traffic and lanes, but is it truly biker-friendly? I’m starting to think not. You can put in all the infrastructure you want, but until motorists are willing to use it and are consious of it at all times, it is useless. So get with it drivers, I’m a biker, not a speedbump. Don’t hit me.

From the NYT:
Maine Bans Smoking in Cars With Children.

I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that it has taken lawmakers this long to ban smoking to the degree that it has been, or that people need to be told that baking a child in a smoke filled, hermetically sealed car is not a good thing. At this point I would think that everyone knows smoking is just a nasty undertaking, with no apparent benefits outweighing the cancer factor. But maybe not; M. and I saw a woman blow smoke into a child’s face as it was being carried by the woman walking next to her, just a few days ago.

I encourage everyone to write his or her state and federal congress-people to support such a legislation.

Well the grading starts on the train tomorrow. (Cue music: I’m so excited) So stay tuned for reports on the shear inanity of tomorrow’s leaders. But in my students’ defense I do only write about the few who are seemingly beyond help, that I try my hardest to communicate with and teach, but ultimately fail. So I guess the students’ cluelessness is my shortcoming. Or not.

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